Archive of Sunday Bulletin Homilies

The Divine Liturgy

A. The Liturgies of the Orthodox Church

The term liturgy in its Orthodox usage denotes the work of the people that pertains to God. By the fourth century the term Divine Liturgy became the technical term for the mystery of the Eucharist (communion), the crux of our liturgical celebration. The word Eucharist is taken from the great prayer of the consecration (the Anaphora) and in turn means thanksgiving.

Four liturgies have passed down through our sacred tradition: the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of Saint Basil, the Presanctified Liturgy, and the Liturgy of Saint James, the Brother of our Lord. The Church commonly practices these liturgies, excluding that of Saint James, today. Each in turn offers the faithful a unique means towards the same climatic end, the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great has its origins in Cappadocia where Saint Basil served as bishop. The liturgy is most logically the collection of a number of composers, however the chief prayers of the anaphora are attributed to him. In fact, Saint Basil was most probably the celebrant of this liturgy, if not in its present form, at least in its essentials. It is celebrated by the Church one ten occasions each year: the first five Sunday's of Great Lent, on Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, Christmas Day, the Feast of Saint Basil, and Epiphany.

The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is most familiar to the faithful (it is the liturgy we have celebrated this day). It is dated two centuries later than the liturgy of Saint Basil yet bears an identical structure. As a liturgical reformer, Saint John reshaped this liturgy, amongst other things, abbreviating prayers and shortening its length. For the most part the liturgy we celebrate today is that which the great saint celebrated himself in the fourth century.

The Church during Great Lent and Holy Week celebrates the Presanctified Liturgy. It combines aspects from the vespers service and the Divine Liturgy. It contains no consecration, yet the faithful can receive communion from the gifts, sanctified the previous Sunday. This service is the product of Canons 49 & 51 of the Synod of Laodicea (about 365) that prohibited the celebration of the Eucharist in its common, non-penitential form, during Great Lent, apart from Saturdays and Sundays.

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B. The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy

When we gather as an Orthodox family for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we gather as unique individuals with unique responsibilities in the life of the Church. Each of us, by virtue of our role in the Church, is a member of a particular 'ordo' within the Eucharistic community. In this light, each of us is an invaluable steward to the Church, offering much with his/her ministry.

More often than not though, we gather without the president of our Eucharistic assembly, that is, we celebrate the liturgy without the bishop! Early on in our history, each community had a presiding bishop who was assisted in the service by a college of presbyters and deacons. Shortly thereafter as the number of churches increased to meet the needs of the growing number of faithful within a particular diocese, the presbyter was then appointed by the bishop as the chief celebrant in a local community, the parish. Even so, the concept of the Church is understood not in terms of that presbyter, but in terms of his diocesan bishop.

When a bishop is in our midst, celebrating the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of Saint Basil, the Presanctified Liturgy, or the Liturgy of Saint James, the Brother of our Lord, he is the chief celebrant of the assembly. On account of his presence we add seemingly unique phrases and hymns making the service hierarchical. The phrases and hymns that we add may seem foreign to us or even unimportant because of their infrequency, yet these additions offer us the true flavor of the hierarchical liturgy.

In the hierarchical Divine Liturgy, we commemorate the hierarch as celebrant. Additionally, the celebrating hierarch commemorates his presiding bishop, demonstrating the local parishes unity to the greater Orthodox community. And, ultimately as stewards with unique ministries, the presbyter(s) and the laity under the direction of the bishop, offer up all glory to God.

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C. Preparation for the Divine Liturgy

As it has been noted in past lessons, the Divine Liturgy refers to the divine work of the people pertaining to God. Well aware of the work at hand, we should attend services prepared to labor as unique members of the body of Christ. Ultimately, each of us, that is, every man, woman, and child, should be ready to "put aside all the cares of this life, and receive the King of all . . . "

Before attending the Divine Liturgy, we may prepare in the following ways :

1) Fast from certain foods in anticipation of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, i.e. at the least, fast from meats on Wednesday and Friday, and all foods and liquids the morning of the liturgy unless these are deemed necessary for medical reasons.
2) Prepare your body physically for worship. If you get distracted throughout the service because of various aches and pains, stretch before you attend services (worshipping is an exercise, so be prepared)!
3) Prepare spiritually by living the life of the Church. Praying regularly, participate in the sacraments (if you haven't gone to Confession in over a year, it's time to go), worship during other services (attend Great Vespers Saturday evenings & or Orthros before the celebration of the Liturgy), and read the Scripture readings ahead of time so they are foreign to you in Church.
4) Don't be late for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy! If there is one thing that we should be on time for on a regular basis, it is the Divine Liturgy. Like anything in which you may participate, once you have missed even a few minutes, a few pages, or a few motions, it's difficult to catch up with the rest of the group.

As you prepare, keep in mind that you labor with God! Together our Lord works with each of us, giving us the tools we need to succeed and receive the Kingdom. For it is ultimately by His Grace that we are empowered to labor, and it is only through His mercy that we are able to receive the Eucharist unto salvation and not unto condemnation! Good Luck, Good Strength, & God Bless!

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House of Worship

A. The Orthodox House of Worship

Orthodox Christians have and continue to worship Christ in structures that are more often than not determined by the social, political and economic climate of their land and/or the theological understandings of the era. The earliest Christians gathered together and worshipped in private homes until the persecutions began. From this point they sought refuge in the catacombs where they could worship Christ in safety. Shortly after Constantine the Great issued the edit of toleration, Christians began to build churches.

One of these magnificent structures that remains intact is the Church of Agia Sophia, "Holy Wisdom" in what was the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. The building of this Church was commissioned by Constantine himself, however, after a fire destroyed much of the church upon the exile of Saint John Chrysostom by Empress Eudoxia, the church was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian. Upon its completion and consecration on December 27, 537 this grandest of Churches, larger in volume than the Vatican, was and remains the archetype of churches throughout the Eastern Christendom.

Today, we worship in the Church of the Holy Cross, a church built a mere 34 years ago, yet constructed in the tradition of the East. Our church is structured in the form of a cross with a prominent dome at the center. It is divided into three sections, the Narthex, the naive, and the sanctuary. The interior and the exterior of the Church flow naturally from the dome to ground creating an sacred space that is aesthetically pleasing and when complimented with the iconography, affirming the unity of all things in God. And, to literally top it off, the structure boasts a gold Cross on its highest point, illumined throughout the night, shining forth, conquering the darkness of night in like manner to the Great Church of Agia Sophia.

The intent of the Orthodox house of worship is to create an awareness of God's presence. No distinction is made between spiritual and aesthetic. Instead the senses experience the splendor and beauty of God's creation. "An old Russian chronicle relates that Prince Vladimir of Kiev could not decide which faith to adopt for himself and his people until his envoys reported from Constantinople that they had witnessed services there that: 'We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth,' they declared, 'for on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a lost to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men."

Throughout this ecclesiastical year, our weekly bulletin will be dedicated to the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church. We will begin by reviewing the Orthodox house of worship, the setting of divine services, and then proceed towards a study of the structure and meaning of the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Peter and Fr. Christopher will also offer brief homilies on this theme on a regular basis.

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B. The Narthex

The Orthodox House of Worship is divided into three distinct and separate areas, one of which is the Narthex. The Narthex is considered a vestibule (entry) in the Church today. In other words, it is the foyer that we enter before entering into the church proper; a place where the faithful offer material gifts for the work of the church, and offer prayers for both the living and the dead as they light candles and reverence icons.

In ancient times, the Narthex provided the Church many a service. On Sundays, it was filled with individuals: catechumens (candidates for baptism) and penitents would follow the Liturgy, the poor and the lame would also be present asking for alms. Church history also recounts many a priest and hierarch who would stand in the Narthex and block the entrance of impious who had strayed from the Orthodox way.

During the years of Turkish occupation in Greece and the years of Communist rule throughout Eastern Europe, the Narthex was used for another purpose. Christian children would gather at nightfall to learn of the faith from the priest and, in some case, to even read and write. These secret schools, for years, took place in the sanctity of the Narthex. Today, as we offer material gifts for the work of the Church, light candles, and reverence icons, catechumens are no longer found in their traditional place. We do however find catechetical resources for those wish to learn more about their faith (i.e. books, tapes, icons, prayer ropes, prosforo seals, all in the kiosk). The poor and the lame who following services would, with out-stretched hand, ask for alms no longer are present. Instead, a tray collects donations that are then offered to an outreach ministry. And, no longer would a cleric dare to greet the faithful and prohibit the impious and unbelieving from entering the church proper.

In light of the aforementioned, we would say that the Narthex lives within the spirit of the ancient Church. Let us pray that we live in the true spirit of our predecessors, realizing full well our place in the Church and the significance of our church's foyer, the Narthex.

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C. The Nave

The nave is the largest section of the house of worship. It is filled with pews where the laity gather for Divine services, as it is their place. It is here that the faithful will meet God most dramatically, in the reading of His Word (the Gospel), and in the offering of His precious body and life giving blood (the Eucharist).

The term nave is believed to have derived from the Latin word "navis," ship. At one point in our history, the bishop's throne was set in the center of the church, amidst the people, as he was considered to be the 'captain' of the ship. And, it was from here that the bishop would instruct the faithful and guide them towards their eternal port, the Kingdom of heaven.

It is not uncommon to find icons depicted on the ceiling or on the walls in this section of the church building. The life of our Lord is sometimes found on the ceiling or arches while the six winged, many eyed cherubim surround the Pantocrator singing, "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:3). The walls of the structure may also be ornamented with saints of the Orthodox Church as many of these faithful men and women of God came forth from the midst of the laity.

Although we find ourselves physically in different places in the Church structure, it is together, with one voice, and in one spirit that the clergy, the laity, the saints, and the hosts of angels worship the Lord in His Holy House. These places are not meant to divide, but to distinguish each of us for our unique ministry to our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us therefore pray and work diligently to realize this spiritual ideal in not only this holy house, but in His Creation. God Bless!

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D. The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary is a third section in the Orthodox house of worship. As the Narthex was historically the place of the penitent and the catechumens and the nave was the place of the faithful, the sanctuary was the place of the clergy. Although the penitent and the catechumens now find themselves integrated with the faithful in the nave, the sanctuary remains the 'presbytery' of the Church, that is, the place of the presbyters.

The sanctuary is united with the nave by the icon screen. Up until the 14th century a simple, waist-high railing separated these places. Although it divides space in the house of worship, it serves a greater purpose of uniting humanity with the Divine. The people of God are united with the saints, the Theotokos, and the angels to offer up all glory to Christ.

Traditionally, the sanctuary is built in the eastern side of the church structure facing towards the East. The church is designed in this manner as we have been taught to pray facing towards the rising sun which is the most beautiful icon of the spiritual son of God, Who will likewise rise from the East and illuminate the world. Due to practicalities though, some churches are not structured in this manner.

Regardless of the direction the local church faces, the sacred space remains an awesome place. No one should enter the sanctuary unworthily or without the blessing of the priest for a specific task. Clergy alone are meant to enter into the altar, and this is only after they have spiritually prepared to serve amongst and glorify God with the angels who are ever present in the Holy of Holies. As clergy, as laity, as catechumens, and as the penitent, we find our respective places within the structure Church. As we celebrate the Divine Liturgy from our place we are distinguished according to our roles within the priesthood of all believers. And, it is in these places that we both realize our stewardship to Christ, and "glorify God in every place of His dominion."

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E. The Holy Altar Table & the Altar Covers

In each Orthodox house of worship the faithful will always find, at the center of the Sanctuary, the holy altar table. It is upon this table that the Word of God rests in the text of the Holy Gospels and it is upon this table that our Lord is sacrificed offering His gifts on behalf of all and for all. It is no wonder that some Orthodox theologians would consider the Holy Altar Table to be the seat or place of Christ in the Church.

The practice of the ancient church was simply to celebrate the "breaking of bread" on a simple wooden table not unlike that used in the Last Super. In time though, the place on which the bread was broken changed from common wooden tables to the righteous tombs of those men and women of the faith who were persecuted and martyred in the name of our Lord. This practice evolved into the use of marble altar tables (reminiscent of tombs) in which the precious relics of the martyrs of the Church are housed (the altar table in the Church of the Holy Cross contains the relics of Saints Cosmas and Damion, Saint Panteleimon, and Saint Nicholas of Myrrh).

Although the altar table has developed over time, the Church has remained steadfast to the practice of a priest only celebrating one Eucharistic celebration, the Divine Liturgy, from one altar table on a particular day. An early Father of the Church, Saint Ignatios (about 37-105) instructs the Christians to "hold one Eucharist; for one is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ; one is the cup of union with His Blood; then there should be one altar as there should be one bishop." A large community with a number of priests may in fact celebrate two liturgies, however in the spirit of this tradition each liturgy would have a different chief celebrant who would serve at different altar tables.

Today, the Altar Table is covered with two cloths. The first cover next to the flesh of the table, the katasarkion, is reminiscent of the shroud placed on our Lord in the tomb upon His burial. It is placed on the table upon its consecration by the bishop and remains there permanently as the very Body of our Lord has sanctified it. The second and often richly ornate cloth placed on the table stems from a gesture of the Emperor Constantine in the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. As an offering of respect and love Constantine brought forth a beautiful cloth "gold threaded and adorned with precious stones" to cover the table which houses the relics of the martyrs and upon which is placed the precious gifts of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, members of the body of Christ offer beautiful altar covers in like manner.

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F. The Prothesis & the Diakonikon: in the tradition of the Skevophylakion

The Sanctuary of the Orthodox Church is a holy place, a place where man, by the Grace of God, joins the angels in offering thanksgiving and all glory to our Heavenly Father. Even with its divine character, it remains a very functional place in the church. In other words, the Sanctuary like the Narthex and the Nave is structured in such a manner to best facilitate the needs of those who utilize this sacred space, in this case, the clergy who officiate at Divine Services.

If one were to peer through the Royal Doors of our Church, one would find a small marble shelf on either side of the back wall. The shelf on the left is known as the Prothesis while the shelf on the right is known as the Diakonikon. The unique purpose of each in the Sanctuary is plainly realized by the differing items that rest upon them and the differing icons that are found immediately behind them on the back wall.

