Σάββατο 14 Μαΐου 2022

The Vindication of the Mother of God

At Christmas time, the Virgin Mary gets a bit of attention in the wider culture. A woman gives birth in difficult circumstances: Mother, baby, ox and ass, the manger. It’s a very touching scene. She quickly fades from the scene however, with some five centuries of culture desperately afraid that she will get too much attention.

In that vein, she is pretty much absent from Easter. We have eggs, chocolate, bunny rabbits, and the resurrection of Christ (along with new dresses and such), but Mary has no place in our culture’s Easter imagination. Some of this is undoubtedly the result of 500 years of a dominantly anti-Catholic Protestantism. You have to mention Mary at Christmas, but she can conveniently be forgotten at Easter.

Unless you’re Orthodox.

In Orthodoxy, there is essentially no teaching regarding Christ that ignores His mother. There is no teaching regarding Jesus that ignores His humanity and His humanity requires that we remember her. When the Council of 431 (3rd Ecumenical) declared Mary to be “Theotokos” (“Birthgiver of God”) it was on account of its concern that the full truth of who Christ is not be distorted. The mystery of the Incarnation (rightly understood) makes it possible to speak the paradoxical title of “Birthgiver of God” (not just “Birthgiver of Christ”). Christ is fully God and fully man. The one born of Mary was God and man. God was born of her.

This is echoed as well in the prophetic word that was spoken to Mary when she brought Jesus to the Temple 40 days after His birth (in concordance with the Law). Simeon the prophet, holding the child in his arms, said to His mother:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

His words speak of a “sword.” This is far deeper than a hint that what is to happen to her Son will make her sad. He didn’t say, “It will cause you grief.” The suffering of Christ on the Cross is equally the sword that pierces the soul of Mary. Mary is the first Christian, the first to believe the word concerning her Son. His suffering is her suffering. His suffering is to be our suffering as well. If you have been united with Christ on the Cross, then, in some measure, your own soul has been pierced by the sword that pierced the soul of Mary. St. Paul says,

“I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Mary is the first of those who have been crucified with Christ.

Our ignorance of such things (or our forgetfulness), encourage us to forget that our discipleship is marked by the Cross and defined by our communion with the Crucified Lord. Too easily, the resurrection of Jesus comes to mean nothing more than a promise of life after death. “Jesus died and was resurrected so that I could go to heaven.” While that is sort of true, it represents a serious diminishment of the gospel.

As Christ was on the Cross, His thoughts turned to His mother. He endures the suffering and the shame of the crucifixion. She shares in the shame and, in that, a sword pierces her own soul. Christ gives her to the care of St. John, “the disciple whom He loved.” He does not merely ask John to care for her, but says, “Behold your mother.” John must now be her son. Incidentally, this supports the Church’s teaching that the “brother and sisters of Christ” are not children of Mary. It would have fallen to them to take of her had that been the case.

As the Church enters into the depth of Holy Week and approaches the Lord’s death and resurrection, the Theotokos is ever present on its mind. At what becomes a liturgical climax the Church gathers around the funeral shroud icon (epitaphios) in the center of the Church. Following its commemoration of Christ’s suffering and death, the burial shroud had been placed there for the faithful to venerate. They have offered their lamentations.

At this last moment, as the priest stands before the image, we hear these verses from the choir:

Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and in love.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!

I escaped sufferings and was blessed beyond nature at Thy strange birth, O Son, who art without beginning. But now, beholding Thee, my God, dead and without breath, I am sorely pierced by the sword of sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!

By my own will, the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble at seeing me clothed in the blood-stained garments of vengeance; for when I have vanquished my enemies on the cross, I shall arise as God and magnify thee.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let creation rejoice, let all born on earth be glad, for hateful hell has been despoiled, let the women with myrrh come to meet me, for I am redeeming Adam and Eve and all their descendants, and on the third day shall I arise.

Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and in love.

The verses are a dialog between Christ and His mother. It gathers her whose heart had been pierced with the sword of shame and grief into His own compassion. He encourages her with the promise that He will rise and vindicate her. He will be glorified and will magnify her. Her faithfulness, humility, and obedience will be justified before all the world. “All generations will call her blessed.”

She replies, recalling the mystery of her Son’s “strange birth.” Though she now sees His body lying “dead and without breath,” she urges Him to arise.

He responds that He is “covered by the earth” by His “own will.” He is no one’s victim but is doing the very thing He was born to do. And now He is clothed in the “blood-stained garments of vengeance.” Vanquishing His foes by the cross, He will rise and magnify her.

He closes, repeating the initial verse. At the repetition of “I shall arise,” the priest takes up the funeral shroud and bears it into the altar. The doors are shut and every light, every candle in the Church, is extinguished. In silence the Church waits. Mary waits. All creation holds its breath.

