Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

On the 3rd Sunday of Pascha, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Myrrh-bearing Women along with Ss Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus. Their commemoration keeps the "theme" of the Paschal season: sharing the good news of the Resurrection ("He has risen" Mark 16:6).
Icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women
Image Source

It's amazing to think of the situation these women found themselves during these chaotic days in Jerusalem. Their Master had been betrayed by his own people (the Jews) and sentenced to a painful and humiliating death to hang upon a Cross for all to witness by the authorities (Romans). These women attended to Jesus and his disciples throughout his Ministry, and yet while his closest friends, his disciples fled the scene (very understandably) after the capture of Jesus, they continued to follow and witnessing the torture he endured for their sake. Fulfilling their service to their Master, they came early in the morning to the tomb of their Lord to wash and anoint His body for burial as was their Jewish custom required. Much to their amazement, they arrived at the tomb and saw the large stone rolled back from the entrance. Being greeted by an angel, they heard the most glorious news that Jesus has risen from the dead and were commanded to go and tell His disciples that their risen Lord would meet with them all in Galilee.

Myrrh-Bearing Women
Icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women
Image Source 

From the Gospels and Church Tradition, we learn of eight women included among the group commemorated on this Sunday:

*Mary Magdalene
*Mary, the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary)
*Joanna (wife of Chusa, the household steward of King Herod Antipas, also according to Holy Tradition, she recovered the glorious head of John the Baptist after it has been disposed of by Herodias)
*Salome (mother of the Apostles James & John, sons of Zebedee, also daughter of Joseph the Betrothed)
*Mary the wife of Cleopas (or Alphaeus)
*Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus)
*Martha of Bethany (sister of Lazarus)
Icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women
Image Source

Their sadness has been turned into joy; the myrrh-bearing women ultimately become the "apostles to the Apostles," the first to share the good news of the Resurrection with His apostles. What a beautiful example to Christian women, and to all who are called to share to good news of our Lord's Resurrection in a "post-Paschal" world!

"Christ is risen" for the Myrrh-bearing Women told me so! Truly, He is risen!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Venerable Vitalius: Minister of Harlots

In the Life of the Church, we commemorate Venerable Vitalius on April 22. I had never heard of this saint before, but as I was looking through the Saints of the Day, came across his Life. It is a remarkable story of truly living according to the Gospel. He loved the sinner, but hated the sin; working against society to minister to prostitutes of the city of Alexandria. His Life is as follows:

When he was sixty years old, undertook an extraordinary task: he wrote down from memory the names of all the prostitutes of Alexandria and he began to pray for them. He worked from morning to evening, earning twelve copper coins each day. In the evening the saint bought a single bean, which he ate after sunset. Then he would give the rest of the money to one of the harlots, whom he visited at night and said, "I beg you, take this money and do not sin with anyone tonight." Then he stayed with the harlot in her room. While she slept, the Elder spent the whole night at prayer, reading the Psalms, and quietly left in the morning.

He did this each day, visiting all the harlots in turn, and he made them promise to keep the purpose of his visit secret. The people of Alexandria, not knowing the truth, became indignant over the the monk's behavior, and they reviled him. However, he meekly endured their scorn, and he only asked that they not judge others.

Venerable Vitalius of Gaza
Image Source

The holy prayers of St Vitalius saved many fallen women. Some of them went to a monastery, others got married, and others found respectable work. But they were forbidden to tell anyone the reason why they had changed their life, and thereby stop the abuse heaped upon St Vitalius. They were bound by an oath they had made to the saint. When of the woman began to break her oath and stood up to defend the saint, she fell into a demonic frenzy. After this, the people of Alexandria had no doubt concerning the sinfulness of the monk.

Certain of the clergy, scandalized by the behavior of St Vitalius, reported him to the holy Patriarch John the Merciful. But the Patriarch did not believe the informers and he said, "Cease to judge, especially monks. Don't you know what happened at the First Council of Nicea? Some of the bishops and the clergy brought letters of denunciation against each other to the emperor St Constantine the Great (May 21). He commanded that a burning candle be brought, and not even reading the letters, he burned them and said, "If I had seen with my own eyes a bishop sinning, or a priest, or a monk, then I would have veiled such with his garb, so that no one might see his sin." Thus the wise hierarch shamed the calumniators.

