"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, 8 March 2018

LAETARE SUNDAY (4th Sunday of Lent) In Greek MESONESTIOS (Their third Sunday)

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GOSPEL            John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus:  “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

boast in the Lord Jesus Christ, boasting in nothing but his cross where we find righteousness lamb of God Passover
Leo the Great reflects on the passion of Jesus Christ and sees in it not shame, but glory.  He sees in the cross not weakness, but power.  In his passion and death on the cross, Jesus fulfils all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant which were no more than foreshadowings of what happened on Calvary.

Our understanding, which is enlightened by the Spirit of truth, should receive with purity and freedom of heart the glory of the cross as it shines in heaven and on earth. It should see with an inner vision the meaning of the Lord’s words when he spoke of the imminence of his passion: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Afterwards, he said: Now my soul is troubled, and what am I to say? Father, save me from this hour. But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your Son. When the voice of the Father came from heaven, saying, I have glorified him, and will glorify him again, Jesus said in reply to those around him: It was not for me that this voice spoke, but for you. Now is the judgment of the world, now will the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.

How marvellous the power of the cross; how great beyond all telling the glory of the passion: here is the judgement-seat of the Lord, the condemnation of the world, the supremacy of Christ crucified.

Lord, you drew all things to yourself so that the devotion of all peoples everywhere might celebrate, in a sacrament made perfect and visible, what was carried out in the one temple of Judea under obscure foreshadowings.

boast in the Lord Jesus Christ, boasting in nothing but his cross where we find righteousness lamb of God Passover

Now there is a more distinguished order of Levites, a greater dignity for the rank of elders, a more sacred anointing for the priesthood because your cross is the source of all blessings, the cause of all graces. Through the cross the faithful receive strength from weakness, glory from dishonour, life from death.

The different sacrifices of animals are no more: the one offering of your body and blood is the fulfilment of all the different sacrificial offerings, for you are the true Lamb of God: you take away the sins of the world. In yourself, you bring to perfection all mysteries, so that, as there is one sacrifice in place of all other sacrificial offerings, there is also one kingdom gathered from all peoples.

Dearly beloved, let us then acknowledge what Saint Paul, the teacher of the nations, acknowledged so exultantly: This is a saying worthy of trust, worthy of complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.

God’s compassion for us is all the more wonderful because Christ died, not for the righteous or the holy but for the wicked and the sinful, and, though the divine nature could not be touched by the sting of death, he took to himself, through his birth as one of us, something he could offer on our behalf.

The power of his death once confronted our death. In the words of Hosea the prophet: Death, I shall be your death; grave, I shall swallow you up. By dying he submitted to the laws of the underworld; by rising again he destroyed them. He did away with the everlasting character of death so as to make death a thing of time, not of eternity. As all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.

This excerpt from a sermon by Saint Leo the Great (Sermo 8 de Passione Domini, 6-8; PL 54, 340-342) on the power and glory of the cross of Jesus Christ is used in the Roman Church’s office of readings for Tuesday of the 5th week in Lent with the accompanying biblical reading is Hebrews 3:1-19.
Originally posted on Feb 07 2016

St. Leo the Great

Leo the Great, St.It is regrettable that so little is known about the early life of this man who proved to be such an extraordinary shepherd of the Catholic Church that he came to be known not only as Pope Saint Leo I, but also is one of the only two Popes in two thousand years to be called “the Great.”  What we do know is that as a deacon of the Roman Church, before being elevated to the office of Pope in 440 AD, St. Leo the Great had opposed the heresy of Pelagianism which taught that grace was not necessary for salvation, but was rather a bonus that God granted to those who earned it by their good works.  As Pope, St. Leo the Great was forceful and unambiguous in his Christological teaching which affirmed the full divinity and humanity of Christ.  In fact his most famous writing, commonly known as the Tome of St. Leo (449), was the basis of the Council of Chalcedon’s (451) dogmatic definition of Christ as one Divine Person possessing two complete natures, human and divine. 
St. Leo the Great was Pope during the middle of the fifth century, a troubled time when barbarian armies were ravaging the once mighty Roman Empire.  For all intents and purposes, the Western Empire was in total political and military collapse and there was a vacuum of political leadership.  Pope St. Leo filled the void and became the advocate for the temporal as well as spiritual needs of his flock.  He is perhaps most famous for persuading Attila the Hun to abandon his plans to sack the city of Rome and to withdraw his forces beyond the Danube river (452).  St. Leo once again was the spokesperson for the Roman citizenry in 455 when the Vandal barbarians swept into Central Italy, securing concessions from them.
Through both his powerful teaching and his leadership, Pope St. Leo the Great very much strengthened the office of the Papacy and made a strong biblical case for the Divine institution of this ministry by examining the biblical evidence for Peter’s unique role among the apostles.
The writings that survive by St. Leo, besides his famous Tome, consist of 143 letters and 96 sermons.  His sermons cover every season of the liturgical year and are indeed a treasure.  Excerpts from these letters and sermons are included below to you a taste of this man’s clear and vigorous way of preaching and teaching the faith passed down from the apostles.  St. Leo the Great died in 461, is regarded as one of the most important of the Western Fathers of the Church and was declared a“Doctor of the Church” by Pope Benedict XIV.

Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, the Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.

Without Easter, Good Friday would have no meaning. Without Easter, there would be no hope that suffering and abandonment might be tolerable. But with Easter, a way out becomes visible for human sorrows, an absolute future: more than a hope, a divine expectation.

It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it.

There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God.

There will never be beings unloved by God since God is absolute love.

Hell is to be contemplated strictly as a matter which concerns me alone. As part of the spiritual life, it belongs behind the 'closed door' of my own room. From the standpoint of living faith, I cannot fundamentally believe in anyone's damnation but my own; as far as my neighbour is concerned, the light of resurrection can never be so obscured that I would be allowed or obliged to stop hoping for him.

The Christian response is contained in these two fundamental dogmas: that of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation. In the trinitarian dogma God is one, good, true, and beautiful because he is essentially Love, and Love supposes the one, the other, and their unity.

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the centre, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new centre, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith.

In Christ, for the first time, we see that in God himself there exists--within his inseparable unity--the distinction between the Father who gives and the Gift which is given (the Son), but only in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

But the saints are never the kind of killjoy spinster aunts who go in for faultfinding and lack all sense of humour. (Nor should the Karl Barth who so loved and understood Mozart be regarded as such.)For humour is a mysterious but unmistakable charism inseparable from the Catholic faith, and neither the "progressives" nor the "integralists" seem to possess it - the latter even less than the former.

The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God.

There is a moment when the interior light of the "eyes of faith" becomes one with the exterior light that shines from Christ, and this occurs because man's thirst, as he strives and seeks after God, is quenched as he finds repose in the revealed form of the Son.

The inner reality of love can be recognized only by love.

Without a doubt, at the centre of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.

The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity.

Romano Guardini on the Sign of the Cross:
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When we cross ourselves, let it be with a real sign of the cross. Instead of a small cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, let us make a large unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it includes the whole of us, our thoughts, our attitudes, our body and soul, every part of us at once, how it consecrates and sanctifies us. It does so because it is the Sign of the universe and the sign of our redemption. On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross he sanctifies man to the last shred and fibre of his being. We make the sign of the cross before we pray to collect and compose ourselves and to fix our minds and hearts and wills upon God. We make it when we finish praying in order that we may hold fast the gift we have received from God. In temptations we sign ourselves to be strengthened; in dangers, to be protected. The cross is signed upon us in blessings in order that the fulness of God's life may flow into the soul and fructify and sanctify us wholly. Think of these things when you make the sign of the cross. It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being,--body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing,-- and by signing it with the cross strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God. (Sacred Signs,p. 14)

