The Myrrh of Life

O Jesus, wishing to show Thy surpassing humility unto all, Thou who art food to the hungry hast eaten in the house of Simon.

O Jesus, life-giving bread, Thou hast eaten with Simon the Pharisee, that the harlot might gain Thy grace that is beyond all price, by pouring out the ointment on Thy head.

‘My hands are filthy and I have a harlot’s lips; my life is impure and my body corrupt; but release and forgive me’, cried the harlot to Christ.

The woman drew near to Thee, O Saviour, and poured ou the sweet-smelling ointment on Thy feet; and she received the sweet fragrance of forgiveness.

‘Rich in sweet scents, yet poor in virtues, I offer Thee what I have: grant me in return what Thou hast, and release and forgive me’, cried the harlot to Christ.

‘My oil of myrrh is corruptible, Thine is the myrrh of life, for Thy Name is myrrh poured out upon the worthy. But release and forgive me’, cried the harlot to Christ.
Canticle Nine by St Andrew of Crete, Great Compline, Tuesday of Holy Week. The Lenten Triodion

Behold the Bridegroom!

Behold the Bridgroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware, then, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep, lest thou be given over to death and shut out from the Kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God: through the Theotokos have mercy upon us!
Troparion, Tone Eight, Matins for Holy Monday

Thou hast heard, my soul, how Christ spoke in prophecy to His holy disciples, foretelling the consummation of all things. Make ready, then, since thou knowest that the end will come; the hour of departure is at hand.

Thou knowest, O unfruitful soul, the example of the wicked servant. Fear, then, and neglect not the gift of grace which has been given unto thee, not to be hidden in the earth, but to be used.

May thy lamp shine brightly, O my soul; and, like the lamps of the five virgins, may it overflow with the oil of compassion; and so thou shalt find open before thee the door of Christ’s bridal chamber.
St Andrew of Crete, canon in Compline for Monday in Holy Week. From Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware. The Lenten Triodion (St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001).

Monday in Holy Week is the traditional date of the instruction on the Last Days given in Matthew 24 and 25 and parallels. The Matins service for Holy Monday is particularly beloved by the Orthodox, who generally refer to it as the Bridegroom Service.

Sunday of Palms

The Son and Word of the Father, like Him without beginning and eternal, has come today to the city of Jerusalem, seated on a dumb beast, on a foal. From fear the cherubim dare not gaze upon Him; yet the children honor Him with palms and branches, and mystically they sing a hymn of praise: ‘Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, who has come to save from error all mankind.’

From Saturday Vespers for Palm Sunday, at the Lity, Tone One. Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware. The Lenten Triodion. (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001).

Happy Easter!

To all you assorted Western/Latin Christians out there: Happy Easter!

For we Eastern Orthodox Christians (and the Nestorians and Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches as well), this is Holy Week. I’m not sure about the Uniate churches (the formerly Orthodox churches who are now under the Pope), but they probably follow the Roman date.

The dates differ for two different reasons. First, the Paschalion, the prescribed method which determines the date of Pascha, differs between Western and Eastern methods. While both are based upon the rule “first Sunday after the first full moon of spring,” the Orthodox includes the further proviso that this Sunday also occurs after the Jewish Passover, which in ancient times would actually have occurred on that full moon, while the Jews in Jerusalem were still determining the calendar by observation. Secondly and more importantly, the implementation of the Paschalion differs between the two traditions due to the underlying calendar being different. The calendar of the Roman church, the Gregorian calendar, is known and used worldwide as the common civil calendar. Readers of this blog might or might not be aware, however, that the Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar, currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, in determining the Pascha, and a set of traditional rules in which “spring” is defined as falling on “March 25.” Because of all the various elements in play, the two dates, for Western Easter and Eastern Pascha, are seldom the same. This year, Orthodox Pascha is only a week later, but some years it can be up to six weeks later! Please note also that the calendar issue is one of the “campaign issues” of various traditionalist groups in the Orthodox world. Mention the calendar and expect your ears to be busy for quite a long time….