St Vitalius continued on with his difficult exploit: appearing himself before people under the guise of a sinner and a prodigal, he led the prodigal to repentance.

One time, emerging from an house of ill repute, the monk encountered a young man going there -- a prodigal fellow, who with an insult struck him on the cheek and cried out, that the monk was a disgrace to the Name of Christ. The monk answered him: "Believe me, that after me, humble man that I be, thou also shalt receive such a blow on the cheek, that will have all Alexandria thronging to thine cry".

A certain while afterwards St Vitalius settled into a small cell and in it at night he died. At that very hour a terrifying demon appeared before the youth who had struck the saint, and the demon struck the youth on the cheek and cried out: "Here is a knock from St Vitalius." The youth went into a demonic madness. In a frenzy he thrashed about on the ground, tore the clothing from himself and howled so loudly, that a multitude of people gathered.

When the youth finally came to his senses after several hours, he then rushed off to the cell of the monk, calling out: "Have mercy on me, O servant of God, for I have sinned against thee." At the door of the cell he came fully to his senses and he told those gathered there about his former encounter with St Vitalius. Then the youth knocked on the door of the cell, but he received no answer. When they broke in the door, they then saw, that the monk was dead, on his knees before an icon. In his hand was a scroll with the words: "Men of Alexandria, judge not beforehand, til cometh the Lord, the Righteous Judge".

At this moment there came up the demon-possessed woman, punished by the monk for wanting to violate the secret of his exploit. Having touched the body of the saint, she was healed and told the people about everything that had happened with her.

When the women who had been saved by St Vitalius learned about his death, they gathered together and told everyone about the virtues and mercy of the saint.

St John the Merciful also rejoiced, in that he had not believed the calumniators, and that a righteous man had not been condemned. And then together with the throng of repentant women, converted by St Vitalius, the holy Patriarch solemnly conveyed his remains throughout all the city and gave them reverent burial. And from that time many of the Alexandria people made themselves a promise to judge no one.

Cited Source

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paschal Quiz

Christ is Risen! Christos Anesti! Al Maseeh Qam!

In the joy of the Resurrection, our Paschal season, test your knowledge with some Orthodox Trivia focused on Pascha!
Resurrection of our Lord
1. What does Pascha mean?

a. resurrection   b. passover
c. feast              d. salvation

2. Who is the disciple that would not believe in the good news of the Resurrection of our Lord until he saw the marks of the crucifixion?

a. Peter       b. Paul
c. Thomas    d. Andrew

3. Who is the first person to tell the myrrh-bearing women the good news of the Resurrection?

a. an angel       b. the Jewish soldier
c. Nicodemus   d. Pontius Pilate

4. Did St Paul ever meet Jesus (in the flesh)?


5. Who is the disciple chosen to replace Judas Iscariot among the Twelve?

a. Justus    b. Matthias
c. Mark      d. Paul

6. What is the week following Pascha called?

a. Week of Joy                b. Easter Week
c. Resurrection Week      d. Bright Week

7. Who is depicted in the Icon of the Resurrection/Descent into Hades as being raised by the hand out of the graves by Christ?

a. Joachim & Anna    b. Adam & Eve
b. Abraham & Sarah   d. Moses & Zipporah

8. Who does the Church commemorate on the second Sunday following Pascha?

a. the twelve disciples     b. Jesus' family
c. myrrh-bearing women  d. Longinus the Centurion

9. How many days after Pascha do we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord?

a. 12 days    b. 20 days
c. 40 days    d. 50 days

10. What is the Paschal greeting for Orthodox Christians (in English)?

a. Christ is risen!     b. Christ no longer sleeps!
b. Jesus is Lord!      d. Lord, come!

