Metropolitan Tikhon’s Homily for the Feast of St Herman of Alaska

Annual Pilgrimage to Spruce Island

August 9, 2019

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

Christ is in our midst!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we celebrate the feast of our Father among the Saints, the Elder and Wonderworker of Alaska, Venerable Herman of Spruce Island, we recall the long history and witness of Orthodoxy in North America, a history and witness that have been inspired and blessed by the prayers of this great saint. From the time of his arrival, with his monastic and missionary companions, on the shores of Alaska in 1794, to our own day, 225 years have flowed by. This may seem like a long time for us who live in the 21st century, but our celebration of the Divine Liturgy today, here on the very spot where St Herman lived, prayed, and worked, is a reminder that our communion with God, with the saints, and with one another, is something that transcends the boundaries of time and space. 

Today, I would like us to consider four events that all happened, not 225 years ago, but fifty years ago, in 1970, or very close to it. A few of us had been born into the world then, but probably only our elders remember those times very well. As we approach the close of this half-century, I would like to draw our attention to these four particular events, events that had significance for our life as a Church in 1970 and have some continuing significance for us today. 

First of all, we remember one of the first acts of the new autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, the canonization of the saint we commemorate today, Venerable Father Herman of Alaska, our great American missionary and monastic saint who labored here on Spruce Island for the salvation of the local people, as well as for the salvation of his own countrymen. With his compatriots he came to Alaska to bring the Gospel, the Good Tidings, to the North American land. As we are reminded in one of the hymns for his feast:

"On a fragile vessel, O Saint, thou didst cross the sea's stormy depths, coming even to a distant land, where Spruce Island was to thee a spiritual vessel, on which by the word of Good Tidings -- of the Gospel -- and by deeds of piety thou didst attain to heaven's harbor, rejoicing in the Lord." (~ from Matins, after the Polyeleos)

Many missionaries lost their lives crossing stormy seas, drowning in sunken vessels. It's important to remember how dangerous sea travel is, as those of us who set sail this morning to Spruce Island have experienced, at least in a small measure. But we should also take to heart the metaphor that the hymn is using. St Herman's Spruce Island -- this place where we now stand -- was St Herman's spiritual vessel, the "ark" on which he sailed "to heaven's harbor, rejoicing in the Lord." Like a sea vessel, the place where we abide, our house on earth, is a place of spiritual travel, bringing both gospel opportunities and the very real and present danger of drowning! This is often the reality of our spiritual journey: it presents at once with great blessings and great challenges. 

We recognize St Herman as a saint because he navigated his spiritual journey safely. His many deeds of piety, his virtues of humility and gentleness, and especially his teaching of love for God, and of our human need to remember God and to work to please him, kept St Herman spiritually alive on his island ark and allowed him to live out the gospel for the sake of so many others.

I commend to you to carefully read the well-known account of St Herman's encounter with two dozen officers -- "learned men, highly educated" -- aboard a frigate that had arrived in Alaska from St Petersburg. Here we have a different kind of ship, a boatload of seekers. St Herman asked the sailors, "what do you love more than anything else, and what would make you happy?" After listening to various answers, the saint proposed: "What could be better, higher than all, more superlative and most worthy of love if not the Lord, our Jesus Christ Himself, who created us, who adorned us with such good qualities, who gave life to all, who maintains and nourishes everything, loves everyone, who is himself love...?" 

This was St Herman's gospel, preached not only to the poor and oppressed native peoples of Alaska, but also to sophisticated and educated maritime officers. He preached constant remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ who "adorns us with such good qualities," who "loves everyone," who "is himself love" -- and who is worthy of our love more than anything else. 

