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"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

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Friday, 18 March 2016

PALM SUNDAY FOR THE WEST & SUNDAY OF THE TRIUMPH OF ORTHODOXY IN THE EAST

Dom Prosper Gueranger on Palm Sunday

Early in the morning of this day, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph, that Jesus is to receive to-day in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosanna to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome's emperor, and of the high priests and pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage. The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity.

 ' Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Saviour. He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.' 

Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfilment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him an ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Bethphage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands. 

 The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat, is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence: the Jews will be rejected, for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God's people, and become docile and faithful. The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Saviour, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him, and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King. They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm-trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King. Thus did God, in His power over men's hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamour for His Blood.

 This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews. Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate's order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: ' What I have written, I have written.' To-day, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. 

Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: ' The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.' Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition. 

 This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of to-day, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse. 

The whole function is divided into three parts, which we will now proceed to explain. The first is the blessing of the palms; and we may have an idea of its importance from the solemnity used by the Church in this sacred rite. One would suppose that the holy Sacrifice has begun, and is going to be offered up in honour of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, even a Preface, are said, as though we were, as usual, preparing for the immolation of the spotless Lamb; but, after the triple Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus! the Church suspends these sacrificial formulas, and turns to the blessing of the palms. The prayers she uses for this blessing are eloquent and full of instruction; and, together with the sprinkling with holy water and the incensation, impart a virtue to these branches, which elevates them to the supernatural order, and makes them means for the sanctification of our soul and the protection of our persons and dwellings. The faithful should hold these palms in their hands during the procession, and during the reading of the Passion at Mass, and keep them in their homes as an outward expression of their faith, and as a pledge of God's watchful love. 

 It is scarcely necessary to tell our reader that the palms or olive branches, thus blessed, are carried in memory of those wherewith the people of Jerusalem strewed the road, as our Saviour made His triumphant Entry; but a word on the antiquity of our ceremony will not be superfluous. It began very early in the east. It is probable that, as far as Jerusalem itself is concerned, the custom was established immediately after the ages of persecution. St. Cyril, who was bishop of that city in the fourth century, tells us that the palm-tree, from which the people cut the branches when they went out to meet our Saviour, was still to be seen in the vale of Cedron. Such a circumstance would naturally suggest an annual commemoration of the great event. In the. following century, we find this ceremony established, not only in the churches of the east, but also in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria. At the beginning of Lent, many of the holy monks obtained permission from their abbots to retire into the desert, that they might spend the sacred season in strict seclusion; but they were obliged to return to their monasteries for Palm Sunday, as we learn from the life of Saint Euthymius, written by his disciple Cyril. In the west, the introduction of this ceremony was more gradual; the first trace we find of it is in the sacramentary of St. Gregory, that is, at the end of the sixth, or the beginning of the seventh, century. When the faith had penetrated into the north, it was not possible to have palms or olive branches; they were supplied by branches from other trees. The beautiful prayers used in the blessing, and based on the mysteries expressed by the palm and olive trees, are still employed in the blessing of our willow, box, or other branches; and rightly, for these represent the symbolical ones which nature has denied us. 

