"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 2 January 2016

THE EPIPHANY or THEOPHANY (plus) MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS, SAVE US! by Father Stephen, an American Orthodox priest

the Marriage Feast of Cana

The governing theme of God "shining forth" or manifesting himself to humankind in human form has been traditionally illustrated by three gospel accounts, the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Our Lord and the Marriage Feast of Cana.   The first was chosen because the wise men came to represent all the races of the world. The second was chosen because it is a theophany of the Holy Trinity, and the Incarnation of the Son is placed in a trinitarian context.  The third is chosen because the Incarnation and the whole Christian Mystery is understood as the wedding of God in Christ with his creation.   Nevertheless, as time went on, the West came to emphasise the Visit of the Magi, and the East concentrated on the Baptism of Christ.  In the liturgical reforms of the Latin Church, there is now a separate feast of the Baptism.  There are lots of customs associated with this feast.

 the Feasts of The Three Kings 
The Adoration of the Magi by Giotto
Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on 6th January (or January 19th for some Orthodox Church who have Christmas on 7th January) and is the time when Christians remember the Wise Men (also sometimes called the Three Kings) who visited Jesus.

Epiphany is also when some Churches remember when Jesus was Baptised, when he was about 30, and started to teach people about God. Epiphany means 'revelation' and both the visit of the Wise Men and his Baptism are important times when Jesus was 'revealed' to be very important.

Some Churches celebrate use Epiphany to celebrate and remember both the visit of the Wise Men and Jesus's Baptism!

Epiphany is mainly celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox Christians. It's a big and important festival in Spain, where it's also known as 'The festival of the three Magic Kings' - 'Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages', and is when Spanish and some other Catholic children receive their presents - as they are delivered by the Three Kings!

In Spain on Epiphany morning you might go to the local bakers and buy a special cake/pastry called a 'Roscón' (meaning a ring shaped roll). They are normally filled with cream or chocolate and is decorated with a paper crown. These are normally a figure of a king (if you find that you can wear the crown) and a dried bean (if you find that you're meant to pay for the cake!). In Catalonia it's known as a Tortell or Gâteau des Rois and is stuffed with marzipan.

A Tortell Pastry [file from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tortell.jpg]
A Tortell Pastry from the Catalan region
In France you might eat a 'Galette des Rois', a type of flat almond cake. It has a toy crown cooked inside it and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.

There are similar traditions in Mexico where Epiphany is known as 'El Dia de los Reyes' (the day of The Three Kings). It's traditional to eat a special cake called 'Rosca de Reyes' (Three Kings Cake). A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the 'Godparent' of Jesus for that year.

In Italy, some children also get their presents on Epiphany. But they believe that an old lady called 'Befana' brings them. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill.

In Austria, at Epiphany, some people write a special sign in chalk over their front door. It's a reminder of the Wise Men that visited the baby Jesus. It's made from the year split in two with initials of the names that are sometimes given to 'the three wise men', Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, in the middle. So 2014 would be: 20*C*M*B*14. The sign is meant to protect the house for the coming year. Some parts of Germany also have the tradition of marking over doors. The 'Four Hills' Ski Jumping Tournament also finishes on 6th January in Bischofshofen, Austria.

At Epiphany in Belgium, children dress up as the three wise men and go from door to door to sing songs and people give them money or sweets, kind of like Trick or Treating on Halloween. Children in Poland also go out sining on Epiphany.

In Ireland, Epiphany is also called 'Nollaig na mBean' or Women's Christmas. Traditionally the women get the day off and men do the housework and cooking! It is becoming more popular and many Irish women now get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany and have tea and cakes!

In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which celebrates Christmas on 7th January), twelve days after Christmas, on 19th January, the three day celebration of Ethiopians Timkat starts. This celebrates Jesus's baptism.

Epiphany Eve (also known as Twelfth Night) marks the end of the traditional Christmas celebrations and is the time when you were meant to take Christmas decorations down - although some people leave them up until Candlemas.

Epiphany in Orthodoxy

The sixth of January is the feast of the Epiphany. Originally it was the one Christian feast of the “shining forth” of God to the world in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Wisemen, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in the Jordan. There seems to be little doubt that this feast, like Easter and Pentecost, was understood as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish festival, in this case the Feast of Lights.