St Herman helped those sailors remember why they should love and seek to please God-made-flesh, the creator Word who came into creation. When St John in his Gospel says that the Word, the logos, "was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1.14), the actual term there for "dwelt" is "tabernacled." God the logos "pitched his tent" in human flesh. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who as St Herman says "gives life to all, maintains and nourishes everything," is God who made his "house" here among us on earth, so that he might sojourn together with us wherever we are, guiding our small, fragile, spiritual vessels on the way to "heaven's harbor." (Cf Jn 2.19)

The second event I'd like us to remember, which also took place in 1970 is one that took place, not immeditatelywithin the Church, but within the wider society. This event was the first Earth Day, which some may remember as the culmination of a whole decade during the 1960's of increasing environmental and ecological concern, when humanity woke up: to how much pollution was being poured into the air, the rivers, and the oceans; to the dangers of nuclear weapons and radioactive fallout; to the increasing numbers of plant and animal species that were going extinct. Soon scientists started warning of many other environmental dangers caused by industrialization, urbanization and population pressures, the cutting down of rainforests, famine and desertification, and even on a planet-wide scale, the atmospheric consequences of burning off the earth's carbon fuel resources. 

Today, the most talked about environmental issue is of course climate change -- global warming -- which here in Alaska you are particularly aware of in the form of melting polar ice caps. Rising sea levels make coastal life increasingly at risk from flooding, storm and tempest. What are Christians to make of the ecological movement? What is to be our environmental ethic, we who St Herman admonished to love the Lord more than anything else? -- More than anything "worldly" or "merely earthly"? What does Earth Day have to do with remembering St Herman, who remembered God and wanted to please him more than anything else on his way to a heavenly abode, a heavenly harbor?

I think we can answer that question if we keep two things in mind. 

The first is our third event from 1970 -- actually 1968-1969. The news lately has been full of Apollo 11, whose 50th anniversary we're also celebrating this year. Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the moon, saying famously, "That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." Amidst growing environmental concerns during the '60's, it suddenly became possible for human beings to contemplate leaving planet earth! If we ruined this world, could we possibly escape to build another? Now as then, environmental advocates often sound an apocalyptic alarm, suggesting to us that the planet is doomed! If Earth Day and landing on the moon coincided in human consciousness in 1970, does the answer lie in an "escape to the heavens"? – Surely, we as Christians should have something to say to that!

I have always found that God provides the solution to new theological problems right in the midst of the problem itself, if only we're willing to see. It shouldn't surprise us that something else happened at the same time human beings became able to leave our planet behind. At the same time, they also became able to turn around in space... and to look at our planet and see it in a whole new way. As a species, for the first time, human beings became able to see Earth as a whole, from "the heavens" as it were, from "outside." And we saw how fragile it looks, how much it seemed to be an "earthen vessel" floating in space. In 1968, the astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission turned around, looked back at earth, and took the first photograph of our planet from space. This image is the famous picture called "Earthrise," and ever since it has captured the attention of human being for its astonishing beauty -- and the sense of humility it arouses in the human heart. One of the Apollo 8 astronauts reflected at the sight, "We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing that we discovered is the earth."

The second thing to keep in mind is of course the gospel itself. When St Herman preached constant remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ, God-made-flesh, who "gives life to all, who maintains and nourishes everything," he was exhorting us to remember that Christ made his "house" here together with us on earth. God the word "tabernacled" with us. In fact, the very word eco-logy is made from this fundamental gospel, this central belief of Christian faith. "Eco-logy" comes from the Greek wordsoikos (meaning house) and logos (meaning word). "Ecology" is the science, we might say then, of "the word in the house," or "the word about the house." If theo-logy is the word about God as such, about God the word, eco-logyis its exact counterpart. As we as Christians constantly remember our greatest love, how Christ as creator was made flesh in order to accompany us and guide our spiritual journey, "giving life to all and maintaining and nourishing everything," we are in fact living out a Christian ecology.

The astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission turned and saw, for the first time, our fragile planet, hanging as a vessel floating in space, beautiful and vulnerable. What they saw in fact is our God-accompanied spiritual house -- a much larger version of St Herman's spiritual Spruce Island. They were given a "word in the house," the gospel, all over again. Perhaps this is what evoked in them such awe.