The Prothesis is the place where the Eucharistic Gifts are prepared during the Morning Matins Service (Orthros), prior to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Additionally it is the place where the Eucharistic items i.e., the Holy Chalice, the Holy Paten, the communion cloths, the spoon that dispenses the gifts etc., are stored. On the back wall of the protheisis is traditionally found the icon of the Nativity, reminding us that Christ is the sacrificial lamb that is offered "in behalf of all and for all."

The Diakonikon is the place where other liturgical items are stored by the priest; specifically he keeps the book of the Gospels and liturgical texts on this shelf (relics of the saints would be kept on this shelf as well). It is here that the icons, which are brought by the faithful to be blessed, are placed for 40 days. The icon traditionally placed here is either that of the Resurrection (which is found in our altar) or that of the extreme humility of Christ.

Early on in our Church's history, these shelves were not found in the altar. Instead the Holy Gifts were prepared and the liturgical items of the Church were kept in a separate building, the Skevophylakion. And it was from this place that the Gospel and the Offerings were brought into the Church at the appropriate time in the service by the clergy (our processions today with the Gospel during the Small Entrance and the Offering during the Great Entrance are reminiscent of this practice). The Skevophylakion, "the place for guarding the vessels", however fell into disuse being replaced by the Prothesis and the Diakonikon.

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G. The Iconostasis

As we have previously noted, the Orthodox house of worship is divided into three sections: the Narthex, the nave, and the sanctuary. The nave and the sanctuary are separated by the iconostasis or icon screen. Yet, the iconostasis in the Orthodox Church exists not to divide the two sections, but to show the unity that exists between the faithful and Christ, His mother, the saints, and all the angels.

Originally, the iconostasis was no more than a low rail or stand decorated with Christian symbols and/or icons. Throughout the centuries though it became more ornate. Around the 14th century, the iconostasis was raised, boasting numerous icons. This is the style of iconostasis that is most prevalent throughout the Orthodox world today.

The iconostasis may be either large or small depending on the size and design of the Church. However, even with such variations, many of the icons follow a prescribed pattern: the icon of Christ is depicted to the right of the Royal Doors; the icon of the Virgin Mother is first next to the Royal Doors on the left; the icon of Saint John the Baptist, the Forerunner is placed next to the icon of Christ; and the icon to the left of the Virgin Mother depicts the saint or event for which the Church is dedicated (in our case, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross). Traditionally, the icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel are placed on the deacon's doors although particular deacons from the Orthodox tradition may find themselves placed in these locations. The icons that run the length of the iconostasis depict the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church with the insertion of the icon of the Mystical Supper that is placed over the Royal Doors. The remaining icons in our iconostasis are those of Saint John Chrysostom (the far left), and Saint Irene the Great Martyr (the far right), who hold a special place in the life of our church community as the founders considered dedicating this Church in either his or her honor.

The iconostasis is the ancient "divider" between the nave and the sanctuary in the Orthodox tradition, developing from its humble starts into the beautifully constructed, often ornate screens of today. Although it divides space in the house of worship, it serves a greater purpose of uniting humanity with the Divine. For it is in this unity, that creation rejoices together with the Virgin Mother, the saints and the angels, proclaiming Christ to be the Savior of all!

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H. Christ the Pantocrator

The icon placed in the highest point of the Church depicts the Lord Almighty, the Pantocrator. It is the iconographic image of Revelation 1:18: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, sayeth the Lord Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come, the Pantocrator" (Rev. 1:18). And, as such, He reigns over all the universe; His eyes though, fixed upon children as we worship Him in faith.

It is interesting to note that if He sees those who pray in His house of worship, He also sees those who come late to worship and those who are absent. Fr. Coniaris writes, "One of the greatest heartaches must be to see how many of His children do not come to be with Him on His day, Kyriaki, the Day of the Lord." This is written, not to instill guilt, but to teach as does the icon that regardless of how "good" an excuse may be for family, friends, and/or even ourselves, we remain ultimately accountable to God.

It is no wonder that the icon depicts the Gospel book closed. He and we both know what is inside: the good news of God's love, the destruction of sin and death, and of life everlasting. Yet, there will come a time in each of our lives when the book will be closed and we will be put to the test as to whether we have read and understood His message and lived our lives accordingly.

So, why a face with such a profound expression? Because as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the face of our Lord suggests the spectrum of emotions; from love and compassion to judgment and condemnation.

Each Sunday, let us prayerfully "lift up our hearts" to the Lord Almighty, the Pantocrator. It can be a very sobering experience; an experience that can help us remember the presence of God throughout the week. For if we fail to lift our eyes to the heavens, we may fail to realize that we belong to the Lord Almighty!

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I. The Platytera

There appears in the apse of the Church of the Holy Cross, as in most Orthodox Churches, the icon depicting the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. This icon unites the roof of the Church with the floor, symbolically uniting the heavens and the earth. The Mother of God, hovering between the heavens and the earth serves as "'the heavenly ladder, whereby God has descended' and as 'the Bridge leading those on earth to heaven'" (taken from the Akathist Hymn). As such, we pray "Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Savior save us" (the Divine Liturgy).

This icon is called the "Platytera," from the Greek (Platytera ton ouranon) i.e., "she who is wider than the heavens" - so called because she gave birth to Christ who as God is the Creator of all things. Having received and conceived in herself Him who cannot be contained in the whole of creation, the Theotokos is indeed Platytera ton ouranon, wider than the heavens.

The Theotokos (the Mother of God) with the Christ Child teaches us a fundamental truth of Orthodoxy - that is, that Christ is to dwell in each of us. Saint Ambrose expressed it well : "Every believing soul conceives and gives birth to the Word of God; Christ, by means of our faith, is the fruit of us all, thus we are all mothers of Christ." Thus, the same Christ that condescended to dwell in the Virgin Mary comes to be born in us, that we too may say, as did Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20).

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J. The Pulpit

Christ gave His Apostles the command to go forth and preach to all nations. With vigor His Apostles went out into the world to share the Good News. They preached in homes, in caves, in catacombs, in public squares, and there was not a single agape meal (later developing into the Divine Liturgy) that was celebrated without time set-aside for educating the faithful.

As Christians began to build churches, a special place was designated from which the homily could be preached and the Gospel could be read. This place was called the ambon, or pulpit. It was a place erected in the middle of the church to which the deacon or priest would ascend via a stairway. Later on in the church's development the pulpit was attached to a column on the north side of the church. Then, as we see today, the pulpit is constructed on the solea, to the side of the Beautiful Gate of the Holy Altar (the opening in the icon screen).

But why an elevated place from which to preach and educate the faithful? Practically, it insured that the preacher could be seen and heard throughout the church. Symbolically, the preacher would stand upon the stone rolled away from the tomb (the Sanctuary being the tomb) as did the angel of the Lord, who preached the Good News to the women, "do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, he has risen, as he said" (Matthew 28:6).

Unfortunately, the balance between the Liturgy of the Word, the reading from the Gospel and the sermon, and the Liturgy of the Faithful, the celebration of the Eucharist, has been compromised. In some Christian traditions, the Word is the focus, while in others it is simply the celebration of the Eucharist. It is only in the balance and synthesis of these two works of the people however that we experience the fullness of the faith and the practice of the ancient Church.

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K. The Bishop's Throne

The Orthodox house of worship has always had seats to accommodate the faithful who gather to worship Christ, hear His Word, and partake of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. In ancient times the seats resembled crutches that the faithful would lean on when they were tired (many monastic communities throughout the Orthodox world still utilize such supports). Today though, the crutches have been replaced with simple pews for the sick, the fatigued, the young and the old, to rest their weary bodies; allowing them to pray in comfort during the appropriate times of worship.

Amidst these simple seats for the faithful is placed a larger, more elaborate throne that is set aside for the bishop (Often times, the icon of Christ the High Priest is positioned on the back of the throne as the bishop is understood as our symbolic image of Christ the High Priest in the Church). It is his place during divine services: a place to sit and a place from which to teach. It is not meant to be ostentatious. It is meant however to have a place of prominence in the Church symbolically representing the grand responsibility of the bishop within the life of the Church.

Early on in our history, the bishop's throne was located in the center of the church, elevated a bit amidst the faithful. "The bishop, as an ancient book of the Church says, is like the captain of a ship. And just as the captain of a ship stands at a higher place than others on the bridge and from there perceives from afar the seas and the oceans and directs the way of the ship, in the same way the bishop has to stand on high and from his seat, as from the bride of a ship, look upon all those Christians who are on board this spiritual ship which is called the Orthodox Church" (Bishop Kantiotes, The Orthodox House of Worship).

As the liturgical tradition of the Church developed, the bishop's throne was moved to its present location. Its integrity has not been compromised in its move though. It remains the bishop's place in divine services offering him a place to rest, and a place from which to both instruct and guide his faithful flock as they proceed toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Studies in the Orthodox Faith

Advancing into the Great Lent

Our Christian faith and experience is rooted in the covenant that God established with His people as detailed in the Old Testament. Through this relationship "God both reveals what He is like and obliges Himself to a particular course of action." His loyalty to the covenant often leads Him to acts of Grace and mercy i.e. leading His people out of Egypt in the Old Testament, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, expelling demons, raising the dead, resurrecting on the third day for the remission of our sins.

As God is quick to act for our salvation, we are unfortunately equally quick to turn away from our obligations and responsibilities as His people. Our common and individual histories are filled with times that we have been unfaithful to His covenant. At what cost are we unfaithful? At the cost of our salvation.

As we proceed into Great Lent it is time for each of us to examine our faithfulness to His covenant. More importantly, it is our time to recommit ourselves to our relationships with Christ. Let it be a time of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, to the glory of His name!

This evening we begin the Great Lent with the Service of Forgiveness at 6:00PM. Immediately following, we begin the "Covenant"; a spiritual exercise for the faithful of Holy Cross. Our active participation this evening is the first step in reconciling ourselves with all of His Creation.

May the Author of the Covenant give us strength to proceed into the Great Lent ever-mindful of our penitential obligations and Christian responsibilities that reconcile us with His Creation!

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Great Compline

The Great Lent of the Orthodox Church offers much to those who wish a fuller and more perfect communion with God. We are

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Holy Cross Family Bible Study

Our Orthodox Faith is for the entire family! This should not be news to you. Orthodoxy is and has always been for everyone. Young and older alike, we are all called to put on Christ!

This being the case, shouldn't we all commit ourselves to "grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"? The answer is quite simple and obviously of course. Each of us should study the Bible and attempt to mature in our faith.

More often than not, the church divides our family into age appropriate groups in order to minister to its diverse membership. These practical tactics of ministry are effective, but wouldn't it be great if we could all, that is, young and older alike, study and grow in the faith together?

This Summer, you and your family are invited to join your Holy Cross family to study the Bible. Every Thursday, our group will meet at 6:15PM in the Oaks for a potluck dinner followed by our Family Bible study which will begin promptly at 7:00PM. Join us for dinner, for fellowship, and for a look at our Holy Scripture.

Our first gathering will be this Thursday, June 19th. So, please bring an item for our potluck, your Bible, and your family and friends!

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The Akathist Hymn

The Great Lent is a time of increased prayer. Simply, this means that we should find more opportunities to pray. One such opportunity is the service of the Akathist Hymn.

On the first five Fridays of Lent, the service of the Salutations or the Akathist Hymn is offered by Orthodox Christians to the most, holy, blessed, glorified, Lady, Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. The Akathist Hymn is a beautiful poem dedicated to the much revered and loved Mother of God. It is offered on behalf of the people who flee to the Virgin Mary and Christ seeking deliverance from both adversity and sorrow.

The Akathist (meaning while standing) Hymn is quite unique in its composition. Comprised of 24 stanzas (the initial letter of each stanza coincides with the Greek Alphabet from Alpha to Omega), this poem is considered to be a theological and spiritual work of art; inspire and elevating the faithful who beseech the Theotokos in sweet melody.

The Akathist Hymn is divided into four sets of stanzas that are set during the first four Friday's of Lent:

- The first six stanzas recount the Annunciation, the purity of the Virgin Mary, her visit to Elizabeth, and the doubts of Joseph and his joy upon learning of the Conception of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

- The second set of stanzas tell of the experience of the Shepherds and Angels, the adoration of the Wise Men, the flight to Egypt, and the Presentation to the Temple.

- The stanzas of the third Friday educate us as to the new "Creation" through Christ, the uplifting of our minds to heaven, the Lord's presence on earth, and of the confounding of the pagan philosophers who could not understand the mystery of the incarnation.

- The fourth stanzas describe the Theotokos as Protectress of the devout, God becoming one of us, our inability to praise God, the Lord forgiving and extending His grace to all, and the protecting grace of the Virgin Mary. It is chanted in its entirety on the fifth Friday of Lent.

You are encouraged to attend and participate in this beautiful service. During these evenings there will also be youth readings towards the conclusion of the service. Following Salutations, a family dinner will be held in The Oaks. We look forward to seeing you here!!!

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The Great & Holy Week of the Orthodox Church

On the Great Feast of Palm Sunday, we find ourselves with Christ, poised on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We have come bearing palm branches, lined along a road carpeted by our cloaks, waiting for Christ to proceed into Jerusalem riding a "foal of a beast of burden." As He approaches, we are moved by those about us and shout "O, Save! (i.e. Hosanna!) Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"

The moment, as all moments, must pass. We must now attend to the road ahead. Christ passes into Jerusalem and prepares Himself for His journey to the cross, and through death will transcend death. So too, our journey must begin here, outside of the gates of Jerusalem. Our journey will also lead us to the cross, experiencing the reality of sin and death, and ultimately life. Our journey is that of the Great and Holy Week (taken from a letter written by Jim Smith to the Young Adults of our community).

Throughout the Great and Holy Week of the Orthodox Church, we remember and celebrate the salvific events of Jesus. As Father Calivas notes in his book, Great Week and Pascha, "Each day has a particular theme, focus and story. Each story is linked to the other; and all together, they are bound up in the central event: the Pascha of the cross and the resurrection." Evidently, the structure and content of Great Week is fixed on the person of Jesus Christ, who was betrayed, crucified and burial; and who rose on the third day.

