"The Great Commission" was the theme of our recent Clergy-Laity Assembly: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20).
As we begin the Great Fast, these words of the Lord can enlighten our Lenten journey. We call this passage "The Great Commission" because with these words, our Lord and Savior, shortly after His Resurrection, sent forth His disciples into the world. They went from "disciples" or followers of Jesus, to "apostles" sent out by Christ to continue His mission to the world.
Our Lenten journey that will culminate in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ will also prepare us for the apostolic work of going into the world to share the good news first proclaimed by Jesus. The Lenten practices of the Church will prepare us when we observe them: prayer, fasting, study, philanthropy and charity. Jesus Himself becomes our example. Jesus prayed to His father, so we must pray regularly during this season. The New Testament recounts many occasions when the Lord "went off to pray". The Church, in the parish, offers us many opportunities for prayer and worship.
Jesus fasted, especially during the forty days in the wilderness, before He began His public Ministry. The Church continued to observe a fast, especially before beginning significant work (Acts of the Apostles 13). The Church has taught us to fast for forty days in imitation of Christ, which also prepares us for the work of the Church.
Jesus knew the scriptures. We remember how He used the words of the Scripture to respond to those who would challenge Him or merely ask a question, whether it was the Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, even Satan himself. We should devote time to studying the Scriptures and the Teaching of our Holy Orthodox Faith during Great Lent so that we may edify and equip ourselves for the mission ahead.
Jesus' philanthropic acts were seen in His many miracles of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. His ultimate philanthropic act was His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Great Lent is our time to increase our philanthropic and charitable acts to support reconciliation, healing, and care for those around us. Our parishes offer many opportunities for service and giving during these days.
We typically think of Great Lent in individualistic and pietistic terms. It
is a time of turning inward personally. And indeed, it has these strong elements. Yet, when we consider the goal of our Lenten journey, we can see how the inward dimension is preparing us for the outward work of sharing the Gospel with all. The first people we must share the Gospel with is our children, both at home and in your parishes. Witnessing our example, our children will see the significance of Great Lent in our lives. We should also instruct our children in the ways of the Church, connecting Lenten discipline and practices with our faith in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, "The Great Commission" has been given to each of us, just as it was given to those first followers of Christ. The Church, during Great Lent, shows us the way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and for our apostolic work in the world.
May our Lord grant you and your families a Holy Season of Great Lent filled with soul saving experiences as we proceed to witness His Glorious Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
We have the habit in our Church of saying the Preparation Prayers for Holy Communion during our cell rule, and the Thanksgiving Prayers are said at the end of the Liturgy. But I've often found that taking those prayers and spreading them out over the days after Communion is a good way to start reminding yourself that gratitude for receiving the Holy Gifts is not just momentary. It doesn't just happen in that instant while you can still taste Them in your throat but is to extend and fill the days ahead. So, of those collection of prayers, we can read one in our cells that night, and another in the morning when we get up, continuing to give thanks for what He has done for us. It is not a momentary thing but continues on.
Likewise with the Preparatory Prayers: not all of them have to be read the night before. If you know you're going to receive next weekend, in the days leading up to that, you can begin your preparation ahead of time, with a sense of pending gratitude, to be grateful for what is about to happen. If we do that regularly then the whole week becomes a continuation of giving thanks for what we have received and giving thanks for what we are about to receive (instead of being grateful and then going about our way for a while, then getting ready again, and repeating that cycle). Extending the preparation and the giving of thanks, through these prayers, extends the gratitude into the whole of the week. So with the Eucharist we have a practical way to begin cultivating gratitude.
~ Bishop Irenei, excerpted from an impromptu talk on cultivating gratitude.
“Let us flee the vainglory of the Pharisee, learning instead the true humility of the Publican, so that we may ascend to God and cry to Him: forgive us, Your sinful servants, O Christ our savior: you were born of the virgin and willingly endured the cross for us, raising the dead by Your power as God!”
–From the Triodion for Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee-
I recently discussed the following quote from C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity with a group of high school students, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong… Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
The resulting conversation was spirited as they wrestled with this idea. What became apparent was their concept of good and evil was pretty black and white – some people are inherently good and others inherently evil. However, this is not the Orthodox view of the world. God did not create evil people, instead he created each of us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). So how then is there so much evil in the world?
In Lenten Spring Father Thomas Hopko explains, “[…] By rebelling against God ourselves. We listen to the serpent, the spirit of evil, instead of God. We do things in our own way. And we experience evil for ourselves, by our own volition, and bring corruption to our total being: mind, soul heart, and body. To the extent that this wickedness is in us, we pass it on to those who come after us, and they too become infected by evil from their very conception.”
