HOLY WEEK SCHEDULE – 2019

Friday, April 19
6:30pm: Matins for Lazarus Saturday

Lazarus Saturday, April 20
8:30am: Baptism
9:40am: Hours & Liturgy
6:00pm: Vigil & Blessing of Palms

Palm Sunday, April 21
9:40am: Hours & Liturgy
12:00pm: Potluck Fish Meal
4:00pm: Bridegroom Matins

Holy Monday, April 22
6:30pm: Bridegroom Matins

Holy Tuesday, April 23
6:30pm: Bridegroom Matins

Holy Wednesday, April 24
6:30pm: Matins for Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday, April 25
10:00am: Vesperal Liturgy (Mystical Supper)
6:30pm: Matins w/ Passion Gospels

Holy Friday, April 26
9:00am: Royal Hours & Typika
3:00pm: Vespers w/ Taking Down from the Cross
6:30pm: Matins w/ Lamentations

Holy Saturday/Annunciation, April 27
10:00am: Vesperal Liturgy
1:00pm: Holy Saturday Lenten Meal

**HOLY PASCHA**
Saturday, April 27: 11:30pm – Midnight Office; Procession; Matins; Liturgy; Blessing of Baskets; Paschal Meal (Pascha service extends into the early morning hours of Sunday, April 28)

Pascha Sunday, April 28
2:00pm: Agape Vespers
3:00pm: Pascha Cookout & Egg Hunt

Visitation: Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God “Softener of Evil Hearts” – April 16 & 17, 2019

Icon: Mother of God, “Softener of Evil Hearts”

On Tuesday, April 16, the greeting of the myrrh-streaming
icon of the Mother of God “Softener of Evil Hearts”
will take place at 6:30 PM, followed by a moleben
and akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos.

On Wednesday, April 17, 9th Hour, Typica & the
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts will be served
at 9:30 AM before the myrrh-streaming icon.

We invite all of the faithful to come and lift up their fervent prayers to the Mother of God!

Lenten Quotations for the Fourth Week of Great Lent (from The Lenten Triodion)

Dear Brethren and Friends of St Elizabeth’s,

Attached to this post are some of the stichera (verses) from the services of Matins and Vespers for the third week of Great Lent. They are taken from The Lenten Triodion, which is the special liturgical book used during this season of the year for our worship and edification. The verses chosen focus on how fasting, prayer, and practicing the Christian virtues are essential for our spiritual lives, which is being “refocused” during Great Lent.

With much love in Christ,
Fr Mark

Monday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent:

“Cleansed by the grace of the Fast, let us in thanksgiving cry aloud with a pure mind unto Him who alone is pure: Thou hast given Thy blood for all of us, O Word, and Thou dost sanctify us by Thy Cross.”

“Reaching the middle of the forty days’ Fast, with eager hearts let us go forward with Christ to the divine Passion; that, crucified with Him, we may be sharers of His Resurrection.”

“O brethren, having come to the middle of the Fast, in good courage and with willing hearts let us complete with God’s help the part which still remains, that in great joy we may behold the Passover of the risen Christ.”

“Cleansed in soul and mind by the water of fasting, O ye faithful, let us embrace the lifegiving and divine Wood that is exalted before us all: for it is a fountain of forgiveness and heavenly light, a source of life and rejoicing.”

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent:

“Illumined in our souls through abstinence, let us venerate the saving Cross upon which Christ was nailed, and let us cry aloud to it: Hail the delight and sure help of those that fast; hail destroyer of the passions, adversary of devils; hail blessed Wood!”

“The inhabited earth venerates Thy Cross, O Lord, as the life of the creation, and it cries to Thee: By the operation of Thy Cross and through abstinence, keep in profound peace those who praise and bless Thee, O most merciful.”

“Beholding the Wood of the Cross shining brighter than the sun’s rays, let us now draw near, radiant with the lightning of the Fast. Let us kiss it, drawing from it the grace full of light that drives away the darkness, and let us exalt Christ above all for ever.”

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent:

“The divine and precious Cross lies before us for our veneration, and it sanctifies the time of abstinence. Let us approach with a pure conscience: let us draw from it hallowing and enlightenment, and let us cry aloud with fear: Glory be to Thy compassion, O our Savior who lovest mankind.”

“Clothed in glory by the virtues and cleansed by abstinence, let us draw near and venerate the precious Cross, crying aloud: Sanctify our souls and bodies, O only God of all, and count us worthy to celebrate Thy most pure Passion, granting us Thy mercy.”

“The Fast that brings us blessings has now reached its midmost point: it has helped us to receive God’s grace in the days that are past, and it will bring us further benefit in the days still to come. For by continuing in what is right we attain yet greater gifts. We therefore cry to Christ, the Giver of all good: O Thou who for our sakes hast fasted and endured the Cross, make us worthy to share uncondemned in Thy divine Passover. May we spend our live in peace and rightly glorify Thee with the Father and the Spirit.”

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent:

“O Holy Cross, strength and glory of the apostles, today thou art exalted for the veneration of the whole of the inhabited earth; and thou givest to us the grace of sanctification, making the season of the Fast easy for us.”

