Here are some pictures from our Christmas Pageant 2012!
Father Tom is now recording his sermons, and we’re posting them to our Sermon Library.
We expect to continue recording all sermons given at Ascension Cathedral, so the Sermon Library will be the place to download or listen to those.
We are also posting transcripts of these sermons, for those who prefer to read them. These will be posted within a day or so of the sermon audio files. You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to read these files.
A link to the Sermon Library may permanently be found beneath the calendar on the Home page of the Ascension Cathedral website, as well.
It’s time again for Panorama on the Hill! Click the image below to go to the Panorama on the Hill website for more information.
After the Saviour was born of the Virgin and circumcised on the eighth day according to the law, then, as Luke the evangelist says, “when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord” (Luke 2.22). He is circumcised according to the law, brought to Jerusalem according to the law, presented to the Lord as it is written in the law and a sacrifice is offered as the law demands.
Notice that the Creator and Lord of the law is completely obedient to the law. What does He achieve by this? He makes our nature obedient in all things to the Father, He completely heals us of its disobedience and transforms the curse on it into a blessing. As all human nature was in Adam, so it is in Christ. All who received their being from the earthly Adam have returned to the earth and been brought down, alas, to Hades. But, according to the Apostle, through the heavenly Adam we have all been called up to heaven and made worthy of its glory and grace. Secretly for the present, for it says “your life is hid with Christ in God”. But, “when Christ shall appear”, at His second manifestation and coming, “then shall ye all appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3.3). What does it mean by “all”? All those who have received the adoption of sons in Christ by the Spirit, and have proved by their deeds that they are His spiritual children.
Saint Gregory Palamas, from a sermon given on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, in one of the years from 1347 to 1359, in Thessaloniki.
In the patristic tradition the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan is conected with the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Just as it was by the wonder-working energy of the unincarnate Logos, through Moses, that the Egyptians were engulfed and the Israelites were freed, so also here by the power of the incarnate Logos, corrupt and perverted man is reformed and the dragons are crushed, that is to say, the demons lose their power.
St Nicodemus the Hagiorite says that in order to reshape a vessel, the potter needs two elements: water for moulding the earth, and fire to burn and cast the moulded clay and so to reshape it. And God, the great potter of our own mould, does just the same thing. Wanting to reshape our nature, which was crushed by sin, God used fire and water. And He takes the fire from Himself, because as God He is a “consuming fire” which consumes wickedness, and he borrows the water from the River Jordan.
The fact is that by Christ’s incarnation, by all the steps of the divine Economy, and certainly by the baptism in the River Jordan, the human race is reshaped. After the fall and the crushing of our nature we have reshaping and rebirth. This reshaping is possible, on the one hand because after the sin human nature did not disappear altogether, and on the other hand becasue God Himself is man’s creator and is Himself man’s recreator.
It is quite impossible for these two elements, water and fire, to exist together. For fore cannot ignite and prosper in a damp place, and water quenches fire. In the River Jordan they can exist together, because the fire is uncreated, while the water is created. And therefore the uncreated fire is not influenced by the created element of the water. Indeed on the contrary, the created water is made holy by the fire of divinity.
During Christ’s Baptism the Holy Trinity appeared. One of the purposes of the divine incarnation, as well as of the Baptism of Christ was the revelation of the Trinitarian God, that although God has one essence and nature, yet He is of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So the voice of the Father is heard witnessing and giving assurance that He who is in the Jordan at that moment is His Son, while the Holy Spirit also appears “like a dove”, as a dove.
Christ was baptised in order to observe the law and to bring His Grace to the water, to the whole of creation and to man. So He gave to each one of us the possibility of attaining the Grace of adoption, of theophany in our personal life. THis manifestation of God constitutes “Theognosia”, the knowledge of God, and since knowledge of God is an existential fact, it also brings salvation.
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, from his book The Feasts of the Lord
Here are some pictures of the Light the Path Christmas Luncheon for Northern California, held December 10, 2011. Click each of the three pages for a larger version.
Μετα φοβου Θεου, πιστεως και αγαπης προσελθετε.
With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near.
The priest, holding the life-giving chalice, invites the faithful in every Divine Liturgy to come forth and receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ “with the fear of God, faith and love.” And while first and foremost we are called to be mindful of approaching the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist “with the fear of God,” many of us draw near without the proper understanding of what this means.
For years I have explained to parishioners that we must approach the holy chalice with an awe-type of fear: Specifically, we must know that we are coming to receive God Himself – and the fact that He allows us to partake of Him, unworthy though we are, is proof of His unfathomable love, humility and mercy toward us. However, while this explanation is certainly valid, I have come to find that admittedly it is still a rather abstract definition of the word, “fear,” as it does not satisfactorily address the reality of the personal relationship we share with God, which was made possible by His saving acts, starting with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ – that is, God becoming Man.
