3rd Sunday of Lent

Veneration of the Cross

Tone 3

Readings

Hebrews 4:14-5:6 (Epistle)
Mark 8:34-9:1 (Gospel)

Troparion (Tone 1)

O Lord, save Thy people,
and bless Thine inheritance!
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians
over their adversaries;
and by virtue of Thy Cross,
preserve Thy habitation!

Kontakion (Tone 7)

Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden;
it has been mysteriously quenched by the wood of the Cross.

The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished; for Thou, O my Savior, hast come and cried to those in hell:
Enter again into Paradise!

About St. Gregory Palamas

St Gregory Palamas (~1359 AD)
Memory Celebrated March 27 & 2nd Sunday of Great Lent

St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessaloniki, was the defender of the Hesychasts. He upheld the doctrine that the human body played an important part in prayer, and he argued that the Hesychasts did indeed experience the Divine and Uncreated Light of Tabor. To explain how this was possible, St. Gregory developed the distinction between the essence and the energies of God. He set Hesychasm on a firm dogmatic basis, by integrating it into Orthodox theology, and by showing how the Hesychast vision of Divine Light in no way undermined the doctrine that God can not be comprehended. His teachings were confirmed by the local councils held in Constantinople in 1341 and 1351.

St. Gregory began by reaffirming the Biblical doctrine of man and of the Incarnation; i.e. the whole man, united in body and soul, was created in the image of God, and Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification'. The Hesychasts, so he argued, in placing emphasis on the body's part in prayer, are not guilty of a gross materialism but are simply remaining faithful to the Biblical doctrine of man as a unity. Christ took human flesh and saved the whole man; therefore it is the whole man that prays to God.

How is it possible for man to know God and, at the same time, affirm that God is by nature unknowable? St. Gregory answered this question by quoting St. Basil the Great who said "We know our God from His energies, but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence. For His energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable". St. Gregory added "God is not a nature, for He is above all beings.... No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature, or nearness to it". Even though God's essence may be remote from us, He has revealed Himself through His energies (or grace). These energies do not exist apart from God, but are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate relationship with us. When we say that the saints are 'deified' by the grace of God, we mean that they have a direct experience of God Himself through his energies (or grace), not in His essence.

The vision of Light that Hesychasts receive is the same Light that surrounded Christ on Mount Tabor. It is a true vision of God in His divine energies.

2nd Sunday of Lent

St. Gregory Palamas

Tone 2

Readings

Hebrews 1:10-2:3 (Epistle)
Mark 2:1-12 (Gospel)

Troparion (Tone 8)

O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation,
O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians,
O wonderworking Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace,
always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved!

Kontakion (Tone 8)

Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, joyful trumpet of theology,
together we sing thy praises, O God-inspired Gregory.
Since thou now standest before the Original Mind, guide our minds to Him, O Father,
so that we may sing to thee: “Rejoice, O preacher of grace!”

A Reflection on the Annunciation

Be it unto me according to Thy word

Obedience is the beginning of our life of faith, albeit a hard word for us to accept. God speaks - and we are meant to obey. He spoke to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and they of course disobeyed, which is the story of our turning away from God, but they trusted in His promise of salvation, and eventually salvation came to them and to us and everyone in between.  He spoke to Abraham, who obeyed His call and through faith became the father of believers. We can read the Old Testament as a record of God's speaking in many ways - through angels, prophets; in voices dramatic, or mysterious and even quiet and hidden, and remarkably even through Balaam's ass  - and of the many, important human responses - some made in faith, but others showing faithlessness, and yet still others having some proportion of both faith and faithlessness. Obedience and disobedience, truth and consequences, are played out across the scope of salvation history, but the heart of salvation is found in the grace  of Our Lord Jesus Christ Who in His humanity reverses the disaster that comes to us from Adam's disobedience by His own obedience: he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Faith, the Apostle tells us, is almost a synonym for trust. Trust in God. Trust in God no matter how implausible and impossible His words seem. Basically we either trust God, or we do not - and if we do not trust God, we fall back on trusting other persons and things. Ourselves, for example. Our appetites and propensities, intuitions, assumptions, our hunches and biases and 'certainties'....  or our own ideas and opinions. Or perhaps our friends. Or leaders? Princes, sons of men in whom there is no salvation...  Human traditions, persuasive salesmanship. And often enough just plain old stuff. All kinds of stuff: money accumulated and deployed, quality stuff, brand name stuff, security stuff, our-stuff-and-not-your-or-their-stuff. worldly wise programs and policies and strategies. Triangulations. Things - at the end of the day - things not worthy or capable of bearing our trust. Things which build upon our innate, sadly misplaced need to trust in order to deceive and misuse us. Frauds all. Enslaving frauds...  The Apostle writes: Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

In the hymns of the church we sing about the Annunciation: Today is the beginning of our salvation - so we should understand that our salvation hinges, so to speak, on the obedience, the acceptance of the Mother of God, in her affirmation of her trust, her faith in His word.  In her words. How amazing! In her words of obedience. Did creation hold its breath awaiting her response to the Archangel? Is there perhaps a way in which her obedience is an anticipation of the saving obedience of her son and our God?