“Moses foreshadowed the Cross when he stretched out his arms and defeated Amalek. Like him let us form a figure of the Cross, stretching out our arms in fasting and prayer, that so we may defeat the host of demons that in malicious envy continually make war against us.”

“Outstretched upon the Cross, Thou hast endured death, slaying death and raising up the dead by Thy lifegiving word. Therefore I entreat Thee: Bring back to life, O Lord, my soul that is dead through sin; grant me compunction and deliverance from evil during these Thy holy days of abstinence, for Thou lovest mankind.”

Friday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent:

“Sanctifying the season of abstinence, the precious Cross stands here before us. As we venerate it today, let us cry aloud: O Master who lovest mankind, with its aid grant us in compunction to pass through the remainder of the Fast, and so to behold Thy lifegiving Passion through which we are redeemed.”

“Let us wash our faces in the water of fasting and embrace the Wood on which Christ was lifted up. Taking our mortal flesh, He alone suffered for the sake of all, that He might put to death him who had made us die.”

“He who is outside time has taken flesh within time, and in His love He heals our long-continuing passions through the season of fasting, during which the divine Cross is set before us for our sanctification.”

Lenten Quotations for the Third Week of Great Lent (from The Lenten Triodion)

Dear Brethren and Friends of St Elizabeth’s,

Below in this post are some of the stichera (verses) from the services of Matins and Vespers for the third week of Great Lent. They are taken from The Lenten Triodion, which is the special liturgical book used during this season of the year for our worship and edification. The verses chosen focus on how fasting, prayer, and practicing the Christian virtues are essential for our spiritual lives, which is being “refocused” during Great Lent.

With much love in Christ,
Fr Mark

Monday of the Third Week of Great Lent:

“With grateful souls let us accept the Fast: for by the power of the Spirit it makes the stubborn passions wither, and gives us strength to do the works of God; it makes our mind ascend to heaven, and gains for us the forgiveness of our sins from the God of all mercy.”

“Come, let us all greet the time of holy abstinence with cymbals and with songs of praise; for through the Fast spiritually we trample underfoot the serpent, from whom all evil takes its origin. Therefore let us cry with boldness unto Christ: Grant us, Savior, without condemnation to look upon Thy precious Cross and to venerate it, keeping joyful feast with psalms and hymns.”

Tuesday of the Third Week of Great Lent:

“Gladdened by the Fast and greatly rejoicing in song, gaining mastery over all the passions through our prayers, let us trample underfoot the snares of the devil, and cry aloud with one accord to Christ: Count us worthy to look upon Thy Cross, in Thy compassion granting us great mercy.”

“Moses, having found in fasting a means of purification, spoke with God who alone is pure. O my soul, be purified by fasting, and so draw near to the God of love.”

“May the Fast bring light to our souls, O Lord, and do Thou count us worthy uncondemned and with rejoicing to behold Thy Cross, and to worship it with fear; and in Thy love for man grant us to attain Thy voluntary passion.”

Wednesday of the Third Week of Great Lent:

“As we continue the joyful celebration of the Fast, we cry aloud: Keep us all in peace, O Lord, deliver us from every snare of the enemy, and in Thy surpassing love count us worthy to venerate with fear Thy precious Cross, through which Thou grantest to the inhabited earth Thy mercy, O Thou who alone art merciful.”

“O Cross of Christ, thou art our light, our holy token and ensign of victory. Make abstinence sweet for us and count us worthy to venerate thee.”

“Thy lifecreating Cross, O Lord, is my seal unto salvation: for by its virtue I overthrow the adversary and praise Thee as God mighty in power.”

Thursday of the Third Week of Great Lent:

“O divine apostles, stars that shine on all the world, give light to us who sing your praises as we keep the Fast. We pray that we may all be counted worthy to look upon the wood of the lifegiving Cross with pure eyes, and to embrace it with pure lips, crying aloud with joy: O Lord, glory to Thee.”

“O my soul, thou hast not cleansed thyself from evil nor avoided the lusts that corrupt thee. Why art thou filled, then, with unjustified rejoicing, because thou hast observed the Fast? For such is not the fast the Lord has chosen, who desires our true amendment.”

“Count us worthy, Christ the Word, after passing through the third week of the Fast, to look upon the wood of Thy lifegiving Cross and to venerate it with holy reverence. Grant us rightly to sing and magnify Thy power, to praise Thy Passion, and to come with pure hearts to Thy glorious and holy Resurrection, the mystical Passover whereby Adam is restored again to Paradise.”

Friday of the Third Week of Great Lent:

“With our flesh cleansed by abstinence and our souls filled with light by prayer, count us worthy, O Lord, to look upon Thy precious and venerable Cross and to reverence it with fear, singing hymns and saying: Glory to Thy lifegiving Cross; glory to the holy spear that pierced Thee, whereby we are restored to life, O Thou who alone lovest mankind.”

“O Lord through abstinence enable us to run swiftly to Thy saving Cross, the Light of the faithful, and to behold and venerate it for our sanctification; that so through the Cross we may magnify Thee.”

Lenten Quotations for the Second Week of Great Lent (from The Lenten Triodion)

Dear Brethren and Friends of St Elizabeth’s,

Attached to this post are some of the stichera (verses) from the services of Matins and Vespers for the second week of Great Lent. They are taken from The Lenten Triodion, which is the special liturgical book used during this season of the year for our worship and edification. The verses chosen focus on how fasting, prayer, and practicing the Christian virtues are essential for our spiritual lives, which is being “refocused” during Great Lent.

