"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

Monday, 2 April 2018


Entry Into Jerusalem
In the Orthodox Church, yesterday was Palm Sunday

A ruler of the ancient world would make his triumphal entrance into a city on a war horse. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. This mild creature, whose meek character is made more emphatic in the icon by its lowered head, was a perfect symbol for a ruler without weapons, without armor, without an army. The Savior’s manner of sitting astride the donkey also contrasts with an emperor riding his mount. It is the Prince of Peace, not Caesar, who is entering into the Holy City.
 Christ’s entrance fulfills a prophecy made by of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your king is coming to you, triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey.” 
 The icon is very simple — the Lord and his disciples to the left, the people welcoming him to the right, the wilderness behind the first group, the walled city behind the other, and a single tree between them.
 The tree in the center has a double meaning. While its primary purpose is to be a sources of branches for the crowd to wave at the Messiah, it also suggests the “tree” outside the city walls to which the rejected Messiah will be nailed.
 The joy of the city’s welcome is suggested by the upraised palm branches the people carry, the children spreading garments (a sign of royal welcome) on the path and the additional detail often found in the icon of several children cutting branches in the tree over Christ’s head.
 In no other icon do children play so important a role. Their presence reminds us of the words of Jesus: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:14) Elsewhere Christ says, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3)
 Children have a special place in the Gospel, reflected in the practice of the Orthodox Church where infants and children are first in line among of those receiving communion. Christ never explains his special appreciation of children, but perhaps it has to do with their unaffected joy, their single mindedness, their intense curiosity, their having no illusions about being independent, their fearlessness. In this icon, their white garments suggest purity of heart.
 The immediate cause of the crowd’s welcome, the Evangelist John relates, was the miracle at Bethany. News that Jesus’s had raised Lazarus from the dead had swept the city. Who but the long-awaited Messiah could bring a corpse back to life? 
 Even so, we know from the same Gospel the state of dread the disciples were in as they approached Jerusalem. “Let us also go [to Jerusalem],” Thomas had said to the other disciples after failing to dissuade Jesus from his journey, “that we may die with him.” 
 The icon often draws attention to the apostles’ fear and hesitancy by showing Christ directing his attention, not toward Jerusalem and those who await his entry with such excitement, but toward his disciples. We see them huddled together and notice that one of them — often it is Peter — is in dialogue with the Lord, his hand extended as if making a final cautionary plea to his master.
 Jesus’s right hand is extended toward the city with a gesture of blessing while in his left a scroll represents his authority, and also his awareness of what will happen and of prophecies that will be fulfilled. The crowd now shouting, “Welcome to the son of David,” will soon be the crowd screaming, “Crucify him.”m

(from "Praying With Icons" by Jim Forest, Orbis Books)

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Palm Sunday: Victory of the Heart

And today Jesus Christ enters into the Jerusalem of our hearts to lead us to victory. Today, Christ fills us with his power, his strength, and his resolve to overcome the temptation to worldly power.PRIEST J. SERGIUS HALVORSEN | 05 APRIL 2015
Palm Sunday: Victory of the Heart

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest!  [Mark 11:9–10]

Today Jesus enters into Jerusalem, and the cheering crowds greet him like a king entering the city after a military victory—the first-century equivalent of a “ticker tape parade.” The crowds have heard about Jesus, about his powerful teaching and his miracles, specifically raising Lazarus from the dead. They cry out “Hosanna in the highest,” a shout of praise and a plea for salvation. “Save us, Lord!” For years, for generations, these people have languished under the heavy boot of Roman occupation and oppression. They are weary of high taxes, soldiers in their streets, and the constant threat of violence. The people are tired and weary and hungry, and they want freedom.

Do you ever feel this way?

Today, in some parts of the world, Christians struggle under the heavy yoke of political oppression and military occupation. In some places, Christians are in the middle of military conflict and civil war. But, even people who enjoy great political freedom can feel this sense of soul crushing oppression. We can be oppressed by strained relationships among family and friends. We can be oppressed by the anxiety and stress of economic uncertainty. We can be oppressed by the agony of addiction. We can be oppressed by the pain and grief of illness and death. And wherever there is oppression, there is a powerful desire for freedom. We may not face oppression from the Roman Empire, but standing with our palm branches today, singing “Hosanna in the highest,” we stand shoulder to shoulder with our first-century brothers and sisters, longing for freedom. But how do we get that freedom? How do we find liberation from our physical, emotional, and spiritual oppression?