From His triumphant entry into Jerusalem to His time on the Cross, some choose to believe in Him and follow Him, while others choose to reject Him and His Divine message. Unfortunately, even with the Gospel accounts, the writings of the Fathers, and the all-encompassing Tradition of the Orthodox Church, some still choose to neglect their calling to take up their cross and follow. This Great Week, choose to follow Christ through the Passion of His betrayal, His Crucifixion, and His burial and into the radiant light of His glorious Resurrection on the third day!

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Preserving the Religious Meaning of Christmas

An article titled, "In search for Christmas" published in the December 23 issue of US News and World Report suggested that the religious significance of the Nativity of Christ can be, as it has been in other years, overshadowed by the commercial aspects of this joyous Season. Just think, even here at the Church we: decorate two trees; put up little white lights in the receptionist's window of the office; offer candycanes to those that stop by the Office; send Christmas cards to the stewards of our community; host Christmas parties for a number of parish organizations; and if that's not enough, we even ask members of our community to bring canned-food and Christmas gifts to the Church. Wow, in light of all of this, how should we feel . . . WE SHOULD FEEL SPLENDID!!!

"Why, should we feel so joyous", you ask, "haven't we just commercialized the birth of Christ" like the US News and World Report article suggests?" Actually, I would propose that through these practices we have managed to preserve our faith in His glorious birth in our pluralistic and commercialized society. For this we should be commended. We do have two trees in the Oaks: one being the "Angel" tree (decorated with the names of children from the Samaritan house whom many families adopted for Christmas) and the Christmas tree in the Oaks (beautifully decorated with the angels, trumpets, and banners announcing the birth of the Messiah). We have put up little white lights in the Office for this festive Season and we do offer our simple hospitality to those who stop by with the gift of a candycane. We do send Christmas cards to all the stewards of the Holy Cross community to share the good news of the birth of Christ and our hopes of continued blessings for their families. We do host Christmas parties at the Church, affording parishioners opportunities for Christian fellowship. And yes, we do ask stewards to bring canned-foods and presents to the Church so that they may be distributed to those less fortunate.

May we, the faithful stewards of the Holy Cross, follow the example of our Church community, and give glory to God in the highest" in all that we do this Holiday Season. "Let heaven and earth make glad prophetically. Angels and men, let us keep spiritual feast. For God, born of a woman, has appeared in the flesh to those that sit in darkness and shadow. A cave and a manger have received Him. Shepherds announce the wonder; Magi from the east offer gifts in Bethlehem. Let us, then, from our unworthy lips offer praise like the angels: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. For the Expectation of the nations has come, He has come and saved us from the bondage of the enemy." Good Strength!!

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Saints and Feastdays of the Church

Patriarch Alexander of Constantinople

Today, there exist a plethora of experiences and beliefs in the Christian tradition. One can visit a variety of congregations ranging from the more conservative Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches to the characteristically liberal Protestant and Unitarian Universalist experiences. As Orthodox Christians we understand that each of these denominations provides its faithful with some aspects of the Truth, yet only to the extent that it has not distorted the teachings of Christ and the dogma of the Church.

The preservation of the Faith has always been of concern for those who identify themselves with the "One, Holy, and Catholic and Apostolic Church." Fortunately, there have been those great figures throughout history that have attempted to perpetuate the Faith in its purity; that is, untainted by the agendas of this world. One such figure that serves as an example to all Orthodox Christians is Alexander, Patriarch of Constantinople who is commemorated on August thirtieth.

The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was convened by the Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. Father Alexander of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, remembered as both a scholar and a pragmatist, was the man selected to represent the Byzantine Emperor. He proved to be a invaluable addition to the Council as he stood uncompromising against the heretical doctrine of Arianism (Arius, the sponsor of the doctrine, denied the full divinity of Christ posing a threat to the concept of the Trinity which is the cornerstone of the Christian faith).

Father Alexander earned the respect of the Christian world at the Council of Nicaea. Moreover, he proved to be not only a defender of the faith against Arianism, but against all of the threats that menaced Christianity and its dogma. In turn, Alexander was elected Patriarch of Constantinople and distinguishly served for thirty years as a vicar of Christ.

Each of us is called, in a similar fashion, to not only attend Church on Sunday, but to emulate the life of Alexander. We must, as did he, grow in our wisdom of the faith, live it, defend it from the heresies and the agendas of our time, and share it with those who find themselves entangled in denominationalized faith. We are not a denomination with a particular experience or an aspect of the Truth to offer, but as Alexander struggled to suggest, the Orthodox Church.

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Saint Anastasia of Rome

Fortunate anomalies of today's youth are those young men and women who choose to act in a dignified, respectful, polite and Christian manner. They are unlike many of their peers and celebrity role-models who promote a lifestyle that is more entrenched in idolatry i.e. the right clothes, shoes, hair style, music, attitude . . . than in Christianity itself. On account of their deviancy from societies norms, these young people who choose to pursue righteousness often stand alone, not conforming to the ways of their peers, but to Christ and the Church.

Saint Anastasia of Rome was one such young lady of the third century. Anastasia was beautiful and charming and was born into a family of extreme wealth and prominence in Rome. Yet, at the age of 19, she abandoned her wealth and followed Christ. The physical beauty for which she had been envied was at that time overshadowed by the overwhelming beauty of her soul.

Not wanting to leave her country of origin, she decided to live as an ascetic outside the providence of Rome. During this time she devoted herself entirely to the teachings and cause of Christ. On account of her dignified yet selfless manner, many people choose to follow Christ.

Anastasia was brought before the Roman provincial governor and charged with treason. She remained steadfast to Christ throughout the ordeal that ended in her beheading on October 29, 258. The Christian Church commemorates her youthful dedication to Christ and her selfless example on October 29.

Unfortunately, in her day, Anastasia proved to be an anomaly to her society as well. It was no doubt difficult to maintain such a dignified, polite, and Christian manner in her day as it is in ours, yet it was and is possible. May the life and example of Saint Anastasia of Rome inspire us to through off our idolatrous ways and seek righteousness, all to the glory of God!

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Saint Autonomos

This past week the United States has again made strategic strikes against the military of Saddam Hussein on account of his oppressive treatment of the Kurdish people. This attack has received mixed reviews in the eyes of the world. Regardless, there remains a resounding cry for peace for a region of the world that experiences such instability.

During the third century, the city of Soreus, Bythynia, a community of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) was divided by Christianity and paganism. In turn, there existed a great deal of tension and emotional hatred that often lead both sides to acts of violence. There was though a missionary by the name of Autonomos who struggled to bring peace through preaching non-violence.

Autonomos was a bishop from northern Italy who was well-known for his preaching. Although he was sought by the anti-Christian armies of Diocletian, he managed to preach the Gospel of Christ to the people throughout northern Italy for years; all the while outsmarting and eluding his pursuers. Finally, when it appeared that he would be captured, he took up his campaign for Christ in Asia Minor.

These efforts of Autonomos only embittered the pagans and gave them yet another reason to persecute the followers of Christ. Many Christians responded to this unjust oppression and persecution with violence of their own; storming pagan temples and destroying pagan idols. All the while, Autonomos pleaded with both sides to settle their differences through non-violent means.

Autonomos lost his life to a gang of pagans while conducting services in a newly constructed cathedral. Even to his last breath he pleaded with his murders to turn away from violence as a means to resolve their differences. His feast day is celebrated on Thursday, September twelfth.

In such turbulent times, we too, as did Autonomos, must look to the teachings of Christ to resolve our differences. It is not simply in the Middle East that we must hope and pray for peace, but within the confines of each our own lives as well. Daily, we consciously and unconsciously launch missiles against our enemies and our friends that inflict great pain and suffering. Therefore, let us call to remembrance the example of Saint Autonomos who inspires us to ground our lives in the Gospel of Christ and to seek a lasting peace through the King of Peace to the ages of ages.

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Saint Christina

Some parents will go to great lengths to protect their children from the world. With so many negative influences and potential harms, we really can't blame them for their efforts. In fact, it seems rather commendable, as long as the child doesn't grow up in an ivory tower!

Century's ago (seventeen to be exact), a young girl was limited to the confines of a tower constructed by her father. Urbanus, a loathsome profiteer, attempted to shelter his daughter not from the ills of this world, but from that which he hated with a passion, Christianity. She was reared wholly within this tower that admitted no sounds from the outside, assuring that she would never encounter a Christian or even hear of Christianity.

Christina grew up in these strange circumstances, knowing no other kind of life, enjoying only her strolls on the terrace at the top of the tower. The pagan statues that were placed throughout the tower and all of the luxury's provided by her father were no comfort. Simply, Christina longed for something more.

Tradition says that she so longed to know the reason for her being that an angel of the Lord appeared to her. Ironically, it was within the confines of the tower that she came to learn of God and of His son Jesus. She was eager to tell her father of her newfound faith, he however was killed in a Roman foray.

Free at last, Christina sold all her material possessions, including the tower in which she was raised, and went forth into the world with only her love for Christ. This love not only sustained her, but radiated for all to see. This unbounded enthusiasm complemented with a zeal to enlighten the pagans, led many a soul into the light of Christ.

It should be no surprise that Christina's fervor would lead her into the confines of a pagan prison. She was brutally tortured to the degree of having her tongue cut off. Even so, she continued to share the message of Christ. She was finally put to death on July 24, 234. Her relics reside in a chapel of Tyre erected in her memory by a Christian uncle.

God and His saving message know no bounds. Some may attempt to limit Him and/or hamper the communication of His word, but to no avail. The sheltered yet saintly life of Saint Christina clearly attests to this fact. May her example inspire us to enjoy the freedom that we have; growing in His knowledge and grace, and glorifying Him in all that we say and do!

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Saint Clement

Christ the Educator? That is a title with which many of us may not be familiar. We are more accustomed to hear of Christ as the Savior, the new Adam, the lamb who was to be led to the slaughter, the King of Kings, but what of Christ the Educator?

During the second century their lived a Greek by the name of Clement who settled in Alexandria. There he assisted Saint Pantaenus in the instruction of Christians in a catechetical school for a number of years, taking sole responsibility for the program upon the death of Saint Pantanenus. Clement taught at the school for the remainder of his years.

The school was conducted privately, comparable to a modern day study club. Although the subject matter was varied, his program stressed the Word of God (being Christ) and His potential to perfect us in a way that leads us to salvation. Simply, Clement looks to Scripture and to Christ to educate the masses. He therefore considered Christ to be the Educator of humanity par excellence.

Christ the Educator is a title that Clement lends to a work that is broken into three sections. Each section serves to bring a further realization as to Christ being the Educator: book 1, Clement lays down the general principle of his thesis that Christ is our educator, sometimes He treats us with severity, sometimes with kind indulgence, but always as the loving Father of mankind; books 2-3 detail what a Christian should wear, eat, say, where and how s/he should sleep, who Christians should spend time with, and how they should behave in certain social situations. On account of all of this, his work is considered a source book for the spiritual life.

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Saint Dominica the Righteous

Why do we attend Divine Liturgy? Do we find ourselves in the House of God for this hour and a half on Sunday morning so as to see and visit with our friends? How many of us attend services to promote our business interests? Do others of us show up on Sundays to gain access to cultural and/or social activities that Holy Cross may offer? Or do we simply attend Divine Liturgy to worship, glorify and commune with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? As we find ourselves at the onset of 1997, it is again time for us to examine ourselves and our relationships with Christ and His earthly vessel the Orthodox Church.

As we reevaluate our lives in relation to Christ and the Church it is helpful to look into our tradition and identify those men and women who were able to relate with Christ in a manner that is exalted by Orthodoxy. Saint Dominica the Righteous is one such woman who once found herself drawn to the spiritual center of Byzantium, not for its spiritual splendor, but for its glorious culture and heritage. However, after witnessing the high ideals of the fifth century Christian community she realized that Byzantium offered her much more than culture and heritage; it offered her salvation through the Orthodox Church.

Following her baptism into the Church and her entrance into the service of Christ at the age of 25 as a nun, she spent her remaining 75 years humbly working in the vineyard of our Lord. On account of Saint Dominica's distinguished and tireless efforts for Christ, she was granted the title "Righteous". Thus, we commemorate this Saint of the Church for her stewardship and for her ability to see through to the true glory of Byzantium, that is the worship, glorification and communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As we find ourselves but five days into 1997, let us realize our own stumbling blocks that hinder our growth with Christ in His Church. There is no question that the want to see our friends, the want to capitalize on our business opportunities, and/or the want to participate in other activities of the Holy Cross community may move us to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, yet even with our frequent attendance, do these motivations truly encourage our growth in the grace and knowledge in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? May this year lead us towards wanting to worship, glorify and commune with God not simply on Sundays, but on all the days of our life. Good strength!!!

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Saint Ephraim

The prayer of Saint Ephraim reminds us that each detail of one's life should be centered in the attempt to conquer his/her rebellious nature and surpass it in order to return to the condition of pristine harmony. We pray for "a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love." Each of these virtues being essential in one's spiritual ascent.

Chastity should be understood as the purity of both body and soul. When we struggle against non-physical and physical passions (steps 8-23) we bring implant a spirit of chastity in our own lives. It is in such a spirit that Saint John would suggest we are able to advance towards the "Higher Virtues of the Ascetic Life" and ultimately towards "Union with God".

"Repentance lifts a man up. Mourning knocks at heaven's gate. Holy humility opens it" (p. 221). We pray that a spirit of humility enters our lives. For it is in this spirit that ". . . the soul is lift[ed] from the abyss up to heaven's height" (p. 228).

Our fallen humanity is impatient. It is no wonder then that we pray for patience. "Patience is a labor that does not pain the soul. It never waivers under interruptions, good or bad . . . It makes no excuses and ignores the self" (p. 271). Thus, the more patient we become, the more open we become open to the will of God.

Love is the last rung of the Ladder. When we speak or pray for the spirit of love, we speak or pray of God because God is love (1 John 4:16). When we possess such a spirit, we resemble God as much as humanly possible. For love is " . . . a fountain of faith, an abyss of patience, a sea of humility" (p.286).

The Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian concludes with our asking to see our own faults and not our brothers. Saint John explains that "fire and water do not mix, neither can you mix judgment of others with the desire to repent" (p.156). Instead, we are called to look inward; rendering ourselves more humble and open to God.