With much love in Christ,
Fr Mark

Lenten Quotations for the Second Week of Great Lent (from The Lenten Triodion)

Monday of the Second Week of Great Lent:

“Brethren, let us enter with eagerness upon the second week of the light-giving Fast; and rejoicing in the feast which we kept yesterday, with holy gladness let us sing praise of Christ.”

“I entreat Thee in Thy compassion, O Christ, through true fasting and repentance restore to life my soul, slain by the fruit of disobedience. Grant me ever to walk in the straight path of Thy holy commandments; that so, in the company of all that love Thee, I may share in Thy divine glory, and praise Thy goodness toward all men, O Jesus.”

“Leading through the time of the Holy Fast, O God, Thou hast enabled us to enter on its second week. Grant, O Lord, that in the weeks to come we may run the race with all our power. Give to our souls and bodies grace and strength, that with good courage and in joy we may complete the course and come to the royal day of Thy Resurrection; and wearing crowns of victory we shall praise Thee without ceasing.”

Tuesday of the Second Week of Great Lent:

“Restraining the passions with the bridle of pure fasting, let us all strive to raise our mind in perfect faith to holy contemplation. Let us despise the pleasures if this earthly life, that we may gain the heavenly life and divine illumination.”

“The holy Fast enriches our heart, and makes it by the power of God increase in virtue, like a full ear of wheat. Let us therefore fast with gladness in these holy days, and so receive sanctification.”

“Let us keep a true fast before the Lord: let us abstain not only from food but from angry speech and lying, and from every other passion, that we may behold Pascha in purity.”

Wednesday of the Second Week of Great Lent:

“As we pass through the solemn time of abstinence, let us blow the trumpet, and loudly cry: Through the Fast life has blossomed in the world, and the death that comes from self-indulgence is destroyed. By the power of Thy Cross, O Christ the Word, guard Thy servants in the Fast.”

“The grace of the Fast shines upon us, driving out the darkness of sinful self-indulgence. Behold, now is the accepted time and the day of salvation. Let us bring forth fruits of repentance and we shall live.”

“Keeping a spiritual fast, O brethren, let us speak no lies with our tongue not giving our brother cause for scandal; but through repentance let us make the lamp of our soul burn brightly, and let us cry with tears of Christ: Forgive us our trespasses in Thy love for mankind.”

Thursday of the Second Week of Great Lent:

“O my soul, fast from all excess of food, and take thy delight in the contemplation of what is good; and thou shalt eat at the heavenly table.”

“O miserable soul, abstain from the passions and be saved. For abstinence from food is not acceptable as a fast, unless we also correct our faults.”

“In this season of repentance, let us stretch out our hands in works of mercy; and then the ascetic struggles of the Fast will bring us to eternal life. For nothing saves the soul so much as generosity to those in need, and almsgiving combined with fasting will deliver a man from death. Let us do all this with gladness, for there is no better way, and it will bring salvation to our souls.”

Friday of the Second Week of Great Lent:

“Through fasting let us glorify our flesh and enrich our souls with virtues. Let us feed the poor and so acquire unfailing wealth in heaven, and let us cry: O all ye works of the Lord, praise ye the Lord and exalt Him above all forever.”

“Killing the passions, the present Fast brings promise of healing to those wounded by sin. God has given us this Fast to help us: let us honor and accept it as the divinely-written tables of the Law, given through Moses. Let us not choose wanton self-indulgence, because of which the tables once were broken; let us not perish with those whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. Let us rejoice with the Church. Let us not be hypocrites like the Pharisees, but in the spirit of the Gospels let us put on the beauty of holiness, glorying in the Cross of Christ the Deliverer of our souls.”

Lenten Quotations for the First Week of Great Lent (from The Lenten Triodion)

Dear Brethren and Friends of St Elizabeth’s,

Attached to this post are some of the stichera (verses) from the services of Matins and Vespers for first week of Great Lent. They are taken from The Lenten Triodion, which is the special liturgical book used during this season of the year for our worship and edification. The verses chosen focus on how fasting, prayer, and practicing the Christian virtues are essential for our spiritual lives, which is being “refocused” during Great Lent.

With much love in Christ,
Fr Mark

Lenten Quotations for the First Week of Great Lent (from The Lenten Triodion)

Monday of the First Week of Great Lent:

“Come, O ye people, and today let us accept the grace of the Fast as a gift from God and as a time for repentance, in which we may find mercy with the Savior. The time for combat is at hand and has begun already; let all of us set forth eagerly upon the course of the Fast, offering our virtues as gifts to the Lord.”

Tuesday of the First Week of Great Lent:

“Armed with fasting, Elijah the wonderful was taken up in a chariot of fire; through fasting Moses received a vision of secret mysteries; and if we also fast like them, we shall see Christ.”

“Through fasting let us all ascend the mountain of virtuous action, forsaking the sensual temptations that creep upon the ground. Let us enter into the darkness of holy visions; by the divine and mystical ascent let us become godlike, and let us look only upon Christ our beloved in His beauty.”

