Preparation for the Feast

Faithful of St. Andrews,                                                                                       

As we enter more fully into the Nativity Fast we also enter more and more into the anticipation of the Nativity of our Lord. This time of preparation for the feast of our Lord is a reminder for us that this life is to be a preparation for His second and glorious coming again.

Each fast and feast in the Church is for us an opportunity to enter more deeply into our continual preparation in this life for the Feast which does not end. When we feel the struggle and the tug of our flesh within the fast we are able to use that to offer to God as a confession of our weakness and our brokenness. When we find ourselves unable to love the person in front of us, or have thoughts of bitterness and anger in our hearts, or when we are not able to keep the fast then we have the opportunity to come before God in humility and express our need and dependence on Him. Then when He comes to us, as He will soon in His Nativity, we can proclaim with joy as the angels did, witnessed by the shepherds, “Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace good will toward men!”.

The following passages from St. Theophan the Recluse gives us a picture of this anticipation and the fulfillment that we have before us:

A king promises freedom to a man who is imprisoned in a dungeon and bound with fetters. The prisoner waits a day, then another, then months, and years. He sees no fulfillment of the promise, but does not lose hope, and believes in the king’s words. Finally, he sees signs that it is coming soon. His attention increases—he hears a noise; someone is approaching with cheerful words. Now the locks fall and the liberator enters. “Glory to Thee, O Lord!” the prisoner involuntarily cries. “The end of my imprisonment has arrived, and soon I will see God’s light!”                                                                                                                                                 

Or another incident: A sick man is covered with wounds and paralyzed in all his members. He has tried all medicines and has changed doctors many times. His endurance is exhausted, and he is ready to give himself over to despair. He is told, “There is one more very skilled doctor, who heals everyone from those very illnesses that you have. We have asked him to come, and he has promised to do so.” The patient believes them, hope springs up in him, and he waits for the promised one…. One hour passes, then another, and anxiety again begins to torment his soul. Finally, at evening, someone arrives…. The door opens, and the desired visitor enters…. “Glory to Thee, O Lord!” the sick man shouts.

We are the prisoner and the man who is sick. We are awaiting the coming of our salvation and our healing. The one imprisoned felt the reality of his confinement each day that he was kept behind bars. He felt the cold stone floor, the sparse food, the lack of air and light yet he did not lose hope. The man who was sick did not have a moment in which he did not feel the weakness of his flesh or the brokenness of his body. Yet he heard the news that there was one who could heal him and he did not give up. 

We live now in this reality of struggle and anticipation. The pangs of this life and the continual fracturing of our relationships and the world around us are a constant reminder of our fallenness. We experience the hardness of hearts, the sparseness of love, and the lack of freedom. We are paralyzed at times by fears and our own fragility. Within this struggle let us not lose hope. Let us hear the hymns and the testimony of those who have gone before us and not give up. Who tell us that there is one who can set us free. There is one who can heal us. As we enter more fully into this season of the Fast let us do so with anticipation knowing that we are awaiting the coming of the One who brings peace and salvation to each one of us. That we may sing aloud “Our Savior the Dayspring of the East, hath visited us from on high, and we who are in darkness and shadow have truly found Him; for the Lord hath been born of the Virgin.”   Glory to Thee O Lord!                                                                                                         

With love in Christ Who is coming,                                                                          

Fr. Benjamin

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Today a Child is Born

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– Beginning of a Hymn on the Nativity, St. Ephraim the Syrian –

My Lord, this day gladdens kings, priests and prophets, for on it were fulfilled and realized all their words.

Since today the Virgin has given birth to Emmanuel in Bethlehem, the word Isaiah spoke was accomplished today.

He Who registers the peoples was born there; the psalm that David sang has been fulfilled today.

The word that Micah spoke was realized today, for a shepherd went out from Ephrata, and his staff herded souls.“Behold, a star shone forth from Jacob, and a prince arose from Israel.”

The prophecy that Balaam spoke found its meaning today.

The hidden light descended, and its beauty shone forth from a body; the dawn of which Zechariah spoke lights up Bethlehem today.

The light of kingship glorifies him in Ephrata, the city of kings; the blessing that Jacob pronounced found its fulfillment today.

“The tree of life brings hope” to the dying; the hidden saying of Solomon found its explanation today.

Today a child was born, and he was called “wonder,” for it is a wonder that God reveals Himself as an infant…

Peace of Christ

…if the peace of Christ lives in the heart, then the world can’t defeat it.

How do we attain that peace? We attain that peace by striving to live the life of the Church, praying so far as we can with consistency, every day letting prayer infuse our lives. That’s not to say everyone needs to have a three-hour prayer rule, but whatever one’s rule of prayer, it has to be consistent so that that breath is there every day. Confess regularly, frequently, because that empties the heart of the enemies of peace. It empties the heart of turmoil and torture and pain, which prevent peace from residing in the heart. To confess frequently, regularly, to pray every day, so far as is possible to go to the services as regularly as one can, to be compassionate to other people, forgive those who wrong us—these are the things which create peace and which can be exercised anywhere. You can forgive your enemies on the bus just as easily as you can at home, if you, at that moment, in your heart determine not to hold onto your bitterness. So the whole world can be an avenue of gaining peace, if you understand peace to be inward. Of course it’s much easier in the places that God anoints for peace-making—in a temple, in a cell, in a marriage—which is why God blesses those things. It’s why God gives us temples and marriages and monasteries. But God has also created the world, and as much as we distort and disfigure the world, it is still His world. God will use even this fallenness that we have fashioned, for our redemption. So in the midst of society, in the midst of a city, there’s the opportunity for peaceful hearts.

     Bishop Irenei Steenburg (excerpt from an interview with him.)

Distinguished as Christians

The Christians are distinguished from other men, neither by country nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor do they employ a particular form of speech, nor yet lead a way of life marked out by any singular worldly attribute. But inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the local customs with the respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking manner of life. They dwell in their own countries but simply as sojourners. As citizens they share in all things with others yet they endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country and every land of their birth a land of strangers. They are in the flesh but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men though they are persecuted by all. They are unknown yet condemned. They are put to death yet they are restored to life. They are poor yet they make many rich. They lack and are in want of all things yet they abound in all. They are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified.

     – Excerpt from the epistle to Diognetus (2nd Century)

Thou art a sea of compassion and our errors are but a drop of tainted water. Surely one drop cannot disturb an unencompassable sea.

– St. Ephraim the Syrian

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Heaven on Earth

The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service upon earth, during which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner, is present and dwells with men, being Himself the invisible Celebrant of the service, offering and being offered. There is nothing upon earth holier, higher, grander, more solemn, more life-giving than the Liturgy.                   – St. John of Kronstadt      

O Giver of all good things, O fountain of healing and treasure of compassion, Thou only good and kindhearted God, Who ever grantest good things to those who ask! I beseech Thee, that Thine abundant grace might descend upon me and gather together my mind and heal my hidden sores anew, for distractions and wandering thoughts constantly renew my secret sores.

O long-suffering Lord Who ever curest with grace and compassion, heal the great spiritual infirmities that are within me, a sinner!…       – St. Ephraim the Syrian

A Burning Intercession

20160618_221129“The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God.”

St. John of Kronstadt

The Kingdom of God is Within You

Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].”          – St. Porphyrios

A Holy Splendour of the Senses

“The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”                         

St. John of Kronstadt