From the Apostolic times, the clergy have utilized the words with reference to Holy Communion, “With the fear of God . . . draw near” – and there is a good reason for this. However, as the True Faith has become more severed, twisted and diluted over the centuries, the concept of “the fear of God” has consequently undergone a change in meaning – to the point where some non-Orthodox denominations have embraced a neurotic, guilt-ridden, manipulative definition of the word to coerce people into submitting to God. Because the “hell, fire and brimstone” approach is still prevalent, as well as its associated abuses, many of our Orthodox faithful are also not comfortable hearing the words “fear” and “God” in the same breath, and especially in the worship and sermons in our own parishes.
Elder Thaddeus, in the excellent book, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, offers this helpful insight: “The fear of God is not like the animal-like fear of this world. Our fear is like that, and we must strive to conquer this. Such fear is from hades.” As a young boy, I was terrified of large dogs and when they snarled or barked I ran off in a panic. I thought I had overcome this childhood fear, having several dogs as pets over the years, but at the age of 16 I realized it was still there: As I was fetching a bag of lemons for my parents at a private residence in the country, I surprisingly encountered a black Labrador and, as the dog approached me, my heart raced; when I turned away, the dog, sensing and reacting to my fear, bit me behind the knee and barked as it chased me off the property.
While your fear may not be of large dogs, perhaps you dread heights or elevators, flying or speaking in public, crowded places or you have anxiety over what the future holds. Regardless of what it is, it is important to know that these fears must be overcome, as they do not come from God – indeed, they come from the evil one – and only work to cripple or imprison us. Unfortunately, many believers incorporate this “animal-like fear” into their relationship with God and, as such, this becomes spiritually and psychologically detrimental – and results in many people being turned off to God or mistrustful of Christianity in general. As a consequence, many Orthodox clergy like me have responded to this unhealthy approach by finding a more palatable way of explaining what we mean by “the fear of God,” especially when teaching about our doctrine, worship or the Holy Scriptures.
In order to have the correct – that is, Orthodox – approach to the word “fear” we must have the mindset of the Holy Apostle Paul, who proclaimed to the Athenians that worshipped an unknown god: “(God) is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being . . . for we are indeed His offspring.” (Acts 17:28) By the grace we received at Holy Baptism we are members of the Body of Christ and, as such, God’s children. So how are we mere humans to relate to God as our Divine Parent?
As we glean from the teachings of Holy Scriptures, heeding God’s Commandment to honor our earthly fathers and mothers – in other words, thinking, saying and doing what is pleasing to our parents – is analogous to the Orthodox understanding of having “the fear of God” within us and, as the Lord promises, produces both earthly and spiritual rewards. (Ephesians 6:2; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16) If we apply this Commandment to the relationship we share with our Divine Parent, the meaning of “the fear of God” can be defined, in the wise words of Elder Thaddeus, as “the fear of doing anything that might sadden or offend our Parent.” As the children of God by grace, we should remember that in all things we are accountable to the Lord and Master of our life, and so with this love-driven fear we should draw near to Him – Who is always and everywhere present – whether in prayer, worship or in the Holy Mysteries.
Written by Father John Hondros, Proistamenos
Saint John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Las Vegas, Nevada
President, Metropolis of San Francisco Clergy Syndesmos
A great champion hath the whole world found thee to be when in grave perils; for thou dost put to flight the heathen, O victorious one. As thou didst humble Lyaeus’s arrogance and gavest boldness to Nestor in the stadium, thus, O holy Great Martyr Demetrios, do thou entreat Christ our God that we be granted great mercy.
Apolytikion of the Saint, Third Tone
Saint Demetrios was a Thessalonian, a most pious son of pious and noble parents, and a teacher of the Faith of Christ. When Emperor Maximian first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly. But when it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian, he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house. While the games were under way in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A certain friend of his, a barbarian who was a notable wrestler, Lyaeus by name, waxing haughty because of the height and strength of his body, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. All that fought with him were defeated. Seeing this, a certain youth named Nestor, an acquaintance of Demetrius’s, came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the precious Cross, he presented himself in the stadium and said, “O God of Demetrius help me!” and straightway he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless upon the earth. Maximian was sorely grieved over this, and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he commanded straightway and Demetrius was pierced with lances while he was yet in the bath-house. As for Nestor, Maximian commanded that he be slain with his own sword.
Adapted from The Great Horologion published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Brethren and fathers,
How great is the condescension and the love of God toward men! Before the unutterable goodness of God I am struck with amazement, I am filled with wonder. So I cry out, “O wondrous miracle, power of God’s commandments, how they change those who practice and observe them!”