Christian faith - and our own personal faith - begins with God and his commandments, with trust in God and His commandments. And it grows in our obedience to His word. This is the profound and radical inner, spiritual truth for us to understand in light of the Annunciation. Our spiritual journey - our Lent, indeed our life - will not get any traction until we can say with her: Be it unto me according to Thy word...

Bright Sadness

A beautiful meditation on "Bright Sadness" from Fr Andrew Morbey drawing on other recent luminaries...

"The American poet and Orthodox convert, Scott Cairns writes in a chapter of God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter:

.... at first, I was surely among the crew that Father Alexander Schmemann acknowledges when he writes (in his amazing and very helpful book, Great Lent), “For many, if not for the majority of Orthodox Christians, Lent consists of a number of formal, predominantly negative, rules and prescriptions…. Such is the degree of our alienation from the real spirit of the Church that it is almost impossible for us to understand that there is ‘something else’ in Lent—something without which all these prescriptions lose much of their meaning.”

Father Schmemann goes on to explain that this “something else” is another disposition altogether. He characterizes it as an “atmosphere,” a “climate,” and “a state of mind, soul, and spirit.” In my own experience—which, as I say, required some years of practice before I so much as noticed—Lent can become an incentive and a powerful means by which we can enter the kingdom of God, even as we abide here on earth.

This disposition is the harmolype—the bright-sadness—of which the fathers and the mothers speak. Even in the dryness of our desert journey, we are offered a sustaining taste of the sweet, the living waters. Even amid the gloom, we apprehend a glimmer of the light.  

This bright sadness permeates much of the wonderful poetry of the the Lenten Triodion. These hymns fill our liturgical services with a sadness that is at once bitter, as we consider the wretched state we find ourselves in, and yet leavened with joy, the bright promise of God's presence and forgiveness.

Bright sadness is connected with tender-heartedness, that is, compassion, a compassionate heart, from out of which a loving gaze embraces the suffering of others. What begins as something inward, and deeply personal - being touched by the poetry and melodies of bright sadness - is meant to be a source or well-spring of empathy, of mercy and forgiveness, of loving acts. 

Father John Breck wrote in a meditation many years ago: 

Bright sadness may be the most powerful and important experience we can know. It brings to our mind and heart, in the most direct and personal way, the ultimate purpose of our life and the object or end of our most passionate desire. It reminds us of who we are, as beloved children of God, created in His image and invited to glorify and enjoy Him forever.

That conflicted emotion of bright sadness is a blessed gift, bestowed by the God who loves us with a “love without limit.” It comes to us through our ascetic struggle during the Lenten season, as it does through the solemn beauty of the Church’s liturgical services.

But it can come to us as well when we observe it in the people around us: people with whom and for whom we pray, people who in many cases pray for us without our being aware of it. We find that bright sadness in communion with them, in hearing their stories, in sharing their hopes, fears and longings. We find it through being attentive to the beauty and truth of their life and their unique presence.

The elder Paisios once said that for love to blossom in the heart, we must pray with pain of heart. In explaining this he noted that when we hurt some part of our body - our hand, for example - all our attention and energy focuses on where we hurt. So too it is a hurting and broken heart that focuses our spiritual attention. When asked what can we do if, in fact, we are not suffering and our heart is not hurting, the elder relied: 'We should make the other's pain our own! We must love the other, must hurt for him, so that we can pray for him. We must come out little by little from our own self and begin to love, to hurt for other people as well, for our family first then for the large family of Adam, of God.' 

May our attention to the bright sadness of Lent bring us to the joy of the Resurrection!

SJOTL Google Calendar

One of the features our parish website offers is a Google Calendar that will keep you updated on any and all services celebrated at SJOTL. The link à(http://www.stjohnoftheladder.org/calendar/) goes out with all our bulletin emails. You can print it out to pin on the fridge, or put it on your mobile device. It works well for planning ahead.

If you have a Google account and keep things on your Google Calendar, you can import the church’s calendar by clicking the button on the bottom right-hand corner of the calendar that says “+GoogleCalendar” – it will merge the parish calendar with your other events.

If you are an iPhone or Mac user, this may cause some difficulty, but it can be worked around. If you follow the link above on a desktop computer, it is possible to add the calendar, and then share it with your iPhone.

If you would like to keep the calendar on your iPhone but are still having trouble, please contact Andy Martin at seriousandy@gmail.com for tech support!

If you see any mistakes or omissions on the calendar, please let Fr. David know at frdavidw@gmail.com

First Sunday of Lent

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Tone 1

Readings

Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2 (Epistle)
John 1:43-51 (Gospel)

Troparion (Tone 2)

We venerate Thy most pure image, O Good One;
and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God.
Of Thy good will Thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh
and deliver Thy creatures from bondage to the Enemy.
Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to Thee:
“Thou hast filled all with joy, O our Savior,
for Thou alone hast come to save the world.”

Kontakion (Tone 8)

No one could describe the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from thee, O Theotokos, He accepted to be
Described, and restored the fallen image to its former state by uniting it to divine beauty.

We confess and proclaim our salvation in words and images.