Archbishop Demetrios: 10 Suggestions for Lent

By His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America

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1. Meditate on the History of Salvation

Think of the Lenten period as a time of meditating on the history of salvation.  Think about the creation of the universe and of Adam and Eve as the beginning of human life on earth.  Think about the fall of Adam and the entrance of sin in humanity.  We see in the hymnology of the liturgical book of Lent, the Triodion, constant references to the tragedy of the fall of the first human beings.  For example, in the Oikos of the Matins on yesterday’s Cheesefare Sunday, we read: “Adam sat and cried in those days across from the delights of Paradise; beat his hands upon his face, and said: Merciful One, have mercy on me who have fallen.”

The memory of what happened through the fall of Adam and Eve continues on in us to this day.  Think of the current condition of the world with its chaotic situation, confusion, violence, poverty, injustices, oppression, sickness and death, and remember it all started way back with Adam and Eve as a consequence of their sin and fall.  But then contemplate the course of history and how the amazing, unimaginable, and unpredictable act of God Himself to become a human being radically changed everything.  So in the course of Lent remember the history of salvation: From the fall of humankind, to the promise of redemption, the Incarnation of God as the new Adam, His Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension into Heaven, and the Second Coming.  Take time to reflect on God’s divine actions through history.

2. Review the understanding of fasting

Take fasting seriously as a very important aspect of Lent.  Think of fasting not simply as an item of diet, but as something related to the fall of humankind, and at the same time as a victory through Christ.  We fast for forty days in Lent before Holy Week not merely as an exercise, an ascesis, but also because there is an important Christological significance attached to fasting.  We have forty-day fasting models from both the Old and New Testaments.  In the Old Testament, Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28, Deut. 9:9, 9:18) and Prophet Elijah fasted for forty days on Mount Horeb (3 Kingdoms 19:8).  Both of these instances are connected with an encounter with God at the end of their fasting.  In the New Testament, we have the forty-day fasting in the desert by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).  At the end of the forty-day fasting by Christ in the desert, there are the well-known “Temptations” of Christ, the first of which is related to eating: And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he [Christ] answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:3-4).  Is this event in the life of Christ in any way connected to the Fall of Adam?  Indeed, the Fall of Adam was caused by an eating situation, yet the victory of Christ also happened through an eating situation.  While Adam said “yes” to the temptation and ate (Genesis 3:1-6), Christ said “no” to the temptation and did not eat.  This is why the fasting of the forty-days during Lent is not simply a matter of abstention or an issue of diet, but is a major Christological and soteriological situation; the fall of humankind, and then the restoration through the victory of Christ.  So let us take fasting seriously and prepare ourselves for a blessed encounter with God.

3. Reconsider our life of prayer

Great Lent is a special time to pray.  But what is the content of our prayer?  What is our praying language?  For several people, their prayer is still on the same level of that when they were ten or fifteen years old; it has stayed undeveloped.  Why when speaking to God are we using a poor language?  What efforts are we making to improve and enhance our prayer in terms of content and expression?  Looking at the Triodion, we see many examples of different types of prayer language and content.  Try to pray and study the prayers that the Church has given us which are superb examples of conversing with God and try especially to prayerfully read the Psalms, the standard and universal book of prayer.

During Lent we find an increased number of opportunities for community prayer and worship.  The Church invites us each week to pray the services of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, the Presanctified Liturgy, the Salutations to the Theotokos, the Great Compline, and others.  So try to pray more frequently this Lent and develop through constant praying a more refined language of prayer.

4. Be conscious of the gravity of sin

Sometimes we don’t take sin seriously.  Yet Scripture offers a very strong and unequivocal picture of the gravity of sin.  The hymnology of the Triodion is replete with occurrences of the word “sin” or variations of it.  Sin is a very serious issue.  In the Hebrew Old Testament, there are fourteen different words to describe sin, but chiefly four: sin as a matter of human weakness, sin as a distortion or perversion, sin as a rebellion (borrowed from the political realm), and sin as an error or mistake related to ignorance.

