Saturday, April 29, 2006

Our visiting priest, Fr Stephen Freeman

Fr Stephen Freeman, rector of Saint Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will visit Baton Rouge's new mission, Saint Matthew the Apostle, the weekend of May 6-7. He will serve Vespers at 6:00 PM Saturday evening and Divine Liturgy at 10:00 AM Sunday morning. Both services will be held at the home of the Christian family at 12622 Waycross Court in Baton Rouge. A map is included below.

Before converting to the Orthodox Faith in the late 1990s, Fr Stephen served for 18 years as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Last year, he provided a brief account of his pilgrimage from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy in a blog article posted here.

After each of the services we'll have a time of fellowship and a covered dish meal. As you are able, bring something to share. The Christians live in Woodland Ridge, located off S. Harrells Ferry Road between S. Sherwood Forest and Millerville Road. Please call 225-292-4607 or email for directions.

All services are in English; everyone is welcome.

Join us in keeping the Paschal Feast as we welcome Fr Stephen and cultivate the Orthodox Faith in Baton Rouge.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Orthodoxy in Uganda

I often become preoccupied with the peculiar challenges of planting a mission here in Louisiana. This article, referenced in a recent post by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt on his blog Orthodixie, tells the remarkable story of the spread of Orthodoxy in Uganda. Definitely worth a read.

"I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven..." Matthew 8:10-11

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Christ is Risen from the dead,

Trampling down death by death!

And upon those in the tombs

Bestowing Life!

(Paschal Troparion)

This is the day of resurrection! Let us be illumined by the Feast! Let us embrace each other! Let us call ‘brothers’ even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection!

(The Paschal Stikhiri)

Friday, April 21, 2006

The "Active Repose" of Holy Saturday

More Holy Week Reflections by Fr Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory:

Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath.

"The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said: God blessed the second day. This is the blessed Sabbath This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works…." (Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)

By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day - Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another - Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death that Christ continues to effect triumph.

We sing that Christ is "...trampling down death by death" in the troparion of Easter. This phrase gives great meaning to Holy Saturday. Christ's repose in the tomb is an "active" repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all men. Not finding him on earth, he descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death by death.

The traditional icon used by the Church on the feast of Easter is an icon of Holy Saturday: the descent of Christ into Hades. It is a painting of theology, for no one has ever seen this event. It depicts Christ, radiant in hues of white and blue, standing on the shattered gates of Hades. With arms outstretched He is joining hands with Adam and all the other Old Testament righteous whom He has found there. He leads them from the kingdom of death. By His death He tramples death.

(from the website of the Orthodox Church in America,

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Great and Holy Friday

1. John 13:31–18:1
2. John 18:1-29
3. Matthew 26:57-75
4. John 18:28 - 19:16
5. Matthew 27:3-32
6. Mark 15:16-32
7. Matthew 27:33-54
8. Luke 23:32-49
9. John 19:38-42
10. Mark 15:43-47
11. John 19:38-42
12. Matthew 27:62-66

Troparion - Tone 2
The Noble Joseph,
When he had taken down Your most pure Body from the tree,
Wrapped it in fine linen,
And anointed it with spices,
And placed it in a new tomb.

Troparion - Tone 2
The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said:
Myrrh is fitting for the dead,
But Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.

Kontakion - Tone 8
Come, let us all sing the praises of Him who was crucified for us,
For Mary said when she beheld Him upon the tree:
Though You do endure the cross,
You are my Son and my God!

Great and Holy Thursday: The Mystical Supper and the Truth about Judas (and us)

With all of the media attention being given to the gnostic "Gospel of Judas," it's profoundly helpful -- indeed, spiritually necessary -- to enter into the true meaning of today's events. The following reflections on the themes of the day are from Fr Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory:

Two events shape the liturgy of Great and Holy Thursday: the Last Supper of Christ with His disciples, and the betrayal of Judas. The meaning of both is in love. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God's redeeming love for man, of love as the very essence of salvation. And the betrayal of Judas reveals that sin, death and self-destruction are also due to love, but to deviated and distorted love, love directed at that which does not deserve love. Here is the mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy, where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which depends the eternal destiny of each one of us. "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come... having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end..." (John 13:1). To understand the meaning of the Last Supper we must see it as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ.

