Lenten Services in Jerusalem

March 31, 2011

Midnight Liturgy at the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem — March 20, 2011.

From the file descriptions:

This is the Bishops entrance and Cherubic Hymn from the Divine Liturgy for the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas at the Holy Sepulchre. There were 6 Bishops serving with at least 20 priests, including an ordination! Quite an experience with beautiful chanting and readings done in both Greek & Slavonic!

Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

A montage of the sights and sounds of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts celebrated at Golgotha in the Holy Sepulchre, March 30, 2011.

Resources for Lent, Holy Week & Pascha

March 30, 2011

I will be posting less the next few weeks so that I can attend to some personal goals. The blog will stay open and I will still post from time to time. In the interim, here are links to several posts that have been featured here in the past that can provide resources for Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha.

Great Lent Resources:

The Journey of Great Lent: Bright Sadness

Hymns in Anticipation of Lent

Forgiveness Vespers

Spiritual Reading for Great Lent

First Week of Great Lent: The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

The Presanctified Liturgy

Chants from the Presanctified Liturgy

In Many Tongues: The Sunday of Orthodoxy

Lenten Meditation

Sundays of Great Lent

The Doors of Repentance Open Unto Me

Holy Week Resources:

Holy Week Resources

Lazarus Saturday: Rejoice, O Bethany

From Matins for Palm Sunday

Behold the Bridegroom Comes at Midnight

Epithets for the Passion of Christ

Great and Holy Monday

Holy Week Chants

The Mystery of  Holy Unction

Lamentations — Statis 3 — From Holy Friday

Las Lamentaciones del Viernes Santo (same as above but in Spanish)

The “Little Services” of the Church (from Holy Tuesday)

Epitaphios — Great and Holy Friday & Holy Saturday

Today Hell Cries Out Groaning — Holy Saturday Hymn

From Matins of Holy & Great Saturday

How Shall I Bury You, My God?

God Has Died in the Flesh and Hell Trembles in Fear

Why Christ Descended into Hades — Sermon by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Pascha Resources:

Christ is Risen from the Dead!

Singing “Christ is Risen!” in Many Tongues

The Midnight Pascha Service

The Midnight Pascha: A Visitor’s View

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on the Divine Liturgy

March 26, 2011

From the file description:

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia speaks about the meaning of the word “Liturgy” and the role of clergy and laity in the life of the Church. This video is an excerpt from the “Clergy and Laity in the Orthodox Church” lecture delivered at the St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and is part of a lecture series in the Detroit Metropolitan area during Metropolitan Kallistos’ visit on February 15-20, 2011 to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Detroit.

Another lecture by Metropolitan Kallistos given in this series:

Cherubic Hymn from Serbia

March 22, 2011

The Cherubic Hymn from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The frescoes of angels and cherubs are from the medieval monasteries Milesheva and High Dechani in Serbia, built by the kings Stephen Vladislav I and Stephen Urosh III in 13th and 14th centuries respectively.

The Doors of Repentence Open Unto Me

March 19, 2011

The choir of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Beltsville, Maryland, chants Alexander Ledkovsky’s setting of “The Doors of Repentance,” at the vigil for the second Sunday of Great Lent, 2011. Words below:

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

The doors of repentance do Thou open unto me, O Giver of life,
for my spirit waketh at dawn toward Thy holy temple,
bearing a temple of the body all defiled.
But in Thy compassion, cleanse it by the loving-kindness of Thy mercy.

Both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Guide me in the paths of salvation, O Theotokos,
for I have defiled my soul with shameful sins,
and have wasted all my life in slothfulness,
but by thine intercessions deliver me from all uncleanness.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy
And according to the multitude of Thy compassions, blot out my transgressions.
When I think of the multitude of evil things I have done, I, a wretched one,
I tremble at the fearful day of judgment;
but trusting in the mercy of Thy loving-kindness, like David do I cry unto Thee:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.

