Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
At the beginning of this month (February 2) we celebrate the Great Feast of the Meeting
of the Lord. Recalling the evens recounted to us in the second chapter of the Gospel
of Saint Luke, we remember that the Lord Jesus, on the fortieth day after His birth,
was taken by Mary and Joseph and presented in the Temple in order to fulfill the
ordinances of the Law (Luke 2:22-40).
Central to the story of the Lord’s presentation on the fortieth day is the man referred
to as “just and devout,” the pious and faithful believer, Simeon. The Gospel tells
us that Simeon was looking forward to the consolation of Israel and that the Holy
Spirit was upon him. When Simeon saw the forty-day-old infant Jesus being brought
into the Temple, he recognized in this small child the fulfillment of his hope. Taking
the Infant Jesus into his arms, Simeon proclaimed the beautiful words we hear at
every Vesper service: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your
word. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face
of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people
Israel” (Luke 2:29-31).
Indeed, this Infant, whose birth we celebrated a few short weeks ago, was and is
the Light of Revelation to the entire world. And the good news is that His light
continues to shine in our hearts and lives and throughout the world. Some would
say, of course, that this Light does not seem to be burning very brightly today in
the world in which we now live. This brilliant shining Light is only dimmed by the
world’s sinfulness and by our personal sinfulness as well. But, acknowledging this,
we do not lose heart! The brilliance of the Light of Christ shining in our hearts
and lives- and, indeed, in the world—can be restored through our own lives of repentance,
by our own turning again to the Lord.
In a few short weeks, indeed, before the end of this month, we will enter into the
very serious, sober, solemn, and focused period of Great Lent. As we enter into
this season of the Great Fast, the Church encourages us to enter more deeply into
the spirit of penance and provides us with all the “tools” we need to remove any
haze or fog or mist that dampens the brightness of the Light that has come into the
world. I encourage everyone in our parish community and each one of you as individuals
to recognize the great means which the Church offers us to enable the Light of Christ
to shine within us. The Scriptures invite us to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
I ask that you join with me in seeking to redouble our efforts in prayer—both our
personal prayer and by a greater participation in the additional opportunities for
prayer which the Church offers us in the season of Great Lent. Take the fasting
prescriptions of the Church seriously, to the best and fullest of your ability and
to the fullest extent your physical health will allow. Give alms—seek to help those
around you in any kind of need. Give alms of spiritual support, reaching out to
those who feel in need of any type of support. And, yes, give alms from your own
material resources, stretching out a hand to those in need of material assistance-
and there are many.
Making use of and, yes, taking advantage of, these means for spiritual growth in
Great Lent will help each and every one of us to refocus, to wipe away from our lives
anything that dims the Light of Christ within us so that the Light of Christ may
shine brightly in our world.
Be assured of my prayers- for all of you and for each of you- as we prepare to enter
into the season of grace which we know as Great Lent. May the Light of Christ, which
illumines all, enlighten your hearts and homes.
With love in the Lord,
Sunday of Cheesefare: Expulsion of Adam from Paradise
Commemorated on February 26
As we begin the Great Fast, the Church reminds us of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise.
God commanded Adam to fast (Gen. 2:16), but he did not obey. Because of their disobedience,
Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and lost the life of blessedness, knowledge of
God, and communion with Him, for which they were created. Both they and their descendents
became heirs of death and corruption.
Let us consider the benefits of fasting, the consequences of disobedience, and recall
our fallen state. Today we are invited to cleanse ourselves of evil through fasting
and obedience to God. Our fasting should not be a negative thing, a mere abstention
from certain foods. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from the sinful desires
and urges of our fallen nature, and to nourish our souls with prayer, repentance,
to participate in church services, and partake of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.
At Forgiveness Vespers we sing: “Let us begin the time of fasting in light, preparing
ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul, let us purify our body.
As we abstain from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of
St. Porphyrius the Bishop of Gaza
Commemorated on February 26
Saint Porphyrius, Archbishop of Gaza, was born about the year 346 at Thessalonica.