God is Love (1 John 4:8). And the first gift of Love was life. The meaning, the content of life was communion. To be alive man was to eat and to drink, to partake of the world. The world was thus Divine love made food, made Body of man. And being alive, i.e. partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content and the end of his life. Communion with the God-given world was indeed communion with God. Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God, transformed it into life in God and with God. The love of God gave life to man, the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God. This was paradise. Life in it was, indeed, eucharistic. Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence and man was the priest of this sacrament.

But in sin man lost this eucharistic life. He lost it because he ceased to see the world as a means of Communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving. . . He love himself and the world for their own sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life. He thought that his hunger and thirst, i.e. his dependence of his life on the world - can be satisfied by the world as such, by food as such. But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning - as means of communion with God, once they are not received for God's sake and filled with hunger and thirst for God, once, in other words, God is no longer, their real "content" can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves... And thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires. And he died. For death is the inescapable "decomposition" of life cut from its only source and content. Man thought to find life in the world and in food, but he found death. His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love, and adoration into communion with God, he submitted himself entirely to the world, he ceased to be its priest and became its slave. And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and "sat in the region and shadow of death" (Matt. 4:16).

But if man betrayed, God remained faithful to man. He did not "turn Himself away forever from His creature whom He had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy" (Liturgy of St Basil). A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation. And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God Who in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of, life. And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God. He rejected the basic human temptation: to live "by bread alone," He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man. And this perfect eucharistic Life, filled with God, and, therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who would believe in Him, i,e. find in Him the meaning and the content of their lives. Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper. He offered Himself as the true food of man, because the Life revealed in Him is the true Life. And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine "take, eat. .." (for eating is life for man) comes now "unto the end" with the Divine "take, eat, this is My Body..." (for God is life of man). The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.

But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal. Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. "And it was night" (John 13:30). Why does he leave? Because he loves, answers the Gospel, and his fateful love is stressed again and again in the hymns of Holy Thursday. It does not matter indeed, that he loves the "silver." Money stands here for all the deviated and distorted love which leads man into betraying God. It is, indeed, love stolen from God and Judas, therefore, is the Thief. When he does not love God and in God, man still loves and desires, for he was created to love and love is his nature, but it is then a dark and self-destroying passion and death is at its end. And each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light and depth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us: do I respond to Christ's love and accept it as my life, do I follow Judas into the darkness of his night?

(from the website of the Orthodox Church in America,

Monday, April 17, 2006

Beginning with the End

Palm Sunday is a foretaste of the End: Christ the King enters in Triumph, even as he prepares to suffer and die. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week also concern the End. The following remarks are from Fr Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory:

These three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy, have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. So often Holy Week is considered one of the "beautiful traditions" or "customs," a self-evident "part" of our calendar. We take it for granted and enjoy it as a cherished annual event which we have "observed" since childhood, we admire the beauty of its services, the pageantry of its rites and, last but not least, we like the fuss about the paschal table. And then, when all this is done we resume our normal life. But do we understand that when the world rejected its Savior, when "Jesus began to be sorrowful and very heavy... and his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death," when He died on the Cross, "normal life" came to its end and is no longer possible. For there were "normal" men who shouted "Crucify Him [" who spat at Him and nailed Him to the Cross. And they hated and killed Him precisely because He was troubling their normal life. It was indeed a perfectly "normal" world which preferred darkness and death to light and life.... By the death of Jesus the "normal" world, and "normal" life were irrevocably condemned. Or rather they revealed their true and abnormal inability to receive the Light, the terrible power of evil in them. "Now is the Judgment of this world" (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to "this world" and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the "last time." "The fashion of this world passeth away..." (I Cor. 7:31).

Pascha means passover, passage. The feast of Passover was for the Jews the annual commemoration of their whole history as salvation, and of salvation as passage from the slavery of Egypt into freedom, from exile into the promised land. It was also the anticipation of the ultimate passage - into the Kingdom of God. And Christ was the fulfillment of Pascha. He performed the ultimate passage: from death into life, from this "old world" into the new world into the new time of the Kingdom. And he opened the possibility of this passage to us. Living in "this world" we can already be "not of this world," i.e. be free from slavery to death and sin, partakers of the "world to come."

But for this we must also perform our own passage, we must condemn the old Adam in us, we must put on Christ in the baptismal death and have our true life hidden in God with Christ, in the "world to come...." And thus Easter is not an annual commemoration, solemn and beautiful, of a past event. It is this Event itself shown, given to us, as always efficient, always revealing our world, our time, our life as being at their end, and announcing the Beginning of the new life.... And the function of the three first days of Holy Week is precisely to challenge us with this ultimate meaning of Pascha and to prepare us to the understanding and acceptance of it.