We experience evil voluntarily as we rebel against God’s will and make our own will the authority. And one of the greatest temptations is to justify our actions, to say to ourselves, “What I am doing is good.” However, none of us has any authority to make that call, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is where we go wrong. This is how goodness becomes spoiled. As we continue down this path of separating ourselves from God through sin, we infect and are infected by those around us. The bottom line is that even if we were able to follow the law to perfection we would still be lost because without Christ we are subject to the death and corruption of this world.
So it is no mistake the pre-Lenten period begins with the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. As he prayed “I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11), the Pharisee’s mistake was believing that he had no sin, that he was immune to the corruption of this world. Unable to recognize his own sin he continued to wallow in it and become infected by it. The Publican’s posture is a recognition of the wickedness in the world and our complete separation from God. In complete humility he beats his breast and cries, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
It is unsettling to think that even our most pure thoughts and desires, left to our own devices, can become corrupted and wicked. The Church tries to awaken us to this fact, not that we may despair, but that we may thirst and hunger for communion with the only One who is good, Jesus Christ. When we abide in His goodness, we are filled with His gifts and able to share them with those around us.
- By Rev. Father Daniel Triant, Assistant Priest
Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church - Seattle, WA
From the Monthly Meditations published by the Metropolis of San Francisco
Beloved in the Lord,
The Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote, “We prove God’s existence by worshiping Him and not by advancing so-called proofs.” At the Great Feast of Christmas, each one of our churches become a symbolic Bethlehem, carrying us to the manger where we find the newborn child, Jesus. In our Vigil and Liturgy we will sing praises to the Almighty God as we hear the story of the Birth of our Savior. The news that Christ is born, once again, will fill us with joy and hope and we will take this message from our parishes to our homes and the world around us. That is the proof of our faith! This is how the Birth of Christ makes a difference in our salvation; that we are able to share with action this wondrous message from above. In the Holy Liturgy during our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, we will receive Christ the Lord as we sing the Communion Hymn that teaches us the purpose of the Incarnation: “The Lord sent redemption to His people.”
In this cynical age when various pundits regularly question the existence of God, what better response can we offer than filling our churches with hymns of praise? When the world around us makes Christmas all about searching for “the right gift”, what better response can we offer than sharing the Good News that the Savior is born? When we encounter those who sow seeds of division and relish in polarization, what better response can we offer that working even more diligently to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ? Arguments will not change hardened hearts. Only our faith, our love for our neighbor, and our compassion can soften them.
In the Nativity of Christ, the Kingdom of God enters this world and we celebrate that “God is with us”. He came humbly, as an infant, reminding us that the Kingdom of God enters in places and ways that are not always dramatic or revolutionary, but rather quite ordinary. The Kingdom of God is at hand in the ordinary activities of our lives: in our homes, at our family gatherings, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. When we treat people with kindness, justice and compassion in our day-to-day activities, we bear witness to the Kingdom and grow closer to God. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God” (Oration 38). Our journey to God begins with our journey to the symbolic Bethlehem, where we may meet the Savior, who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Then we can return to our daily lives filled with hope and begin to work to make all things new.
There is much work to be done. When we see the many sufferings of our neighbors, in the Alaska earthquake, the fires in California, as well as the ongoing injustices that continue to be perpetrated in our society, we must turn our minds and hearts to the Good News that the Savior is born and redemption has come to His people. We must ask ourselves how we will bear witness to the Kingdom of God in the face of these tragedies and the conditions of so many. Our first action should be prayer for those who suffer. Second, we can make charitable and philanthropic gifts to offer support. Third, speak the truth to those who are sitting in places of authority. Fourth, we can involve ourselves in the work of assisting those who have no voice and need help through our parishes and as responsible citizens of our country.
Beloved in the Lord, this Christmas Holiday is a new opportunity to go to our symbolic Bethlehem, see the newborn Christ, acknowledge Him as your Savior, and take His message of salvation into the world through your words and actions. Let us go to Bethlehem, the city of David, and meet Christ the Lord.
Beseeching the Blessings of our Almighty God upon you and your loved ones, I wish to all of you a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with the Joy and Grace of our Newborn Savior.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
'Tis the the season to be....busy! With all the hustle and bustle of the Advent Season, it is important for us, as Orthodox Christians, to pause and reflect upon what is truly important. Here are 10 suggestions to help prepare us for the Incarnation of our King, the Lord Jesus, this season!
10 Suggestions to Help Us Prepare for the Feast of the Nativity
Let us all thank our Holy Lord Jesus…who took on flesh for our sake and gives us eternal life…by becoming like Him in all we think, do and say this Advent Season!
With Love & Warm Wishes,
The Eikona Sisters
Beloved in the Lord,
One life lost is too many. Yet today we mourn the tragic killing of 13 young people who were enjoying an evening at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California when gunfire erupted. A nightclub full of college students and young adults quickly turned into a crime scene with dead and injured people, and people literally running for their lives.
