Glory to God for Autumn

This reflection is by  Alumnus Archpriest Steven Kostoff (Master of Divinity ’81), pastor of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church, in Norwood, Ohio. He references the Akathist Hymn titled, “Glory to God for All Things,” also sometimes known as the “Akathist of Thanksgiving.” This remarkable hymn, attributed to Metropolitan Tryphon (Prince Boris Petrovich Turkestanov, +1934), was found among the effects of Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov, upon his death in a prison camp in 1940. The most commonly used title for the hymn was taken from the words of St. John Chrysostom, as he lay dying in exile—words of praise arising from amidst terrible sufferings.


Fall officially begins at 4:02 p.m. (East Coast time) on Friday, September 22. And that means later today. From my personal—and, admittedly, “subjective”—perspective, there is nothing quite like the fall among the four seasons. For me, one of this season’s greatest attractions is found in the flaming red, orange, yellow, and golden leaves that transform familiar trees into a series of neighborhood “burning bushes,” each one seemingly brighter than the other. When combined with a piercing blue sky on a sunlit day and a certain crispness in the air, I find myself more vividly aware of the surrounding world and thankful for God’s creation.SYNAXIS_Burning Leaves2

On a somewhat more “philosophical note”—more apt to emerge, perhaps, on an overcast, windswept day—we may realize that this “colorful death” signals the fleeting nature of everything beautiful in this world, “for the form of this world is passing away” [1 Cor 7.31]. And yet this very beauty, and the sense of yearning that accompanies it, is a sign of the beauty ineffable of the coming Kingdom of God and our restless desire to behold and experience that beauty.

Growing up on a typical city block in Detroit, I distinctly recall a neighborhood “ritual” that marked this particular season: the raking and burning of leaves that went on up and down the entire block once most of the leaves had spiraled and floated to the ground. Everyone on the block raked the leaves down toward the street and into neatly formed mounds of color that rested alongside the curb. Then they were lit, and the task of raking now became that of tending and overseeing the piles of burning leaves. This usually occurred after dinner for most families, but one could still see the shimmering waves of heat that protected one from the early evening chill and the ascending ashes rushing upward. Please momentarily forgive my politically incorrect indifference to the environment, but I thoroughly enjoyed those small bonfires near the curb as the pungent smell of burning leaves filled the air. This unmistakable smell would, as I recall, linger in the air for a couple of weeks or more as different neighbors got to the task at different times.

The entire scene embodied the wholesomeness of a 1950s first-grade reading primer, as “Mom” and “Dad,” together with “Dick” and “Jane” (and perhaps “Spot,” the frisky family dog) smilingly cooperated in this joint, familial enterprise. The reading primer would reformulate this “celebration” of healthy work and a neatly ordered environment into a staccato of minimally complex sentences: “See Dad rake”; “Dick and Jane are raking too”; “Here comes mom!” This all served to increase the budding student’s vocabulary while reinforcing a picture of an idealized—if not idyllic—American way of life.

Since my parents were peasants from a Macedonian village, we never quite fit into that particular mold—especially when my mother would speak to me in Macedonian in front of my friends! And yet I distinctly remember teaching my illiterate mother to read from those very “Dick and Jane” primers so that she could obtain her American citizenship papers, which she proudly accomplished in due time.

Before getting too nostalgic, however, I will remind you that this wholesome way of life— something of an urban idyll—was taking place at the height of Cold War anxiety. This, in turn, evokes another clear memory from my youth: the air raid drills in our schools that were meant to prepare us and protect us from a Soviet nuclear strike. (Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding exhibition at the United Nations, together with his ominous “We will bury you!” captured the whole mood of this period.) These carefully executed air raid drills were carried out with due solemnity and seriousness—lines straight and no talking allowed! We would wind our way down into a fairly elaborate—if not labyrinthine—series of basement levels that were seemingly constructed, and thus burdened, with the hopeless task of saving us from nuclear bombs! We would then sit in neatly formed rows monitored by our teachers (apparently oblivious to the real dangers of the Cold War world) until the “all clear” signal was given, allowing us to file back to our classrooms. Thus did the specter of the mushroom cloud darken the sunny skies of “Dick” and “Jane’s” age of innocence.

I must acknowledge that my short nostalgic digression does not offer a great deal for reflection. So as not to entirely frustrate that purpose—and because I began with some brief reflections on the created world—I would like to offer some of the wonderful praises of the beauty of the world around us from the remarkable Akathistos Hymn, “Glory to God for All Things.”