And this brings us to the fourth event we remember from1970, which is the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America by the Russian Orthodox Church. Wisely, St Herman was canonized at the same time as autocephaly was granted because the OCA needed a virtuous and missionary American saint to accompany our new "house of Christ," our new tabernacle-vessel, our new apostolic church, planted in North America to consecrate a new place of sojourn. Saint Herman’s virtue and missionary labors revealed him to be a true ascetic – not just because he was a monastic, but because he saw things correctly: his own heart, the hearts of those around him, and even the physical world that he lived in. 

Asceticism is not the rejection of the world or of other people but is our path to communion with God. "For us," Archimandrite Sophrony write, "Christ is the absolute truth. He is God-the-Creator and God-the-Saviour. His commandments are the Uncreated Light of divinity. The essence of Orthodox asceticism lies in striving to make these commandments the one law of our whole temporal and eternal being."

This is what St Herman strove for in his own life and in his own simple way. As we live into the 50th anniversary year of St Herman, of Earth Day, of our recently gained new perspective on Planet-Vessel Earth, and, not least, of our beloved Orthodox Church in America, our gospel task is to remember Christ dwelling among us for the sake of his love, for the sake of our life, and to love him more than anything else by seeking to please him "eco-logically" here in return.

May the intercessions of St Herman, who serves for us as a joyful North Star on our evangelical journey here in North America, continue to guide all of us in the direction of our true homeland, the heavenly kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

(Courtesy of the “Metropolitan’s Schedule” daily email)

public.jpeg

Saint Lawrence August 10

“Assum est. Versa et manduca."

St. Lawrence, Archdeacon of Rome, was a third-century martyr who embodies the ideals of care for the poor and of cheerful faith in the face of suffering.

Archdeacon Lawrence had the duty of using church funds to care for the poor and needy. He was commanded by the Roman Emperor Valerian to turn over the treasures of the church in which he served. At the appointed time, Lawrence appeared in court along with a crowd of the poor, diseased, and unwanted of Rome. The furious emperor demanded, "I told you to bring me your treasures! What is this rabble doing here?"

Lawrence coolly replied, "Your honor, these are the treasures of the Christian Church."

For his audacity, Archdeacon Lawrence was sentenced to a particularly cruel death. He was trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey and ”roasted” on a gridiron over a slow fire. But even in his torment he gave thanks to God, and mocked the emperor for his paganism and unbelief. After he had roasted for some time he remarked to his torturers, "Better turn him over now; he's done on this side."

His life and death are powerful. He models the charism of diakonia…genuine “ministry”, or literally, service, of the gospel in the heart of the Church. He witnessed to and lived out the command of Our Lord as found in Matthew 25 (“... Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”).

May we all be inspired by the example and martyria of St. Lawrence, and may the Lord raise up deacons in the church, both ordained and lay, after the “order of St Lawrence”.

public.jpeg

SJOTL is now on Amazon Smile!

What is AmazonSmile?

AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon that lets customers enjoy the same wide selection of products, low prices, and convenient shopping features as on Amazon.com. The difference is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organizations selected by customers.

How does AmazonSmile work?

When first visiting AmazonSmile, customers are prompted to select a charitable organization from over one million eligible organizations. In order to browse or shop at AmazonSmile, customers must first select a charitable organization. For eligible purchases at AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the customer’s selected charitable organization.

SJOTL is now registered on Amazon Smile, and you can begin shopping on AmazonSmile with donations set up to go to SJOTL using your existing Amazon account by following this link: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/57-0929358, or by going to smile.amazon.com, searching for SJOTL when prompted, and choosing to support it as your charity.

