On this day, the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of our holy and venerable Mother, Mary of Egypt.
The recorder of the life of this wonderful saint is St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. A hieromonk, the elder Zossima, had gone off at one time during the Great Fast on a twenty-days’ walk into the wilderness across the Jordan. He suddenly caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body and with hair as white as snow, who fled in its nakedness from Zossima’s sight. The elder ran a long way, until this figure stopped at a stream and called, “Father Zossima, forgive me for the Lord’s sake. I cannot turn around to you, for I am a naked woman. ” Then Zossima threw her his outer cloak, and she wrapped herself in it and turned around to him. The elder was amazed at hearing his name from the lips of this unknown woman. After considerable pressure on his part, she told him the story of her life.
On this day, the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate our venerable Father among the saints, St. John of Sinai, the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
No one knows the birthplace or parentage of our venerable Father John of Sinai. In his youth, at the age of sixteen, he came to the wilderness of Sinai and dwelt under the guidance of Abba Martyrius.
When Abba Martyrius tonsured our venerable Father John at the age of twenty, he took him and went to that pillar of the wilderness, Abba John the Sabbaite in the wilderness of Gouda where he had with him his disciple Stephen the Cappadocian. When the Sabbaite elder saw them, he arose and took water, poured it into a small basin, washed the feet of the disciple (the young John) and kissed his hand; but he did not wash the feet of Abba Martyrius his superior. Abba Stephen was scandalized by the situation. After the departure of Abba Martyrius and his disciple, Abba John noticed that his own disciple was greatly perplexed and said to him, “Why are you so troubled? Believe me, I do not know who the boy is, but today I received the abbot of Sinai and washed his feet.” After forty years, he did indeed become the abbot according to the prophecy of the elder.
“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” With these words, the Most-Pure Virgin Mary ended her conversation with Archangel Gabriel, in which he told her that she would become the Mother of God. Some of our contemporaries now express pious surprise: how could she give her consent, for it implies that she recognizes her ability to become the Mother of God. How could she agree? How could she not decline? Yet these questions are incorrect, for one must discern between consent to recognize her ability and consent to obedience. Yes, she gave her consent, not because she deemed herself capable, but because she admitted being the servant of the Lord.
On n this day, the third Sunday in Great Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the precious and Life-giving Cross.
As we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24), and will have mortified ourselves during these forty days of the Fast, the precious and Life-giving Cross is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression. The Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience what the Lord experienced during His Passion – being humiliated in a shameful manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfillment of our hopes: the heavenly inheritance and eternal glory.
On this day, the second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of our Father among the saints, Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica and Wonder-worker.
Our holy father Gregory, the son of the Divine and unwaning Light, true servant of the true God and initiate of His wondrous mysteries, was born in the imperial city of Constantinople. His parents were noble and renowned persons who took care that he be taught both the secular sciences and divine wisdom and that he learn every virtue.
On this day, the first Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the restoration of the holy and venerable icons by the ever-memorable rulers of Constantinople, the Emperor Michael and his mother, the Empress Theodora, during the patriarchate of St. Methodius the Confessor.
It was with God’s permission that when St. Germanos (comm. May 12) had taken up the rudder of the Church, Leo the Isaurian (717-41) seized the scepter of the empire after having been a mule driver and manual laborer. The Patriarch was summoned immediately to hear the Emperor say, “In my opinion, Bishop, the holy images are no different from idols; therefore, I command that they be removed from among us as soon as possible. If it should be the case that they are the true forms of the saints, however, then at least see that they be hung up high so that we, who are stained by sin, may not soil them with our kisses.”
The Patriarch sought to turn the Emperor away from such hatred, saying, “God forbid, Emperor, that you should rage against the holy images, for we hear that some have nicknamed you the “One Who Plasters Over.”
Lark Buns (Zhavoronki) Recipe for the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste These lark buns are traditionally baked in Russia each year to celebrate the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. There are forty buns to celebrate each of the forty martyrs. The larks are the first bird to arrive in Russia each spring, and the feast day of the Forty Martyrs falls during Lent, so the buns also celebrate the arrival of spring.
These "larks" are not sourdough like the ones referred to in the Siberian cookbook article. However, they are good. If readers have any recipes for these or other foods which are associated with the Church calendar, such as the "crosses" made for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, please send them in so that we can share them.
The Testament of the Forty Holy and Glorious Martyrs of Christ who died at Sebaste .
Meletius, Aetius, and Eutychius, prisoners of Christ, send greetings in Christ to the holy bishops and presbyters in every city and country, to the deacons and confessors and to all others who pertain to the Christian Church.
1. When by God’s grace and the common prayers of all we accomplish the contest set before us, and hasten to the prize of our heavenly calling, then this is the determination we wish made with regard to the collection of our remains by the friends of our father, the presbyter Proidus, and our brothers Crispinus and Gordius, with all their zealous community, and Cyril, Mark, and Sapricius son of Ammonius, so that our bones may be laid to rest in the town of Sarim below the city of Zelon. For, though we come from different localities, we have none the less decided that we should have one and the same place of rest. We endured the same contest: and therefore we have decided to have a common resting-place at the spot we have mentioned. This was a determination of the Holy Spirit, and it was pleasing to us as well.
On this day, Cheesefare Sunday, we commemorate the banishment of Adam, the First Creature, from the Paradise of Delight.
Our Holy Fathers appointed this commemoration before the beginning of Great Lent to demonstrate how beneficial the medicine of fasting is to human nature and how shameful are gluttony and disobedience by an example of the results of each. They set before us the example of Adam, the first formed man. Skipping over the detailed account of the innumerable things made for him in the world, they give a clear, case-in-point demonstration of how many evils he suffered – and hence introduced into our nature – from neglecting to fast for only a short time. Furthermore, they show that the first precept of God given to mankind was the ideal of fasting. By not keeping this precept but yielding instead to his stomach, or rather to the serpent-deceiver by the agency of Eve, Adam not only failed to become God, but he also brought death upon himself and communicated this sickness to the entire human race. In order to remove the first Adam’s indulgence, the Lord fasted forty days, thus obeying the commandment of fasting. This was the origin of the forty-day Fast of Great Lent. It was instituted by the Holy Apostles so that, if by means of Great Lent we keep the Fast, unlike Adam who did not, we might again enjoy the incorruptibility that he lost.
On this day we commemorate all the holy men and women who have shone forth in the ascetic life.
The God-bearing Fathers, having made us ready for the course of the Fast by gently instructing us by means of the two preceding Sundays, have thus led us away from luxury and satiety. They have instilled in us the fear of the future Judgment and purified us in advance – as is right – by means of Cheesefare week. Furthermore, they have wisely inserted the two intervening weeks of partial fasting so as to prepare us little by little for the full fasting which will begin next Monday.