11. What is the traditional color of the Church during the Paschal season (vestments, altar cloth, candle holders)?

a. blue    b. white
c. red     d. gold

12. On the road to what town did the Lord reveal himself as risen from the dead to some of his disciples?

a. Capernaum      b. Bethany
c. Jerusalem       d. Emmaus

13. What day is the Sabbath?

a. Thursday    b. Friday
c. Saturday    d. Sunday

14. Where did the angel tell the myrrh-bearing women that Jesus would meet with his disciples?

a. Galilee       b. Capernaum
c. Jerusalem  d. Bethlehem

15. Which Church Father's homily is read during the celebration of the Feast of Feasts, Pascha?

a. St Basil the Great      b. my bishop
c. my parish priest        d. St John Chysostom

The Answer Key is below, please highlight to view:

Answer Key:

1. b     6. d   11. b
2. c     7. b   12. d
3. a     8. c   13. c
4. NO  9. c   14. a
5. b    10. a  15. d

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Holy Pascha: Feast of Feasts

Holy Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, is our celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life."   -Paschal Troparion
Resurrection of our Lord
English: Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

Arabic: Al Maseeh Qam! Haqan Qam!

Greek: Kristos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

Hillbilly: Hey y'all, He got up! Sure done!

Albanian: Kristi Unjhal! Vertet Unjhal!

German: Christus ist auferstanden! Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!

Spanish: Cristo ha resucitado! Verdaderamente, ha resucitado!

Italian: Cristo è risorto! È veramente risorto!

French: Le Christ est ressuscité! Vraiment Il est ressuscité!

Irish: Tá Críost éirithe! Go deimhin, tá sé éirithe!

Romanian: Kristos A Inviat! Adeverat a Inviat!

Russian: Kristos Voskrese! Voyistino Voskrese!

Fr James Shadid's Pujwanese: Christos Musen! Eee Koosen Moosen!

We are a "People of the Resurrection;" let us live a life worthy of our Risen Lord!

Be sure to read the words of the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom, recited at EVERY Paschal Liturgy in EVERY Orthodox Christian Church across the whole world, visit HERE.

Wishing you and your family a blessed Paschal season!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Passion of the Christ

If you haven't seen The Passion of the Christ movie, I highly recommend it (if you have, watch it again)! The film was released in 2004, produced by Mel Gibson. As has been my personal tradition, I rewatch this film every year during Holy Week, usually following Holy Thursday service of the Reading of the 12 Passion Gospels or Holy Friday service of Lamentations (sometimes both evenings). I hope its not out of false piety, but after being in Church for services that focus on our Lord's voluntary Passion (the abuse He accepted prior to his execution and his humiliating Death upon the Cross), I try to maintain a solemn evening at home. Since I'm a visual kind of person, watching this film helps me out.

Image Source

Upon the film's release in 2004, I was in college at the University of Kentucky. The large Protestant ministries on campus rented out theatres, and sold tickets to their members and friends. I went to the showing with my college roommates and neighbors; we had about 14 in our group.

It was a strange occurrence to say the least. Usually you go to the movies, excited to see the show, grab some goodies at the concession stand, and enjoy the show with your friends. But in this instance, knowing the type of movie we were about to watch, it just had a strange feeling. We sat in the theatre, watching a film that showed on the big screen, our Lord (God who became Flesh to suffer for our sins and save us) being mocking, scourged, beaten, spit upon, tortured, humiliated by carrying his own Cross before being nailed and hung upon on high for all to see before giving up His Spirit. We saw in vivid detail what we read from the gospels giving account of our Lord's suffering.

Image Source

What happens after a movie ends? You get up out of your seat, talk with your friends about the film, and leave the theatre, right? Not so this time! After the screen went dark and the lights came on in the theatre, everyone (probably about 200 people) just sat in their seats. Everyone was filled with great emotion: faces filled with horror and amazement, eyes filled with tears, hugs to console those around them.

As for myself, I was not filled with tears, wasn't hugging to console anyone, I was simply ready to go to our cars and drive home. I stood up and looked around, trying to signal my friends, saying, "Well? Let's go!" I was quickly hurried back down into my seat, with many eyes looking at me (I'm assuming that the eyes were saying, "What's wrong with that dude?"