Once I had started out on the way and had in slight measure returned to my senses from the abyss of evil and darkness I was obsessed with feear as I was tormented by the evils within me. Yet it was really love and striving for goodness that contributed most to turn me toward it. But all that it accomplished was a flight from evil that impelled me toward the good. In the midst of these things there was this alone that held me back—my ingrained propensities and evil habits of sensuality. By the persistent practice of prayer, the meditation on God’s oracles, and the acquiring of good habits this fades away. As the sun gradually rises the darkness recedes and disappears. So as virtue shines, evil, like darkness, is driven away and is proved to be without substance, and from then on we shall always continue in goodness just as we have previously been evil. Through a little patience and a very slight effort of will, or, rather, by the help of the living God, we are re-created and renewed. We are cleansed in soul, body, and mind, and we become that which we really are, though we know it not because we are shrouded by passions, and in addition we receive gifts of which we are not worthy.
Even I, who am of all men most insignificant and useless, have received some of these gifts—how good it is thankfully to proclaim the blessings of God, who loves men!—by the grace of my Saviour Jesus Christ. By grace I have received grace, by doing well I have received His kindness, by fire I have been requited with fire, by flame with flame. As I ascended I was given other ascents, at the end of the ascent I was given light, and by the light an even clearer light. In the midst thereof a sun shone brightly and from it a ray shone forth that filled all things. The object of my thought remained beyond understanding, and in this state I remained while I wept most sweetly and marveled at the ineffable. The divine mind conversed with my own mind and taught me, saying, “Do you realize what My power has done to you out of love for men because of but a little faith and patience that strengthens your love? Behold, though you are subject to death, you have become immortal, and though you are ruled by corruption you find yourself above it. You live in the world and yet you are with Me; you are clothed with a body and yet you are not weighed down by any of the pleasures of the body. You are puny in appearance, yet you see intellectually. It is in very deed I Who have brought you into being out of nothing.”
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, from Discourse 17
Imagine a circle with its center and radii or rays going out from this center. The further these radii are from the center the more widely they are dispersed and separated from one another; and conversely, the closer they come to the center, the closer they are to one another.
Suppose now that this circle is the world, the very center of the circle is God, and the lines going from the center to the circumference or from the circumference to the center are the paths of men’s lives. Then here we see the same.
Insofar as the Saints move inward within the circle towards its center, wishing to come near to God, then, in the degree of their penetration, they come closer both to God and to one another; moreover, inasmuch as they come nearer to God, they come nearer to one another, and inasmuch as they come nearer to one another, they come nearer to God. It is the same with drawing away ….
Such is the property of love; inasmuch as we are outside and do not love God, so each is far from his neighbor. But if we love God, inasmuch as we come near to Him by love of Him, so we become united by love with our neighbors, and inasmuch as we become united by love with our neighbors, so we become united with God.
Saint Dorotheos of Gaza, Directions on Spiritual Training, 42
This is your chance to attend the first annual Panorama on the Hill, an International Food & Wine Experience, will be held on Saturday, September 24, 2011 on the Platea of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland from 5:30pm-9:30pm. Proceeds benefit Ascension Cathedral.
A select group of dining establishments and wineries will offer hundreds of guests a panorama of exquisite food, wines and delicacies, while guests stroll the Cathedral’s spacious outdoor plaza and admire its breathtaking view of the San Francisco Bay. Some of the participants are:
- Alpha Catering – Castro Valley
- Barone’s of Pleasanton – Pleasanton
- Casa Orozco Mexican Restaurants – Dublin and Livermore
- Ciao Bella Gelato – San Francisco
- Demitri’s Taverna – Livermore
- Handles Gastropub - Pleasanton
- Kokkari Estiatorio – San Francisco
- Evvia Estiatorio - Palo Alto
- Monaghan’s on the Hill - Oakland
- Postino Restaurant – Lafayette
- Saki’s Spin a Yarn - Fremont
- Sunrise Bistro and Catering - Walnut Creek
WINE & BEVERAGES
- Kissos Wines – Napa Valley
- Lagunitas Brewing Company – Petaluma
- Peerless Coffee & Tea – Oakland
- RetzLaff Vineyards – Livermore
Mark your calendars for September 24 and help us spread the word to your colleagues, neighbors, family and friends about Panorama on the Hill.
Tickets for Panorama on the Hill on September 24, 2011 may be ordered by calling Norma Sotomayor in the evenings at 650-755-6141. The advance ticket purchase price is $100 per person through 7pm on September 18, 2011. Tickets purchased at the door on the evening of the event will be $125.
Panorama on the Hill is truly destined to become a premier Food & Wine Experience! There will be a MAXIMUM of 300 tickets sold so please make your reservations soon!
The Ascension Family Panegyri is presented by the Parish Council on August 21, 2011, following Divine Liturgy.