Imaginal Orthodoxy and the Hope of the Future

March 18, 2011

Editor’s note: I generally try to avoid Church politics but sometimes it has to be acknowledged. While Orthodoxy proclaims itself as “right faith/worship,” it is not without its problems. We’ve seen this over and over in the history of the Church. St. Paul and St. Barnabas had a major falling out (Acts 15:36-40). It is said that at the First Ecumenical Council, St. Nicholas was so upset with Arius that he struck Arius with his own hand. Later Councils had their own problems and could be quite tempestuous. For example, even with Pope and Emperor, the Council of Chalcedon was not easily settled even after many of the Bishops discerned the voice of St. Peter during the reading of the Tome of St. Leo. More days of hard negotiation were required before the Council made its decision. Occasionally the issues involved are doctrinal, but generally they relate to what can be called “church politics” and they are still, sadly, with us. A current case in point involves my own Orthodox Church in America as can be seen in this current news article. With that in mind, I commend this reflection by Fr. Isaac Skidmore on our failures and future hopes.

Imaginal Orthodoxy and the Hope of the Future

By Fr. Isaac Skidmore

I have recently begun visiting the works of Orthodox “sophiologists,” who have largely been peripheralized and disregarded. While it is not my intention to rehabilitate them (though I think the future may do so), I find in them an insight germane to the turmoil we face as the Orthodox Church in America, as well as to the seeming incapacity of worldwide Orthodoxy to pull together in a cohesive witness to the world. The insight is captured in several statements: one, by Dostoevsky, who by at least some accounts stands within the sophiological lineage, says, “Beauty will save the world”; others, by Nikolai Berdyaev, saying, “For God’s purposes in the world the genius of Pushkin is as necessary as the sainthood of Seraphim” and, also, “Revelation demands a creative act.”

These statements call attention to an aspect of the Church which receives little notice these days: the role of the aesthetic in embodying and conveying truth. Counter to the notion of ecclesiology that has developed in the West, the Orthodox church does not experience authority primarily as a structural force that hangs, in hierarchical fashion, from a chief potentate. We know this, and delight in describing our conciliar self-understanding, in which authority is expressed as mutual agreement and indwelling, affirmed and renewed by each council’s immersion into the elements of holy tradition, resulting in a united, doxological articulation of our faith. We are mistaken though, if we believe this distinction of our ecclesiology, or even the omission of the filioque, is sufficient to bring about Orthodox life in a way that is meaningful to members and onlookers. It seems obvious that we, in our modern efforts to be Orthodox and transmit Orthodoxy, are missing “something.” Try as we might, coherency escapes us. Our endeavors rarely congeal into a whole that resembles the image of the Church we hold in our hearts. No matter how much we work the recipe, some critical ingredient seems lacking.

Looking for this missing element, we grasp at most-obvious possibilities. Surely, we think, the desired harmony will appear if we have leaders who are responsible and accountable. At other times, we look to structural dynamics themselves, wondering whether our form of governance should be more hierarchical, more congregational, more (or less) democratic, or more synodal. We focus on questions about autocephaly, autonomy and “maximal autonomy.” We wonder about the implications, if any, of the transition from SCOBA to the new Episcopal Assemblies. We eye the development, and the failure in development, of committees that promise to bring about a pan-Orthodox consolidation of resources and that vaguely point towards an administrative consummation of that unity in the future. We seem to be yearning for a kind of reform–a return to one or another of periods in which integrity prevailed. Or, we long for a future which feels itself free to shake off the past as though it were dust. All of this is well and good, as these are questions–each one and many more–that eventually have to be answered. In all of this, though, the missing ingredient remains missing. The more we seek the manifestation of the Church’s divine pedigree, mandate and hope, the more we encounter our human inability to see it to terms. This is no minor crisis, as it seems our whole spiritual effort is consumed by these questions.

It also evokes other questions: 1) While the future may resolve these issues, can we get there by way of the road we are on now? Doesn’t it seem as though the solution, at some point, must involve ceasing to push forward in the direction we are going, and turning onto a different path altogether? 2) Until these matters are set in order, are we destined to put our Orthodox lives on a kind of “hold”? (In practice, it sometimes seems we are doing just that.) 3) Also, if and when these issues begin to resolve, will we be in a state to then start living the life we claim to be seeking, or will we merely continue to focus on the imperfections of our churchly condition?

