Divine Services from the Beginning of the Apostles’ Fast to the End of the Ecclesial Year (Vol IV, Ch 11)

For class on 11/2/2019

From Michel Ruse:

This chapter concludes Volume IV and it completes the cycle of church feasts. The Orthodox Church began its new year on September 1. The first feast of the new year was on September 8, the Nativity of the Theotokos and the last great feast of the liturgical year ends on August 15, The Dormition of the Theotokos. Why does the whole cycle of the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church start and end with Mary, the Mother of God? Protestant groups may be indifferent, or they may denounce any kind of veneration of the Virgin Mary. Roman Catholics often have a different perspective from us. They have veneration of many Marian Apparitions, but they have feasts that are similar to Orthodox Christians (September 8 and August 15). 

Metropolitan Hilarion starts this chapter with The Apostles’ Fast in Honor of Saints Peter and Paul, and the Holy Apostles. He could have spent some time on the importance of St. Peter in Rome or the unique deaths of the Apostles. He spends most of his attention on an important teaching of the Orthodox Church that is as old as the Old Testament and as new as the New Testament. That we all can become illumined. We can experience this transformation that can make our "faces shine" like Jesus Christ on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration. 

Our whole experience of time on earth should reflect on the example of the holy family of Joachim and Anna who gave the world a place – rather a person – Mary, the Mother of God, to dwell and to save our souls. We should reflect on the holy Apostles who were miraculously translated (except St. Thomas who doubted) to be present with Mary at her falling asleep and resurrection into the arms of Jesus Christ. Where should we be throughout the year? We should be close to the Virgin Mary and Her Son, Jesus Christ. 

The liturgical cycle seems to suggest that just as the whole world began anew with Mary’s visitation from St. Gabriel and was transfigured by the birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary, which shook up kings, authorities, and demons, our time in the Church begins and ends with the Virgin Mary. She is the “mediatrix” of the world, as we say in the liturgy. 

Her death is tender, courageous and special to us as Orthodox Christians. An icon gives us an example of how we should approach our own death. When she was lying on her bed about to fall asleep, she is shown not dressed in burial linen but in infant swaddling clothes. Our death is our rebirth, and the first one to receive us and bring us into a new life is Jesus Christ Himself. 

Anniversary Blessings

Anniversary Blessings

Several times a month, we offer an anniversary blessing at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. It’s always fun to join with folks in celebrating their relationship. It’s good to, once again, place the crowns upon their heads and, of course, we all get a kick out of watching them kiss as we serenade them with “Many Years”. But there is also one moment in the service that is always just a little strained.

The Paschal Cycle (Vol IV, Ch 10)

From Michael Ruse:

Class on 10/26/2019…

How do we know what the truth is? Converts, inquirers, “cradle” Orthodox and many other camps of people want to know the answer to this question during these confusing times, especially when it’s about religion or politics. Metropolitan Hilarion gives a kind of pericope (verses that are cut out to form a unified thought, Greek) that connect to this question and the themes spoken of in the liturgical texts of the Paschal Cycle. 

 In the first section, he starts with the resurrection of Christ. The great litany in the Paschal Canon of St. John of Damascus says, “This is the day of resurrection. Let us be illumined, O people.” How can we become “illumined?” Because Christ was buried and resurrected, the open door to illumination is how He lived his life on earth. His death and resurrection not only freed us as individuals from “corruption,” but the whole world can be saved. Since our bodies are made of the same elements as the universe, when we become incorrupt and illumined, likewise the universe is saved and enlightened through Jesus Christ. 

