On the altar of the heart

BY faith didst thou justify the Forefathers (cf. Heb 11), a betrothal beforehand of the Church gathered from the nations. Let the saints in glory boast, for from their seed there is a glorious fruit, she that bare thee without seed. At their intercessions, O Christ God, save our souls.

Apolytikion at Vespers for the Sunday of the Forefathers. Source.

**

TODAY is the Feast of the Forefathers, the saints of Israel before and after the giving of the Law of Moses, but before the birth of Christ.

This seems an appropriate day for St Bede’s reflections on the ways in which the Jewish Temple prefigured the Christian’s life of prayer.

*

THE altar of gold signifies the hearts of the perfect who are justified, resplendent in the light of purity and inward brightness.

Even the position of that altar is well suited for signifying their elevated state.

It stood in front of the gate of the holy of holies, as we clearly read in the account of the making of the tabernacle.

On this altar, it seems, they burned sacrifices not of blood, or first-fruits, but of incense, whose smoke rising on high would envelop the Ark, and fill the Mercy Seat with the odour of sweetness.

In this is expressed a symbol of the faithful.

An altar and priest in an Orthodox church

“With the temporal world forgotten, they seek after heavenly things with absolute concentration, just as if they were standing in the precincts of the Mercy Seat.”

With the preoccupations of the temporal world forgotten, they seek after heavenly things with absolute concentration, just as if they were standing in the precincts of the Mercy Seat, and not far from the curtain by which the holy of holies was divided from the temple.

They inhabit the earth bodily, but for the other part, which relates to the whole inner man, they have their converse in the heavens.

And from this altar there ascends into the holy of holies, where the Ark is kept, a smoke of incense, as the prayers of the saints, fanned by the flames of charity, reach up to heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father.

It is not sacrifices of blood which are burned on this altar, but rather of incense, because what such men offer, like so many priests, in praise to God on the altar of their hearts are not works of flesh and blood.

They offer to him pledges of tears and prayer, for the sake of their longing for the heavenly kingdom.

St Bede, monk of Jarrow (+735). On The Temple of Solomon, chapter 22. My translation.

**

THE myrrh-bearing women offered unto thee, O Lord, a morning hymn of tears. For bearing scented herbs of sweet perfume, they made haste to gather at thy grave, there to anoint thine immaculate body. But an angel was seated upon the stone, and unto them gave these glad tidings: Why do you seek the living among the dead? For being God he is risen, trampling down death, pouring out on all the great mercy.

AN ANGEL, lightning-bright, upon thy life-giving tomb said unto the myrrh-bearing women: The Redeemer hath emptied the grave, he hath despoiled hades, and risen on the third day, for he alone is God, and all-powerful.

MARY Magdalen sought thee out, coming to thy tomb on the first day of the week. When she found thee not, she broke into lamentation and cried out with weeping, Alas my Saviour, how canst thou be stolen away, King of all? But two life-bearing angels there within the tomb cried: Why art thou weeping, O woman? I am weeping, said she, because they have taken my Lord from the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid him. But she turned round, and she saw thee, and straightway cried out: My Lord and my God, glory be to thee!

THE Hebrews shut life in the tomb, but the robber opened paradise upon his tongue, crying out and saying: He who was crucified beside me was crucified on my account, he hanged with me upon a tree, and appeared unto me upon his throne, seated with the Father: for he is Christ our God, who hath the great mercy in his gift.

At the Liturgy on Sundays of the Third Tone. Source.

Pledge of joy

Apolytikion.

O GOD of our fathers, who ever dealest with us according to thy forbearance, remove not thy mercy from us, but at their prayers, govern our life in peace.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

From Vespers for today, the Forefeast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Source.

**

The iconostasis in the Church of the Hundred Doors (Ekatontapyliani) on the Greek island of Paros.

Entrance into the temple: the iconostasis in the Church of the Hundred Doors (Ekatontapyliani) on the Greek island of Paros.

**

Of the Forefeast. To the melody, ‘Seize us quickly’.

UNTO us today doth Anna offer a pledge of joy. Joyously fulfilling her vows, she who bore a fruit that is the remedy for grief, the one who alone of all is Ever-Virgin, bringeth her today as an offering into the Temple of the Lord, truly the Temple of God the Word, and his pure mother.