If we believe in God becoming a human being and willingly being crucified on the Cross for the sins of the world, then we must understand the seriousness of sin.  Let’s reflect on how sin has control in our lives, and how it has distorted the divine image within each of us.  Let us deal seriously with our sins with an understanding that they are part of the huge amount of sins and evil that led Christ to the Cross.  But then remember that God has given forgiveness as the perfect antidote through the very same Cross.  Forgiveness, however, is inseparably connected to repentance.

5. Make Lent a season for repentance

Along with sin, we are called to reflect upon repentance. Repentance is a very important aspect in our lives and is a dominant theme throughout the Triodion.  We should not forget that Jesus Christ our Lord began His public ministry with the words, “Μετανοεῖτε· ἤγγικε γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.”“Repent [change your mind], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  The whole Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on this fundamental declaration on repentance.  The writings of St. Paul and the other New Testament writings are permeated by calls to repentance.  Repentance is not merely a shallow or superficial act, but a radical change of mind, soul, will and mentality.  It is a central issue and an essential component of the Lenten period.  God is always ready to forgive, but first we must repent.

6. Reflect on our reading the Bible

Lent is a time to reflect on our relationship with the Holy Scriptures, because the Bible is central in the texts of the Triodion.  We must always keep the biblical element at the forefront in our worship and in our life.  How close are we to the Bible?  Most people think about the Bible only at the reading of the Epistle and Gospel on Sunday at the Divine Liturgy.  It is unthinkable that we as Christians do not have the Word of God as a central guide in everything we do.  The Lenten period assists us to come closer and more frequently to the Bible and encourages us to reflect upon the Scripture.  We should try to make reading from the Holy Bible a daily practice during this Lenten season and beyond.

7. Be aware of the Christocentric focus

Of course, the greatest focus of Lent should be on Jesus Christ Himself.  Sometimes we can get caught up in fasting, in saying prayers, in going to Church, on our sins, or in all the rituals of this holy season; yet in the midst of all we do, we forget about Jesus Christ Himself.  Lent is above all else a time to draw closer to Christ!  Christ is the center of this Lenten period and should be the center of our lives.  As we go through Lent and arrive at Holy Week with the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Christ must be at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of all things.  This Lenten period is a tremendous opportunity to come closer to Christ, and to be Christocentric in all that we think, say, or do.

We remember that the fall of Adam and Eve occurred through eating in disobedience to the commandment of God (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-24), and that the restoration and victory in Christ was realized through His overcoming the temptation of eating (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).  But what does our incarnate God offer to us as the ultimate possibility of union with Him?  He gave us His Body and His Blood to be eaten.  He said to us, “Ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μένει, κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ.” ”He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).  Here is the ultimate paradox: During Lent, abstinence from food, i.e. fasting, is accompanied by partaking of the imperishable food, i.e. the Body and Blood of Christ.  Adam and Eve fell away from paradise and from their connection to God through eating, and we are restored and united to God in the highest way through the Holy Communion by eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ.  This is much more than being Christocentric.  This is having Christ dwelling in us in a palpable way.

8. Cultivate human relationships

The season of Lent is also an opportunity to cultivate our human relationships in more authentic ways.  Looking again at the hymnology of the Triodion, we clearly ascertain that there is an emphasis on loving and caring for each other, on moving away from evil and wrong things, on forgiving one another, and on being reconnected with our fellow human beings.  The Book of Isaiah, read in its entirety during Lent, begins with a condemnation of the people of Israel because they had abandoned God, and then continues with an admonition to the Israelites to return to God and to be fair and to establish proper relationships with their fellow human beings.  So we are called to think of any relationships that are not in the proper condition and make every effort to remedy them.  This is a very integral part of living our lives during Lent.

9. Practice almsgiving

Almsgiving is a vital aspect of the Lenten period.  On one of the multiple occasions speaking about the need to be a person who takes care of others, St. John Chrysostom said that we are all called to give alms.  He continued to say that even those who claim to be poor are not free from offering alms.  Poverty is a poor excuse not to give.  Indeed there are poor people who give the half of what they have (see Mark 12:41-44).  It could be said that almsgiving is a requirement for living our life as Christians.  Christ said, “when you give alms” (Matt. 6:3), not if you give alms.  Almsgiving is especially emphasized during this Lenten period, evidenced again by the hymnology of our Church.

