26 February 2010

The Holy Martyr John Kalphes

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr John Kalphes lived in a suburb of Constantinople, called Galata. By profession he was an architect and in his craft he had acquired great mastery, such that important officials made use of his services. He was entrusted with the inner adornment of the sultan's palace.

Saint John Kalphes was distinguished for his Christian charity, he concerned himself over orphans and about those locked up in prison, and many turned to him for help. One time a certain dignitary asked Saint John to take on his nephew as an apprentice. He agreed, and the youth (upon completion of his apprenticeship) received an honorable position at court. And one time, encountering his former teacher and benefactor, he began to question Saint John, as to what it says in the Christian books about the "prophet" Mahomet. Saint John did not want to answer his question, but in light of the persistent demands of the youth, he declared the falseness of Mahometanism. The youth, devoted to Islam, reported this to the sultan's court, that the architect had insulted Mahomet. They brought Saint John to trial, where they demanded that he renounce Christ, but he bravely confessed his Orthodox faith. After torture, they sent the holy martyr off to penal servitude, where he spent 6 months. He was then routinely beaten for a period of three months in the prison and then, finally, on 26 February 1575, they beheaded him in the crowded city-square in Ergat-Bazara, near Bezstan. The sufferings of the holy Martyr John Kalphes were recorded by a steward of the Constantinople Patriarch, Andrew, who communed him with the Holy Mysteries in prison.

23 February 2010

Sainted Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna

from the Synaxarion:

Sainted Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was born about the year 80 and lived in Asia Minor in the city of Smyrna. He was left an orphan at an early age, but through the direction of an Angel, he was raised by the pious widow Kallista. After the death of his adoptive mother, Polycarp gave away his possessions and began to lead a chaste life, caring for the sick and the infirm. He was very fond of and close to the holy bishop of Smyrna Bukolos (Comm. 6 February). He ordained Polycarp as deacon, entrusting to him to preach the Word of God in church.

At this time the holy Apostle John the Theologian was still alive. Saint Polycarp was especially close to Saint John the Theologian, whom he accompanied on his apostolic wanderings. Sainted Bukolos ordained Saint Polycarp presbyter, and shortly before his death expressed last wishes that he be made bishop at Smyrna. When the ordination of Saint Polycarp to bishop was accomplished, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. Saint Polycarp guided his flock with apostolic zeal. He was also greatly loved among the clergy. With great warmth did Saint Ignatios the God-Bearer regard him. Setting out to Rome where execution awaited him (he was torn asunder by wild beasts), he wrote to Saint Polycarp: "Just as the winds and turbulence require the rudder -- for coming ashore, so likewise are the present times necessary, in order to reach God".

The emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) came upon the Roman throne and started up a most fierce persecution against Christians. The pagans demanded that the judge seek out Saint Polycarp -- "the father of all the Christians" and "the seducer of all Asia". During this time Saint Polycarp, at the persistent urging of his flock, stayed at a small village not far from Smyrna. When the soldiers came for him, he went out to them and led them in to eat, and at this time he began to pray, having prepared himself for the deed of martyrdom. His suffering and death are recorded in "An Epistle of the Christians of the Church of Smyrna to the other Churches" -- one of the most ancient memorials of Christian literature. Having been brought to trial, Saint Polycarp firmly confessed his faith in Christ and was condemned to burning. The executioners wanted to tie him to a post, but he calmly told them that the bonfire would not work, and they could merely tie him with ropes. The flames encircled the saint but did not touch him, coming all together over his head. Seeing that the fire did him no harm, the throng of pagans demanded that he be killed with a sword. When they inflicted the wound upon Saint Polycarp, there flowed from it so much blood, that it extinguished the flames. The body of the priest-martyr Polycarp was then committed to flame. The Christians of Smyrna reverently gathered up his venerable remains, honoring his memory as sacred.