 The second of to-day's ceremonies is the procession, which comes immediately after the blessing of the palms. It represents our Saviour's journey to Jerusalem, and His entry into the city. To make it the more expressive, the branches that have just been blessed are held in the hand during it. With the Jews, to hold a branch in one's hand was a sign of joy. The divine law had sanctioned this practice, as we read in the following passage from Leviticus, where God commands His people to keep the feast of tabernacles: And you shall take to you, on the first day, the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. It was, therefore, to testify their delight at seeing Jesus enter within their walls, that the inhabitants, even the little children, of Jerusalem, went forth to meet Him with palms in their hands. Let us, also, go before our King, singing our hosannas to Him as the conqueror of death, and the liberator of His people. During the middle ages, it was the custom, in many churches, to carry the book of the holy Gospels in this procession. The Gospel contains the words of Jesus Christ, and was considered to represent Him. The procession halted at an appointed place, or station: the deacon then opened the sacred volume, and sang from it the passage which describes our Lord's entry into Jerusalem. This done, the cross which, up to this moment, was veiled, was uncovered; each of the clergy advanced towards it, venerated it, and placed at its foot a small portion of the palm he held in his hand. The procession then returned, preceded by the cross, which was left unveiled until all had re-entered the church. In England and Normandy, as far back as the eleventh century, there was practised a holy ceremony which represented, even more vividly than the one we have just been describing, the scene that was witnessed on this day at Jerusalem: the blessed Sacrament was carried in procession. The heresy of Berengarius, against the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, had been broached about that time; and the tribute of triumphant joy here shown to the sacred Host was a distant preparation for the feast and procession which were to be instituted at a later period. A touching ceremony was also practised in Jerusalem during to-day's procession, and, like those just mentioned, was intended to commemorate the event related by the Gospel. The whole community of the Franciscans (to whose keeping the holy places are entrusted) went in the morning to Bethphage. There, the father guardian of the holy Land, being vested in pontifical robes, mounted upon an ass, on which garments were laid. Accompanied by the friars and the Catholics of Jerusalem, all holding palms in their hands, he entered the city, and alighted at the church of the holy sepulchre where Mass was celebrated with all possible solemnity. This beautiful ceremony, which dated from the period of the Latin kingdom in Jerusalem, has been forbidden for now almost two hundred years, by the Turkish authorities of the city. We have mentioned these different usages, as we have doneothers on similar occasions, in order to aid the faithful to the better understanding of the several mysteries of the liturgy. 

In the present instance, they will learn that, in to-day's procession, the Church wishes us to honour Jesus Christ as though He were really among us, and were receiving the humble tribute of our loyalty. Let us lovingly go forth to meet this our King, our Saviour, who comes to visit the daughter of Sion, as the prophet has just told us. He is in our midst; it is to Him that we pay honour with our palms: let us give Him our hearts too. He comes that He may be our King; let us welcome Him as such, and fervently cry out to Him: 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' 

 At the close of the procession a ceremony takes place, which is full of the sublimest symbolism. On returning to the church, the doors are found to be shut. The triumphant procession is stopped; but the songs of joy are continued. A hymn in honour of Christ our King is sung with its joyous chorus ; and at length the subdeacon strikes the door with the staff of the cross; the door opens, and the people, preceded by the clergy, enter the church, proclaiming the praise of Him, who is our resurrection and our life. This ceremony is intended to represent the entry of Jesus into that Jerusalem of which the earthly one was but the figure--the Jerusalem of heaven, which has been opened for us by our Saviour. The sin of our first parents had shut it against us; but Jesus, the King of glory, opened its gates by His cross, to which every resistance yields. Let us, then, continue to follow in the footsteps of the Son of David, for He is also the Son of God, and He invites us to share His kingdom with Him. Thus, by the procession, which is commemorative of what happened on this day, the Church raises up our thoughts to the glorious mystery of the Ascension, whereby heaven was made the close of Jesus' mission on earth. 

Alas l the interval between these two triumphs of our Redeemer are not all days of joy; and no sooner is our procession over, than the Church, who had laid aside for a moment the weight of her grief, falls back into sorrow and mourning. The third part of to-day's service is the offering of the holy Sacrifice. The portions that are sung by the choir are expressive of the deepest desolation; and the history of our Lord's Passion, which is now to be read by anticipation, gives to the rest of the day that character of sacred gloom, which we all know so well. For the last five or six centuries, the Church has adopted a special chant for this narrative of the holy Gospel. The historian, or the evangelist, relates the events in a tone that is at once grave and pathetic; the words of our Saviour are sung to a solemn yet sweet melody, which strikingly contrasts with the high dominant of the several other interlocutors and the Jewish populace. During the singing of the Passion, the faithful should hold their palms in their hands, and, by this emblem of triumph, protest against the insults offered to Jesus by His enemies. As we listen to each humiliation and suffering, all of which were endured out of love for us, let us offer Him our palm as to our dearest Lord and King. When should we be more adoring, than when He is most suffering? These are the leading features of this great day.