10. Make this Lent a time for transformation

Ultimately, our Lenten season is a time of having a transformative experience.  We are challenged to resolve that at the end of the Lenten period, when we celebrate Pascha, we are different from what we are today.  The transformative aspect of Lent is an absolute necessity for spiritually enjoying this season.  We are in the process of transformation if we steadily become Christocentric in all things, through the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Lenten season provides us with a tremendous possibility to prepare spiritually, to be constantly transformed, and to be with Christ in His Passion and Resurrection.

hat tip: GOA

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Fr. Alexis trader on Turning to Christ in the midst of Trials

By Fr. Alexis Trader

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In Andrew A. Lubusko’s 2006 dissertation on self-control and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, he notes that fatigue, emotional stress, and cognitive overload are primary factors in self-control failure. When we are tired, we become less aware of ourselves and what we are doing. When we are anxious, we are too worried about the future to be concerned with controlling ourselves in the present. When we are depressed, we are often so wrapped up in our past failures that present goals, such as self-control, seem pointless. And when we are thinking about solving this issue or that, how can we have mental energy left over to solve the problem of ourselves in the present moment. Clearly, being tired, upset, and distracted are psychological states that make continued self-control in the face of temptations difficult and perhaps in the long run impossible. And in contemporary life, such conditions are almost our default state, an unavoidable part of the fabric of human life. So what are we to do when we desire self-control, but find ourselves too tired, too anxious, too depressed, or too overwhelmed to control anything, much less ourselves?

Read the complete article here on Pravoslavie.

Fr. Philippe Péneaud and the Renewal of Sacred Art in the West

visite-roisBy Jonathan Pageau

Fr. Philippe Péneaud is a priest for the Antiochian Orthodox Church and a prolific woodcarver living in the South of France. Having studied in the great tradition of European woodcarving with Raymond Labeyrie, he converted to Orthodoxy in the 1980s under the influence of Leonid Ouspensky’s “Theology of The Icon” as well as through the works of others from the Paris School: Lossky, Clement, Schmeman, Meyendorff.  In a desire to use his woodcarving skill in service of his faith, he dedicated himself to renewing the visual language of Romanesque iconography. Living near Toulouse, he could access many treasures of ancient carving including the famous Cathedral of St-Sernin where Romanesque jewels still stand.

Read the entire article here on the Orthodox Arts Journal 

New Resources Page

Secret_School_(Krifo_Sxolio),_where_the_Hellenic-Orthodox_spirit_remains_alive_-_oil_painting_on_canvasFinally! Saint Herman’s website has added an Online Resources Page. Please peruse for your edification and enjoyment. Click on the “Orthodox Resources” link at the top of this page to read about Orthodox life and theology, go shopping, or enjoy photos and art from across the Orthodox Christian World.

Advent at St. Herman’s

birth-of-jesus-christ-iconA warm greeting to all in these first days of the Advent Fast! As many of you are already aware, on Saturday, November 28th we began the 40-day Fast in preparation for the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity. It’s a beautiful season full of special services and festivities leading us towards the celebration of the incredible reality of our Lord’s Incarnation in the flesh.

For those of you who may have questions concerning the Fast, please feel free to speak with Fr. Daniel after any of the services or email him at any time with your inquiries. Our parish classes and services will continue as usual throughout the Fast, excepting the week of New Calendar Christmas – December 20-27.

If you aren’t already engaged in some spiritual reading, please consider choosing something to accompany you on the lenten journey over the next several weeks. St. Athanasius the Great’s On the Incarnation is always a wonderful option for the season.

As we struggle through the Fast it’s important to recall the great preparation that the entire world underwent leading up to our Lord’s birth. Much of the Old Testament period can be understood in many respects as a great fast leading mankind to the Incarnation. The enormity of Emmanuel –God with us –is not something which we are called to understand simply as an historical idea, but as a reality to be lived out –a truth to be revealed to a greater and greater degree throughout the whole of our lives. The Advent Fast is the liturgical and ascetical means by which the Church reminds us of the reality of Christ’s becoming one of us and what this implies about our relationship with Him. Keeping this in mind, let’s proceed to fast and prepare ourselves with sobriety and yet with joy, like all the righteous Fathers and Mothers of old, so that we can embrace our Lord as they did, with love and rejoicing.

