September 11th, 2016

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew (28:16-20).

At that time, the eleven Disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 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.” Amen.

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. (6:11-18)

Brethren, see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the Law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all, who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (3:13-17)

The Lord said, “No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”


Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad, for the Lord hath done a mighty act with His own arm. He hath trampled down death by death, and become the first-born from the dead. He hath delivered us from the depths of Hades, granting the world the Great Mercy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad, for the Lord hath done a mighty act with His own arm. He hath trampled down death by death, and become the first-born from the dead. He hath delivered us from the depths of Hades, granting the world the Great Mercy.

Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Thy nativity, O Theotokos, hath proclaimed joy to the whole universe; for from thee did shine forth the Sun of justice, Christ our God, annulling the curse, and bestowing the blessing, abolishing death and granting us life everlasting.

At the Divine Liturgy

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad, for the Lord hath done a mighty act with His own arm. He hath trampled down death by death, and become the first-born from the dead. He hath delivered us from the depths of Hades, granting the world the Great Mercy.

Thy nativity, O Theotokos, hath proclaimed joy to the whole world; for from thee hath dawned the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, annulling the curse and bestowing the blessing, abolishing death and granting us life everlasting.

The apolytikion of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos:
“Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together, since for our sake she prays to the Eternal God!”

Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness, and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death, O immaculate one, by thy holy Nativity, which thy people, redeemed from the guilt of offenses, celebrate by crying to thee: The barren woman giveth birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life.

Rules of behavior in Church

“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” I will enter Thy house by Thy grace, O Lord, teach me Thy truth and straighten my path before Thee, for my enemies’ sake that I may glorify without obstruction the One God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Ps. 122:1)

The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church gathers all of us around our Lord Jesus Christ by its holy liturgical unity. It is here and only here, that all are equal: the rich and the poor, the simple and the learned, male and female, young and old. Here we stand as one soul, unified by faith and prayer in Christ’s gospel. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them…. Anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my father in Heaven.” (Mat. 18:19-20) Let us learn well, brothers and sisters, the honorable examples of church behavior and by worthy bearing let us give thanks to the Lord who strengthens our souls by His presence, and who by His man-loving mercy forgives repented and confessed sins.

Man is an icon of God, therefore let our relationships towards one another be loving and kind, let us hate sin, but love men, for sin comes from the devil, but man is the work of God. Sin is not only the doing of evil, but also the absence of good deeds, as the apostle Paul teaches us: “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” (Rom. 12:9).

The sanctity of the church requires that we have an attitude of reverence. The Apostle Paul says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” when Christians gather for prayer (1 Cor. 14:40.) To this end the following rules have been laid down for guidance.

  • To derive spiritual profit from going to church, it is very important to put yourself into a prayerful mood on the way to church. Consider that we are going to be standing before the King of heaven, before Whom billions of angels and saints stand with trembling.
  • To those who approach Him reverently the Lord is not terrifying; rather, He mercifully calls all to Himself, saying, “Come to Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Tranquility, strength and enlightenment of soul — these are our goal in coming to church.
  • To come to church you should wear clean and appropriate clothing, as required by the holiness of the place. Women should exercise Christian modesty and decency and not come in dresses that are too short or revealing or in slacks. Even before entering the church women should wipe off their lipstick, so that when they kiss the icons, the chalice or the Cross they do not leave behind the red imprint of their lips.
  • On entering the church, you should make the sign of the Cross in an unhurried manner and make a bow towards the altar, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” or “O God, cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy on me.”
  • Next purchase one or several candles and place them before the icons, as an offering to God. If you have come for the Divine Liturgy, buy a prosphora and have it taken to the priest with a list of names or a book of commemoration, to remember those near and dear to you by praying for the health and salvation of the living and the repose of the deceased.
  • After you have venerated the patronal icon of the church, and such other icons as you wish, go quietly, without disturbing anyone, to the place in the church where you are going to stand in prayer during the service. If you pass before the royal doors, reverently make the sign of the Cross and bow towards the altar. It is customary for men to stand on the right side of the church and women on the left. Do not linger in the narthex, since others will be coming in.
  • As stated elsewhere, do not wear lipstick while taking Holy Communion, or when kissing the cross, an icon, the priest’s or bishop’s hand, or any sacred object. It is best not to wear it at all in the church. Lipstick looks terrible smeared on icons, crosses, the communion spoon, and the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Hand-written icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross or spoon can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates, it’s not very considerate to those who follow. What is the answer? If one insists on wearing lipstick to church, please blot your lips well before venerating and do not approach the chalice to receive Holy Communion while wearing lipstick.
  • Always come to church for the beginning of the service. If for some serious reason you happen to be late, try not to disturb the prayer of those who have come earlier. If you enter the church during the reading of the Gospel, during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, during the Eucharistic Canon (from “It is meet and right” to “It is truly meet”) or during the Lord’s Prayer, remain in the narthex until these most important parts of the Liturgy are finished and only then go quietly to your place.
  • If you see friends and acquaintances in church, greet them with a silent bow. Never stop to shake hands or ask questions, even if they are your closest friends. While you are standing church, do not be curious; do not stare at those around you. Never, under any circumstances, indulge in private conversations or jokes in church; that is a sin.
  • While in church you should stand, not sit. Only if you are ill or very weak is it permitted to sit down.
  • Pray as one who is taking part in the church service, not merely attending it. Let all the prayers and hymns come from your heart.
  • When you hear the words of a blessing directed to the congregation (e.g., “Peace be unto all,” or “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ …”), bow your head, without making the sign of the Cross. Likewise, respond to the censing with a bow of the head.
  • Do not leave the church until the end of the service. Otherwise, you show disrespect for the holiness of the house of God and distract others from prayer.
  • Those who have confessed and prepared for Holy Communion should read the appropriate prayers before Communion in advance, and before they approach the Holy Gifts they should ask forgiveness of all the faithful. Approach Holy Communion with reverence. Cross your hands over your breast, with the left hand over the right. Having received Communion, kiss the chalice without making the sign of the Cross, so as not to upset the chalice. After you have partaken of Holy Communion, return to your place, giving thanks to God. Women should approach the chalice with their heads covered and without lipstick.
  • If you see anyone who is not dressed properly, or who is violating these rules of behavior, tell the warden or his assistant about it. Do not make remarks to others in church.
    On leaving the church, make the sign of the Cross. For the rest of the day strive to guard the grace which you have received in church.

“Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages”. Amen.

The Sunday Before the Elevation of the Cross
by Fr. Antony Hughes

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!

The glorious and joyful message of Christianity is distilled for us in today’s Gospel lesson. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him might have eternal life.” I think that was the first Bible verse I learned by heart. Every month Bob the Bible Man would visit all the elementary schools in my little Appalachian home town to teach us new verses and drill us on the ones we learned during his last visit. John 3:16 was the first one he taught us.

We call this message the “Good News.” It is good news because the central point is that God is a God of love and that his love does not remain a mere concept or philosophical principal. His love becomes real. His love crosses over from thought to action. His love becomes incarnate. His love becomes concrete and this is very good news indeed!

“What was from the beginning,” writes St. John, “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the Word of life – for the life was made visible…and we proclaim it to you.”

St. Maximus teaches that all cultures have received a word from God and they express this in three degrees. The first degree recognizes creation as a revelation of God. This is the foundation of the very ancient religions that saw in nature the means of the greatest spiritual enlightenment. This is the religion of those who say they worship God on golf courses rather than in church. Nature is the cathedral and the source of the highest spiritual inspiration. I hasten to add that it is the most primitive of the three degrees! The second degree sees that God has intervened in history and the record of this intervention becomes embodied in a Law and in a Book. The two most obvious examples of this are Judaism and Islam for whom the Law and a sacred Scripture become the means to the highest possible spiritual attainment. But there is another degree only expressed in Christianity and that is in the knowledge and belief that God has personally entered history, that He has become part of history, that He has become one of us. This is why Fr. Schmemann insisted that Christianity is the “end of religion”; the end, the fulfillment of all religious aspiration. Beyond this there can be nothing more.

If, as the Fathers and Holy Scripture teach, the preeminent desire of humanity is to be in communion with God, then the words of Law and the revelations of prophets could not possibly satisfy this longing. Only the coming of God Himself could do it.

How could a truly loving God remain forever separate from the object of His love?

Theophilus of Antioch wrote that God “leaped” outside of His inaccessible nature to become wholly accessible, completely vulnerable, to become one of us so that we might be wholly united to him. Thus He issued an invitation, “Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden…and ye shall find rest.” By coming to us He made it possible for us to go to Him. Otherwise communion would be impossible.

And not only did He come to us in the flesh, He went even further in demonstrating His love. He took upon Himself all our suffering, all our sins, even our death by laying down His life for us on the Cross. The ultimate revelation of the depth of God’s limitless love is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Gregory Nazianzus writes these words, “It was necessary for us that God should take flesh and die so that we might have new life…Nothing can equal the miracle of my salvation; a few drops of blood redeem the whole universe.”

God loves us enough to come to us, to live with us, to die for us so that

“Never again,” as Olivier Clement writes, “should we be alone, shut out or lost. When we are in shame and despair, and there seems no way out, Christ is waiting for us in silent love.”

It is good that we begin the liturgical year hearing these words proclaimed. Too easily are we distracted from this message. Too easily has Orthodoxy allowed herself to become the purveyor of other kinds of “gospels”; “gospels” of empires, “gospels” of power, “gospels” of ethnicities, “gospels” of calendars, “gospels” of cultures, political “gospels”. No, there is only one true Gospel: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. We must bring ourselves to say with St. Paul, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified,” and “I count all things as loss…and consider them as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”

It is my prayer and my firm intention that only this one and true Gospel will be preached in this place.