Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Upcoming Events in Baton Rouge

Thursday, September 7

6:30 PM

Ancient Christian Worship:

Praying with the Orthodox Church Today

a lecture by Fr Justin Patterson

The International Cultural Center at LSU

(Dalrymple at W. Lakeshore)


Friday, September 8

10:00 AM

Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Nativity

of the Mother of God

St. Matthew Orthodox Church

15959 Hewwood Avenue, Suite F

(Off O’Neal Ave just south of Interstate 12)


Saturday, September 9

5:00 PM

The Mother of God in Eastern

Orthodox Tradition

a talk by Mr. J. Mark Christian at St. Matthew Church

6:00 PM

Great Vespers at St. Matthew Orthodox Church


Sunday, September 10

10:00 AM

Divine Liturgy at St. Matthew Church

Coffee Hour following the Liturgy. Around noon, a

Panikhida (Memorial Service for the Departed)

will be served in remembrance of our Loved Ones and all victims of the 9-11 attacks and of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What is Faith?

Faith is the path on which an encounter takes place between us and God. It is God who takes the first step: He fully and unconditionally believes in us and gives us a sign, an awareness of His presence. We hear the mysterious call of God, and our first step towards an encounter with Him is a response to this call. God may call us openly or in secret, overtly or covertly. But it is difficult for us to believe in Him if we do not first heed this call.

Faith is both a mystery and a miracle. Why does one person respond to the call while another not? Why is one open to receive the voice of God, while the other remains deaf? Why, having encountered God, does one immediately abandon everything and follow Him, but the other turn away and take a different road? ‘As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me”... Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John... and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him’ (Matt.4:18-22).

What secret hides behind the readiness of the Galilean fishermen to abandon everything and follow Jesus at first encounter? Why, on the other hand, did the rich young man, who also heard Christ’s ‘Come and follow Me’, not abandon everything for Him but instead ‘went away sorrowful’ (Matt.19:21-22)? Is it perhaps because the fishermen were poor, while the young man ‘had great possessions’? The former had nothing other than God, while the latter had ‘treasure on earth’.

Each one of us has treasure on earth, whether it be in the form of money or possessions, satisfactory employment or material wellbeing. But the Lord said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt.5:3). In St Luke’s Gospel this is put even more simply and directly: ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’ (Luke 6:20). Blessed are they who realize that while they may possess many things, they in fact own nothing. Blessed are they who realize that no earthly acquisition can substitute for God. Blessed are they who go and sell all their wealth in order to acquire the pearl of great price (cf. Matt.13:45-46). Blessed are they who know that without God they are poor, who have thirsted and hungered after Him with all their soul, mind and will.

-Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev on the Mother of God and the Saints

We can judge the Church’s attitude towards women by the high position accorded to the Most Holy Mother of God. The Church glorifies Her more than all of the saints and even more than the angels. She is praised in hymns as ‘more honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim’. The Holy Virgin is the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church — it is in Her person that the Church glorifies motherhood. Motherhood is an integral part of woman’s dignity and it may be noted that those Protestant churches that have entrusted to women the celebration of the Eucharist and other priestly functions neither venerate the Mother of God nor pray to Her. Yet the church community deprived of the Mother of God loses its fullness in the same way that a community deprived of the priesthood is not a complete Church. If fatherhood is realized in the person of the hierarchy — the episcopate and the priesthood — then motherhood is personified in the Church in the Most Holy Mother of God.

The Orthodox Church glorifies the Mother of God as Ever-Virgin (aeiparthenos). This term was upheld by the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 533 and emphasizes the virginity of the Mother of God before, during and after Christ’s Birth. She is also called Most Holy, Most Pure and Immaculate. The Orthodox Church follows early church tradition in believing that the Holy Virgin after Her death rose again on the third day and was assumed bodily into heaven like Christ and the Old Testament saints Enoch and Elijah.

Very little is said in Holy Scripture about the Holy Virgin: her place in the New Testament is very modest, especially if we compare it with the place she occupies in the life of the Church. The veneration of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church is based not so much on Scripture as on a centuries-old experience of many people to whom, in one way or another, the mystery of the Holy Virgin was revealed.

The Mother of God stands at the head of the host of saints glorified by the Church. The veneration of the saints and prayers addressed to them is an ancient tradition of the Church preserved from apostolic times. Accusations that the Church worships people on the same level as God, thereby breaking the commandment ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’, are unjust. Greek theology makes a clear distinction between worship (latreia) of God and veneration (proskynesis) of the saints. The latter are venerated not as gods, but as people who have attained a spiritual height and who have become united with God. The saints are closely connected with each other and with Christ. In venerating the saints we venerate Christ, Who lives in them.

Official numbering among the saints, or canonization, is a comparatively late phenomenon: there were no acts of canonization or glorification in the early Christian Church. A martyr who suffered for Christ soon after his death would become the object of reverential veneration by believers; they would pray to him and would celebrate the Liturgy on his tomb. To this very day there is a rule in the Orthodox Church whereby the Liturgy is celebrated on the relics of the martyr or a saint. This emphasizes the link between the Church on earth today, made up of living people, and the Church triumphant in heaven, made up of saints glorified by God. It also shows how the martyrs are the basis and foundation of the Church. ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity’, said Tertullian.

