"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

Thursday, 17 August 2017

MARY, THE LIVING TEMPLE OF GOD by Archpriest Michael Gillis (Orthodox) and MARY'S HOLY PROTECTION

The Living Temple of God
Source: Praying in the Rain
my source: Pravmir.com

The Church often refers the Mary as the Living Temple of God because, like the temple of the Old Testament, her womb was the place where the Glory of the Lord dwelt. However, unlike the temple—made of inanimate stones and wood and covered in gold—Mary is the Living Temple of God. Although she has experienced death, she is still the Living Temple because, as Christ said, “all who live and believe in me shall never die.” Mary lives as Queen of heaven standing at the right hand of Her Son and Lord (c.f. Psalm 44: 10-18) together with all of her “virgin companions,” those who in imitation of Her have believed in Him and by the Holy Spirit have Christ dwelling in their hearts.

Some of what it means for Mary to be the Living Temple of God is lost on us today because we do not understand how believers under the Old Covenant related to the temple. Those who know anything at all about the temple know about its liturgical and ultimately symbolic function foreshadowing heavenly realities finally manifested in Christ. However, most do not realize that the temple was an icon of the presence of God and played an important part in the prayer life of the faithful. King Solomon’s prayer of dedication found in II Chronicles 6:14-42 gives us some insight into the prayer life of believers under the Old Covenant and the iconic role the temple played in it.

At the beginning of the prayer Solomon makes it clear that God is not literally in the temple any more or less than God is or isn’t anywhere else, for “heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.” “Yet,” Solomon asks, “regard the prayer of your servant…so [that] day and night Your eyes may be open toward this house…that you may hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.” That is, Solomon asks God to regard the temple as an icon toward (or to) which one would pray. In praying toward the temple, one is praying to God.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Study Bible translation of the Septuagint translates as “in” all of the prepositions in this passage which the King James translates as “toward.” This is a mistake. Pray “toward” or “in the direction of” is the correct translation in vv. 20,26,29,32,34, 38 (See grammatical explanation below).

The faithful under the Old Covenant should pray toward the temple as an icon of God’s presence, even if they were exiles in a foreign land (v.38). Although God is not limited by the temple—and Solomon acknowledges this at the beginning of his prayer—the temple functions as a special place toward which or in the direction of which prayer should be offered because God put His Name there (v.20). The temple had an intercessory function because its existence manifested the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people and God’s presence with His people. It was only in the temple (or the tabernacle before it) that acceptable worship could be offered to God. Only in the temple could atoning sacrifice be offered or sacrifices of thanksgiving made. Only toward the temple could the faithful Israelites pray with confidence knowing that their prayer would be heard, especially if they had sinned and were suffering judgment because of their sin.

In a similar manner, the faithful followers of Christ have come to regard Mary as the Living Temple of God. You might say that Christians often pray to God toward Her. Mary is the Intercessor, the Mother of God, the Proto-Christian, the One who bore God in her womb and has thereby gained the intimacy and privilege of a mother with Her Son and our God. When we pray to the Mother of God, we are not praying to her instead of God (as we are sometimes accused). We are praying to God through Her, or to use the Old Testament temple image, we are praying to God toward Her. As the Living Temple of God, Mary not only intercedes (because she is living, unlike the temple made of stone), but she also is intercession. That is, she is the human being from whom and in whom God took on humanity for the salvation of the human race. Mary’s womb is the Gate of the Temple through which “the Lord God of Israel” enters (see Ezekiel 44:1-3); and as such, just as the temple in Jerusalem was itself intercession for the faithful of Israel, so Mary is intercession for the faithful in Christ.

This is why it is right—perhaps even incumbent on us—to pray to Mary; or, as it is commonly put to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding: to ask Mary to pray for us. This is a convenient phrase to avoid conflict with Muslims and Protestants, but anyone who knows English fairly well realizes that it is just a word game: “pray” and “ask” are often synonyms. But for those of us in the family of God and in the Tradition of the Church of both the Old and New Covenants, such phrases are not necessary: prayer toward the Temple is prayer to God.

