Monthly Meditation – March 2011

ST. NIKOLAI VELIMIROVIC:

Commentary of the Sunday of Forgiveness and Fasting (abridged)

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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 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 4:45pm 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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Monthly Meditation – February 2011

“When God sees that we are proud and arrogant, He allows for the presences of temptations in our life. He will take them away from us only when He sees that we humble ourselves.”

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

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Monthly Meditation – January 2011

The Nativity and Epiphany:

The fullness of celebrating the coming of our Lord

By Father Nicholas Speier

In approaching the Christmas Feast and celebrating the beginning of the New Year (2009) we recall that the historic Christian center of this time of year is Epiphany (Theophany). The Church in her wisdom has placed these feasts together so we might experience the fullness of celebrating the coming of our Lord.

The Nativity of our Lord is a feast of joy, but at Epiphany the joy is greater still. In the stable cave we see God becoming man and sanctifying humanity, and we see His humility and His love for us. But at Epiphany we see the greater work of sanctifying all of creation in the baptismal water. We know from our reading of the Gospel of St. John that Christ came to save not only man but all of creation.

The Nativity has the angel proclaiming glad tidings, but at Epiphany the forerunner prepares the way. At His birth Christ brought us the message of peace on earth and good will toward man, a true sign of His condescending love. But at Epiphany we see the forerunner preparing the way for all humanity to walk in peace and good will. For God not only wants us to know about life in Him but to live our life in Him.

The Nativity has blood spilt, as Bethlehem wails in her childlessness, but at Epiphany this water gives way to many sons. As Christ is born, this world begins its rejection of the Savior to end at His crucifixion and death. But at the Baptism of Christ we see that His presence can not be stamped out. He is forever making things new through death and resurrection and the new children of God entering the Kingdom through Baptismal water.

At the Nativity, the star proclaims Christ to the Wise men, but at Epiphany the Father reveals Christ to the whole universe. Mary and Joseph quietly come into Bethlehem and Christ is born of her amidst a few, but now at Epiphany the Father's voice declares to all men, angels, and all creation that Christ is the Beloved and only begotten Son of the Father.

As we can see, the two feasts together help us to experience the fullness of the coming of our Lord. They emphasize his humility in lowering himself to save us, His beloved. The two feasts declare to us, beyond doubt, God's great love for mankind and all creation. He did not wait for us to make things better or right, but He came to us in our distress to save us and to save this world. May the depth and joy of these celebrations lift our spirits so we may rejoice with the angels and all the saints at the coming of Christ our Lord.

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Monthly Meditation – December 2010

“The soul is not refreshed by idleness and lying about like the body, but by good works, works of charity, works pleasing to God. This is true rest to the soul, for it strengthens the soul's health and increases its power and its joy.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovic

I have always loved the contrasting characteristics of the Gospel message. We are taught again and again how Christian life in this world demands that we look at things opposite to what seems natural. The question we must repeatedly ask ourselves is what really is “natural” in this life. According to nature first we must acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and in a fallen state, which consequently puts into question everything that is considered “natural” according to a secular worldview. Considering what is natural, therefore, must be seen only in comparison to life prior to the fall of Adam. While we do not know with absolute precision what this pre-fall state was like we certainly can affirm through Orthodox Christian Tradition and worldview the Truth at which we aim and the holiness for which we strive.

The book of 4 Maccabees in the Apocrypha has a very intriguing depiction of this conflict: “The tyrant Antiochus, sitting in state with his counselors on a certain high place, and with his armed soldiers standing about him, ordered the guards to seize each and every Hebrew and compel them to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols. If they were not willing to eat defiling food, they were to be broken on the wheel and killed. And when many persons had been rounded up, one man, Eleazar by name, leader of the flock, was brought before the king. He was a man of priestly family, learned in the law, advanced in age, and known to many in the tyrant's court because of his philosophy. When Antiochus saw him he said, 'Before I begin to torture you, old man, I would advise you to save yourself by eating pork, for I respect your age and your gray hairs. Although you have had them for so long a time, it does not seem to me that you are a philosopher when you observe the religion of the Jews. Why, when nature has granted to us, should you abhor eating the very excellent meat of this animal? It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature. It seems to me that you will something even more senseless if, by holding a vain opinion concerning the truth, you continue to despise me to your own hurt. Will you not awaken from your foolish philosophy?'” (5:1-11).

Eleazar responsed: “You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational, but it teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so that we endure any suffering willingly; it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper reverence we worship the only real God” (5:22-24).

Self-control, courage, justice, piety—four qualities of character evidently lacking in men based on an apparent need (at least according to Eleazar) for instruction and training. I raise this point in an attempt to explain that in the “natural” state of man we must admit there is something lacking; and to increase our understanding and concern over the health of our soul, and how best to nurture it. The problem I see is confusion over several layers of this discussion, for example: the connection between health of soul and health of body—the body's need for rest and the soul's need for the body to be available, alert and active. One practical example is the temptation everyone faces at the end of a work day when an evening Liturgy is scheduled. The body is crying out for rest while the soul is crying out for the Eucharist. Which voice is going to win out most often? Antiochus says, It's not rational or necessary to spend so much time in church.” Eleazar responds, “It is only proper that we give extra time to the worship of God and nurture of the soul.” Apply this debate to all aspects of our life in Christ: prayer, fasting, charity, morality, ethics, etc., and we will always hear the secular, “natural” man say, “Don't worry about it, just be good and do what you can. Don't inconvenience yourself. It's not natural.” The spiritual man, however, should and must always respond, “If I do not adhere firmly and actively to my faith my soul will surely suffer.”

What a beautiful challenge we have before us, and what unseen blessings lay ahead when what is right is done for the strength and joy of the soul. It is counter-intuitive to the “natural” man that sacrifice equals strength, that good works equal rest, that activity for the soul brings refreshment for the body, but it is the content of everything Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them”(Luke 5:27-31). May this season of preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ be one of increased understanding of why He came. St. Gregory Nazianzus summed it up like this, “What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image and immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first. Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself.” Beloved, Christ is born! Glorify Him!

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