This hymn, which has become quite popular in many Orthodox parishes, is said to have been composed by an Orthodox priest when he was slowly perishing in a Soviet prison camp in 1940. In unscientific, yet theological-poetic imagery, he reminds us of what we are often blind to: God’s glorious creation. Would he have “missed” all of this if his life were as free as ours are to be preoccupied with daily concerns and cares that leave no time or room to look around in wonder?

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last forever. In the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, rings out the cry: Alleluia! [Kontakion 2].

You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Your earth. It is a pleasure to be Your guest. [Ikos 2].

I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious You are, radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Your right arm guides me wherever I go. [Ikos 5].

His words bring to mind Dostoevsky’s enigmatic phrase: “Beauty will save the world.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Statement of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon on the 16th Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

Remembering the anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and observing the severe natural disasters recently in the U.S., His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees here at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, has issued the following statement. The prayers of our seminary community are with His Beatitude as he continues to guide our school.

Statement of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon on the 16th Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

September 11, 2017

To the Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today is the Anniversary of the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 that came down in the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  At the same time that we remember those who lost their lives from these shameful acts of human terrorism, we are praying for the millions of people who have been affected by the on-going onslaught of natural disasters, particularly hurricanes and earthquakes on several continents, including our own.

Even in popular media these multiple events prompt apocalyptic thinking about the end of the world. It certainly seems that the extent of both natural disasters and human violence place us in a context much as our Lord Jesus Christ describes in the Gospel reading we hear on the Saturday following the Elevation of the Cross [Matthew 24:1-13]:  “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’  Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.’”

While the tone of this passage seems frightening, it is important to recognize that this passage is heard while we are in the midst of the celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross.

“He who endures to the end shall be saved.” With our Lord’s final exhortation, we are given an overall message of hope and encouragement, which is precisely the message of the Cross: through the Cross, joy has come into all the world. Indeed, the very next verse says it is this gospel of the Kingdom—this joyful news of God’s presence in the midst of calamities—that is our message and witness to the world. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” [Matthew 24:14].

As we sing on the feast itself, the Cross is ultimately a source of hope for us and the means by which mercy and resurrection are offered to us and to the world.  “The Tree of true life was planted in the place of the skull, and upon it, eternal King, Thou hast wrought salvation in the midst of the earth! Exalted today, it sanctifies the ends of the world. Angels in heaven greatly rejoice and men and women upon earth make glad, crying aloud with David and saying: Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool, for He is holy and grants the world great mercy!” [Litiya].

Suffering makes the world “the place of the skull.” Yet that is where God has chosen to plant His Cross as “the Tree of true life.” As we pray for those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks (and all the attacks that have subsequently afflicted so many parts of the world) and those who have perished or are suffering through the effects of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and the earthquake in Mexico, let us make the message of the Cross and Resurrection our focus and hope.

Yours in Christ,
+ Tikhon
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
Orthodox Church in America

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

JOINT MESSAGE: On the World Day of Prayer for Creation

“Dominion over all the earth” (Gen 1.26)
September 1, 2017

On this first day of the Ecclesiastical New Year, our seminary community follows its decade-long custom of planting and blessing a new sapling on campus. We do so in order to show our solidarity with the global Orthodox Christian community in recognizing and recalling on this day our role as stewards of the earth.

Since 1989, every September 1st has been designated as a day of prayer for “the protection of the environment” throughout the Eastern Orthodox Church, which consists of some 300 million Christians worldwide. Instituted by the late Patriarch Dimitrios of the Greek Orthodox Church, the tradition has since been shepherded by his successor Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople who has been dubbed “The Green Patriarch.”

IMG_1807

Fr. Chad Hatfield blessing the new planted Birch Tree on the seminary campus.

Today, “The Green Patriarch” and Pope Francis issued a joint statement regarding our care of creation as human beings. We share it with you below:

JOINT MESSAGE On the World Day of Prayer for Creation

The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.

However, “in the meantime”, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behavior towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.

Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on September 1st.  On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labor in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps. 126-127), if prayer is not at the center of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.

We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.

From the Vatican and from the Phanar, 1 September 2017
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Mary: love made manifest

Alumna Nancy Holloway is a retired chaplain and adjunct professor from Berea College. She has a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary (Class of ’91), and has published articles in several journals. She also is involved in ministry to women at a local jail, and attends St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lexington, KY.