The second section discusses the Sundays from Pascha up to Pentecost that are called Antipascha (in place of Pascha, Greek). They include The Sunday of Thomas, The Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, The Sunday of the Pool of Siloam, The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman and The Sunday of the Blind Man. All of these feasts speak of our need of spiritual healing and renewal as a “springtime of our souls” (Pentecostarion. Orthros. Ode 1, Sunday of Thomas). Unlike other Christian groups, the Orthodox Church doesn’t need to manufacture revivals or call councils for an aggiornamento (an organizational bringing up to date) in order to let a more modern mindset help us cope with a changing world. The Church has already experienced the Holy Spirit blowing fire on the Apostles and we have already left the royal doors open during the entire week of Pascha, which represents the tomb of Christ that renews our souls. The Holy Spirit can blow freshly on our lives every year during the Antipascha. All of these feasts in the Paschal cycle and Antipascha Sundays show us that the Way of Christ is to be purified, illumined, and glorified with Him. As a burial rite we hymn on Great Friday at Orthros, “O thou who puttest on light like a garment.” We too want to put on this light after we’ve been healed like the Samaritan woman and the Blind Man. 

The next feast, The Ascension of the Lord, teaches us that Christ was glorified when he ascended to His Father, and that He will return glorified. So too, we must become glorified in Jesus Christ. The cloud that appears when Jesus Christ ascended to heaven is not some kind of explainable weather pattern or hyper-abstract, psychological cloud, but it is the real glorification of God the Father through Jesus Christ in Holy Spirit. There are many more hymns, stichera, and troparia that reference “Light,” “illumination” and other enlightening realities in this chapter. 

Pentecost shows us that the Holy Spirit “illumines our souls” and “guides into all truth.” The Pentecostarion of the Sunday of Thomas says, “The queen of hours with splendor openly ministers to this light-bearing day.” When the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles, political and racial divisions were nullified, and all nations were brought into spiritual unity through the Holy Spirit. Truth cannot exist outside of this reality and experience. The Holy Trinity is “the one indivisible light who is known in three hypostases.” When people in the Church are purified, illumined and glorified, there we will find the truth through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the only infallible source of goodness, truth, and beauty. Come join us this Saturday at 4:00p.m. to find out how to walk the ancient Way of Jesus Christ.  

Divine Service from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee until Great Saturday (Vol IV, Ch 9)

From Michael Ruse:

Class on 10/12/2019…

This chapter can be summarized with Metropolitan’s own words that “the Savior’s death and resurrection put an end to hell’s power over the human race.” Because of that conquest in Jesus Christ, the cyclical destruction of human lives, the sheer waste of life that we see and have read about, is returned to life in the body. God creates us new from “a field strewn with bones,” as he says. How should we respond to such a sweeping statement about reality? We are given the example of how the Publican and the Pharisee approach God in their outward and inner postures of prayer, which may be the decisive point in preventing wars and violence. It’s no coincidence that the foundation for getting ready for Great Lent and the rest of the liturgical services hinges on this scene of a great sinner and a morally superior man at prayer. 

 There are lot of liturgical verses that we chant during the divine services from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee until Great Saturday and Metropolitan Hilarion presents us with these verses on every page.  If we reflect a little, there are many new sounds and tunes that the world plays. We hear people in their cars listening to familiar songs to start the day. Blaring music keeps us motivated to stay in coffee shops and to buy clothes in department stores. A song on the radio recalls some special moments. We could ask ourselves, what’s really worth singing about? Metropolitan Hilarion highlights stichera from major services that form the sections, which includes: Preparation for Great Lent, The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, The Divine Services of the First Week of Great Lent and The Great Canon of Repentance, Sundays of Great Lent, The Annunciation of the Most-Holy Theotokos, Lazarus Saturday and the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, and Holy Week. 

 Metropolitan Hilarion  helps us see the big picture in worship with these divine services so that we do not lose sight of what’s important to sing about and who are worthy of all praise in preparation for our own death and resurrection. Come and see how the Orthodox Church has some of the most beautiful and true verses. The theological topics are rich for meditation. Join us this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. 

The Nativity Cycle (Vol IV, Ch 8)

From Michael Ruse:

We are all born without clothes and we all die without taking them with us. That natural cycle is a fact. In this chapter, the Nativity cycle emphasizes what the Eternal Word put on for our salvation, human flesh, and what we must put on, Christ Himself, so that we can die with Him and live with Him.  

 How should we live and plan our lives? The Nativity cycle offers us an answer that includes doing something in time but also stepping outside of created time and into the ages created by the Holy Trinity since the beginning. 

