Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Pascha 2012!

Today is the Day of the Resurrection! A Blessed Pascha to you all!

For any readers who may not know what Pascha means or the origin of the term, here is and explanation of the term attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo:

"Pascha (Passover) is not, as some think, a Greek noun, but a Hebrew: and yet there occurs in this noun a very suitable kind of accordance in the two languages. For inasmuch as the Greek word paschein means to suffer, therefore pascha has been supposed to mean suffering, as if the the noun derived its name from His passion. But in its own language – that is, in Hebrew – pascha means Passover; because the Pascha was then celebrated for the first time by God’s people, when, in their flight from Egypt, they passed over the Red Sea. And now that prophetic emblem is fulfilled in truth, when Christ is led as a sheep to the slaughter, that by His blood sprinkled on our doorposts, that is, by the sign of His cross marked on our foreheads, we may be delivered from the perdition awaiting this world, as Israel from the bondage and destruction of the Egyptians; and a most useful journey we make when we pass over from the devil to Christ, and from this unstable world to His well-established Kingdom. And therefore surely do we pass over to the ever-abiding God, that we may not pass away with this passing world." - St. Augustine of Hippo

And abiding words on this glorious day from our Holy Father Gregory of Nyssa:

"This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad! O glorious state, O sweet invitation! Who tarries in accepting this invitation? Joy is the task, jubilation the injunction, through which the judgment growing out of sin is suspended and sorrow is turned into happiness.

Every memory of our condemnation is totally wiped out. Formerly birth was with pain but now without. Formerly we were born as sons of men but now as children of God. Formerly we were sent down from heaven to earth but now the Heavenly One has made us heavenly. Formerly death ruled through the power of sin but now through life justice has got the upper hand. One person opened the portal of death; Another Person led life back. We lost life through death in former times, but now death has been conquered by life. We hid under the fig tree of shame, but now in glory we approach the Tree of Life. We were driven out of paradise for our disobedience, but now by faith we gain paradise. Again the fruit is offered us for our enjoyment at will. Once more the fountain of paradise parted four-fold by the streams of the Gospel, gives drink to the whole Church—so that the Church may cause the furrows of our soul to overflow, those furrows ploughed by the teaching of Him Who sowed the word--and that the fruits of virtue may multiply. What, then, shall we do? What, indeed, but imitate the skipping of the mountains and hills in the Prophet? For the mountains, he says, skipped like rams and the hills like young lambs (Ps. 114:4, 6).

Come, then, and let us rejoice in the Lord Who has broken the power of the enemy and has raised the sign of victory of the Cross through the overthrow of the adversary. Let us raise a battle cry. But a battle-cry is a shout of victory. Because now the battle line of the enemy has been cast down, he who has power over the evil hosts of demons has vanished and, being uprooted, has sunk back into nullity.

Let us proclaim that it is God, the great Lord and great King of all the earth , Who has blessed the crown of His Acceptable Year and has gathered us to this spiritual congregation in the Lord Christ Jesus, to Whom be the honor to the ages of ages."
- St. Gregory of Nyssa

Christós anésti!

Grab your favorite Lager and celebrate!

Friday, April 6, 2012

On the Passion of Our Lord

A Blessed Good and Holy Friday to all of you!

Here are a few words to consider as we worship and commemorate the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Saint John Chrysostom in one of his homilies on the passion of our Lord, speaks about the necessity of writing this mystery in our minds. By remembrance of that mystery, we are humbled and take honor in being called Christians.

“What could be equal to this [scene]? On that face which the sea, when it saw it, had reverenced, from which the sun, when it beheld it on the cross, turned away its rays, they spit, and struck it with the palms of their hands, and some even struck its head; giving full swing in every way to their own madness.  Adding to the insult of spitting at Him, they cried out in derision saying, “prophesy to us, you the Christ, who is he that smote you?” because the multitude called Him a prophet. Not only freemen, but slaves also were intemperate with this intemperance towards Him at that time.

These things let us read continually, these things let us hear aright, these things let us write in our minds, for these are our honors. In these things I take honor, not only in the thousands of dead which He raised, but also in the sufferings which He endured.

Let us always bear them in our mind; the crown of thorns, the robe, the reed, the blows, the smiting on the cheek, the spittings, the irony. These things, if continually meditated on, are sufficient to take down all anger.” - St. John Chrysostom

Saint Ephrem the Syrian, in typical Syrian fashion, compliments Chrysostom, by calling us to take the passion into our hearts, with tears of joy and sorrow. In this way, we find ourselves living a life in adoration of our Lord and His statutes. Through this disposition we prepare ourselves for the day in which we will meet our beloved God:

“We should meditate like this: by shedding tears every day, giving thanks to the Master for the sufferings that he suffered for you, so that in the day of his Coming your tears may become your boast and exaltation before the judgment seat.
Blessed is the one who has before his eyes the heavenly Master and his sufferings, and has crucified himself from all the passions and earthly deeds, who has become an imitator of his own Master.” - St. Ephrem the Syrian

And lastly, writing in the 18th century, Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk says the suffering of Christ should call us to examine our own lives, and how we have fallen short of our Lord’s Mercy and Love:

"Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding." - St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Today is the day of the Crucifixion. Rejoice! For the suffering our Lord endured in his compassion, is our joy. By His death, he descends into Hades to loot it of all fear and despair. By faith we are preserved in peace and await His Glorious Resurrection.