Seating is first come-first served on the platia, and luncheon tickets can be purchased in advance to avoid waiting. (Call the church office, 510-531-3400)
The menu includes barbecued leg of lamb-Festival Style or half barbecued chicken. Dinners are $20 for adults, $10 for children and include pilafi, Greek salad, kouloura bread, fruit and coffee.
Loukoumades will be sold for $5. Beer, wine, soda and bottled water will also be sold at the event.
There will be lots of music, dancing and a play area for our children. Let’s celebrate together!
Tickets will be sold at the door:
Adult Tickets, $20.00 each
Children’s Ticket, $10.00 each
It’s time for a new Ascension Cathedral Directory. There are three ways you may schedule an appointment for your directory photo:
1.) You can now CALL 800-866-2263 to schedule an appointment.
2.) Just click here to make an appointment!
3.) If you are for some reason unable to make an appointment through either of those methods, please call the Parish Council Communications Chair, Dena Diamanti Valavanis at 510-530-6573 (evenings) to schedule your appointment.
Schedule of photo sessions at the church:
|Friday September 9||2 pm to 9:15 pm|
|Saturday September 10||9:30 am to 4:45 pm|
|Monday September 12||2 pm to 9:15 pm|
|Tuesday September 13||2 pm to 9:15 pm|
|Wednesday September 14||2 pm to 9:15 pm|
|Friday September 16||2 pm to 9:15 pm|
|Saturday September 17||9:30 am to 4:45 pm|
For participating, the church will provide one directory free. In addition, Olan Mills will give your family a $25 Portrait Gift Certificate for viewing your proofs, no purchase necessary.
The 43rd Annual Ascension Cathedral Golf Tournament in memory of John F. Andronico will take place Monday, August 22, 2011 at the Sequoyah Golf and Country Club in Oakland, California.
To do justice to the holy celebrations proclaimed for today, my friends, our words call for the sound of the trumpet, for the voice of the horn sounding out more loudly and echoing to the ends of the earth; yet I fear they must be borne by the weak instrument of our own voices. Still, the queen and mistress of the world cares little for honor, and may well accept our short, poor discourse, offered here in her service, as graciously as the long and splendid works of great orators. For she is moved by the prayers of those who have asked me to speak, since she values true goodness, after all, and looks only at our intentions.
But come, gather around me, everyone under heaven—all you hierarchs and priests, monks and people of the world, kings and rulers, men and women, young men and maidens, of all nations and tongues, of every race and every people—change your clothes for the robes of virtue, wrap yourselves in them as in “bright garments fringed with gold” [Psalm 44.13 LXX], and come with hearts rejoicing to celebrate the festival of the burial and the passing [into glory] of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. For she has gone away from here and draws near the eternal mountains, she who is the true Mount Sion, where God was pleased to dwell, as the Psalmist’s lyre sings [Psalm 131.14 LXX]. Today she who was heaven on earth is wrapped in a cloak of incorruptibility; she has moved to a better, more blessed dwelling-place. Today the spiritual moon, shining with the light of God, has come into heavenly conjunction with the “Sun of righteousness,” eclipsing her temporary home in this present life; rising anew in His home, she is radiant with the dignity of immortality. Today that ark of holiness, wrought with gold and divinely furnished, has been lifted up from her tabernacle on earth and is borne towards the Jersualem above, to unending rest; and David, the ancestor of God, poet as he is, strikes up a song for us and cries, “Virgins”—meaning souls—”will be led to the King”—to you, O God—”behind her” [Psalm 44.14 LXX].
Now the Mother of God shuts her material eyes, and opens her spiritual eyes towards us like great shining stars that will never set, to watch over us and to intercede before the face of God for the world’s protection. Now those lips, moved by God’s grace to articulate sounds, grow silent, but she opens her [spiritual] mouth to intercede eternally for all of her race. Now she lowers those bodily hands that once bore God, only to raise them, in incorruptible form, in prayer to the Lord on behalf of all creation. At this moment her natural form, radiant as the sun, is hidden; yet her light shines through her painted image, and she offers it to the people for the life-giving kiss of relative veneration, even if the heretics are unwilling. The holy dove has flown to her home above, yet she does not cease to protect those below; departing from her body, she is with us in spirit; gathered up to heaven, she banishes demons by her intercession with the Lord.
Long ago, death took charge of the world through our ancestor Eve; but now it has engaged in combat with her blessed daughter and been beaten away, conquered by the very source from whom it had received its power. Let the race of women rejoice, then, for it has received glory in place of shame! Let Eve be glad, for she is under a curse no more, having produced in Mary a child of blessing. Let the whole of creation jump for joy, drinking the mystical flood of incorruption from that virgin spring and putting an end to its mortal thirst. These are the things we celebrate today, this is the subject of our solemn song: Mary provides it for us—the root of Jesse who bore the flower Christ; the rod of Aaron with its sacred bud; the spiritual Paradise containing the tree of life; the meadow alive with the fragrance of virginity; the blooming vine, cultivated by God, which became the ripe grape flowing with life, the high, exalted cherubim-throne of the universal king; the home full of the glory of the Lord; the sacred veil of Christ; the bright land of sunrise. She has fallen asleep in peace and righteousness—fallen asleep, I say, but she is not dead! She has passed on from us, yet she does not cease to protect her people.