 What happened in the Old Testament isn’t so different than what has happened in the New Testament except that the Incarnation of the Son of God has now come into and conquered the world and recreated it, He now rules all things, and He has fulfilled the will of God the Father. During the Nativity Cycle, the Menaion and liturgical texts of the services highlight some Orthodox themes and the mystery of baptism. 

1.     Jesus Christ is taken care of by his Mother, the Most-Holy Theotokos, and they flee from the slaughter of children in Bethlehem by the evil king, Herod. We too look for refuge, nurturing, and protection from the Mother of God. We are already persecuted in the world and we already are in danger for following Christ.

2.     Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and freed us from curse on us. He teaches us how to fulfill the Law through Him. 

3.     St. John the Forerunner baptized Christ in the Jordan. The waters of the deep are sanctified with his divine energies and we are cleansed from sin through our baptism in Christ. 

4.     Jesus Christ was circumcised as a child on the eighth day. We put off our old ways through baptism and we enter into relationship with Christ and His Church. 

5.     Just as Jesus Christ remembered and fulfilled what the prophets and Old Testament righteous have taught about Him. We too follow Christ and take the prophets as our saints too, we find our family and genealogy in Christ, as the Apostle Matthew has written it down.

6.     The Righteous Simeon held the Creator in his hands. We hold him within our bodies and carry him with us everywhere. 

7.     The Righteous Simeon proclaimed that Jesus Christ will go down into Hades to tell the good news to Adam. Likewise, we die in Christ and go out to tell everyone of the gospel to free them from enslavement to sin and captivity by death. 

8.     In glorification, Moses saw “back parts of God” and Simeon beheld Jesus Christ face to face. So too we are able to see Christ glorified as the true Light of the world. 

These are all true and real in the Orthodox Church, not because they are nice philosophies or were compiled correctly. They are verified because they were experienced and witnessed by humankind, and we can still experience these realities in the Orthodox Church today. 

The Feast of Theophany is another part of the Nativity cycle and it originated in the East. It was known in early times as “the day of lights.” The phrase refers to “enlightenment” (not the New Age idea) and another phrase we confess every Sunday, “Light from Light” in the Symbol of Faith. The baptism and theophany of Jesus Christ also reveals to us the true Light as three Lights who have come into the world to save us, and so the Feast of Theophany contains an important trinitarian teaching. The final feast in the Nativity cycle is the Meeting of the Lord that ends in February and liturgical texts follow the four gospel readings. What would anyone expect if God came into the world? Mercy, peace, forgiveness of sins, light, miracles, healing, spiritual cleansing, revelation of truth, and salvation from death. Join us this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. to learn more about the liturgical details of the Nativity Cycle. 

Divine Services from the Beginning of the Church Year (Vol IV, Ch 7)

From Michael Ruse:

The Most Holy Theotokos, Mother of God, is closely tied to the celebration of Exaltation of the Cross. When we take Scripture and Tradition together in the experience of the Liturgy, the two cannot be venerated too far from each other. A barren womb gives birth, a virgin conceives a child from God, and the wood of the Cross gives all light and life to mankind. 

The triumph over nihilism, chaos and the devil come to a conclusion with the Most Holy Theotokos’ miraculous birth and Christ’s conquering of death and the deep chaos of the serpent through the Cross. Our history was prefigured through the Cross a long time ago and we who live in the Orthodox Church are now in the middle of it. 

In the Church year, we venerate Mary, the Mother of God, and the Cross of Christ close in time. They can be taken as celebrations of victory, not a mere remembrance of a list of tragedies. The Menaion of the Church lists many well-known Old Testament names who show us the Cross of Christ:  Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, Joshua’s outstretched arms, the cross-shaped blessing from the patriarch, Jacob, on Manasseh and Ephraim, Aaron’s miraculously budding-rod, and Jonah’s three-day trip into the abyss of a whale. How do we know that these events happened in the Old and New Testament? How do we really know that Empress Helen found the true cross of Christ? How do we know that our prayers to Mary are right? A very practical test in the real world is that the Cross of Christ heals our heart, body and mind. 