After about 20 minutes people finally started to funnel out of the theatre. It was like a funeral procession, somber and quiet, except for the crying and mourning. We walked to our cars in silence, piled in to our cars, and drove home.

When we got home is when the real drama began. The group of about 14 huddled in our house; I left the group to go to my room to study (if my mom is reading this). After about 30 minutes, one of my roommates came in my room in a hurried manner and told me to get my bible and join the discussion. Apparently, it was getting heated out there, a group of Protestant and Catholic college students discussing Church, Christ, and theology; they needed an Orthodox to settle the debate (or so I like to think).

Young adults discussing matters of Faith is important, yet sometimes awkward. My friends couldn't understand why they were so overcome with emotion having seen the images of our Lord's Passion on the big screen, yet I remained unmoved. I explained that it wasn't that I was unmoved, the visualization of such torture and cruel treatment of Christ is truly troubling, but we live in a "post-Paschal" world. The story of our Lord's suffering is not new to Orthodox Christians, just read from the Holy Gospels and/or attend the services of Holy Week, especially the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels.

I am constantly reminding myself: I am ONLY able to love because He (Christ) loved me FIRST! Our Lord tells us, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend" (John 15:13). We remember our Lord's suffering and submission to death in order to save us. It is truly a somber reminder, when we listen to the gospels and hymnology during the services of Holy Week.

Crucifixion of our Lord
Two hymns from the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels sung on Holy Thursday evening that always stir up great emotion within me are below:

"Every member of Thy holy flesh endured dishonor for us. Thy head, thorns; Thy face, spitting; Thy cheeks, buffeting; Thy mouth, taste of vinegar mingled with gall; Thine ears, impious blasphemies; Thy back, scourging; Thy hand, a reed; Thy whole body, extension upon the cross; Thy joints, nails; Thy side, spear. By Thy sufferings Thou hast set us free from suffering. In Thy love for mankind, Thou didst stoop down to raise us up. O Almighty Savior, have mercy on us!"

"Today He who suspended the earth upon the waters is suspended upon a Tree. (3x) A crown of thorns is placed on the head of the King of angels. He who wore a false purple robe covered the Heavens with clouds. He is smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam. The Bridegroom of the Church is fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ! (3x) Make us ready to behold Thy glorious Resurrection."

If we want to remember our Lord's saving Passion & Death, let us not forget His glorious Resurrection. After all, the film "The Passion of the Christ" doesn't end with our Lord suspended upon the Cross, but with a glimpse of our Risen Lord coming out of the Tomb. Again, we live in a "post-Paschal" world. To paraphrase Fr Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent: The greatest tragedy is to live as if He never came.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Bridegroom Service

During the 1st 3 days of Orthodox Holy Week, one of the most beloved liturgical services is celebrated: The Bridegroom Service.

To learn more about this service, please visit HERE for a detailed description, history, and reflection thanks to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

This service combines the historical process of our Lord's time while in Jerusalem prior to his Crucifixion and Resurrection with spiritual preparation learned from certain parables and stories of figures of the Old Testament. During Holy Week, we are called to remember the saving acts of our Lord in Jerusalem. Christ's acts are not happening each year, He has accomplished his work.
Christ the Bridegroom Icon
Image Source

But what did Christ accomplish with his Crucifixion and Resurrection? Are we guaranteed salvation because of what He did for us? There is a famous saying (no clue where it really comes from, but I like it): I am saved; I am being saved; I will be saved! Christ's saving act was simply to give us the OPPORTUNITY to receive salvation.

The Church and our participation in the Life of the Church offers the context for this opportunity to receive salvation. Especially during our Lenten journey and Holy Week, we prepare to receive the Risen Lord. We are called to remember His saving acts, be appreciative for them, and come to the realization of our own unworthiness to receive His grace. And when we come to this realization of unworthiness, we don't despair, but hunger and thirst even more for His divine grace, which our Lord pours out upon us freely. As we increase in our self knowledge, humility grows within us, and through his process, our dependance upon the mercy of God is strengthened.

This process is summed up by one of my favorite sayings, credited to John Newton (former slave ship owner turned Anglican minister, who said: "I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior."