From the Encomium on the Dormition of Our Holy Lady, the Mother of God, by Saint Theodore the Studite
Because of recent discussions about the Catholic Church’s considering defining a new dogma concerning the Virgin Mary it might be of interest to Christians of other Churches to have some explanation of the Orthodox Church’s position concerning her.
The Orthodox Church honors and venerates the Virgin Mary as
“more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious without compare than the Seraphim…”
Her name is mentioned in every service, and her intercession before the throne of God is asked. She is given the title of “Theotokos” (Greek for “Birth-giver-of-God), as well as “Mother of God”. She has a definite role in Orthodox Christianity, and can in no way be considered an instrument which, once used, was laid aside and forgotten.
Objections to the veneration of the Theotokos are based primarily on what is called
“a lack of scriptural evidence to support such a practice.”
While it is true that the Church depends heavily on her Tradition other than Holy Scripture (Ecumenical Councils, liturgical books, and the writings of the Fathers) for details and the precise definition of the nature of the veneration of the Virgin Mary, there are several passages of the New Testament that really form the basis for our practice.
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to announce to the Virgin the birth of the Saviour:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28)
This angelic salutation forms a part of the hymn of the Church most frequently sung in her honor. Could we be wrong in repeating the words of the very messenger of God? Elizabeth, the Virgin’s cousin, considered it an honor for the Mother of her Lord to visit her.
“And whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)
Is there any real difference between saying “Mother of God” and “Mother of the Lord”? Surely, God is the Lord! (Psalm 118:27) In the course of her visit to Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin spoke the words that form the principal hymn sung in her honor at the Matins service.
“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” (Luke 1: 47-48)
Elizabeth had already been “filled with the Holy Spirit”, precisely that she might cry out:
“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” (Luke 1:41, 42)
This honor given the Theotokos by her cousin is exactly what all generations of the Church do when they call her blessed. Finally, when Jesus saw His mother and the disciple John standing by the cross, He entrusted him with her care, but He also established a new spiritual relationship between them in saying to the disciple:
“Behold thy Mother!” (John 19:27)
What possible significance could this declaration of our Lord have except to make His Mother the Mother of all Christians? If she really had other children would she be in need of an outsider’s home?
The Incarnation of God was foretold in the Old Testament. A race was chosen for a specific purpose: to produce a holy humanity from which God could take flesh. Mary is the one who, in the Lord’s words,
“heard the word of God and kept it.” (Luke 11:28)
Through her personal sinlessness she fulfilled all the hopes and prophecies of Israel. She figured greatly in the very prophecies, the most important of which is that of Isaiah:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
The Church has always considered the following as prefigures or symbols of the role of the Theotokos in the Divine plan, and appoints them to be read on the eves of three of the feasts dedicated to her memory. The first is the story of Jacob’s ladder, which refers to her being the means by which God chose to enter into the world physically.
“He saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven, the angels also of God ascending and descending by it”. (Genesis 28:12)
Then from the Prophecy of Ezekiel are the words concerning her perpetual virginity:
“And the Lord said unto me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it; because the Lord God of Israel hath entered in by it, and it shall be shut.” (Ezekiel 44:2)
The same is true of the burning bush seen by Moses: Mary contained in her womb the God-man, Jesus Christ, the God who is a consuming fire, and was not consumed.
The consequences of denying the Theotokos a part in the life of Christians are more serious than one may think in view of all its implications. Orthodox theology insists upon the two perfect natures of our Lord Jesus Christ; He was perfect God and perfect Man. The Virgin Mary communicated the humanity of the Incarnate God. The redemption of the human race was possible through the union of God and man in Christ. De-emphasis of the sinlessness of Christ’s Mother, insistence upon her having other children by Joseph (which cannot be demonstrated by the New Testament), and failure to remember her part in the history of the salvation of mankind have contributed to a general misunderstanding in some churches of the Incarnation in all its fullness and power.
Very closely related to the above-mentioned things is the denial of the virgin birth of Christ, a rather popular feature of present-day liberal theology. After the virgin birth, the next basic teaching under attack is the divinity of Christ, and His resurrection, and with that, the Holy Trinity Itself.
The Virgin Mary in the Orthodox view is not regarded as a mediatrix or co-redemptress. She is an intercessor for us, and the content of prayer addressed to her is a request for her intercession. The Orthodox concept of the Church is the basic reason for the invocation of the Theotokos and all the saints. The Militant Church on earth and the Victorious Church in heaven are intimately bound together in love.