“Showing joyfulness of soul in the Fast, let us not be of a sad countenance; for the change in our way of life during these blessed days will help us to gain holiness.”

Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent:

“From the tree of the Cross there grows for all the world the flower of abstinence. Let us then accept the Fast with love and take pleasure in the fruit of Christ’s divine commandements.”

 “While fasting in the body, brethren, let us also fast in spirit. Let us loose every bond of iniquity; let us undo the knots of every contract made by violence; let us tear up all unjust agreements; let us give bread to the hungry and welcome the poor who have no roof to cover them, that we may receive great mercy from Christ our God.”

Thursday of the First Week of Great Lent:

“Let us abstain from every pleasure; through fasting let us enrich our powers of perception, and gladly let us drink the cup of compunction, as we sing: O ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord.

 “Great is the power of Thy Cross! It has made the flower of abstinence to grow within the Church; it has stripped bare and uprooted the sinful greed that Adam showed in Eden. Adam’s greed brought death to men, but the Cross brings immortality and incorruption to the world. As though from some new river of Paradise, there flows from it the quickening stream of Thy Blood mingled with water, restoring all to life. Through this Thy Cross make sweet the Fast for us, O God of Israel, great in mercy.”

Friday of the First Week of Great Lent:

“O merciful Lord, who art the source and fountain of purity, preserve us in the Fast. Look upon us as we fall before Thee: be attentive to the lifting up of our hands, O Thou who hast stretched out Thine hands upon the Tree and wast crucified for the sake of all those born on the earth, the only Lord of the angelic powers.”

 “Come, ye faithful, and in the light let us perform the works of God; let us walk honestly as in the day. Let us cast away every unjust accusation against our neighbor, not placing any cause of stumbling in his path. Let us lay aside the pleasures of the flesh, and increase the spiritual gifts of our soul. Let us give bread to those in need, and let us draw near unto Christ, crying in penitence: O our God, have mercy on us.”

Saturday of St Theodore the Tyro:

“The pure and undefiled Fast has now begun, and brings us to the celebration of the martyr’s miracles. Through the Fast our souls are cleansed from filth and defilement, and through the martyr’s suffering and miracles we are given strength to fight bravely against the passions. Illumined, therefore, by the grace of holy abstinence and by the wonders worked by Theodore the martyr, strengthened by our faith in Christ, we pray Him to bestow salvation on souls.”

Information About The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete

Dear Brethren & Friends of St Elizabeth’s, 

This is a reminder that Monday, March 11 through Thursday, March 14 at 6:30pm we will be serving Great Compline and the Canon of St Andrew of Crete. Below is some edifying information about the Great Canon. 

Podcast:  
“The Cry of the Humbled Heart: The Ascetical Significance of the Great Canon”https://www.eadiocese.org/files/podcasts/prp/BpIrenei2017.mp3 

You Tube Clip:
Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete 

Full text of the Canon of St Andrew of Crete:
http://www.saintjonah.org/services/greatcanon_sts.pdf 

Essay: “The Who’s Who of the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete:
The Who’s Who of The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

With much love in Christ,
Fr Mark

Pre-Lenten Quotations for Cheese Week (from The Lenten Triodion)

Dear Brethren and Friends of St Elizabeth’s,

Below are some of the stichera (verses) from the services of Matins and Vespers for Cheese Week, the week before the start of Great Lent. They are taken from The Lenten Triodion, which is the special liturgical book used during this season of the year for our worship and edification. The verses chosen focus on how fasting, prayer, and practicing the Christian virtues are essential for our spiritual lives, which is being “refocused” during Great Lent.

With much love in Christ,
Fr Mark

Pearls from The Lenten Triodion: Cheese Week

Monday of Cheese Week:

“The gateway to divine repentance has been opened: let us enter eagerly, purified in our bodies and observing abstinence from food and passions, as obedient servants of Christ who has called the world into the heavenly Kingdom. Let us offer to the King of all a tenth part of the whole year, that we may look with love upon His Resurrection.”

“Today is the the joyful forefeast of the time of abstinence, the bright threshold of the Fast. Therefore, brethren, together let us run the race with confident hope and with great eagerness.”

“Behold, all who love God, the door or repentance is already opened: come, let us make haste to enter in, before Christ closes it and we are shut out in our unworthiness.”

“Announcing the spring, the week of cleansing that prepares us for the holy Fast is now at hand, illuminating the bodies and the souls of all.”

Tuesday of Cheese Week:

“O peoples, let us greet the Fast with joy, for the beginning of the spiritual contest is at hand. Let us lay aside the comforts of the flesh; let us make God’s gifts of grace increase within our soul; let us suffer with Christ as His servants, that we may be also glorified with Him as children of God. And may the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us all, give light to our souls.”

“The season of repentance is at hand; in our love for Christ let us hasten to be cleansed of all transgressions, that when we appear before the Master we may be numbered with the blessed.”

“This should be the manner of our fasting: not in hatred and contention, not in envy and strife, not in self-glory and with hidden deceit, but like Christ in humblemindedness.”