From Vespers for today, the Forefeast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Source.

SEIZE us quickly, before we are enslaved by the enemies that blaspheme thee and threaten us, O Christ our God; destroy by thy cross them that make war against us, let them know what is the strength of the Orthodox faith, by the intercessions of the Theotokos, thou only lover of mankind.

Source.

Let creation rejoice and flower

THEN said he, “I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am.

“My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder.”

When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?”

So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

John Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress”.

**

An icon of the Resurrection (11th century) in the Monastery of St Luke, Greece

An icon of the Resurrection (11th century) in the Monastery of St Luke, Greece

**

LET creation rejoice and flower like a lily; for, being God, Christ hath been raised from the dead. ‘Where now O death is thy sting?’ we cry. ‘Where, Hades, is thy victory?’ He  who lifted up our horn hath cast thee to the ground, for he is full of tender pity.

Most holy Theotokos, save us.

THOU bearest up him that beareth up all things; thou holdest in thy hands as an infant child him that delivereth us from out the hand of the enemy that warreth upon us, O immaculate Lady; and thou seest lifted up upon the Cross him that lifteth us up from the depths of wickedness.

Sunday Matins, Tone 6. Source.

With longing we kiss the image of Christ

Today is the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, at Nicaea in 787.

THE assembly of the Fathers excellently laid it down, for those who honour God, that the holy image of Christ should be set up in its place once more, and given a veneration that is relative [i.e. to the person it depicts]; for our part, as obedient children, we lovers of true religion celebrate their yearly memory, and with longing we kiss the image of Christ.

**

An icon of Christ in Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

An icon of Christ in Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

**

Theotokion

MORE than blessed art thou, Virgin Theotokos; for through him that came of thee, Hades was taken captive, and Adam was recalled, the curse was withered in death, and Eve was set at liberty, death died utterly, and we were made alive. Therefore, singing praises we cry: Blessed art thou, Christ our God, who wast well-pleased so to do: glory be to thee.

Source.

**

Alleluia. Praise ye the Lord.

Worshippers of the heavenly choir, circling the throne of glory

AND I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;

Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.

Revelation 5:11-14

**

An icon of St Michael the Archangel

"In honour and memory of the supreme Generals Michael and Gabriel, and of all the heavenly and bodiless Powers." An icon of St Michael the Archangel.

**

“THEN, taking a seal from the same or third Prosphora, and removing a fragment of it, he places it to the left-hand side of the Lamb [for terms, see this guide], saying: “In honour and memory of the supreme Generals Michael and Gabriel, and of all the heavenly and bodiless Powers.”

IN the action of the Divine Liturgy, the heavenly Powers also serve. That is why the priest places a piece to the left of the Lamb in honour of the heavenly Powers.

Prior to the Incarnation of the Word, the angels knew dimly the mystery of Christ: “They knew the simple and singular (μονοειδῆ) wisdom of God”, writes St Gregory of Nyssa.

With the incarnation of the Word, God appeared in the flesh… (and) he was seen by the Angels. “So it was” concludes the divine Chrysostom “that he was seen by the angels too, when he clothed himself in flesh”.

When the fulness of time came, the oeconomy of the mystery hidden from the ages in God appeared to the angels first. And the angels revealed it to men: “It was the angels who first told of the divine mystery of Jesus’s love for mankind, then the grace of that knowledge passed over through them to us.”

The archangel Gabriel visited Zacharias to announce to him the birth of the Baptist, who was messenger before the face of Christ. The same archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin to announce to her that “in her will be born God’s royal mystery, of something unutterably fashioned by God.”

An angel visited Joseph to inform him that the Virgin had conceived by the holy Spirit and was pregnant with the Saviour of the world.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord visited the shepherds, because they had pure souls, because they lived amid stillness, and announced to them the joyful news that Christ was born: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Lk 2:13-14)

Cutting the Prosphora with a lance

“In the liturgical Bethlehem – the holy Prothesis – the mystery of the incarnation of the Word is played out in priestly acts.” Cutting the Prosphora with a lance.