If it is proper for one sinner to ask another sinner to pray for him, how much more fitting it must be to ask the saints already glorified and near the throne of God to pray for us. Surely, they know something of what goes on here, for else how could there be rejoicing in heaven over the conversion of one sinner? (Luke 15:10) The saints in heaven are equals of the angels (Luke 20:36), who are used by God in the accomplishment of His purpose (Acts 12:7)
There is scriptural evidence to support the traditional Orthodox attitude toward the Virgin Mary and the saints. The other equally valid parts of Tradition also afford abundant evidence of its soundness and importance.
With love in Christ,
Your depth of compassion grant unto me
as one beseeching you; You have carried the
Compassionate, the Savior of those praising you.
From the Small Paraklesis to the Theotokos
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America:
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this blessed Feast of the Dormition, we honor the beautiful life and witness of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. In the services and hymns of this festal period we offer to all humanity a vibrant and joyous testimony of how she revealed the power of the grace of God and how she continues to show compassion upon all who seek solace, healing, and peace through her intercessions.
The compassion of the Theotokos was shown in her commitment to the will of God. Her openness to His divine call, her willingness in service to Him, and her faith in His wisdom revealed her deep love of God. This love and commitment was nurtured by her communion with Him, a life of prayer and holiness seeking all that is true and pure.
Her compassion was also shown in her faith in Jesus Christ. Her uniqueness within humanity in bearing and nurturing the Son of God was the beginning of this. Her faith in Christ as her Savior and Lord and her leadership in sharing the Gospel of salvation revealed the magnitude of compassion. She saw, heard, and knew what was being accomplished for our salvation, and she believed.
The compassion of the Most Holy Lady and Ever-Virgin Mary continues to be shown in her love for all of us. The Feast of the Dormition affirms the love of God for the Theotokos as revealed in the events of her repose. This feast also commemorates her ongoing ministry of compassion for all who are suffering, who are afflicted in body or soul, or who need divine protection. On our behalf and for our deliverance and salvation, she offers continuous intercessions to God. She also stands before us and before all of the blessed saints as a witness of the power of divine love.
May we cherish this witness of the Theotokos and seek the power of God’s grace in our lives. May our compassion be known through our commitment to God’s will, our faith in Christ, and our love and service to others. As we live in communion with God, may we know His grace through the love of Her who is “the depth of compassion,” “a wall most unshakable,” and the “shelter of all humankind.”
With paternal love in Christ,
✠ D E M E T R I O S
Archbishop of America
August 15, 2011
Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos
The Prophet Isaiah foretold in respect of the Gospel that “the Lord will give a concise word on the earth” [Isaiah 10.23 LXX]. A concise word is an utterance containing an abundance of meaning in a few phrases. So let us look again at the Gospel passage, which we examined earlier, and add what we left out, that we may take our fill of the incorruptible meaning stored up in it, and all receive divine inspiration.
“At that time Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun” [Matthew 17.1-2; see also Mark 9.2-3]. “Behold, now is the acceptable time,” brethren, “now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6.2; see also Isaiah 49.8], a divine, new and eternal day, not measured in hours, never lengthening or shortening, uninterrupted by night. For us it is the day of the Sun of righeousness [Malachi 4.2], with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow nor turning [James 1.17]. That Sun, since the day when, by the good pleasure of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, He lovingly shone upon us and led us “out of darkness into His marvellous light” [1 Peter 2.9], continues without setting to shine upon us for ever.
As the Sun of Righteousness [Malachi 4.2] and truth, He does not consent to give light to, or be known perfectly by, those who cultivate lying and either extol injustice or demonstrate it in their deeds. But He shines upon those who act righteously and love truth, is believed by them, and delights them with His rays. Therefore the Scripture says, “Light has dawned for the righteous, and its companion, gladness” [see Psalme 97.11 LXX]. And the Psalmist and Prophet also sings to God, “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name” [Psalm 89.12], foretelling the joy that those who later saw that illumination would experience. Isaiah tells us “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free” [Isaiah 58.6]. What then? “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health as shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall compass thee” [Isaiah 58.8 LXX]. Again he says, “If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke and the stretching forth of the hand, and murmuring speech, and if thou give bread to the hungry from thy heart, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as noonday” [Isaiah 58.9-10 LXX]. For that Sun makes other suns of those upon whom it brightly shines. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” [Matthew 13.43].
Let us cast off, brethren, the works of darkness, and let us perform the works of light, that we may not only walk honestly, as in the day [Romans 13.12-13], but also become children of the day [1 Thessalonians 5.5]. And come, let us go up the mountain where Christ shone forth, that we may see what happened there. Or rather, if we become children worthy of that day, the Word of God Himself will take us up when the time comes. Now, I beseech you, strive to lift up the eyes of your understanding towards the light of the Gospel message, that you may be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Romans 12.2], and having acquired the divine brightness from above, be conformed to the likeness of the glory of the Lord [Romans 8.29], Whose face shone like the sun today on the mountain.
