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.”
1. Before Christ we all shared the same ancestral curse and condemnation poured out on all of us from our single forefather, as if it had sprung from the root of the human race and was the common lot of our nature. Each person’s individual action attracted either reproof or praise from God, but no one could do anything about the shared curse and condemnation, or the evil inheritance that had been passed down to him and through him would pass to his descendants.
2. But Christ came, setting human nature free and changing the common curse into a shared blessing. He took upon Himself our guilty nature from the most pure Virgin and united it, new and unmixed with the old seed, to His divine person. He rendered it guiltless and righteous, so that all His spiritual descendants would remain outside the ancestral curse and condemnation. How so? He shares His grace with each one of us as a person, and each receives forgiveness of his sins from Him. For He did not receive from us a human person, but assumed our human nature and renewed it by uniting it with His own person. His wish was to save us all completely and for our sake He bowed the heavens and came down. When by His deeds, words and sufferings He had pointed out all the ways of salvation, He went up to heaven again, drawing after Him those who trusted in Him. His aim was to grant perfect redemption not just to the nature which He had assumed from us in inseparable union, but to each one of those who believed in Him. This He has done and continues to do, reconciling each of us through Himself to the Father, bringing each one back to obedience and thoroughly healing our disobedience.
ICON OF NEW MARTYRS OF RUSSIA,
as painted by Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov) of Jordanville
A report read at the 15th Diocesan Conference of the Western-European Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on June 6, 1981, in Luxemburg.
THE CHURCH IN THE FIRST CENTURIES
THE APOSTLES, the pillars of, the Church who proclaimed the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world, all except for the Apostle John the Theologian, received a martyr's death before the end of the first century. In them were fulfilled the words of Christ: "Ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake" (Matt. 10:22). The blood of the Apostles, and with them of a multitude of martyrs, moistened the Church abundantly from the middle of the first to the beginning of the fourth century. The first martyrs became the glory, the power, and the symbol of victory for the whole Christian world. Many prepared themselves to become martyrs, for there seemed to be no other path for one who believes in Christ, in this world which lies in evil! The ideal of the most powerful and strong was to shed their blood for Him Who was crucified for our sake.
Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981.
The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad celebrates the memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, the Sunday nearest to the anniversary of the martyrdom of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and Gallich, the first bishop killed during the Bolshevik Revolution. On November 1st 1981 the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, under the presidency of Metropolitan Philaret, glorified all the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Bolshevik period. This epistle to the flock was delivered on the ocassion of the glorification of the New Martyrs of Russia. In it, the Bishops of the Church Abroad express the unity in spirit with the new martyrs and the catacomb church. - Edit.
To the Children of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Homeland and the Diaspora
On the day of the feast of Theophany--the Baptism of the Lord--it is not out of place to remember another baptism: that baptism which was performed over each of us Orthodox Christians, that baptism at which each of us, by the mouth of our godparents, gave a promise to God that he would always renounce Satan and his works and would always unite himself, “join himself” with Christ.
This, I repeat, is especially fitting for this present day. The solemn rite of the Great Sanctification of Water will be performed shortly. Its center, its main part, one could say, is the majestic prayer wherein the Lord is glorified and the grace of the Holy Spirit is called down upon the water being sanctified. This prayer begins with the beautiful words: “Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and no word sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders.” Whoever has been at a performance of the mystery of Baptism and was present attentively, knows that the prayer at the sanctification of the water in which a man will be baptized begins with these same words, and the first part of this prayer is completely the same, both at the Great Sanctification of Water and at the performance of the mystery of Baptism. And only later, in the last part, does the prayer at the performance of the mystery of Baptism change, as applicable to this mystery, when a new human soul will be baptized.
God is with us, understand, O ye nations, and submit yourselves: for God is with us!
These words were sung triumphantly and joyfully at the very beginning of the service on the Eve of Nativity. They were pronounced many centuries before the Nativity of Christ by the great Prophet Isaiah. At that time, the whole world was sunk in the darkness of idolatry. Only in the small Jewish nation in the small country of Palestine was there a flicker of the true knowledge of God, but all the other millions of people were pagan. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the Prophet Isaiah saw far into the future through this darkness of idolatry, and what was to take place a long time later to him was already accomplished, and he says, “God is with us, understand, O ye nations”.
Many centuries went by until this wonder of wonders that the Prophet Isaiah foretold came to pass, and the ‘great mystery of piety’ took place. God appeared in the flesh and deigned to lie in a manger. And the Church takes us on the wings of faith and hope to Bethlehem and announces, “Christ is born, give ye glory! Christ cometh from heaven, meet ye Him! Christ is on earth, be ye exalted!”
You can listen this sermon in MP3 form by clicking here
In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Tonight begins the celebration of the Feast of the holy hierarch and wonderworker St. Nicholas. The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates him with special festivity, and his feast day is reckoned as one of the great feasts of the ecclesiastical year.
As we have said before, St. Nicholas left behind no additions to the Church's sacred literature, to the sublime treasure-chest of the writings of the holy fathers of the Church. Let us recall St. John Chrysostom, let us bring to mind St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian along with the rest of the mighty chorus of those giants of theological thought and word. Each of these surrendered to us a tremendous treasure, and the Church celebrates their feast-days, glorifying them as the ecumenical teachers, as hierarchs who through their spiritual influence and authority crossed the borders of their own dioceses and became in fact bishops of the entire universe. Though the sacred services in their honor are very solemn and festive, still they do not exhibit the touching and jubilant character of the service to St. Nicholas, to him who is called among our Russian people "Nicholas the Merciful." In him, as perhaps in no other saint, are incorporated to an incomparable degree the wondrous virtues of love and compassion. This has moved the pious Russian people to say as a proverb: "Bring your tribulations to Nicholas the Merciful, and he will take them to the All-Merciful Savior."