A story has been preserved about Saint Polycarp by his disciple, Sainted Ireneios of Lyons, which Eusebios cites in his "Ecclesiastical History" (V, 20): "I was still very young when I saw thee in Asia Minor at Polycarp's, -- writes Saint Ireneios to his friend Florinus, -- ...but I would still be able to point out the place where Blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, -- be able to depict his walk, his mannerisms in life, his outward appearance, his speaking to people, his companionable wandering with John, and how he himself related, together with other eye-witnesses of the Lord, -- those things that he remembered from the words of others and in turn told what he heard from them about the Lord, His teachings and miracles ... Through the mercy of God to me, I then already listened attentively to Polycarp and wrote down his words not on tablets, but in the depths of my heart ... Wherefore, I am able to witness before God, that if this blessed and apostolic elder heard something similar to thy fallacy, he would immediately stop up his ears and express his indignation with his usual phrase: 'Good God! That Thou hast permitted me to be alive at such a time!' ".

During his life the sainted bishop wrote several Epistles to the flock and letters to various individuals. There has survived to the present his Epistle to the Philippians which, on the testimony of Blessed Jerome, was read in the churches of Asia Minor at Divine-services. It was written by the saint in response to the request of the Philippians to send them a letter of the PriestMartyr Ignatios, which had been preserved by Saint Polycarp.

18 February 2010

The Sixth Hour Reading for the First Thursday of Great Lent

From the Prophecy of Isaias (II:11-21):
For the eyes of the Lord are high, but man is low; and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and haughty, and upon every one that is high and towering, and they shall be brought down; and upon every cedar of Libanus, of them that are high and towering, and upon every oak of Basan, and upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, and upon every high tower, and upon every high wall, and upon every ship of the sea, and upon every display of fine ships. And every man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall fall: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. And they shall hide all [idols] made with hands, having carried [them] into the caves, and into the clefts of the rocks, and into the caverns of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and by reason of the glory of his might, when he shall arise to strike terribly the earth. For in that day a man shall cast forth his silver and gold abominations, which they made [in order] to worship vanities and bats; to enter into the caverns of the solid rock, and into the clefts of the rocks, for fear of the Lord, and by reason of the glory of his might, when he shall arise to strike terribly the earth.

17 February 2010

The Holy Martyr Theodore the Byzantine

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr Theodore the Byzantine was a native of the settlement Neokhoreia near Constantinople. In childhood they seduced him into Mohammedanism. For his return to the Christian faith he was hung by the Turks in the city of Mytilene in 1795.

15 February 2010

Clean Monday

Father D said something in his homily yesterday that has really stuck with me. In talking about the Gospel from yesterday, he said the real meaning of the reading was summed up in the last verse of the text: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matt. VI:21) In the context of beginning Great Lent, he applied this to the fast in the following way:
"The whole purpose of Great Lent is to find where our heart is, where our being is encircled."
How profoundly true. As we begin to disconnect ourselves from the very earthly concern of meat and mead, we often find that the sins that beset us begin to be more keenly felt. Not just the actual deeds, necessarily, but the motivations for them suddenly become much more clearly revealed. At the same time that I'm trying to curb casually eating whatever, it comes to mind that my casualness with regard to my own sins is just as disturbing. As we attempt to disregard earthly things, we find that, all too often, that is where our treasure actually is. We still make the same sin as our first parents did in the Garden of Paradise, trying to derive our being from things that have no being in themselves, for only God is the source and author of being; how simple, and dreadful, a thing idolatry actually is.

How often it is that I am just a copy of a copy, deriving my being from things that are themselves mere reflections or created things themselves. I am not my books or my conversations, my schedules or my reflections, even my desires or my passions. Remembering that, and repenting of my stupidity in behaving as if it were true, is the point of the Great and Holy Fast. It reveals a lot about us, this attempt to be less of the world while still in the world; and it reveals, for this sinner, how much work is left to do.