From a sermon by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, between the years 1347 and 1359.
The Father is light, the Son is light, the Holy Spirit is light.
Watch what you say, brother, watch lest you go astray!
For the Three are one light, one, not separated,
but united in three persons without confusion.
For God is wholly undivided by nature
and in essence He is truly beyond all essence.
He is not split in power, nor in form, nor in glory,
nor in appearance, for He is contemplated entirely as simple light.
In these the persons are one, the three hypostases are one.
For the Three are in the one, or rather the Three are one,
the Three are one power, the Three are one glory,
the Three are one nature, one essence, and one divinity.
And these are the one light that illuminates the world,
not the world, perish the thought, not this visible world
—for this visible world has not known Him, nor is it
able to know, nor can the friends of the world,
for the one who loves the world is an enemy of God,
but we call “the world” that which God has made human
according to his image and likeness,
because one is adorned with virtues, one rules terrestrial beings,
just as God has authority over the universe,
so also one reigns over the passions according to this image,
and subjugates demons, the craftsmen of evils,
and tramples underfoot the dragon, the primeval, the huge
dragon like a common sparrow. And how? Listen child!
This fallen prince immediately found himself in darkness
because he was deprived of the light; he is now in darkness
with all those who fell with him from heaven;
he reigns in it—certainly in the darkness I say—
over demons and humans who are held in the darkness.
Every soul who does not see the light of life shining
both in the day and night is punished by the prince of darkness:
wounded, subdued, dragged, and enchained,
and stabbed daily by the darts of pleasure.
Even if the soul seems to resist, even if she seems not to fall,
but still she always has an irreconcilable war with him
in much sweat, toil, trouble, and hardship.
But every soul who contemplates the divine light,
from whence the evil prince has fallen, despises the evil one,
and once enlightened by the unapproachable light itself,
then the soul tramples underfoot the prince of darkness like a leaf
fallen on the ground from a high tree.
For she is in darkness where he has power and authority,
but in the light he becomes an utterly dead corpse.
And when you hear the word of light, note what kind of light that I tell you of,
do not suppose that I mean the light of the sun!
For you also see in this light many human beings
sinning like me, terribly flogged,
falling, and foaming at midday,
and suffering invisibly from wicked spirits,
and while the sun shines, no more of it
is any help to those given over to the demons.
Therefore I do not speak to you of the light of the perceptible sun,
nor that of the day—far from it!—nor in any way of a lamp,
nor of the many stars, nor the light of the moon.
I certainly do not insinuate to you that the effulgence
of any other visible light has such energy.
For perceptible lights enlighten only perceptible eyes,
and they illuminate and provide only to see
perceptible things, but not rational things.
Therefore, all who see only perceptible things
are blind with respect to the rational eyes of the heart.
And so the rational eyes of the rational heart
ought to be illuminated by a rational light.
For if someone who has had the pupils of their body put out
is completely in the daark, not knowing where they are,
then how much more shall one be darkened who has
the eye of their soul blinded, and will they not be
almost dead in body, and in practice, and in spirit?
Then think precisely what sort of light I tell you of!
For I do not tell you of faith, I do not tell about
the practice of works, nor repentance, nor fasting by any means,
certainly not holy poverty, nor wisdom, nor knowledge,
not even teaching. For this light is none of these,
neither the light nor efflux of light do I mean,
nor external piety, nor a humble and
shabby appearance. For all these are practice
and fulfillment of the commandements, if they are perfected
and fulfilled well, as the Creator himself commands.
Tears are poured out in many ways
and they are either beneficial, or, more often, they do harm.
So tears of themselves are utterly unprofitable.
Keeping vigil certainly does not belong to monks alone,
but even the common people engage in works,
and weaving women, goldsmiths, and metal smiths
stay awake more than most monks,
and for this reason we say that none among
all of these virtuous practices is called the light.
And even if all these practices and virtues are brought together
without fail into one, still they are not the divine light.
For all human practices stand apart from the light,
and indeed when these practices are fulfilled by our own means
they are said to be light, according to us, for others
living in wickedness. These practices also lead others to good,
and what is darkness in me and what blinds me
becomes light for my neighbour and illuminates those who see.
And so that you will not suspect that I speak to you paradoxically,
listen and I shall tell you the solution of an enigmatic riddle.
Perhaps I fast on your account, so that I am seen to be fasting,
and this is an incentive in my eyes,
and this is certainly a beam stuck into the middle of my eyes,
and you are illuminated when you see me, if you do not condemn me,
rather if you blame yourself for gluttony.
For by this you are guided to self-control of the stomach,
and you learn to despise conspicuous wantonness.