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Saint Euphemia the Martyr

Children are encouraged from the youngest of ages to excel in their studies in the hopes that this will form a pattern of success, steering them towards a good college and/or a good, high-paying job. This encouragement is important, Holy Cross even offers a learning center to assist our youth in their intellectual development. Yet, with all of the efforts that we put forward for our young people to ensure their intellectual and material success we must ask ourselves what efforts we put forward to encourage their spiritual development leading them to the ultimate prosperity found in the Kingdom of Heaven?

During the latter part of the third century in Constantinople, there lived an aristocratic couple, Philphrom and Theodosia, who reared their daughter Euphemia in manner that instilled a high sense of purpose and a supreme intellect. On account of this she could have lived in splendor and luxury, yet she choose to devote herself to the spiritual and physical welfare of Christians less fortunate. Euphemia's direction in life however was not befitting someone of her stature. In turn, her community, taken by surprise challenged her to deny her faith through coercement, imprisonment, and torture; yet to no avail. She was finally put to death on September 16, 305.

Her stewardship to the Church continued far beyond her physical death. During the Ecumenical Council of 451, held in Chalcedon, her relics, housed in the Chapel of Saint Euphemia, in the same city, became miraculous and were responsible for a great number of healings.

A member of this Council that was attempting to resolve once and for all the true nature of Christ suggested that the writings Eutyches be placed along side the writings of the Church Fathers concerning the nature of Christ in the casket of Saint Euphemia. After a period of silent prayer the members of the Council opened the her casket. The heretical works of Eutyches were found at the feet of Euphemia and the writings of the Church Fathers revealing the full humanity and full Divinity of Christ were clutched in her arms. The miraculous relics of Saint Euphemia today reside at the Church of Saint George in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

As the children of our Church grow, we must as a community encourage them to excel, not simply intellectually, but spiritually as well. We need to encourage them to attend Sunday Church School and youth group activities, and to read the bible and to PRAY. Together, we the stewards of the Holy Cross community nurture the Saint Euphemia's of tomorrow.

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Saint Gerasimos of Jordan

When we are children, we are told many stories that teach us valuable lessons. For instance, when I was young, I remember being told of the story about the lion that had a thorn in his paw and of the brave little mouse who removed it for him. Who would have guessed that years later I would learn of a lion that had a large sliver in his paw and was relieved of his pain, not by a mouse, but by a monk of the Jordan named Gerasimos?

Born in the seventh century in the province of Lycia in Asia Minor, Gerasimos was tonsured a monk and lived in the valley of the Jordan. After some years, he established a monastery, not far from the Jordan River, that became a spiritual oasis in the desert. The monks of his order were highly respected for knowledge of dogmatic theology and their general wisdom of the faith.

Often times, Gerasimos would pray at the banks of the Jordan River. One day, upon hearing the roar of a lion behind him, he turned and noticed that the lion had a huge sliver in his paw that was causing great pain. Gerasimos approached the lion and removed the sliver from the lion's swollen paw with no threat of harm being imparted by the lion.

This done, Gerasimos simply turned to return to his monastery. To his surprise, the lion walked along side him back to the monastery. The monks were rather alarmed at the sight of this beast that escorted Gerasimos, yet, with time, they grew rather accustomed to Gerasimos' lion! He never posed a threat to the monks as he simply remained at the side of his benefactor.

Gerasimos died at an old age in service to the Church. The lion so much loved Gerasimos that it is believed that he lamented his death as he was found dead at the foot of the grave of Gerasimos. This relationship, that is, between the lion and Gerasimos can only be understood as a mysterious and unexplainable working of the Lord.

Children's stories teach us much. However, the lives of the saints not only teach us much, but inspire us in our faith and in our stewardship to Christ and His creation. May the life of Saint Gerasimos of Jordan, whom we commemorate on Monday, March 3 teach and inspire us to possess not only his humble faith and generous stewardship but the boldness of his lion to witness the power of Christ to the world !!! Good Strength!

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Saint Golinduch

Our Orthodox Church is comprised unique members of the body of Christ. Each member offers not only a particular stewardship but brings with him/her personal experiences and appreciation's of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church". As one family, though, they proclaim the eternal Truth that Christ is the salvation of the world!

Today we commemorate Saint Golinduch, a convert to the Church. Her story is much like her name, that is, rather unusual. Living in sixth century Persia, Golinduch was a magician's daughter. In fact, she served as an assistant to her pagan father, one of the greatest magicians of his time.

Golinduch did not find Christ, He found her! "As recounted in church annals, Golinduch had a divine visitation as she lay asleep. In this dream the horrors of hell (where the spiritually deprived were destined to go) were depicted; and then the beauty of heaven, accessible through Jesus Christ, was shown." Immediately following this vision, she sought out the bishop of the Christian community and was baptized, taking the Christian name, Mary.

Not long after her conversion, she was arrested and sent to prison where she remained for 14 years for having betrayed and defiled "her" gods. At the time of her release she departed for Jerusalem where she was received by the patriarch. Shortly thereafter, she died in route to Constantinople in the city of Nisibis on July 13.

The name and the story of this converted pagan remain rather unique to our Tradition. Yet, her story exemplifies the true beauty of our Faith, that being that ALL are called to proclaim Christ as their Lord and Savior. Together, let us pray through the intercessions of Saint Golinduch, who's memory we keep today, that God's grace, mercy, and love will be experienced both in our lives and in the lives of those who have yet to take up His Cross!

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Saint Gorgonia

Each of us is called to holiness. Each of us is called to think, act, and speak as would our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the challenge that is put before each of us, regardless of our sex, age, marital status, or particular stewardship, whether we choose to realize it in our lives or not!

During the fifth century, there lived a family of five that choose to realize holiness all the days of their lives. The father, Gregory the Elder, bishop of Naziansos, his wife, Nonna, and their three children: Kaisarios, Gregory, and Gorgonia all, each according to their own merit, attained sainthood. Regardless of their sex, age, marital status and/or their particular stewardship, each lived a life of righteousness; thinking, acting, and speaking as would our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, February 23, the Orthodox world commemorates the blessed memory of Saint Gorgonia. She is remembered as a gentle daughter, a loving wife, a nurturing mother, and as a Christian who excelled in charitable work in times of both health and ailment. Her charitable activities earned her the names "Mother of Orphans", "Eyes of the Blind", and "Keeper of a Refuge of the Poor." On account of her devoted lifestyle, she was favored by God until she fell asleep in the Lord on February 23.

With a similar fervor, we should choose to pursue a life in Christ. Although surrounded by spiritual giants, Saint Gorgonia looked into herself and realized her own particular stewardship with which she was able to glorify God in the highest. May we, through her intercessions, find the strength to choose a way in our life that is pleasing to God. Good Strength!!!

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Saint Gregory the Wonderworker

Each day, we as Orthodox Christians are challenged by the reality that the multitudes in our world are far from Christian in their ways. In turn, many of us may attempt to make our lives a little more mainstream by taking the prefix Ortho (meaning proper or correct) out of our Orthodox (correct worship) Christian identity. With such a response, we not only disregard our Faith, we additionally deny our Orthodox Christian potential to transform the beliefs and ways of others.

During the third century, there lived a young man by the name of Theodore who, after some time with the renowned Christian teacher Origen, was converted and given the name Gregory. This young man quickly ascended the ranks of the priesthood and went forth with zeal as Bishop Gregory of Caesaria to share the Christian message and increase those in the Christian fold. Within weeks Gregory increased his flock from seventeen (those attending their first assembly) to the vast majority of the city.

As with other Saints of the Church, Gregory did not mainstream his life or compromise the integrity of his Orthodox Faith to conform with the masses. Instead, Gregory stood as an anomaly amongst his peers and materialized the Gospel of Christ that penetrated deep into the hearts and souls of the masses. His Orthodox Christian presence was so strong that at the time of his execution on November 17, he was informed that their were only 17 pagans left in the city. Similarly, we are challenged to avoid the mainstream and maintain our Christian integrity. Our perseverance in this task brings not only the Grace of God into our lives, but the Grace of God into the lives of those who desperately need the pureness of our Faith. May we be as wondrous in our lifetimes as this convert to the Faith whom we remember today, Sunday, November 17th. Glory be to God!

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Saint John Kukuzelis

The worshipping community is blessed with the beautiful voices of the Holy Cross choirs. The adults and the youth lead the congregation's response in unison; expressing emotions, from the depths of lamination to the heights of joy. The members of our choirs have chosen to use this gift, their voices, to the glory of God!

Every community is blessed with those individuals who choose to develop and raises their voices to God. Saint John Kukuzelis, (he was named this on account of his love for beans and peas) who was born in a province in Albania during the twelfth century, was one such individual. Gifted with such a fine voice, he attended the Royal Academy of Music in Constantinople and became a man of great importance to both the Emperor and to the city.

Unfortunately, John did not feel a sense of fulfillment, nor a sense of purpose in his artistry; he longed for was a deeper relationship with God. In turn, John vanished from the court of the Emperor and went to the Monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos. Not wanting to be discovered by the Emperor, John did not reveal his true identity to the monks. Instead, he assumed the identity of a shepherd and took on the responsibilities of a novice at the monastery.

One day, while John was herding sheep, he came upon a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Overjoyed, he burst out in such a beautiful and melodic song that everyone within hearing range knew his true identity. His identity have been revealed, John began singing in the Liturgies and he began to realize that his true purpose was to sing to the glory of God in His house. The Emperor permitted him to remain on Mount Athos and to develop his stewardship to the Church. John served in a chapel that he constructed and dedicated to the Archangels until his death.

The Orthodox Church remembers the life of Saint John Kukuzelis on Tuesday, October 1. We are reminded of his stewardship, however, every Sunday when the voices of our Holy Cross choirs are raised to God. May his example inspire us to identify each of our purposes and to use them always to the glory of God!

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Saint John of the Ladder

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate Saint John of the Ladder. He is assigned a special place in our Lenten cycle because his life and his writings form a pattern for the Christian pilgrim.

Little is known about the life of Saint John Climacus. In fact, historians are still unsure of his dates of birth and death on account of a lack of sources. Scholars have generally concluded through a process of piecing together manuscripts from Sinai and a scrutinizing comparison of writing styles possibly reminiscent of his, that John was a contemporary of Saint Maximus the Confessor (late sixth and early seventh century).

John was only sixteen when he entered the monastery of Sinai. Three years later, after exceptional spiritual maturity under the obedience of Abba Martyrios, he was tonsured a monk on Mount Tabor. In the years to follow, John was to experience the three monastic paths: cenobitic -- membership in a community under the spiritual guidance of an abbot; eremetic -- a life of solitude; and semi eremetic -- an intermediate life of monasticism.

As a wise, spiritual, and humble, monk of the dessert, John was petitioned to become the abbot of Sinai. Then, at the request of John, Abba of Raithou, he wrote the Ladder of Divine Ascent, which not to be interpreted too literally, consisted of a text describing thirty steps of spiritual growth and development; each one representing one of the hidden years of Christ prior to His baptism. John remained at the monastery of Saint Catherine until he retreated into solitude for a brief period in anticipation of his death.

May the life and the writings of Saint John Climacus, whom we commemorate on the fourth Sunday of Lent, both enlighten and inspire us in our own pilgrimage towards the Glorious third day Resurrection!!!

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Saint John the Faster Patriarch of Constantinople

This weekend, we have the good fortune of feasting upon many of our favorite Greek dishes. From moussaka and pastitso to loukoumades and galaktoboureko, the menu couldn't be any tastier (or richer)! This delectable ethnic cuisine, when complemented by the fellowship, the music, and the dancing affords our community a festival yet to be matched!

As we feast, we should keep in mind that there are times when we are obliged to fast. Orthodox Christians fast by refraining from meats and some dairy on Wednesdays and Friday's throughout the calendar year, and fasting on other special days prescribed by the Church. Fasting though should not be understood as simply a practice, but as a choice of lifestyle for the Orthodox Christian.

In the sixth century, there lived a cleric (priest) in Cappadocia by the name of John. Formally educated in Byzantium where he was tutored by the renowned monk of Palestine, Eusebios, he decided that he could fulfill his purpose in the Church with a self-imposed diet that allowed for the barest of sustenance. In resisting the temptations of the pallet, he likewise resisted those of the body and of the spirit. Remarkably though, he was not famished or undernourished; his prayer and faith provided him the needed sustenance.

John ascended the throne as Ecumenical Patriarch, and served faithfully from 582 to 595. Throughout his tenure, his lifestyle remained unchanged, even though he was presented with all manners of food at banquets and functions of the Church and the State of the empire. Moreover, he struggled to maintain the integrity of the fast for not only himself, but for all Christians throughout the empire. As such, he was revered and respectfully dubbed "John the Faster".

This Tuesday, September 2, we commemorate the feast day of Saint John the Faster who died peacefully in 595. It is in his spirit and those of the saints that glorified God throughout the ages that we continue to celebrate as an Orthodox community this weekend. This is a grand festival and weekend indeed, however, the foods, the music, the dancing, and the fellowship do not compare to the Kingdom of Heaven, a far greater community celebration to which we should hope to be found worthy of invitation. Let us therefore, stand committed to Christ and His Church, calling to mind Saint John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople, who instructs and inspires the faithful, not with mere words, but with his example! God bless and good strength!!!

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Saint Joseph

We are but a few weeks away from the glorious birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At this time, we recall our Lord being humbly born of the Virgin Mary in a manger in Bethlehem. Along side of the Virgin Mary stood Joseph, chosen by God to be the husband of the Mother of God.

Our Orthodox tradition contains not only a rich doctrine of the Theotokos (Mother of God), but a well-established practice of praying for the intercessions of the Virgin Mary i.e. Paraklesis service, the Salutations of the Virgin Mary. This being the case, the question arises, but what of Joseph, the "Protector of the Virgin Mary?"

First and foremost we know that nearly all of our Christmas greeting cards and manger scenes are wrong on account of them depicting Joseph as a young man. Joseph, according to Orthodox tradition, was by no means a handsome young man. In fact, he was a devout elderly widower who had long since been a father (actually, one of the least likely candidates for remarriage). Moreover, our tradition attests that Joseph was of the noblest of lineages, going directly back to King David.

