Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We have once again been blessed by the Lord to enter into the fullness of Great Lent.
This special season of grace, a 40-day period of the Church’s year, is also known
as the Great Fast. Indeed, it is fasting and abstinence which mark our observance
of this season is a vital way. Fasting and abstinence have the greatest external
impact on our daily lives during these weeks. While we spend more time in prayer,
attend more of the Church services, and reach out in charity to those in need, it
is fasting of which we are most conscious in the day-to-day of life. But fasting
from the foods (i.e. limiting the amount we eat and drink) and abstinence from many
types of food (i.e. not consuming any animal products and foregoing most alcoholic
beverages) is not an exercise we perform for and of itself. Rather, the fasting
discipline which the Church offers us is intended to help us focus on our spiritual
lives so that we might grow in holiness as we prepare to renew within us the Paschal
Mystery of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saint John Chrysostom, addressing the subject of fasting in one of his most memorable
sermons, makes is clear that fasting is not just about eating and drinking less or
abstaining from certain foods. He states, “I have said these things, not that
we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting
consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since
he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially
disparages it. Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works! Is it said by what
kind of works? If you see a poor man, take pity on him! If you see an enemy, be reconciled
to him! If you see a friend gaining honor, envy him not! If you see a handsome woman,
pass her by! For let not the mouth alone fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and
the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by
being pure from loose living and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running
to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves
rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.”
Saint John, the preacher with the “golden mouth,” speaks to us today just as powerfully
as he spoke to those who were present to hear him preach in the second half of the
fourth century. He counsels us to not only embrace fasting, but, as we embrace it,
to look beyond the spiritual practice of fasting and realize that, if our fasting
is to have any merit, if it is to make any difference in our lives, it must have
an impact on all the areas of our life.
We are only at the beginning of the Fast and the weeks ahead can become more challenging
and more tedious with each passing day- but, despite frustration or even boredom
with the fast, we strive to remain faithful to it nonetheless. So, as we strive
to be faithful to the Church’s discipline, let’s also reflect upon the impact that
our daily and Lenten fasting has in our daily lives. If we are more loving, if we
are caring for those around us, if we reach out to those in need, if we are curbing
our tongues, if we are less tempted by the world and its enticements, we will see
the fast at work within us.
Also, as we fast and pray, we are reminded that our brothers and sisters in Christ-
around the world, in our parish, and in our homes- are also taking part in this Lenten
journey with us. None of us is alone; we all need one another’s support. May that
mutual support encourage us in our commons effort so that together we may arrive
at the bright and joyous day of Pascha.
With love in the Lord,
Bishop Daniel, Rector
Father David Balmer, Attached, Retired
Deacon Andrew Maxwell
Stephanie A. Homyak, Church School Director & Newsletter Editor
Barbara Peterson, Myrrh Bearers
Andrew Evans, Council President
Pat Starkey, FOCA President
Barbara Harp, Choir Director
Mara Hecht, Teen & Young Adult League
Mike Wagner, Webmaster
Bishop Daniel’s Message for March
The Most Blessed TIKHON
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
The Most Reverend BENJAMIN
Archbishop of San Francisco and the Diocese of the West
The Annunciation of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
Commemorated on March 25
The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the earliest Christian feasts, and was already
being celebrated in the fourth century. There is a painting of the Annunciation in
the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome dating from the second century. The Council of
Toledo in 656 mentions the Feast, and the Council in Trullo in 692 says that the
Annunciation was celebrated during Great Lent.
The Greek and Slavonic names for the Feast may be translated as “good tidings.” This,
of course, refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation He brings.
The background of the Annunciation is found in the Gospel of Saint Luke (1:26-38).
The troparion describes this as the “beginning of our salvation, and the revelation
of the eternal mystery,” for on this day the Son of God became the Son of Man.
There are two main components to the Annunciation: the message itself, and the response
of the Virgin. The message fulfills God’s promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15):
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he
shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.” The Fathers of the
Church understand “her seed” to refer to Christ. The prophets hinted at His coming,
which they saw dimly, but the Archangel Gabriel now proclaims that the promise is
about to be fulfilled.
We see this echoed in the Liturgy of Saint Basil, as well: “When man disobeyed Thee,
the only true God who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent,
becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous
judgment, didst send him forth from Paradise into this world, returning him to the
earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration
in Thy Christ Himself.”