The Formation of the Yearly Cycle of Worship (Vol IV, Ch 6)

From Michael Ruse:

All of the martyrs, beheaded saints, veneration days, feasts, fasting, abstinence rules, and processions between the sanctuary and the people or even between cities, as anciently practiced from Jerusalem to Bethany, seem like foolishness not only to people who don’t believe in or don’t know about Christ, but also to many Christians nowadays from other traditions or sects. Starting around the fourth century, Christians in large cities began sharing their local church traditions of venerating martyrs and saints as well as different feast days like Theophany and Christmas. Jerusalem, for example, gave the Church the Exaltation of Cross, which we have just celebrated. 

In Chapter 6, Metropolitan gives us the teaching of the Holy Fathers, especially during the fourth century. He gives us the evidence written to compare to the evidence seen in the Orthodox Church today. He not only tells us but shows us the beautiful “exchange of feasts” between East and West, all of which helps increase our love for the Holy Trinity and helps us imitate the way of the saints so that we might also be enriched by their, “invincible devotion to their King and Teacher.” 

As we’ve already heard it taught recently on Sunday that our fasting or feasting is not just for our own benefit, but for others too. Our life in the yearly worship, Metropolitan Hilarion seems to say, is formed and revolves around the formation of Christ’s life and death. Come join us this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. to learn about some must-know details of how our Orthodox worship forms us into Christ who guides us into all kinds of beneficial exchanges. 

The Formation of the Yearly Cycle of Worship (Vol IV, Ch 5)

From Michael Ruse:

All of the martyrs, beheaded saints, veneration days, feasts, fasting, abstinence rules, and processions between the sanctuary and the people or even between cities, as anciently practiced from Jerusalem to Bethany, seem like foolishness not only to people who don’t believe in or don’t know about Christ, but also to many Christians nowadays from other traditions or sects. Starting around the fourth century, Christians in large cities began sharing their local church traditions of venerating martyrs and saints as well as different feast days like Theophany and Christmas. Jerusalem, for example, gave the Church the Exaltation of Cross, which we have just celebrated. 

In Chapter 6, Metropolitan gives us the teaching of the Holy Fathers, especially during the fourth century. He gives us the evidence written to compare to the evidence seen in the Orthodox Church today. He not only tells us but shows us the beautiful “exchange of feasts” between East and West, all of which helps increase our love for the Holy Trinity and helps us imitate the way of the saints so that we might also be enriched by their, “invincible devotion to their King and Teacher.” 

As we’ve already heard it taught recently on Sunday that our fasting or feasting is not just for our own benefit, but for others too. Our life in the yearly worship, Metropolitan Hilarion seems to say, is formed and revolves around the formation of Christ’s life and death. Come join us this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. to learn about some must-know details of how our Orthodox worship forms us into Christ who guides us into all kinds of beneficial exchanges. 

Sunday Services and Daily Services (Vol IV, Ch 5)

From Michael Ruse:

In the Orthodox Church, Saturday vespers is the first worship service of the week. Metropolitan Hilarion focuses on the content of the stichera, or verses in Greek, that are sung during the daily services. The stichera often recall Christ’s death on the Cross and His Resurrection, have Trinitarian and Christological dogmatic content, and speak of the Theotokos and Virgin Mary in what’s called a theotokion. Each day of the week focuses on a canon or mood. On Tuesday, the St. John the Forerunner is included with other verses and canons. On Thursday, St. Nicholas and the apostles are commemorated, and on Saturday, all types of saints and martyrs are commemorated as well as prayers for the departed. In many of our discussions in Volume IV, we have been looking at the practical and spiritual aspects of time, calendars, how we structure our lives around it and how it even points to our cultural identity. Imagine if we could rename the days of the week based on Orthodox themes rather than Saturn, the Moon, or the Germanic goddess Freya. If resurrectional hymns, stichera and canons make up the bulk of what we are singing and thinking about during a single week, what might that imply for living out our Orthodox faith daily? Join us this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. to see how the Orthodox Church divides time into verses.