Monday, March 30, 2020

Division and Content of the 24 Verses of the Akathistos Hymn

The Service of the Akathistos Hymn is sung at Mattins on the Saturday of the fifth week of Lent or in the evening of Friday of that week, attached to the service of Small Compline. It is sung in full on these days, but in parts on the four Fridays of Lent before then, “as a pre-festal and post-festal” feature. This is because there are elements of the Feast of the Annunciation which are not celebrated because of the “mourning” and compunction of Great Lent.

If we examine the Service of the Akathistos Hymn for its content, we see that the individual parts of which it consists (the canon of the Mother of God and the 24 verses of the Salutations to the Mother of God) are of a glad and cheerful nature, projecting a sense of joy with the repetition of the word “rejoice” [connected in Greek with the word for joy, rather as “rejoice” is in English] and the phrases “Rejoice, you who are full of grace”, “Rejoice, Bride Unwedded”, which recall the salutation of the Archangel as recorded in the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you” (1, 28). They also highlight the unique role of the Mother of God in the Divine Dispensation and in the salvation of the human race.

The canon of the Service of the Akathistos Hymn, “I shall open my mouth”, which includes many of the troparia also found in the canon for Mattins on the feast of the Annunciation, is a poem by Iosif the Hymnographer [feast day April 3]; while the irmi (the first tropario in each ode) were written by Saint John the Damascan.

Both hymnographers focus on four main points:
  1. the prefigurations of Christ and the Mother of God in the Old Testament,
  2. the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ,
  3. the personality and role of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God in the completion of the plan of God’s dispensation, and
  4. the salvation of the world, in Christ.
The twenty-four verses of the Akathistos Hymn form an acrostic, that is to say they are written with the first letter of each verse in the same order as in the Greek alphabet. This acrostic is evidence of the overall integrity of the hymn but, alas, reveals nothing about the poet, whose identity remains a mystery to this day.

The verses are divided into two large units, each with two sub-units. In the first, the hymn-writer attempts to present the historical revelation of God, while in the second he aims to describe Christology and soteriology.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Proper Understanding and Use of Antidoron

Please help me to understand the significance of antidoron. How should one receive it and handle it? If one takes it home during the week for daily "communion" is this wrong? Is there a proper way of doing it—before a prayer, before a meal, etc.? When can you or should you take prosphora to Church? Should you also take wine and oil? Do you bring the names of people to be commemorated with these gifts? (G.M., IL)

This is a subject of great importance which we have several times addressed in the pages of Orthodox Tradition. When we do not commune at Liturgy, we receive antidoron (an-dee-tho-ron, with a hard "d" and a soft "d," as in "the") at the end of Liturgy (that is, blessed bread which substitutes for the Gifts; thus, antidoron, "instead of the Gifts"). Those who commune during the Liturgy receive antidoron or antidoron and wine immediately after communing and should not take it again at the end of Liturgy. Since it is blessed, the antidoron should be carefully handled and no particles of it should be allowed to fall on the ground. This means that children must be carefully watched while consuming antidoron and taught to treat it with pious reverence. It should be received from the Priest at the end of Liturgy and immediately consumed. Since antidoron is given in place of the Gifts, it is also received on an empty stomach, for which reason Orthodox Christians do not eat or drink anything from the midnight before the Divine Liturgy, whether communing or not.

Antidoron may also be taken home for use during the week. It is a pious custom for Orthodox Christians to begin the day, after their morning prayers and before eating, by consuming a particle of antidoron and drinking agiasmos, or blessed water.

Prosforo(n), the word for the bread which we offer at the Divine Liturgy, comes from the Greek word for an offering, prosfora. It is customarily baked in the home with prayers and taken to Church, where it is offered for the Divine Liturgy. (Incidentally, women, out of piety, should not prepare prosforon during their monthly periods.) One may also give oil and wine along with prosforon—other "offerings"—so as to provide for the oil lamps and the remaining element of the Eucharist, though this is not mandatory. This can be done for any Liturgy. It is also customary to offer the names of Orthodox Christian family members, of friends, and of relatives with the prosforon, so that the Priest may commemorate them at the Service of Preparation (Proskomide).

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Patient Endurance Is the Fruit of Virtue, Nourished by Prayer

A conversation with Metropolitan Athanasios of Limasol about his book, "The Church's Open Heart". 