The following excerpt is taken from her recently published book, The Maternity of Mary, the Mother of God, which she wrote to be used in small group study. On this Feast of Dormition, the falling asleep of the Mother of God, it seems apropos to reflect upon the Theotokos as a model of love.


Chapter 8: Postscript

Maternity of Mary_Image_As the first disciple, the first-deified human, as our Lord’s mother and nurturer, Mary is the first to show us how a human being is to manifest love

We are created in the image of a God who is love, which means that love is our truest nature: love is our most authentic activity; love is our origin; and love is our destiny. We are fully who and what we were meant to be when we are loved and love in return.[1]

This is Mary. To love God totally, she gave herself fully to his will, not holding back any of her “self” and so came into the true selfhood as the mother of God’s son.

Mary defines human love and sit is archetype. And we have seen this love in her obedience, giving birth, nurturing, relinquishing, suffering, and joy. She lived this love in every aspect of her life.

A visionary film about mother love entitled, “Shy People,” which came out in 1988, featured a sophisticated, shallow, New York journalist who insists to her boss that she be assigned to write about her family’s roots in rural Louisiana. She flies down to visit her cousin, to interview her and her family. With her spoiled daughter she arrives at the cousin’s home, to find her cousin and her three adult sons isolated in the backwaters of the Bayous. The brief stay brings a cultural clash between the two families, which results in a radical change in of attitudes on the part of the two mothers, as to what “mother love” really is. The New Yorker, formerly oblivious to her daughter’s drug use, announces to her daughter on the plane home that she will be going to a rehab center when they return. The other, who has refused to let her adult sons leave home, gives them their freedom. When asked by one of them, “Mom, don’t you still love us?” she answers “Certainly, I love you. I always have. I just keep having to learn how.”

So how do we live a life of love and emulate Mary in today’s culture, with its distorted view of love, when the word “love” itself is too often sentimentalized or sexualized? How do we know when to set boundaries, when to relax them; when to hold on and when to let go; when to be silent and when to speak the truth in love?

Discernment is seen by the Church Fathers as one of the greatest and more difficult of the virtues. Yet discernment is needed if we are to know in each circumstance of our life, how to love, how to express it, how to move from self to selflessness. And critical to discernment is a rich and deep life of prayer.

According to the Scriptures, Mary pondered; according to tradition she was raised in the Temple—both of these sources indicating her profoundly contemplative nature. She looked first to God, and with this single-minded devotion, could discern in each situation how to respond in love, fully trusting God in spite of the mystery and uncertainty at every juncture in her life. Trusting God in love, she was willing to be an unwed mother in a culture that stoned such women; trusting God in love, she was willing to go with Joseph when he led her and the young Babe on the dark journey down to Egypt; trusting God in love enabled her to relinquish, to surrender her Child to his divine vocation that was so in conflict with Gabriel’s early words to her; trusting God in love was to suffer, through her compassion, a common martyrdom with her Son, and the culmination of trusting God in love was to receive the mystery and joy of the Resurrection in all its fullness.

At each point, even though not understanding, she trusted God in the mystery and wonder of it all. And at every point, even though her love was tested in a different way, she continued to surrender and be obedient to the glorious task to which she had been called.

So—let us love like Mary. Let us echo her “Let it be to me according to thy Word.” And, how do we do this?

First and foremost, let us deepen our life of prayer so that we will know how our love must be expressed in each situation. Let us nurture in imitation of her nurturing love for her Son, by succoring those in our care, and extending that to neighbor and the world around us. Let us relinquish, when by discernment letting go is more loving than holding on. Let us be silent when speaking would sow discord. Let us be willing to suffer, without understanding why, being at peace in our suffering; offering to God to complete the suffering of his Son. Let us love even those who reject our love. And let us fully receive the joy and mystery of the Resurrection so beyond our comprehension, so that we can manifest its saving and renewing power to the world.

To emulate Mary’s love in today’s secular, hectic, distracting, consumer-driven, fast-paced, and increasingly violent culture is the primary challenge for the Christian. This is the narrow way of which our Lord speaks. Only by being supported by the Church’s prayers and worship, the rich legacy of the Church Fathers, and devotion to the Scriptures can we be faithful and discerning as we live out lives of love in such a treacherous world. And with Mary as the archetype of the golden threads of love and prayer—our model, guide, and intercessor—we can persevere in the call to be changed from glory into glory as we grow into the likeness of her Son.

