25 March 2009

The Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos

Troparion Tone 4
Today is the beginning of our salvation
and the manifestation of the mystery which is from eternity.
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin,
and Gabriel announces grace.
So with him let us also cry to the Mother of God:
Rejoice, thou who art full of grace!
The Lord is with thee.

Kontakion Tone 8
Queen of the Heavenly Host,
Defender of our souls,
we thy servants offer to thee songs of victory and thanksgiving,
for thou, O Mother of God,
hast delivered us from dangers.
But as thou hast invincible power,
free us from conflicts of all kinds
that we may cry to thee:
Rejoice, unwedded Bride!

Luke 1:24-49
And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and secluded herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days in which he looked on [me], to take away my reproach among men. And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name [was] Mary. And the angel came to her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favored, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women. And when she saw [him], she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Highest will overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren: For with God nothing will be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill-country with haste, into a city of Judas, And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb: and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she spoke with a loud voice, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb. And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed [is] she that believed that there will be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things, and holy [is] his name.

Glory to Thee, O God, Glory to Thee!

17 March 2009

St. Patrick's Hymn

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet "Well done" in judgement hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors' faith, apostles' word,
the patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

[Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
against the heart's idolatry,
against the wizard's evil craft,
against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.]

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

13 March 2009

Fruits of the Desert

I live in Alabama, where we've been under a drought for going on six years. Even with our recent precipitation amounts over the last six months, we're still in drought status in many parts of the state. Two years ago, however, when we were in the "extreme drought" category--to the point that there was a standing ban on open burning and water restrictions in many areas--there was a great deal of concern over the peach crop.

See, Alabama produces a lot of peaches. Almost as many as our neighboring state that is so famous for the fruits. There had been so little rain, the peach crop was sure to be slim. Indeed, the trees produced fruit, but they were tiny, stunted things--nothing at all like the full-to-bursting, rich-fleshed, juicy peaches that we had come to expect. These were small, wrinkly, and pretty ugly. Despite the lower number of peaches, the prices actually plummeted; they looked so awful, no body wanted them. Demand was actually lower than the lowered supply.

It's a funny thing about fruit, though--especially fruits like peaches that usually have a lot of water content in them. The sugar content of the fruits, that tasty-tangy zing that makes your mouth water and your stomach rumble, is the same no matter how big the fruit actually gets. In years with a great amount of water and a bumper-crop, those huge, soft-ball size peaches had the same sugar content as these stunted little balls. In fact, the lack of water made the flavor of these unappealing peaches concentrated into a smaller area. They actually tasted really good. It took a heck of a lot of them to make a respectable homemade peach icecream that year, but, boy were they tasty.

Desert ecology forces you to look at the minimum. It imposes on you restrictions, limits what you can do, what can grow, how things grow. Really, our culture could learn a lot from the desert; we have this idea that growth without limits is what freedom is. The desert teaches you that learning to grow within even the most restricted limit is freedom...it is the freedom to live in way that is free from excesses that breed distraction.

Lately, I've been thinking of Great Lent as our yearly spiritual visit to the desert. Oh, I know that just by altering my diet according to the Lenten guidelines, attempting to follow the augmented prayer rule, and being more generous in alms for six or so weeks isn't going to turn me into St. Anthony the Great on Pascha--but there is something terribly valuable about the attempt at living with the limitations. Could it be that, freed from our water-fat (or, meat and cheese fat) distractions, something about our concepts of even food are concentrated more spiritually? Could it be that, like those ugly, wrinkly drought year peaches, a lifetime of Great Lent--the kind of life lived by those desert fathers and mothers in Scetis, and still lived by monastics everywhere--produces a person similiar in kind? Smaller, but richer. Poorer externally, more vibrant within.

Holy Father Anthony, and all the Saints of the desert, pray to God for us that we might also become this fruit.