Wednesday of Cheese Week:

“If thou dost fast from food, my soul, yet dost not cleanse thyself from passions, thou dost rejoice in vain over thine abstinence. For if thy purpose is not turned towards amendment of life, as a liar thou art hateful in God’s sight, and thou dost resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not by sinning make the fast worthless, but firmly resist all wicked impulses. Picture to thyself that thou art standing beside the crucified Savior, or rather, that thou art thyself crucified with Him who was crucified for thee; and cry out to Him: Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comets in Thy Kingdom.”

“The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open. O brethren, let us cleanse ourselves from all impurity and sing to the Giver of Light: Glory to Thee who alone lovest mankind.”

Thursday of Cheese Week:

“Today all the apostles bless the forty days and the week of cleansing that precedes them, and they sanctify this season of fasting which they received from Christ the Redeemer. They proclaim His Resurrection unto all and intercede with The Lord for mercy on our souls.”

“The gateway to the Fast is crowned with the fruits of the saints’ ascetic labors, and it welcomes those who in vigilance draw near with hymns and mystical songs. Come, all ye faithful, let us make haste to enter.”

“The glory of the Fast has shone upon us, putting to flight the darkness of the demons. The solemn time of abstinence has come, bringing with it healing for the passions of our soul. Protected by it, Daniel shut the mouths of lions, and the Children in Babylon quenched the flame of the furnace. Through fasting save us also with them, Christ our God, in Thy love for mankind.”

Friday of Cheese Week:

“See how the beauty of repentance forms the soul anew at the approach of Lent! With faith and vigilance let us enter on the Fast, and receive remission of our sins.”

“Today the grace of the Fast shines upon all of us with the light of the sun, cleansing us from the gloom of sin. Though held fast by many passions, let us now approach in joy and thankfully accept this gift, crying aloud: Praise ye The Lord and exalt Him above all forever.”

“The bright and joyful day of abstinence is at hand. Come, my soul, with joyful face let us go to meet the Master, asking Him to send down grace upon us from on high, giving us the strength to correct our many faults, that we may escape the terrors of Gehenna in the life to come.”

Sermon: Sunday of the Prodigal Son 2019

The Parable of the Prodigal Son
-Archpriest Victor Potapov

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well known. Some of its expressions have passed into the ordinary, spoken language, while several illustrations and pictures relating to it are well known to us from childhood.

In the preceding two parables – of the lost sheep and the lost drachma – Christ, in calling men to repentance, said that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10). In order that the words about repentance might be more forcefully impressed on the hearts of His audience, Christ further utters the parable of the Prodigal Son. This parable is a continuation of Christ’s reply to the reproaches directed at Him by the Pharisees that He receiveth sinners, and eateth with them (Luke 15:2). We find the parable of the Prodigal Son, like the preceding two, in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke:

A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Luke 15:11-32).

The parable of the Prodigal Son is inexhaustible. It contains such a multitude of themes, that it is difficult to enumerate them. Each man, who delves into it with reverence, finds the answer for himself to questions about his own spiritual condition.

The first theme is historical – the theme of God’s chosen people and the pagans. The elder son in the parable could be an image of Israel, and the younger son that of the pagan nations. In the light of this parable, according to the words of Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, it is possible to clarify for oneself the significance of the Old Testament period, when men, having committed the original sin, withdrew from God. “The Father grieves over the departure of the beloved son. But, not infringing upon his filial dignity and filial freedom, He waits until the son himself, on having come to know all the bitterness of evil, and having remembered his past life in the Father’s home, begins to yearn for this home and opens his heart to the Father’s love. Thus it was with the human race”.

The second theme is about the nature of sin. This is why the parable of the Prodigal Son is read at the Liturgy on the third preparatory Sunday before Great Lent, when the faithful are preparing themselves for cleansing from sins through the endeavor [podvig ] of repentance.

Repentance is the third theme. Nowhere better does the Gospel disclose to us what the essence of repentance is, than, namely, in the parable of the Prodigal Son. It reveals to us the gradual, inner process of the sinner’s turnabout and the fullness of repentance, which consists of consciousness of one’s fall, sincere remorse and turning humbly to the Heavenly Father.

The fourth theme is the Church and her liturgical life. This is spoken of in the Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (a special instruction, which is read on this Sunday preparatory for Great Lent). The best robe, in which the father arrays the son who has returned, is interpreted in the Synaxarion as Baptism; the ring – as the seal of the Holy Spirit in the Mystery of Chrismation; the feast with the eating of the fatted calf – as the Eucharist, the Mystery of Communion. The music and dancing are the symbol of the Church’s celebration on the restoration of her fullness and oneness.

The fifth theme that we encounter in the parable of the Parable Son is the Saviour Himself, Who appears here in the eucharistic image of the slaughtered calf, for, He is referred to in Scripture as the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

The image of the elder son reveals the theme of envy, self conceit, legalism and the theme of the necessity for mutual, brotherly forgiveness.

The younger, prodigal son is a symbol of all fallen mankind, and, at the same time, of each individual sinner. The portion of goods that falleth to him, that is, the younger son’s share of the property – these are God’s gifts, with which each man is endowed. According to the explanation of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, these are “…the mind and heart, and especially the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to each Christian. The demand made of the father for the portion of goods falling to the son in order to use it arbitrarily is the striving of man to thrown off from himself submissiveness to God and to follow his own thoughts and desires. In the father’s consent to hand over the property there is depicted the absolute authority with which God has honored man in the use of God’s gifts”.

