Holy Pentecost 2017
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The month of August is always a month of transitions: summer travel and vacations
are coming to an end, students are returning to school, and our work and the organizations
in which we are involved are taking up their routine, more active schedules, rush
hour traffic is becoming heavier, etc. This is true of parish life as well. In
a sense, of course, parish life never changes. Month in and month out, we continually
observe our regular cycle of life and worship. However, as we enter the month of
August, we do so with the sense that parish programs are about to restart, the attendance
at the Divine Services are about to return to the normal level of attendance, and
the calendar will once again be filled with various types of parish activities. And
it is appropriate that we look to returning to the regular rhythm and routine of
our community life in the month in which we celebrate some significant feasts.
We begin the month of August by observing the Dormition Fast, the two-week period
(August 1-15) leading up to the celebration of the Dormition of the Theotokos on
August 15th. This fast offers us the opportunity for a spiritual focus as we prepare
to honor the Holy Theotokos who, at the end of her earthly life, entered the glories
of the Kingdom which was proclaimed by her Divine Son. We ask her continued intercession
and protection as we prayerfully prepare for her special feast.
About halfway into the Dormition Fast we celebrate the Great Feast of the Lord’s
Transfiguration. In this feast we proclaim the Gospel which relates the story of
the Lord being transfigured, revealing His glory, on Mount Tabor in the presence
of the Holy Apostles Peter, James, and John. This year, August 6 falls on a Sunday,
allowing even those who might not be able to participate in a weekday Divine Liturgy
to share in the spiritual blessings which this special feast of the Lord brings.
On the feast of the Transfiguration the Church blesses the first-fruits of the harvest
both as a giving back to the Lord what is His and has come from Him (1 Chronicles
29:14) and as a celebration of the promise of the final transfiguration of all things
in Christ. The Divine Light glimpsed by the Apostles on Mount Tabor will transform
all creation to its most perfect flowering and fruitfulness.
In Constantinople and throughout the Greek world grapes were placed on a table in
the center of the temple and offered and blessed at the end of the Divine Liturgy
and then partaken of by the faithful. In Russia, it became popular to bless apples
on this feast. Over time this blessing was extended as other first-fruits were brought
to be offered and blessed. The Trebnyk (Euchologion or Book of Needs) offers several
different prayers, one of which is offered here:
Prayer for the Blessing of First-Fruits
O Lord God Jesus Christ, You said to Your disciples: "Whatever you ask in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." We now humbly beseech You,
bless + and sanctify these first-fruits which Your faithful servants have brought
into Your temple today. Preserve the life and health of all those who partake of
them, those who are present here and those who absent. Grant that these blessed first-fruits
be an effective medicine for those who are sick and ailing, and a protection against
the assaults of the enemy for those who keep them in their homes. May all those who
partake of them enjoy the fullness of Your goodness and blessing. For You, O Christ
God, are our true nourishment and the Giver of all that is good, and we send up glory
to You, together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and with Your all-holy,
good, and live-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Also, each year on August 9th, we commemorate Saint Herman, or own “American saint,”
who, although born in Russia, achieved holiness as he worked out his salvation in
Russian Alaska. The first of the saints to be glorified in North America, Saint
Herman’s life and example provides us with a deep insight into how we live our Orthodox
faith as Christians in a multi-cultural society. Our temple is blessed with a beautiful
icon of Saint Herman as a reminder of his intercession for the Church in this land
as well as to reminder of the missionary efforts which brought the Orthodox Faith
to North America. May we, as Orthodox Christians in America and heirs to this missionary
legacy, continue to share the work of proclaiming the Gospel in this land.
With love in the Lord,
Afterfeast of the Dormition of the Mother of God
Commemorated on August 20
The Church continues to honor the passage of the Most Holy Theotokos from death to
life. Just as Christ once dwelt in the virginal womb of His Mother, now He takes
Her “to dwell in His courts.”
Commemorated on August 20
The Prophet Samuel was the fifteenth and last of the Judges of Israel, living more
than 1146 years before the Birth of Christ. He was descended from the Tribe of Levi,
and was the son of Elkanah from Ramathaim-Zophim of Mount Ephraim. He was born, having
been besought from the Lord through the prayers of his mother Hannah (therefore he
received the name Samuel, which means “besought from God”). Even before birth, he
was dedicated to God. Her song, “My heart exults in the Lord,” is the Third Ode of
the Old Testament (1 Sam/1 Kings 2:1-10).
When the boy reached the age of three, his mother went with him to Shiloh and in
accord with her vow dedicated him to the worship of God. She gave him into the care
of the High Priest Eli, who at this time was a judge over Israel. The prophet grew
in the fear of God, and at twelve years of age he had a revelation that God would
punish the house of the High Priest Eli, because he did not restrain the impiety
of his sons. Eli’s whole family was wiped out in a single day.
The prophecy was fulfilled when the Philistines, having slain in battle 30,000 Israelites
(among them were also the sons of the High Priest, Hophni and Phinees), gaining victory
and capturing the Ark of the Covenant. Hearing this, the High Priest Eli fell backwards
from his seat at the gate, and breaking his back, he died. The wife of Phinees, upon
hearing what had happened in this very hour, gave birth to a son (Ichabod) and died
with the words: “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God is taken
away” (1 Sam/1 Kgs 4: 22).
Upon the death of Eli, Samuel became the judge of the nation of Israel. The Ark of
God was returned by the Philistines on their own initiative. After returning to God,
the Israelites returned to all the cities that the Philistines had taken. In his
old age, the Prophet Samuel made his sons Joel and Abiah judges over Israel, but
they did not follow the integrity and righteous judgment of their father, since they
were motivated by greed.
Then the elders of Israel, wanting the nation of God to be “like other nations” (1
Sam/1 Kgs 8: 20), demanded of the Prophet Samuel that they have a king. The Prophet
Samuel anointed Saul as king, but saw in this a downfall of the people, whom God
Himself had governed until this time, announcing His will through His chosen saints.
Resigning the position of judge, the Prophet Samuel asked the people if they consented
to his continued governance, but no one stepped forward for him.
After denouncing the first king, Saul, for his disobedience to God, the Prophet Samuel
anointed David as king. He had offered David asylum, saving him from the pursuit
of King Saul. The Prophet Samuel died in extreme old age. His life is recorded in
the Bible (1 Sam/1 Kgs; Sirach 46:13-20).
In the year 406 A.D. the relics of the Prophet Samuel were transferred from Judea
Martyr Severus and 38 Soldiers in Thrace
Commemorated on August 20
The martyrs Severus, Memnon, Philip, and thirty-seven others suffered in Philippopolis,
Thrace under the emperor Diocletian (284-305).
When the governor learned that the Saint Severus had converted the centurion Memnon
to Christ, he ordered that Memnon be tortured. They cut three strips of skin from
Saint Memnon’s back.
Saint Severus was raked with iron hooks. Then they put red-hot rings on his fingers
and girded him with a red-hot iron belt. After these tortures, he was blinded.
The others had their hands and feet cut off and were thrown into a fiery oven.