 According to our usual plan, we will add to the prayers and lessons any instructions that seem to be needed. This Sunday, besides its liturgical and popular appellation of Palm Sunday, has had several other names. Thus it was called Hosanna Sunday, in allusion to the acclamation wherewith the Jews greeted Jesus on His entry into Jerusalem. Our forefathers used also to call it Pascha Floridum, because the feast of the Pasch (or Easter), which is but eight days off, is to-day in bud, so to speak, and the faithful could begin from this Sunday to fulfil the precept of Easter Communion. It was in allusion to this name, that the Spaniards, having on the Palm Sunday of 1513, discovered the peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico, called it Florida. We also find the name of Capitilavium given to this Sunday, because, during those times when it was the custom to defer till Holy Saturday the baptism of infants horn during the preceding months (where such a delay entailed no danger), the parents used, on this day, to wash the heads of these children, out of respect to the holy chrism wherewith they were to be anointed. Later on, this Sunday was, at least in some churches, called the Pasch of the competent,, that is, of the catechumens, who were admitted to Baptism; they assembled to-day in the church, and received a special instruction on the symbol, which had been given to them in the previous scrutiny. In the Gothic Church of Spain, the symbol was not given till to-day. The Greeks call this Sunday Baïphoros, that is, Palm-bearing.
Christus factus est pro nobis

POPE BENEDICT ON PALM SUNDAY


Dear Brothers and Sisters, Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a "great multitude" following Jesus (cf. 10:46).

On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. "What do you want me to do for you?", he asked. And the reply: "Master, let me receive my sight" (v. 51). Jesus said: "Go your way, your faith has made you well." Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry "Son of David", a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?

The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!" (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.

But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: "I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you ... and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Gen 12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things.

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: "But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made ... thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living" (11:23-24, 26).

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: "Crucify him!", while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their "Hosanna!", and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: "So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ ... so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet ... let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’" (PG 97, 994). Amen!

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Palm Sunday

20 March 2016
my source: News Va.
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (cf. Lk 19:38), the crowd of Jerusalem exclaimed joyfully as they welcomed Jesus. We have made that enthusiasm our own: by waving our olive and palm branches we have expressed our praise and our joy, our desire to receive Jesus who comes to us. Just as He entered Jerusalem, so He desires to enter our cities and our lives. As He did in the Gospel, riding on a donkey, so too He comes to us in humility; He comes “in the name of the Lord”. Through the power of His divine love He forgives our sins and reconciles us to the Father and with ourselves.

            Jesus is pleased with the crowd’s showing their affection for Him. When the Pharisees ask Him to silence the children and the others who are acclaiming Him, He responds: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40). Nothing could dampen their enthusiasm for Jesus’ entry. May nothing prevent us from finding in Him the source of our joy, true joy, which abides and brings peace; for it is Jesus alone who saves us from the snares of sin, death, fear and sadness.

            Today’s liturgy teaches us that the Lord has not saved us by His triumphal entry or by means of powerful miracles. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, epitomizes in two verbs the path of redemption: Jesus “emptied” and “humbled” Himself (Phil 2:7-8). These two verbs show the boundlessness of God’s love for us. Jesus emptied Himself: He did not cling to the glory that was His as the Son of God, but became the Son of man in order to be in solidarity with us sinners in all things; yet He was without sin. Even more, He lived among us in “the condition of a servant” (v. 7); not of a king or a prince, but of a servant. Therefore He humbled Himself, and the abyss of His humiliation, as Holy Week shows us, seems to be bottomless.

            The first sign of this love “without end” (Jn 13:1) is the washing of the feet. “The Lord and Master” (Jn 13:14) stoops to His disciples’ feet, as only servants would have done. He shows us by example that we need to allow His love to reach us, a love which bends down to us; we cannot do any less, we cannot love without letting ourselves be loved by Him first, without experiencing His surprising tenderness and without accepting that true love consists in concrete service.