You may order The Maternity of Mary, Mother of God through Amazon.

[1] Mark O’Keefe, OSB, Awakened by Love (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 2014), 39.

Comments Off on Mary: love made manifest

Filed under Uncategorized

Remembering Father John Meyendorff

Kishkovsky_Synaxis Blog

Protopresbyter Leonid Kishkovsky

Our alumnus, Protopresbyter Leonid Kishkovsky, rector of the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, Sea Cliff, NY, wrote this touching remembrance of our former Dean, Protopresbyter John Meyendorff (+ July 22, 1992). Father Leonid is also director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations for the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and has long represented the OCA in Orthodox, ecumenical, and inter-religious settings. He knew Father John personally and worked with him as a colleague both at the OCA, where Father John acted as editor of The Orthodox Church newspaper, and in intra-Church and ecumenical settings.

Each year, at the end of July, we especially honor the memory of Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary from 1984 until his retirement on June 30, 1992, just a few weeks before his repose on July 22.

meyendorff12

Protopresbyter John Meyendorff (+ July 1992)

A better way to speak of Father John’s repose would be to say that he died “in hope of the resurrection.”  These words are used in Orthodox prayers for the departed.  Father John’s theological vision, in accord with the great Christian theologians, affirmed and celebrated the dynamism of our life and our movement toward the resurrection.

In remembering Father John and reflecting on his life and ministry, it is clear that he was a theologian of depth and a teacher of excellence.  In this he witnessed to Christ, to the Gospel, to the Orthodox Faith.  He exemplified intellectual integrity and seriousness and was allergic to untruth in any form.  Theology and teaching were not “academic” endeavors for Father John.

He placed his intellect and his teaching in the service of the Church.  In this sense, he was as much a pastor as he was a theologian and teacher.  During the years of his labors as theologian and historian, teacher and lecturer, Father John achieved respect and recognition around the world in the Orthodox Church, in the ecumenical world, and in academia.  Among the Orthodox Churches, his voice articulated the vision of the Orthodox Church in America, affirming the imperative need for unity and mission.  In the ecumenical and academic worlds, he articulated and bore witness to the Orthodox vision of God’s creation and the meaning and content of human life in light of the biblical teaching on the image and likeness of God in each human person.

As editor of The Orthodox Church newspaper for 20 years, Father John made a major contribution to public discussion of the challenges facing the Orthodox Church in North America and around the world.  He saw his service as editor as a continuation of his task as teacher of theology and history.  He knew that an educated and informed clergy and laity were necessary for a healthy Church.  His birth and education in France were no obstacle to his love for America.  On the contrary, he entered fully into the experience of American Orthodoxy, understanding its challenges and appreciating its gifts and possibilities.

In the story of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, Father John was more than a teacher and scholar.  He played a key role in the negotiations which led to the granting of autocephaly, working closely with Father Alexander Schmemann and the other members of the team charged by the Holy Synod with the responsibility for dialogue and negotiation with the Russian Orthodox Church.

A central aspect of Father John’s thought and teaching was the calling of the Orthodox Church to overcome the limitations of national, ethnic Orthodoxy through a proper vision and experience of the unity and universality of the Orthodox Church.  This did not mean for him that the national and ethnic realities should be despised or rejected.  It did mean that the true vocation of the Orthodox Church cannot be confined to the boundaries of ethnic and national identities.  This insight guided the “creators” of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, and still guides our vision of Orthodox mission in America.

The various aspects of Father John’s life and ministry were complementary.  Scholar and priest, teacher and educator, dedicated to the Orthodox Church in America, and honored around the world as a theologian, articulate voice for Orthodoxy in the ecumenical context – all of these dimensions were integrated and harmonious, and all were at the service of the Good News of Christ and the Church of Christ.

When Father John received the Sacrament of Unction not long before his death, he said one word – “Eucharist.”  When the Eucharistic Liturgy is celebrated at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Chapel, the icon behind the altar table is the icon of Christ giving Communion to the Apostles.  Father John’s vision and experience of the Church was deeply Eucharistic.  As he approached the hour of his death, the Eucharist stood at the center of his vision.  The life and ministry of Father John, as well as his sickness and death, were full of the hope of the resurrection.  And this joyful hope is fulfilled in the Eucharist given to us by Christ.

Reprinted by permission of the author and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The article first appeared on oca.org.