Joseph, a man of piety and reverence for both the Son of God and the Virgin Mary is believed to have departed the earth while Jesus was about thirteen years of age. This belief is held as he is absent during the missionary years of the Messiah and on account that he is not mentioned at the Crucifixion of Christ. Yet, while he was upon the earth, he faithfully served as a protector and keeper of his family, divinely inspired by God.

As we approach the triumphant birth of our Lord and Savior, it is imperative that we do so in the light of our Orthodox tradition. Therefore, as His birth draws near, let us, the faithful of the Orthodox Church, first commemorate Joseph, the "Protector of the Virgin Mary" on December 16 for his efforts as the faithful surrogate father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we, as did Joseph, obey the word of God and find a place for Him in our own lives. Good Strength!

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Saint Katherine

How many of us are really knowledgeable of our faith? How many of us could defend our faith from those who seek to destroy it? How many of us are willing to give our life for Christ?

During the fourth century in Egypt, there lived a beautiful young lady by the name of Katherine who not only understood her faith, but defended it and remained committed to Christ even to her death by the State. At the age of eighteen Katherine, of noble birth, impressed an audience as she warded off every pagan attack of rhetoric. In fact, as the time passed in this forum, person after person sided with Katherine and choose to denounce his/her pagan ways and follow Christ.

Unfortunately, her knowledge of and her commitment to the Christian faith caused many to dislike and plot against her. Charged with a crime against the State (because she lived for Christ), Katherine was to be put to death by a means that would discourage others from such faithful feats. Katherine was put on a wheel of spikes which revolved and caused excruciating pain. She died on November 25, 311.

Saint Katherine, whose relics now reside in the monastery of Mount Sinai, serves as an example and an inspiration to us all. Although only eighteen, she stood committed to Christ: willing to defend her faith; knowledgeable for such an undertaking; and willing to give her life for her Savior. May the memory of this martyr whom we commemorate November 25, and her intercessions guide us and strengthen us as we similarly dwell in a society that challenges us to preserve our Christian identify.

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Saint Lazaros

Through the miracle of modern medicine the life-sustaining machine can pump air into a lung, cause a heart to beat, or a kidney to function, but although it can sustain life, it cannot restore it. Restoration of life calls for a true miracle. Such a true miracle is recounted in the familiar story of how Jesus Christ recalled a man named Lazaros from a premature death by his divine grace. A spark of that divinity was transmitted to Lazaros in the process of his deliverance and instilled in him the grace with which he was to become a saint.

Such great emphasis is placed on the return of Lazaros from the dead that his prior life is practically ignored. His true life began after he had died exactly four days after, since that was the period of time in which he had lain dead before Christ appeared at his tomb in Bethany. A true friend of the departed Lazaros, as well as of his grieving sisters Mary and Martha, Jesus stood before the tomb and commanded Lazaros to come forth, whereupon Lazaros stepped from oblivion into immortality. Thereafter he became a servant of the Lord in the early development of the new faith.

Following the death and resurrection of the Savior, Lazaros undertook an apostolic mission which carried him to many corners of the empire and ultimately to the island of Cyprus, where he settled after his ordination as bishop of Kition. The apostles of Christ encouraged him to stay on this island, and there he spent the final thirty years of his life, implanting Christianity wit the firmness that was to sustain Cyprus centuries later through conquest, piracy and subjugation.

Christianity has taken a firm hold on the island when Lazaros died at the age of fifty-eight and was buried in Cyprus. He was entombed in a small chapel dedicated to his memory. More than 800 years later, Emperor Leo of Constantinople, himself a devout Christian, replaced the chapel which was threatened with ruin with a beautiful cathedral and monastery, a fitting tribute to the personal friend of Jesus. Leo decided that the proper resting place for Saint Lazaros would be in the capital city of Constantinople, and his remains were ceremoniously brought on 17 October 891.

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Saint Luke the Evangelist

We read a lot! Text books, newspapers, magazines, ads; these things preoccupy much of our time from our youth to our golden years. Fortunately, though, the written word provides us with knowledge and practical information that assists us in our efforts to function in society.

The printed word however, can provide us with much more than just practical or worldly wisdom for our daily lives. Ultimately, the printed word can open the door and guide us on the path towards salvation. This is well attested in the four accounts of the Evangelists who provide us a great deal of information concerning the life and the teachings of Christ.

Friday, October 18, the Christian world remembers and celebrates the life of Saint Luke the Evangelist. Saint Luke is remembered first and foremost as the author of the one of the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, but also as a "glorious physician" who healed the sick and as an artist who painted an icon of Mother of God (today this icon remains at the Patriarchate of Constantinople). Luke's contributions to the cause of Jesus Christ are immeasurable.

Luke was born in Antioch of Syria where he practiced medicine until he dedicated his life to Christ. Following Pentecost he became Saint Paul's faithful companion; traveling the coast of Asia Minor to Jerusalem. Additionally, he preached the Gospel in Italy, Dalmatia, Macedonia and Greece where he was hanged from an olive tree in the town of Thebes in Beothia.

The theme of Luke's Gospel is the universality of the message of Christ. In turn, throughout his account, he focuses upon three aspects the Christian life: prayer, the activity of the Holy Spirit and Jesus' deep concern for sinners; messages that all would welcome. More than any other Gospel his work emphasizes the importance of mission and evangelism.

Luke's Gospel account is considered to be one of the greatest books ever written. As we commemorate this Saint of the Church, may we find the time to read from his books that bring us a fuller understanding of Christ and our salvation. Our goal is not simply to function as members of this society, but as citizens of and in the Kingdom of Heaven!

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Saint Martha, Mother of Saint Symeon Stylites

Parenting can't be an easy task. Gosh, just think of all that responsibility. A parent isn't simply concerned with his/her child's happiness, but must love, encourage, support, discipline and set an example for his/her child. It seems an overwhelming task to say the least! It should however be both inspiring and comforting to call to mind those saintly individuals within our Orthodox Tradition that teach us much about parenting and nurturing children through their examples.

On Friday, July 4, the Orthodox Church commemorates Saint Martha the mother of Saint Symeon the Stylites.

Martha lived in the ancient city of Antioch, Syria during the fifth century. Her example and her integrity as a both a parent and a Christian surely " . . . inspired her son Saint Symeon who became one of the greatest saints by ascending a pillar on which he spend his entire life in a spectacular display of devotion yet to be duplicated."

Widowed shortly after the birth of her son, she dedicated her life to her son and to her faith in Christ. In fact, on account of her motherly instincts, her Christian integrity, and her philanthropic nature, she was affectionately known as the "Mother of the Christians of Antioch".

As a single mother, parenting couldn't have been easy for Martha. Gosh, just think of all that responsibility. Yet, Martha, did not compromise her integrity as mother or as a Christian; remaining steadfast in her undertaking until July 4, on which day she fell asleep in the Lord. We remember and celebrate Martha as a saint who not only exemplified the Christian ideal, but managed to prepare her son ultimately for sainthood. Let us pray that her example continues to strengthen us in our task, that is, nurturing our Holy Cross youth in the Faith; never compromising our integrity as a Church or as an Orthodox family.

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Saint Mary of Egypt

On each Sunday of the Great Lent, the Orthodox Church celebrates holy feasts. On this, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate the blessed memory of Saint Mary of Egypt who, as Archbishop Spyridon noted in His recent protocol, "passed through this present life as a devout ascetic, that is, in total self-denial and repentance, rejecting transitory earthly pleasures and fixed only on things eternal." On account of this lifestyle, we remember and celebrate Saint Mary of Egypt as the "Penitent Saint."

Born and raised in Egypt during the reign of the Emperor Justinian (527-656), her lifestyle was far what was mentioned above. In fact, she was a runaway child who went to Alexandria and became a prostitute. Because of this treacherous lifestyle she seemed destined to walk in eternal spiritual darkness.

One day, out of curiosity, she joined a group of Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross (September 14). Throughout the pilgrimage she continuously led the others into sin. However, when she tried to enter into the Church of the Holy Resurrection, an unseen power prevented her from doing so, once, twice, three times, while others around her entered freely.

Taking this as a personal sign from God, she was cut to the heart by a profound awareness of her own sinfulness. She immediately repented and decided to change her life, embracing the monastic life. She remained in the desert some forty years, until she peacefully fell asleep in the Lord.

Today, we celebrate the example of her conversion with these words : Once you were defiled with every impurity / but today through repentance you have become / the Bride of Christ. Desiring the life / of the angels, you have cast down the / demons with the weapons of the Cross. / Therefore, O glorious Mary, you have been / made a bride of the Kingdom.

May Christ our Lord, through the intercessions of His handmaid Saint Mary of Egypt bless us and continue to strengthen us. And, may the life of Saint Mary of Egypt inspire us to similarly correct our ways and turn back towards God. Good Strength!

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Saint Milos of Babylon

This past Tuesday we as citizens of the United States elected our local, State and national officials out of a pool of candidates who were nominated for their ability to lead, and to preserve and/or advance the public's welfare. With the issues that have surfaced in recent years, there is no doubt that we should be concerned and involved as citizens of the state. Yet the platform that we are to take and how we are to stand is not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Orthodox Christians!

The citizens of Babylon (modern day Iran), in the fourth century, found themselves in a society that had turned its back on Christ. Sin was prevalent in every aspect of community life. It became so common place in their daily lives that they were very much unaware of the strong hold of sin.

At this time, there was a man named Milos who emerged after some years of seclusion in the wilderness. As an ascetic he achieved a wholesomeness in both mind and body. On account of his spiritual greatness he was appointed Bishop of Babylon.

Unfortunately, the people were uninterested in his message of salvation. They were unable to comprehend, due to the submersion in sin, that there lives were in fact separate from Christ. In turn, he departed from Babylon and informed the people that he would return only after they had received a harsh justice that would come from the state.

Needless to say, he did returned to Babylon after the civil disobedience of the time was crushed by the state. Little by little, he reestablished their faith and his Episcopal sea. His success in restoring Christianity to his people however led to his death on November 10, 357 by those jealous of his spiritual accomplishments.

It is frustrating to realize that we too as a society are submersed in sin. It is so commonplace that we as citizens of Christ's Kingdom have become simply ambivalent to it. In turn, we as Orthodox Christians must throw-off the agendas of this world and follow the example of Saint Milos of Babylon, that is, maintaining our Christian platform and integrity for our salvation; leading us into the future with confidence and advancing the public's welfare!

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Saint Myron the Martyr

Let us not try and fool ourselves -- money is a great thing to have in the bank, in our pockets, or in our piggy banks. And, the more money, we have the better, right? Surely, wealth and prosperity are not sins. Some may even consider them blessings!

Well, sure! Why not? The more money we have, the more good we can do -- that is, if we can avoid the pitfall of greed. Yet, greed can be more difficult to avoid than one may think. Surely, if this were not the case, Christ would not have exclaimed, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:25)."

In the third century there lived a young man named Myron, the son of a prosperous estate holder of Patras. Upon the death of his father, Myron inherited his father's great wealth. This provided him the opportunity to build castles and have servants, all to his comfort. Myron, though, put his wealth to different uses. As a Christian and as a priest, he offered his resources to the Christian community; building Churches, hospitals, orphanages, etc. For this, he was glorified by the faithful, yet ridiculed and considered a menace by the royal court that despised this Christian stewardship. In turn, Myron was persecuted and finally beheaded on August 17, 284 for his faith that radiated in all aspects of his life.

As Orthodox Christians, we can learn much from Saint Myron the Martyr of the Third Century. Some sixteen centuries have passed, but the situation remains rather consistent -- money is precious, and stewardship a glorified lifestyle sought by the faithful yet ridiculed by the world. Together with Saint Myron the Martyr whose memory we commemorate today, let us figuratively pass through the needle's eye!

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Saint Panteleimon

Saint Panteleimon, whose name means "the All-Merciful ", was born in the year 275 A.D. and became a highly skilled physician in the court of the Emperor Galerius at Nicodemia. After his conversion to Christianity, Panteleimon became a devout follower of Christ. Using his talents as a physician, Panteleimon became the instrument of many miracles by invoking the name of Jesus Christ upon those who came in search of healing.

Learning of Panteleimon's Christian faith, the Emperor demanded that he swear allegiance to the pagan gods. When Panteleimon refused to do so, the Emperor ordered that he be tortured until he renounced Christ. The young physician endured the most dreaded of tortures, refusing to deny his faith in Christ. As he was finally martyred in 305 AD, a voice was heard from heaven which said, "Well done, Panteleimon."

The relics of Saint Panteliemon are within the altar here at Holy Cross along with the relics of Saints Cosmas and Damien, the Mercenaries (celebrated November 1) and Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and Wonderworker (celebrated December 6).

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Saint Phanourios of Things Lost

All of us have lost something of value at sometime, somewhere. Yet material items can always be replaced. Spiritual treasures are a different matter and need our Lord's constant guidance and protection. Through His saints, we are reminded of our transient world and at the same time, God's Eternal Kingdom. Their lives can be an inspiration to us even if we know very little of their saintly existence. The fact that they are "known but to God" can be the greatest inspiration of all. Saint Phanourios is just such a Christian.

Phanourios has been revered as a saint for more than 500 years. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that it is not known when or where he was born, what he did in his lifetime, in what manner he served the Lord, or what he did for his fellow man. But there is mute testimony that he died a martyr after undergoing horrible torture. It was on the island of Rhodes that monks observed from a safe distance, nomadic pagan Arabs rummaging through the ruins of an ancient church. A group of icons was found. All but one in a state of decay or near ruin. One icon appeared new as if it had just been painted. The Arabs paid it no attention and tossed it aside. The monks waited patiently until the Arabs left and then rushed to reclaim the remarkable image.

The icon clearly showed the face of a saint depicted as a soldier. Inscribed in what appeared to be fresh lettering was the name "Phanourios". Drawn around the saint were 12 frames, each depicting a cruel form of torture endured by him.