Epiphany means shining forth or manifestation. The feast is often called, as it is in the Orthodox service books, Theophany, which means the shining forth and manifestation of God. The emphasis in the present day celebration is on the appearance of Jesus as the human Messiah of Israel and the divine Son of God, One of the Holy Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Thus, in the baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus identifies himself with sinners as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), the “Beloved” of the Father whose messianic task it is to redeem men from their sins (Lk 3:21, Mk 1:35). And he is revealed as well as One of the Divine Trinity, testified to by the voice of the Father, and by the Spirit in the form of a dove. This is the central epiphany glorified in the main hymns of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee (Troparion).

Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, and Thy Light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable! (Kontakion).

The services of Epiphany are set up exactly as those of Christmas, although historically it was most certainly Christmas which was made to imitate Epiphany since it was established later. Once again the Royal Hours and the Liturgy of Saint Basil are celebrated together with Vespers on the eve of the feast; and the Vigil is made up of Great Compline and Matins. The prophecies of Epiphany repeat the God is with Us from Isaiah and stress the foretelling of the Messiah as well as the coming of his forerunner, John the Baptist:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is 40:3-5; Lk 3:4-6).

Once more special psalms are sung to begin the Divine Liturgy of the feast, and the baptismal line of Galatians 3:27 replaces the song of the Thrice-Holy. The gospel readings of all the Epiphany services tell of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. The epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy tells of the consequences of the Lord’s appearing which is the divine epiphany.

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).

The main feature of the feast of the Epiphany is the Great Blessing of Water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. Usually it is done just once in parish churches at the time when most people can be present. It begins with the singing of special hymns and the censing of the water which has been placed in the center of the church building. Surrounded by candles and flowers, this water stands for the beautiful world of God’s original creation and ultimate glorification by Christ in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this service of blessing is done out of doors at a place where the water is flowing naturally.

The voice of the Lord cries over the waters, saying: Come all ye, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, even Christ who is made manifest.

Today the nature of water is sanctified. Jordan is divided in two, and turns back the stream of its waters, beholding the Master being baptized.

As a man Thou didst come to that river, O Christ our King, and dost hasten O Good One, to receive the baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner (John), because of our sins, O Lover of Man (Hymns of the Great Blessing of Waters).

Following are three readings from the Prophecy of Isaiah concerning the messianic age:

Let the thirsty wilderness be glad, let the desert rejoice, let it blossom as a rose, let it blossom abundantly, let everything rejoice… (Is 35: 1-10)

Go to that water, O you who thirst, and as many as have no money, let them eat and drink without price, both wine and fat… (Is 55:1-13)

With joy draw the water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall you say: Confess ye unto the Lord and call upon his Name; declare his glorious deeds… his Name is exalted… Hymn the Name of the Lord… Rejoice and exult… (Is 12:3.6).

After the epistle (1 Cor 1:10-14) and the gospel reading (Mk 1:9-11) the special great litany is chanted invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the water and upon those who will partake of it. It ends with the great prayer of the cosmic glorification of God in which Christ is called upon to sanctify the water, and all men and all creation, by the manifestation of his saving and sanctifying divine presence by the indwelling of the Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit.

As the troparion of the feast is sung, the celebrant immerses the Cross into the water three times and then proceeds to sprinkle the water in the four directions of the world. He then blesses the people and their homes with the sanctified water which stands for the salvation of all men and all creation which Christ has effected by his “epiphany” in the flesh for the life of the world.

Sometimes people think that the blessing of water and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it over everyone and everything is a “paganism” which has falsely entered the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God in the Old Testament, and that in the Christian Church it has a very special and important significance.

It is the faith of Christians that since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has been immersed in the streams of the Jordan, all matter is sanctified and made pure in him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men. In the Lord’s epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1:30; 2:7).

The world and everything in it is indeed “very good” (Gen 1:31) and when it becomes polluted, corrupted and dead, God saves it once more by effecting the “new creation” in Christ, his divine Son and our Lord by the grace of the Holy Spirit (Gal 6:15). This is what is celebrated on Epiphany, particularly in the Great Blessing of Water. The consecration of the waters on this feast places the entire world—through its “prime element” of watering the perspective of the cosmic creation, sanctification, and glorification of the Kingdom of God in Christ arid the Spirit. It tells us that man and the world were indeed created and saved in order to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19), the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22). It tells us that Christ, in who in “the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily,” is and shall be truly “all, and in all” (Col 2:9, 3:11). It tells us as well that the “new heavens and the new earth” which God has promised through his prophets and apostles (Is 66:2; 2 Peter 3:13, Rev 21:1) are truly “with us” already now in the, mystery of Christ and his Church.