The veneration of a particular saint is not a result of the act of canonization. Actually, the reverse is true: canonization comes as a result of the popular veneration of a saint. There are saints about whose lives almost nothing is known, and yet their veneration is universal. A good example is St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (the fourth century). He is glorified by Christians of both the Eastern and Western Churches, he is loved by both children and adults (Christmas holidays in the West would be unthinkable without Santa Claus visiting the home and bringing presents). Even non-Christians who pray to St Nicholas receive help from him. This universal veneration of the saint is rooted in the experience of many generations of people: he became the ‘personal friend’ of those thousands of individuals whom he has helped and whom he has saved from death.

Some people find it difficult to understand why it is necessary to pray to the saints when there is Christ. Yet the saints are not so much mediators between us and Christ: rather, they are our heavenly friends, able to hear to us and help us through their prayers. Someone who has no friends in heaven cannot properly understand this reverential veneration which surrounds the saints in the Orthodox Church. It has to be said, therefore, that those Christian communities which have no direct and living communion with the saints, cannot fully experience the completeness of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ uniting the living and the dead, saints and sinners.

Text from the online edition of The Mystery of Faith

Icon from www.iconsexplained.com

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Orthodox Relief for Lebanon

News from IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities) dated August 4, 2006:

Baltimore (IOCC) — Day 23 of the invasion of Lebanon finds one-fourth of the country’s population displaced from their homes of which an estimated 128,000 have taken shelter in public schools and institutions. IOCC is continuing its relief efforts to displaced families, delivering food and hygiene parcels to 892 families in the Maten and Alley areas, and reaching the more dangerous regions of the Chouf during the 48-hour lull in fighting.

Many of these displaced families are staying in the public schools where IOCC has been repairing infrastructure and conducting an education/feeding program since 2001. On average there are 30-40 families per school, with each family staying in a classroom. Staff is coordinating efforts with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Middle East Council of Churches, and with the Orthodox Church in each village or area that IOCC distribution of supplies is taking place.

“IOCC may not be one of the larger aid organizations on the ground in Lebanon,” says Interim Director of Operations Matthew Parry, “but it is certainly one of the best positioned.” Literally overnight, Beirut staff converted the IOCC development program into an emergency relief effort using trucks that normally distributed public school meals to reach distressed families. Staff was also able to use their network of food suppliers to procure food and hygiene items, a task that was very difficult in view of the security situation.

IOCC began its relief efforts in the Maten and Alley areas of Mount Lebanon, providing one food and one hygiene parcel per family. Church World Service has also pledged 5,000 hygiene kits, 500 collapsible water containers and hundreds of wool blankets. Each parcel contains supplies that last for one month. Food parcels contain milk powder, vegetable oil, canned fish, hummus, beans, pasta, rice, corn, jam, tea and sugar. Hygiene parcels contain toothbrushes, tooth paste, soap, tissue paper, toilet paper, shampoo, antiseptic cleaner, laundry soap and sanitary pads.
“I think IOCC is distinctive in its approach because in addition to providing basic food and hygiene supplies, we are also providing educational materials about ways to relieve stress and the importance of food and personal hygiene,” says IOCC Beirut Program Coordinator Linda Shaker Berbari. “This will help families cope better with their environment and prevent problems that might arise due to poor hygienic practices.”

IOCC has been active in the Middle East since 1997, when it first implemented humanitarian programs in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. With funding from the Greek Government, IOCC is currently implementing an emergency response program in Gaza and recently completed a civil society program for rural Palestinians. IOCC also has various relief and development activities in Iraq and Jordan and has undertaken programs in Lebanon since 2001. Current programs in Lebanon include a USDA-funded Food for Education program.

To help in providing emergency relief, call IOCC's donation hotline toll-free at 1-877-803-4622 or mail a check or money order payable to “IOCC” and write "Lebanon Crisis 2006" in the memo line to: IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, Md. 21263-0225.

Media calls: Contact Amal Morcos at 410-243-9820 or (cell) 404-805-4142.

To contribute or find more information available online, visit www.iocc.org

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary

Troparion-Tone 1:

In giving birth you preserved your virginity,
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world,
O Theotokos.
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, And by your prayers,
you deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion-Tone 2:

Neither the tomb, nor death
could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope
in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life
by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Memory Eternal: An Orthodox Reading of The Brothers Karamazov

Professor Donald Sheehan, who teaches in both the first-year writing program and the MALS graduate program at Dartmouth College, is a Sub-Deacon in the Orthodox Church.

In a recent lecture, he connects the final scene of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov to the funeral service in the Eastern Orthodox Church in order to explore the nature of personhood in both Dostoevsky and the Orthodox faith. He also gives an account of his own experience of becoming Orthodox as a way to see directly some of the meanings he discusses.

His talk is a remarkable blending of liturgical and literary analysis with personal testimony.

Well worth the time to read. Available here.

Many Thanks to Fr Sergius

Fr Sergius Clark of Jacksonville, Florida visited St Matthew Orthodox Mission in Baton Rouge this past weekend. Arriving Saturday morning, making a pastoral visit, reviewing and assessing missional strengths and weaknesses, serving Vespers and Liturgy, flying out Sunday afternoon... it was a delightful whirlwind of a visit!

Fr Justin Patterson will return to Baton Rouge for a visit in mid September. We're planning some outreach events that will include talks on the Church and Orthodox spirituality. Venues are still being confirmed.

Check back soon for more information!

Friday, August 04, 2006

August 6: Transfiguration

(from the archives of the Web Gallery of Art)