I have come to believe we are failing, not because we are not expending effort in good and necessary ways; nor because we are overwhelmed by the historically unprecedented transparency with which we now observe operations of our church administration and life; nor because debate, deliberation and even sometimes careless remarks have crossed a line on internet; nor because there is not often a sincere desire to repent. I believe we are failing because alongside all of our present activities, which no doubt will continue, we are not simultaneously sustained by a creative vision of Orthodoxy that is capable of encompassing and transcending the present morass. The take-home lesson of the sophiologists, I believe, is that we can have correct dogma, ritual and even administration, yet still lack the substance, if we do not also have beauty. More than that, when beauty is present, we find that even the deficits our humanity inevitably introduces into the expression of dogma, ritual and administration are bearable, and do not suffice to sever us from hope, communion, and even joy. (Does anyone remember joy?) The upholding of beauty, and the refusal to refrain from celebratory participation in its development and forms–even in the midst of what appears to be its negation–is the strongest, most sustaining declaration we can make. Beauty is not empty. It contains the fulness of hope, and holds in secret all that hope anticipates.

The symptoms of our malady are apparent. Our language has become dominated by words that are foreign to the soul in its depths. We find ourselves tonguing words like “sexual misconduct policy,” “central administration,” and “special investigative committee” with all too-much seriousness. Nineteenth-century Russia saw conditions that exceed our own in intolerability; yet, faith flourished, being fed by a eucharist that could be consumed even outside the warmth of the churches. The spiritually sustaining food was an image of earthly-heavenly beauty that informed the aesthetic experience of the people who lived through hard events. They could not have pointed to structures of church administration that were less fraught with fallibility than our own; yet, at the same time, they had Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoevsky. We, on the other hand, have become anemic, administrative, even puritanical in our conception of spiritual life. We find the room we stand in increasingly narrow and deprived of air.

Each year, we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, yet may be far from grasping its meaning. Orthodoxy has flourished, even under occupation by Tartars and Turks, owing to its ability to hold onto its image of glorified creation. This has provided it with a poetic sensibility that turns even bitter experiences into things that can be borne.

Much of our present dilemma comes from the fact that we seem to be waiting for external conditions to present this image to us before we will believe in it. I think the order needs to be reversed. We need to cultivate the image, sustain it, believe in it and celebrate it, even in the absence of external confirmation. We can survive years, even decades of ill-defined administrative structures. The church has done so before, embodying a spirit that evokes wonder. This church of the past, though, was not so soulless as we have become. They were capable of enduring much more than we, because they understood that their enduring took place in the context of beauty.

I am not suggesting that we turn to the past, as a way of escape. That would only confirm our despair. Nor am I suggesting that we put aside our internet banter, even in the name of Lent. I am suggesting that we take up the task of articulating, writing, and “writing,” in the iconic sense, the vision of God’s beauty in our present world.

We have failed in the OCA, with the exception of the holy joie de vivre of Fr. Schmemann and his now-maligned Parisian-American contemporaries, to articulate a story that captivates people in their craving for life. It’s not that our words fall on deaf ears but that they are not words that enchant the heart. We have botched the task of telling people a story they can be inspired by. It is said the the icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev, in an ineffable, imagistic way, answered the tensions of dogmatic disputes regarding the nature of the divine persons and essence, and calmed the passions of feuding sects. Opposing parties dropped their disputes, finding themselves muttering “Amen,” with trembling lips, before the breathtaking landscape of God’s Holy Trinity that had been laid before them. In all our words, strategic plans and investigative committees, let us not overlook the scandalous possibility that a single icon, conveying unspeakable grace of the order of Rublev’s Trinity, perhaps written tomorrow by some now-unknown hand, could turn the century around. And let us imagine that it not merely be such for the something-odd number of people who currently call themselves Orthodox, but for everyone who has capacity to be moved, to feel, to cry.