Oh God, cleanse Thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.+

07 February 2010

From The Professor: On the Topics of Faith, Scandals, and Communion

from letter # 250, To Michael Tolkien:
You speak of 'sagging faith', however. That is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with historical knowledge). 'Scandal' at most is an occasion of temptation--as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on--so we pray for 'final perseverance'. The temptation to 'unbelief' (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there with us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely we shall be 'scandalized' by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the 'scandals', both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face.


The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect, complete, and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely or once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children--from whose who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn--open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than) a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand -- after which Our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)

-J. R. R. Tolkien, 1963.

05 February 2010

A Western Rite Prayer

For Heretics and Those in Schism with the Church:
O Almighty and Everlasting God, who hast compassion on all, and wouldst not that any should perish: look down favorably upon all those who are seduced by the deceit of Satan; that, all heretical impiety being removed, the hearts of such as err may repent and return to the unity of Thy truth. Amen.

03 February 2010

St. Blaise, and the Enemies of Truth

from the Synaxarion:

Saint Blaise of Caesarea lived in the 3rd Century. He hailed from Caesarea Cappadocia (Asia Minor) and was a shepherd. When began a persecution against Christians, Saint Blaise virtuously gave himself over into the hands of the torturers. They subjected him to torture, and beat him with leather thongs, but the Lord healed his wounds. They then threw Blaise into a cauldron of boiling water, but he remained there unharmed. The pagan soldiers, seeing this miracle, came to believe in Christ Jesus. The governor, wishing to show that the martyr remained unharmed because the water had cooled, jumped into the cauldron and died. Having brought many to faith in Christ, Saint Blaise peacefully offered up his soul to God. They thrust the shepherd's staff of the saint into the ground, and it grew up into an huge tree, which covered with its branches the altar of a church built over his relics.

First of all, I love the story of St. Blaise. Indeed, I love all the stories of God showing, through His saints, His one-upmanship to pagans, heretics, and other enemies of the Truth.

Of course, maybe it is the romantic in me that has not yet ascended the self-crucifixion of the 'old man' who looks back on these stories and sees such a marvelous simplicity of witnesses to the Truth of the Gospel. Living, as we do, in a world which takes for granted that truth is a product of one's own point of view (thank you, Obi-wan Kenobi) it is difficult to even get people who call themselves Christians to commit to the secure, unwavering Truth. Perhaps that is why these stories of the saint's lives are so scandalous to so many modern readers; after all, wouldn't it have been better if, rather than rushing to martyrdom, they had bided their time, working in the background, not being noticed overmuch by the pagan authorities, and so hope to change their society from within?

That is how, I think, most modern Christians would think. Of course, to me, this has disturbing parallels to the course of action advocated by Saruman to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings; deploring, maybe, evils done along the way, but knowing that they lead to a greater good. That sort of thinking is something that I utterly reject. I am not saying that, for the health and salvation of a particular person (even, perhaps, of a particular community), in a particular time and particular place for particular reasons, the economia of the Church cannot be exercised, such that the Truth is proclaimed gradually, so as not to break the weakness of faith in some. But, when such a doctrine becomes our whole policy--when, to completely avoid the risk of offending anyone, we intentionally obfuscate, intentionally make vague the Truth of the claims of the Church--we begin to act in a way contrary to the teaching of Christ Himself.

I don't think it unreasonable to take His warning that "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Gospel of St. Mark VIII:38) very seriously.

And we look at the example of St. Blaise; the same boiling water that was intended for him as a torture convinced the soldiers of the Truth to which he was a witness and also killed the prideful governor who denied the power of God he saw demonstrated before him. In some ways, that cauldron of boiling water is symbolically like the Truth itself; those whose hearts were disposed toward it, who accepted it in humility, were saved--those who rejected it, and sought to explain it some other way, were killed by it. To me, this is both promise and warning, much like the verse from St. Mark's Gospel. If we, as Orthodox Christians, begin to take compromise positions--seeking, of course, not to offend our neighbors and family and acquaintances by telling them the Truth (when asked), then we do damage to not just our own souls, but to the credibility of the Church itself, and thus to Christ, who is both its bridegroom and head.