The obvious answer is to go out and fight for it. This was what the crowds in Jerusalem wanted from Jesus as he traveled on that “red carpet” of palm branches and the clothes off their backs (Mark 11:8). In their eyes, Jesus was the perfect leader for a righteous rebellion. Surely God’s Anointed One could raise up an army and restore the Kingdom of Israel. After all, if Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, he would be invincible in the face of Roman legions. If Jesus was truly God’s anointed one, then he would be invincible in battle. The crowds wanted the kind of freedom that you win with the spear, the chariot, and the sword.

But to win this kind of freedom you need wealth, strength, and power. They sound awfully good, don’t they? With money, a strong body, and political influence, freedom is yours for the taking. Or is it? Ancient Israel had great power, but fell to the Babylonians. In Jesus’ time the Roman Empire had great power, but over the centuries that empire fell to other nations. As one nation rises, other nations fight to gain supremacy. The same is true for people. Today one person might be wealthy, strong, and have all the power in the world. But one who gains worldly power quickly becomes a target for everyone who wants a place at the top of the food chain.

And so, strength, wealth, and power come with a terrible price. They come with a price of fear, isolation, and anxiety. The more you possess of this world, the more this world will try to take away. So we prepare for battle, we harden our defenses and sharpen our attacks. Whether we attack others with swords or words, with bullets or in business, we strike others where they are weakest, where we can do the greatest amount of damage and gain the greatest advantage. The crowd was hungry for power, and they hoped that Jesus would lead them to victory in an epic battle that would change their world.

On a certain level, the crowd was right. They were at the threshold of a great battle that would change everything—a battle that would grant freedom to the oppressed, and vanquish the foe. However, the army that Jesus came to fight was not flesh and blood; it was, as St. Paul says, a battle against the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12) However, this battle had begun long before Jesus entered into Jerusalem.

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he went out into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. After that long fast, the tempter comes and tempts Jesus.

“You are hungry? If you are the Son of God, command those stones to become loaves of bread,” says the evil one. This is not merely a temptation about food. Satan is tempting Jesus with wealth. If Jesus were to turn stones into bread, he would never go hungry. And if one were to possess an unlimited supply of bread, he could have virtually unlimited wealth. But Jesus launches a counterattack and replies, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4)

Then the tempter takes Jesus to the holy city, sets him on the top of the Temple, and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matt 4:6) Satan tempts Jesus with strength, with physical invincibility. “If you are really the Son of God, then you can do anything you like, even jump off a cliff, and you’ll be fine.” According to this demonic logic, not only could Jesus perform superhuman feats, but he also would be physically invulnerable. He could literally live forever, doing anything he pleased in this world. The spiritual battle becomes more intense, and Christ replies, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matt 4:7)

Finally, Satan takes Jesus up to the top of a high mountain, shows him all of the kingdoms of the world, points out all the glory of all those kingdoms, and he says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt 4:9) It is the ultimate offer of power. What would it be like to rule over the entire world, over all its kingdoms and all its peoples, and have access to all its wealth and all its pleasures? At some level, Jesus must have known that all of this could be his: perfect strength, infinite wealth, and limitless power. Yet, he strikes a powerful blow against the powers of wickedness in his reply: “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt 4:10)

Today, on Palm Sunday, we have fasted forty days, we are hungry, and if ever we face temptation from Satan, it is now. We face the temptation to gratify ourselves with worldly delights. We face the temptation to demand our liberty from everything and everyone that oppresses us. We face the temptation to fight for strength, and wealth, and power. This is the spiritual warfare that constantly rages on all sides, and today on Palm Sunday the battle is particularly violent.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, he faces these temptations as never before—all of those people cheering, crying out “Hosanna!,” just begging him to be their worldly general, their commander, their emperor. Yet, Christ refuses to be the earthly king that the people demand. Instead he will be revealed as a kind of king that the world has never seen, a perfect king, a heavenly king, a humble king, crowned with thorns, robed in the purple of mockery, and enthroned on the Cross. Though Christ enters Jerusalem and is enveloped in a firestorm of temptation, he keeps his eyes on the Cross. This is the victory of Palm Sunday.