Now, in the liturgical Bethlehem – the holy Prothesis – the mystery of the incarnation of the Word is played out in priestly acts.

And angels of the Lord appear to ministers who are pure in heart: “One of the Fathers explained, that there was a pure and holy man from among the Elders, who when he was performing the Prokomidi, saw angels standing at his right hand and at his left”.

And at the time of the holy Oblation (Anaphora), “Angels stood by the priest and all the ranks of the heavenly Powers cry and and the place around the altar is filled, in honour of him that lies there”, of our Master, Christ.

Hieromonk Gregorios, From «Ἡ Θεία Λειτουργία-Σχόλια», published by the Holy Cell of St John the Theologian, of the Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mount Athos. This is my amateur translation from Piraiki Ekklisia, November 2010.

The picture above is taken from this very clear explanation of the Proskomide, from the Church of St Seraphim of Sarov, Sea Cliff, New York, where all the technical terms are explained.

**

LET us rival the life of the Angels and give wings to our mind to rise on high. Let us immaterially raise the song with them, praising the Lord, and highly exalting him to all the ages.

Worshippers of the heavenly choir are they, circling the throne of glory and ever wheeling about God, Angels praising and highly exalting him to the ages.

The Angels that minister unceasingly in the heights, the Trinity makes a flame of immaterial fire, and shows them to be spirits. Let us worship him and glorify him to all the ages.

Theotokion

Thou wast worthy to carry in thine arms the One before whom tens of thousands of Angels and Archangels stand trembling in heaven. Implore him, Mother of God, that we may be saved, who glorify him to the ages.

At Matins on the Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels and the Bodiless Powers, November 8. My amateur translation, from Analogion, with help from Anastasis.

Chase the night from our hearts, O Theotokos

THERE is a continual battle between good and evil, between right and wrong, between freedom and captivity of ideas, between purity and corruption.

All these battles take place on the one single field of combat — the heart of man.

Fr Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa (1925-2006). From “Christ Is Calling You” (Source).

**

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1940 that the splendid Greek people soundly rejected alliance with Mussolini’s fascist Italy.

Since 1960, the Greek Church has celebrated the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God on this day, instead of the traditional date of October 1.

It is also the day in 312 on which Constantine the Great became Roman Emperor, defeating his rival Maxentius under the banner of Chi-Rho symbol of the Christians. Constantine subsequently adopted Christianity as the official religion of his Empire.

**

A Chi-Rho symbol in a Roman chapel (AD360), Lullingstone, England

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). A Chi-Rho (ΧΡ) symbol in a Roman chapel (c. AD 360), Lullingstone, England. The letters 'alpha' and 'omega' (Α ω) can also be seen.

**

Canon the Second, Ode 4. Plagal of the Fourth Tone.

CHASE from our hearts the night of the passions by the overshadowing of thy Protection, O Theotokos: for thou art good, and makest the day of joy shine out, the brightness of merriment, and thou givest cheer unto them that faithfully cry out to thee: Rejoice, protection of the world, all light.

GOD was revealed unto the world as man from thee, begotten from thy immaculate bloodstream; and in thee he brought to light a protection for the world, O Virgin, and a help in tribulation: for thou dost cover them all about, thou dost pluck them out of perils, that with longing seek refuge under thy protection.

AS thou barest in the womb the King of all, as thou art Queen of all things: accompanied by saints of godly form, thou didst reveal unto us by heart-sight (νοερῶς) the proof of thy holy protection, in a demonstration yet more divine, O all-immaculate Lady.

WE who are saved by it from grievous trials raise our hymns, O Lady hymned by all, to thy Protection, wondrous and formed in splendour, by which thou dost protect and save every soul of the devout; and faithfully we cry to thee: Rejoice O Maid, help of mankind.

Katavasia

WHEN the prophet Habakkuk perceived the unsearchable divine counsel of thy taking flesh from the Virgin, thou Most High, he was found crying out: Glory to thy power, O Lord (cf. Hab 3:1-6, LXX).

**

In the Greek practice, there is an additional Doxology (see Greek text) on this day, in which the following Kontakion features prominently.