1. This eschatological (which means ultimate, decisive, final) challenge is revealed, first, in the common troparion of these days: Troparion - Tone 8 Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God! Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Midnight is the moment when the old day comes to its end and a new day begins. It is thus the symbol of the time in which we live as Christians. For, on the one hand, the Church is still in this world, sharing in its weaknesses and tragedies. Yet, on the other hand, her true being is not of this world, for she is the Bride of Christ and her mission is to announce and to reveal the coming of the Kingdom and of the new day. Her life is a perpetual watching and expectation, a vigil pointed at the dawn of this new day. But we know how strong is still our attachment to the "old day," to the world with its passions and sins. We know how deeply we still belong to "this world." We have seen the light, 'We know Christ, we have heard about the peace and joy of the new life in Him, and yet the world holds us in its slavery. This weakness, this constant betrayal of Christ, this incapacity to give the totality of our love to the only true object of love are wonderfully expressed in the exapostilarion of these three days: "Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior And I have no wedding garment that I may enter, O Giver of life, enlighten the vesture of my soul And save me."

2. The same theme develops further in the Gospel readings of these days. First of all, the entire text of the four Gospels (up to John 13: 31) is read at the Hours (1, 3, 6 and 9th). This recapitulation shows that the Cross is the climax of the whole life and ministry of Jesus, the Key to their proper understanding. Everything in the Gospel leads to this ultimate hour of Jesus and everything is to be understood in its light. Then, each service has its special Gospel lesson : On Monday: At Matins: Matthew 21: 18-43 - the story of the fig tree, the symbol of the world created to bear spiritual fruits and failing in its response to God. At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 24: 3-35: the great eschatological discourse of Jesus. The signs and announcement of the End. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away...." "When the Lord was going to His voluntary Passion, He said to His Apostles on the way: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, And the Son of Man shall be delivered up As it is written of Him. Come, therefore, and let us accompany Him, With minds purified from the pleasures of this life, And let us be crucified and die with Him, That we may live with Him, And that we may hear Him say to us: I go now, not to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer, But unto My Father and your Father And My God and your God, And I will gather you up into the heavenly Jerusalem, Into the Kingdom of Heaven...." (Monday Matins)

(From the website of the Orthodox Church in America,

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lazarus Saturday

(The Greek Archdiocesan website features this magnificent explanation of Lazarus Saturday, which is the Saturday before Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week)

On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church commemorates a major feast of the year, the miracle of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from the dead after he had lain in the grave four days. Here, at the end of Great Lent and the forty days of fasting and penitence, the Church combines this celebration with that of Palm Sunday. In triumph and joy the Church bears witness to the power of Christ over death and exalts Him as King before entering the most solemn week of the year, one that leads the faithful in remembrance of His suffering and death and concludes with the great and glorious Feast of Pascha.

The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus Christ is found in the Gospel of John 11:1-45. Lazarus becomes ill, and his sisters, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus stating, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” In response to the message, Jesus says, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vv. 1-4).

Jesus did not immediately go to Bethany, the town where Lazarus lived with his sisters. Instead He remained in the place where He was staying for two more days. After this time, He told his disciples that they were returning to Judea. The disciples immediately expressed their concern, stating that the Jews there had recently tried to stone Him (John 10:31). Jesus replied to His disciples, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them” (vv. 5-10).

After He said this, Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep and that He was going there to wake him. The disciples wondered why He would go to wake Lazarus, since it was good for him to sleep if he was ill. Jesus, however, was referring to the death of Lazarus, and thus told the disciples directly that Lazarus was dead (vv. 11-14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Since Bethany was near Jerusalem, many of the Jews had come to console Mary and Martha. When Martha heard that Jesus was approaching she went to meet Him and said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him.” Jesus told her that her brother will rise again. Martha said that she knew he would rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus asked Martha if she believed this. She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (vv. 17-27).

Martha returned to tell Mary that Jesus had come and was asking for her. Mary went to meet Him, and she was followed by those who were consoling her. The mourners followed her thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When she came to Jesus, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus saw her weeping and those who were with her, and He was deeply moved. He asked to be taken to the tomb of Lazarus. As Jesus wept for Lazarus the Jews said, “See how He loved him.” Others wondered that if Jesus could open the eyes of the blind, He certainly could have kept Lazarus from dying (vv. 28-37).

