Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

BLESSED NIGHT by Fr. Jean Rene Bouchet

You who returned from Hades

with the company of the holy ones

Glory to You, 0 Risen Lord!

We can better grasp the significance of the Descent into Hades if we see it as a step on the paschal journey of Christ. He was sent by the Father and came into the world, then He left the world and returned to the right hand of the Father, bring­ing with Him the humanity that He went to seek in the very abysses of Death.

Jesus, Our Lord, the Christ

appeared to us from the bosom of His Father:

He came; He drew us out of darkness

and enlightened us with His Joyful Light.

Day has dawned upon all mankind,

the power of darkness is vanquished;

from His Light has come for us a light

which has given sight to our darkened eyes.

He has stretched out His Glory over all the earth

and lighted the deepest abysses;

Death is despoiled, darkness has fled,

the Gates of Hell are rent asunder.

He has illumined all creatures, -

in darkness from ancient times;

the dead who lay in the dust are raised up and give glory,

for there was for them salvation.

He has made real salvation, and given us Life,

and has been taken to His Father in the highest.

Thence He will come in His great Glory,

and open the eyes of all those who have awaited Him.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

From this perspective, the Descent into Hades expresses the love which God bore for us in Christ, and constitutes the decisive step on Christ's journey towards man­kind seated in darkness and the shadow of death: He came to seek after us even there. In hell, He found humanity captive, from hell, He drew mankind forth.

The Fathers considered Christ to be "en route" since Adam first hid himself in the Garden of Paradise. (Adam in Hebrew is the term for mankind.) "Adam, where are you?" God is in search of man, whom He created in His own image and who yet fled like the prodigal son into a strange land. The entire Old Testament is seen as the jour­ney of the Son in search of the lost sheep. God the seeker and man the disfigured wanderer often form two choirs in the Prophets and the Psalms:

Return, 0 Son of Adam (Ps. 89)

Lord of Sabaoth, make us return (Ps. 79)

I hear my beloved, Behold he arrives,

Leaping over the mountains, Bounding over the hills

Open to me, my sister, my friend, my dove, my perfect one.

(Song of Songs 2:8 & 5:2)

Finally, John the Forerunner announces that the time is ripe, that He is coming, that He is at the gate: "In the midst of you, there is someone you do not know."

The Word pitches His tent among men. Tirelessly He trods their pathways. Having not even a stone on which to lay His head, He announces life and sows it in the hearts of those whom death had marked as his own. The blind see, the deaf hear, Lazarus comes forth from the tomb and Zacchaeus joyfully receives Christ in his house. But He, in the midst of them, travels on His way until that clear morning when He stands before the gates of Jerusalem.

The city rejoices. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the tomb. He is welcomed by the crowd: "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord." He goes, knowing the hour has come to pass from this world to the Father.

Daughter of Sion, rejoice; be lighthearted, O Church of God. Behold your King comes to you; go before Him, hasten to contemplate His Glory. Behold the salvation of the world: God goes towards the Cross and the Desired of the nations enters into Sion. Yesterday, Christ raised Lazarus from the dead: today, He Himself hastens towards death. Yesterday, He tore Lazarus from the shackles which held him: today He stretches out His hands to those who would bind Him. Yesterday, He pulled this man from the darkness: today, for the sake of mankind, He plunges into darkness and the shadow of death. And the Church rejoices. (St. Epiphanius)

The triumphal prelude does not hide the drama which is unfolding in darkness, but rather brings it to light, as will also the washing of feet and the last supper. It is the King of Israel, the Prince of Life who is coming, but His royalty is humble service, blood poured out, life given: "If I give to Christ the name of King, it is because I see Him crucified." (St. John Chrysostom)

The procession of the Day of Palms has melted away. The children have been put to bed, the cloaks are folded, the palms withered. Now it is a band of soldiers es­corting Christ, and jeers replace the acclamations. Sweating blood and water, Jesus continues His journey in the night and in anguish: He quickens His step, for the Prodigal Son cannot be far. "Where is this rapid step taking You? Is there yet another wedding at Cana? (St. Romanos the Melodist)

They have dressed Him now in rags: a red cloth for a cloak, a crown of thorns for His head and, for a scepter, He holds in His hand a reed: behold God in search of man­kind: hail our King! Day is breaking. After a stop in the morning chill, Jesus starts again for the place of the Skull. He goes freely towards His passion. On His shoulder a tree: following are a few women, for His disciples have abandoned Him.

