'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
Now that summer is well under way, most of us are pondering ways to cool off and rest up from the stresses of life. In order to have the best summer recreation experience possible, it’s important to be careful of things that could detract from it. Sometimes, in the midst of our vacation rest, it’s tempting to let our spiritual life cool down. It’s all too easy to imagine that taking a vacation should also include a requisite getaway from Church and from our relationship with God. Phew! Can you imagine if God took such a respite from His offering of love toward us? We need to be re-energized. So how do we get the spark of divine life that we so urgently need this summer?
“A brother once said to Abba Pœmen, ‘Give me a word,’ and he said to him, ‘As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly, nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the [Christian]. As long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him.’”
Anybody who’s ever worked around the restaurant business knows that keeping food at the correct temperature before it’s served is essential for the safety of its patrons. The health department has very strict guidelines for food temperatures because, if there’s not enough attentiveness, there’s a great danger that the “little creatures” we now know as harmful bacteria can enter that food, making us ill. As Abba Pœmen suggests, this is no less true for the spiritual life. If our spiritual lives are allowed to cool off, then our enemy, the demons, enter. Thus, they overthrow our lives with illness for their ultimate goal of our destruction.
This is where it’s important to realize that, although attending the Divine Liturgy weekly and participating regularly in the sacramental life of the Church is vitally important to us this summer, it’s certainly not the extent of keeping our spiritual vessel over that fire. God has something much healthier in mind for us.
In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Saint Paul tells them and us, “Whatever you do, whether you’re speaking to someone, or merely performing some task, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Saint John Chrysostom says that this also means, “…asking Him to help you…in everything, praying that God would take hold of your activity for His sake. Are you speaking to others? Then pray about this beforehand. Even if you’re merely eating or drinking…give thanks to God beforehand. Do you offer your opinions in dialogue on matters of the day? Then invite the name of Christ into it. Do all in the name of the Lord and it will be to your benefit and the benefit of others.” He goes on to say that, “…there will be nothing polluted, nothing unclean, whenever Christ is called upon. If you eat, if you drink, if you get married, if you travel, do all in the name of God…calling Him to help you: in everything. First pray, then conduct your activity.” Saint John Chrysostom is essentially telling us how to keep the pot over the fire, so that nothing harmful can get in.
So, it’s important to remind ourselves that giving someone a smile and a friendly conversation while we’re waiting in a frustratingly long line at Disneyworld. Offering encouragement to someone who looks like they’re having a rough day. Cleaning up after a messy baby. Cooking a meal for someone, or even refereeing arguments among our kids. When we elevate them all to a prayerful participation with Christ’s ministry to the world, they each become ways in which we’re able to invite the spark of God’s grace—to keep the pot over the fire. If we choose to prayerfully elevate those activities in Him, they each become marvelous opportunities to be energized by Him. This is the liturgy after the liturgy, where we invite our Lord’s Divine Presence…and we choose to offer our real-life in service to Him. It’s lighting a spark in each human heart that our Lord has put in our presence.
Through this God will begin transforming our life in meaningful, impactful, lovingly fruitful ways. As we begin to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person, we engage and we offer them tangible love as though we were offering to Jesus Christ Himself, we become transformed in Him. As far as recreation goes, this continued approach is its very definition—because it re-creates us each time we participate with God in it.
So, for the person on vacation—when we intentionally invite God’s presence, trusting that He will faithfully enter in His divine grace, helping us to become an offering of love—the Lord receives it as sweet incense. Keeping it all over that fire, God will re-energize us with true re-creation.
Rev. Father Gabriel-Allan Boyd, Proistamenos
Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church
San Jose, California
“Thank you for your patience; we will be with you as soon as possible”. We hear this countless times when we are trying to call a business or talk to someone in customer service. We have become accustomed to expect results immediately! With smartphones in hand, we are constantly seeking instant communication, instant answers and instant gratification. Time is precious, but unfortunately we have become a society that is not at peace with waiting. When we obtain peace in our mind, we learn to practice patience, and when we learn to be patient then we are at peace.
We misuse time when it comes to our faith as well, and expect immediate results on our terms. God wants us to ask Him for what we want but at the same time we must be patient and wait for His time and His will to be done. Prayer is a means of transforming us to allow God to be in control of our lives, which reflects spiritual growth and maturity.
Just as child is not born the day after conception, not all prayers are answered the next day either. The nine months that a child is in the womb gives the mother and father time to adjust, transform and prepare for this new chapter in their lives. Those nine months are transformative through both its challenges and joys.
Even God waited to become flesh and become man and grow as a child. He waited to be crucified not so that our sins are forgiven, as Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote, but to show us how much He loves us. He waited and became incarnate for humanity and its salvation by making the ultimate sacrifice for us – giving Himself up on the Cross.
We all encounter people who frustrate us, but it is important to remember that God is patient. You are His child and so is the person you might strongly dislike. Jesus was patient with His disciples for three years! He was patient with Judas, giving him many opportunities to change his ways. We cannot change others; we only hope to inspire them by our actions as Christ did. We must not expect others to change for they will create their own consequences. We must be patient for our anger to transform into compassion, and for our hate to transform into love.
It took Moses 40 years to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and out of the desert. His patience was tested by the people he was trying to help. It took the Greeks over 400 years to be freed from the Ottoman Occupation. History gives us many examples where patience brought forth positive results and progress. Being patient should not be interchanged with being careless or procrastinating. Faith and works are important ingredients. Having patience is having the wisdom to know what we can and cannot control.
