St Catherine the Great Martyr: A casket of sweet spices for her Bridegroom

TODAY is the feast of St Catherine the Great Martyr, a princess of Alexandria in Egypt at the turn of the 4th century.

The Roman Emperor Maximinus conceived an uncontrollable passion for the young Catherine. When she refused him, declaring herself to be the bride of Christ alone, he seized her family property and imprisoned her.

Scholars sent to debate her were confounded, and unexpectedly turned to Christ. Maximinus’s wife was intrigued by her rival, but she too was won over by Catherine. Maximinus had all of them put to death in AD 305.

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An icon of Christ the Almighty, in the Greek orthodox Church of St Catherine, West Palm Beach, Florida USA

An icon of Christ the Almighty, in the Greek Orthodox Church of St Catherine, West Palm Beach, Florida USA

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AS if it were an alabaster casket of sweet spices, thou didst offer thy blood unto Christ thy Bridegroom, O Catherine, undefeated champion; and in turn thou didst receive from him an incorruptible crown, wondrous saint. So it was, that thou didst blunt the insolence of eloquent men, and draw them to divine knowledge, and with the wise queen they were adorned with the crown of martyrdom; therefore, intercede with Christ God, that our souls may be saved.

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Today is also the Apodosis or Leave-taking of the Feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.

TODAY the Temple which held God within her, the Theotokos, is led into the Temple of the Lord, and Zachariah receives her. Today the Holy of Holies is glad, and the choir of angels mystically keepeth feast. Celebrating with them today, let us too cry out with Gabriel: Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with thee, he who disposeth the Great Mercy.

Source.

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Beneath thy tender mercy, O Theotokos,
We flee for refuge.
Do not disregard our petitions
In this time of trouble,
But deliver us from out of perils,
Only pure, only blessed Lady.

(3rd century AD)

Let us be joined with Christ the Bridegroom

COME, ye that are wounded by the sweetest divine love, let us all in the mystery of this bridal chamber be joined together with Christ the Bridegroom, as we cry out: Blessed art thou, the Lord of glory.

On the Feast of the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Source.

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9ssfjLvysE&w=450%5D

Bless the Lord, O My Soul
(Sergei Rachmaninov)

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CHRIST, then, is the bridegroom, and the Church is his bride; the wedding guests are the individual believers. The wedding celebrations celebrate the time when Christ joined the holy Church to himself through the mystery of the Incarnation.

St Bede, priest-monk of Jarrow (d. 735). Homily 18, For the Second Sunday after Epiphany. My translation.

With longing in our heart and upon our lips

THERE lies in the Church the possibility of the mystical experience of God.

Man cannot be satisfied with a merely external relationship with God.

He is fashioned so as to be in love with God.

Divine love (eros), the Fathers say, is a necessity for man’s soul.

So it is this loving (erotiki) relationship with God that ultimately satisfies man.

And this loving relationship and mystical life and experience of God is nourished by the sacramental life, by unceasing prayer, and all the ascetic practice of the Orthodox Church which the Philokalia and the holy Fathers have handed down to us.

Archimandrite George Kapsanis. My amateur translation. Source.

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An icon of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

An icon of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

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WHEN the man of Arimathea took thee, the Life of all that is, down from the Tree a dead man, he tended thee for burial with myrrh and fine linen, O Christ; and with longing in his heart and upon his lips, he made speed to shroud thy undefiled body. Yet wrapped in fear, he cried out to thee rejoicing: O thou that lovest mankind, glory be to thy abasement.

O Lord, thou has taken pleasure in thy land: thou hast turned back the captivity of Jacob. (Ps 84[85]:1)

WHEN thou, the Redeemer of every thing, wast laid in the new grave for the sake of every thing, beholding thee Hades, a laughing stock, quaked with fear: its bars were shattered, its gates were ground to dust, its tombs were opened, the dead arose. Then Adam, giving thanks, cried out to thee rejoicing: O thou that lovest mankind, glory be to thy abasement.

Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed. (v10)

WHEN the angelic powers would look upon thee, falsely accused by lawless men as a deceiver, they would tremble at thy ineffable longsuffering, and at the tombstone, sealed by hands which pierced thy undefiled side. Yet rejoicing at our salvation they cried out to thee: O thou that lovest mankind, glory be to thy abasement.

Glory be… Now and forever…

JOSEPH sued for the body of Jesus, and placed it in his own new tomb: for it was necessary for him to come forth from the grave as from a bridal chamber. To thee, who shattered the power of death and opened the gates of Paradise, be glory given.