Pax vobsicum+

12 March 2009

The Holy Nobleborn Georgian Emperor Demetrios the Second

from the Synaxarion:

Called the Self-Sacrificed by the people, he was descended from the Bagratid dynasty and was the son of the emperor David V (+ 1269). The Emperor Demetrios exerted much effort in the enlightening and peaceful prospering of his land. During his reign were annexed the Armenian provinces adjacent to it, which aroused the displeasure of neighboring Persia. But thanks to the wise actions of Saint Demetrios II, rendered in a series of services to the Persian sultan Akhmed, a clash with Persia was successfully averted over the course of some several years.

The new Persian sultan, Argun, however, heeding the complaints of his court Jewish physician, conceived a strong hatred within him towards the Orthodox Emperor Demetrios, and he set out with a large army to the borders of Georgia. Sultan Argun set up his encampment on the Mugan plain. Holy Emperor Demetrios, wanting to save his land from being overrun with devastation, came himself into the camp of the enemy and attempted to assure him of his peaceful intentions.

The sultan in an uncontrollable rage offered the saint a choice -- death or the despoiling of Iveria. Saint Demetrios answered the tyrant: "I shalt sacrifice my life for the welfare of my subjects". Saint Demetrios was executed (+ 1289). The Georgian and Armenian historians relate that several hours after the martyr's end of Saint Demetrios, the sun suddenly darkened and terror overcame sultan Argun and his army. The Persians in fear left Georgia, without wreaking ruin upon it.

"The memory of holy emperor Demetrios, named the Self-Sacrificed by the Iverians, is revered as holy in the land, which he did save from the tyrant by the sacrifice of his own life".

06 March 2009

How Shall I Not Weep When I Think of Death

How shall I not weep when I think of death ? For I have seen my brother in his coffin, without glory or comeliness. What then am I to expect? And what do I hope for? Only grant me, O Lord, repentance before the end.
It is hard to believe that, on Sunday, it will be three years since one of my very best friends, Jared Rhea, departed this life. When you are 23 years old, saying goodbye to someone you have known for more than a decade is even more traumatic than you might think; a decade is almost fifty percent of your life in your early twenties. Someone who shared so much of it with you being gone, suddenly, is very wrenching.

I have been depressed because of this. Not really now, but certainly that first year. The first anniversary of his death, I was one month away from being officially received in the Orthodox Church. The unexpectedness, the urgency which I felt about my life after his passing drove me into the catechumenate officially, and pushed me to finally abandon all my own imaginative cogitations and self-deceptions about reality. It hammered home for me the lesson that "This life is given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits" (St. Isaac of Syria). All at once, the words of Fr. Seraphim of Platina took on a new dimension; it was later than I thought. Jared's death showed me that all our lives are like the grass which blooms in the morning, but is withered and dry by the afternoon, as the Psalmist says.

The quote with which this meditation opens is from the Canon of Repentance. It's part of my prayer rule that I visit weekly, in preparation for Holy Communion. Every single time I pray this Canon, and get to this line (which is repeated), I cannot help but think of the moment that I saw Jared lying in the coffin, and my world came undone. How suddenly, the old sureties of everything that I thought I knew were gone. It was at that moment that my heart cried out to God in groanings that cannot be uttered, and I knew--I knew--that I could no longer dally with or put off or think more about the Church. It was Orthodoxy or bust, at that very moment.

And weekly, I revisit that moment in the Canon. Time, of course, has a way of anesthetizing even deep wounds, even as deep as the loss of a dear childhood friend; more than a friend, a brother, a companion of the heart. As this third year comes to a close, I realize that the pain of our passing is somewhat lessened. The circumstances of my friend's life make me very sad; nevertheless, I pray for him as often as I pray...and that is reason enough that I should pray more often. Tonight, tomorrow night, and Sunday night, I will be praying these prayers for Jared; may the Lord be merciful to us all on the day of his dread judgment.

O Lord, grant to thy servant a firm remembrance of death
And that with great suddenness all men may be called to give account of their deeds;
Let not my foolish soul plan so much for the morrow,
Taking its ease in idleness, having rich store of treasure laid up for many years.
Lord, send not, sent not the rich empty away!
Rather, humble our vanities and our delusions, take away our pride,
And grant us a thorough repentance before the End.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, especially the prayers of St. Anthony the Great, St. Isaac the Syrian, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and Thy all-holy and immaculate Mother, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.