St. Ignatius Church iconostasis

St. Ignatius of Antioch Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church serves the Madison, Wisconsin area. Our membership includes Orthodox Christians of Middle Eastern, Greek, Russian, Coptic, Serbian and other ethnic backgrounds, as well as many who have come from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds. It is a youthful and dynamic parish which prays, serves the local community and socializes together.

Our Divine Services are all in English and sung a cappella.  Our Sunday Divine Liturgy begins at 10:00am and is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes long.  A luncheon pot-luck coffee hour immediately follows Divine Liturgy.  All families and guests are encouraged to enjoy a light meal and, more importantly, share in fellowship.

For first time visitors to the Orthodox Church a good service to attend is the Saturday evening Great Vespers starting at 6:00pm (6:30 pm from June to the beginning of September) which is about 45 minutes long.  Here one will hear the beautiful melodies of the Byzantine and Russian traditions, prayers of petition, psalmody, and seasonal topics of celebration.   Inquirer’s Class is generally held every other week at 4:30pm (5:00 pm from June to the beginning of September) before Great Vespers (check calendar for exceptions).  This informal Q/A is a great opportunity to meet our priest, ask questions, and meet Orthodox Christians from the parish and other inquirers.  Our general schedule of services is here.

If you’re looking for additional online resources about Orthodoxy,  the Antiochian Archdiocese website,  Journey to Orthodoxy, and Ancient Faith Radio are sites we recommend.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

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Fourth Sunday of Great Lent St. John Climacus

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On the Fourth Sunday of the Fast, we celebrate the memory of our Holy Father John the author of the Ladder.In the Church services for the fourth Sunday the Holy Church offers us a great example of the life of fasting in the person of the Venerable John of the Ladder, who, “having overcome the flesh through fasting” and “by the sweat of his ascetic efforts quenched the fiery arrows of the enemy” and “renewed the strength of souls” and, “ascending to the height of virtues”, “received in his soul the divine wealth of the Spirit, undefiled prayer, chastity, modesty, continuous vigil”, “was deified through heavenly glory”,
“was revealed as a physician to those sick through sin” and was the author of the Ladder of Paradise.According to the expression of the Holy Church, how the profoundly granted ascetic life of the Venerable John “gives us a pleasure sweeter than honey”, and so his Ladder “brings to us the ever flowering fruits of his teaching, pleasing the heart with vigilant heeding: for souls are rising up the ladder from earth to heaven and abiding in glory”.The memory of Saint John the Ladder is celebrated on the 30th of March; but it is also celebrated today, perhaps because in monasteries it is customary to read The Ladder from the beginning of the Holy Fast.

Little is known about the life of St. John of the Ladder, or St. John Climacus. According to one source, he was born around the year 579; tonsured a monk prior to 599; became abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai no later than 639; and died around 649.

The Greek word “klimakos” means “ladder.” The name was given to John because he wrote a popular book on asceticism, titled The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The book is divided into 30 chapters, or “steps on the ladder,” describing the spiritual journey from sinfulness to entrance into God’s Kingdom and perfection.

His 30 steps are regarded as falling into two sections; steps 1-26 mainly concern sins that must be overcome and suggestions as to how do so; steps 27-30 speak of prayer, solitude, faith, hope and love-the virtues that are to be perfected in order to achieve communion with God.

John’s work primarily was written for monastic communities, but it has proven valuable for readers outside the monastic life.

He spent 40 years in solitude near a monastery church, ate and slept little, prayed much and wrote books. His life was dedicated to unceasing prayer, full of Christian humility and love for Christ.

A Journey Through Great Lent Very Rev. Stephen Belonick

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Third Sunday of Great Lent Veneration of the Holy Cross

Third Sunday of Great Lent Veneration of the Holy Cross

The Third Sunday of Lent is called “The Veneration of the Cross.” At the Vigil of that day, after the Great Doxology, the Cross is brought in a solemn procession to the center of the church and remains there for the entire week-with a special rite of veneration following each service. It is noteworthy that the theme of the Cross which dominates the hymnology of that Sunday is developed in terms not of suffering but of victory and joy. More than that, the theme-songs (hirmoi) of the Sunday Canon are taken from the Paschal Service-“The Day of the Resurrection”-and the Canon is a paraphrase of the Easter Canon.