Protopriest Alexander Men’, in one of his sermons on the “Sunday of the Prodigal Son”, mentions an interesting detail of an economic nature: “In those times, which the Lord is speaking about, people would try to live as one family. Nowadays, it is more natural for children to separate from and leave their parents when they grow up. Then, men jointly owned the land, which they worked together, and the larger the family was, the more working hands there were, the greater the ability to labor was. Therefore, to divide the home, to divide the property and the household was considered a detriment, a loss. If the children acted thus, it was considered an offense to the parents”.

Having received his portion of the father’s property, the younger son departs to a far country, to a foreign land – a place of estrangement from God, where he ceases to think of his father, where he “lives riotously”, that is, gives himself up to a life of sin, which alienates a man from the Creator. There he quickly squandered the property, his share of God’s gifts – the powers of the mind, heart and body. This brings him to destitution – to complete spiritual desolation. This, too, is not surprising, for a man who has entered on the path of sin, follows the path of selfishness, of self-indulgence. He does not really control that which brings him momentary enjoyment; but that which gives him pleasure controls him. This is why the Apostle Paul warns Christians: I will not be brought under the power of any [thing] (I Corinthians 6:12).

In this regard, one Church thinker has written: “…this far country, this foreign land reveals to us the profound essence of our life, of our condition. Only after having understood this, can we begin the return to real life. He, who has not felt this at least once in his life, who has never realized that he is spiritually in a foreign land, isolated, exiled, will not understand what the essence of Christianity is. And he, who is completely “at home” in this world, who has not experienced a yearning for another reality, will not comprehend what repentance and remorse are …Remorse and repentance are born out of the experience of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him …It necessarily includes in itself the profound desire to come back, to return, to find anew the lost home”.

In the days preparatory for Great Lent – beginning with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son – the Church chants the psalm “By the waters of Babylon”, which reminds us of the bitter captivity of the Jews in a far country. This is a symbol of the captivity of sin, which alienates the Christian from God. But this psalm likewise speaks of repentance, love and return to the father’s home.

Having dissipated his property, the younger son begins to hunger. In order not to die of starvation, he becomes a herder of swine – a swineherd. And he would gladly be sated with the swine’s food – “with the husks”, but no one would give to him. After lengthy sufferings, a saving thought awakens in him: How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! The Prodigal Son could arrive at such a thought thanks to the fact that he had not succeeded in dissipating his final gift – the gift of memory of the father and the father’s home, in other words, the conscience (God’s voice within us).

And here, just as after a serious illness accompanied by unconsciousness, consciousness returns to him, and he understands his calamitous situation. Then, there appears in him a resolve to forsake his sins and to repent, realizing, that by them he has offended the Lord; and, finally, in profound humility and in the consciousness of his unworthiness, always accompanied by sincere repentance, the sinner actually implements his resolution and returns to the father. Here it is necessary to remark, that outward calamities are often sent by God to sinners in order to bring them to their senses. They are God’s call to repentance.

Bishop Theophanes the Recluse, who had expertly studied spiritual life, compares the sinner with a man sunk into a deep sleep, and in his turning to God he notes three psychological moments that correspond to what is indicated in the parable: 1) awakening from the sleep of sin (Luke 15:17); 2) the ripening of resolve to forsake sin and to dedicate himself to pleasing God (Luke 15:17-21); and 3) investing the sinner with power from on high for this in the Mysteries of Repentance and Communion.

In this parable, which is multifaceted in its content and remarkable for the vividness of its colors, where, the image of the father of two sons stands for the Heavenly Father, the behavior of the Father – His goodness, which exceeds all human concepts, His love for the sinner and His joy on the occasion of the Prodigal Son’s return to Him – virtually occupies the main place. …when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, the Gospel says to us; and this means that the father had been waiting and perhaps each day had been looking to see whether his son was returning. He saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. The son started his confession, but the father did not even let him finish speaking; he already had forgiven and forgotten everything, and he receives the dissolute and starving swineherd as a beloved son. The father did not begin to require proofs of his son’s repentance, because he saw that his son had overcome shame and fear in order to return home. He commands his servants to give him the best robe, shoes and a ring on his hand. The ring is an indication of God’s gift to the forgiven sinner – the gift of God’s Grace, in which he is clothed for the salvation of his soul. According to the interpretation of Blessed Theophylact, the ring in the parable testifies to the restoration of the sinner’s unity with the earthly Church and the Heavenly.

It is difficult to convey in words the fullness of the concept of God’s love toward fallen sinners. Perhaps no one gives us a glimpse of God’s love, which we read of in the parable of the Prodigal Son, better than the Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: Charity suffereth long and is kind; …charity vaunteth not itself, ..is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7). It is appropriate here to mention that sin, every sin, is a transgression against love and that repentance really can be accomplished only before the face of Perfect Love, for God is love (I John 4:8).

It is especially essential to emphasize also the reason for the father’s joy: my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found, that is, he had been spiritually dead, living without God, and he had spiritually come back to life, having turned to life in God. In Sacred Scripture, returning to God is often presented as a resurrection from the dead (cf. Romans 6:13, Matthew 8:22, Revelation 3:1, Ephesians 2:1).