Building Project Discussion and Updates from the Informal August 5th Parish Meeting

Delays

The completion of the final site work has been delayed due to the amount of rain that has fallen in recent weeks. The installation of flooring in particular has been delayed by the high humidity of the air in the crawl space under the church. Seeding of the grass parking lot has also been delayed because of the rain. Instead of seeding, the church is now planning to move forward with laying sod, since it is too late in the season for seeded grass to securely take root. Landscaping of the property should commence shortly, as soon as the grading is finished. At this time it looks like we should be able to move into the new church by Labor Day weekend.

Financials

We are currently projected to be $90,000 under budget on the current phase of construction. $280,000 remains on our line of credit, and we should have $200,000 left on hand after the current phase of the construction is complete, with $350-400,000 projected to be on hand by the end of the year.

The Augusta Arbor property is on sale for $425,000 after having been assessed at $350,000 in 2011. We have an interested lessee who we are presenting a lease agreement that would pay us $2000 a month as well as cover utilities and other costs for the Augusta Arbor property, and that would include an option for the lessee to buy, perhaps with incentives.

Options for a Parish Hall Discussed

Two main options were discussed:

1) Buy a roughly 1600 square foot mobile unit (double wide trailer) for $50-75,000, which would be used for fellowship and office space until we could build a parish hall. It would likely take a couple months to get the mobile unit approved and in place. Until the mobile unit was in place, a tent could perhaps be used for fellowship and Sunday school.

2) Look into building an "event barn", an open structure with the frame of a barn (see examples here), which would be a permanent parish hall solution. The event barn would be 4200 square feet (the full square footage approved by the county for a parish hall) and would cost $450-475,000 to build. The barn would take around 6 months to finish, and it was proposed that in the intervening time a tent could be set up to host a simplified version of coffee hour and to accommodate Sunday school.

At the meeting, a vast majority in an informal vote were in favor of moving ahead with option 2 in the form of the first step of the event barn construction process: asking area event barn builders, which have been identified, to provide plans and estimates for our own custom event barn, which would be tailored to the parish's needs. This would cost an estimated $20,000 and take a month or two, but would require no further commitment from the church. Once plans were presented, the church would decide whether or not to move forward with construction. Till the event barn is constructed or decided against (likely meaning that the church would instead purchase a mobile unit), coffee hour and church school would be held in an on-site tent.

Several cautioned against making a "final decision" before we are in the new church and know what we might like to spend on finishing the interior before moving ahead with a parish hall solution.

Miscellaneous

During the week of August 19th, Fr. Marcus will be moving his office to the Synesis International offices just down the street from the new church building, courtesy of Ricardo Studart.

The Bishop's visit is planned for October 12th-13th.

Big question for the future: which parish hall solution will have us prepared for Pascha?

Tithe.ly

The Parish Council is excited to announce a new way to give tithes and offerings to our church. We have received a number of requests over the last couple of years for a way to give online. After an extended period of exploring options, we have settled on Tithe.ly as our preferred solution. In our estimation, this option offered the best blend of simplicity, functionality, reasonable cost, amenable privacy policy, and well-rated customer support. Several members of the Parish Council have been using this app/website for about six weeks as a beta test and everything has gone quite well.

Tithe.ly is an app that you can download to your Android or Apple device which will allow you to make an offering from your checking account or debit card. It also allows for giving through a web link, if you would prefer that method over a smartphone app.

Do not feel obligated to use this method of giving. If you have a system that is currently working for you, by all means continue to do what makes sense for you. We are simply seeking to add to our stewardship toolkit in response to those who have been asking for a direct way to give online.

If you intend to give through this platform, note that there is a cost per transaction for giving through this platform. The most cost-effective way to donate is through an ACH transaction, which simply requires your checking account number and your bank's routing number.  If you choose to give via a debit card or any other type of card, there is a higher transaction cost to either you or SJotL (2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction for debit cards, compared to only 1% plus 30 cents per transaction for ACH/bank). You have the option to donate an amount without covering the cost of the transaction fee (which would deduct the cost of the fee from the final amount SJotL receives) or to add the cost of the transaction on top of your donation and pay the fee yourself. Given the per transaction cost, it would make more sense to give sizable donations through a more traditional means.