Thus, the sanctification and sprinkling of the Epiphany water is no pagan ritual. It is the expression of the most central fact of the Christian vision of man, his life and his world. It is the liturgical testimony that the vocation and destiny of creation is to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19)

Saving Mary
 by father stephen

"Most Holy Theotokos, save us!"

At these words, heard frequently in an Orthodox service, Protestant visitors often have fear and trembling in their limbs. “How can this not be idolatry?” they wonder. “How can a mere human being save me? They are worshiping Mary!”

The language of Mary’s role in the life of salvation is certainly scandalous. But the reaction reveals not the error and idolatry of the Orthodox, but the great gulf that separates contemporary Christianity from the classical Christianity of the ancient world. For the language is not idolatrous – but rather a careful theological expression of the Christian doctrine of salvation.

No one is saved alone.

I didn’t get into this mess by myself. I mean to say that the whole mess of my sin and the brokenness of my existence is not entirely my fault. Each of us bears responsibility – but none of us got here by ourselves. We are the children and offspring of sinners. We enter a broken world. Even the ugly mess of contemporary Christian disunity is not of our making. Regardless of how innocent I may enter the world (Orthodoxy holds that we are, by nature, good), I did not enter an innocent world. Born into pain and pleasure, the passions quickly become my companion, even in childhood. We are nurtured and raised by broken men and women, even at their best. Thus, my sins will not be original with me, but will often represent the collective legacy of a broken humanity.

My salvation, like my sin, is never mine alone.

God’s work for our salvation did not avoid the collective quality of our existence. He did not descend among us at a distance nor come to us in a world apart. He took flesh of the Virgin Mary and was made man. The flesh of the God/Man, Jesus Christ, is thus always Mary-flesh. There is no incarnate Son of God who is not also the incarnate Son of Mary.

This has always been the way of things – it is the “Biblical” point-of-view. The people of God are called by name – by a man’s name – “Israel.” Spiritually, we are Israel’s collective offspring. The naming of Israel reveals how God Himself sees us and calls us. He sees not only me, but Israel as well – from the dusty old desert conniver and wrestler Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, to every mother’s son who called on God in faith. We are Israel.

And in Christ, we become Mary-flesh. “Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in Him.” Christ’s flesh becomes our flesh, his blood becomes our blood. Bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, we share in the cup of the marriage banquet.

The collective nature of traditional Christian prayers, Orthodox prayers, illustrates quality of salvation as communion. The Church is not scandalized when it prays “Most Holy Theotokos save us!” Just as the people of Canaan were not scandalized when they appealed to Mary for help in a wedding banquet gone awry. The only word spoken to Christ at that banquet was from His mother, “They have no wine.” His answer (often badly translated) is very intimate, “Woman, what is this between you and me? My time isn’t here yet.” But at her direction, “Do whatever he tells you,” the wedding feast arrives.

At such an occasion it was right to say, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” The words “save us,” have become, in contemporary Christian speech, synonymous with the whole plan of salvation accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ. But modern Christians did not invent Christian speech – they have only altered it. The language of Orthodoxy is the ancient language of the Church. The cry: “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” has always meant, “Help us!” and nothing more. And help us, she has, and does.

The confusion between prayer and worship is itself worth noting. The word “pray” is by no means a “worship” word. It has become so only because of evolution within the English language. The older English phrase, “I pray thee, sir…” never meant more than a polite way of saying, “Please…” The word to pray means to ask – nothing more and nothing less. We pray to God, because we ask God. But I ask you for a drink of water, I am praying as well. And regardless of how good your water might be, I have no intention of offering you worship in exchange for it.

We are not saved alone. We still feast on Mary-flesh and partake of a banquet provided by her Son at her request. And we still do well to obey her simple command, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Of course, it is possible for Christians to pray without making mention of Mary. It was always possible for Israel to bear another name and to speak to God by something other than “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But we have not been taught in such a manner. The radical individualism of modern Christianity distorts the account of our salvation. It flees from Mary when it should run to her.