On Saturday in the Third Week after Pascha (the Myrhh-bearing Women). My amateur translation, from Analogion.

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A miraculous icon of the Theotokos, Panagia Glykophilousa, at the Philotheou monastery on Mount Athos

A miraculous icon of the Theotokos, Panagia Glykophilousa ('sweetly kissing'), at the Philotheou monastery on Mount Athos

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Theotokion. [To the melody] “When the man of Arimathea &c.”

TRULY we have found no mighty refuge, no tower of strength or unconquerable wall, but thee O all pure Lady; and unto thee do we flee, and to thee we cry out: Help, O Mistress, lest we perish, show unto us thy grace, and the wealth of thy queenly power, and the vastness of thy tender pity.

Or this Cross-Theotokion.

ENDURING many pains at the crucifixion of thy son and God, O Immaculate, thou didst groan in thy weeping, and in thy cry: Alas, O sweetest child! Why dost thou die unjustly, who desirest to redeem Adam’s earthborn? Wherefore, Virgin Panagia, we beseech thee in faith, let him be gracious to us.

At Vespers for November 4. My amateur translation, from Analogion.

St John the Forerunner baptised Him whom the prophets preached

Today is the Apodosis (Leave-taking) of the Feast of the Beheading of St John the Forerunner, which fell yesterday.

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THE memory of the righteous man is with praises: but thou wast pleased with witness to the Lord, O Forerunner.

For truly thou wast destined to be more reverend than the Prophets, because thou wast accounted worthy to baptise him whom they preached.

Wherefore, having laboured for the truth, with joy didst thou preach to them that were in Hades the gospel of God made visible in the flesh, of him that taketh away the sin of the world and granteth unto us his great mercy.

Apolytikion on the Feast of the Beheading of St John the Forerunner (August 29)

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(Resp.—Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Thee—with joy Heaven and earth worship!)

MY thought bore me to Jordan,
and I saw a marvel when there was revealed
the glorious Bridegroom who to the Bride
shall bring freedom and holiness.

2.  I saw John filled with wonder,
and the multitudes standing about him,
and the glorious Bridegroom bowed down
to the Son of the barren that he might baptize Him.

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An icon of St John the Forerunner and Baptist

An icon of St John the Forerunner and Baptist

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3.  At the Word and the Voice my thought marvelled:
for lo! John was the Voice;
our Lord was manifested as the Word,
that what was hidden should become revealed.

4.  The Bride was espoused but knew not
who was the Bridegroom on whom she gazed:
the guests were assembled, the desert was filled,
and our Lord was hidden among them.

5.  Then the Bridegroom revealed Himself;
and to John at the voice He drew near:
and the Forerunner was moved and said of Him
“This is the Bridegroom Whom I proclaimed.” […]

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An icon of the Baptism of Christ (Theophany)

An icon of the Baptism of Christ (Theophany)

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48.  The heavenly ranks were silent as they stood,
and the Bridegroom went down into Jordan;
the Holy One was baptized and straightway went up,
and His Light shone forth on the world.

49.  The doors of the highest were opened above,
and the voice of the Father was heard,
“This is my Beloved in Whom I am well pleased.”
All ye peoples, come and worship Him.

50.  They that saw were amazed as they stood,
at the Spirit Who came down and bare witness to Him.
Praise to Thy Epiphany that gladdens all,
Thou in Whose revelation the worlds are lightened!

St Ephrem Syrus, “Fifteen Hymns for the Feast of the Epiphany”, Hymn XIV: Concerning our Lord and John. Source.

I found him whom my soul loves: I held him, and did not let him go

Three glimpses of the Bridal Chamber, where Christ the Bridegroom is made one body with the Church, his Bride (cf. Col 1:21-242 Cor 11:2):

in the womb of Mary,

at the Transfiguration of Christ,

and at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

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The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

LET us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Revelation 19:7-9

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An icon of the Transfiguration, in the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai

An icon of the Transfiguration, in the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai

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The Transfiguration

MAKING ready for his friends the bridal chamber of glory of the joy to come Christ ascends the mountain, bringing them up from a lowly life on earth to a way of life high above the world.

Triode of the Forefeast of the Transfiguration.

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The Mother of God

COME, godly-minded people, as we celebrate this divine and honoured feast of the Mother of God, let us clap our hands as we glorify the God who was born from her.

Spotless bridal chamber of the Word, cause of the deification of all, hail, All-immaculate, the resonance of the Prophets! Hail, the adornment of the Apostles!

Canon of the Akathist.

The melody for this hymn is directed to be used when singing the hymn on the Transfiguration above, thus linking them theologically.

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The Song of Songs is generally interpreted by the Church Fathers as a mystical expression of the love between the Church (and each Christian soul) and Christ.

BY night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves: I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he hearkened not to me.

I will rise now, and go about in the city, in the market-places, and in the streets, and I will seek him whom my soul loves: I sought him, but I found him not.

The watchmen who go their rounds in the city found me. I said, Have ye seen him whom my soul loves?

It was as a little while after I parted from them, that I found him whom my soul loves: I held him, and did not let him go.

Song of Songs 3:1-4

Manifest all Your splendour, O Holy Spirit, so that my soul may recognize whose bride she is

AS the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.

Isaiah 62:5

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An icon of Christ the Bridegroom

Christ the Bridegroom

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IT is the Spirit in Whom we worship, and in Whom we pray.

For Scripture says, God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).

And again,—We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Rom 8:26); and I will pray with the Spirit and I will pray with the understanding also (1 Cor 14:15); — that is, in the mind and in the Spirit.

Therefore to adore or to pray to the Spirit seems to me to be simply Himself offering prayer or adoration to Himself.

St Gregory Nazianzen, “Fifth Theological Oration: On the Holy Spirit” §12.

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COME closer to me, closer still, O majestic Spirit of Truth.

Draw near, and enter into me, more deeply than light and air enter me.

Indeed, I can spend an entire night without light, but without You I cannot even lie down on my bed.

I can take ten steps without air, but without You I cannot even take one.

Take up your abode in my soul more deeply than my thought can follow.

The entire universe is insufficient to encourage my soul to persevere in virginity, if You do not encourage her.

The world incessantly asks for the hand of my soul, in order to be wedded to her.

The world offers my soul all its treasures, if only she will abandon her waiting for You.

The world whitewashes all its sepulchres, just to entice my soul.

The world sets all its ashes out in the sun and pours flattery and pomposity all over it, just to seduce my soul.

Manifest all Your splendor, O Holy Spirit, so that my soul may recognize whose bride she is.

St Nikolai Velimirovic, “Prayers by the Lake” No. XLVII (Source).

So call your husband, call your inner spirit, and drink the water of life

JESUS saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.

The woman answered and said, I have no husband.

Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

John 4:16-18.

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Jacob's Well Pond, near Guildford in Surrey. © Colin Smith, Geograph. Used under licence.

Jacob's Well Pond, near Guildford in Surrey, named after the well where the woman of Samaria drew her water. © Colin Smith, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

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Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Samaritan woman, who admitted to Jesus that she had already gone through five husbands, and was now living as a sixth man’s mistress.

In his Commentary on St John’s Gospel, St Bede explains the spiritual lessons we can take away from this.

He sees the ‘five husbands’ as the five bodily senses – legitimate partners indeed, but not the best.

WHEN someone arrives at that age at which she is capable of reason, if she can immediately comprehend truth, she does not employ these senses as guides.

Rather, she has a rational spirit-husband, to whom she leads these senses in service, subjecting her body to servitude, since her soul is not now subjected to five ‘husbands’, that is to the five senses of the body;

instead, she has the divine Word as her legitimate husband, to whom she is coupled and to whom she cleaves.

As the very spirit of man cleaves to Christ, because Christ is the head of man (1 Cor 11:3), in spiritual embraces, she delights in eternal life without fear of parting. […]

The woman’s current live-in companion represents the human spirit.

Bede sees this spirit as the human “nous”, the eye of the heart, whose proper role is not as a husband, but as a servant to help the soul find her true love, to find her true Bridegroom, which is Christ.

WHEN this spirit of man is present, that is, when it is eager, and when it subjects itself to God in devotion, man perceives things which are said spiritually.

But when the error of the devil dominates in the soul, inasmuch as perception is absent, it is adulterous.

“So call” he says “your husband”, that is, the spirit that is within you, by which man can perceive spiritual things.

For if the light of truth makes things clear, that ‘husband’ is perceived to be present.

So “call your husband”, so that he may be present when I am talking with you, so that you may receive spiritual water.

Commentary on the Gospel of St John, ad loc.. MPL XCII 683-684. This is my inexpert translation.

The feast of St Bede (who reposed on 26th May, 735) is kept in the Orthodox Churches on May 27th.

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AND I pray thee, merciful Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously granted me sweet draughts from the Word which tells of Thee, so wilt Thou, of Thy goodness, grant that I may come at length to Thee, the fount of all wisdom, and stand before Thy face for ever.

A Prayer of St Bede.