            But this is only the beginning. The humiliation of Jesus reaches its utmost in the Passion: He is sold for thirty pieces of silver and betrayed by the kiss of a disciple whom He had chosen and called His friend. Nearly all the others flee and abandon Him; Peter denies Him three times in the courtyard of the temple. Humiliated in His spirit by mockery, insults and spitting, He suffers in His body terrible brutality: the blows, the scourging and the crown of thorns make His face unrecognizable. He also experiences shame and disgraceful condemnation by religious and political authorities: He is made into sin and considered to be unjust. Pilate then sends Him to Herod, who in turn sends Him to the Roman governor. Even as every form of justice is denied to Him, Jesus also experiences in His own flesh indifference, since no one wishes to take responsibility for His fate. The crowd, who just a little earlier had acclaimed Him, now changes their praise into a cry of accusation, even to the point of preferring that a murderer be released in His place. And so the hour of death on the cross arrives, that most painful form of shame reserved for traitors, slaves and the worst kind of criminals. But isolation, defamation and pain are not yet the full extent of His deprivation. To be totally in solidarity with us, He also experiences on the Cross the mysterious abandonment of the Father. In His abandonment, however, He prays and entrusts Himself: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:47). Hanging from the wood of the cross, beside derision He now confronts the last temptation: to come down from the Cross, to conquer evil by might and to show the face of a powerful and invincible God. Jesus, however, even here at the height of His annihilation, reveals the true face of God, which is mercy. He forgives those who are crucifying Him, He opens the gates of paradise to the repentant thief and He touches the heart of the centurion. If the mystery of evil is unfathomable, then the reality of Love poured out through Him is infinite, reaching even to the tomb and to hell. He takes upon Himself all our pain that He may redeem it, bringing light to darkness, life to death, love to hatred.


            God’s way of acting may seem so far removed from our own, that He was annihilated for our sake, while it seems difficult for us to even forget ourselves a little. He comes to save us; we are called to choose His way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves. Let us walk this path, pausing in these days to gaze upon the Crucifix, the “royal seat of God”, to learn about the humble love which saves and gives life, so that we may give up all selfishness, and the seeking of power and fame. By humbling Himself, Jesus invites us to walk on His path. Let us turn our faces to Him, let us ask for the grace to understand something of the mystery of His obliteration for our sake; and then, in silence, let us contemplate the mystery of this Week.



[00434-02.01] [Original text: Italian]

THE DONKEY
by G.K. Chesterton




When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.
Palm Sunday 2016: 
HOMILY AT BELMONT by Abbot Paul

The Opening of the Door of Mercy
Belmont Abbey
            This year there is something extra special about Holy Week, as we are celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy and St Luke’s Gospel is very much the Gospel of Mercy.

            “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Only in St Luke do we find these words of forgiveness on the lips of Jesus at the moment of his crucifixion. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Only in St Luke do we find the conversation between the two criminals crucified with Jesus and his reply to the good thief, “I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.” We call them thieves, but the Gospel calls them wrongdoers, without specifying their crimes.

            There is as much of the bad thief in each one of us there is as of the good. Consider the number of times we have said or thought the very words uttered by the bad thief, “If you are the Christ, save me.” It does help to admit our anger and resentment, our doubt and even our hatred of God. The psalms do it all the time, which is why they are so good to pray. God wants us to tell him the truth, to say what we really feel, and not to cover things up with pious words. Prayer is often a burden because it is so false.

            The good thief cries out in anguish, “Jesus, remember me.” This is the only time in the Gospels when Jesus is addressed simply by his name. No one else speaks to him like this, not even his mother or his friends. There is, of course, a special intimacy in suffering and death. It is when we get closest to another person, even a stranger. He does not ask specifically for forgiveness; he asks only to be remembered. We know that Christ came to forgive sinners and to reconcile us with the Father by dying on the Cross. Even so, we often feel it presumption to ask for forgiveness when we are not really repentant of our sins. He does say, “We are paying for what we did,” but that is not the same as being sorry or repentant.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” is one of the most perfect prayers there is. It expresses faith in Christ our Saviour, but it also leaves him completely free to do for us as he sees best. There should be no coercion or blackmail in prayer, no telling God what to do, only asking to be remembered. “I promise you,” says Jesus in return, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

            “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Only in St Luke do we read these final words of trust as Jesus breathes his last. Having forgiven those who crucified him and having promised the gift of paradise to those hanging beside him, he now accepts the Father’s will and gives back that life which was the Father’s gift, showing us how to live and how to die. It is significant to note the reaction of the centurion and his words of incipient faith, “This was a great and good man,” the reaction of the crowds who go home beating their breasts and the fact that it is a member of the Council, Joseph of Arimathaea, who had not consented to the crucifixion, who now receives permission from Pilate, who judged Jesus to be innocent, to bury the body before the onset of the Sabbath.