The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee. There he spoke to the
undefiled Virgin who was betrothed to Saint Joseph: “Hail, thou who art highly favoured,
the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive
in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great,
and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him
the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
In contrast to Eve, who was readily deceived by the serpent, the Virgin did not immediately
accept the Angel’s message. In her humility, she did not think she was deserving
of such words, but was actually troubled by them. The fact that she asked for an
explanation reveals her sobriety and prudence. She did not disbelieve the words of
the angel, but could not understand how they would be fulfilled, for they spoke of
something which was beyond nature.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and
the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that which shall
be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth
hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who
was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold
the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed
from her” (Luke 1: 35-38).”
In his Sermon 23 on the day of the Annunciation, Saint Philaret of Moscow boldly
stated that “the word of the creature brought the Creator down into the world.” He
explains that salvation is not merely an act of God’s will, but also involves the
Virgin’s free will. She could have refused, but she accepted God’s will and chose
to cooperate without complaint or further questions.
The icon of the Feast shows the Archangel with a staff in his left hand, indicating
his role as a messenger. Sometimes one wing is upraised, as if to show his swift
descent from heaven. His right hand is stretched toward the holy Virgin as he delivers
The Virgin is depicted either standing or sitting, usually holding yarn in her left
hand. Sometimes she is shown holding a scroll. Her right hand may be raised to indicate
her surprise at the message she is hearing. Her head is bowed, showing her consent
and obedience. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon her is depicted by a ray of light
issuing from a small sphere at the top of the icon, which symbolizes heaven. In a
famous icon from Sinai, a white dove is shown in the ray of light.
There are several famous icons of the Annunciation. One is in the Moscow Kremlin
in the church of the Annunciation. This icon appeared in connection with the rescue
of a prisoner by the Mother of God during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Another
is to be found in the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow (July 8). It was originally located
in Ustiug, and was the icon before which Saint Procopius the fool (July 8) prayed
to save the city from destruction in 1290. One of the most highly revered icons in
Greece is the Tinos icon of the Annunciation (January 30).
The Annunciation falls during Lent, but it is always celebrated with great joy. The
Liturgy of Saint Basil or Saint John Chrysostom is served, even on the weekdays of
Lent. It is one of the two days of Great Lent on which the fast is relaxed and fish
is permitted (Palm Sunday is the other).
Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of
power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my
brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
4th Sunday of Great Lent: St John Climacus (of the Ladder)
Commemorated on March 26
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is dedicated to Saint John of the Ladder (Climacus), the
author of the work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The abbot of Saint Catherine’s Monastery
on Mount Sinai (6th century) stands as a witness to the violent effort needed for
entrance into God’s Kingdom (Mt.10: 12). The spiritual struggle of the Christian
life is a real one, “not against flesh and blood, but against ... the rulers of the
present darkness ... the hosts of wickedness in heavenly places ...” (Eph 6:12).
Saint John encourages the faithful in their efforts for, according to the Lord, only
“he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.24:13).
Friday Mar, 24th , 2017
Beloved in Christ,
Tomorrow, March 25, is the Great Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. Compline
will be prayed this evening at 6:00 p.m. and the Divine Liturgy of the Feast will
be celebrated tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. As a help to prepare for the Feast, below is
a short article by Fr Lawrence Farley of the Diocese of Canada.
Asking your prayers and assuring you of mine,
Find the text below or go to this link: http://oca.org/reflections/fr.-lawrence-farley/the-annunciation-and-the-secularism-of-christianity
The Annunciation and the Secularism of Christianity
We are so used to hearing the story of the Annunciation that we sometimes miss things
in it. One of the things we miss is how secular is the setting for it. It is an understandable
mistake—for us, the whole theme is religious. Any story about the Theotokos is religious,
any story containing an angel is religious. When we read of Mary listening to the
archangel Gabriel, we regard that moment as the essence of Religion. And by doing
so, we miss its whole point.
It is easier to see the story for what it is when we re-insert back into the flow
of its parent narrative, the Gospel of St. Luke. That Gospel opens not with the Annunciation
to Mary of Nazareth, but with the Annunciation to Zachariah of Jerusalem. When the
archangel comes with announcement of the impending birth of John the Forerunner,
he comes not to his mother, Elizabeth (as might be expected), but to his father,
Zachariah. And he comes when Zachariah is in Jerusalem, the holy city celebrated
in psalm and prophecy, the city of divine destiny and promise. And not just in the
holy city, but also in the holy Temple. And not just in the holy Temple, but actually
performing his priestly work of burning incense in the Holy Place. The whole scene
radiates with sanctity, history, solemnity, power, glory, and sacred privilege. In
other words, with Religion. (Significantly, this annunciation in a religious setting
does not end well; Zachariah disbelieves the message and is struck mute for his lack
Juxtaposed to this is the annunciation to Mary, and the contrast is intentionally
stark. The archangel comes to a woman, not a man (we must be grateful to feminism
for the reminder), and to a young girl, not an old man. These details are significant
in a culture which valued masculinity and age, and gave decidedly less honor to women
and to the young. Also, the angel did not come to Jerusalem to find her (although
doubtless as a devout Jewess she would have visited Jerusalem), but to Nazareth.