by Dom Prosper Gueranger O.S.B.
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This Sunday, called, from the first word of the Introit, Laetare Sunday, is one of the most solemn of the year. The Church interrupts her Lenten mournfulness. The chants of the Mass speak of nothing but joy and consolation. The organ which has been silent during the preceding three Sundays now gives forth its melodious voice. The deacon resumes his dalmatic, and the subdeacon his tunic, and instead of purple, rose-coloured vestments are allowed to be used. These same rites were practised in Advent, on the third Sunday, called Gaudete. The Church’s motive for introducing this expression of joy in today’s Liturgy is to encourage her children to persevere fervently to the end of this holy Season. The real Mid-Lent was last Thursday, as we have already observed, but the Church, fearing lest the joy might lead to some infringement on the spirit of penance, has deferred her own notice of it to this Sunday, when she not only permits but even bids, her children to rejoice!
The Station at Rome is in the Basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem, one of the seven principal Churches of the Holy City. It was built in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine in one of his villas, called Sessorius, on which account it goes also under the name of the Sessorian Basilica. The Emperor’s mother, Saint Helena, enriched it with most precious relics and wished to make it the Jerusalem of Rome. It was with this intention that she ordered a great quantity of earth taken from Mount Calvary to be put on the site. Among the other relics of the Instruments of the Passion which she gave to this Church was the Inscription which was fastened to the Cross. It is still kept there and is called the Title of the Cross. The name of Jerusalem — which has been given to this Basilica, and which recalls to our minds the heavenly Jerusalem, towards which we are tending —suggested the choosing it as today’s Station. Up to the fourteenth century (when Avignon became, for a time, the City of the Popes), the ceremony of the Golden Rose took place in this Church. At present, it is blessed in the Palace where the Sovereign Pontiff happens to be residing at this Season.
The blessing of the Golden Rose is one of the ceremonies peculiar to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which is called on this account Rose Sunday. The thoughts suggested by this flower harmonise with the sentiments with which the Church would now inspire her children. The joyous time of Easter is soon to give them a spiritual Spring, of which that of nature is but a feeble image. Hence, we cannot be surprised that the institution of this ceremony is of a very ancient date. We find it observed under the Pontificate of Saint Leo the Ninth (eleventh century), and we have a Sermon on the Golden Rose preached by the glorious Pope Innocent the Third on this Sunday and in the Basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
In the Middle Ages, when the Pope resided in the Lateran Palace, having first blessed the Rose, he went on horseback to the Church of the Station. He wore the mitre, was accompanied by all the Cardinals, and held the blessed flower in his hand. Having reached the Basilica, he made a discourse on the mysteries symbolised by the beauty, the colour and the fragrance of the rose. Mass was then celebrated. After the Mass, the Pope returned to the Lateran Palace. Surrounded by the Sacred College, he rode across the immense plain which separates the two Basilicas, with the mystic flower still in his hand. We may imagine the joy of the people as they gazed on the holy symbol. When the procession had got to the Palace gates, if there were a Prince present, it was his privilege to hold the stirrup and assist the Pontiff to dismount, for which filial courtesy he received the rose which had received so much honour and caused such joy.
At present, the ceremony is not quite so solemn. Still, the principal rites are observed. The Pope blesses the Golden Rose in the vestry. He anoints it with Holy Chrism, over which he sprinkles a scented powder, as formerly, and when the hour for Mass has come, he goes to the Palace Chapel, holding the flower in his hand. During the Holy Sacrifice, it is fastened to a golden rose-branch prepared for it on the Altar. After the Mass, it is brought to the Pontiff, who holds it in his hand as he returns from the Chapel to the vestiary. It is usual for the Pope to send the rose to some prince or princess, as a mark of honour. Sometimes, it is a city or a church that receives the flower. We subjoin a free translation of the beautiful prayer used by the Sovereign Pontiff when blessing the Golden Rose. It will give our readers a clearer appreciation of this ceremony, which adds so much solemnity to the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
“O GOD, by whose word and power all things were created, and by whose will they are all governed! You that are the joy and gladness of all your faithful people, we beseech your Divine Majesty, that you vouchsafe to bless and sanctify this rose, so lovely in its beauty and fragrance. We are to bear it, this day, in our hands, as a symbol of spiritual joy, that thus, the people that is devoted to your service, being set free from the captivity of Babylon, by the grace of your only-Begotten Son, who is the glory and the joy of Israel, may show forth, with a sincere heart, the joys of that Jerusalem, which is above, and is our Mother. And whereas your Church seeing this symbol, exults with joy, for the glory of your Name — do, Lord, give her true and perfect happiness. Accept her devotion, forgive us our sins, increase our faith. Heal us by your word, protect us by your mercy. Remove all obstacles. Grant us all blessings that thus, this same your Church may offer to you the fruit of good works, and walking in the odour of the fragrance of that flower which sprang from the Root of Jesse and is called the Flower of the Field, and the Lily of the Valley, may she deserve to enjoy an endless joy in the bosom of heavenly glory, in the society of all the Saints, together with that Divine Flower, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.”
We now come to the explanation of another name given to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which was suggested by the Gospel of the day. We find this Sunday called in several ancient documents, the Sunday of the Five Loaves. The miracle alluded to in this title not only forms an essential portion of the Church’s instructions during Lent, but it is also an additional element of today’s joy. We forget for an instant the coming Passion of the Son of God to give our attention to the greatest of the benefits He has bestowed on us, for under the figure of these loaves multiplied by the power of Jesus, our faith sees that Bread which came down from heaven, and gives life to the world (John vi. 33). The Pasch, says our Evangelist, was near at hand, and in a few days our Lord will say to us: With desire, I have desired to eat this Pasch with you (Luke xxii. 15). Before leaving this world to go to His Father, Jesus desires to feed the multitude that follows Him, and in order to this, He displays His omnipotence. Well may we admire that creative power which feeds five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, and in such wise, that even after all have partaken of the feast as much as they would, there remain fragments enough to fill twelve baskets. Such a miracle is, indeed, an evident proof of Jesus’ mission, but He intends it as a preparation for something far more wonderful: He intends it as a figure and a pledge of what He is soon to do, not merely once or twice, but every day, even to the end of time. Not only for five thousand men, but for the countless multitudes of believers. Think of the millions, who, this very year, are to partake of the banquet of the Pasch, and yet, He whom we have seen born in Bethlehem (the House of Bread), He is to be the nourishment of all these guests. Neither will the Divine Bread fail. We are to feast as did our fathers before us and the generations that are to follow us will be invited as we now are, to come and taste how sweet is the Lord (Psalm xxxiii. 9). But observe, it is in a desert place, (as we learn from Saint Matthew (xiv. 13)) that Jesus feeds these men, who represent us Christians. They have quitted the bustle and noise of cities in order to follow Him. So anxious are they to hear his words, that they fear neither hunger nor fatigue, and their courage is rewarded.
A like recompense will crown our labours — our fasting and abstinence — which are now more than half over. Let us, then, rejoice, and spend this day with the light-heartedness of pilgrims who are near the end of their journey. The happy moment is advancing, when our soul, united and filled with her God, will look back with pleasure on the fatigues of the body, which, together with our heart’s compunction, have merited for her a place at the Divine Banquet. The primitive Church proposed this miracle of the multiplication of the loaves as a symbol of the Eucharist, the Bread that never fails. We find it frequently represented in the paintings of the Catacombs and on the bas-reliefs of the ancient Christian tombs. The fishes, too, that were given together with the loaves, are represented on these venerable monuments of our faith for the early Christians considered the fish to be the symbol of Christ, because the word fish in Greek, is made up of five letters, each of which is the initial of these words: Jesus Christ, Son (of) God, Saviour.
The Greek Church, too, keeps this Sunday with much solemnity. According to her manner of counting the days of Lent, this is the great day of the week called, as we have already noticed, Mesonestios. The solemn adoration of the Cross takes place today and breaking through her rule of never admitting a saint’s feast during Lent, this mid-Lent Sunday is kept in honour of the celebrated Abbot of the Monastery of Mount Sinai, Saint John Climacus, who lived in the sixth century.

