Saturday, September 23, 2006

September 24: Alaskan Saints and Martyrs

The Empress Catherine the Great sent a delegation of ten monastics and priests from the Valaam Monastery to evangelize the new world. On the anniversary of the arrival of these Russian missionaries in Alaska (1794), we remember the New Martyrs St Peter the Aleut, Protomartyr of America, and St Juvenaly.

Troparion - Tone 4

Today Alaska rejoices and America celebrates,
For the new world has been sanctified by martyrdom
Kodiak echoes with songs of thanksgiving,
Iliamna and Kenai observe the festival of faith.
The Apostle and martyr Juvenaly is glorified,
And Peter the Aleut is exalted by his voluntary sacrifice,
In their devotion and love for the Lord
They willingly endured persecution and death for the Truth,
Now in the Kingdom of Heaven they intercede for our souls!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Orthodoxy in.... China

a fascinating article from Russia Profile:

The Ties That Bind
By Andrei Zolotov, Jr.
Russia Profile

Moscow Patriarchate Works to Revive the Chinese Orthodox Church

When Moscow hosted the World Summit of Religious leaders in early July, many commentators noted the conspicuous absence of the Dalai Lama. The Moscow Patriarchate defended its decision not to invite the Buddhist leader by saying he was unlikely to get a Russian visa due to objections from the Chinese government. At the same time, the red carpet was rolled out for the Chinese delegation, led by the Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen.

The Russian Orthodox Church is going to great lengths to accommodate China because over the past four years, the Moscow Patriarchate has been involved in a complicated negotiating process with the Chinese government in order to restore the status of the Chinese Orthodox Church.

In the early 20th century, there were more than 100 Orthodox churches in China, serving both a large Russian community and a small but growing group of indigenous Orthodox Christians.

Today, there are only four open churches serving a community the Chinese government estimates at 2,000 members, while Russian Orthodox officials believe it to be 12,000. Even the larger estimate represents a tiny minority in a country with a population of more than a billion. But the Russian Orthodox Church feels a historical responsibility for this group since they represent the work of one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s few missionary enterprises abroad, and once played a central role in Sino-Russian relations.

The history of Orthodox Christianity in China dates back to 1685, when the Chinese imperial army took over the Russian fortress of Albazin and brought its entire Cossack population, including a priest, Maxim Leontyev, as prisoners to Peking. Many married Chinese women and an indigenous Orthodox community began. In 1712, Peter the Great sent the first Russian Ecclesiastical Mission to China. It also functioned as the official diplomatic mission of Russia to the court of Chinese Emperors until a separate diplomatic mission was established in 1861.

(read it all here.)

(icon from the website of the Chinese Orthodox Church)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pray Without Ceasing

Fr Chris Metropulos, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church and radio host for "Come Receive the Light," offers the following thoughts in his weekly newsletter:

When a little boy was asked “What is Prayer?” he answered, “It’s when I try to talk God into doing something!” Kids say the cutest things. But I wonder how many of us, if we were completely honest about how we really think, wouldn’t say the same thing?

Prayer is probably the most misunderstood Christian discipline of the entire faith. I think the reason for this is that at the heart of a Christian understanding of prayer is the most difficult part of being an authentic Christian – a release of our own will to God’s will. The freedom to pray “not my will but Thine be done” presupposes both an intimate and trusting relationship with God.

All religions teach prayer as a spiritual discipline, but only the Christian faith understands prayer as an expression of both worship and intimacy. Because of the Christian understanding of Who God is as Persons in Communion, prayer takes on the dimension of an intimate relationship with God RATHER than an attempt to get God to do something for the petitioner. In the end, Christian faith calls me to first focus on God rather than on myself, and it is this conversion from a self-centered lifestyle that actually liberates me to become the person God created me to be.

So the very purpose of Christian prayer is to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in reshaping my thoughts, actions, and choices to create the character of Jesus Christ in me.