Again I put on cheap and ragged clothes,
and wearing only one tunic in every circumstance, I suppose as I walk around
that I pursue glory and praise from all who see me,
and by them I am seen as another new apostle,
and this becomes for me the cause of all damage,
and certainly becomes darkness and a thick cloud in my soul.
But this illuminates and teaches the crowds that see me
to despise self-adornment, to despise also wealth,
and to cling to worthless and rough clothing,
which is also truly the garment of apostles.
And truly all the remaining practices of virtue
are practices outside the light, works without splendour.
For if all of them are brought together at one time, like I said,
and the virtuous practices become one,
if it is possible for them all to occur in one human being,
then they become like a lamp deprived of light.
For as we do not say that fire is coals alone,
nor again is the wood carchoal or flames,
so also neither all faith, nor works, nor practices,
nor fulfilling the commandments are worthily said to be
fire, flame, or divine light, for truly they are not.
But we say that they are able to receive the fire, and to approach the light,
and to be ignited by an unspeakable union,
this is the praise and the fame of virtues.
And on account of this all askesis and all practices
are accomplished by us so that we may share in
the divine light like a lamp, like one candle
the whole soul may cast her light before the unapproachable light.
Or rather, like a papyrus dipped into a candle
so a soul increasing in every virtue
is wholly ignited by the divine light, insofar as she will be able to see,
so will she contain as much light as she brings into her house,
and then the virtues are illuminated as they participate
in divine light, and they are called light,
or rather they are themselves light since they have been commingled with light.
And the light shines all around the soul herself and the body,
and truly shines on the one who first possessed it,
and then on all the rest who are in the darkness of life.
Enlighten us, O Christ, in the All-Holy Spirit,
and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven
with all your saints, now and unto the ages. Amen.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 33
In birth you preserved your virginity; in death,
you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos.
As mother of life, you departed to the source of life,
delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
Hymn of the Dormition of the Theotokos
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
For the next two weeks, all Orthodox Christians will prepare to commemorate the Feast of the Falling Asleep – the Koimesis or Dormition – of the Virgin Mary. With a period of fasting and Supplication Services – Paraklesis – our attention will center on the final days of the All-holy Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While the Feast celebrates her death, we should also use these days to remember her life and what our Church teaches about her.
Many Orthodox Christians refer to the Feast as or attend parishes with the name of “Assumption”. This refers to the Tradition of the Church that speaks of the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary upon her death. In the hymns for the Feast, we will hear words that support the belief: “Open wide the gate (of heaven) and receive above the world the Mother of the everlasting Light,” or the following, “Christ translates her, as His own mother, into a dwelling far better and more divine, the Holy of Holies.” As a result, this teaching is commonly held among Orthodox Christians although the Church has not proclaimed the bodily assumption of Mary as a doctrine or dogma (the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed it as doctrine in 1950).
We Orthodox Christians see Mary’s essential role in the story of our salvation contained within the Scriptures. We see her prefigurement in the Old Testament as the ladder in Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10-19) and in the young woman who will give birth to Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14). Of course we see her throughout the birth and childhood of Christ. We also see her presence in the life and ministry of her Son and the first days of the Church, for example, her presence at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), at the foot of the Cross (John 19:25-26), and among the Disciples following the Ascension (Acts 1:14).
Centuries ago, the Church bestowed upon her the title of Theotokos, “the bearer of God.” This title was formalized at the Third Ecumenical Council to emphasize the divine and human natures of Christ. When we hear the hymn, “For Christ our God who cannot be contained was pleased to be contained in you,” we can look at the icon of the Platytera ton Ouranon (“She who is wider that the heavens”), which dominates the central apse of many of our churches, and reflect in amazement upon the mystery of the infinite God being held within the finite womb of Mary.
But our love and appreciation of the Mother of God far exceeds any intellectual knowledge about her. She is the example par excellence for all humanity, for she freely accepted the will of God for her life. She is the Mother of the Church, our Mother, as we are all members of the Body of Christ. As our Mother, we are comforted in the knowledge that she protects us from adversity. We call upon her in our liturgical life and in our personal prayer to interceded to her Son for our salvation because we know that the appeals of a mother have great influence upon a son. As a hymn for the Feast states, “Never cease, we entreat you, to intercede with Him on our behalf; for next to God we have put our hope in you…O Theotokos.” And more succinctly, when we pray our petitions we cry our “Most-holy Theotokos, interceded for us!” or “Most-holy Theotokos, save us!”
Our Church surrounds us with scripture, hymns, and icons to teach us about the Virgin Mary. We should fill our minds with the story of her life, but we should also allow our hearts to be filled with love for the Mother of God so that we may join the apostles who sang at her repose, “Hail, incorruptible source of God’s life-giving Incarnation, that brings salvation to all.”
With Love in Christ,
✠ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco