Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pondering recent events in Russia...

The above photo is Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, where the recent funeral for former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was held. It's tempting to make either too much or too little of the swirl of events concerning Russian Orthodoxy in post-Communist Russia.

Terry Mattingly over at does a great job at pondering what it all may (or may not) mean...

Click here to read his reflections.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

April 25: The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, also known as John Mark (Acts 12:12), was one of the Seventy Apostles, and was also a nephew of St Barnabas (June 11). He was born at Jerusalem. The house of his mother Mary adjoined the Garden of Gethsemane. As Church Tradition relates, on the night that Christ was betrayed he followed after Him, wrapped only in a linen cloth. He was seized by soldiers, and fled away naked, leaving the cloth behind (Mark 14:51-52). After the Ascension of the Lord, the house of his mother Mary became a place where Christians gathered, and a place of lodging for some of the Apostles (Acts 12:12).

St Mark was a very close companion of the Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29) and Barnabas. St Mark was at Seleucia with Paul and Barnabas, and from there he set off to the island of Cyprus, and he traversed the whole of it from east to west. In the city of Paphos, St Mark witnessed the blinding of the sorcerer Elymas by St Paul (Acts 13:6-12).

After working with the Apostle Paul, St Mark returned to Jerusalem, and then went to Rome with the Apostle Peter. From there, he set out for Egypt, where he established a local Church.

St Mark met St Paul in Antioch. From there he went with St Barnabas to Cyprus, and then he went to Egypt again, where he and St Peter founded many churches. Then he went to Babylon. From this city the Apostle Peter sent an Epistle to the Christians of Asia Minor, in which he calls St Mark his son (1 Pet 5:13).

When the Apostle Paul came to Rome in chains, St Mark was at Ephesus, where St Timothy (January 4) was bishop. St Mark went with him to Rome. There he also wrote his holy Gospel (ca. 62-63).

From Rome St Mark traveled to Egypt. In Alexandria he started a Christian school, which later produced such famous Fathers and teachers of the Church as Clement of Alexandria, St Dionysius of Alexandria (October 5), St Gregory Thaumatourgos (November 5), and others. Zealous for Church services, St Mark composed a Liturgy for the Christians of Alexandria.

St Mark preached the Gospel in the inner regions of Africa, and he was in Libya at Nektopolis.

During these journeys, St Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to go again to Alexandria and confront the pagans. There he visited the home of Ananias, and healed his crippled hand. The dignitary happily took him in, listened to his words, and received Baptism.

Following the example of Ananias, many of the inhabitants of that part of the city where he lived were also baptized. This roused the enmity of the pagans, and they wanted to kill St Mark. Having learned of this, St Mark made Ananias a bishop, and the three Christians Malchos, Sabinos, and Kerdinos were ordained presbyters to provide the church with leadership after his death.

The pagans seized St Mark when he was serving the Liturgy. They beat him, dragged him through the streets and threw him in prison. There St Mark was granted a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who strengthened him before his sufferings. On the following day, the angry crowd again dragged the saint through the streets to the courtroom, but along the way St Mark died saying, "Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."

The pagans wanted to burn the saint's body, but when they lit the fire, everything grew dark, thunder crashed, and there was an earthquake. The pagans fled in terror, and Christians took up the body of St Mark and buried it in a stone crypt. This was on April 4, 63. The Church celebrates his memory on April 25.

In the year 310, a church was built over the relics of St Mark. In 820, when the Moslem Arabs had established their rule in Egypt and oppressed the Christian Church, the relics of St Mark were transferred to Venice and placed in the church named for him.

In the ancient iconographic tradition, which adopted symbols for the holy Evangelists borrowed from the vision of St John the Theologian (Rev 4:7) and the prophecy of Ezekiel (Ez. 1:10), the holy Evangelist Mark is represented by a lion, symbolizing the might and royal dignity of Christ (Rev 5:5).

St Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentile Christians, emphasizing the words and deeds of the Savior which reveal His divine Power. Many aspects of his account can be explained by his closeness to St Peter. The ancient writers say that the Gospel of Mark is a concise record of St Peter's preaching.

One of the central theological themes in the Gospel of St Mark is the power of God achieving what is humanly impossible. The Apostles performed remarkable miracles with Christ (Mark 16:20) and the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11) working through them. His disciples were told to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures (Mark 13:10, 16:15), and that is what they did. - From the menologion of the Orthodox Church in America

Troparion - Tone 4

From your childhood the light of truth enlightened you, O Mark,
and you loved the labor of Christ the Savior.
Therefore, you followed Peter with zeal
and served Paul well as a fellow laborer,
and you enlighten the world with your holy Gospel.

Kontakion - Tone 2

When you received the grace of the Spirit from on high, O Apostle,
you broke the snares of the philosophers and gathered all nations into your net,
bringing them to your Lord, O glorious Mark,
by the preaching of the divine Gospel.

Pray for me, Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, for you are the sure helper and intercessor for my soul!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Moving Beyond Faith and Doubt...

One of the great conflicts of the so-called "modern world" has been the battle between religion and science, or faith and doubt, or gullibility and skepticism, or... well, you get the picture. The increasing spitefulness and anger manifested in these arguments may be yet another sign that the present "post-modern" era is really a kind of heightened, intesified modernism rather than a new epoch or historical period.

The recent published work of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have made the best seller lists, and more than a few religious writers have sought to counter their attack.

I'm seldom satisfied with such polemic, finding this insight from Father John Garvey to be a helpful recasting of the argument:

"There has been an interesting recent debate about faith and doubt, religious belief and atheism. Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic and the author of The Conservative Soul (HarperCollins), and Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation (Alfred A. Knopf), have had at it on the Web site Beliefnet. Harris argues that all religion is lethal, and that those Christians who are not fundamentalists don’t really understand that religion inherently tends toward fundamentalism and intolerance. Sullivan counters this, in his book and in the course of this debate, by emphasizing the role that reasonable doubt plays in any serious theology. Doubt is, in a sense, a form of humility.

On the whole, I agree with Sullivan’s approach, although there is a danger here. This approach could be seen more as a way of hedging your bets than as a form of faith-a way of half believing, as it were: after all, you could be wrong.

And of course you could be. Sullivan is right to stress humility and a respect for the opinions of others. But there may be a more effective way to approach this. Rather than emphasize doubt, it might make more sense to speak of the place out of which one believes-the community of faith, the tradition, the thing handed on to you.

Rather than say that I know what I believe, I think it is closer to the truth to say that I know the framework within which I believe, and doubt, and wonder. I know the persons who move and compel me-Paul, the saints, people I have known whose lives and witness matter deeply to me, all of them gathered in sometimes complicated ways in an assembly into which we are baptized, and within which we share the Eucharist...

Read it all here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Patriarch PAVLE of Serbia: 2007 Pascha Message

The Serbian Orthodox Church to her spiritual children at Pascha, 2007


By the grace of God, Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch, with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church – to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church: grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Paschal greeting:


"This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined, O people.
Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord.
For from death to life and from earth to heaven
has Christ our God led us."
(The Canon of Pascha, Ode I)

With these verses of the Paschal hymn, dear spiritual children, we, the believing people of God, begin the Celebration above all celebrations, song above all songs, about the Event above all events: The Resurrection of Christ. The Resurrection, like the Crucifixion, is a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness for the Greeks, but we experience and celebrate it as the deepest experience of our faith and life. This is the experience which was first encountered by the holy myrrh-bearing women and the holy apostles, which they have graciously passed down to us and which we have received with faith, with the faith that becomes the power of life.

Filled with joy by this fact of the new life, the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian proclaims his experience to Christians of every time with these words: "That which we have heard, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled," is that which is "Life made manifest and we declare to you that Eternal life." The Day of Resurrection is the day of Life. Therefore, let us rejoice and be glad in it! We celebrate the Life-giver, Christ the God-Man!