[Grammatical explanation] Two Hebrew words are used in this passage to mean “toward.” In some cases it is the Hebrew word ̕êl “denoting motion or direction towards (whether physical or mental)” (translated eis in Greek). While “in” is one of many possible translations of eis, “to” and “toward” are also possible. Here I think the Hebrew should influence the translator of the Septuagint. The NETS translation of the Septuagint follows this tack in translating eis as “toward” in this passage. In the other cases, the Hebrew word derek is used. Derek means most literally “way” or “road,” but is also used to mean “in the direction of” or “toward.” Here two Greek words are used to translate the Hebrew: the preposition kata and the noun òdós (road or way). For these words the OSB translation uses “in” (v.34—clearly wrong) and “toward” (v.38—acceptable), but I think the NETS has it better translating both “in the direction of.”

“I Had a Hard Time Praying to the Theotokos”

In response to my blog entry called The Tongs, someone has asked me if, as a convert to Orthodoxy, I had a hard time at the beginning praying to the Theotokos. The answer is yes.

In my whole-life confession the week before I was received into the Holy Orthodox faith, I confessed to the priest that I had a hard time praying to the Theotokos. I told him that I had no problem with the theology related to the intercession of the Saints, nor with the special place of the Mother of God in the dispensation of salvation and as an intercessor. My problem was that I just couldn’t do it. I could say the words of the prayer–O Lady, Bride of God, spotless, immaculate Virgin…–but the words had no meaning for me. I felt no connection. The wise priest told me not to worry about it, She’d make the connection.

Because I converted with a community (there were 85 of us), I was ordained a deacon on the day of my chrismation. And so I served as a deacon for about three years before she “made the connection.” For the first three years, standing in front of the icon of the Mother of God during the first part of the Divine Liturgy, I basically felt a blank inside my heart. I even had a hard time venerating the icon, finding myself always kissing the foot of Christ in Her arms, and not Her. (I’d be too ashamed to confess it now, except that it magnifies the greatness of the Love and patience of the Mother of God for those who are being saved.) I said the prayers to the Mother of God faithfully, but with no feeling. I often found myself trying to figure out what the words “meant,” as though that would help me find a connection.

Then one day a miracle happened. I was going through a particularly stressful season of financial worry. The stress was crushing me. During the Divine Liturgy one Sunday, while standing before the icon of the Mother of God, I asked Her for help. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I remember what happened. I heard a voice in my head. The exact words are lost, but the gist was this: you won’t have to worry about money again. The words were accompanied by a very peaceful feeling, almost like an untying of knots inside me. The feeling stayed with me for several days.

Within a few days, there was a change in my circumstances that delivered me from the immediate cause of my financial worries. Since that time, whenever I am tempted to worry about money, I stand before the icon of the Mother of God and remind Her (remind myself really) of the words I believe She spoke to me. And the miracle is that I don’t worry. Financial ups and downs come and go, but the miracle is that She has freed me from worry.

Praying to the Mother of God, I have come to know in some small ways the Mother of God. She is our heavenly Mother. I know Protestants will freak out about that kind of language–I certainly would have–because they have no categories for divine-human synergy. But just as God distributes his gifts through the free will of his people on earth, so He also distributes His gifts through the intercessions of the Saints who are in heaven, especially the Mother of God.

When my daughter Hannah was 16, she wanted to work at Barbara Cheatley’s, an exclusive gift shop in a little high-end shopping area in Claremont, California. My daughter prayed fervently that she would get a chance to work there. Then she spoke to Barbara, but Barbara told her that there were no openings and she expected no openings: all of her “girls” had worked for her for fifteen years or more. Hannah was crushed when she told us the news. My wife, however, was not ready yet to give up so easily. Bonnie and the Barbara had been business associates for several years and had developed a friendship. Bonnie went to her and “interceded” on Hannah’s behalf. Eventually, after much intercession that may have sounded somewhat like nagging, Barbara agreed that if Hannah could learn to wrap packages well (and the gorgeous wrapping is one of the big reasons why people keep coming back to Barbara Cheatley’s), she could work in the back room for the two months leading up to Christmas. Hannah learned to wrap packages “Barbara’s way,” and she worked two exhausting months for minimum wage at Barbara Cheatley’s.

God answered Hannah’s prayers through the intercessions of her mother (and my wife ☺). God often pours out his Grace to us through others, by the intercessions of others. It should be no surprise then if, when we are in trouble, we find help in the intercessions of God’s Mother. The Grace is God’s, the intercession is His Mother’s, the help is from both. God works synergistically with and through His people.