Festal Beer Pairing:
Copper Ales at Sundown for His Precious Blood and His descent into the Tomb!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Saint Hesychios the Presbyter and Watchfulness

Here is a little bit on Watchfulness and what it means, and why we need to be attentive to ourselves and our relationship with God.

In the Byzantine tradition, the first three nights of Holy Week serve as reminders for us to be watchful over our hearts. These are called the Bridegroom services and they are based upon Jesus own words in his parable of the virgins and the bridegroom. The virgins were not expecting the bridegroom to arrive at the wedding feast at such a late hour. Some were prepared, having cautiously guarded their oil, whilst others had let their lamps burn through all their oil during the night. Only those who had oil were allowed to attend the wedding feast (See Matthew 25:5-13). Jesus makes it clear, He is the bridegroom, as the troparion (hymn) for the feast says:

Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night: blessed is the servant He shall find awake. But the one He shall find neglectful will not be worthy of Him. Beware, there-fore, O my soul! Do not fall into deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the kingdom be closed on you. Watch instead, and cry out: "Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God! Through the prayers of the angels, have mercy on us."

We anticipate his return without knowing the hour of his entry. At this hour, we will have to give an account for every action, word and thought upon our meeting. This is why we must always be repentant for our sinfulness, humbling ourselves before his ineffable love.

We will look at what Saint Hesychios the Presbyter has to say about watchfulness. A man of great asceticism, Saint Hesychios was a monk and priest from the Monastery of the Burning Bush in Sinai. He lived during the 8th century, stressing the guarding of one’s heart as deliverance from the passions, and the invocation of the name of Christ as a defense against temptation.

Saint Hesychios tells us why we should be watchful:

"Watchfulness if practiced over a long period, completely frees us with God's help from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words and evil actions."

Watchfulness is guarding of one’s heart, the filtering of one’s mind, and controlling of one’s flesh. By these means, a person’s personal passions and temptations (insomuch as we can control them) are tempered or hacked away completely.  Saint Hesychios explains the nature of watchfulness:

"Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart. In this way, predatory and murderous thoughts are chopped down as they approach and what they say to us duly noted. By this, we can see just how delusive and insidious the demons are in trying to deceive our minds."

Saint Hesychios recommends to us his four methods of watchfulness. His first recommendation is that we diligently scrutinize the nature of our thoughts. Are they good? Are they innocent? Or will they lead us into a path of thought toward temptation? :

"One type of watchfulness consists in closely scrutinizing every mental image or provocation; for only by means of a mental image can Satan fabricate an evil thought and insinuate this into the intellect in order to lead it astray. "

His second instruction is to keep our heart at peace. What does this mean though? We should first strive to not allow our heart to be  invested in bad persons, or projects or commitments. Are you in an abusive relationship because of fear? Are you addicted to gambling because of the rush it brings? These are yearnings or “desires” that are associated by many of the fathers with the heart. By being still or at peace, we open our heart up to God and his calling:

"A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still. "

Hesychios says we should always seek help from God. Paramount to this, is the acquisition of humility. By God all things are possible says Saint Paul. Humility is the cornerstone of all virtues. Without it, anything we do is empty.

The other half of this coin is love. We call on God who loves us. It is by our renewal and our continual desire to deepen our relationship with Him, that we will grow into the persons we should be, and were created to be. We come to understand ourselves better once we have seen what God sees in us. Certainly what Saint John Chrysostom says can apply to many aspects of our lives, not just our relationship with the Holy Trinity: “When we begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out”

"A third type consists in continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help."

This last one may sound a bit macabre in our death fearing American culture. The thought of Death should not be one empty of God. That leads to depression and despair. But fear of death, as pertains to our judgement and knowing we must give account to Christ for everything. This last point goes back to the original image of the bridegroom. We must always be prepared. And what better way, than continually remembering our meeting with the Bridegroom? By being aware we could die at anytime, we are kept humble, charitable and repentant. All which help to keep us from sin and purify our passions.

"A fourth type is always to have the thought of death in one’s mind."

We've only a few days of lent to go, so, keep watch over your mind and your heart.  If you have gotten lazy about fasting, start fasting. If you have forgotten to read through scripture, do it! If you have not prayed much, begin now! If you haven't been to liturgy, then go! It's not too late! The Great feast is coming! Remember the wise thief, who at his last hour, asked for mercy. And our lord showed it. Remember the prodigal son. It is never too late!

Saint Hesychios Pray for us!

Have a Belgian wheat ale today. Hesychios would want you to.

Have a Blessed Holy Week!