Jesus came to the tomb and asked that the stone that covered the door be taken away. Martha remarked that Lazarus had now been in the tomb for four days and that there would be a stench. Jesus replied, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” The stone was taken away, and Jesus looked toward heaven and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When He had said this, He called out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus walked out of the tomb, bound with the strips of burial cloth, and Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go” (vv. 38-44).

As a result of this miracle, many of the Jews that were present believed in Jesus. Others went and told the Pharisees what Jesus had done. In response the Pharisees and chief priests met and considered how they might arrest Him and put Him to death (v. 45ff).

This miracle is performed by Christ as a reassurance to His disciples before the coming Passion: they are to understand that, though He suffers and dies, yet He is Lord and Victor over death. The resurrection of Lazarus is a prophecy in the form of an action. It foreshadows Christ’s own Resurrection eight days later, and at the same time it anticipates the resurrection of all the righteous on the Last Day: Lazarus is “the saving first-fruits of the regeneration of the world.”
As the liturgical texts emphasize, the miracle at Bethany reveals the two natures of Christ the God-man. Christ asks where Lazarus is laid and weeps for him, and so He shows the fullness of His manhood, involving as it does human ignorance and genuine grief for a beloved friend. Then, disclosing the fullness of His divine power, Christ raises Lazarus from the dead, even though his corpse has already begun to decompose and stink. This double fullness of the Lord’s divinity and His humanity is to be kept in view throughout Holy Week, and above all on Good Friday. On the Cross we see a genuine human agony, both physical and mental, but we see more than this: we see not only suffering man but suffering God.

The Saturday of Lazarus is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Matins service. On Friday before the feast, the Vespers is done either in conjunction with the Presanctified Liturgy or if this is not held, according to the order of the Triodion. The day and commemoration receives its name from the miracle of Christ recorded in the Gospel. Both this feast and Palm Sunday are joyous festivals of the Church, and thus bright colors are used for vestments and the Holy Table.

At the Divine Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the baptismal verse from Galatians ("As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" Galatians 3:27) replaces the Thrice-Holy Hymn, thus indicating the resurrectional character of the celebration, and the fact that Lazarus Saturday was once among the few great baptismal days in the Orthodox Church Year.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We have a name!

By the grace of God, with the blessing of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, we've been given a name:
Saint Matthew the Apostle Orthodox Mission
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(icon available from the Convent of St. Elizabeth in Etna, California)

Troparion (Tone 3)

With zeal, you followed Christ the Master,

who in His goodness, appeared on earth to mankind.

Summoning you from the custom house,

He revealed you as a chosen apostle:

the proclaimer of the the Gospel to the whole world!

Therefore, divinely eloquent Matthew,

we honor your precious memory!

Entreat merciful God that He may grant our souls remission of transgressions.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Last Days of Great Lent: St. Mary of Egypt

This past Sunday we commemorated St. Mary of Egypt, a model of conversion and repentance. The Greek Archdiocesan website provides the following account of her life:

Our holy mother Mary was born in Egypt. She had left her parents at the age of twelve to go to Alexandria, where she spent the next seventeen years in debauchery and the greatest profligacy. Living on charity and linen-weaving, she nevertheless offered her body to any man, not being forced to it by dire necessity as were so many poor women, but as though she were consumed by the fire of a desire that nothing was able to appease.

One day, seeing a crowd of Lybians and Egyptians moving towards the port, she followed them and set sail with them for Jerusalem, offering her body to pay her fare. When they arrived in the Holy City, she followed the crowd that was thronging towards the Church of the Resurrection, it being the day of the Exaltation of the Cross. But, when she reached the threshold of the church, an invisible force prevented her entering in spite of repeated efforts on her part, although the other pilgrims were able to go in without hindrance. Left alone in a corner of the narthex, she began to realize that it was the impurity of her life that was preventing her approaching the holy Wood. She burst into tears and smote her breast and, seeing an icon of the Mother of God, made this prayer to her: “O Sovereign Lady, who didst bear God in the flesh, I know that I should not dare to look upon thine icon, thou who are pure in soul and body, because, debauched as I am, I must fill thee with disgust. But, as the God born of thee became man in order to call sinners to repentance, come to my aid! Allow me to go into the church and prostrate before His Cross. And, as soon as I have seen the Cross, I promise that I will renounce the world and all pleasures, and follow the path of salvation that thou willest to show me.”