No wonder St. Paul said that Christians should “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) A lifestyle of prayer is the greatest tool God has given us to affect His work in transfiguring our lives. Here are three insights into Prayer that should move us to a consistent prayer life:

First, Prayer Creates Intimacy. You won’t get to know God without praying. Knowing God in a personal and intimate way requires me to speak to Him and let Him speak to me. Prayer isn’t a laundry list of your requests directed to the Divine. It is the natural communication of a child to the Father. So, talking and listening to God (praying) should become as natural and matter of fact to your life as breathing. But some may argue that memorizing written prayers as we Orthodox have isn’t very intimate. Shouldn’t we just say what is in our hearts? Well, of course we should, but many times we don’t know what to say, and using the wisdom of the Church learned over 20 centuries of living in the grace of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful way to teach us how to pray.

Second, Prayer Combats Forgetfulness. One of the quickest ways for my life to slide into sloppy living is when I allow my thoughts to wander from God. When I practice a daily rule of prayer, I am constantly and consistently confronted by God and His presence in my life. God never really is distant from me. He only seems to be absent when I’ve forgotten that He is as close as my knees are to the floor. Prayer keeps me aware of God and that directs my life. And a consistent prayer rule, a habit of prayer, even when I don’t “feel” like praying, fights against me slipping into the error that prayer is about me sending God my divine “to do” list. This disciple helps me further the work of the Spirit in teaching my soul to be God-focused.

Thirdly, Prayer Controls Pride. When I learn to pray, I learn to focus on my dependence on God and His mercy. God is not in heaven just waiting for you to mess up so He can punish you, as the Evil One constantly alleges in his attempts to impugn the character of our loving Father. The danger to my soul lies in my own foolish notion of self-sufficiency, not God’s wrath. It’s when I believe I can do this living thing all by myself that I get myself into trouble. No, prayer is my constant reminder that I need God every moment of every day. And my private prayer life, added to a consistent life of worship and prayer in the life of the Church through liturgy and participation in the Divine Mysteries, will shape my choices, actions, and thoughts into an authentic Christian life. A man who has a consistent prayer life has enlisted the greatest power to control the damaging effects of self-centered pride in the universe.

The first step in beginning a life of prayer starts when a man truly learns to love God. As Christ asked the blind man, “What do you want,” we are asked today what it is we truly desire. If we really do want God and an intimate relationship with Him, we can have it. It is as close as our knees are to the floor!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

September 14: The Holy and Life-giving Cross


The thief gained the faith which gained him,

And brought him up and placed him in paradise.

He saw in the Cross a tree of life;

That was the fruit,

He was the eater in Adam's stead.

The fool, who goes astray,

Grazes the faith, as it were an eye,

By all manner of questions.

The probing of the finger blinds the eye,

And much more doth that prying blind the faith.

For even the diver pries not into his pearl.

In it do all merchants rejoice

Without prying into whence it came;

Even the king who is crowned therewith

Does not explore it.


Because Balaam was foolish,

A foolish beast in the ass spoke with him,

Because he despised God Who spoke with him.

Thee too let the pearl reprove

In the ass's stead.

The people that had a heart of stone,

By a Stone He set at nought,

For lo, a stone hears words.

Witness its work that has reproved them;

And you, ye deaf ones,

Let the pearl reprove to-day.

With the swallow and the crow did He put men to shame;

With the ox, yea with the ass, did He put them to shame;

Let the pearl reprove now,

O ye birds and things on earth and things below.


Not as the moon does thy light fill or wane;

The Sun whose light is greater than all,

Lo! of Him it is that a type is shadowed out in thy little compass.

O type of the Son,

One spark of Whom is greater than the sun!

The pearl itself is full,

for its light is full;

Neither is there any cunning worker who can steal from it;

For its wall is its own beauty,

Yea, its guard also!

It lacks not,

since it is entirely perfect.

And if a man would break thee

To take a part from thee,

Thou art like the faith which with the heretics perishes,

Seeing they have broken it in pieces and spoiled it :

For is it any better than this

To have the faith scrutinized?

The faith is an entire nature

That may not be corrupted.

The spoiler gets himself mischief by it:

The heretic brings ruin on himself thereby.

He that chases the light from his pupils

Blinds himself.

Fire and air are divided when sundered.

Light alone, of all creatures,

As its Creator, is not divided;

It is not barren, for that it also begets

Without losing thereby.


And if a man thinks that thou art framed by art

He errs greatly;

Thy nature proclaims that thou, as all stones,

Art not the framing of art;

and so thou art a type of the Generation

Which no making framed.