Sometime in the future, we Orthodox will certainly go to an accurate astronomically-based method of determining the date for the Pascha. My own certainty on this point is based in the care that Patristic authors showed for the magnificent creation of God. With our modern tools at their disposal, they would surely have found the real, astronomical date of spring to be a more important determinant for the date of Pascha than the date on a defective calendar which is sliding its way slowly through the seasons.

St. John the Muslim

Neomartyr John was born of noble Muslim parents in the small town of Konitza (Konica), in the diocese of Vellas which was part of the Metropolis of Ioannina, Epeiros. His father was both a dervish and a sheik. When he reached twenty years of age, he also joined the order of dervishes. He then moved to the city of Ioannina, Epeiros, but later he moved on to the town of Vrachori in the province of Aitolia, whose vali (pasha) was Haznatar Isufaravos a friend of his father. So the pasha made John his private dervish.

John took up residence in Vrachori in the so-called Muslim Serai. In a short time John rose high in the dervish order. As such he participated in the war fought by the Turks and Russians in the area of the Ionian Islands.

After returning from the conflict John began to live and act as an Orthodox Christian. This was due to his frequent contacts with Orthodox Christians. He consequently took off his dervish attire and put on Orthodox Christian garments and sought baptism, but no one would baptize him out of fear of the consequences. So when his mentor Haznatar Pasha was transferred, John did not accompany him.

Continue reading “St. John the Muslim”

Sunday of the Cross

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the life-giving Wood, on which Christ, the King of Glory, stretched out His hands of His own will. To the ancient blessedness He raised us up, whom the enemy despoiled of old through pleasure, making us exiles far from God. Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the Wood whereby we have been counted worthy to crush the heads of our invisible enemies. Come, all ye kindred of the nations, and let us honor in hymns the Cross of the Lord. Rejoice, O Cross, perfect redemption of fallen Adam. Glorying in thee, our faithful kings laid low by thy might the people of Ishmael. We Christians kiss thee now with awe, and glorifying God who was nailed on thee, we cry aloud: O Lord, who on the Cross was crucified, have mercy upon us, for Thou art good and lovest mankind.

The above hymn was written by Roman/Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-912), and is sung during Matins/Orthros on the third Sunday in Lent, the Adoration of the Precious and Life-giving Cross (see Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware.The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001, pp 348-9). His reference to defeating the Arabs is probably to the capture of the city of Tarsus in 900 and 904, which for several years had been an Arab base for invasion of Asia Minor, and earlier, if similarly temporary, successes further west in Italy and elsewhere.

Continue reading “Sunday of the Cross”

From the Akathist to the Theotokos

Saturday is the Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrate both the full willingness of an innocent young girl to do the will of God, and the conception of that same God as a human infant within her, a mystery that, we are told, even the angels find difficult to fathom.

An Angel, and the chiefest among them, was sent from Heaven to cry: Rejoice! to the Mother of God. And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:
Rejoice, thou through whom joy shall shine forth.
Rejoice, thou through whom the curse shall be blotted out.
Rejoice, thou the Restoration of fallen Adam.
Rejoice, thou the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, Height hard to climb for human thought.
Rejoice, Depth hard to explore, even for the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for thou art the Throne of the King.
Rejoice, for thou sustainest the Sustainer of all.
Rejoice, Star that causest the Sun to appear.
Rejoice, Womb of the divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, thou through whom creation is renewed.
Rejoice, thou through whom the Creator becometh a babe.
Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

The Akathist hymn is a lengthy acrostic hymn (the above is the Alpha section) written in the sixth century by St. Romanos the Melodist. The name “akathist” is given to a certain body of hymns sung during the singing of which no sitting is permitted. It’s one of the treasures of Orthodoxy, and the crowning gem of St. Romanos’ works. The translation above is from the beautifully produced Great Horologion (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1997).