The meaning of all this is clear. We are in Mid-Lent. On the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt, its burden becomes more burdensome, our fatigue more evident. We need help and encouragement. On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Easter grow in their intensity. Lent is our self- crucifixion, our experience, limited as it is, of Christ’s commandment heard in the Gospel lesson of that Sunday: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). But we cannot take up our cross and follow Christ unless we have His Cross which He took up in order to save us.

It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others. This is explained to us in the synaxarion of the Sunday of the Cross: On this Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the honorable and Life- Giving Cross, and for this reason: inasmuch as in the forty days of fasting we in a way crucify ourselves … and become bitter and despondent and failing, the Life-Giving Cross is presented to us for refreshment and assurance, for remembrance of our Lord’s Passion, and for comfort. We are like those following a long and cruel path, who become tired, see a beautiful tree with many leaves, sit in its shadow and rest for a while and then, as if rejuvenated, continue their journey; likewise today, in the time of fasting and difficult journey and effort, the Life-Giving Cross was planted in our midst by the holy fathers to give us rest and refreshment, to make us light and courageous for the remaining task …. Or, to give another example: when a king is coming, at first his banner and symbols appear, then he himself comes glad and rejoicing about his victory and filling with joy those under him; likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to show us His victory over death, and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending to us in advance His scepter, the royal symbol-the Life-Giving Cross-and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet, inasmuch as it is possible for us, the King himself, and to render glory to His victory …. All this in the midst of Lent which is like a bitter source because of its tears, because also of its efforts and despondency … but Christ comforts us who are as it were in a desert until He shall lead us up to the spiritual Jerusalem by His Resurrection …. for the Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is the tree that was planted in Paradise, and for this reason our fathers have planted it in the midst of Holy Lent, remembering both Adam’s bliss and how he was deprived of it, remembering also that partaking of this Tree we no longer die but are kept alive …. .

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

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THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS

THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS

March 25The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the earliest Christian feasts, and was already being celebrated in the fourth century. There is a painting of the Annunciation in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome dating from the second century. The Council of Toledo in 656 mentions the Feast, and the Council in Trullo in 692 says that the Annunciation was celebrated during Great Lent.The Greek and Slavonic names for the Feast may be translated as “good tidings.” This, of
course, refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation He brings. The background of the Annunciation is found in the Gospel of St Luke (1:26-38). The tropariondescribes this as the “beginning of our salvation, and the revelation of the eternal mystery,” for on this day the Son of God became the Son of Man.There are two main components to the Annunciation: the message itself, and the response ofthe Virgin. The message fulfills God’s promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15): “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush yourhead, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.” The Fathers of the Church understand “her seed” to refer to Christ. The prophets hinted at His coming, which they saw dimly, but the Archangel Gabriel now proclaims that the promise is about to be fulfilled.We see this echoed in the Liturgy of St Basil, as well: “When man disobeyed Thee, the onlytrue God who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from Paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself.”The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee. There he spoke to the
undefiled Virgin who was betrothed to St Joseph: “Hail, thou who art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”(over)
In contrast to Eve, who was readily deceived by the serpent, the Virgin did not immediatelyaccept the Angel’s message. In her humility, she did not think she was deserving of such words, but was actually troubled by them. The fact that she asked for an explanation reveals her sobriety and prudence. She did not disbelieve the words of the angel, but could not understand how they would be fulfilled, for they spoke of something which was beyond nature.Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the
power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with Godnothing shall be impossible.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto meaccording to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1: 3538).”In his Sermon 23 on the day of the Annunciation, St Philaret of Moscow boldly stated that “the word of the creature brought the Creator down into the world.” He explains thatsalvation is not merely an act of God’s will, but also involves the Virgin’s free will. She could have refused, but she accepted God’s will and chose to cooperate without complaint orfurther questions.The icon of the Feast shows the Archangel with a staff in his left hand, indicating his role as a messenger. Sometimes one wing is upraised, as if to show his swift descent from heaven. His right hand is stretched toward the holy Virgin as he delivers his message.The Virgin is depicted either standing or sitting, usually holding yarn in her left hand. Sometimes she is shown holding a scroll. Her right hand may be raised to indicate her surprise at the message she is hearing. Her head is bowed, showing her consent and
obedience. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon her is depicted by a ray of light issuing from a small sphere at the top of the icon, which symbolizes heaven. In a famous icon from Sinai, a white dove is shown in the ray of light.There are several famous icons of the Annunciation. One is in the Moscow Kremlin in the church of the Annunciation. This icon appeared in connection with the rescue of a prisoner by the Mother of God during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Another is to be found in the

Dormition Cathedral in Moscow (July 8). It was originally located in Ustiug, and was the icon before which St Procopius the fool (July 8) prayed to save the city from destruction in 1290. One of the most highly revered icons in Greece is the Tinos icon of the Annunciation (January 30).