Through the Cross… Joy!
my source: Orthodox Church of America

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Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross

Sister Vassa on the Sunday of the Cross

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension” [2 Corinthians 4:17].

The Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross extends throughout the entire week.  Thus, we continue to “bow down” and venerate the Cross whenever we gather together for any services throughout this week up to, but not including, Great Vespers on Saturday evening.  The Cross is the goal of our lenten journey—as is the empty tomb and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Cross and Resurrection are the two components of the one integral paschal mystery.  This is not only the crown of our liturgical year but the very substance of our Orthodox Christian Faith.  A Cross without the Resurrection would have buried Jesus in the oblivion of historical time.  But according to the design of God, there could be no Resurrection without the scandal of the Cross.  No death—“even the death on a Cross” [Philippians 2:8]—no Resurrection. It would be very difficult to find a scriptural text that makes explicit mention of the Cross without a balancing text that connects the Cross to the Resurrection, or to an understanding of the Cross that reveals its fulfilment in the Resurrection. In the divine oikonomia, suffering leads to glorification.  As Saint Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised Him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” [Acts 2:23-24].  In a compact formulation, the Apostle Paul writes of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” [Romans 4:25].

Further, in what amounts to be something of a creedal formula of the early Church, the Apostle Paul proclaims the Gospel that endures to this day when he writes, “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” [1 Corinthians 15:3-5].

We find this organic connection between the Cross and glorification already revealed in the Lord’s “passion prophecies” as recorded in the Gospels. At the conclusion of the Gospel reading prescribed for the upcoming Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we will hear Christ proclaim, “the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He is killed, after three days He will rise” [Mark 9:31].  As difficult as it may be to look beyond the suffering and anguish of the Cross—and of our own personal crosses—the promise of God is that this is the true way to glorification: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” [Hebrews 12:1-2].

Our liturgical life of prayer and practice is fully consistent with the scriptural witness of uniting the Cross and Resurrection in an endless proclamation of how God has transformed suffering into joy: “For through the Cross, joy has come into the world!” The purpose of the hymnography and rites of the Church is never to cover up the scandal and shame of the Cross endured “for our sake” by the “Lord of glory.” But the mystery of Christ is the disclosure that what is sown in dishonour will be raised in glory [1 Corinthians 15:43]. In the holistic life of the Church that appreciates and recognizes the human person as a psychosomatic unity of “soul and body,” we express this belief by literally—that is, bodily—prostrating ourselves before the life-giving Cross as we sing the powerful hymn, “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection, we glorify.”

We worship the One Who was nailed to the Cross and we simultaneously glorify His resurrection. This hymn perfectly captures the Good News in a world often overwhelmed by bad news. And in a world paralyzed by uncertainty and “relativism,” what a blessing and privilege to bow down before the Lord Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday and today and forever” [Hebrews 13:8], crucified and raised for our salvation!

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