What will save the OCA? What will bring America towards Orthodox unity? Only in part does the answer consist of the administrative reforms we necessarily pursue. Only in part does it consist in the transformation of millenia-old sensibilities regarding jurisdiction and barbarian lands. More than that, it involves the bringing forth of a vision that renders the world breathless, telling a story that embraces every sinner in the birthright of a God whose name they don’t yet know, spreading a canopy that covers the earth as lovingly and solemnly as though it were covering the holy gifts. Our autocephaly was born in just such a doxological vision, and will be sustained by nothing less. Then, they will come. “And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

Beauty will save the world.

Reprinted with permission of the author. Source. Comments are welcome but I request they not address current conflicts in the Church but the article’s general thesis. Comments which are disrespectful of clergy or individuals will be severely moderated.

Further thoughts on “church politics”:

Comments on the Divine Liturgy

March 17, 2011

Someone asked me recently to briefly describe the Divine Liturgy, the main worship service used in the Orthodox Church. I referred them to this classic explanation which gives a succinct overview both of the Liturgy and its significance.

The Divine Liturgy is a heavenly service on earth. It is a supper, the table of God’s love to us. Christ gives Himself to be our food and drink, “that we might live through Him”.

When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, we do not merely act out something that happened about 2000 years ago at the Last Supper, we re-live the Last Supper as if it were the first.

We live the kingdom of God.

We hear Christ’s words, as much of the Liturgy is based on the Bible. We taste Christ when we receive His Body and Blood.

Great Litany

For this reason, the priest raises the Gospel book and begins the Divine Liturgy: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. God’s Kingdom is here before us. And it is in “the Kingdom” that we live and act the whole Liturgy.

What follows is the Great Litany which is our prayer for everyone and everything.

Now that we are in the “Kingdom of God”, the Church asks us to pray “in peace” (John 20:21), for the “peace of God passes all understanding” and keeps our “mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). We ask for “peace from above” (James 1:19) which is real peace and justice (Matt 6:33). We pray for “the salvation of our souls” which is God’s Kingdom. We pray “for peace in the world” (John 14:27), “the stability of the Holy Churches”, for our “Holy House”, and for “the Archbishop” (Hebrews 13:17) who is the successor of the Apostles. We pray for “every city” and that God may provide “seasonable weather abundance of the fruits”, for those “who are travelling” and that God may protect us from all “affliction, anger, danger and distress”.

In response to all these prayers, we only ask for one thing: “Lord, have mercy”, believing Christ’s words, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7).

The priest completes the prayer by calling us to focus all our life on Christ.

The Antiphons

We ask the Theotokos, the Mother of God, to pray for us. The choir asks for “the intercessions of the Theotokos” to help save us.

We then chant “Alleluia” (Praise be to God) (Ps 115:1) to Him “Who rose from the dead” and ask that he may save us.

Following our request, we chant “Only Begotten Son and Word of God”. Here we are reminded of the teachings of our Church; about the birth of our Lord, that He took on human flesh (Titus 3:4), that He conquered death. We profess His immortality and ask that He save us (John 3:16).

Small Entrance

We reach a significant moment in the Liturgy when the priest, representing all the people, moves through the Church to the Altar. He holds the Gospel high and says “Wisdom, Attend”. Let us pay attention to Jesus, who is the living Word of God.

This Holy act reveals Christ’s entry into the world. “When He brings the first-bom into the world, He says Let all God’s angels worship Him” (Heb 1:6). The choir chants “Come let us worship (Him), save us Son of God” (Ps 94:6).

Trisagion Thrice Holy Hymn

Now that we have seen God, the Word, we praise Him.”Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal”. With the Thrice Holy Hymn we praise the Triune God. It is taken from the hymn the angels chant to God, “My soul thirsts for the mighty and living God” (Ps 42:2). We join with the angels to glorify God. “Holy God” who is the Father, “Holy Mighty”, the Son of God, “Holy Immortal” the Holy Spirit, who is the giver of Life, “have mercy on us”.

Scripture Readings

We have seen God in the Small Entrance, we have just praised Him. Now we will hear the Word: the Good News.