The Saints in the church endured and prayed for patience. Saint Nectarios was cast out of Egypt out of envy and rumors. Time revealed the truth. Time healed his heart and dried his tears. Time transformed the Saint and those around him. This why we look to the Saints for inspiration, for guidance, for patience. While we pray to the Saints to intercede for us, ultimately we pray to Christ. We are not to fear Him with terror, but to approach Him with a grateful heart, with awe and love. He wants us to come to Him. When we look to the Saints to pray for us, we are looking at people who have also endured struggles just like us, but because their lives centered on Christ, they can inspire us and fortify us in our faith.
Having patience is a challenge for all of us. Waiting is frustrating. Not knowing results can be agonizing. We must pray for peace and patience to endure what we are confronted with, and in time, we will be transformed. God has led us this far and He will continue to lead us on our journey through life and on the road to salvation with patience and faith.
~ Rev. Father Christos Kanakis, Proistamenos
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church
Long Beach, California
"Go quickly and tell his disciples
that he has risen from the dead."
In the Gospel of the Resurrection we hear on Holy Saturday morning, the angel tells the women who have come to the tomb, "Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead."When the same women encounter the Risen Christ, Jesus repeats the instructions,"Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." (Matthew 28:10). This repetition in the text is meant for all of us. Our Paschal celebration finds us at the tomb of the Lord. Like the women so many centuries ago, we are meant to be astonished. And, we are also being instructed to proclaim that the Lord has risen to everyone.
The news of the empty tomb was unbelievable then and still difficult for us to grasp today. Christ had suffered a degrading, painful death at the hands of the Romans; crucifixion was reserved for the lowest of the low. The worst criminals received this kind of punishment as a deterrent to anyone who would challenge the power of Rome. Christ's death upon the cross seemingly ended the hopes of His followers. As we read in the Gospel of Luke, they "had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."(Luke 24:21)
But the tomb is empty. Angels tell the women, "He is Risen!" And Christ appears to His followers, showing the marks of His Passion, and is very much alive. Resurrection becomes even more meaningful and significant in light of the Passion. The two go together. As Saint Gregory the Theologian writes, "He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life He restores us...He dies, but He gives life, and by His death, He destroys death." (Theological Oration 3, On the Son).
The message of Pascha fills us with joy and hope because we have seen the power of death destroyed. As we hear in one of the seasonal hymns
"Receive from us the joyous good news of Christ's Resurrection. Delight, dance, be glad, Jerusalem, as you behold Christ the king emerging from the grave like a bridegroom." So tonight we will celebrate with lit candles in our hands. Our Churches will ring their bells and decorate every icon and space with flowers. We will break the fast and prepare the sumptuous feast. We will be dressed in our finest, and sing and dance.
Our first celebration takes place in the Liturgy, where we will chant the victory hymn, "Christ is risen..."; all the hymns will be chanted in a crescendo of joy and hope. Attend to them and absorb their message. Participate in the Liturgy, and partake of the Resurrected Lord's banquet; receive Him in Holy Communion. Greet one another with Christian love because tonight, of all nights, our parishes are filled with the Good News of our Heavenly Father's love for us, of the Resurrection of His Son that gives life to the whole world.
This message is not to be contained or hidden, but to be proclaimed to all. Just as you will carry the light from your Paschal candle home, carry the Good News with you and share it. As the Lord says, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel, but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light." (Luke 11:33). Dear brothers and sisters, the angel's instructions to the women have become our instructions: Go and tell the world that Christ has risen from the dead!
I wish those who celebrate their Feast Day blessed and healthy years ahead, and pray that the Risen Christ grant all of you and your families His Blessings.
Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! Alithos Anesti! Truly He is Risen!
With Paternal Love in the Resurrection,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
On March 25 we celebrate the event that inaugurates our salvation. The Virgin Mary learns from the Archangel that she will give birth to a son, one that will deliver us from the bondage of sin and death.
This year, because this Great Feast of our Church occurs on a Sunday during Great Lent, we briefly interrupt our Lenten rhythm to commemorate the "crown of our salvation." The meaning of the Annunciation should not be lost on us even as we pause from our Lenten disposition because in two weeks, we will celebrate the saving event of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. This blessed connection of the calendar should remind us that the Incarnation and the Passion are connected. For Christ came into the world "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) by giving Himself up to the Cross "for the life of the world."
The Good News of the Annunciation was a message of hope to the oppressed people of Israel. God's promise of a Messiah, the one who would restore Israel, was soon to be fulfilled. Mary sings joyfully in her Magnificat, "He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree" (Luke 1:52). This hopeful song was familiar to the Greek people who suffered under an oppressor for four hundred years. They too sought to be delivered. They heard the words of Mary in the Feast of the Annunciation year after year. And so, appropriately, the Feast of the Annunciation became the day when they initiated their hopeful quest for freedom.
Their quest also included songs of hope and liberation. We will hear our children sing many of these songs in the programs celebrating March 25 in our parishes. And of them all the song of freedom that all of us will sing will be "To the Champion" (Ti Ipermacho) to the Virgin Mary, "the defender and commander." This triumphant and rousing hymn continues to be our anthem, as we place our hope for a better future in the hands of God.
We live at a time where a message of hope is needed. The daily stories from near and far leave many of us shaking our heads at the state of our world. The Gospel message is the hope we need today. The Good News of Jesus Christ the Savior, whose birth was announced to Mary on March 25 and the coming day of His Resurrection, offers that hope to the world and to each of us. When we celebrate the Annunciation this year, we celebrate the joy that Mary experienced when she received the glad tidings from Gabriel that the Savior of God's people was conceived in her. And so, with Archangel Gabriel, we cry out "Rejoice, O Bride unwedded!"
Wishing to all those that are named after this glorious Feast all the blessings from God, I remain
With Love in Christ,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
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