UNTO THEE, my champion and commander,
I thy city, redeemed from perilous griefs,
ascribe songs of victory and thanksgiving, O Theotokos:
but as thou hast the might which is unassailable,
set me free from every kind of danger,
that I might cry to thee:
Rejoice, bride unwedded!

In them there is not one heresy: all is mercy, forgiveness and love

The Sunday on or next after October 11 (so this year falling on Sunday October 16) commemorates the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, held at Nicaea in 787.

At this Council, belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation was reaffirmed, and the veneration of holy icons was restored.

**

AS the Fathers devoutly taught, we faithfully confess a virgin womb, which gave birth without pangs unto the Fleshless in flesh; and we depict and venerate his likeness, and greet it with honour.

Theotokion, Canon of the Saints (Ode 1), at Matins on the Feast of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. My non-expert translation, from Analogion.

**

An icon of Christ in the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

An icon of Christ in the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

**

THE way in which the faithful act, move and dance liturgically is trinitarian.

This is why they acquire “likeness in character” to God,1  “the color of God,”2 and a fragrance which is His own.

They live according to the truth and in them there is “not one heresy.”3

In the liturgical life there is no room for hatred.

All is mercy, forgiveness and love.

And this love is blended with truth.

Archimandrite Vasileios (Gontikakis), “Hymn of Entry” p. 30.

1 St Ignatius, Magn. 6:2; P.G. 5:668B.
2 St Ignatius, Eph. 4:2; P.G. 5:648B; Eph. 6:2; P.G. 5:649B.
3 St Ignatius, Smyrn. 6:1; P.G. 5:712B.

**

O YE fathers, heavenly minded, gathered together at the Seventh Synod, set forth thy earnest prayer to the Trinity, that we who raise our hymns unto your divine assembly might be rescued from every heresy and from eternal condemnation, and reach the Kingdom of heaven.

Theotokion

BY the intercessions of thy mother, O surpassingly good Lord, and of the fathers gathered together in the Seven Synods, confirm thy Church, and strengthen the Faith, and shew all to be sharers in the Kingdom of heaven, when thou shalt come to earth to execute judgment on all creation.

Matins on the Feast of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. My non-expert translation, from Analogion.

**

Archimandrite Vasileios Gontikakis (centre)

“One is not truly Orthodox simply by virtue of persecuting heresies, any more than one is in Paradise if one simply curses hell. Orthodox life is of great importance.” Abbot Vasileios Gontikakis (centre).

**

But what should we actually do about heresy?

Elder Vasileios says that we should live a life of such Christian love and prayer that heresy flees of its own accord.

THE faithful do not have a mission to persecute heresies, irrespective of the way they themselves live, for this only creates a climate congenial to the tares of heresy.

“Because of you My name is blasphemed among the gentiles” (cf. Is 52:5), the Lord would say in such a case.

One is not truly Orthodox simply by virtue of persecuting heresies, any more than one is in Paradise if one simply curses hell.

Orthodox life is of great importance.

It is “what is perfected before God,” in the words of St Ignatius. It is fulness and divine self-sufficiency: it is a confession, the persecution of falsehood, and the salvation of man.

“For the clear knowledge of that which is, serves as a purification of notions about that which has no real existence.”1

Orthodoxy does not have the fire of the holy inquisition.

It lights an incorporeal flame which cools the holy but burns the impious.

This fiery pillar of uncreated grace and life gives the path of the faithful shade by day and light by night.

“Hymn of Entry” p. 98.

1 St Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses 2:22; S.C. 1 bis, p. 38.

Elder Vasileios adds a little later on:

IF we want to ask the Lord, as the Apostles did, why we cannot remove by our theological meetings and efforts the one obstacle closing the road to Christian unity, He will certainly give us the same answer he gave then:

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

“Hymn of Entry” p. 99.

**

O VIRGIN Theotokos, thou art surpassingly blessed!

For by him that took flesh from thee, Hades hath been taken captive, Adam hath been recalled, the curse hath been made quite dead, Eve hath been set at liberty, death hath been put to death, and we have been made alive.

Thus we cry as we raise our hymns to thee: Blessed art thou, Christ our God, who hast been pleased so to do. Glory be to thee!

Matins on the Feast of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. My non-expert translation, from Analogion.