The day of Resurrection, dear spiritual children, begins a new era. If Great and Holy Friday was the particular "terrible judgment" by fallen man against God Himself, then the day of the Resurrection is the Day of the victory of God’s love and goodness. The Resurrection took place on the first day of the week. Thus it has received its beginning in time and space, just as on the first day of creation the world received the dimensions of existence of everything visible and invisible. The Day of Resurrection is not, as some would want and wish, only a spiritual and poetic event, but above all it is a historical-eschatological Event that has changed the history of the world. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away and all things have become new," said the holy Apostle Paul.

The Day of Resurrection is filled with Divine light: a light with which the Risen Lord Himself enlightens us. "Come, receive light from the unwaning Light!" are the first words with which the Church invites us to the beginning of the celebration of Christ1s Resurrection. If anyone would truly celebrate the Resurrection of Christ as his own life experience, he must first be illumined with the light of Christ. The gladsome light of the unfading Light is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He rose from the tomb as the sun rises in the east out of the darkness of night to shine upon the whole earth, to warm it and renew a life on it. Let us be illumined with the Light of the Resurrection, the light which has shone from the tomb. This is the light of the God-Man Christ, Who said of Himself: "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." Today and always, through His Holy Church, He calls us to the enlightening of our mind, heart, and our whole being.

Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord! The Jewish people passed through the Red Sea in order to be delivered from sin-poisoned Pharaoh. How? With God’s help. For, "The Lord went ahead of them on the road as a pillar of cloud during the day, and at night as a pillar of fire, giving them light so that they could travel day and night." This pillar of cloud and of lightening fire was exactly the radiant Light of the unfading Light, the Logos of God. Having crossed the Red Sea, those who until then had been slaves entered into freedom, exclaiming to the Lord: "Gloriously has he been glorified; a horse and a rider he threw into the sea!" This was the Passover (Pascha) of God’s chosen people, that seed of Abraham’s faith. And the Passover (Pascha) which we celebrate today is the Passover of the Lord – truly the Passing Over of Him Who led the Jewish people from slavery into freedom. So this is His Pascha, which has a universal character. This is why the church hymnographer calls upon all people from every nation and time, and not just one nation, to celebrate the Pascha of the Lord, that is, Christ’s Passover from death and the tomb into the Resurrection, so that we all may pass with Him from slavery to sin and death into the freedom of life.

Seeing this dimension of the feast of Christ’s Resurrection, dear spiritual children, let us lay aside all earthly cares, and together with the angels of heaven and the choirs of the saints, let us live this new reality of divine life in Christ Jesus, let us sing and praise the Cause of our salvation! Our song is victorious because death has been destroyed by death! The death-dealing poison of sin has lost its power to kill. How? Through the love and goodness of the God-Man Christ, for He as a blameless Lamb took the sins of the world upon Himself and gave Himself to be crucified. Sin and death are no longer the alpha and omega of life. The Resurrected Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of our sanctification. With divine virtues and ascetic efforts, let us hasten into a new, virtuous life in the Resurrected Jesus Christ!

Living in time and space, we Christians measure everything and everybody with Christ’s values. We do not disregard this world and life, nor do we despise them. On the contrary, we sanctify them with the all-sanctifying grace of God. This world can be transformed by the energies of the Resurrected God-Man Christ. This is why our Lord unambiguously said to Christians: "You are light of the world." This means: only with you and through you can this world be transformed and saved. The Savior said this as well: in this world you will have many tribulations! You will be persecuted as I was persecuted and crucified; the cup from which I have drunk, you also will drink! But do not be afraid, for I have conquered the world. And despite all the suffering which the Church of Christ has experienced throughout the centuries, and is going through even today, Christians remain "the light to the world", just as He Himself was the only Light of the world to shine in the darkness that covered Jerusalem on Great and Holy Friday.