She felt herself suddenly freed from the power that had held her and was able to enter the church. There she fervently venerated the Holy Cross and then, returning to the icon of the Mother of God, declared herself ready to follow the path that the Virgin would show her. A voice replied to her from on high: “If you cross the Jordan, you will find rest.”

Leaving the church, she bought three loaves with the alms a pilgrim had given her, discovered which road led to the Jordan and arrived one evening at the Church of Saint John the Baptist. After having washed in the river, she received Communion in the Holy Mysteries, ate half of one of the loaves and went to sleep on the riverbank. The next morning, she crossed the river and lived from that time on in the desert, remaining there for forty-seven years without ever encountering either another human being or any animal.

During the first seventeen years, her clothes soon having fallen into rags, burning with heat by day and shivering with cold by night, she fed on herbs and wild roots. But more than the physical trials, she had to face violent assaults from the passions and the memory of her sins and, throwing herself on the ground, she implored the Mother of God to come to her aid. Protected by God, who desires nothing but that the sinner should turn to Him and live, she uprooted all the passions from her heart by means of this extraordinary ascesis, and was able to turn the fire of carnal desire into a flame of divine love that made it possible for her to endure the implacable desert with joy, as though she were not in the flesh.

After all these years, a holy elder called Zosimas (April 4), who, following the tradition instituted by Saint Euthymios, had gone into the desert across the Jordan for the period of the Great Fast, saw one day a human form with a body blackened by the sun and with hair white as bleached linen to its shoulders. He ran after this apparition that fled before him, begging it to give him its blessing and some saving words. When he came within ear-shot, Mary, calling by name him whom she had never seen, revealed to him that she was a woman and asked him to throw her his cloak that she might cover her nakedness.

At the urging of the monk, who was transported at having at last met a God-bearing being who had attained the perfection of monastic life, the Saint recounted to him with tears the story of her life and conversion. Then, having finished her account, she begged him to come the following year to the bank of the Jordan with Holy Communion.

When the day arrived, Zosimas saw Mary appearing on the further bank of the river. She made the sign of the Cross and crossed the Jordan, walking on the water. Having received Holy Communion weeping, she said: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation” (Luke 2:29). She then took leave of Zosimas, asking him to meet her the following year in the place where they had first met.

When the year was past, Zosimas, going to the agreed spot, found the Saint’s body stretched on the ground, her arms crossed and her face turned towards the East. His tearful emotion prevented him from noticing at once an inscription traced on the ground by the Saint, which read: “Abba Zosimas, bury here the body of the humble Mary; give what is of dust to dust, after having prayed for me. I died on the first day of April, the very night of the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, after having partaken in the Holy Eucharist.” Consoled in his grief by having learned the Saint’s name, Zosimas was amazed to discover that she had, in several hours, covered a distance of more than twenty days’ march.

After having vainly tried to break up the earth with a stick, he suddenly saw a lion approaching Mary’s body and licking her feet. On the orders of the Elder, the beast dug a hole with its claws, in which Zosimas devoutly placed the Saint’s body.

On his return to the monastery, he recounted the marvels that God had wrought for those who turn away from sin and move towards Him with all their hearts. From the hardened sinner that she had been, Mary has, for a great many souls crushed under the burden of sin, become a source of hope and a model of conversion. This is why the Holy Fathers have placed the celebration of her memory at the end of the Great Fast as an encouragement for all who have neglected their salvation, proclaiming that repentance can bring them back to God even at the eleventh hour.

(Fr. John Parker, an OCA priest in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, has a great article on St. Mary featured on and on his blog.)

Great Vespers and Divine Liturgy in Baton Rouge: May 6-7

Father Stephen Freeman will be visiting Saint Matthew the Apostle Orthodox Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the weekend of May 6-7, 2006. Great Vespers will be Saturday evening, May 6, at 6:00 PM. Divine Liturgy will be Sunday morning, May 7, at 10:00 AM. These gatherings will be in the home of Mark and Mary Elizabeth Christian in Woodland Ridge near Interstate 12 and S. Sherwood Forest Boulevard.

Please call or email for directions: 225-241-2926 or

The services are in English; everyone is welcome.

Father Stephen, an experienced mission planter and convert from the Episcopal Church, serves as rector of Saint Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.