The Choir of the Twelve has fled. They have spoken not a word in His behalf, they for whom He is giving His life. Lazarus, whom He brought back from the dead, is not there; the blind man sheds not a tear for Him who opened his eyes to the light; and the lame man who walks because of Him, runs not to follow Him. Only a bandit crucified at His side confesses Him and calls Him King. (St. Ephrem the Syrian)

We are at the place of meeting. There where tradition places the tomb of Adam and the near-sacrifice of Isaac, in the full breeze, between heaven and earth, in the midday sun hidden by the clouds, He is suspended on the tree of the Cross.

"Adam, where are you?" calls out Christ again on the Cross. I have come even here, seeking you. To find you, I have stretched out my hands on the Cross. With outstretch­ed hands, I turn towards the Father to give thanks for having found you, then I turn towards you to embrace you. I have not come to judge your sin, but to save you for the sake of my love. I have not come to curse your disobedience, but to bless you by my obedience. I will find your life, hidden in darkness and the shadow of death; I will have no rest until, descending even to the very depths of hell to seek you out, I have restored you to the heavens. (St. Germanos of Constantinople)

Thirst was consuming Him: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Is that the cry of God seeking man, or the cry of wandering man?

All is accomplished, but all is not finished. He departs again, further yet, carried in the arms of men this time: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, John. Mary and Magdelene follow. In silence, they place Him in a new tomb, and the earth covers Him with its warmth and its peace, as it welcomes the grain of wheat planted by the sower.

The Seed fertile with two natures is tearfully sown this day in the womb of the earth; when it sprouts, it will give joy to the world. (Holy Saturday Orthros)

In the tomb, by His death, the Son of God meets all those who before Him accom­plished that hard passage. He has come even there, to that opaque, cold place where had been swallowed up one by one all of mankind since Adam. In His turn, the Lord of Life plunges into the black waters of hell, just as on the day of His baptism He was immersed into the waters of the Jordan. There rests the lost sheep, There, as earth longs for the rain from heaven, Adam captive in Hades awaits the Savior of the world and the Giver of Life. (Romanos the Melodist)

At His passage, the waters begin to leap and billow like a spring. The river of the forgotten sings like a mountain torrent and baptizes to life the dead it had swallowed. Christ joyfully leads with Him towards the heavens all those who had hoped to see His day.

During this time, Mary His mother waited in faith and Mary Magdelene waited tear­fully at the tomb:

O Earth, open up and bring forth the Savior. (Is. 45:8)

Arise, O God, judge the earth, for You rule over all the nations (Ps. 81)

Let God arise and His enemies will scatter; let the just rejoice before the face of God, let them exalt and dance with joy. (Ps. 67)

The first day of the week, He arose like the sun on a clear dawn. Like the bride­groom coming from the tent rejoices, strong, to run his course, (Ps. 18) He joyfully greets the women bearing spices and the still-fearful disciples: Rejoice, Peace be with you! Mary, go tell my brothers that I return to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God… And before their eyes, He was borne up to the heavens. On Ascension Day, there was on the Mount of Olives more than was at Tabor and more than at Sinai. Heaven and earth are come together in the Feast, and from the cloud which envelops Christ flows the Spirit which makes every tongue in heaven, on earth, and under the earth proclaim: Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the light of this journey of Christ, the descent into Hades assumes its signi­ficance. God became man and set out in search of man, even submitting to death to meet him. Fulfillment of the Incarnation, the Descent into Hades by Christ is also the culmination of His work of salvation. God is with us even there: God is for us even there. In the midst of our worst distresses, our anguishings, our deaths, He has come to pitch His tent, not only to console us, but to save us, that is, to give to us heal­ing in its fullness, to give us the true life. Lazarus, go forth! Adam, go forth, come follow me and live!

Henceforth, we are no longer eternal prisoners of death, of our deaths (and they are legion). To all death, a resurrection; to all impasses, a solution; for in our midst is the risen Christ, who watches over us, cures us, leads us. There is no longer a darkness that the Son of God has not attacked and conquered.