The Ritsi Family at St. Herman’s

19952487123_ec953d3836Dear friends and family of St. Herman’s, we have the unique blessing this week of hosting Fr. Dcn. Stephanos and Alexandria Ritsi on Wednesday night. Dcn. Stephanos and his family are currently serving as full-time missionaries to Albania through the Assembly of Bishop’s mission organization, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). The explosive Church growth which is taking place in Albania remains a remarkable example of the power of the Gospel to transform a whole people in the modern world. Much like the renewal taking place in Russia, the Orthodox Church in Albania opens up new churches almost weekly. At this Wednesday night’s class we will have the opportunity to hear about this incredible work first-hand from the Ritsi family. Please join us in welcoming them to our community this Wednesday night, starting with Vespers at 6:00 p.m. Attached is a short bio of Dcn. Stephanos and Diakonissa Alexandria from the OCMC’s website.

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Dn. Stephanos Ritsi, son of Father Martin & Presvytera Renee, grew up in the mission fields of Kenya and Albania for ten years. Upon arriving back in the United States the Ritsi family moved to Saint Augustine, Florida. Dn. Stephanos attended his last years of middle school, and high school in Saint Augustine. He then got his Bachelors degree in Political Science from the University of Florida (Go Gators). In 2006, Dn. Stephanos went on a Short Term Missions team to Kenya. On this trip he realized that he was called to become a long term missionary. He applied to Holy Cross School of Theology to prepare himself for missionary service and recently graduated with a Masters of Divinity and a certificate from the Boston Theological Institute in Missions and Ecumenism.

Dkn. Alexandria Ritsi, daughter of Louis and Valerie Polychronopoulos, grew up in a south suburb of Chicago and attended Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Palos Hills. She has lived in Chicago all of her life and was very active in her Church community and youth groups. Growing up, Dkn. Alexandria knew she wanted to serve the Church and be a teacher. Dkn. Alexandria went to Hellenic College and while a student there, learned about the missionary ethos of the Orthodox Church. Through experience in Mission Classes offered at Hellenic College, Dkn. Alexandria realized her vocation in becoming a missionary.

Dn. Stephanos and Dkn. Alexandria met at Holy Cross/Hellenic College in 2008. They were very active in teaching Sunday School and leading retreats serving at Fr. Luke Veronis’ Parish of Sts. Constantine and Helen in Webster, Massachusetts.

Together, Dn. Stephanos and Dkn. Alexandria, have traveled to Kenya on OCMC missions teams in 2010 and 2011 to help prepare themselves to become missionaries.
Dn. Stephanos and Dkn. Alexandria were engaged in Yosemite, California in 2009 and married in Saint Augustine, Florida in 2010.

Dn. Stephanos & Dkn. Alexandria arrived in Albania as long term missionaries in April of 2013. Since arriving in Albania, Dn. Stephanos and Dkn. Alexandria have been learning about the Albanian culture and have been studying the Albanian language. Dn. Stephanos works at the Young Adult Office in the Orthodox Church. He leads Bible Studies, Young Adult Meetings, and teaches at the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy. Dkn. Alexandria works at the Protagonist School. She teaches 6th grade English, Catechism and Character Education. On January 22, 2014 Stephanos was ordained to the Diaconate by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios.

Dn. Stephanos and Dkn. Alexandria look forward to many years serving in Albania.

On the Daily Life of an Orthodox Christian

Trip 1 536 copyThe following is a helpful picture of what the daily life of an Orthodox Christian has looked like over the last 20 centuries. It’s a short, simple meditation on the topic by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick whose podcast we have been listening to. Although the Orthodox life cannot be reduced to a list of minimum requirements, in the busyness of our modern lives a few simple guidelines like these can be really helpful. Enjoy!