Archbishop Milos of Rhodes concluded that the unblemished icon itself was testimony enough to prove that Phanourios was a man of Divine Grace and petitioned the Patriarch to convene a synod which would officially proclaim Phanourios a saint. A Cathedral was eventually built in the Saint's memory which enshrined the holy icon. Phanourios, lost for centuries in the ruins of a church, became the patron saint of things lost. To this day, his name is invoked when prayers are asked for the recovery of lost items. He is commemorated on August 27, the day the icon was found.

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Saint Philaretos the Merciful

God will provide us with what we need. Daily, this supposition is affirmed in our lives. Whether it is food, warmth, health, compassion, confidence, and/or love, God provides for us.

His Church is the means by which God provides for His people. It is in the Church that we find spiritual counsel and growth, social equality and opportunity, intellectual stimulation, emotional stability, and even a degree of physical challenge. On account of this shouldn't we anxiously seek a means by which we can give thanks to God for what he has provides us?

In each generation, there are those stewards of the Faith who fully utilize their time, talents, and treasury to the glory of God. Philaretos, a man who distinguished himself for his compassion, lived in Armenia about the middle of the eight century. He is commemorated today, December 1, for his unselfish giving to the many impoverished whom he saw all about him.

Upon the untimely death of his father, Philaretos found himself sole owner of a grand estate. Vowing to put it to good use, he established a number of philanthropic institutions that assisted the Church in her ministry. Unfortunately, he gave so generously that he stripped himself of everything he owned, with the exception of his home. He and his family lived in a beautiful home but in circumstances that were as desolate as those whom he was so eager to help.

His faith in Christ didn't waver and he reassured his family that God would provide for them. God did in fact provide for this family through a rather unsuspecting means. It was during a royal visit to their home by the Empress Irene and her son Constantine (to honor Philaretos for his philanthropy) that his niece found favor with Constantine. The financial suffering of this family would come to an end as Constantine later married his niece.

The philanthropic nature of Philaretos continued to brighten the lives of many until his death in 802 AD. Soon afterwards he was canonized a Saint of the Church for his benevolence. May the life of Saint Philaretos inspire us to not only utilize our time, talent, and treasury to the glory of God, but to be reassured that God will always provide for us!

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Saint Philothei

When are you content? It may seem like an odd question to ask yourself, but seriously, when are you content? Are you content when you are in the presence of your family and friends, accepted by others, employed, clothed, nourished, housed, and/or loved? To some degree, I 'm sure that we all experience a degree of contentment in these situations yet, if you are without these things are you content simply in the presence of God?

This Wednesday, February 19, we commemorate Saint Philothei, a woman of the sixteenth century content only when in the presence and the service of Christ, her savior. Philothei was born in Athens to an affluent family that left her with extensive holdings. After a number of years utilizing the wealth from her estate to assist the oppressed, the poor, and the hungry, she became a nun of the Orthodox Church. Well respected and admired by the Orthodox faithful for her selfless and Christ-centered ministry, she was sought out by leaders during the Turkish occupation, drug from the shrine of Saint Andrew, and murdered in the streets of Athens at the age of thirty-nine.

We have inherited much from Saint Philothei. Not only do a number of the Churches and convents that she helped construct remain in and around Athens, but her relics remain enshrined in the Church of Saint Andrew (the sight of numerous miracles attributed to her). Most importantly, though, we inherit the story of a life of a woman who realized her contentment in the presence and service of Christ!

May the Grace of Christ our true God, through the intercessions of Saint Philothei, be with you. In His presence and in His service may you find contentment. Good Strength!

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Saint Prokopios the Great Martyr

On Tuesday, July 8, we celebrate a great martyr of the Orthodox Church who, in his religious about-face, stands as a marvel of the Christian faith! It was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 290) that a boy by the name of Prokopios was born near Jerusalem to a Christian father, whom he never knew, and a pagan mother Theodosia, who reared him as a pagan. After completing his studies in the pagan tradition, he was made Duke of Alexandria, a prestigious post for someone of his youthful age.

Not long after assuming this post, he received his orders to eliminate the Christians, who, growing in numbers, posed a threat to the empire. Ready to strike after planning a campaign against the Christians, he set out for his headquarters with two bodyguards. As they paused for a brief rest, a great light shone over him. Looking up Prokopios saw a great shining cross in the sky and heard a voice from heaven say "I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified." The three men saw and heard nothing more, but in that instant Prokopios and his two bodyguards were brought to Christ.

His mother was horrified by the news of his conversion. She was even more distraught to hear that Prokopios planned to lead his troops to Jerusalem where his soldiers would defend the Holy City and the Christians whom they found there. Even so, Theodosia followed her son, the Duke of Alexandria, to Jerusalem where he and his troops met the Christians and visited the Holy places.

Theodosia, using her motherly influence, prevailed upon Prokopios to return to the pagan temple. He returned with a small group of Christians, who had no intentions of worshipping the false gods, but maintained the hope that their prayers would lead others to Christ. With little success, Prokopios and his band of Christians left the temple only to have it quake and fall in ruins to the ground. On account of this, the Prefect Holkian thought them sorcerers and them tortured and beheaded on July 8.

May the memory and life of Saint Prokopios the Great Martyr strengthen us as we walk into the pagan temples construed by our contemporaries. And let us pray that we will, in his likeness, stand unwavering in our commitment to Christ. Good strength!

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Saint Savvas

Each of us is called to "put aside all the worldly cares of this life that we may receive the King of all . . ." Yet, as we are instructed to undertake such a grand task, how many of us truly endeavor to fulfill such a calling? My guess is that we are all willing to "put aside all the worldly cares of this life" until we begin to experience some aspect of change in our daily lives; for surely, Christ can't expect us to disregard our material pursuits and sense of worldly contentment, can He?

During the thirteenth century there lived a young man, the son of King Symeon of Serbia, named Savvas. One of three sons, he was educated to be a monarch as he would one day assume the throne to rule his people. Savvas, however did not seek such royal responsibilities as his true passion was to follow and serve the King of Kings.

Savvas secretly left Serbia and sought refuge among the thousand of monks of Mount Athos. The king's emissaries finally located him and strongly encouraged him to return to take his rightful place along side his father. Their efforts, however, were in vain as he refused to return but instead choose to send a letter extolling the virtues and importance of monasticism; revealing the depth and beauty of his love for Christ.

Upon reading his son's letter, King Symeon transferred his royal authority to his two sons and left for Mount Athos to experience what his son had so eloquently described. Symeon not only became a monk, but greatly contributed to the founding of the first Serbian monastery of Chilandari on Mount Athos.

After some time, Savvas left the monastery and returned to Serbia to serve, not as King, but as Archbishop. He served his flock in the Balkans with dignity, with love and with faith. In his final years, he returned to Chilandari where he died on January 14, 1236.

Both Saint Savvas and his father, Symeon teach us a very valuable lesson of how we can, with faith, "put aside all the worldly cares of this life that we may receive the King of All." May their examples inspire us to endeavor towards such a commitment in our own lives. For surely, Christ can expect us to disregard our material pursuits and our sense of worldly contentment as we are Christians, that is, citizens of His Kingdom!

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Saint Symeon the Stylite

Each of us has been given various talents that we are called to develop and share with the world for the glory of God. Throughout past months, stewards of our community have shared their time and talent in preparation for this weekends festival. These efforts that continue well past this weekends festival help us better witness to the world our faith, love, and commitment to not simply the Holy Cross community, but ultimately to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Throughout history, Christians have attempted to identify, develop and then express their God-given talents for His glory. We are well aware that many have witnessed their faith in Christ and achieved Sainthood through martyrdom, teaching, and philanthropy, but what of those who has achieved citizenship in the Kingdom of God through other more unique expressions? Saint Symeon the Stylite whose feast is today, September 1, serves us as one such example of a Christian who identified, developed and shared his uniqueness with the world for the glory of God.

Symeon was born and raised in the Syrian city of Antioch, the first city to apply the name "Christians" to the followers of Christ. As a faithful steward of Christ, he struggled to identify a means of expressing his love for Christ. He concluded, after much contemplation, that his talents could best be realized in solitude and prayer. But, where was he to find solitude without going into the desert?

The quiet that he sought was found atop a sixty-foot pillar from which he never descended until his death in 459 A.D. Hour by hour he prayed atop this column located about sixteen miles from the city of Aleppo on a road leading to Antioch. Whether standing or sitting, (there was not even enough room for him to lie down) he remained for forty years atop this pillar as a witness to the world of one's need to rely solely on God.

This weekend members of the surrounding community join us as we, the stewards of Holy Cross, share our faith with world. We, as did Saint Symeon, manifest our love, commitment and dependence on Christ to those who come to witness this amazing spectacle through our chosen means of expression i.e. cooking, serving, cleaning, building, performing, selling . . . May the example of Saint Symeon the Stylite inspire us this festival weekend to stand as pillars of faith by using our time and talents wisely, that is, all to the glory of God!

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Saint Thomas

As we "grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", there will come times during which we will question aspects of our Faith. We may question: our faith in God, the Church that we have materialized, the work of the Church, or even our place in the Church. Questioning aspects of our faith affords us the opportunity to seek out answers and to advance in our knowledge of Christ.

Does this questioning imply that we too have become like the Apostle Thomas who doubted the reality of our Savior Jesus Christ? To best answer this question we must first examine the life of Saint Thomas and then reflect upon our own lives in comparison to his. Ironically, today, October 6, is the day that we should ask ourselves such a question as the Church celebrates and remembers Saint Thomas the Apostle.

Although Thomas hesitated and questioned his faith in the Risen Christ, he, upon receiving an answer through touching the wounds of Christ, accepted without hesitation his allegiance to our Savior. Thomas, in fact, traveled farther than any of the twelve, into the land of India where he established the Christian community in Mylapur in Madras. The history of these efforts are preserved in both the Acts of Thomas (a treasured chronicle of Christianity) and the well established community of Christians in India.

The missionary work of Thomas is characterized by both enthusiasm as well as the strict adherence to the rules of asceticism. He was so successful in his efforts that he eventually spread the message of Christ to the north of Bombay, and even to Ceylon, the pearl of the Orient. On account of the this, he was eventually cast into prison and executed.

Now, if we question: our faith in God, the Church that we have materialized, the work of the Church, or even our place in the Church we should as Thomas seek an answer to our question. We should commit ourselves to finding an answer through: turning to Christ in prayer, reading Scripture, reading the Fathers of the Church, and/or asking our Spiritual Father. Upon receiving the answer to our questions, we must as Thomas, affirm our allegiance to Christ and His Church and witness our faith through our attitudes and actions.

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Saint Timothy

The Orthodox Church is a Liturgical Church. That is to say, the Orthodox Church is identified first and foremost by its emphasis of living life within the context of Divine Services. This would suggest that each of us has a need and a responsibility to worship as a community on a fairly frequent basis as we are Orthodox Christians, that is liturgical beings.

With this in mind we should ask ourselves, "why then to we limit our time of community prayer to Sunday mornings at 10:00AM?" Our lives may appear to be filled with numerous commitments and "must do's" throughout the week, but when and how did our time with God become a "must do" simply on Sunday mornings? In light of our present dilemma this year has been titled "the year of Liturgical Renewal" at Holy Cross.

Holy Cross is a Liturgical Church. Faithful gather for a number of services throughout the week: Orthros, beginning at 9:00AM on Sunday mornings and at 8:30AM on various feasts, Divine Liturgy, Sunday mornings at 10:00AM and beginning at 9:30AM on the appointed feast days; Great Vespers, Saturday evening at 5:30PM in anticipation of the Divine Liturgy; and Paraklesis (a prayer service offered to the Theotokos) or Compline (evening prayers and readings from the Psalms), every Monday evening at 6:45PM beginning February 3, prior to Bible study. If we are a Liturgical, why are we not Liturgical beings?

This Wednesday, January 22 we will celebrate Liturgy at 9:30AM commemorating Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, and recipient of two letters from the Apostle Paul. One need not look further than Paul's First Letter to Timothy to realize the importance and the scope of our communal prayer. We are instructed to gather, to pray together, to pray for each other, and to worship in a manner that is befitting God.

Paul wrote to Timothy, guiding him as he encountered pastoral challenges and questions in Ephesus. I write to you, the faithful of Holy Cross in Belmont, encouraging you to realize your true identity, that is as Orthodox Christians, liturgical beings, who can choose to gather together and pray together throughout the week. Don't limit your experience of God, His Scripture and His Church to Sunday mornings. Don't let your "must do's" keep you from Him that truly does wonders. Instead, as Saint Paul writes to Timothy, "flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness" (1 Tim. 6:11). Good Strength!

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Saint Timothy Bishop of Ephesus

The Orthodox Church is a Liturgical Church. That is to say, the Orthodox Church is identified first and foremost by its emphasis of living life within the context of Divine Services. This would suggest that each of us has a need and a responsibility to worship as a community on a fairly frequent basis as we are Orthodox Christians, that is liturgical beings.

With this in mind we should ask ourselves, "why then to we limit our time of community prayer to Sunday mornings at 10:00AM?" Our lives may appear to be filled with numerous commitments and "must do's" throughout the week, but when and how did our time with God become a "must do" simply on Sunday mornings? In light of our present dilemma this year has been titled "the year of Liturgical Renewal" at Holy Cross.

Holy Cross is a Liturgical Church. Faithful gather for a number of services throughout the week: Orthros, beginning at 9:00AM on Sunday mornings and at 8:30AM on various feasts, Divine Liturgy, Sunday mornings at 10:00AM and beginning at 9:30AM on the appointed feast days; Great Vespers, Saturday evening at 5:30PM in anticipation of the Divine Liturgy; and Paraklesis (a prayer service offered to the Theotokos) or Compline (evening prayers and readings from the Psalms), every Monday evening at 6:45PM beginning February 3, prior to Bible study. If we are a Liturgical, why are we not Liturgical beings?

This Wednesday, January 22 we will celebrate Liturgy at 9:30AM commemorating Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, and recipient of two letters from the Apostle Paul. One need not look further than Paul's First Letter to Timothy to realize the importance and the scope of our communal prayer. We are instructed to gather, to pray together, to pray for each other, and to worship in a manner that is befitting God.