Now hell has become heaven, Hades is filled with light ... for the rising Sun, the Light from on high, has visited those who were seated in darkness and the shadow of death. (St. John Chrysostom)

The gates and bolts which held man captive are burst asunder. I have opened be­fore you a door that no one can close. (Rev.3:8)

Thus on Easter night we tirelessly sing, as we do for forty days afterwards: Christ is risen from the dead, and by His death, He has trampled upon death, and has given Life to those in the tombs.

Whatever the heaviness and murkiness of his own hells, each person can henceforth hear there the murmuring voice of the Christ of Easter saying to him: Peace be with you, arise and walk.

Our God is a God of deliverance

To the Lord our God is freedom from death (Ps. 6: 7, 21)

Dwellers in shadow and darkness

Captives of sorrow and chains

May they give thanks to the Lord for His loving kindness

for His marvels done for the sons of men

For He shattered the bronze portals

and demolished the iron gates (Ps. 106: 10 & 15, 16)

 

The Eastern Christian Churches have always celebrated certain moments In the story of salvation, chiefly from the life of Christ, as major festivals: extensions and elaborations of the Easter celebration. Twelve of these have become known as the Great Feasts, solemnly celebrated in all the Eastern Churches and eventually penetrating the Western Church as well. In the Middle Eastern and Eastern European cultures of old, society joined to facilitate celebration of these feasts: work was halted, pilgrimages made and the festivals loomed large in the minds of the people as the central events of the community.

In our society it is vastly different. Not only does the secular culture ignore these feasts, but many parishes minimize them as well, because "no one will come." At the same time, parish announcements, bulletins and flyers will hawk for weeks in advance an approaching St. Valentine's Party or Las Vegas Night. These events have in fact replaced the liturgical holy days in many parishes as the "Great Feasts" of the local community.

However, if parishes approached these social times with the same lack of preparation and creativity as they approach the holy days, it could be guaranteed that no one would come to them either! Try to plan and organize a hafli three days in advance and see. So it is clear that to reconstitute the holy days as prime festivals for our Church, several steps may be taken:

  1. The most obvious is, of course, to celebrate the liturgical services at convenient times: the Vigil Service and/or Divine Liturgy served in the evening will accommodate most parishioners.
  2. Secondly, the parish must be helped to see the importance of the feast by giving it the same planning, effort and publicity as it now gives its social events.
  3. A third consideration is to actually make the liturgical feast the occasion for the important parish socials, as most of our churches do at Christmas and Easter.

Those festivals celebrated in the summer are especially suited to this kind of planning as school is out and families less pressured by school schedules. A picnic or outing at Pentecost, a supper or ice cream social on Transfiguration, a cookout on Holy Cross would certainly boost attendance at the services and begin raising the consciousness of people to seeing these days as our most important Church events. Most communities have summer socials: what reason can there be for not joining these events to the major liturgical celebrations of our Church and reestablish in the minds of our people their importance?

A case in point is the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14), one of the most popular of the year in the Middle East and the last holiday in summer. Liturgically it is known for the exultation and veneration of the cross, an impressive ceremony which many of our people have never seen. The cross, adorned with basil sprigs, is carried in procession through the church, special litanies are prayed and the cross is lifted in blessing over the four corners of the earth. An evening service, including this ceremony, coupled with a church supper, is an appropriate way to highlight this celebration. In this connection, one traditional practice may be used to highlight the event.

In the Middle East, especially in the mountains, it is customary to light bonfires on this day in memory of the discovery of the cross by St. Helen in the fourth century. To spread the news of the cross's finding from Jerusalem to Constantinople a relay system of bonfires was employed. Since that day Christians in the Middle East have rekindled these fires on the anniversary of this event. Using the bonfire as a do-it-yourself activity, cooking center or campfire is another way of impressing the importance and meaning of the feast on people's minds. The children of the parish make fine firewood gatherers and that project, coupled with an explanation of the bonfire's significance makes them an eager part of the celebration.

Another traditional custom, which can be highlighted on this feast, is the use of sweet basil to adorn the cross. In many parishes families grow this herb during the summer and bring plants to church for the feast. The herb, said to have grown on Calvary, is distributed to all at the close of the service. Younger children would delight in growing and contributing this herb for the celebration.