Quietly, the priest begins to sing, “Thy resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing…” He will shortly come forth bearing the newly kindled light which spreads to all. And the Paschal procession begins around the Church (I’m describing the Slavic practice).

His resurrection is a vindication of His mother. Equally, it is the vindication of every believer. For we, too, have stood silently by the tomb, venerating His dead body. We, too, have had some share in His shame, either from others or cast upon us by our own unfaithfulness and doubting. Was I wrong to believe in, O Lord? Have you forgotten me? I am surrounded by my enemies and they mock me. Where are You, Lord?

“I shall arise,” Christ says.

Mary saw Him. Mary Magdalen saw Him. Peter and John saw Him. Then the twelve. Then James the Brother of the Lord. Then by over 500. And even to St. Paul He appeared, as if to one born out of time.

And they began the procession that continues to circle the earth singing, “Enable us on earth, to glorify Thee in purity of heart.” At the head of our procession is His Mother – now vindicated and magnified by all. She told the truth. She gave birth to God the Word. We call her blessed.

Videos from St. Maximus Orthodox Church Choirs & ORTODOX™ (Vatopedi monastery, Athos)

Τρίτη 10 Μαΐου 2022

Equals of the Apostles and Teachers of the Slavs, saints Cyril and Methodius


Orthodox Church in America

Saints Cyril and Methodius, Equals of the Apostles, and Enlighteners of the Slavs came from an illustrious and pious family living in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Saint Methodius was the oldest of seven brothers, Saint Constantine [Cyril was his monastic name] was the youngest. At first Saint Methodius was in the military and was governor in one of the Slavic principalities dependent on the Byzantine Empire, probably Bulgaria, which made it possible for him to learn the Slavic language. After living there for about ten years, Saint Methodius later received monastic tonsure at one of the monasteries on Mount Olympus (Asia Minor).

Saint Constantine distinguished himself by his great aptitude, and he studied with the emperor Michael under the finest teachers in Constantinople, including Saint Photius, the future Patriarch of Constantinople (February 6).

Saint Constantine studied all the sciences of his time, and also knew several languages. He also studied the works of Saint Gregory the Theologian. Because of his keen mind and penetrating intellect, Saint Constantine was called “Philosopher” (wise). Upon the completion of his education, Saint Constantine was ordained to the holy priesthood and was appointed curator of the patriarchal library at the church of Hagia Sophia. He soon left the capital and went secretly to a monastery.

Discovered there, he returned to Constantinople, where he was appointed as instructor in philosophy. The young Constantine’s wisdom and faith were so great that he won a debate with Ananias, the leader of the heretical iconclasts. After this victory Constantine was sent by the emperor to discuss the Holy Trinity with the Saracens, and again he gained the victory. When he returned, Saint Constantine went to his brother Saint Methodius on Olympus, spending his time in unceasing prayer and reading the works of the holy Fathers.

The emperor soon summoned both of the holy brothers from the monastery and sent them to preach the Gospel to the Khazars. Along the way they stayed in the city of Korsun, making preparations for their missionary activity. There the holy brothers miraculously discovered the relics of the hieromartyr Clement, Pope of Rome (November 25).

There in Korsun Saint Constantine found a Gospel and Psalter written in Russian letters [i.e. Slavonic], and a man speaking the Slavic tongue, and he learned from this man how to read and speak this language. After this, the holy brothers went to the Khazars, where they won a debate with Jews and Moslems by preaching the Gospel. On the way home, the brothers again visited Korsun and, taking up the relics of Saint Clement, they returned to Constantinople. Saint Constantine remained in the capital, but Saint Methodius was made igumen of the small Polychronion monastery near Mount Olympus, where he lived a life of asceticism as before. 


Saints Cyril & Methodius, from here

Soon messengers came to the emperor from the Moravian prince Rostislav, who was under pressure from German bishops, with a request to send teachers to Moravia who would be able to preach in the Slavic tongue. The emperor summoned Saint Constantine and said to him, “You must go there, but it would be better if no one knows about this.”

Saint Constantine prepared for the new task with fasting and prayer. With the help of his brother Saint Methodius and the disciples Gorazd, Clement, Savva, Naum and Angelyar, he devised a Slavonic alphabet and translated the books which were necessary for the celebration of the divine services: the Gospel, Epistles, Psalter, and collected services, into the Slavic tongue. This occurred in the year 863.

After completing the translation, the holy brothers went to Moravia, where they were received with great honor, and they began to teach the services in the Slavic language. This aroused the malice of the German bishops, who celebrated divine services in the Moravian churches in Latin. They rose up against the holy brothers, convinced that divine services must be done in one of three languages: Hebrew, Greek or Latin.