And today Jesus Christ enters into the Jerusalem of our hearts to lead us to victory. Today, Christ fills us with his power, his strength, and his resolve to overcome the temptation to worldly power. For “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28)

Today we cry out “Hosanna in the highest!,” for Christ vanquishes the powers of evil, and through his perfect sacrifice on the Cross we are liberated from the oppressive desire for worldly power. Christ leads us to the unexpected victory in which the King lays down his own life for the salvation of all. In dying, the true majesty and power of the Lord is perfectly revealed and the powers of hell are vanquished. Following Christ, we lay down our lives as he did: for our brothers and sisters, our neighbor, and even our enemy. Today we cry out “Hosanna in the highest!” as we follow our Lord to his voluntary passion and death on the Cross.

Fr. J. Sergius Halvorsen (SVOTS ’96) is Associate Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He completed his doctoral dissertation at Drew University in 2002. From 2000 to 2011 he taught at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell Connecticut, where he also served as Director of Distance Learning. He was ordained to the priesthood in February 2004 and is attached at Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, Connecticut. He and his wife, Dina, reside in Connecticut with their children Thomas, Timothy, and Mary.

the day before Palm Sunday

The antiquity of this commemoration is demonstrated by the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (349 - 407), St Augustine of Hippo Regia (354 - 430), and others. In the 7th and 8th centuries, special hymns and canons for the feast were written by St. Andrew of Crete, St. Cosmas of Maium and St. John Damascene, which are still sung to this day.

.The scripture readings and hymns for this day focus on the raising of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ and a prefiguring of the General Resurrection. The Gospel narrative is interpreted in the hymns as illustrating the two natures of Christ: his humanity in asking, "Where have ye laid him?" (John 11:34), and his divinity by commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead (John 11:43). A number of the hymns, written in the first or second person, relate Lazarus' death, entombment and burial bonds symbolically to the individual's sinful state. Many of the resurrectional hymns of the normal Sunday service are sung while prayers for the departed, prescribed on Sundays, are permitted. During the divine liturgy, the baptismal hymn, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Romans 6:3) replaces the Trisagion indicating that this had been a day on which baptisms were performed [2] and in some churches nowadays adult converts are still baptized on this day.


A lazarakia.

Lazarus Saturday is the day when, traditionally, hermits would leave their retreats in the wilderness to return to the monastery for the Holy Week services.[2] In many places in the Russian Church, the vestments and church hangings on this day and on Palm Sunday are green, denoting the renewal of life. In the Greek Church, it is customary on Lazarus Saturday to plait elaborate crosses out of palm leaves which will be used on Palm Sunday.

Greece and Cyprus
Baking lazarakia to eat on Lazarus Saturday is a tradition practiced in Greece and Cyprus. It is said to have originated in Cyprus, and it is significant that St. Lazarus was their first bishop. The bread is a mildly sweet Lenten bread made with sweet-smelling spices that looks like Lazarus bound up in grave clothes.[3]

Serbia and Bulgaria

Lazarus Saturday in Gara Bov (Bulgaria)
The feast of Vrbica (Врбица) or Lazareva Subota (Лазарева Субота), Bulgarian: Lazarovden (Лазаровден) is commemorated by Serbian Orthodox and Bulgarian Orthodox tradition. Due to a general lack of palm trees, pussy willow branches are blessed, and distributed to the faithful. Small bells are often tied to the branches. Other features include:

  • Burning a fire against vermin and snakes
  • Picking flowers and herbs which are put in water to either drink or swim in
  • Lazarice ritual, a procession, parade of six maids.

 What Happened to Lazarus After His Resurrection?
Source: Mystagogy Resource Center

Lazarus was a close friend of Christ, from Bethany, about three kilometers east of Jerusalem. He lived there with his sisters Mary and Martha, and they often gave hospitality to Jesus (Luke 10:38-40; John 12:1-3).

John the Evangelist informs us (John 11) how one day Jesus was notified of the death of Lazarus. Four days later He arrived in Bethany, not only to bring comfort to Lazarus’ grieving sisters, but to show the power of God and perform His greatest miracle by raising him from the dead, in anticipation of His own resurrection.

The resurrection of Lazarus brought short-lived great admiration and fame to Jesus, as evidenced by his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but it also provoked great anger among the teachers of the Law. Now they wanted both Jesus and Lazarus dead. Lazarus escaped, but Jesus did not. But what happened to Lazarus?