The Bridegroom Service during the beginning of Holy Week makes this concept of awareness front and center. We should increase the watchfulness and concern for our soul because the Bridegroom (Christ) is coming. The hymns during this service are beautiful, and the two most important and popular are written below:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the midst of the night,
and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching;
yet unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul,
lest you be overcome with sleep,
lest you be given up to death,
and be shut out from the Kingdom.
Wherefore, rouse thyself, and cry:
Holy, Holy, Holy are Thou, our God,
through the protection of the Heavenly Hosts, save us.

I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned,
O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment, that I may enter therein;
O Giver of Light, make radiant the vesture of my soul, and save me.

Click HERE to listen to these hymns as well as many more from the liturgical services during Great Lent and Holy Week (for the hymned above, scroll down about half way).

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Lenten Season: Take the Quiz

Our Great Lenten journey ends this weekend and we begin to commemorate our Lord's final days in Jerusalem, our Holy Week.

Below is a quiz on the Lenten Season, the season of preparation of our body and soul to participate in the Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Try to take this brief quiz "honestly" and hopefully regardless of your personal results, we can all come to the same conclusion: We can all learn more about our Faith and how this knowledge should affect our lives!

1. What is the 1st Sunday of Great Lent called?

a. Adoration of the Holy Cross  
b. Triumph of Orthodoxy
c. Meatfare Sunday                  
d. St Gregory Palamas

2. Who is the author of this Lenten prayer?

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

a. St John of Damascus           b. St John Climacus
c. St Basil the Great               d. St Ephraim the Syrian

3. Who is the author of the Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts?

a. St John Chrysostom       b. St Basil the Great
c. St Gregory Dialogist       d. St James, brother of our Lord

4. Throughout the Lenten hymns of the Church, who is referred to as the "Lover of mankind?"

a. John the Baptist      b. Jesus Christ
c. The Theotokos        d. The Holy Unmercenary Healers

5. On Friday evenings (Antiochian & Greek traditions), which service is celebrated?

a. Akathist               b. Great Vespers
c. Divine Liturgy       d. Paraklesis

6. During which Lenten service, do we hear the following hymn? "O Lord of Hosts, be with us for we have none other help in times of sorrow but Thee, O Lord of Hosts have mercy upon us."

a. Orthros (Matins)  b. Great Compline
c. Akathist              d. Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

7. How many Gospel lessons are read during the Passion Service on Holy Thursday evening?

a. One              c. Three
c. Seven           d. Twelve

8. Who is the friend of Christ that was raised from the dead on the Saturday preceding Palm Sunday?

a. Peter                      b. Lazarus
c. John the Baptist      d. Simon of Cyrene

9. What is the Lenten color of the Church? Examples: the color of the clergy vestments, the altar cloth, and candle holders.

a. Green      b. White
c. Purple      d. Red

10. On what days during Lent does the Church allow for Fish, Wine, and Oil?

a. Feast of the Annunciation & Palm Sunday 
b. Every Sunday
c. Lazarus Saturday & Feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste      
d. Every Friday

11. Which prophet is commonly ascribed as the author of the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament?

a. David        b. Solomon
c. Moses       d. Abraham

12. How many days are included in Great Lent?

a. 7 days           b. 21 days
c. 40 days          d. 50 days

13. During Great Lent, we are called to fast and increase our ______ & ______.

a. entertainment & luxury
b. pride & greed
c. bad habits & bad thoughts
d. prayer & charity

14. What is Communion (Holy Eucharist)?

a. Bread & Wine
b. Body & Blood of Christ
c. Symbolic of the Body & Blood of Christ
d. Any meal shared together with family

15. Which Liturgy is used on Sundays during Great Lent?

a. St Basil the Great           b. St John Chrysostom
c. St Gregory Dialogist        d. St James, the brother of our Lord

The Answer Key is below, please highlight to view:

Answer Key:
1. B   6. B    11. A
2. D   7. D    12. C
3. C   8. B    13. D
4. B   9. C    14. B
5. A  10. A   15. A

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director