Just as at that time the whole Jewish Sanhedrin (the chief priests and leaders of the people) was against Christ the Savior and aroused many people against Christ, so in our time, the "new Sanhedrin" fights against Christ and His Church. This new Sanhedrin fights against Good in this world. It is doing everything it can to make this world its sinful fiefdom and to conquer everything under its authority, by any and all methods and means. This is why it is imperative that all Christians carry on a spiritual warfare for this world and for the dominion of Good in it. The Good that the God-Man has brought and granted to the world by His Resurrection will not be conquered. "Do not fear!" said the Savior. Let us therefore rejoice and be glad as did the chosen people after they crossed the Red Sea exclaiming: Christ is Risen – Gloriously has the Lord been glorified!

Unfortunately, we are witnesses of great sins being committed daily in the world. From conception, the innocent child in its mother’s womb fears for its life. Millions of ordinary people are victims of poverty and hunger, while a few live in unlimited riches and carnal pleasures. Many nations are defending their freedom, earned with blood and suffering, from the aggression of globalization. In the name of false freedom and democracy, preplanned solutions (packaged in advanced) are being imposed. We are witnesses of the newest drama – again, the drama of us Orthodox Serbs – in Kosovo and Metohija. Our people are also afflicted with many tribulations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Croatia, and sadly, in Montenegro.

We cannot go without mentioning this Pascha the Golgotha and Great Friday of our Kosovo and Metohija; and the darkened conscience of all those who give themselves the right, trampling upon the world’s legal order, to cold-bloodedly pass sentence not only on imposed changes in the status of Kosovo and Metohija, but upon our whole history and culture, and the sovereignty of Serbia! In Kosovo and Metohija the Golgotha of the Serbian people has been taking place for centuries. This is seen by all and known by all except by those who are blind to seeing the truth and deaf for hearing justice. We hear "blacksmiths" speedily forging new nails and new spears with the intention to repeat and prolong the Golgotha of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija. All this they do with the “blessing” of those who swear upon justice, freedom, and democracy, but only for themselves! However, we still believe in the conscience of objective mankind, which was recently confirmed by the international Tribunal of Justice in the Hague. Even though the highest Court of justice decided this after having reviewed all the documents for and against, the shouts can still be heard: crucify, crucify the Serbian people!

But we, dear spiritual children, cannot give up, cannot fear, because of injustice. Rather, let us commend our whole life to Christ our God! Christ did not commit sin, nor was there deceit in His mouth, and yet He was condemned and crucified. But, He also gloriously resurrected. If, God forbid, the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija undergo one more crucifixion, more terrible than the others, let us remain with Christ: do not slander, do not think evil; rather let us pray, and from the Cross let us witness to God’s love for all and everybody. Let us witness to Christ, the Victor over death, sin and all injustice. Those who do evil to others, do even worse to themselves. Sooner or later, if they do not repent, they will weep bitterly.

Celebrating the Resurrection of Christ with all the world's Christians, today we rejoice and are glad with them and with all of God’s creation, and joyously exclaim to one and all:

Christ is Risen!

Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Pascha 2007; text from the ERPKIM Archive.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Paschal Homily of ALEXY II, Patriarch of Moscow

Thou did descend into the nether regions of earth, O Christ,
and did shatter the eternal bars which held the prisoners captive;
and like Jonah from the sea-monster,
after three days Thou did rise from the grave.

-Irmos of Canticle Six of the Paschal Canon

Christ is risen!

I address now these triumphant words, full of rejoicing, to each of you, Your Graces my brothers the archpastors, most-honourable pastors and deacons, God-loving monks and nuns, and pious laity of our Holy Orthodox Church.

Christ's Passover has once more come to our churches and homes, to our towns and villages, to our parish communities and monastic houses, to our souls and hearts, and has illumined us with the unfading Light, the Light of the kingdom of God, the Light of exultant Paschal joy.