I am not saying we ought to beat people over the head with the claims of the Orthodox Church. We do not go on crusades. But when asked in the spirit of honest inquiry about those claims of the Church, to pretend that they are of little consequence in hopes of bringing someone into the communion is a disastrous proposal. Some would say, "But you need to do more than just speak the Truth, you have to speak the Truth in Love." Well, in my experience of childhood, there are times that my parents and my grandmother corrected me--in love--that involved my backside becoming red and smarting through a good spanking. I didn't enjoy it or even consider it very loving at the time, but in retrospect, I see now that what they were doing is correcting the seeds of very bad behavior that would have done me greater harm, in the long term, than the spanking. And I love and respect them for that. The same is true of those coming to the Church; the Lord says that you have to become as a little child to receive the kingdom of heaven (Gospel of St. Matthew XVIII:3). Literally, inquirers and catechumens are infants in the faith (indeed, some of us who have been in the Church a while are not much better than mewling babes ourselves), and they need to be treated that way. No matter how useful a good kitchen knife is for all sorts of things, you don't give one to a baby to play with.

Some people will probably say this is overly patronizing, but I don't think it is. Given the horrendous attrition rate of adult converts to Orthodoxy, I can only blame bad parenting. And part of that comes from just this refusal to say what we mean, and to mean what we say. In other words, sometimes, the Truth--and Love--hurts.

St. Blaise, lead us all to that Truth for which you struggled and suffered!

02 February 2010

The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

Troparion of the Meeting (Tone 1)

Rejoice, thou who art full of grace,
Mother of God and Virgin,
for from thee arose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
to give light to those in darkness.
Rejoice thou also, righteous Elder, who didst take in thine arms the Redeemer of our souls,
Who also gives us the grace of resurrection.

Kontakion of the Meeting (Tone 1)

Thou Who didst sanctify the Virgin's womb by Thy birth
and bless Simeon's hands as was fitting
hast now come to us and saved us, O Christ our God.
But grant peace in the midst of wars to Thy community,
and strengthen the Church which Thou hast loved,
O only Lover of mankind.

On the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, the Church commemorates an important event in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 2: 22-40). On the 40th day after birth the God-Infant was taken to the Jerusalem Temple -- the centre of religious life of the God-chosen nation. By the Law of Moses (Lev 12) a woman, having given birth to a child of the male gender, was forbidden for 40 days to enter into the Temple of God. After this interval the mother came to the Temple with the child, so as to offer to the Lord thanksgiving and a purification sacrifice. The MostHoly Virgin, the Mother of God, did not have need for purification, since without defilement she had given birth to the Source of purity and sanctity, but in profound humility she submitted to the precepts of the Law.

At this time there lived at Jerusalem the righteous elder Simeon (the account about him is located under the day of his commemoration -- 3 February). It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he should behold Christ the Saviour. By inspiration from above, the pious elder went to the Temple at that very moment when the MostHoly Mother of God and Righteous Joseph had brought there the Infant Jesus, so as to fulfill the ritual ceremony of the Law. The God-Bearer Simeon took the God-Infant in his arms, and having given thanks to God, he uttered a prophecy about the Saviour of the world: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart, O Lord, with peace according to Thy word, wherefore hath mine eyes beheld Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to the enlightening of gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Lk 2: 29-32). Righteous Simeon said to the MostHoly Virgin: "Behold, This One is set for the fall and rising up of many in Israel and for the sign spoken against, and for Thee Thyself a sword shalt pierce the soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed" (Lk 2: 35).

At the Temple also the 84 year old widow Anna the Prophetess, daughter of Phanuel (Comm. 3 February), "who did not leave the temple, serving God both day and night in fasting and prayer. And she also at that time, having drawn near, glorified the Lord and spake about Him (the God-Infant) to all awaiting deliverance at Jerusalem" (Lk 2: 37-38).

Before the Birth of Christ, all righteous men and women lived by faith in the Future Messiah the Saviour of the world, and they awaited His coming. The final righteous ones of the closing Old Testament -- Righteous Simeon and the Prophetess Anna -- were deemed worthy to meet at the Temple the Bearer of the New Testament, in the Person of Whom both Divinity and humanity do meet.

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. It is known, that on the day of this solemnity were proclaimed sermons by Sainted Bishops Methodios of Patara (+ 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (+ 360), Gregory the Theologian (+ 389), Amphylokios of Iconium (+ 394), Gregory of Nyssa (+ 400), and John Chrysostom (+ 407). But in spite of its early origin, this feast was not so solemnly celebrated until the VI Century. During the reign of Saint Justinian in the year 528, a catastrophe befell Antioch -- an earthquake, in which many people perished. And upon this misfortune there followed others. In the year 544 there appeared a pestilential plague, daily carrying off several thousand people. During these days of widespread travail, it was revealed to a certain pious Christian that the celebration of the Meeting of the Lord should be done more solemnly.

When at the day of the Meeting of the Lord the all-night vigil was finally made with church procession, the disasters at Byzantium ceased. In thanksgiving to God, the Church established in 544 that the Meeting of the Lord should be celebrated thus in perpetuity.

Church melodists adorned this feast with many a church work of song: in the 7th Century -- Sainted Andrew ArchBishop of Crete; in the 8th Century -- Sainted Cosma Bishop of Maium, Monk John Damascene, Sainted Germanos Patriarch of Constantinople; and in the 9th Century -- Sainted Joseph the Studite, Archbishop of Thessalonika.

Scripture Readings:

Hebrews 7:7-17

And without all contradiction the less is blessed by the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he [receiveth them], of whom it is testified that he liveth. And as I may say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him. If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law) what further need [was there] that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For [it is] evident that our Lord sprang from Judas; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou [art] a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Luke 2:22-40

And when the days of her 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, Every male that is the first born of his mother shall be called holy to the Lord) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name [was] Simeon; and the same man [was] just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, Behold, this [child] is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (And a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; And she [was] a widow of about eighty four years, who departed not from the temple, but served [God] with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise to the Lord, and spoke of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
+Glory to Thee, O Lord, Glory to Thee!

01 February 2010

St. Seiriol

St. Seiriol lived in the sixth century, and after renouncing his royal heritage, he established for himself a cell at Penmon where he could practice the ascetic life. St. Seiriol had a great friendship with St. Cybi, who had established a monastery in Holyhead. The two friends would meet once a week, walking from their opposite ends of Anglesey to Llanerchymedd in order to pray together. Because St. Cybi would spend his journeys facing the rising sun in the morning on his way there, and the setting sun in the evening on his way back, and St. Seiriol had his back to the sun in both directions, they became known as 'Cybi the dark' and Seiriol the fair' respectively.

St. Seiriol’s fame as an ascetic and wonderworker spread over the land, and he was visited more frequently, until his place of meditation became a regular pilgrimage site. To find his peace once again he would walk to the headland and row out across the treacherous strait to a small island of limestone, known as Ynys Seiriol (Puffin Island). Here he built for himself another skete. The remains of a church are visible on the island and Saint Seiriol is said to be buried here.

The picture here is from the saint's original dwelling at Penmon. The building is known as St. Seiriol's Well, and the low stones on the right are said to be the remains of the original chapel and skete where the saint resided.

Troparion of St. Seiriol (Tone 4)

We hymn thee, O Father Seiriol,
for thou didst turn the Welsh wilderness into a fertile vineyard for the Lord.
By this our intercession, O Saint,
we implore thee to pray to Christ our God,
that our labours may be blessed and our souls may be saved.

Kontakion of St. Seiriol (Tone 2)

Thy radiant memory illuminates the ages, O holy Seiriol,
defying the darkness of apostacy and error.
May the day once more dawn when all Wales will confess the Faith of our Fathers
and keep festival to honour thee.