            Throughout Holy Week Jesus invites us to enter into the mystery of his Passion. We could offer to carry the cross like Simon of Cyrene or to bury his dead body like Joseph. We could mourn and lament like the women of Jerusalem or beat our breasts like the crowds after his death. We could, like Pilate, declare him to be innocent and yet hand him over to be crucified or we could profess our faith like the centurion. We could keep puzzling whether we are more like the good thief than the bad. Whatever we do, let us have but one prayer on our lips, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And may we hear our loving Saviour in his great mercy say, “I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Amen





ENTRY OF THE LORD INTO JERUSALEM: 
PALM SUNDAY, THE ORTHODOX WAY

“Come and See”: On the Sunday of Orthodoxy


Venerate Icons by Becoming One: On the Sunday of Orthodoxy

Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found Him, of Whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto Him, Whence knowest Thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God: Thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And He saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:44-51).

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

The first Sunday of Great Lent is called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy,” the triumph of the faith of Christ. It is no accident that on this day we read the Evangelist’s words about how one of the future disciples doubted in the Lord and how the other said to him: Come and see. The former came and saw the Savior. The Evangelist does not tell us what this experience was like, but he immediately understood everything, seeing with his own eyes – and, more importantly, feeling with his heart – that living Truth Itself was standing before him.

These same words, Come and see, relate both to the Church of Christ and to Christ’s appearance on earth. Many people say: “Where is this truth of yours? What is it?” They think that it is already outdated, that it has died out, that it is unnecessary. But we reply to these people: Come and see. But do not look at us, sinners, because we are poor witnesses of God; rather, come and see our Lord, His beauty and love for people, His sacrificial love, His Cross and suffering, His teaching, and His Spirit, Who is with us. Come and see the holiness of the Gospel and His unequalled power, which has conquered all things, no matter how much it has been persecuted, no matter how many times it has been destroyed – for hundreds of years it has always emerged from the grave, just as Christ Himself emerged from the grave, victorious over death. Therefore the Church says: Do not look, people, upon our sins; but rather upon our Lord, upon the great saints of ancient days.

Today in the Epistle reading [Hebrews 11:24-26; 11:32-12:2] the righteous from the times of the Old Testament were enumerated: here is an entire cloud of witnesses, who were precious in the world. These people endured persecution, slander, exile, torture, and death, but they chose this very path because they had given themselves over to the Lord. In this choice, too, was a Triumph of Orthodoxy, for it was above all in choosing the true faith.

As the Epistle says, Moses preferred to leave palaces, riches, and wisdom in order to be a slave with slaves, in order to lead them at God’s behest. Kings, prophets, judges, and the righteous were persecuted, wandering through dens and caves of the earth – all of them chose faith.

Do not think that the triumph of faith is only in external splendor. Of course, when you go to the Trinity-Sergius Lavra and see the beautiful cathedrals, marvelous icons, and hear the wonderful ringing of bells, which spread the glad tidings throughout the countryside – this, of course, shows our faith’s beauty and triumph. But all of this is external, transient, and perishable: it can be destroyed by evil people and by time.

The true faith and the Spirit of Christ, however, cannot be destroyed! People of the spirit, such as St. Sergius and all the saints of the New Testament, also comprise a cloud of witnesses. Again we say: No, friends, do not look at us, who are weak and powerless. Rather look at these saints who have overcome abuse, torture, exile, and humiliation; who have witnessed to God by their love for people, by their service to people, by their great patience, by their holiness, and by their closeness to God – there they all are, the saints, in whom the Church has triumphed throughout the world, always and everywhere. They teach us because they are our examples and teachers; but we are taught above all by the example of the Savior Himself. Therefore the Epistle reading concludes with these great words: let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Amen.


PATRIARCHAL AND SYNODICAL ENCYCLICAL
ON THE CONVOCATION OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL
OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

† B A R T H O L O M E W

BY THE MERCY OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW-ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH


TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH,

GRACE AND PEACE FROM GOD

Our holy Orthodox Church, adorned in purple and fine linen by the blood of her martyrs, the tears of her Saints, and the struggles and sacrifices of her confessors of faith, celebrates today her nameday. Following a century-long struggle, this day was appropriately identified as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, marking the day in which truth shone and triumphed over falsehood through the veneration of holy icons as the bearers of the personal presence and divine grace of the incarnate Son and Logos of God and of His saints. In this way, it was acknowledged and proclaimed for all time that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), honoring and sanctifying material creation and our body in order to render them partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter, 1:4), partakers in divine grace and life.