We grieve with the families and friends of all those who are suffering from yet another senseless act of violence. There are no words that can adequately provide solace and comfort, especially with the loss of young life. The bright future of these 13 people has been snuffed out like a candle, and the flame extinguished by the tears of those left behind who will forever have a void in their lives.
One of those killed was 27-year old Telemachus "Tel" Orfanos, a member of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge, CA. Orfanos' family has been active in the parish for many years, and Tel served as an altar boy in his youth. This young man was a veteran of the United States Navy, and was a survivor of the Route 91 massacre in Las Vegas in 2017.
There is nothing more powerful than prayer, and we must come together as an Orthodox family, raising our voices and our hearts in collective prayer. This Sunday, November 11, I ask that all our communities offer a Trisagion for the repose of the souls of those who perished, and prayers for the restoration of the health of those who were injured, and for the families and friends who are suffering emotional trauma from this horrific ordeal.
The time is now for us to also raise our collective voices throughout this country to all civic and religious leaders that definitive and decisive steps must be taken to eradicate this kind of violence that continues to befall our nation. We must not allow this type of behavior to become commonplace; it is up to us as people of faith to act in unity to stamp out this evil.
Let us continue to pray for peace in the world, so that no more innocent lives may be lost through random acts of violence, terrorism and war. May God, the source of peace and unconditional love, sustain us all through this tragedy.
With Love in Christ,
+Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
If you are anything like me, your home is filled with icons of saints and photographs of loved ones. These icons and photographs greet me when I visit your homes as a priest.
I have seen different saints from various epochs that share walls and shelves with photographs of people – family members, relative, koumbari, and friends – who mean a lot to the family living in this home. I try to imagine the stories these icons and photographs hold. The stories they tell us every day. They represent unforgettable memories and important milestones for those who keep and preserve them in their homes. These are the faces of people with whom we want to share our space, our time, and our world.
There is undoubtedly a link between icons and photographs. Both these representations, either painted by hand or taken with a camera, belong to the same genre – a genre centered on the portrait of one or more persons. Yet the story, it seems to me, always goes beyond the representation of a person’s individual features on a piece of wood or paper. It is not mainly for decorative reasons that we keep icons and photographs in our homes; they also remind us of an experience of closeness, of love and warmth given to us by the people in both icons and photographs. These feelings embrace our whole body and soul when we look at them. This is because there is a personal relationship between us and our beloved saints and relatives or friends.
When I encounter icons and photographs in homes, I like to ask their owners about them. The answers I receive are not simply a name or a place or an event, but always a story – a story that begins in our hearts, a story that breaks the borders of time and space. The story moves, not only the person telling it, but me as a listener into a timeless realm where all memories become vivid and alive. These are the kind of stories that bring past and present together. Looking at these icons and photographs and hearing someone tell me about them, reveals how strong the connection is – love, closeness, a true relationship. Time and space no longer seem to be obstacles.
There are two different directions happening in these two, yet similar, modes of depiction. The first direction is from the portrait toward the icon, and the second is from the icon toward the portrait. The first direction truly destroys the idea of space and time and bridges the divide between the past and present. The story that follows this direction awakens memories and reveals relationships between the owner and those in the photograph. Yet those memories are followed by a sense of sadness and emptiness because those in the photograph may not be here with us as we look at their faces. Time and space keep us apart.
The direction from icon toward the portrait is different. It abolishes both sadness and emptiness since this direction comes from the future – from eschaton – from eternity – and comes into our present time to join future, present, and past. Through the image of a saint in an icon we feel joy, peace, and hope. Our relationship with the represented saint fulfills not only our common past but also our present, as this saint is our intercessor in front of God. Our memories are not only focused on the past, but, through our prayers in front of these icons, through reading of saints’ lives and contemplating their examples as faithful Christians, our present becomes tied with the future – with eternity.
But how about our loved ones whose photographs we keep in our homes? Direction from the icon toward the portrait brings the experience of joy and hope to us as we are all created for eternity. This is also true for the memories and legacies we keep alive with them.
Therefore, the next time I go to my own home or visit somebody else’s and see icons and photographs together, I will give thanks to the Lord and offer a prayer for all whose faces I see. I will ask for the intersession of a saint whose icon is in a home knowing that his or her life story proves that God so loves this world that he sent His own Son that everyone who believes in Him does not parish but obtain eternal life. (John 3:16)
By Rev. Father Milutin Janjic, Ph.D., Proistamenos
Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church - Santa Cruz, CA
“Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
1 Timothy 4:13-14
This was the opening scripture quote from the valedictorian of the Holy Cross Class of 2016, providing the context for a truly inspirational and challenging message. Notice the order Saint Paul lists for his spiritual son Timothy to follow. First, attend to reading, of course the reading of Scripture. Exhortation is second, and doctrine is last. Saint Paul is addressing those of us charged with the teaching ministry of the Church, pastors and lay people, so we need to make sure we have our priorities in order. As important as doctrine is, the only way to correctly and effectively apply doctrine is to know the Scriptures. We also need to know the Scriptures in order to exhort others.