God speaks to us directly through the Epistle and Gospel readings. Because of this great event, the choir chants “Glory to You, 0 Lord, Glory to You” (I Cor 10:31).

Cherubic Hymn Great Entrance

With the Great Entrance, Christ enters the Holy Altar to offer Himself for us.

In singing the Cherubic Hymn, we are asked to lay “aside all earthly care that we may receive the King of all” (Matt 24:44). We are asked to leave this temporary world so that we may make the “great entrance” with Christ into His Kingdom. For this reason, during the Cherubic Hymn, the priest says to the people: “May the Lord God remember all of you in His Kingdom”.

The Holy Gifts are placed at the Altar and covered with a cloth. This represents the covering of Christ’s body by Joseph of Arimathea after he took Christ’s body down from the cross.

Now that Christ has made the “Great Entrance” into Jerusalem, we “complete our prayer” to Him. In a set of prayers, we are asked to focus completely on essential matters of our life. The simple response is:

“Grant this 0 Lord”.

The priest offers peace to all of us. Peace is the provider of all good things and opens the door to love. Only with love and peace can we honestly confess “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.

The Creed What we believe

“Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess” (John 13:34, James 5:16) what we believe. Only through love towards one another, only if we have the one mind can we begin to affirm what we believe.

The Creed, also known as the Symbol of our Faith, is recited. It is our human response and wisdon to God’s wisdom. We stand confidently and show our love to God by affirming Him.

The Anaphora

Anaphora means “lifting up” because in this part of Liturgy the priest, on our behalf, lifts the bread and wine to God. The priest asks that the bread be made into the “precious Body of Christ” and the wine into the “precious Blood of Christ”.

But before this, we are asked to “Stand well”, that we may be filled with the “love of God”, to “lift up our hearts” (Col 3:2) to God.

We “give thanks to the Lord” by joining the angels to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

When we are ready, we offer the gifts (bread and wine) God gave us, back to Him so that He may bless them (John 14:17). Likewise, our whole life should be offered to God so that He may bless and transfigure it.

We do this “in remembrance” of Him as Christ asked at the Last Supper. This act is not merely a repetition of the Last Supper but rather an extension of that Holy Event. Christ offered His Body and Blood then and does so now. We re-live His sacrifice in every Liturgy. This is His constant love for us: “He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood abides in Me and I in him” (John 5:56).

The Lord’s Prayer

Having remembered all the Saints and “especially… our all-holy, pure, most blessed, glorious Lady Theotokos”, the priest calls on us to boldly dare to call on our Heavenly God as Father. We respond with “Our Father in Heaven. . .” (John 16:23).


Now that we have called “Our Father”, we prepare to receive Him and affirm that only “One is Holy, One is Lord…”

We prepare ourselves with prayers acknowledging that Christ will save sinners (Tim 1:15). This is His sacred Body and Blood. Despite our fallen state, we must not lose hope but ask forgiveness and that he make us worthy to receive the “Mysteries” so that we have “Life Everlasting” (John 6:53).

All members of the Church, young and old the whole family of Christ receive Holy Communion (I Cor 12:27).

We chant “The Body of Christ come take. Of the fount of Immortality come taste”. Christ belongs to each of us. “Come take” (Ps 71:8).

With Holy Communion, we pass from death into the Resurrection of Christ. We live again. Christ offers Himself to “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:16).


Having armed ourselves with Christ, we may continue our life.

Following our offering of thanks to Christ for giving us His Body and Blood we are asked to “go forth in peace, in the name of the Lord”. We receive the blessing of Christ and are asked to leave as witnesses to what we have just experienced. We take Christ, the Word, whom we have seen in the Small Entrance, heard through the Gospel and tasted through Communion and make Him a part of our whole life in this world.

We begin the Liturgy with “in peace, let us pray”. We are now asked to “go in peace”. We depart chanting “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Ps 112:2).

The Divine Liturgy is a joumey, the aim of which is to meet and unite ourselves with God. During the Liturgy we have received Christ. Now we are asked to receive Him into our whole life.