Let us turn now to the image of the elder son. The elder son was displeased by the return of his younger brother and his reconciliation with the father. Here is how this is set forth in the parable: Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

By the elder son, Jesus Christ implied, in the first place, the Pharisees and the scribes – the elders of the people, who, by their legalism, had been hindering the people from coming to Him. But to an equal extent this image applies to us all, to our mutual relations. The elder son was not at fault before his father, he had not actively sinned before him until his sinful brother returned. The return of the prodigal brother evoked in the elder brother envy – this terrible sin, which led to the first human murder and to the murder of the Saviour Himself. In the house of the Father (an image of the Church) there is joy, exultation – the exultation of the angels over one sinner that repenteth, but this joy remains outside the soul of the elder son. The father invites the elder son to enter into this joy, but he chooses the path of calculations, the path of legal considerations and contracts. Such cold, juridical attitudes always prevail wherever love dries up. The utterances of the elder son indicate that he did not really value his father’s gifts, which he made use of. He did not appreciate them because in his soul there was a void more fearful than that which we saw in his brother before his repentance. The elder son had stifled the voice of his conscience.

We all, to one degree or another, in one period of our life or another, behave like the sons of the compassionate father. By our sins, we all alienate ourselves from His love. The service for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son reveals to us the state of alienation from God: “I have wasted the riches which the Father gave me; I have spent them all and now am destitute, dwelling in the land of evil citizens…”.

And so, the Prodigal Son was in such a state for a long time, and, finally, the Gospel parable says, “he came to himself”.

What does “he came to himself” mean?

One Holy Father says that the beginning of our salvation self-knowledge. But, after all, self-knowledge is a lifetime pursuit, it is that toward which a man strives throughout the course of his whole existence. The meaning of this saying is disclosed by the Holy Fathers, who say that until you have come to know who you are; until you yourself have sensed the image of God in yourself; until you, living amidst earthly citizens, have felt that you are a citizen of heaven and have been enslaved to “foreign citizens”; until you, living amidst the filth of your own soul, have come to know the image of God in yourself – until then you have not entered on the path of salvation, you have not yet begun your salvation. It begins from the moment when you come to know your own divine nature. Thus it was also with the Prodigal Son. In one instant he perceived that he is living enslaved in a foreign land and does not possess genuine, real life. Having begun with knowledge of himself, a man, going further along this path, contrasts in himself that which is in him from God’s image, although it be covered with the sores of sin, to how he lives. And from this moment he begins to thirst for life in God and for cleansing from the sores of sin in the name of God’s image.

A monk came to Venerable Antony and began to ask that he forgive and have mercy on him. Antony replied to him: “Neither I, nor God will have mercy on thee, if thou wilt not have mercy on thyself”.

At first glance, the response seems strange. How is this so? For spiritual life, this is the greatest truth. Until I myself discover the image of God in myself; until I myself have mercy on the inner man who is in the abyss of sin, but possesses the image of God; until I myself have mercy on God’s creation in myself; until in my conscience I have mercy on myself, who am sinful, defiled and prodigal, that is, until I take pity on my immortal soul – until then, God also will not have mercy on me; until then, my entreaty will also be in vain.

So this state of the Prodigal Son, who saw how badly he is living and how well they are living who are not even sons, but hirelings of his father – this is the state of having received mercy. He had mercy on himself and then went to God and began to beg for mercy from Him. It is necessary to take from the Patristic experience that which it gives us; otherwise, our requests for mercy will be in vain. We must sense in ourselves the image of God, the remnants of Divine beauty that are in us, although they be distorted, and, first of all, have mercy on ourselves and understand who we are in life and who we are in creation.

In life, we are sinful, living in a “far country”, constantly forgetting about God, while in creation we are the image “of God’s ineffable Glory” and only in Him do we live, only in Him is our salvation.

And this contrasting of oneself in creation with oneself in life also leads at a certain moment to the state of having mercy on oneself. Here is the meaning of Venerable Antony’s words. And if we at some moment of our life will have mercy on ourselves and will feel the contrast between ourselves in creation and ourselves in life, then we can, like the Prodigal Son, go to God and beg for mercy. We must renew the image of God in ourselves; we must understand that our sole business on earth is to make ourselves, who are citizens of the earth, into citizens of heaven. If God’s creation – the image “of God’s ineffable Glory” – is constantly before our eyes, then we shall have mercy on ourselves. This does not mean that we shall be proud, shall forgive ourselves, shall justify ourselves; but we shall see in ourselves an ineffable temple of God’s Glory, we shall perceive all the joy of life in God and experience that filth in which we live. Then we shall come to God and shall beg Him, as the Prodigal Son: “make me as one of Thy hired servants”; and we shall be received, as the Prodigal Son.

Source: https://stjohndc.org

Sermon for Publican & Pharisee Sunday 2019

Not like other men’ – Reflections on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

Written by M.C. Steenberg (Bishop Irenei of Richmond – ROCOR).

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men–extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’. But the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18.10-14)

The words by which the preparatory weeks for the fast of Great Lent are begun, speak of a paradox. ‘He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’. As these words are proclaimed in our churches throughout the world on the first Sunday of the Triodion, commonly known as the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, we have just come from hearing another paradox proclaimed in the same Sunday’s epistle: ‘Yes, all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2 Tm 3.12). Humbleness brings exaltation, the pursuit of godliness brings persecution; and so we turn our eyes toward Lent.