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Christ offers a very different picture. Heaven itself, Paradise, is described as “Abraham’s bosom,” and is pictured as nothing less than feasting, laying on the breast of Abraham (much like St. John did on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper – it is the most intimate position at a feast). And though the topic of conversation from the Rich Man (who has been cast into Hades and is torment) is everlasting life and relief from the torment of his position, his “prayer” is directed to Abraham. Nowhere in the story does Christ suggest that such a scene is marred by the content or object of the Rich Man’s prayer. He offers the story in a manner that can only suggest that His hearers are not in the least confused.  Jewish sensibilities seemed quite accustomed to such an image.

It is contemporary Christianity that has lost this sensibility. Orthodoxy did not add something that was not already present. It’s prayers, quite ancient, are a living representative of the ancient sense of salvation. The oldest known record of a hymn to Mary, is a papyrus fragment that dates to around 250 a.d. Its existence has to be taken as evidence not of its being written in 250 a.d., but written and circulated widely enough to have offered even the chance of such a scrap being found. It words are still a popular hymn within the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν,
καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε.
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας,
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς,
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη

Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Theotokos:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.

Why should the Orthodox apologize for praying in the words of the fathers?

MY COMMENT by Fr David

I have given in to the temptation to publish one of Fr Stephen's posts.   For a long time, I have read with pleasure his thoughts and understandings on the Catholic Faith, my faith, all the more useful for the novelty that comes from the fact that he is Orthodox and, therefore, has a different way of looking at things, a difference that I have found immensely enriching; and he expresses it is excellent English.

I am all too aware that Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not yet ready to be united, that there are still some areas of Christian teaching where our understanding is different; but as both sides share a living relationship with the same Christ, by the power of the same Holy Spirit, both share in the same Bread and Cup, even though, sadly, not together, and both sides are embraced by the same Theotokos, I expect we shall find, hidden in that which we share in common, the answer to the conflict that we have both inherited.  

From experience I believe that divine Providence is extremely important in ecumenism as in everything else, perhaps especially in ecumenism because the Church is not our property nor our creation.  Our guiding principle is, "Let it be done unto me according to your Word," which was said at the beginning of the Church's existence in the soul of Our Blessed Lady; and we can trust that, when the time comes for us to join together, the way to unity will be obvious and the challenge to move will be compelling.  

None of us have God in our pocket, nor is he at our beck and call; and we can shout at each other as much as we like, without convincing the other.   Far better is to adopt the attitude of the Blessed Virgin and wait in humble obedience on the Lord's word.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears! Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

These are the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI:

 "The Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. It is a person. It is a woman. It is a Mother. It is alive. A Marian understanding of the Church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church, we must be the Church. We are the Church, the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church. At its very beginning the Church was not made, but given birth. She existed in the soul of Mary from the moment she uttered her Fiat. This is the most profound will of the Council: the Church should be awakened in our souls. Mary shows us the way." .  (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)
Father John Behr on the same subject
Mary and the Church 

Source: Ahram Online
Pravmir.com | 27 DECEMBER 2015

The head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, paid a visit on Friday to major Catholic churches in Cairo to extend his best wishes for Christmas.

Source: Ahram Online
Pravmir.com | 27 DECEMBER 2015
The head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, paid a visit on Friday to major Catholic churches in Cairo to extend his best wishes for Christmas.

The pope expressed his joy that members of all of Egypt’s religious denominations and faiths were participating in this year’s Christmas celebrations.

“Let the birthday of Jesus Christ be a celebration of love in our lives and all our nations,” he said.

The pope’s tour, which had other senior clerics, included the Catholic Patriarchate headquarters in Cairo’s north-eastern Kobry Al-Qobba district as well as the Roman Catholic church in central Cairo.

Egypt’s Catholics, a minority because the vast majority of the country’s Christians are Copts, celebrate Christmas on 25 December.  On the other hand, unlike Western denominations, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 7 January in accordance with the Julian calendar.  [In the Julian Calendar, December 25th is thirteen days later than in our Gregorian Calendar.]

The Pope also visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate which is also celebrating the annual festival on this Friday.

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