No Orthodox Christian is Without Theotokos’ Protection

Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
my source: Pravmir.com
14 OCTOBER 2015

Worldwide, the Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most beloved feast days on the Orthodox calendar, commemorated on October 1 (14). It is also known as the Feast of the Virgin Mary’s Cerement. The word translated “cerement”—the Slavonic pokrov or the Greek skepi—has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos.

The feast day celebrates the appearance of the Mother of God at Blachernae in the tenth century. St. Andrew of Constantinople with his disciple St. Epiphanius and a group of people saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the Church of Blachernae, near the city gates. The Blachernae Palace church was where several of the Virgin’s relics were kept—her robe, her veil, and part of her belt, which had been transferred from Palestine during the fifth century.

The Theotokos approached the center of the church, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Then she took off her veil (cerement) and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. During that time, the people in the city were threatened by a barbarian invasion. After the appearance of the Mother of God, the danger was averted and the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering.

The first celebration of the Theotokos’ veil/protection dates back to the twelfth century. Today the feast is celebrated throughout the Orthodox Church. The feast day commemorating her miraculous appearance is celebrated with a vigil and many of the same hymns as occur on great feasts of the Theotokos.

One time, St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, having finished serving liturgy in a cave chapel about 100 feet up the face of a sheer cliff, leaned restfully against a railing while his deacon cleaned the altar area. The railing suddenly broke and St. Arsenios plummeted to the earth far below. A farmer in a nearby field saw him fall and rushed to the place where his body had landed. When he arrived, St. Arsenios was lying on his back weeping, but cried out, “Don’t touch me! Please, don’t touch me. I’m fine.” When the farmer inquired how he had survived the fall, St. Arsenios told him, “Just before I struck the ground, I was caught in the hands of the Theotokos, and she set me gently on the ground.”

No Orthodox Christian is without this same protecting Mother. None are left without the warm and secure enclosure of a mother’s emblanketing arms. For the veil of the Theotokos encompasses, comforts, and protects us all. As the epitome of motherhood, she anticipates our every need and catches us up in her arms when we call upon her for aid.

P.S. When St. Arsenios climbed back up the high ladder to the cave chapel, his deacon was still cleaning the altar area and had not even noticed his fall!

Coffee with Sr. Vassa: The Protection of the Mother of God, or Impropriety is no Obstacle to Prayer

The history of this feast is different in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, but the meaning is essentially the same: it celebrates the prayers of the Virgin Mary, of the Mother of God for the all of us.

Hi, I am Sr. Vassa and I am having my coffee before going to work today in Vienna in Austria. I am drinking my coffee black as usual because, they say, – black never goes out of style.

Before I go to work today, I am looking in my Church calendar. In case you didn’t know, this week October begins, and September ends. So, today I will be reflecting on a feast that occurs in the Russian Orthodox Church on October 1, called the Protection of the Mother of God; in Greek  Scepitis Theotocou.  The history of this feast is different in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, but the meaning is essentially the same: it celebrates the prayers of the Virgin Mary, of the Mother of God for the all of us.

In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a very important and beloved feast. Many Russian churches are dedicated to the Protection of the Holy Virgin and also many well –known churches, including the cathedral in Red Square (Church of “Basil the Blessed”).

The history of this feast in the Russian Church is complicated and with contested meanings that some historians disagree about its exact origins. In any event, the feast celebrates the vision of the Holy Virgin that occurred in a Church of Blachernae in Constantinople in early 10th century during the Liturgy when the church was packed with people. The Mother of God appeared to St. Andrew, the Fool-for-Christ, and to his disciple, St. Epiphanius. She appeared above the crowd that was praying in the church, surrounded by many angels and saints. First, the Mother of God prayed at the Altar for all the people, then, as St. Dimitri of Rostov describes it, “She took off the great and awe-inspiring cover, which She wore on Her most-pure head, and, holding it with great solemnity, with Her most-pure hands, extended it over all the people. Now, although this vision occurred in Greek-speaking Constantinople, it ironically came to be celebrated as a great feast in the Church of Rus’.