To download the application, go to the App Store on your device and search for Tithe.ly. If you would like to try giving through the website instead, please follow this link: https://tithe.ly/give?c=264478

Parish Council member Andy Martin will be available with his computer in the teen church school room during coffee hour on the following days to support anyone who has questions or would like help with setting up a Tithe.ly profile.

June 3, 2018
June 24, 2018
July 8, 2018

Please reach out to the church at office@stjohnoftheladder.org if you would like to ask questions or require help prior to those dates.

In XC,

Fr Marcus
Fr David
Bill Wamboldt
Kirsten Small
Andy Martin
Nick Jankowsky
Brad Wentworth

In Memoriam: Priest Gregory Heers

Father Gregory Heers, 81, of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese fell asleep in the Lord on June 11, 2016.  Father Gregory was born on January 17, 1935 and was married to the former Catherine Platos for 52 years.  Father Gregory is survived by his sons John Heers and Fr. Peter Heers, daughter Elizabeth Berg, and eleven grandchildren.

Father Gregory became an Orthodox priest in 1992 and served Antiochian parishes in California and London, Ontario.  Many people from his previous affiliation became Orthodox through his example.  He retired in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2005 and attended Saint John of the Ladder (OCA) with Father Marcus Burch as rector.

In loving memory of Father Gregory memorial donations may be made to further the church building fund: Saint John of the Ladder Orthodox Church, 701 Augusta Arbor Way, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.stjohnoftheladder.org.

May his memory be eternal, and may his soul dwell with the blessed!

Building Committee Update

On April 8, 2016, the reorganized building committee met. The parish council approved the organization chart showing the new committee and support teams. (See above).

Jeff Helvey was selected to chair the Building Committee, while he and Rich Eich will co-chair the Construction Team. Kirsten Small is the Project Coordinator.

The Construction Team is working on getting the house on the property removed. ECS Carolinas has been selected to complete the required asbestos testing on the house prior to demolition.

The site engineers are working closely with the county to finalize the site drawings; we expect these to be submitted to Greenville County no later than April 20. Once we receive the county’s final approval and permit, the completed Site Plans along with Andrew Gould's Building Construction documents will be provided to George Webb at Clayton Construction, who will obtain final bids from subcontractors and submit a completed construction contract for the project.

Clayton Construction will reach out to the subcontractors with the completed information requesting they resubmit their bids to reflect any changes from the completed drawings. Clayton

will prepare a finalized contract price for St. John’s approval.

The Finance Team, chaired by Bill Wamboldt, is reaching out to potential lenders in anticipation of receiving the construction contract from Clayton Construction.

The pre-construction phase of a major building project is always the longest and most frustrating. Your ongoing prayers and support are greatly needed and appreciated.

The Building Committee and support teams are working to help facilitate efficiency and transparency. The next scheduled Building Committee meeting will be Sunday, May 8, following liturgy.

Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Et Al

Dear Friends and Faithful,

The blessing of the Lord!

Tomorrow (FRIDAY, APRIL 22) is the final day for confessions before Pascha; neither Fr David nor I will be available for confession during Holy Week. I am available, as noted on the calendar, from 4:00 pm until a few minutes before6:00 pm when we will begin the Vespers of Lazarus Saturday. I have some limited availability for appointments throughout the late morning and early afternoon tomorrow, as well.

Please join us in prayer as we receive our catechumens into the Church through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Chrismation on Lazarus Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 8:30 am. Divine Liturgy will be followed by a “Champagne and Caviar" Reception. 

