Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As I begin to realize the transitions that lie ahead of me, I also remember that 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 is 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 Saturday, 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 creation in Christ.
On this feast, 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, Thou who didst say to Thy disciples: "Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." We now humbly beseech Thee, bless + and sanctify these first-fruits which Thy faithful servants have brought into Thy 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 Thy goodness and blessing. For Thou, O Christ God, art our true nourishment and the Giver of all that is good, and we send up glory to Thee, together with Thy Father, Who is without beginning, and with Thine 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. May our commemoration of Saint Herman be 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,
Saturday: Vespers, 5:00 pm
Sunday: Divine Liturgy, 9:00 am
1614 E. Monte Vista Rd.
Phoenix, Az 85006