The reason this message resounded with me then and to this day is because it reminds me of my personal shortcoming when it comes to the reading of Scripture. Looking back over 32 years of parish ministry, I believe I’ve preached (exhorted) proper doctrine, but I’ve neglected “the gift that is in” me by not giving Scripture its proper priority in my personal devotions. Some may think, “no big deal,” as long as you stay true to Orthodox Christian doctrine. But therein lies the crux of the matter. What good is preaching correct doctrine to others, even the whole world, unless we are personally grounded in the Word of God? The priority of reading Scripture is central to our continuing formation in Christ: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
As much as I want to believe my heart is in the right place, the fact remains that God’s word is the ultimate barometer for measuring my growth as a Christian, let alone a Priest. Indeed the “word of God is living and powerful,” but its impact is for naught if we don’t follow the lead of Saint Augustine: “At the high point of his spiritual crisis, wrestling with himself alone in the garden, St. Augustine heard a child’s voice crying out, ‘Take up and read, take up and read.’ He took up his bible and read; and what he read altered his entire life. Let us do the same: Take up and read.” (How To Read the Bible, by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, p. 1766, The Orthodox Study Bible)
May we endeavor to read the Scriptures more earnestly and grow closer to the very heart (Logos) of the Bible, Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Rev. Father James Retelas, Proistamenos
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
From Old Testament times believers have burned incense as an offering when worshiping God. The ancient temple in Jerusalem even had priests whose sole duty was to keep the censer burning twenty-four hours a day.
Ancient pagan kings were often escorted with large fans of peacock feathers and burning incense when entering their palaces. Early Christians took both these symbols for their worship in recognition of Christ as their Sovereign King and Lord. To this day the Orthodox Church uses incense in most of her services, and large circular fans, reminiscent of the peacock fans of ancient times, are held over the Gospel book during the proclamation of God's word during celebrations of the Divine Liturgy.
As a young man attending my very first Orthodox Liturgy, I was struck by the use of incense. The words of the Psalmist King David, "Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee...", is chanted during every celebration of Vespers during the censing of the temple. During every service where there is a great censing of the whole church, the priest (or deacon) censes the frescoes and icons as windows into eternity, as the incense wafts upward as an offering of the people of God.
The people are also censed by the priest in recognition of their having been created in the image and likeness of their Creator God. Incense is so central in Christian worship that it is even used in the worship of the domestic church, where the family gathers in prayer around their own icons, reading the scriptures together, and offering their family prayers to the Lord.
"Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee." Psalm 141:2
With love in Christ,
- From Abbot Tryphon's FB page
"The Virgin is holding the Creator in her arms as an infant."
Saint Photios the Great, Homily XVII
We are accustomed to seeing and venerating icons of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ. As we contemplate and prepare for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos over the next two weeks, we are challenged by the converse of the above statement from the great Saint, theologian, and Patriarch Photios. In the icon of the Feast of the Dormition, the Creator holds the Virgin in His arms.
As Orthodox Christians, we proclaim that the translation of Mary into the heavens at the time of her falling asleep is a great mystery and miracle. Tradition holds that at her falling asleep, the Lord entered the room and received her soul from the Archangel Michael, while an angelic choir sang nearby. We believe that Mary passed through death unharmed and already dwells with her Son in the kingdom that is to come. The icon for the Feast presents our hope to pass through death and into eternal life with Christ. We can only sing praises to God when we encounter this miracle.
In our life's experiences, the time will come when we will face the death of a loved one. As Orthodox Christians, however, we look upon death in a different way. The Dormition of the Theotokos is a reminder that we too, will depart from this life "to the source of life." We must also call to mind the words Saint Paul uses when instructing the Philippians about death: "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
These first two weeks in August always provide us the opportunity to grow in faith and be strengthened by the intercessions of the Holy Mother of God. Let us contemplate the mystery and the miracle of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Observe the fast. Attend the Paraklesis services and sing praises to the Almighty God and to the Virgin Mary. Take time to submit your name and the names of your loved ones so that we might pray for your "health, salvation, visitation, pardon and remission of sins . . . ."
For you, the faithful stewards of our Holy Metropolis, I ceaselessly pray: "commemorating our most Holy, Pure, Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God."
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco