Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Feb. 2)

The Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple on February 2nd each year. This marks 40 days since Christmas, and therefore it is the day in which the Theotokos and St. Joseph took the infant Jesus to present him in the temple, according to Mosaic Law; while the Theotokos offered the prescribed sacrifice and underwent the purification requirement prescribed by the same law.

This year, the feast falls on a Sunday, when we can all go to church and celebrate it together! Let us prepare our children by helping them learn more about this feast. The feast has many names, each of which helps us better understand an aspect of it. We can talk with our children about the feast’s names as well as how important each name is to helping us know what we are celebrating!

Here are the names for this feast:

1. “The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple” – This name helps us to remember that on this day, our Lord was brought to the Temple. This shows that Christ really was a man: and therefore, had to be presented to the Temple, as the law required. If He were not human, that law would not have applied to Him.

We can help our children understand this with an object lesson. We can talk with our children about what it means to be real. One idea of a way to do this would be to select a stuffed animal for which your child has seen/experienced the real animal (for example, a stuffed bear). Ask, “Is this (stuffed) bear real? How do you know? Does it eat, drink, sleep? No! We can pretend that it does, but if we put food in front of this bear – even really yummy food like honey (set honey in front of the bear, wait to see if it eats it) – it will not do anything, because it’s a toy bear. It is not a real, living bear. The name ‘The Presentation of Christ in the Temple’ shows us that the infant Jesus was really a REAL person; a real human. He wasn’t just an angel or something pretending to be a real human, or he would not have needed to be presented at the Temple, like that. This feast reminds us that Jesus, even though He is God, was also a real human, just like us.”

2. “The Meeting of the Lord” – This name reminds us that this is the day on which Righteous Simeon and Anna met our Lord, as they hopefully waited for His appearance in the Temple. This helps us to realize that, just like they were able to meet the Lord, we can meet Him, too; if we are looking and hoping for Him, and living righteous lives.

We can help our children understand this aspect of the feast by learning more about St.s Simeon and Anna. We can read about their lives at http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/02/03/100409-holy-righteous-simeon-the-god-receiverand http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/02/03/100410-holy-righteous-anna-the-prophetess. We can then tell our children about these saints, and ask the children to help us figure out why these two saints are called “righteous.” We can make a list (or sketch, if our children can’t read) of characteristics of St.s Simeon and Anna, that made them righteous. Then, we can challenge ourselves and our children to imitate those characteristics, so that we, too, can be better ready for Christ when we meet Him. (Let us also remind ourselves and our children that we meet Christ every Sunday, in the eucharist! May we meet him with righteous lives and hopeful hearts.)

3. “The Purification of the Virgin” – The Theotokos came to the Temple to fulfill the purification required of her by Mosaic Law. She also brought the required sacrifice. So this name reminds us that the Theotokos did everything according to the religious law of that time; it was a way that she could show her determination to follow God. It is a good reminder to all of us as parents that we need to do everything that we are able to do to remain in right standing with God.

We can help our children see the parallel between this feast and the practice of “churching” which takes place to this day in our churches. We can talk with our children about any new babies in our parish; as well as what happens on the first day that baby (and his/her mother) came back to our church. This is a great time to review what a “churching” is for; as well as what happens at a churching. (For a concise version of this information, see http://www.orthodoxservices.org/AboutChurching.htm.)

Note: the name, “Candlemas,” is also used for this day, by some churches, especially in western parts of Russia. The tradition of blessing candles to be lit in church, as a reminder of the lights burning in the Temple on that day, is celebrated by some churches. If your parish celebrates the blessing of candles, this would be a good time to discuss why we light candles in church; and perhaps decorate a few to take to church to be blessed. There are some ideas at http://www.squidoo.com/candlemas-day.

Regardless of which name we use to refer to this feast, we are reminded of God’s great love for us as well as our need to live in a way that leads us to Him! Let us celebrate the feast!

Thou Who didst sanctify the Virgin’s womb by Thy birth and bless Symeon’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.” Kontakion of the Meeting

More information about the names of this feast can be found at http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/sermmeet.htm.

Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (January 30)

“Let us who love their words gather together
And honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead:
Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.
These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines.
They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.
Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!” ~ Troparion in tone 1

The Three Holy Hierarchs are commemorated on January 30 every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after they departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to who was the greatest of these three men. Some thought St. Basil was the best because of his purity and courage. Others considered St. Gregory the greatest because of his brilliant theology. Still others gave the title of “greatest” to St. John Chrysostom because of his incredible ability to speak and clearly present the Faith. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites.

The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other, and they asked that he write a service for the three of them together. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder that none of them is greater than any of the others, before God.

Bishop John immediately told his fellow Christians about the visit from the saints. Because he was so respected (he was very virtuous and eloquent), the three groups were reconciled with each other. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 as the day to celebrate all three of them. Some of the troparia of this service call the Three Holy Hierarchs an earthly trinity because of how they taught us with their speaking/writing (as well as their lives) to worship the Holy Trinity – one God in three persons.

The Three Holy Hierarchs are a great example to all of us. Let us learn from them (and teach our children, as well) several things. First, let us not compare ourselves to others. These three saints were each remarkable, yet they would not tolerate their brothers and sisters comparing them to each other. Secondly, the Three Holy Hierarchs are a model of godly compromise. They found a way to work around the problem of people considering each of them better than the other by suggesting instead that they be celebrated together. Thirdly, let us learn from these saints to work together to the best of our ability. Each of these saints excelled in a different way from the others. God has given each of us gifts/abilities, too. Like the Three Holy Hierarchs, let us use our giftings to the extent that we are able; for the glory of God, not to try to outshine those around us.

Through the prayers of the Three Holy Hierarchs, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us, and save us.

Learning About Icons

One of the blessings of our Orthodox faith is the visible reminder of the presence of Christ, the saints, and the angels. In our churches as well as our homes, we have beautiful icons which help us to remember that we are not alone as we struggle in our faith: Christ, the saints, and the angels are indeed present around us, all the time. The icons help us to “see” their presence; and also help us to learn more about them and how they can point us to God. Each icon is full of symbolism and stories.

Father Noah Bushelli, of St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church in Souderton, PA, has taken his young parishioners by the hand and led them through the beautiful icons in their church. He has helped the children of his parish to better understand and appreciate the beautiful icons in their midst. Some of his children’s homilies explaining their parish’s icons can be found in his podcast, at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren.

Many of these same icons are found in our own parishes or homes, as well. Let us take time to look at the icons with our children, asking them what they can tell us about each one, and helping our children to learn even more about each icon. The icon writers have blessed all of us by putting a visible image on ideas and stories from long before there were cameras available to record these important events. Let us take advantage of the blessing, and allow the icons among whom we live to speak into our lives so that we, along with our children, can become more like God.

Prayerful Sighing

What better time than the beginning of the new year, to begin praying more intentionally for our children? Some days we as parents are on top of things, able to handle all that comes our way with grace, and able to pray with clarity. Other days of parenting are so draining that any energy we can muster at day’s end yields only a sigh. On those days especially, let us pray even harder for our children. “A Prayerful Sighing of Parents for Their Children” is aptly named for such days as those! Let us pray this prayer often during this year ahead. May God, in His infinite mercy, may meet the needs of our children: especially on those days when we are spent.

A Prayerful Sighing of Parents For Their Children

LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.

O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.

Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.

Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.

Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.

For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom.

Amen. 

O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.

And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.

Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.

Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins of their parents, punish not our children for our sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.

O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.

Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.

Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.

Amen.

Goals for the New Year

Happy New Year! 2014 offers each of us the opportunity to become more like Christ; to be better parents; to love God, our families, and our neighbors more perfectly than ever before. The year has already begun, but it is still young enough for each of us to formulate resolutions. Better yet, let us form goals: for the word “goals” implies action; a plan with steps toward an end.

Years ago, Fr. Thomas Hopko was asked how he would summarize what the life of a Christian should look like. In response to that request, he made up a list of “55 Maxims,” 55 things that a believer in Christ should do if they really want to be obedient to God and live in the way that God would want them to live. These maxims should be our goals as Christians all year long, so what better time to review them than the beginning of a brand new year?

Let us look at these 55 maxims and see for ourselves in which areas we need to improve in 2014. Let us also review them with the children under our care, as they, too, are learning how to best follow Christ. Let us all make goals to become better Christians by aiming towards these maxims:

  1. Be always with Christ.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
  5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation.
  8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
  9. Spend some time in silence every day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly
  12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person.
  19. Be polite with everyone.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, and then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful in all things.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and be attentive.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
  37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
  42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
  46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
  47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
  48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
  54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

To hear Fr. Thomas’ podcast about these maxims, listen at http://audio.ancientfaith.com/hopko/stt008titheofyear_pc.mp3. Print your own copy to hang in your home as a reminder of your goals for the year (better yet, for life) from http://christthesavioroca.org/files/Hopko-55Maxims.pdf.

Let us talk together with our family about these maxims. Let’s select a few to focus on, for this year, and discuss what our plan of action will be. We need to write down our plan of action, and post it where all of us can see it throughout the year. We should revisit our plan occasionally; especially at the end of the year; and discuss our progress.

And, should any of us fail to meet our ideals for improvement in any of these 55 maxims, see #54.