According to St. Epiphanios of Cyprus (367-403), Lazarus was thirty years old when he rose from the dead, and then went on to live another 30 years following his resurrection. Another tradition says that Lazarus fled the anger of the Jews and took refuge at Kition in Cyprus around 33 A.D.

While in Cyprus, Lazarus met the apostles Paul and Barnabas, as they were traveling from Salamis to Paphos, and they ordained him the first Bishop of Kition. He shepherded the Church of Kition with great care and love for eighteen years until the end of his life.

There are traditions which say he was sullen and never smiled after his resurrection, and this was due to what he saw while his soul was in Hades for four days. Some say he never once laughed, except one time when he saw a man steal a clay vessel, and he uttered the following saying: “One earth steals another”.

Other Traditions About Lazarus

Another tradition connects him with Aliki in Larnaca (today’s Kition). In Aliki at that time was a large vineyard. As the Saint was walking by he saw an old woman filling her basket with grapes. Tired and thirsty, the Saint asked the old woman for a few grapes. However, she looked at him with disdain and said:

“Go to hell, man. Can you not see that the vine is dried up like salt, and you are asking me for grapes?”

“If you see it dried up like salt, then let it become salt,” responded Lazarus.

In this way the entire vineyard became a salt marsh.

Workers who collect salt in this area today confirm this tradition. They claim to find when they dig there roots and trunks of vines. It is said that in the middle of the salt lake today there is a well of fresh water, known as “the well of the old woman”.

The Synaxarion of Constantinople, speaking of this tradition, says that the lake was claimed by two brothers, who broke ties for its possession. To end the dispute, the Saint by his prayers dried up the lake and it remained salty.

Another tradition says that the Theotokos came to Kition with John the Evangelist in order to meet Lazarus. St. John gave him clerical vestments and cuffs, and then they went to Mount Athos.

The Second Death of Lazarus

St. Lazarus ended his second earthly life at Cyprus in 63 A.D. The faithful wept and buried him with honors in a sarcophagus made of Cypriot marble, on which they wrote in Hebrew:

“Lazarus of the four days and the friend of Christ.”

Above the sarcophagus there was built a beautiful church, which was renovated in 1750.

His memory is celebrated by the Church every Saturday before Palm Sunday.

The transfer of the relic of St. Lazarus from Kition to Constantinople, which took place in 890 by order of Emperor Leo VI the Wise is celebrated on October 17th. Emperor Leo wrote the idiomelon for the Vespers of St. Lazarus.

The Relic of St. Lazarus in Constantinople

The transfer of the relic of St. Lazarus is detailed for us in two panegyric homilies delivered by Bishop Arethas of Ceasarea (850-after 932). After extolling the arrival of this great treasure to Constantinople in his first homily, he describes in the second the procession formed with the presence of the Emperor when the relic arrived from Chrysoupolis to Hagia Sophia. In exchange for this transfer, Leo VI sent money and artisans to Cyprus, where he built a magnificent church to honor St. Lazarus, which is maintained until today in Larnaca. Furthermore, he built a monastery in Constantinople dedicated to St. Lazarus, in which he placed the sacred relic. To this same monastery was later transferred the relic of St. Mary Magdalene from Ephesus. It later became a custom for the Emperor of New Rome to worship at the monastery on the Saturday of Lazarus.

Not too many years ago (specifically November 23, 1972) the superintendent of the Department of Antiquities, who worked towards the restoration of the church in Larnaca, found a sarcophagus with bones beneath the pillar supporting the plate of the Holy Altar. The bones were in a wooden box, placed in the sarcophagus, which in turn had carved on it the word “friend”.

This finding seems to confirm the tradition that Leo VI did not take the entire relic of St. Lazarus to Constantinople, but left a portion behind. Authentic testimony and evidence for this fact is the location where the bones were found: under the Holy Altar.

Moreover, Arethas does not mention an incorrupt relic, but “bones” and “powder”. Also, a Russian source at the library of Oxford reports that a Russian monk came from Pskov Monastery in the 16th century to Larnaca, and he venerated the bones of St. Lazarus, taking a small piece for himself as well. This piece is preserved till this day in the Chapel of Saint Lazarus at Pskov Monastery. Based on this account, we can affirm that the relic of St. Lazarus was venerated in Larnaca in the 16th century. A later account is not known, so for some reason, probably for protection, the Kitians hid the relic beneath the Holy Altar until it was discovered in 1972.

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