His parents were people of substance, and this allowed Saint Porphyrius to receive
a fine education. Having the inclination for monastic life, he left his native region
at twenty-five years of age and set off for Egypt, where he lived in the Nitrian
desert under the guidance of Saint Macarius the Great (January 19). There he also
met Saint Jerome (June 15), who was then visiting the Egyptian monasteries. He went
to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places, and to venerate the Life-Creating
Cross of the Lord (September 14), then he moved into a cave in the Jordanian wilderness
for prayer and ascetic deeds.
After five years, Saint Porphyrius was afflicted with a serious malady of the legs.
He decided to go to the holy places of Jerusalem to pray for healing. As he lay half-conscious
at the foot of Golgotha, Saint Porphyrius fell into a sort of trance. He beheld Jesus
Christ descending from the Cross and saying to him, “Take this Wood and preserve
Coming out of his trance, he found himself healthy and free from pain. Then he gave
away all his money to the poor and for the adornment of the churches of God. For
a time he supported himself by working as a shoemaker. The words of the Savior were
fulfilled when the saint was forty-five years old. The Patriarch of Jerusalem ordained
Saint Porphyrius to the holy priesthood and appointed him custodian of the Venerable
Wood of the Cross of the Lord.
In 395 the bishop of the city of Gaza (in Palestine) died. The local Christians went
to Caesarea to ask Metropolitan John to send them a new bishop who would be able
to contend against the pagans, which were predominant in their city and were harassing
the Christians there. The Lord inspired the Metropolitan to summon the priest Porphyrius.
With fear and trembling the ascetic accepted the office of bishop, and with tears
he prostrated himself before the Life-Creating Wood and went to fulfill his new obedience.
In Gaza there were only three Christian churches, but there were a great many pagan
temples and idols. During this time there had been a long spell without rain, causing
a severe drought. The pagan priests brought offerings to their idols, but the woes
did not cease. Saint Porphyrius imposed a fast for all the Christians; he then served
an all-night Vigil, followed by a church procession around the city. Immediately
the sky covered over with storm clouds, thunder boomed, and abundant rains poured
down. Seeing this miracle, many pagans cried out, “Christ is indeed the only true
God!” As a result of this, 127 men, thirty-five women and fourteen children were
united to the Church through Holy Baptism, and another 110 men soon after this.
The pagans continued to harass the Christians. They passed them over for public office,
and burdened them with taxes. Saint Porphyrius and Metropolitan John of Caesarea
journeyed to Constantinople to seek redress from the emperor. Saint John Chrysostom
(September 14, January 27 and 30) received them and assisted them.
Ss. John and Porphyrius were presented to the empress Eudoxia who was expecting a
child at that time. “Intercede for us,” said the bishops to the empress, “and the
Lord will send you a son, who shall reign during your lifetime”. Eudoxia very much
wanted a son, since she had given birth only to daughters. Through the prayer of
the saints an heir was born to the imperial family. As a result of this, the emperor
issued an edict in 401 ordering the destruction of pagan temples in Gaza and the
restoration of privileges to Christians. Moreover, the emperor gave the saints money
for the construction of a new church, which was to be built in Gaza on the site of
the chief pagan temple.
Saint Porphyrius upheld Christianity in Gaza to the very end of his life, and guarded
his flock from the vexatious pagans. Through the prayers of the saint numerous miracles
and healings occurred. The holy archpastor guided his flock for twenty-five years,
and reposed in 420 at an advanced age.
Announcements for February
IN ADDITION TO REGULAR SERVICES THIS MONTH:
Sunday, Feb. 26th – Cheesefare Luncheon followed by Forgiveness Vespers
Monday, Feb. 27th – Canon of Saint Andrew at 6:00 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 28th – Canon of Saint Andrew at 6:00 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 1st – Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts at 6:00 pm followed
by Lenten Meal