Comments Off on Remembering Father John Meyendorff

Filed under Uncategorized

July: A “month-long spiritual desert”

By Alumnus Archpriest Steven Kostoff (Master of Divinity ’81), pastor of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church, in Norwood, Ohio

SYNAXIS_Desert_JourneyUnless we find ourselves on an exciting vacation somewhere far from home, it seems that nothing can conceivably be more uneventful than a Monday morning in mid-July.

The only “variety” offered seems to be found in the weather: Will it rain or will the sun shine? Will the blistering heat continue, or will we feel some relief? At this point in the summer, we may have already been on vacation—which means that there isn’t much to look forward to—or we are awaiting an upcoming trip that at least fills us with some sense of anticipation and “escape.” (All of which poses a further question: are our carefully-planned vacations—into which we invest so much time, energy, money, and even hope—always as rewarding, relaxing, and renewing as anticipated? I suppose that can only be assessed once we have returned—hopefully as intact as when we departed!)

Adding to our spiritual ennui is, admittedly, the fact that July is the most uneventful month of the year liturgically: no major fasts or feasts occur during this month. With vacationing parishioners, there can be a noticeable drop in church attendance. There may also be certain signs of “spiritual laziness” setting in (induced, perhaps, in part by the haziness of the weather) leading to that condition of spiritual torpor known in our spiritual literature as acedia.

July, therefore, is a month-long stretch of spiritual desert, for we celebrated the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul at the end of June and await the major Feasts of the Transfiguration and the Dormition in August, within the context of the two-week fast from August 1–14. Basically, there is “only” the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and the commemoration of a few well-known saints throughout the month.

Of course, we never want to find ourselves saying that there is “only” the Liturgy on Sunday mornings. The word “only” is hopelessly inadequate when applied to the Lord’s Day celebration of the Eucharist!

“Only” implies “uneventful, yet every Liturgy is the actualization of the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and our participation in that mystery: “Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven….” And every Liturgy is simultaneously the actualization of the Pentecostal mystery of the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit: “Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered….”

At every Liturgy we proclaim and bless the presence and power of the kingdom of heaven. We are praying to and praising the Holy Trinity together with the angels and the saints. We are in direct communion with God and one another in the Liturgy. This means that every Liturgy is “eventful” in a manner that we can barely comprehend!

If, indeed, the summer proves to be something of a spiritual drought, then we can only thank God for the weekly liturgical cycle that begins and culminates with the Divine Liturgy on the Lord’s Day so that we can recover and renew our genuine humanity that has been created, redeemed, and transformed “in Christ.”

To speak of our life “in Christ” on the communal level, we believe that at every Liturgy we anticipate the messianic banquet, where and when “many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8.11). The heavenly manna, or the “Bread from heaven” that we receive by the grace of God, strengthens us in the somewhat outward and inward “desert-like” conditions of the world around or within us.

On a more interior level, we may one day make the wonderful discovery that we need not travel far away geographically in order to embark upon a life-transforming journey. In the Prologue to his book The Orthodox Way, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware relates the following anecdote.

One of the best known of the Desert Fathers of the fourth-century Egypt, Saint Sarapion the Sidonite, travelled once on pilgrimage to Rome. Here he was told of a celebrated recluse, a woman who lives always in one small room, never going out. Skeptical about her way of life—for he was himself a great wanderer—Sarapion called on her and asked: “Why are you sitting here?” To this she replied: “I am not sitting, I am on a journey.”

Admittedly, this will not work well with children! But at one point in our lives, we need desperately to make that discovery of our interior depths wherein we find a point of stillness that will further still our excessive restlessness that endlessly pushes us “outward” rather than “inward.” In one of my other favorite sentences in The Orthodox Way, Metropolitan Kallistos puts it this way: “We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart, a journey not measured by the hours of our watch or the days of the calendar, for it is a journey out of time into eternity.”

“Vacations” are one thing, and “journeys” (or pilgrimages) another. The packaging and planning of the former make them much more predictable that the limitless possibilities of the latter. So, as we plan our outward vacations by plane or car, we need make provisions for the interior journeys into the greater space of our hearts through “faith, hope, and love,” as well as through the practices of prayer and fasting, so as to remain attentive to the “still voice of God” that gives direction and meaning to our lives. Be that as it may, we pray that God will bless us on both forms of our travels!

Whatever the state of our journey, the following passage from the Scriptures may inspire us to see beyond the tedium that leads to the forgetfulness of God: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed” (Heb 12.12–13).