In the book, The Church's Open Heart, (Sretensky Monastery Press, [in Russian] 2014) the memoirs of Metropolitan Athanasios about elders—contemporary ascetics with whom he studied in a spiritual school—are collected, as well as the sermons and teachings of Vladyka, who is well-known not only to the Orthodox world, but also beyond it. Thus, what examples do elders give by their life to us Christians who live in a very complicated world today? And what can and must we contrast with the troubles that come crashing down on us like an avalanche? Our correspondent from talks about these questions and more in an interview with the archpastor of Limasol while he was in Moscow.

"Pray Always"

We laypeople like stories about miracles very much, and about grace-filled gifts, but we forget somewhat about the price we have to pay for these things. Your book opens with a conversation about the holy elder Joseph the Hesychast. Tell us a little bit about the labors that he and his community performed, and about what lesson we laypeople can derive from this—without, of course, dreaming of duplicating it all.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast lived on Mt. Athos, though I did not manage to meet him while he was alive, as he reposed in 1959. But I did get to meet all his disciples.

My starets—Elder Joseph from Vatopedi Monastery—was a disciple, the first disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and so my monastic life began under the influence of his spiritual school.

Elder Joseph was one of the most outstanding spiritual figures on Mt. Athos in the twentieth century. He was a great ascetic, but also a notable hesychast.1 His life was full of miracles and the activity of God and the Most Holy Mother of God. In spite of the fact that he was a hermit—that is, he did not go out anywhere—four of his disciples subsequently became the spiritual fathers of hundreds of monks.

Right now there are approximately a thousand of us—monks who came from Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Out of the twenty monasteries on Mt. Athos, six of them were revived by spiritual children of Elder Joseph. We consider that his prayers and his presence greatly influenced our monastic life.

We inherited three important things from Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples: the first consists in the value of obedience—to the Church and to one's elder. The second, in taking part in the Divine Liturgy, in the Eucharist, that is, in regular Communion. And the third is the practice of mental prayer.

Our whole monastic life was and is dedicated to these three important things. Elder Joseph the Hesychast was occupied in unceasing mental prayer for six hours every evening.

He would spend eight hours at night serving the all-night vigil. Six hours were dedicated to mental prayer and spiritual reading, and two hours to the Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated daily. This all began at sunset. On Athos, if eight hours pass after sunset, it is already sunrise—especially in the summer.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Will of God and Freedom by Saint Silouan the Athonite

It is a great good to give oneself up to the will of God.  Then the Lord alone is in the soul.  No other thought can enter in, and the soul feels God's love, even though the body be suffering.

When the soul is entirely given over to the will of God, the Lord Himself takes her in hand and the soul learns directly from God.   Whereas, before, she turned to teachers and to the Scriptures for instruction. But it rarely happens that the soul's teacher is the Lord Himself through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and few there are that know of this, save only those who live according to God's will.

The proud man does not want to live according to God's will: he likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God.  And I, when I lived in the world, knew not the Lord and His Holy Spirit, nor how the Lord loves us-I relied on my own understanding; but when by the Holy Spirit I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, my soul submitted to God, and now I accept every affliction that befalls me, and say: "The Lord looks down on me. What is there to fear?" But before, I could not live in this manner.

Life is much easier for the man who is given over to the will of God, since in illness, in poverty, in persecution he reflects thus: "Such is God's pleasure, and I must endure on account of my sins." 

Thus for many years have I suffered violent headaches, which are hard to bear but salutary because the soul is humbled through sickness.  My soul longs to pray and keep vigil, but sickness hinders me because of my body's demand for rest and quiet; and I besought the Lord to heal me, and the Lord hearkened not unto me.  So, therefore, it would not have been salutary for me to have been cured.

Here is another case which happened to me, wherein the Lord made haste to hearken unto me and save me. We were given fish one feast-day in the refectory, and, while I was eating, a fish-bone found its way deep down my throat and stuck in my chest. I called to the holy martyr St. Panteleimon, begging him to help me, as the doctor could not extract the bone.  And when I spoke the word 'heal,' my soul received this answer: 'Leave the refectory, take a deep breath, fill out your cheeks with air, and then cough; and you will bring the bone up together with some blood.' This I did. I went out, exhaled, coughed, and a big bone came up with some blood. And I understood that if the Lord does not cure me of my headaches it is because they are good for my soul.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Church's Teaching Concerning Angels

The Creation, Nature and Purpose of the Angelic World. Angels in Holy Scripture.
The word "angel" means "messenger" and this word expresses the nature of angelic service to the human race. From the days of man's life in paradise, mankind has known of their existence, and its almost universal recognition is reflected not only in Judaism but in most other ancient religions as well.