Thy stone flees

From a comparison with the Stone [which is] the Son.

For thy own generation is from the midst of the deep,

That of the Son of thy Creator is from the highest height;

He is not like thee,

In that He is like His Father.

And as they tell,

Two wombs bare thee also.

Thou camest down from on high a fluid nature;

Thou camest up from the sea a solid body.

By means of thy second birth

Thou didst show thy loveliness to the children of men.

Hands fixed thee, when thou wast embodied,

Into thy receptacles;

For thou art in the crown as upon the cross,

And in a coronet as in a victory;

Thou art upon the ears, as if to fill up what was lacking;

Thou extendest over all.

- Ephrem Syrus, The Pearl IV

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Beauty and Communion"

"The Byzantine saints, and the Eastern Church's deep grounding in a theology of endurance, a theology of beauty and hopefulness... will have much to say for seekers after the beauty of the Risen Lord, even in this time. Such an opening out to other Christians of the richness of the eastern tradition is the deepest level of ecumenical gift possible, far greater in importance than any formal ecumenical dialogue. The principle adopted at the fifteenth-century Council of Florence, when the Latins and Byzantines were desperately seeking ways forward in ecumenical rapprochement before Islamic power finally rode over Byzantium in a tidal wave, is one that still has enduring significance: 'Saints cannot differ in faith.' The disciple recognizes the heart of the Church's experience across the the ages in the writings of its saints and, in the features of the saints who have been formed in the image of Christ, it seems no less than the beauty of the Lord, and is called called out to participate in it personally." - Fr John Anthony McGuckin, Standing in God's Holy Fire: The Byzantine Tradition

Orthodoxy in the news...

There have been several interesting references to Russian Orthodoxy in recent news.

The New York Times, along with a variety of other sources, has noted that several regions in Russia are including mandatory courses in the Orthodox Christian faith as the new school year begins. Although the courses will teach the subject from a "secular and cultural point of view, and not be religious instruction," this is a still a fascinating development in Russian life-after-communism.

As the NYT reported, the addition of religion to public school curriculums is further sign of the recovery of the Orthodox faith in a nation still evolving from Soviet times, when atheism was state policy.

Also of interest is this Interfax report that was recently included on Directions to Orthodoxy:

MOSCOW. Sept 11 (Interfax) - A remembrance service for victims of the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States was held at the Representation Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr of the Orthodox Church of the United States in Moscow on Monday.

"A complete resurrection of love must be our response to the evil of terrorism," Archimandrite Zacchaeus said.

Thousands of people have fallen victim to terrorists, who carried out their evil deeds "for the sake of ideology and false understanding of religious ideals," he said. Terrorists "keep sowing chaos in people's lives," he said.

A bell installed to the memory of the terrorist attack victims tolled five times after the remembrance service.

Ambassadors and representatives of the United States, Serbia, Greece, Israel, Hungary, Norway and Spain attended the service.

(The photo, posted on Directions to Orthodoxy, shows Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, second right, speaking to priests and the faithful during the consecration of newly built Christ the Savior Cathedral in Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006. Presidetn Putin hailed the consecration Sunday of a newly built Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kaliningrad, the country's western outpost, as part of the dominant church's recovery following the Soviet collapse 15 years ago.) (AP Photo)

Many Years to the Pattersons!

We are deeply grateful to Fr Justin, Matushka Tamara, and John-Patrick Patterson for their recent visit to St Matthew the Apostle Church here in Baton Rouge. Fr Justin gave a wonderfully engaging talk on Ancient Christian Worship Thursday evening at LSU. He also served Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Saturday evening Vespers, and Sunday Divine Liturgy, followed by a Panikhida (Memorial Service for the Departed). Matushka Tamara's choral counsel was much needed and sincerely appreciated.

Also, many thanks to those members of the LSU and Baton Rouge community who visited with us during these events. You honor us with your interest! Please help us serve you -- we are always delighted to share our faith.

You may contact us by phone or email:


Thursday, September 07, 2006

September 8: The Nativity of our Lady

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since St Anna was barren.

Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God's mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Sts Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Sts Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

St Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. St Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God's mercy on her family.

The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: "the East Gate... bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls" (2nd Stikhera on "Lord, I Have Cried", Tone 6).

The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

(Text and icon from the website of the Orthodox Church in America)