Paul wrote to Timothy, guiding him as he encountered pastoral challenges and questions in Ephesus. I write to you, the faithful of Holy Cross in Belmont, encouraging you to realize your true identity, that is as Orthodox Christians, liturgical beings, who can choose to gather together and pray together throughout the week. Don't limit your experience of God, His Scripture and His Church to Sunday mornings. Don't let your "must do's" keep you from Him that truly does wonders. Instead, as Saint Paul writes to Timothy, "flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness" (1 Tim. 6:11). Good Strength!

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Saint Vassa & Her Children

Daily we are met with experiences that present challenges to our Christian identities. Popular culture, the media, our occupations, our peers and even our families to some extent may present obstacles that can hinder our ability to walk in the way of righteousness. Fortunately, we have a rich Christian tradition that provides us numerous examples of hope, commitment and courage, even in the most awkward and disheartening of times. This Thursday, August 21 we commemorate Saint Vassa and her children: Theognios, Agapios, and Pistos who serve as such pious followers of Christ.

Persecution and oppression was commonplace by the pagan Roman state for such Christians in the third century. But, who would think that the pagan condemnation that fell upon this woman and her three sons would come from Vallarian, her husband? This act of wretchedness was unsurpassed, even for a pagan.

Vallarian looked upon his entire family as turncoats who betrayed not only his wishes but those of the Roman state. In turn, he turned his family into the city of Edessa's prefect, Vicarius known for his ruthless persecution throughout Mesopotamia of anyone who claimed to be a Christian. Vicarius, in an act of mercy afforded the family the opportunity to ironically choose whether they would denounce Christ and receive life or remain committed to Him and suffer the penalty of death.

The family members chose a similar fate. All remained committed to the fullness of life that is ultimately and eternally identified in Christ. The boys were first tortured and then finally put to death. Vassa, on the other hand, was imprisoned and suffered great indignities and indescribable punishments that ended in her beheading in the public square.

May the pious examples of Vassa and her children: Theognios, Agapios, and Pistos inspire us in our own commitments to Christ!

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Saints Aquila & Priscilla

Often times when we think of the saints of the Church, we limit our scope to those who may have been priests and/or hierarchs of the Church. We limit our scopes even though our tradition is rich with saints of diverse callings and stewardship to the Church. This week alone, we commemorate, an empress, a gardener, a monastic, a soldier and a husband and wife team that all lived according to the Gospel of Christ.

Saints Aquila and Priscilla are commemorated by the Church on February 12. This husband and wife team lived in and for Christ during the reign of Claudius in the first century. Scripture attests that Saint Paul not only baptized them himself, but that he had a great love and respect for this couple (Romans 16.3; 1 Corinthians 16.19; 2 Timothy 4.19).

This couple settled in the city of Corinth in the year 48 AD. There story is rather obscure, yet we do know that upon their conversion to Christianity they labored for Christ without concern for their own well-being. They traveled as missionaries amongst the people, preaching the word of Christ, until they were put to death by the sword.

Saints Aquila and Priscilla offer the Church much in their selfless devotion to Christ. We remember this husband and wife team this Wednesday and pray that their stewardship inspires us to ground our blessed unions in Christ our Lord and Savior who condescended for our salvation to be held in the arms of the Righteous Symeon. Through their intercessions may Christ guide us and protect us!

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Saints Cosmas & Damianos

We are challenged as unique members of the body of Christ to develop our stewardship to the fullest degree. Whether we are laborers, technicians, professionals, homemakers, retirees or students, each of us plays an invaluable role in the life of Church. The difficulty for many of us is simply realizing that our labors and toils in this world can be stewardship to Christ and His Church.

Cosmas and Damianos, brothers during the early years of our Church, sought to not only include Christ in their labors, but to make Him the reason for their efforts. Throughout their lives, they remained devoted to glorifying Christ through their medical practices. Dubbed the "unmercenaries" for their refusal to take any money for their medical practices, these brothers were additionally considered miracle workers for their remarkable healings.

We honor Saints Cosmas and Damianos on November 1 for their miraculous labors within the Church of Christ. These men, two unique members of the body of Christ, realized their stewardship to the fullest degree and became physicians par excellence. They did not subordinate their faith in Christ to their passion for medical science. Instead, they allowed their faith to develop and to materialize in their labors within this world to the betterment of their contemporaries.

As Christians, we are challenged to follow their lead and develop the full realization of our own, unique stewardships within the Church of Christ. Saints Cosmas and Damianos acknowledged that "of the most high cometh healing." Similarly, we must acknowledge that our talents and abilities come from God. For it is then, and only then, that we may begin to realize our own, unique stewardships to the fullest degree and to the glory of His name!!!

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Saints Thyrsos & Leukios We should not be surprised that our society is advancing in such a shameful manner. Within the past few weeks we have seen states take action to tolerate gay and lesbian marriages, to legalize marijuana, and to sanction late term abortions. It is no wonder that even within our community, there are those who have unfortunately succumbed to the ways of the world, throwing off Christ and putting on the deceiving garbs of self-righteousness and then becoming martyrs unto their own cause. As Christians we are called to martyrdom, not unto our own causes, but unto the world that hinders and/or halts our growth with Christ. During the third century there lived two men by the name of Thyrsos and Leukios. Each was martyred for Christ as they came forward to aid those Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. Each was brave; gaining audiences with the Emperor Decius and attempting to bring the light of Christ to his court. Unfortunately, their words and actions proved to be to their physical demise. Leukios, the first to come forward, was immediately put to death. Thyrsos, who came forward some months later, was put into prison and tortured until he gave up his life for Christ.

Their stories are not unusual to us within the historical framework of the Church. However, their examples are too often an anomaly within our own age. We too must stand alongside Thyrsos and Leukios whom we commemorate on Saturday, December 14 and denounce the ways of our states and those who guise themselves in the umbrella of the church of Christ. For as Christians our cause is simple, maintaining the integrity of Christ in our lives and in the lives of others. Good strength!

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Seven Saints of Ephesos

The Grace of God works in mysterious ways. Similar to the wind, it is only understood in relation to its affects upon God's Creation. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, the lives of the saints are tangible and invaluable examples of His Grace that never ceases to amaze.

In the year 252, Maximilianus, Exakustodianus, Iamblichos, Martinianus, Dionysios, Antonius, and Constantine, went into hiding on account of a decree issued by Emperor Decius requiring all to submit to pagan gods. These seven men of Ephesos found a cave in which they were relatively safe, because the narrow entrance of the grotto belied the labyrinth within. However, when their hideout was detected, the entrance was sealed off with huge boulders leaving them to die of starvation.

Some one hundred and ninety-four years later, these young men were long since presumed dead. One day, a curious property owner decided to have this obviously man-made stone pile removed. To his surprise, he found seven healthy young men who had been awakened from a nearly two-hundred-year slumber by the sound of falling rubble! Miraculously, these seven men had been preserved by the hand of God, unaware that they had been asleep for so many years, presuming that they had only been asleep for the night.

These seven men were hailed by the Emperor Theodosios as instruments of the Lord. And at his request, they remained in Ephesos receiving the multitudes who came to witness these living miracles. After some time, they passed on to the Lord's Kingdom where they would remain in His care. They were laid to eternal rest in the cave in which they found the Lord and had slept for nearly two hundred years.

The Orthodox Church commemorates these Seven Saints of Ephesos on Monday, August 4. Their saintly story continues to affirm the fact that God's Grace is truly mysterious, amazing, and unrestricted in and throughout His Creation. Let us therefore pray that Christ, through their intercessions, will continue to bestow His grace on His faithful that offer up all glory in His name!

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Sunday of the Holy Fathers

The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of the Eucharist, that is, the consecrated body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a time when we rejoice with the angels and glorify God with the Angel hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy are You of God . . ." It is the time when we gather with fellow Orthodox Christians in apostolic tradition and transcend the limitations of this life and experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God through the Eucharist.

Centuries ago, 425AD to be exact, the First Ecumenical Council comprised of the Holy and God-bearing Fathers gathered together as keepers of apostolic traditions in Nicaea to set forth the dogma (accepted and unchanging truth of the Church) of the Holy Trinity. In so doing, they cast down the blasphemy of Arius, censured Macedonius, the enemy of the Holy Spirit, and condemned Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Sabellius, and Severus. Today, we call these events of the First Council to mind and pray that our lives may be preserved blameless in faith and that we, following their divine doctrines and believing with assurance, may worship, in One Godhead, the Father, Son, and All-holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence.

As we commemorate the Holy and God-bearing Fathers of Nicaea who establish the dogma of the Trinity, how apropos that we recognize and congratulate our children who participated in our religious program in order to further their understanding of our Orthodox Faith and Tradition. Week after week, they met with their instructors who shared their faith and their knowledge of the Truth, with the intent of complementing the religious education that took place in the home. In turn, our young people were nurtured in the radiant light of the Holy Fathers, and continued to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" For this, we rejoice and celebrate their graduation from our religious education program!

What a glorious day this is! We celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we call to mind our Holy and God-bearing Fathers of Nicaea, and we recognize our youth who matriculate from our religious education program! On such a day, let us pray that God will continue to bless us and inspire us in our stewardship to His Church!

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Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women

At deep dawn, the myrrh-bearing women took sweet smelling spices and came unto the Lord's tomb. And finding that which they had not expected, they stood piously pondering the removal of the stone, and said to one another: Where are the seals of the sepulcher? Where are Pilate's watchmen and the secure sentry? And an Angel, radiant as lightning, proclaimed to the women that whereof they were ignorant, saying to them: Why do you with lamentation seek Him that lives and has given life unto the race of mortals? Christ our God has risen from the dead, since He is Almighty, granting us all incorruption, life, illumination, and great mercy.

This hymn from the Great Vespers Service last evening beautifully recounts the events of the women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ with ointments, discovered the empty tomb, and received the announcement from the angel that Christ is Risen. On this, the eleventh of May, the second Sunday after the Great and Holy Pascha, the Orthodox Church commemorates these Myrrh-bearing women who first proclaimed the good news of Christ's Resurrection to the Apostles.

How truly special it is that this year we celebrate these women who tended to the needs of Christ throughout His earthly ministry, even to the Cross, on Mother's Day. Along with the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, these women tended to the needs of our Lord out of their own resources, nurtured Him and remained with Him through both thick and thin. Similarly, our mothers are many of the unsung heroes who nurture us in the Faith, tend to our needs, encouraged us, and express their unconditional love for us throughout their lives.

May the selfless stewardship of the Myrrh-bearers continue to inspire us all in our ministries to our Lord. And, we pray that through their intercessions Christ will continue to bless our mothers with good health and happiness throughout their lives. Happy Mother's Day!

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Sunday of Thomas - The Gift of Peace

In his homilies on the Gospel of Saint John, the great Church father and commentator, Saint John Chrysostom, notes that the first words of the risen Christ to the disciples were about peace. "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). To women disciples who were sorrowful, writes Chrysostom, Jesus said : "Rejoice!" To the men disciples who were caught up in a conflict with other Jews, Jesus said : "Peace!"

Jesus' greetings fulfilled His words spoken to the disciples prior to His crucifixion. "Now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kindness that no one can take away" (John 16:22). And again : "Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give to you. I do not give it as the world does" (John 14:27). What is the peace that Jesus gives?

Among the ancient Greeks peace (eirene) was understood as the state of rest between conflicts; a time of absence of war. In the Old Testament, peace (shalom) had a richer meaning. It meant well-being, health, and prosperity. Shalom was a social concept and meant especially positive relationships between people enjoying friendship, justice, and good will among themselves. True peace was a gift of God, experienced when His presence was felt in the land : Love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace" (Psalm 85:10). The Old Testament envisioned a future time of perfect peace established by the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.

Let us continue to offer our prayers that our Lord open the hearts and minds of those who are in need and bring peace to all of us who live in a world severely lacking this precious gift.

Theodore Stylianopoulos, A Year in the Lord

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The Dormition of the Virgin Mary

It should be no surprise that the most prominent icon found within the Church depicts the Theotokos with the Christ child, that is, serving as the bridge that brings the Divine into the world. As such a bridge, she holds a place of honor in both the Church and in our hearts. And, it is on the fifteenth of August that the Orthodox faithful commemorates her falling asleep in the Lord.

This occasion is a solemn time for Orthodox Christians. In fact, in preparation for the Dormition of the Theotokos, we fast from certain foods (meats and dairy products) and we offer prayers for her intercessions throughout the first fourteen days of August. It is a time of personal reflection and a time for us to offer thanksgiving that we have as an intercessor the one with the Motherly favor!

Extrabiblical sources (information not of the Bible) suggest the Theotokos was a tireless servant of Christ. Throughout her life, she served the Lord with commitment, with love, and with faith; modeling the virtues that each is called to possess. Her words and her actions, that is, her life, taught the early Christians of Jerusalem much.

The Theotokos though continues to serve her son by offering her prayers on behalf of humanity. Similarly, she continues to teach the faithful much who look to her virtuous example as a model for their own lives. As such, she is the Mother of all His Creation!

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The Family of Saint Gregory the Elder, Bishop of Nazianzos

Every member of an Orthodox Christian family is expected and in turn challenged to live a Christ-centered life. Ideally, when everyone does his/her part, the entire family grows closer together and glorifies God in all that they do. At times, this may seem unrealistic, due to a difference in personalities and involvement's. However, as a fourth century family teaches us through their example, anything is possible with a focus on Christ!

Centuries ago in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey) there lived a husband and wife with their three children. Even with different personalities and involvement's ALL of the members of this family possessed an unwavering faith in and focus on Christ. And, as you will soon realize this fourth century family is well deserving of being our "family in focus."

This family had as its patriarch (meaning head, i.e. father) Gregory who, at the age of forty-five, was converted from his cultic practices to Christianity by his faithful and devout wife, Nonna. Shortly thereafter, he was ordained to the priesthood and elevated to the office of Episcopate (Bishop) of Nazianzos. In this position he shepherded his flock with dignity and devotion until he fell asleep in the Lord in A.D. 380.

