Lenten Sundays Series: Great and Holy Pascha

This is the ninth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

Great and Holy Pascha is the most important day of our entire church year. We call it the “Feast of feasts” for this very reason. On this day we celebrate Christ’s victorious triumph over death. This is the reason He came to earth and became incarnate: so that He could trample down death by His death, and save us.

On Holy Saturday, we heard St. Matthew’s account of the women finding the empty tomb during the vesperal Divine Liturgy. The Paschal Gospel reading acknowledges that we know the events of the day already, having just partaken of them all week. So instead of revisiting these events on Pascha, we turn our ears to the first verses of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… In Him was life and the life was the light of men…” The passage reminds us that God created the world and has now re-created it through Christ. This Gospel reading points us to the reason for all of the events we have just witnessed, and reminds us of the truth of the hope that we have in Christ.

Much later in the day, when we gather again for Agape Vespers, the Gospel reading assures us of the reality of Christ’s resurrection, when He appears to His disciples and even Thomas cannot deny that Christ, God incarnate, has defeated death and is alive. The words of Christ to His disciples are offered to us as well, in all the languages we are able to muster, for they belong to every human on earth. He says to them, “Peace be with you!” and again, “Peace to you!”

He goes on to send his disciples (and us) out into the world, breathing Life into them when He breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed into Adam and Eve when He first created the world, He breathes into His disciples as He creates His Church. So Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection and thus, the beginning of the Church. He thus fully tramples down death: His resurrection has trampled physical death, and His Church offers us spiritual life instead of spiritual death.

On Great and Holy Pascha, we begin a 40-day season of celebrating Christ’s victory over death, and the beautiful gift He gives us in the Church. Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory be forever!

Christ is risen!

Christos Anesti!

Al Maseeh Qam!

Christos Voskrese!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Hristos a Inviat!

Krishti Ungjall!

Here are a few quotes from the Church fathers about the resurrection, as well as a few links that you may find helpful in preparing to celebrate Pascha as a family:

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“Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.

Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.

Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.

Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us … ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper.

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.

Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man.

He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom.

He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that through Him we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin.

Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us.

We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed. We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him. We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him.

A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation!” ~ St. Gregory the Theologian

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“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”~ St. John Chrysostom (Paschal Homily)

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“…Now since you are celebrating the holy Pascha, you should know, brethren, what the Pascha is. Pascha means the crossing-over, and so the Festival is called by this name. For it was on this day that the Children of Israel crossed over out of Egypt, and the Son of God crossed over from this world to His Father. What gain is it to celebrate unless you imitate Him Whom you worship; that is, unless you cross over from Egypt, that is, from the darkness of evildoing to the light of virtue, from the love of this world to the love of your heavenly home? ~ St. Ambrose of Milan

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“By His Resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death, destroyed Satan’s dark kingdom, freed the enslaved human race and broke the seal on the greatest mysteries of God and man.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovic

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“As, then, Jonah spent three days and as many nights in the whale’s belly, and was delivered up sound again, so shall we all, who have passed through the three stages of our present life on earth — I mean the beginning, the middle, and the end, of which all this present time consists — rise again. For there are altogether three intervals of time, the past, the future, and the present. And for this reason the Lord spent so many days in the earth symbolically, thereby teaching clearly that when the fore-mentioned intervals of time have been fulfilled, then shall come our resurrection, which is the beginning of the future age, and the end of this.” ~ St. Methodius of Olympus

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“Having seen the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We worship your Cross, O Christ, and we hymn and glorify your holy Resurrection. For you are our God, we know no other but you, we name you by name. Come all the faithful, let us worship the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold through the Cross, joy has come in all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we hymn his Resurrection. For having endured the Cross for us, he has destroyed death by death.” ~ Anonymous

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Find a helpful overview of Pascha, with ideas for discussing the greatest feast of the church year, here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_pascha.pdf/cfd8f961-367e-4d3e-9f45-6372a7dd781a

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Find a number of activities that your family can do together to help you better learn about Pascha here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/pascha-0

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There are many Paschal resources for your family in this blog: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/pascha-celebration-resources-for-families/

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Find ideas and suggestions for celebrating Pascha as a family here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/celebrating-the-feast-of-feasts-great-and-holy-pascha/

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Things to See and Do in Holy Week: a Printable Booklet

Each day of Holy Week, there’s a special service (or more) that we Orthodox Christians celebrate together. As you attend each service, encourage your children to spy out the following items/events. Print these pages, cut them in half, then stack and assemble them into a little booklet, and staple it together. We purposefully did not number these, so that you can add pages for services you will attend that are not listed here, and/or exclude the pages of services you will not be able to attend. Encourage your children to follow along, marking the icon following each item after it happens. (They could use colored pencils, markers, pens, small dot stickers, or whatever works best for your family.)

Thanks to missionaries Alexandria Ritsi and Nathan and Gabriela Hoppe, this booklet has been translated into Albanian, and formatted to be printed back-to-back. They have given us permission to share it with this community. Here is where you will find the Albanian version to download and print.

Thanks to Ruxandra Kyriazopoulis-Berinde for translating it into the Romanian language. Here is the Romanian version.

Thanks to Dennise Krause/Holy Trinity Orthodox Church East Meadow, Long Island for creating this English version that includes Thursday Matins on Wed. evening instead of the Holy Unction service. Download this version so that you can print it.

Lenten Sundays Series: Palm Sunday

This is the eighth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On this sixth Sunday of Great Lent, we will be celebrating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. We usually refer to this feast as the Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem, but we also call it Palm Sunday.

From the beginning of time, victorious kings have ridden joyously into their home cities after battle, surrounded by cheering crowds celebrating their success. The celebrations have changed over the years, but at the time of Christ, such a parade would have included palm branches being waved and laid on the road.

As we look at St. Matthew’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry, we see that this is exactly the kind of welcome our Lord received as He entered Jerusalem. We know that Jesus is not just a King, but the King of Kings, but at the time, not everyone knew or accepted Him as such. However, when He raised Lazarus from the dead, word got around about that great miracle, and He was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches being waved and set on the ground; and some people even lay their cloaks on the ground to welcome Him.

Not only did they act in these king-welcoming ways, but the people also loudly proclaimed who He is. They said, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) All this commotion caught the eye of the entire city, and other people started asking, “Who is this guy?” and they heard that it was Jesus, the prophet who came from Nazareth in Galilee.

On Palm Sunday, we enter into His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, joining the crowds in welcoming Christ. We wave palms (or pussy willows) and also cry, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

We know why He is coming; what He is coming to do. How much more should we welcome Him? After all, we know that He is not only a great Healer/Wonderworker, but that He is the very God Himself, incarnate! Let us therefore welcome Him with adoration and honor into our parish on this special day. It is right that we do this! However, we should be welcoming Him in the same way every day into our own life and heart. We can allow this Holy Week which lies ahead to help us begin to properly do so.

“O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead,

before Thy Passion, didst confirm the universal resurrection.

Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the banner of triumph and victory,

and cry unto Thee, O Vanquisher of death:

Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!”

 

Here are some quotes from church fathers about the Triumphal Entry, as well as related links that you may find helpful:

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“For Christ was not the king of Israel so that he might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king in that he rules minds, in that he gives counsel for eternity, in that he leads into the kingdom of heaven, for those who believe, hope and love. The people shout, ‘Hosanna!’ meaning ‘save now!’, or ‘Lord grant salvation!’. St. Saverus explains this mystery saying, ‘Now there was never any king, simultaneously just, a redeemer, gentle and seated on a donkey who came to Jerusalem, unless this is he who alone is King of kings, God the Redeemer, Jesus. He is kind, gentle and abundant in mercy for all those who call upon Him, as it is written.’” ~ St. Augustine

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“Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before him. And if we think that today our desire for Christ is complete, let us again take the advice of St. Gregory of Nyssa who says, ‘This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see Him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied.’” ~ one of the Church Fathers

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“He began with a manger and finished with a donkey, in Bethlehem with a manger, in Jerusalem with a donkey”. ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“With our souls cleansed and in spirit carrying branches, with faith let us sing Christ’s praises like the children, crying with a loud voice to the Master: Blessed art Thou, O Savior, who hast come into the world to save Adam from the ancient curse; and in Thy love for mankind Thou hast been pleased to become spiritually the new Adam. O Word, who hast ordered all things for our good, glory to Thee.” (A Sessional hymn of the Orthros)

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“Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the One who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in His Church, coming ceaselessly to us in power and glory at every Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love, kindness and mercy.” Read these encouraging words about Palm Sunday, and more, at: https://www.goarch.org/palmsunday

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Lead your family in a simple meditation on Palm Sunday including the questions and/or activities suggested here.

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Find a few printable resources that can help you lead your family in a meditation on Palm Sunday here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/palm-sunday-0

 

 

Gleanings From a Book: “Easter in Ramallah” by Wafa Shami, Illustrated by Shaima Farouki

As we prepare to approach the holy and glorious Paschal feast, we do well to remember that we are not the only ones preparing for and then commemorating the resurrection! Sometimes we may forget that people in other parts of the world are celebrating as well. But they are! Easter in Ramallah by Wafa Shami offers its readers a sweet glimpse into Paschal traditions in Ramallah, Palestine.

It is a delight to read the story of Noor and her best friend Laila, as they share the experience of Holy Week and Easter together. Western readers may be surprised to learn that the girls are of different faiths: one is Christian, one is Muslim, yet they are truly best friends, which is not always what westerners expect from relationships in that part of the world. These girls literally (and figuratively) live side by side, for they are next-door neighbors who play together and find themselves one moment frankly discussing the struggle the other must experience while fasting according to her faith tradition; and the next moment they are together attending the “Parade of Light” so that they can each light a candle with the Holy Fire.

Readers will come away from this story with the sense that they’ve visited Palestine over Easter. They will feel the warm sun on their heads; imagine sharing the fresh green almonds with their friend; and almost hear the bands marching in the Light Parade. They will wish to taste the ka’ek and ma’moul sweet treats which sound so delicious. They’ll wonder if all of those natural vegetable dyes actually work for coloring eggs. They will want to put on their own best Easter clothes, and try to crack Noor’s eggs with one of their own. Best of all, readers will step away from this story delighted by the peace and friendship that it exhibits between Palestinians of different faiths.

Shaima Farouki’s watercolor illustrations of the story are gently whimsical, visually enlivening spring in Ramallah. Each beautiful illustration contains just enough detail to offer an accurate glimpse into Palestinian life. They round out the story, adding details that delightfully enhance it.

We recommend Easter in Ramallah as a lovely addition to any home, school, or Church school library. It expands its readers’ world by allowing them to think beyond their own celebration of the resurrection. It also offers the opportunity for readers to notice what traditions are the same the world over; which ones are slightly different; and which ones are brand new (and perhaps ones which they, too, would like to embrace). This book offers a satisfying taste of what it is like to celebrate Pascha in Palestine.

 

Purchase your own copy of Easter in Ramallah here: https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Ramallah-story-childhood-memories/dp/0960014705/

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Readers who want to see photos of Easter in Palestine can scroll through these: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/04/pictures-palestinians-celebrate-201442185435930350.html

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What makes Palestinian Pascha unique? Read this to find out: http://www.anothervoice.info/blog/2016/5/1/5-ways-palestinian-eastern-orthodox-easter-is-unique

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

This is the seventh in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we focus on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. St. Mary was born in Egypt, left home at the age of 12, and spent the next 17 years taking advantage of men for her own physical pleasure. Not until she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (for all the wrong reasons, but God works even through our wrong choices) did she begin to question the path she was taking. It was when she was unable to enter the church to venerate the Holy Cross that she realized something was wrong. The Theotokos herself helped Mary to understand the severity of her sins, and she repented. She repented so completely that she spent the rest of her days in the desert, fighting against her own fleshly desires and sins. God was with her there in the desert, and he showed His presence to her by providing for her needs and helping her to learn the scriptures and the ways of the Church even without another human there to teach her about them. This allowed Mary to grow more and more holy.

A holy monk, Zosimas, was the lone person she saw, and she did not see him until 47 years after she fled to the desert. They had only two encounters, both of which encouraged each of them. Zosimas was able to learn of Mary’s story, and Mary was able to receive Holy Communion at the hand of Zosimas right before she died. Each of these two people longed for holiness in their own life, and both were humbled by the other’s presence on their journey.

This humility is an interesting contrast to Mark 10:32-45, the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This Gospel reading reminds us of the squabbling disciples, who are fighting for greatness in this passage. It is interesting that the Church has chosen to offer us the opportunity to study the life of St. Mary, who fought her pride and humbled herself in the desert for most of her life; and then contrast it with the disciples’ desire to sit at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom. It is as though the Church is saying to each of us, “Here are two approaches to life in the Kingdom of God. Who will you choose to be like?” We all know who we should emulate, but repenting and humbling ourselves as completely as St. Mary did is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here is her life, offered to us as we approach the end of Great Lent, encouraging us to continue to fight the good fight as she did; to abstain from our passions so completely that we learn from Christ Himself and find ourselves humbled when we are in the presence of even the humblest of fellow humans.

Holiness is not limited to those with a perfect background. Although God can certainly work in and through those who have always lived holy lives (as did Abba Zosimas), He also brings healing and holiness to those of us who repent completely and turn our focus away from the things of this earth and completely on Him (as He did in the life of St. Mary of Egypt). Glory to God who embraces us as we struggle and meets us in that place!

In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother;

For taking up your cross, you did follow Christ,

And by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away,

but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.

Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.

 

St. Mary of Egypt, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few quotes from and about St. Mary of Egypt, as well as a handful of ideas of ways to help you and your family learn from her life:

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“Let us say something about the thorns. Blessed Mary of Egypt was twelve years old when she fell into the hands of the devil. She lived in sin day and night. But the merciful God enlightened her and she abandoned the world and went into the desert. There she led a hermit’s life for forty years. She was cleansed and became like an angel. God wished to give her rest, so He sent the holy ascetic Zosimas to hear her confession and to give her holy communion. Then He received her holy soul into paradise, where she rejoices with the angels. If there is anyone here like Blessed Mary, let him immediately weep and repent, now that he has time, and let him be assured that he will be saved as was Blessed Mary.” ~ St. Kosmos Aitolos

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“Believe me, Abba Zosimas, I spent seventeen years in this wilderness, fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger… Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt

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“…A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me. Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt

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“For the Lord’s sake, pray for me and remember my wretchedness.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt, to Elder Zosimas

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To St. Mary of Egypt: “With all eagerness and love thou didst run to Christ, abandoning thy former way of sin. And being nourished in the untrodden wilderness, thou didst chastely fulfill His divine commandments.” ~ The Great Canon of St. Andrew

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“On this day we know that the worst, the lowliest, the filthiest, the most addicted, the most impassioned, the most possessed, by faith and grace through that same Christ, by the intercessions of His mother and all the saints, can enter into that same glory. And Mary of Egypt tells us that. She shows us that. And then she begins herself to intercede for us poor sinners.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his meditation that offers the opportunity to consider two Marys, the Theotokos and St. Mary of Egypt.  https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/st_mary_of_egypt

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Find a simple meditation about the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, as well as discussion and activity suggestions for a family learning time here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_maryofegypt.pdf/e09632ba-fda2-46ed-a631-f3e030c16f98

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Find some activities you can do with your children to help them learn about St. Mary of Egypt, here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/mary-egypt

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Don’t miss this wonderful article that applies the life of St. Mary of Egypt with 5 important “takeaways” for modern life: http://www.pravmir.com/5-things-still-learn-st-mary-egypt/

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Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. John Climacus

 

This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.

St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.

The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.

God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.

Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.

St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are a few quotes from St. John Climacus, as well as some resources that may be helpful to you and your family as we commemorate him and his wisdom.

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“Fire and water are incompatible; and so is judging others in one who wants to repent. If you see someone falling into sin at the very moment of his death, even then do not judge him, because the Divine judgment is hidden from men. Some have fallen openly into great sins, but they have done greater good deeds in secret; so their critics were tricked, getting smoke instead of the sun.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“An angel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“If the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, as He is said to be, and as He is in reality, and if anger is disturbance of heart, as it actually is and as it is said to be, then nothing so prevents His presence in us as anger.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” ~ St. John Climacus

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“The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” ~ St. John Climacus

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Find a summary of St. John Climacus’ life and of the Gospel reading for the Sunday of St. John Climacus, as well as a few suggestions of related things to do with your family at https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_stjohnclimacus.pdf/86acd892-6e50-4c9c-90f2-1816abff00ec

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Feel inspired to learn more about St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent”? You may be interested to know that someone has taken the time to break the whole book into sections, with suggested readings during Great Lent. Find them here: https://d2wldr9tsuuj1b.cloudfront.net/14333/documents/2017/2/Daily%20Readings%20for%20the%20Great%20Fast%20-%20Ladder%20of%20Divine%20Ascent.pdf

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“So this is the book of St. John the Abbot of Sinai, perhaps the most-read book… in Eastern Orthodox tradition after the holy Scripture… Written for monks, but fruitful and helpful for everyone who wants to deny himself, take up his cross, follow Christ… It’s for the person who says, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief!’ And it’s for the one who knows that only by prayer, only by fasting, only by doing the things that the Lord commands us to do, with faith, can we actually receive the grace of God, live by the grace of God, and be saved by the grace of God that is fully and completely poured out upon us in his crucified and glorified Son.” Hear this and more when you listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s meditation on St. John of the Ladder: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder

 

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

This is the fifth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. We’re halfway through Lent, and perhaps some of our determination and eagerness for the Lenten journey is waning a bit. That is exactly why the Church Fathers chose this Sunday for us to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent”, reminds us that throughout Great Lent we are crucifying our self, and trying to live up to this week’s Gospel reading. The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is from Mark 8 and 9, and reminds us of Christ’s command, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Schmemann goes on to explain that it would do us no good to take up our cross and follow Christ had it not been that He took up the Cross in the first place. “It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.” (1, pp 76-77)

In gratitude for His taking up the Cross, and to encourage us to continue taking up ours, the Church gives us this Sunday. Christ’s example of suffering willingly and completely reminds us that our struggles are small in comparison. But it also reminds us that He understands struggle and pain. Today’s epistle reading exhorts us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) Christ’s conquering death by taking up the Cross offers us the hope of resurrection as well as the assurance that our struggle is not in vain: it leads us towards Him, towards heaven.

The placement of the Veneration of the Holy Cross in the middle of Great Lent is more than just an encouragement for us to keep going. It also is the fulfillment of an earlier type. “It’s very beautiful, actually. Think of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden, and here we find the Holy Cross — often said to come from the wood of the Tree of Life, for this wooden Cross is indeed the means to eternal life. The Holy Church places it here [in the middle of Great Lent] to remind us of Adam’s sin, and to remind us that it is only through the Holy Cross that we will find eternal life.” (2, pp 107-108, brackets mine)

And so, in the hope of the resurrection; with determination to continue our struggle (for He understands struggle and has made a way for us); let us sing with joy on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, “Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thy kingdom!”

Glory to God for His example, His victory, and His great mercy towards us and our own struggles, through the Life-Giving Cross!

Resources:
1. Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent; Journey to Pascha. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.
2. Bjeletich, Elissa and Kristina Wenger. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019.

Here are a few quotes from Church fathers about this Sunday and/or the Holy Cross; along with a few resources that you may find helpful in your own struggle, or to share with your family:
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“Why do we honor the Cross with such reverence that we make mention of its power in our prayers after asking for the intercession of the Mother of God and the Heavenly Powers, before asking for that of the Saints, and sometimes even before asking for that of the Heavenly Powers? Because after the Saviour’s sufferings, the Cross became the sign of the Son of Man, that is, the Cross signifies the Lord Himself, incarnate and suffering for our salvation.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“The Cross is wood which lifts us up and makes us great … The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue.” ~ St John Chrysostom
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“Glory, O Lord, to the power of Thy Cross, which never fails! When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling, and I, lacking freedom in my heart, make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… For the faithful the Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils, from the malice of the invisible foe.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“O mighty Cross of the Lord, manifest thyself: show me the divine vision of thy beauty, and grant me worthily to venerate thee. For I speak to thee and embrace thee as though thou wast alive.” ~ (Source lost)
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“Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee. With love inspired by God, we embrace thee, O desire of all the world. Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away: we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy. Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy. Hail! Life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection. Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, succor of the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy. Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who fell from the choir on high through the envy of the murderer of man, when of old with bitter pleasure ye tasted from the tree in Paradise. See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near! Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our succor; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.” ~ from Great Vespers on Saturday Evening before the Third Sunday of Lent
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“Whenever, then, you Christians adoring the Cross, know that they are adoring the Crucified Christ, not the mere wood… [The Cross and the representations of the saints] are not our gods, but books which lie open and are venerated in churches in order to remind us of God and to lead us to worship Him.” ~ Saint Leontius of Naples,Cyprus
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Find a printable meditation on the cross, which your family can read together and then discuss, here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_exaltcross.pdf/e7defd43-540f-4578-b66e-3c1ecbc5bc7e
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Learn more about the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, and consider what it means to take up our own cross, by listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s talk on the subject, in this podcast: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/sunday_of_the_cross
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Do you venerate the cross genuinely, from your heart? This short but challenging homily will encourage you to do so even more sincerely: http://media.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-03_2014-03-22+before-thy-cross-we-bow-down-in-worship.mp3