Most historians attribute the introduction of the feast to Prince Andrei Bogolubsky of the late 12th c. Now, you might be asking, if you haven’t switched to a different YouTube channel because of all this history. Why would Prince Andrei introduce a feast that the Church of Constantinople did not have? After all, the Church of Rus’ was baptised by Greek-speaking missionaries, and in fact, in the 12th century had Greek bishops. That’s why even today we sing to our Russian bishops Eis polla eti, despota! in Greek, because originally our bishops understood that language.  The thing is, that Prince Andrei is said to have tried to obtain more cultural independence for his people. He wanted his people to have their own customs, and their own, independent tradition. In fact, he even tried to elevate his own bishop, or metropolitan, named Theodore, independent of the Kievan church. But of course, the Patriarch of Constantinople, did not agree to this. So, Andrei did not succeed in establishing culture independence in his land, because in fact, culture independence does not exist. Especially not in a last 1000 years. Every tradition, you see, has been and is, influenced by other traditions. Interestingly, even this beautiful church (“Pokrova-na-Nerli” Church), which Prince Andrei had built in honour of the new feast of the Protection, was built  by foreign builders from the Latin West. They were sent to Prince Andrei by Friedrich Barbarossa- the famous crusader and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. But that’s just a fun fact.

Concerning this feast in the Greek-speaking churches today, it is commemorated on October 28th, not October 1st. In the Greek-speaking churches it is commemorated on the Greek national holiday called Ochi-Day. And the feast, the church feast, is associated with thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Greek nation from the Italian invasion of 1940, because of the miracles reported by many Greek soldiers, – miracles of the Holy Virgin during the Greco-Italian War of 1940-1941.  But that’s enough about the historical side of this feast.

Now let’s talk about the main aspect of it, and that is: the prayers of the Mother of God. We hear about the prayers or intercessions of the Mother of God at the beginning of Byzantine Divine Liturgy in the 1st Antiphon: “Through the prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us”. We might tend to mystify, or imagine, these prayers of the Virgin Mary, as if they occur in a galaxy far-far away… But the Gospel actually gives us a very human example of her intercessions for other human beings, in the well-known passage about the wedding in Cana in Galilee:

“On the third day there was a wedding, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him: They have no wine. Jesus said to her: Woman, what (is that) to me and to you? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants: Do whatever He tells you to do”.

And after that, as most of you probably will know, He tells the servants to fill six jugs with water, and turns this water to wine, performing his first public miracle.

What is of interest to us in this passage right now is how Mary approaches Her Divine Son, – and how He reacts. First of all, She obviously knows more about Him than others do. She knows He can do something about the wine-situation, and She has complete faith that He will do this, despite His somewhat off-putting answer. Because He lets Her know that Her request is made at an inappropriate time. He says, “My hour is not yet come, and, Woman what is that to you and to Me?”

Now, let me note that Christ is not being disrespectful to His mother by calling Her “Woman”. In the language which Jesus spoke this was the equivalent of the English “ma’am”. Similarly, He said to His mother, as you may remember, from the cross: “Woman, behold, your son”. He uses this term, actually, several times to address women, like Syrophoenician woman, and the Samaritan woman. He also incidentally uses the term “man”, “anthrope”, to address man as in: “Man, your sins are forgiven you!” in Luke 5:20.  Nonetheless, Jesus does indicate the impropriety of His mother’s request at the wedding in Cana. And yet, he fulfills this request. He also fulfills another inappropriate request, for another woman – already mentioned Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman, who calls after the Lord as He’s walking with His disciples, begging Him to heal her daughter. Jesus first ignores her, and indicates to His disciples the impropriety of her request. But finally, when she persists, He praises her faith: ”O woman,” He says, “great is your faith”, and heals her daughter.

From all this we can observe the very awkward fact, that impropriety is no obstacle to prayer.  The rules of liturgical propriety that we observe in our prayer; the outer forms like liturgical texts, the proper prostrations, the proper clothing…all these things doubtlessly have their place and their reasons. But we should not forget that these are no more, and no less, than outer forms. The Mother of God, the model of Christian prayer, makes a request of Her Son at an inappropriate time in Cana of Galilee. Then, at the church in Blachernae in Constantinople in Her vision, She removes Her head covering  – Her vail – in church to demonstrate Her protection of us, despite of the impropriety some of us might perceive in this. Because, as it turns out, our sense of impropriety is no obstacle to prayer. And that’s our Thought of the Day.

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