Once again, the contrast is stark: Jerusalem is THE city for Jews, the city which
luxuriated under the weight of destiny. Nazareth was nothing. In fact if you look
up “Nazareth” in an Old Testament concordance, you discover that it is not there,
not once mentioned in the sacred scriptures of the Old Testament. Nazareth lay within
the disdained region of Galilee—“Galilee of the Gentiles”, people called it, pagan
Galilee. And even other Galileans had not much time for Nazareth. Nathanael of Cana
skeptically inquired, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). Ouch.
That was Mary’s town. And when the angelic messenger found her there, Luke’s Gospel
does not mention that she was doing anything especially pious, like saying her prayers.
Some icons show her holding a spindle, that is, doing housework. The context is clearly
secular, work-a-day, and ordinary.
Original perceptive readers of Luke’s text would be struck by this contrast. On the
one hand, power, glory, history, honor, religion. On the other hand, weakness, obscurity,
common life, and a secular setting. And it is this secular setting that God chose
for the announcement of universal salvation. This young girl, obscure, unnoticed,
powerless, poor—was the one chosen out of all the world to fulfill the greatest role
and task that history had ever offered, or would ever offer. None of this was accidental.
It was a harbinger of things to come.
Fast forward a hundred years to find the Church of God, the people that sprung from
Mary’s assent to the angelic annunciation. The Church of that time also looked immensely
secular compared with the rest of the world, and compared with Religion. Everyone,
pagan and Jew alike, knew what Religion involved: it involved having a sacred space,
a temple, a sacred idol, a valid priesthood, an altar and fire for the animal sacrifices.
The Christians, on the other hand, seemed to have no Religion at all. When they met,
they didn’t meet in a sacred space, but in people’s homes (later on, they would build
buildings for worship, but these too were patterned after people’s homes more than
they were patterned after temples.) If need be, they could meet in the graveyard,
the forest, or anywhere. Also, the Christians seemed to have no god, at least not
one that anybody could see. They did not gather before an image to offer it homage.
They simply met together with no idol in sight. And they didn’t offer sacrifices,
killing an animal and offering it up in the fire of sacrifice upon an altar. They
simply prayed, and ate a small bit of bread and wine, the ordinary stuff of daily
meals. And they had no real priesthood as far as anyone could see. Some of their
number presided at their prayers, men who had been themselves set apart by prayer.
But that didn’t make them priests. Everyone knew that priests were distinguished
by their ancestry, their lineage, their pedigree, and it looked like anyone could
be chosen as one of their clergy. As far as every ancient Jew and pagan was concerned,
the Christians had no real or proper religion at all.
These Jews and pagans were right. Christianity was not a religion—it is even, as
Fr. Alexander Schmemann once said, “The end of religion”. It is not Religion; it
is our participation, through our sacramental union with Christ, of the powers of
the age to come, a participation that transcends religion with all its earthly categories
It is important to remember this when we enter an Orthodox Church for worship, because
there we encounter a lot of stuff—icons, and candles, and vestments. We meet in a
building set apart; we clothe our clergy in fancy vestments. All of this might give
the unsuspecting the erroneous impression that Orthodoxy was primarily a religion,
and that the icons, candles, vestments, and externally beautiful things were what
it was all about. But these things do not constitute its essence; they are merely
adornments of its essence. Its essence is power of Christ in our midst. When Christ
comes into our midst, of course we fancy things up and celebrate it. When a royal
dignitary comes to visit, we lay out the red carpet. These external things are the
red carpet we lay out for Him. But what matters is not the carpet, but the King.
The Annunciation reminds us that Christianity is not a religion, but the life-giving
power of God that transcends religion. In its early days, it did not look like a
religion. Even now, when it looks rather more religious, it is still not a religion.
It is a presence—the presence that the Virgin of Nazareth welcomed into her body
when she spoke with the archangel in Nazareth long ago. It is the same presence we
welcome into our midst today, whenever we gather together in His Name.