Besides being a bishop of the fourth century, Gregory was also a father of three children: two sons, Gregory and Kaisarios, and a daughter, Gorgonia. Each of these children matured as a Christian and served in their respected occupations as images of Christ. Gregory was ordained and elevated to the rank of bishop and earned the title of "Theologian" by reason of not only his knowledge of theology but by the direct application of what he had learned. His second son Kaisarios is remembered as a distinguished physician who occupied a post in the Court of Constantinople. The only daughter of Gregory, Gorgonia, is remembered as a wife and a mother, and as a women who spread her love for Christ through her acts of charity.

The Orthodox Church remembers and celebrates the holiness of each member of this family. In fact, each member of Gregory's family was canonized as a Saint of the Orthodox Christian Church: Gregory the Elder (Bishop of Nazianzos) is honored by a feast on January 1; Saint Nonna his wife is remembered on August 5; Saint Gregory the Theologian is honored by a feast on January 25; Saint Kaisarios' feast day is on March 9 and; Saint Gorgonia is remembered on February 23. WE call them to mind TODAY as they were a family with a clear and committed focus . . . on Christ!4:30 PM

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The Feast of the Holy Cross

We find ourselves in a society that elevates a great number of symbols; often times without much thought or discernment. Our clothing, our cars, our coffee-mugs, to one degree or another, all denote a brand of which we are often proud to affiliate ourselves. Yet, which of these elevated symbols displaying wealth, fashion, and/or fad affords more than one's envy, compliment, or criticism?

The Cross of Christ is the discernible symbol of Christianity that goes far beyond such materialistic and worldly symbols of status. We find this symbol of victory, hope, and salvation discussed in the Bible, depicted in iconography, and illuminated in hymnography. We find the Holy Cross adorning our churches and being worn by those who affiliate themselves with Christ; putting on Christ and becoming like Him, not for compliment or criticism, but for witness and salvation.

Yesterday, September 14, we celebrated the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. This day on which our Church celebrates its feast, we commemorate the discovery and the elevation of the Cross of Christ by Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great in 325AD. Although 300 years had passed since the Crucifixion of Christ, Helen with the support of her son traveled to Golgotha, found our Lord's Cross under a patch of sweet-smelling plants (named Basiliko" or Basil which means "the plant of the King") and raised His Cross in victory, hope and glory on the fourteenth of September.

We as stewards of the Holy Cross community who celebrate this Great Feast of the Church, must proceed with Saint Helen to Golgotha, diligently search for the Cross of our Lord, find it, and elevate His Cross. We are Christians whose symbol is the Cross; proclaiming hope, victory, and salvation to the world! Together, let us celebrate this Feast and wisely choose and proudly elevate the Cross of Christ in our lives. Crovnia Polla!! Happy Name Day!!!

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The Feast of the Presentation : Time for Commitment

The day on which Jesus was brought to the Temple and presented to God (dedicated), 40 days after His birth, is time for us to be reminded that our parents did the same with us 40 days after our birth. They brought us to Church and presented us to the Lord. The priest took us into his arms and brought us to the altar offering prayers in our behalf.

When we were baptized, we were again presented to the Lord for cleansing and adoption. At both times, it was others who brought us to Christ because of our infancy. Others confessed the Nicene Creed for us. Others made the profession of faith for us.

Since we cannot enter heaven on another's faith, it is time to make our commitment to Christ. What better time for this than on the anniversary of Christ's dedication to God : the Feast of the Presentation? Sooner or later, every person must give himself to something bigger than himself. We will submit to some master in life whether that master be work, having a good time, making a lot of money, etc.

Our great problem is to choose which master we will serve. The only true Master Who is worth serving is the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is God. He alone can help us find happiness and purpose in life.

Often, when people are asked why they are members of the Orthodox Church, they say, "I guess I was born into it. I guess it runs in the family."

The real reason why anyone is a true Orthodox Christian is that one has committed or given one's life completely to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master, as Son of the Living God. This happens within the Orthodox Church which is the body through which Christ continues to be present in the world today.

If you have never given your life to Jesus as Lord, then nothing in the world can make you an Orthodox Christian. If Orthodox Christianity is anything, it is commitment to Jesus as Lord. "Jesus is Lord," was one of the first creeds of the early Christians.

When we were baptized, Jesus said to each one of us, "Yes, I accept you as my son or daughter. I will stand by you. I will never leave you. I will come to live within you. One day, I will lead you to heaven." There must come a time in our lives when we must say to Jesus, "Yes, Jesus, I thank You for what You did for me in baptism. I accept You as my God, my Lord, my King, and I give my life to You completely."

from Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home, Anthony M. Coniaris

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The Healing of the Paralytic

Christ is Risen! Today, the third Sunday after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha, the Orthodox world commemorates the Healing of the Paralytic. We remember this event that not only transformed the life of the paralytic physically, but spiritually as he was led to a conversion and to a righteous life. Moreover, we celebrate this event as it exemplifies Jesus' divine power to give life.

As we commemorate this event detailed in the Gospel of John, does it induce a transformation similar to that of the paralytic in our lives? Granted, we may not need to be lifted from a bed where we lay physically paralyzed, but spiritually can we make such a boast that we do not need the Lord's divine power? Are we able, a mere three weeks after His glorious Resurrection to carry His light that was passed to each of us and walk in His brilliance? My guess is that each of us, to some degree, whether we are willing to admit to ourselves or not, is waiting for the water to be stirred in our life that brings about that healing of body and soul and sets us on a righteous path.

The water though has already been stirred! Let us not forget that at our baptism we were baptized into Christ through our immersion into the water of the font. We were freed from the paralysis of sin and given life in Christ. Similarly, then, we should TODAY celebrate our spiritual transformation along with the paralytic and as Jesus said, "sin no more".

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The Holy Infants Gosh, we spent months preparing for this holiday season, yet it seems that we just didn't have enough time! We had Thanksgiving, then we celebrated Christmas, and now New Year's is but a few days away. As this season passes, let us take the opportunity, if only for a moment, to remember a solemn feast day of the Church that is so easily overshadowed by this hectic yet joyous time. On December 29, the Orthodox people remember the Holy Infants; that is, those Jewish innocents that were massacred by Herod.

Scripture tells us that when Herod heard the good news of the birth of the King of Kings he was quite alarmed. In fact, to preserve this throne, Herod ordered the massacre of every infant in Bethlehem, and in all of the surrounding cities and towns. Jesus was spared of such an awful fate (at this point in His life) as Joseph was warned by an angel to take his family from Bethlehem. Even though our newborn Savior was spared, we cannot help but mourn the innocence massacred this day.

Unfortunately, our society perpetuates Herod's work when it massacres the innocence of children. Through many venues we massacre innocence: neglect and/or abuse in the home; the fragmentation of the nuclear and extended family; the compromise of our "traditional" values; and/or through our decisions to raise our children separate from the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, December 29th, we celebrate Godparent Sunday at the Church of the Holy Cross. As we remember those innocent children, let us pray that we do not make a similar mistake but instead preserve the innocence of our children through the efforts of our Orthodox community. May we learn from Herod's grievous mistake, too often perpetuated by humanity, and receive our newborn King of Kings proclaiming "Christ is born, glorify Him!"

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The Resurrection of Christ

Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have born the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due rewards; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes in the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first : yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort. Come you all : enter into the joy of the Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded : enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one : let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free : He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh. When Isaias foresaw all this, he cried out : "O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world." Hades is angered because, frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and lo! it discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible. O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished, Christ is risen and the demons are cast down, Christ is risen and the angels rejoice, Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead : for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Resurrection Homily, Saint John Chrysostom

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The Samaritan Woman . . . Saint Photini

Today, on this the fourth Sunday following the Feasts of Feasts, the Pascha of the Orthodox Church, we read a lesson from the Gospel of John that details Christ's dealings with the Samaritan Woman. It was on account of this interaction that the Samaritans became the first people to recognize Jesus as Savior of the world. And, it is on account of this interaction that we first realize that the Gospel of Christ is for all people!

According to an early tradition, after the Resurrection of Christ [the Samaritan Woman] was baptized and given the Christian name Photini, 'the enlighten one.' Along with her two sons and five daughters she went to Carthage to spread the gospel. There they were arrested, taken to Rome under Nero, imprisoned, and later martyred. According to tradition, Saint Photini, who first met Christ beside a well, was martyred for Christ by being thrown into a well. The Church commemorates her on March 20.

For most of the faithful, Saint Photini is remembered on her feast day, yet some stewards of the Church call her to mind on a daily basis as they "enlighten" others with the Gospel of Christ. These stewards realize that the Gospel of Christ is for all people! These stewards, the missionaries, travel to the four corners of the earth, spreading the Word and assisting the faithful in the establishment of their Orthodox communities.

Now, after having heard and read of the Samaritan Woman's interactions with Christ, her baptism, her zeal as the first evangelist, and her martyrdom, we invite you to familiarize yourself with and support those who live in her spirit and proclaim the Gospel to all people. Join us in The Oaks for an informative presentation on Orthodox Missions to Africa. May His light enlighten all people!

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The Sunday of All Saints

As each of us, young and older alike, is unique in our character, so too are the Saints of the Church. Amongst the multitude of Saints whom we call to mind today, we remember scholars, physicians, priests, monastics, hymnographers, iconographers, cooks, gardeners, architects, rulers, parents, and children. The list goes on and on. Yet, even as unique as their stewardship may have been, their commonality that led them to sainthood was their selfless commitment to Christ and His Church.

The commemoration of Saints is one of the most beautiful aspects of our tradition. We look to them as examples, we pray to them for their intercessions, and we gather with them during Divine services to worship God. In fact, even when it appears that our pews are far from full, the Church is still bursting at the seams on account of the Saints that gather with us to praise and glorify God (please note: this shouldn't be used as an excuse not to attend Divine services. The Saints are always willing to make room).

Each of us possesses the Grace of God and the ability to live a saintly life. The diversity of the Saints and their experiences attests to this. The question that we must ask ourselves though is whether we will choose to offer our stewardship to His Church and His Creation.

The limitation that exists in our stewardship, whether we are young or older, is that which we create. Sure, you may say that each of us does not have unlimited resources of time, treasure and talent, but I would say that this attitude is what separates us from the Saints. The Saints offered themselves in their entirety to Christ.

Today, as we call to mind all those who have been canonized as Saints of the Orthodox Church, we call to mind their selfless stewardship to Christ. As we "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" we must likewise call to mind our stewardship to His Church and ask ourselves, "have we committed ourselves in our entirely to Christ?" Don't misinterpret this as a simple reminder of stewardship. This is Church's eternal call to sainthood and salvation. Will you respond?

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The Sunday of the Blind Man

On this, the fifth Sunday following the Great and Holy Pascha, the Orthodox Church commemorates the blind man who received his sight from Jesus. On this, the first of June, the faithful of Holy Cross additionally call to mind the youth of our community, many of whom offer their time, talent, and special gifts as stewards and as participants in our youth ministry programs. Today, as we remember both the blind man and the youth of Holy Cross, we celebrate those who "Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)!

In order for one to worship and to offer praise to God, one must first be given sight. As Jesus opens the eyes of the blind man with clay, so too does He open the eyes of our children through the efforts of those youth ministers who live the Faith and selflessly offer their time and talents to Christ and His Church. And, when they allow His light to be brought into the lives of our youth, it penetrates deep into their hearts, inspiring them to worship and offer praise to God!

As we celebrate our youth who offered their time, talent and special gifts to His Church, we pray that their spiritual eyes were further opened this year through their involvement in our youth ministry programs. Likewise, may we be further enlighten and inspired in our stewardship through our participation in the life of the Church that we may all, together with the blind man, "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"!

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The Three Hierarchs

There is so much to learn about our Orthodox Christian Faith. We could spend a lifetime studying Scripture, Church history, dogmatics, liturgics, hymnography, iconography, and/or prayer. Sure sounds like a lot for any of us to learn doesn't it? Yet, what is more important than learning about God, His Church, its dogma and services, the hymns that glorify, the icons that teach, and the prayer that keeps us connected?

Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom of the fifth century were spiritual giants. They attained this spiritual notoriety through their prayerful commitment to Christ, His Church, its dogma and services, its hymnography, and iconography. Considered equal in the sight of God, these educators, orators, spiritual leaders, and philosophers are called the Three Hierarchs.

As we celebrate the Feast Day of the Three Hierarchs this Thursday, January 30, we commemorate them and their stewardship to the Church. In light of this, we should examine our stewardship; not simply our financial contribution to the Church although this is important, but the contributions we make to the glory of God with our time and talents. As their stewardship was holistic; we too should offer our entire beings to Christ and His Church. There is so much to learn about our Orthodox Christian Faith. With this in mind, join many of your fellow stewards for Bible study this Monday evening at 7:30PM or Tuesday morning at 10:30AM and/or celebrate the Divine Liturgy of the Three Hierarchs this Thursday, Orthros 8:30AM & Liturgy 9:30AM at the Church of the Holy Cross. May the stewardship of the Three Hierarchs' inspire you in your stewardship to His Church. Good Strength!

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Veneration of the Holy Cross

This, the third Sunday of the Great Lent, is the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross. It is on this Sunday that we not only remember the crucifixion of Christ, but remember that we crucify our passions with Him throughout the Great Lent. Additionally, it is on this Sunday, as the hymnography suggests, that we elevate the Cross of Christ as a symbol of victory for the faithful.

This solemn veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is quite similar to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14. Neither Feast distinguishes between Christ's death and His Resurrection from the dead. In fact, both Feasts celebrate the triumph and the glory of His Cross. This dominant theme is evident in both the hymnography and the liturgical actions that takes place towards the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great.

This festal celebration begins as the priest censes the Cross that is placed on a tray surrounded by flowers and adorned with three lit tapers, as the choir sings "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us." The priest then exits the North door of the Sanctuary and processes around the Church until he ends at the Soleas where he circles the table three times. Then, facing the Altar he says, "Wisdom! Arise!" Setting the tray on the table the priest then chants "Save your people O Lord . . ." while he censes around the table. After our Church's hymn has been chanted twice more, the priest venerates the Holy Cross and chants "We venerate your Cross, O Christ, and Your holy Resurrection we praise and glorify."

As we elevate His Cross may we crucify our passions with Him on the Cross. Then, on the third day, let us raise His Cross, as we have today, as a symbol of victory. Good Strength throughout this Fast and God Bless!

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