The redemptive sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Bright Resurrection has brought to humanity incomparable freedom - freedom from sin and destruction. Yet it is only he who entrusts himself to Christ the Saviour, who accepts him as 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6), - only he acquires this freedom, for as the Gospel says, 'If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' (Jn 8:31-32). This truth is our risen Lord Jesus Christ who has destroyed the power of Hades and death and who grants us the freedom to choose life eternal. In his Paschal Homily, which is read in every church on this radiant feast, St John Chrysostom says: 'Let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has delivered us from it.' Let us then, together with the Holy Mother Church, sing praises to the Saviour's victory over death, let us be exultant, rejoicing in the redemption wh! ich has been granted to us, let us endeavour to share this feast with those who yet abide in the slavery to sin so that we may bring them to liberty in Christ and to life eternal. Let us keep 'the perfect law of liberty' (Jas 1:25) and teach it to those near and far, recalling that the keeping of this law in our hearts and its fulfilment allow the human person to stand without shame before the face of the Righteous Judge.

There are many people alongside us who believe that freedom is brought by money or power, strength or health, by a cult of 'all is permitted' and immorality. In worshiping these idols of this age, in outdoing each other in pride and egoism, they ever let out of sight the fact that they are becoming ever more mired in slavery - the slavery of self-love, vice and passions. Good comes to those who visit God's church and here realize what true freedom is and how to embark on the way of perfection. Good comes to those who, for the sake of acquiring this freedom, labour diligently for their salvation, keeping fidelity to Christ amidst the turbulence and afflictions of this age.

Our Church goes steadily along the path of regeneration. In a society, where until quite recently people renounced God and then exerted much effort in pursuit of the deceptive goods of this world, the number of people who try to live as Orthodox Christians is growing. Yet so that perfect joy, the joy of the risen Lord may grow from year to year in the hearts of compatriots, we are faced with having to grow in virtue and to call our neighbours to do likewise.

In his great and ineffable mercy the Lord blesses our endeavours in building up parish and monastic communities. In all spheres of life in our society - in the economics, politics, and in the family - the understanding that we need to build our lives according to the foundations of Christian morality is gaining ground. Yet we still have to labour much. We ought to be especially concerned for the strengthening of the family in order to make it strong and harmonious, capable of educating new generations in righteousness and honour, in Spirit and in Truth. If our families truly become 'little Churches,' strong in a single faith, replete with the mutual love of husbands and wives, parents and children, then our people will forget about the moral crisis and the many calamities engendered by this crisis.

In all places - whether in church or at home, or in the work place where we labour - wherever the Lord directs us, we are to be witnesses of Christ crucified and risen, we are to illumine the world with the light of spiritual joy, wisdom, peace and liberty. Herein lies our mission to the world where there is still much suffering, lack of faith, enmity, injustice, vice and unrighteousness. Let us then vanquish them with the Light of Christ and the power of his grace! Let us fulfil the apostle's commandment to 'stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage' (Gal 5:1). And let us always recall the words the Lord said to his disciples as he appeared to them after the Resurrection: 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: a! nd, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.' (Mt 28:19-20).

From the depths of my heart I congratulate you, beloved archpastors, fathers, brothers and sisters, on the feast of Christ's Bright Resurrection. I send Paschal greetings to all Orthodox Christians who are 'from end to end of the universe.' I hasten to share the joy of Holy Pascha with everyone who confesses the risen Christ, with all people amidst whom God has judged us to live. May joy, peace and his gracious succour in good deeds be granted to all of you, my beloved ones, by the Saviour of the world who has risen from the tomb.

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

- from Directions to Orthodoxy

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week Schedule at St. Matthew Orthodox Church in Baton Rouge

Father Sergius Clark will be leading services from Great and Holy Thursday through the morning of Holy Pascha.

The full schedule is detailed on the Church's website.

Come and pray with us!