Icon of the parable of the Publican (tax-collector) and the Pharisee.

The Publican’s cry, ‘God, be merciful unto me, a sinner!’, is a phrase not uncommon to the Orthodox world. Indeed, it is partially in reference to this Scriptural passage that the words of the Jesus Prayer in its most common form can be attributed; and in the form of the Prayer, the words of the tax collector are thus uttered by many of the faithful hundreds, if not thousands, of times in their own lives. But what of these words that we pray?

‘God, have mercy on me’ is a petition of unequalled frequency in the Church’s worship and prayer. Countless litanies embrace it as a refrain, prayer services and memorials beg it repeatedly, and there are portions of the Offices in which it is said in sequences of three, twelve, forty or even fifty. It is the one phrase that many of the faithful, no matter how limited their linguistic knowledge otherwise, will know in all three of the Church’s great traditional tongues: Lord, have mercy. Kyrie, eleison. Gospodi, pomilui.

The words are simple, yet powerful. To beg God’s mercy is a grave and awesome mystery in its own right, for the mercy of God is the foundation of the universe. We are made bold to ask for nothing less than that gift which goes beyond all comprehension and understanding, that gift by which the very planets and the stars have their being and we mortal humans have our breath. There is no little content to this cry.

But the Gospel for this Sunday does not speak so much of what the words of the tax collector say, but what they do not say. His prayer is not recounted until we have heard the words of another man, the Pharisee, one of the order of great religious teachers in the late Jewish world, the righteousness of whom must nonetheless be exceeded by anyone entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5.20). It is, interestingly, this Pharisee’s prayer that abounds in words, in things said. ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men–extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’.

The Pharisee has made what might have seemed a reasonable prayer, if we strip away for a moment its uncharitable tone. He is not an extortionist, and gives thanks to God for this fact. He keeps justice, for which fact he again offers thanks. Nor is he an adulterer, nor a tax collector, the latter group being one known for fraud, deception and theft, especially of the poor and misfortunate. He keeps the fasts. He offers of his wealth in tithes to the temple. He seems in every way ‘religious’.

But his prayer has said too much, has revealed something of him that he certainly did not intend, yet which is nonetheless true. It has made objects of the elements in his religious life, and thus shown that he does not understand their true and deeper purpose. He has judged another, even if in seeming ‘justice’, and thus brought judgement upon his own head. His ascesis has made him proud, and thus not only failed to serve its intended end, but counteracted it altogether. And from the very outset, the Pharisee’s prayer has set him apart from his brethren. ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men’. Prayer, which by engendering union with God thus ought in purity to make men one, has been twisted into a divisive act that rends men apart.

Still, we must not judge the Pharisee. We must not hear the words of the Gospel and inwardly cry, ‘Thanks to Thee, O God, that I do not pray as he did!’, for then, by another great paradox, we pray exactly as he did. The holy Gospel does not recount the Pharisee’s prayer that we may see how other, poorer men pray, but that we may see with objective perspective how we pray. Though we may be more familiar with the words of the Publican, we must admit with pained heart that, of the two men, the Pharisee is far more like unto our own selves than the humbled and humble tax collector.

As with so much of the mystery that is God’s gracious revelation in the Scriptures, we find that this story is our story. It is not only the Publican and the Pharisee, two long distant and removed figures, who go to the temple to pray, but we ourselves who approach God’s great mercy. And it is we who stand and proclaim, whether in our moments of prayer or in the activities of our daily lives, that ‘we are not like other men; we are just; we are not adulterers; we fast; we tithe; we are faithful’. And it is to us that the loving Lord Jesus proclaims: ‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled’.

How good for our souls it is for us to cry along with St Andrew of Crete, as we shall do in a few weeks’ time:

‘Boastful am I, and hard of heart, all in vain and for nothing. Condemn me not with the Pharisee, but rather grant unto me the humility of the Publican, O only merciful and just Judge, and number me with him’ (Great Canon, Ode 4).

It is this message that the Gospel for this Sunday means to instil in our hearts: not that we pray like the Publican, no matter how often we may recite his words; but that we pray like the Pharisee–that we are proud and haughty, and therefore must be humbled. The tax collector is not our associate but our example, the one whom we are to follow and strive to emulate. ‘Grant unto me the humility of the Publican’.

The Pharisee is he who speaks of us, but the Publican he who speaks to us. ‘God, have mercy upon me’ must be the words of our prayer; but they cannot be purely our prayer whilst we still pray that ‘we are not like other men’, that we are ‘just’. Justice is far from us who are, as the tax collector proclaimed, sinners. We have no weight with God, no claim to His grace. We have only the ability to come before Him and beg His mercy exactly as we are.

Lent is coming. In three weeks, the Vespers of Forgiveness will see in the fast proper, the actual period of ‘joyful sorrow’ that marks the journey into Pascha. But even now the Church begins to situate herself into that spirit which is necessary for joy, for sorrow, for repentance: the spirit of humility which can only come as our pride is brought low and in the depth of our hearts we realise that there is no other cry which mortal man can make in the presence of his King than the words of the humble collector of tax: God, be merciful unto me, a sinner!