There are sign-up sheets in the kitchen for reading over the tomb of Christ from Holy Friday evening until Holy Saturday morning. Please sign up for a thirty minute slot (it seems the early morning hours are those now available). Also, we will begin reading the Book of Acts at 9:00 pm on Holy Saturday (all these time slots are accounted for). Finally, as is our custom, we will read a portion of the Prologue of the Gospel of John (John 1:1 - 17) at the Divine Liturgy of Pascha in as many languages as possible. If you are proficient in a language please let me know which language(s) you are able to do, and I will develop a list of readers and languages (there is also a signup sheet in the kitchen). Eg, the following were the languages read last year: Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Tamil, Bulgarian, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Russian, Finnish, and Japanese.

As we are are increasingly crowded at SJOTL, particularly for Sunday Divine Liturgy, Palm Sunday, and  Pascha, it is important for all of us to understand our surroundings in the church, and how they relate to other people, and the various liturgical ministries that are going on (Altar Serving, Choir, Readers, Bellringers, et al). First, please make every effort to remain in the nave once you have entered, leaving only for a 'cause worthy of a blessing'. Because of the relatively small space, hinges on the doors, etc., this 'coming and going' becomes very distracting over the course of service. Second, if you are not singing in the choir, please do not stand behind the choir during services; rather move somewhere more forward where there is more space (see the fuller note from our choir directors appended below). Also, especially for the heavily attended services like the Divine Liturgy and Pascha, unless you are a singer, and are fully prepared to sing for the service you are attending, do not stand in the choir area, or sit in the pews around the choir. Parents that have children with them, please make sure they are being tended to and older children should not be in the choir area at all unless they are singing.

Finally, during this Great Lent which is rapidly coming to a close, we have been praying that the 'Lord and Master' of our lives would take from us "the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk". With everyone having confessed their sins before Christ, it is especially important that as we approach this final days before Pascha that we turn our attention to the second portion of this prayer: "...give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love", and particularly how we show these and practice these toward one another. If we can focus on these things in light of Christ's saving passion and His resurrection from the dead, we will surely not be far from the Kingdom.

I wish you all a blessed celebration Feast of Palms, Holy Week, and Lord's Pascha!

Let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

in Christ

Fr Marcus

Choir Info as we approach Holy Week and Pascha

Greetings, everyone!

We are writing to you on behalf of our choir as we approach the preparations for Holy Week and Pascha. As we are anxiously waiting for our new church to be built, it’s important for all of us to exercise patience on the days the church is especially crowded. We are very fortunate to have a large choir, but a large choir also takes up a lot of space. We respectfully ask that all non-singers refrain from standing or sitting in the pews surrounding the choir. While portions of this area may indeed be vacant for part of our services, it’s important to keep these areas open at all times for use by our choir members.

Movement within and near the choir, as well as conversation among those sitting behind the choir, has been distracting; this also holds true with some of our children. For those children who have been occasionally singing with us during Vespers or Liturgy, when they become tired and feel that they are not able to complete the service standing and singing with the choir, we are going to ask them to go back and stand with their parents for the remainder of the service.

Though we welcome any and all who are interested in being a part of the St. John of the Ladder Choir, it is important that as we get into Holy Week and Pascha, people who wish to sing should have been singing consistently with the choir and should have been rehearsing with us leading up to that time. We respectfully ask that during Holy Week and Pascha, if you have not been singing frequently with the choir, and have not attended our rehearsals, that you please do not join us for those services (this includes the children as well). If you have friends visiting from out of town during Pascha, who sing with their own parish choir and wish to sing with us, please have them contact Bill or Kevin.

Finally, and most importantly, for those of you who are indeed interested in becoming regular members of the choir, we strongly encourage you to see Bill or Kevin. All choir members are required to attend rehearsal on Sunday mornings at 8:55 in the church hall. 

We wish you all a continued prayerful and fruitful Lent, as we look forward with great anticipation to the beauty of Holy Week and Pascha! 