Comments Off on July: A “month-long spiritual desert”

Filed under Reflection, Uncategorized

Pentecost, the Feast of the Church

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann (+)
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Spring & Summer 1953, Nos. 3, 4, pp 38–42

Schmemann Alexander2This past Sunday, we Orthodox Christians heard sermons in our parishes about the meaning of Pentecost, which celebrates the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the abiding presence of the Spirit in the Church throughout the ages.
In this essay, Father Alexander (Dean of St. Vladimir’s 1962–1983) also begins by speaking about major themes that characterize this great feast: the presence and actions of the Spirit in the Church, the revelation of the Holy Trinity, and the purification of each person’s soul in the body of Christ.
However, one of the most interesting portions of Father Alexander’s essay, published in 1953, is his explanation of the “Kneeling Prayers,” that mark the Vespers services following the Divine Liturgy for the feast, and that section is reprinted here.


The peculiar characteristic of the Liturgy on the day of Pentecost is that it is immediately followed by a Vesper service that is commonly called “kneeling prayers.” This Vesper service signifies the transition form the first major theme—the joy of the coming of the Spirit—to the second—the prayer for the abiding of the Spirit in us, for His help in our earthly life.

icon-pentecost2Litany supplications are added: “For the people present who are awaiting the Grace of the Holy Spirit…that the Lord may strengthen us into the attainment of a good and acceptable end…For those who are in need of help.”  And in the sticheras for “Lord I have cried unto Thee” (which repeat the chvalitny of the Matins service) and in the great prokeimenon, “Who is a great God like our God?,” the fullness of joy comes once more.

But immediately after the prokemin, people are asked to kneel down. This first bending of the knees after Easter signifies the conclusion of the Triodion—the fact that the Church now enters the “narrow path” of struggling, and of the difficult daily acquisitions of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in this first prayer, we bring to God our repentance and augmented prayers for forgiveness of sins—the first condition for entering into the kingdom, into the perfect joy. In the second prayer, we pray to the Holy Spirit for help, that He would teach us to pray and to follow the true path, that He would enlighten us in the dark and difficult night of our life. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember our fathers and brethren who have departed, who have finished their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal love of the Church.

To every one of these prayers the usual evening prayers are added. So again begins the night of the history of the world, in which the Church has to wander.

In this “night,” the enemies’ tricks are awaiting us: temptations, the whole burden of sin and our feebleness. The joy of Easter has been completed, and we again have to wait for the dawn of the eternal day of Christ’s kingdom. Therefore we are praying on our knees for help and protection, so that we may pass this night and attain to the morning.

However, as we know our weakness, we also know the joy of the Spirit who has come:  we know that we have not remained orphans. The benediction at the end of the Vespers service bears His testimony to it: “He emptied Himself…came down on earth to take upon Himself our human nature wholly and to deify it…He sent down His Spirit upon His Holy Apostles, who were illumined by the Spirit and through whom the whole world was illumined.”

At the Compline service of the same day a special canon to the Holy Spirit is sung, where we experience once more the feast of His coming and His abiding in the Church. It is significant that all the irmosi of this canon, except the first, are taken from the canon of the Nativity! The coming of the Spirit fulfills that which began when the Word became flesh. “Christ was born, now the Holy Spirit descends as if returning Christ to us, who ‘is and shall be’ in the Church with us forever.”

It would be impossible to enumerate all the details of the services commemorating the Feast of Pentecost, which blend into one perfect harmony, making us truly feel the breathing of the Holy Spirit. This harmony reveals itself fully only in the Liturgy, only in the common act of worship. As we have said, the Feast of Pentecost concludes the Triodion, and we enter the “ordinary season” of the year. However, there are no ordinary days for the Church. Every week has its cycle, which is concluded with its own small Easter—“Sunday.”

The Church is always living a divine-human life. Heaven and earth, promise and fulfillment are mysteriously united in Her. On the Feast of Pentecost, we adorn our churches with flowers and green branches, for the Church is truly an evergreen tree. Therefore on the First Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the memory of all the saints, whose holiness is the glory of the Church and a testimony to the Holy Spirit, who is ever present in Her.

The life of the Church is an eternal Pentecost, the eternal coming of the Holy Spirit, and so, “whosoever thirsteth, let him come and drink” (John 7:37).

Comments Off on Pentecost, the Feast of the Church

Filed under Homily, Uncategorized