Sunday Articles

St. Mary of Egypt
St. Mary of Egypt

The story of ST. MARY OF EGYPT is one the great epics of repentance to be found in our Church. Since repentance is a primary theme of the great Fast, it is no wonder that commemoration of this sinner who became a saint is made on the fifth Sunday of Lent.

Mary was born in Egypt some fifteen hundred years ago. At the age of 12, she left home and went to the city to be free from parental bounds and to taste the delights of the world. It wasn’t long before she forgot all she was ever taught about morality, purity and virtue. For seventeen years she led a shameful life.

Finally, she learned the bitter truth: the world with all its sin cannot satisfy the deep yearnings of the human soul, and Mary came to despise her life. She attempted to enter a church but encountered an “invisible” barrier. She poured out her soul in sorrow and repentance. At last, the burden of sin was lifted, and she was able to enter. She then crossed over the Jordan and sought peace in the wilderness of the desert.

Zosimus, a monastic who spend the Great Fast in the desert, found her one day and learned her amazing story. She had spent 47 years alone in the desert, except for the times in the Fast the Zosimus came and brought the Eucharist for her. The final time he came he could not locate her, but found these words traced in the desert sand: “Abba Zosimus, bury here the body of the sinner, Mary…” And so Zosimus returned to the monastic community and preserved the story of this truly penitent soul.

​ The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ

The Ladder of Divine Ascent Icon
The Ladder of Divine Ascent

The medical community advocates stress management techniques involving relaxation, quietness and meditation for reasons of physical health. The Church, however, has for centuries urged such disciplinary measures for spiritual as well as bodily health.

One of the great teachers of such spiritual discipline is ST. JOHN OF THE LADDER, who is honored on the Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast.  He received his name from a book of spiritual exercises called “The Ladder of Perfection,” containing 30 steps or rules for attaining spiritual growth. He spent years in the monastic community on Mt. Sinai and died about the year 606.

The starting point for spiritual life is to “wrestle with the mind” and then to control the passions of our nature.  St. John goes on to speak of the need for prayer of the lips, then for mental prayer, and finally contemplation. Stress is placed on the Name of Jesus: “Let the memory of Jesus combine with your breathing, then you will know the profit of silence.” Again, he speaks of the distractions to prayer and meditation. “Flog the foes with the Name of Jesus, for there is no stronger weapon against them either in heaven or on earth.”

As we go through the days of the Great Fast, we need guidance from teachers.  St. John in fact says: “As a man traveling without a guide easily loses his way and goes astray, so a man guided by self-will easily perishes even if he possesses all worldly wisdom.”

The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ

The Crucifixion of Christ Icon
Third Sunday of the Great Fast

As we come to the mid-point of the Great Fast, the Church in her wisdom honors the Cross of Our Lord, to spur us on in spiritual warfare. On the Third Sunday of the Fast, it is the Cross that is set before our eyes and minds as we come to the Lord’s temple for worship.

The Cross is a great symbol of the Christian faith. It serves as identification. When located on the height of a building, it reveals that structure to be a house of worship. When worn on a lapel or on a chain, the Cross identifies the person as a follower of Jesus Christ. From the moment we are reborn in the waters of Holy Baptism to the time when we fall asleep in Christ, the sign of the Cross is made a multitude of times over our bodies.

But the Cross also represents a special philosophy of loving. In fact, it is the secret of abundant life. There are many prescriptions for happiness that this world projects on its people. The Church has never had so much competition as it has today. Advertising agencies pour forth their ads promising success, happiness and fulfillment, if certain products are bought.

Still, it is the Cross that is life’s greatest teacher. It is only as we come to know and understand the Cross that we learn how to live. Jesus said: “Whoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and come and follow Me.” We make a free choice to follow Christ, this in turn involves discipline, a denying of the passions of the flesh which is compared to cross-bearing. Doing this, we live as Jesus lived. We follow Him. We can truly wear a Cross and identify ourselves as one of His!

The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ

St. Gregory of Palamas
St. Gregory Palamas

The Saints of the Church, as a rule, did not live easy lives. Their faith was constantly put to the test. Stumbling blocks were always thrust before them. How often their only consolation must have been the words of our blessed Savior: “If the world hates you, know that is has hated Me first!”

ST. GREGORY PALAMAS certainly fits into the category of saints who were “tried and tested.” At an early age, he entered a monastery on Mt. Athos, where he would have been content to live a contemplative life for the course of his days. But the Lord had other plans for Gregory! He was directed to leave his beloved Mt. Athos to oversee other monasteries. Later, he was given the position of Bishop of Thessalonika. Gregory found that the world outside the monastery was often cruel. Several times he was imprisoned by the Turks. Once he was accused of heresy and imprisoned for four years by his own people. Still, his faith sustained him and ultimately allowed him to prevail.

Gregory strove for spiritual excellence through constant prayer, emphasizing the necessity of making a concentrated effort to come closet to God in one’s own heart. “Enlighten my darkness” became his continuous meditation, maintaining that all man really needs in life is to have his eyes opened to the will of God.

While his teachings were sometimes difficult to understand, our Church honors St. Gregory Palamas as one of her saints. His spiritual views strengthened and sustained monasticism in the Church at a time when its impact on society was declining. For this we give thanks.

The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ

Sunday of Orthodoxy
Sunday of Orthodoxy

We do not have icons painted throughout our churches simply to decorate them or to make them colorful and beautiful. We use icons to make our churches meaningful; to make them temples for worship and prayer.

St. Paul speaks of Christ as the “icon” of God. That is, if we want to know what God is like, we look upon Christ to find out. Indeed, it is the Incarnation, the fact that God became man, that Jesus Christ born of the Holy Virgin was at the same time the Eternal God, that lies at the basis of an understanding of the special place iconography has in the Church.

It is impossible to see God or to portray God. But once God, Who is spirit, takes upon Himself human flesh, once God becomes man, once He is born on earth and lives among us, then He may be portrayed. This is what has been done since the early days of Christianity.

Icons, then, belong to the oldest Christian tradition. It is true that in the eighth century a movement against the use of icons gained considerable momentum. But the confrontation resulted in a clear definition of the icon’s role, and in a clear victory for the use of images. “Icons are to be venerated; God alone is to be served in faith.” On this Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of true doctrine over heresy.

The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ

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