On the way to this great and salvific truth—which was attacked by those who refused to venerate holy icons—the triumph of truth over falsehood treaded along the same path followed by the Church from the beginning of her history, namely the truth of conciliarity. The distinction between truth and falsehood—orthodoxy and heresy—is not always easily discernible. Even heretics believed, and continue to believe, that they possessed the truth; moreover, there will always be some who shall consider those who do not agree with their position as “heretics.” The Orthodox Church, in this case, recognizes only one authority: the Council of her canonical hierarchs. Beyond a conciliar decision, the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy is not possible. The Church’s dogmas and holy canons bear the seal of conciliarity. Orthodoxy is the conciliar Church.

The Orthodox Church has always emphasized this ecclesiological authority, and implements it faithfully on the local level. For centuries, this has also occurred on an ecumenical or pan-orthodox level; however, for historical circumstances, it has been interrupted for quite some time. Today, we find ourselves in a position to officially announce from our ecumenical throne that, by the grace of God, and with the consent of all the Primates of the Holy Orthodox Churches, that we will realize a decision taken more than fifty years ago and convene the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church on the island of Crete on June 18-27, 2016. The Council shall begin its work with a pan-Orthodox celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Holy Church of Saint Menas, Heraklion, Crete, on the great and auspicious Feast of Pentecost. Deliberations shall proceed at the Orthodox Academy in Kolymbari, Chania. Our Modesty shall preside over the Holy and Great Council, with the other Primates of Orthodox Churches at our side; other hierarchs shall participate as members of the Council through the official delegation of these Churches.

The foremost and most important goal of this Pan-Orthodox Council shall be to teach that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, united in the Sacraments—especially in the Holy Eucharist, in the Orthodox faith, but also in conciliarity. To this end, ongoing planning for the Council has occurred through a series of Preparatory Committees and Pre-Conciliar Conferences, ensuring the unanimous spirit of the Council’s decisions and that her message is conveyed in one voice and in one heart.


The issues—already delineated on a pan-orthodox level by the time the convocation of the Council was decided—that shall be reviewed by the Holy and Great Council primarily focus on matters relating to the internal operation and life of the Orthodox Church; for this reason, they must be immediately resolved. Moreover, there are issues pertaining to the relations of Orthodoxy with the rest of the Christian world, as well as the mission of the Church in our time. We certainly recognize that the world awaits to hear the voice of the Orthodox Church on many pressing problems that humanity faces today. However, it was deemed necessary that the Orthodox Church should first settle internal matters before speaking to or addressing the world, which is still considered her obligation. The fact that Orthodoxy will express its conciliarity on a global level after the passing of so many centuries constitutes a first and most decisive step that, by the grace of God, is expected to lead to the convening of further Pan-Orthodox Councils, soon thereafter.

Beloved brethren and children in the Lord,

Great historic events are guided by the grace of God, Who, ultimately, is the Lord of History. We might sow and labor; however, only God multiplies (1 Cor. 3:8). The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church indeed constitutes a historic event and we therefore place our hope in God for its realization. We call upon the Orthodox faithful in the world—clergy and laity—to pray to the Triune God that He may crown this event with His blessings, fortifying His Church to the glory of His name. We live in critical times and the unity of the Church must serve as the example of unity for a humanity torn apart by divisions and conflicts. The success of the Holy and Great Council concerns every member of the Church, who are invited to share their interests thereon. The texts that have been agreed upon on a pan-orthodox level and which have been submitted to the Holy and Great Council have already been made publicly available to every faithful of good will. These texts are not only intended to inform and update the faithful, but to also elicit their opinions and expectations of the Holy and Great Council.

Having announced this to the plenitude of the Orthodox Church throughout the world on this auspicious day, we pray that the lord God bestow upon His Church and all of you His abundant grace and blessing, and to the world peace at all times in all ways (2 Thes. 3:16).

20 March, in the year of our Lord, 2016



† Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople

Your fervent supplicant to God



† Metropolitan John of Pergamon, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Iakovos of the Prince Islands, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Joseph of Prikonisos, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Nikitas of the Dardanelles, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Maximos of Selymbria, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianopolis, supplicant in Christ



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