When Adam was expelled from paradise after his fall, one of the cherubim with a flaming sword was set to guard the gates of Eden (Gen. 3:24). When Abraham sent his servant to Nahor, he encouraged him by telling him that the Lord would send His angel before him and prosper his way (Gen. 24: 7, 40). Jacob saw angels both in a dream—the vision of the ladder—and when awake—when returning home to Esau he saw a host of the angels of God. In the Psalter there are constant references to angels, and we also read of them in the Book of Job and the prophets. The Prophet Isaiah saw the seraphim surrounding the throne of God, and the Prophet Ezekiel saw cherubim in his vision of the Temple of God (Is. 6:1-7, Ezek. 10:1-22.)

In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation contains much information about angels and many references to them. An angel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias; so also did an angel announce the birth of the Savior to the most holy Virgin Mary and appear in a dream to Joseph. A mighty host of angels sang the glory of Christ's nativity; an angel announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds and stopped the Wise Men from returning to Herod; angels ministered to Jesus Christ during His temptation in the wilderness; an angel appeared to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane; angels announced His Resurrection to the myrrh-bearing women; and at His ascension angels proclaimed, His second coming. Angels loosed the bonds of Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 5:19) and of Peter alone (Acts 12:7-15); an angel appeared to Cornelius the Centurion, telling him to send for Peter who would instruct him in the word of God (Acts 10:3-7). An angel announced to Paul that he was to appear before Caesar (Acts 27:23-24) and the vision of angels is the foundation of the Revelation of St. John.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Elder Justin Pârvu: “Man is half love, half struggle”


Motto: “If we would be willing to descend into our selves to correct a bit this avalanche of wrongdoings, then our prayer will be heard, the world would be more at peace and our life would suit more the Lord’s liking.

We have become increasingly hostile towards each other by our own selfishness, we see no one but ourselves…and when we reach this state of no longer caring for those near us, we encounter the greatest fall”.

Man’s freedom is at the measure of his genuine love.

Freedom becomes precious only when it is lost. Or at least, this is how we think. All his life man seeks to be free, but does not appreciate the gift of his freedom until it is too late. Freedom is in our body but also in our heart. Freedom is in action but also in the mind and the intellect. Man is free by how genuinely he loves and is attached to the values of the faith.

We are free when we accept God’s plan for our life, and when we strive to achieve it. Being free does not mean lethargy and bliss, but the fulfillment of your human condition.

Freedom does not mean to do what I always wish, as many times by doing what I like I do the will of the devil. Freedom is at the measure of man discernment, and his capacity to choose between good and evil. Man must realize that only in Truth he can live freely and with so much confusion in this world, he should avoid deception. It was what Communists did not understand, that only on the Cross the human soul gains true freedom, that all their methods of torture and psychological pressure to re-educate us, have made more saints than slaves, have sanctified our land by the martyrs blood.

Friday, November 15, 2019

On Spiritual Struggle by Elder Porphyrios

What makes a person holy is love, the adoration of Christ

When Christ enters our soul, everything within us will be altered

Man is a mystery. We carry within us an age-old inheritance – all the good and precious experience of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance of the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present. All this is within us, instincts and everything, and all demand satisfaction. If we don’t satisfy them, they will take revenge at some time, unless, that is, we divert them elsewhere, to something higher, to God.

That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity. This is what we confess in the sacrament of baptism. With baptism we enter into the joy of Christ. As many as are baptized in Christ, have put on Christ (Gal. 2:27). Confession is a second baptism in which we are purified of our passions, in which our passions are benumbed. Thus divine grace comes through the sacraments.

The Lord said to His disciples, ‘When the Holy Spirit will come, it will teach you all things’ (Cf. John 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us everything. It sanctifies us. It assimilates us to God. When we have the Spirit of God, we become incapable of all sin, incapable of sinning. When we have the Holy Spirit, we cannot do evil. We cannot be filled with anger or hate or speak evil.

We must become filled, replete with the Holy Spirit. This is where the essence of spiritual life lies. This is an art – the art of arts. Let us open our arms and throw ourselves into Christ’s embrace. When Christ comes, we will have gained everything. Christ will alter everything within us. He will bring peace, joy, humility, love, prayer and the uplifting of our soul. The grace of Christ will renew us. If we turn to Him with intense longing and desire, with devotion and love, Christ will give us everything.