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The normal Orthodox Christian—who is living according to the norms of the Orthodox faith—will be doing the following (this is not an exhaustive list, nor is this in order of priority):

1. Participating in church services as often as possible.

Attendance at every Sunday morning liturgy is a minimal baseline for worship life—in most cases, it is not enough. And participation doesn’t just mean attendance, but engagement, whether silently and attentively, singing along, making the Sign of the Cross, etc.

2. Prayer at home every day.

Ideally, at least morning and evening prayer, as well as prayer over meals. It is especially important for husbands and wives to pray together regularly and for parents to pray with their children. This will include reading Scripture, too, especially Scripture that is prayer, such as the Psalms.

3. Receiving the sacraments.

This isn’t just communion and confession, but also holy unction (when sick), marriage (in the Church, not outside!), baptism and chrismation (for you and your children), and even considering whether you or one of the men of your family should think about ordination.

4. Avoiding immorality.

What we do with our bodies, minds and words has an effect on our salvation. Use them for good, not for evil. Seek to serve rather than to be served.

5. Fasting according to Church tradition.

Your father-confessor will help to apply the fasting traditions of the Church for you and your family. We fast on most Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as during the four major fasting seasons (Great Lent, the Apostles Fast, the Dormition Fast and the Nativity Fast).

6. Confession.

The sacrament of confession is critical to our repentance. We should go at least once during each of the four fasting seasons but also whenever there is a need, especially a sin that disrupts your peace.

7. Getting spiritual advice.

This often happens in confession, but your father-confessor is there for you at other times, too. He’s a resource you should utilize frequently.

8. Tithing.

Giving 10% of your income back to God (it is His gift to you!) is a Biblical standard that Orthodox Christians should embrace. If you’re not ready for 10% yet, choose another percentage and be disciplined about it, working toward 10%. If you’re able to give more than 10%, do so. Don’t “give until it hurts”—give until it feels good! Giving our money to God in worship (not because we need to meet a budget) is one part of what it means to give Him everything about ourselves so that it can be healed. (Is tithing Orthodox? Yes! It’s mentioned in the Fathers many times, but here’s the kicker–the Fathers usually say that Christians should exceed the tithe expected by the Old Covenant.)

9. Almsgiving.

This is directly aiding someone in need. It might be monetary, but it also might be with your labor, your encouragement or even just your attitude.

10. Education.

We seek a deeper understanding of our faith not only so that we can know what our piety means but so that we give even our minds to God for His healing and transformation. Our whole intellect should be engaged in Christ—whether through spiritual reading, classes or some other form of education. Knowing and understanding the Scripture should be at the top of our educational efforts.

11. Sharing the faith.

If you’re grateful for the salvation God has given you, you will want to share it with others.

12. Going on pilgrimage.

It’s a journey with a holy purpose. Common destinations include monasteries and important shrines.

Fountain of Immortality

The Divine Liturgy is the beating heart of the life of the Church. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist and our partaking of the precious Body and Blood our of Lord Jesus Christ is the culmination of our life in Christ and the most powerful foretaste of the Kingdom of God which we can experience in this earthly life. At every celebration of the Divine Liturgy we literally have the opportunity to stand in the choir of the Saints, to be in the presence of the Angelic Orders, and most importantly, to meet our Lord in the flesh and even dare to partake of Him. For many centuries, if someone was to miss more than three of these Eucharistic celebrations without good cause he would be cut off from the body of believers. This fact communicates to us, amidst the busyness of our modern lives, the incredible sense of our belonging to a different world, a different kingdom –the Kingdom of God. It is this reality that must begin to shape the everyday content of our lives. If we truly believe that our Lord comes to meet us in His very Body and Blood at every Liturgy, are we really going to miss Him because of a few worldly distractions or scheduling difficulties? Instead let’s hear the words of our Lord, “Martha, Martha… There is one thing needful.” And let us come to Him.

In our new life as a full-time parish here at St. Herman’s, as we try to become people who live in and for the Divine Liturgy, I want to share a little film with you which speaks of the mystery of Liturgy as it was known, lived and celebrated by the saints of our Church. The Fountain of Immortality was filmed in a Russian Orthodox Church here in the States and includes some beautiful particularities of the Russian liturgical style. Enjoy!