Saint Constantine said, “You only recognize three languages in which God may be glorified. But David sang, ‘Praise the Lord, all nations, praise the Lord all peoples (Ps 116/117:1).’ And the Gospel of Saint Matthew (28:18) says, ‘Go and teach all nations....’” The German bishops were humiliated, but they became bitter and complained to Rome.

The holy brothers were summoned to Rome for a decision on this matter. Taking with them the relics of Saint Clement, Saints Constantine and Methodius set off to Rome. Knowing that the holy brothers were bringing these relics with them, Pope Adrian met them along the way with his clergy. The holy brothers were greeted with honor, the Pope gave permission to have divine services in the Slavonic language, and he ordered the books translated by the brothers to be placed in the Latin churches, and to serve the Liturgy in the Slavonic language.

At Rome Saint Constantine fell ill, and the Lord revealed to him his approaching death. He was tonsured into the monastic schema with the name of Cyril. On February 14, 869, fifty days after receiving the schema, Saint Cyril died at the age of forty-two.

Saint Cyril commanded his brother Saint Methodius to continue with their task of enlightening the Slavic peoples with the light of the true Faith. Saint Methodius entreated the Pope to send the body of his brother for burial in their native land, but the Pope ordered the relics of Saint Cyril to be placed in the church of Saint Clement, where miracles began to occur from them.

After the death of Saint Cyril, the Pope sent Saint Methodius to Pannonia, after consecrating him as Archbishop of Moravia and Pannonia, on the ancient throne of Saint Andronicus (July 30). In Pannonia Saint Methodius and his disciples continued to distribute services books written in the Slavonic language. This again aroused the wrath of the German bishops. They arrested and tried Saint Methodius, who was sent in chains to Swabia, where he endured many sufferings for two and a half years.

After being set free by order of Pope John VIII of Rome, and restored to his archdiocese, Saint Methodius continued to preach the Gospel among the Slavs. He baptized the Czech prince Borivoi and his wife Ludmilla (September 16), and also one of the Polish princes. The German bishops began to persecute the saint for a third time, because he did not accept the erroneous teaching about the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son. Saint Methodius was summoned to Rome, but he justified himself before the Pope, and preserved the Orthodox teaching in its purity, and was sent again to the capital of Moravia, Velehrad.

Here in the remaining years of his life Saint Methodius, assisted by two of his former pupils, translated the entire Old Testament into Slavonic, except for the Book of Maccabbees, and even the Nomocanon (Rule of the Holy Fathers) and Paterikon (book of the Holy Fathers).

Sensing the nearness of death, Saint Methodius designated one of his students, Gorazd, as a worthy successor to himself. The holy bishop predicted the day of his death and died on April 6, 885 when he was about sixty years old. The saint’s burial service was chanted in three languages, Slavonic, Greek, and Latin. He was buried in the cathedral church of Velehrad. 

"Cyril & Methodius, the Apostles of Slavs", full movie with English subtitles (2013)!  

Honey and Hemlock
Suraj Sebastian

Hollywood doesn’t make many big-budget films of holy people, and when they do, it’s usually a dog’s breakfast. However, an exciting docudrama project from the Czech Republic in 2013 has resulted in an excellent series on the lives and historical importance of the two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius.
Saints Cyril and Methodius were two Byzantine brothers born in the 9th century who became prominent Christian missionaries. Their mission influenced the cultural development of all Slavic nations, for which they are called the Apostles of the Slavs. In order to commemorate the 1150th anniversary of their legacy, a 4-part docudrama was created tracing their lives and work.
This project, established in the Czech Republic, involved cooperation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as these saints established what would be the foundation and future development of Czech and Slavic culture and education.
The series follows Cyril and Methodius, two Byzantine Greek brothers born in the 9th century. They became missionaries of Christianity and influenced the cultural development of the Great Moravian territory. 
Original title: Cyril and Methodius – The Apostles of the Slavs. Audio: German. Subtitles: English. Format: HD. Director: Petr Nikolaev. Writers: Petr Hudský, Miroslav Oscatka. Stars: Josef Abrhám, Milan Bahúl, Jirí Bohm. 
Cast: Methodius - Roman Zach, Cyril - Ondřej Novák, Fotios - Josef Abrhám, Hermanrich - Marian Roden, Rostislav - Milan Bahul, Svatopluk - Jan Jankovský, Živena - Radka Fidlerová.

See also

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Orthodox Christianity In Czech and Slovakia Is Growing
Basic Points of Difference between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church
The Way - An introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Protestants ask: Why be Orthodox?
The Road to Rome? Why Orthodoxy Deserves a Look
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I love the Pope & the Roman Catholic faithful, but...

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Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony
Orthodoxy's Worship: The Sanctification of the Entire World