The Annunciation falls during Lent, but it is always celebrated with great joy. The Liturgy of St Basil or St John Chrysostom is served, even on the weekdays of Lent. It is one of the two days of Great Lent on which the fast is relaxed and fish is permitted (Palm Sunday is the other).

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Second Sunday of Great Lent Gregory Palamas

On the Second Sunday of the Fast, we celebrate the memory of our Father among the Saints, Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica.The situation in St. Gregory’s time was that Orthodoxy was being debased; it was becoming worldly and being changed into either pantheism or agnosticism. Pantheism believed and taught that God in His essence was to be found in all nature, and so when we look at nature we can acquire knowledge of God.Agnosticism believed and taught that it was utterly impossible for us to know God, just because He is God and man is limited, and therefore man was completely incapable of attaining a real knowledge of God.
In the face of this great danger St. Gregory Palamas developed the fundamental teaching of the Church concerning the great mystery of the indivisible distinction between the essence and energy of God.All spiritual life is a result and fruit of the energy of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the saint taught, we cannot participate in God’s essence, but we can know and participate in His uncreated energies.In this way St. Gregory preserves the true teaching of the Church. The common mind of the Church recognizes St. Gregory Palamas as a great Father of the Church, an Ecumenical teacher, and includes him among the great Theologians of the Church.

Gregory Palamas was born in 1296 and educated in Constantinople. He became a monk and spent much of his life on Mount Athos. He was ordained a priest at age 30. Palamas practiced hesychasm, an ascetic and mystical life of silence, rigorous bodily discipline, fasting and the continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Through this method of prayer, the hesychasts were often granted spiritual graces. Palamas achieved a balance between his personal spiritual life and communal prayer by going to his monastic community for the liturgy and sacraments on Saturdays and Sundays.

Palamas became the defender of hesychasm in a controversy led by the philosopher Barlaam, who denied the possibility for men to experience genuine union with God. Palamas made a distinction between the essence of God, which is unknowable, and the divine energies of God, such as the uncreated divine light experienced at the Transfiguration. The debate over hesychasm went on for more than 20 years, but Gregory’s position as that of the Orthodox Church has withstood the tests of timePalamas became the archbishop of Thessalonica in 1347. Respected as a pastor and teacher, he was canonized in 1368, just nine years after his death.

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The First Sunday of Great Lent The Sunday of Orthodoxy

The First Sunday of Great Lent The Sunday of Orthodoxy

The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday of Great Lent. The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, this Sunday has been commemorated as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

The Seventh Ecumenical Council dealt predominantly with the controversy regarding icons and their place in Orthodox worship. It was convened in Nicaea in 787 by Empress Irene at the request of Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Council was attended by 367 bishops.

Almost a century before this, the iconoclastic controversy had once more shaken the foundations of both Church and State in the Byzantine empire. Excessive religious respect and the ascribed miracles to icons by some members of society, approached the point of worship (due only to God) and idolatry. This instigated excesses at the other extreme by which icons were completely taken out of the liturgical life of the Church by the Iconoclasts. The Iconodules, on the other-hand, believed that icons served to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church; they considered icons to be man’s dynamic way of expressing the divine through art and beauty.

The decree of the Council for restoring icons to churches added an important clause which still stands at the foundation of the rationale for using and venerating icons in the Orthodox Church to this very day: “We define that the holy icons, whether in colour, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honour, but not of real worship, which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature. The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands”.

A Regional Synod was called in Constantinople in 843. Under Empress Theodora. The veneration of icons was solemnly proclaimed at the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. The Empress, her son Michael III, Patriarch Methodios, and monks and clergy came in procession and restored the icons in their rightful place. The day was called “Triumph of Orthodoxy.” Since that time, this event is commemorated yearly with a special service on the first Sunday of Lent, the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”.

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