In Christ,

Bill Wamboldt & Kevin Ayesh

Saint Mary of Egypt - The Mercy of God

The Life of St. Mary of Egypt, celebrated on this weekend in Great Lent, is often cited as an example of a great spiritual athlete. St. Mary indeed spends many decades in the desert, fasting, praying, repenting. She is transformed from a drunkard and prostitute into one of the greatest saints of the Church. But it is very easy to miss the point of her life.

She responds to the call of God with every fiber of her being. But the true point is God's call. She had no interest in changing her life when she made her way to Jerusalem from Egypt. Indeed, we are told that she "corrupted" many of the men who were on the boat that took her. The whole gambit of visiting the Cross in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was nothing more than a game or a lark for her.

It is God, through the intervention of the Mother of God in her icon, that reaches out to St. Mary. It is God who brought her to her senses. It is God who directed her into the desert. It is God who poured out His grace on her, making her repentance possible.

The message to us is that there are none so corrupt or lost that they cannot be reclaimed and found. The Scripture says, "God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." We are nearing the end of our Lenten Fast. It is never too late to hear the kindness of God and to accept His mercy. May God draw us to Himself and grant us the grace of salvation!

(from Fr Stephen Freeman)

About the Great Canon of St Andrew

The Great Canon of St Andrew, Bishop of Crete, is the longest canon in all of our services, and is associated with Great Lent, since the only times it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent (Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, at Great Compline, when it is serialized) and at Matins for Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety (in this latter service, the entire life of St Mary of Egypt is also read).

There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations. Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments. One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.

The canon is a dialog between St. Andrew and his own soul. The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always mentions his own sinfulness placed in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, and uses literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from the OT and NT to “convince himself” to repent.

A canon is an ancient liturgical hymn, with a very strict format. It consists of a variable number of parts, each called an “ode”. Most common canons have eight Odes, numbered from one to nine, with Ode 2 being omitted. The most penitential canons have all nine odes. Some canons have only three Odes, such as many of the canons in the “Triodion” (which means “Three Odes”).

In any case, all Odes have the same basic format. An “Irmos” begins each Ode. This is generally sung, and each Irmos has a reference to one of the nine biblical canticles, which are selections from the Old and New Testament, which can be found in an appendix in any complete liturgical Psalter (book of Psalms, arranged for reading in the services). A variable number of “troparia” follow, which are short hymns about the subject of the canon. These are usually chanted, and not sung. After each troparion a “refrain” is chanted. At the end of each Ode, another hymn, called the “Katavasia”, either the Irmos previously sung, or one like it is sung.

The troparia of the Great Canon in all its twelve Odes are usually chanted by the priest in the center of the church, with the choir singing the Irmos and Katavasia. There are varying traditions about bows and prostrations. Some prostrate and some make the sign of the cross and bow three times after the Irmos and each troparion.

General Themes of the Great Canon.

How we should think about ourselves

Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls (Monday:1.1).

Desire to change—dialogue with the soul

Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In the future refrain from you former brutishness, and offer to God tears of repentance (Monday:1.2).

Recognizing Reality.

The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? (Monday:4.2)

How to pray - Laments and supplications to God.

Thou art the Good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect no me who have gone astray. (Monday:3.5).

OT and NT examples of righteousness and unrighteousness, for the purpose of emulation or avoidance.

Do not be a pillar of salt, my soul, by turning back; but let the example of the Sodomites frighten you, and take refuge up in Zoar.(Genesis 19:26) (Thursday: Ode 3:5)

I have reviewed all the people of the Old Testament as examples for you, my soul. Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked (Tuesday: Ode 8)

The most important thing to know about the Great Canon.

The Great Canon was written by a holy man to teach himself the right way to live. We cannot benefit from it unless we make it a priority to stand in prayer, in the church, and listen to it, with a great desire and expectation for God’s grace to teach us and heal us. Our theology is first and foremost—experienced and prayed, and not only “studied”.