Preparation for the feast could include a catechetical program on the preceding Sunday which liturgically is a day of preparation for the feast. Such a session could include an explanation of the feast and its troparion and icon to the whole group and then a breakdown into activity groups. The activities outlined below, each typed on separate index cards, could be drawn as lots, executed and then shared with the entire parish as part of the feast-day celebration. The activities are arranged according to the following age levels: 1 (grades 1,2), 2 (grades 3,4), 3 grades 5,6) and 4 (grades 7,8).

Combining a full liturgical celebration with a catechetical preparation and a social extension can help restore these feasts to their intended role in our tradition as the major points of celebration in the life of our Church.

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL ONE

  1. Color the cross in the Byzantine Coloring Book (Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh, PA 14214). Find out why the cross has three bars. Find out why there are flowers around it.
  2. Make a paper cross. Decorate it with a Scripture verse (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:30).
  3. Show how you make the sign of the cross. How should you hold your hand? When during church services should you make it?

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL TWO

  1. Think quietly about some time when you were asked to do something hard or something you didn't want to do. Was it hard to do it? Jesus called hard things like this a cross. Why do you think He did that?
  2. Make a paper cross. On it write the things you dislike doing most. Then copy this verse from the Bible, Matthew 16:14. It tells what Jesus asks us to do with our crosses.
  3. Complete the Morse Code exercise in Together (Book 3, God With Us Publications, McKees Rocks, PA 15136), page 61.
  4. Collect enough twigs to make these crosses:

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL THREE

  1. Make a photo and word collage about the cross. Use the hymn from Matins called the "Exapostilarion" for ideas.
  2. Read the chapters "Jesus Is Judged" and "Jesus Christ on the Cross" from the book God Is With Us (OCEC, Yonkers, NY 11210). They tell of the events of Jesus' suffering and death. After you have read them, think about the following questions:
    1. if Jesus' death is so sad, why are we celebrating on the Feast of the Cross? What do you think?
    2. The cross we honor today does not have the body of Jesus on it. It has jewels instead. Why would you think this might be?
  3. Write a paragraph explaining your answers to these two questions. Then mount it on construction paper for display.
  4. Write a haiku (Japanese poem) about the cross. A haiku has three lines. The first line has five syllables; the second line has seven and the third line has five. They do not rhyme.

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL FOUR

  1. Read chapter 14 in the book The Creed (Book 11, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Brookline MA 02146). Write down any ideas you have not heard before.
  2. Read the hymns of vespers for the Feast of the Cross (from The September Menaion or Byzantine Daily Worship). Find an image in them to make into a banner or poster announcing the feast.
 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917- Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com
Saint Stephen

One of the more important developments in catechetics in our Church in recent memory has been the growing spirit of cooperation between the various Eastern Catholic eparchies in the United States and Canada. As of this writing, there are ten Byzantine Catholic dioceses in the US. and another seven in Canada, in addition to dioceses of several other Eastern Catholic traditions (Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite and Syrian). Yet, until recently, there was little interaction among them. How did this come about?

One of the characteristics of Eastern Churches, in contrast to the Roman, is that each national Church is relatively autonomous. While all Byzantine Churches, for example, employ the same liturgical and spiritual Tradition, each has its own body of bishops, language, and musical heritage. And so, when Byzantine Christians emigrated to the New World, they came both speaking and praying in different languages. When parishes and, later, dioceses were established, it was on the basis of the national Churches from which the immigrants had come. In time, all these Churches would move to the use of English in worship and life, but their structures remain separate. Naturally, Churches of non-Byzantine Eastern traditions would have their own structures as well.

Currently the following Churches exist in North America, all sharing a common Byzantine Catholic heritage, but differing in structure, ethnic origin, and particular uses. Dioceses are headquartered in the cities indicated.

  • Melkite: Newton (USA)
  • Montreal (Canada)
  • Romanian: Canton (USA)
  • Ruthenian: Pittsburgh, Passaic, Parma and Van Nuys (USA);
  • Unionville (Canada)
  • Ukrainian: Philadelphia, Stamford, Chicago, Parma (USA);
  • Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon, New Westminster (Canada)
  • More variety exists in the Syriac or Aramaic traditions represented in the following jurisdictions:
  • Chaldean: Deerfield, MI.
  • Maronite: Brooklyn, Los Angeles (USA)
  • Montreal (Canada)
  • Syrian:Jersey City, NJ (USA & Canada)
  • There is also an Armenian Catholic Exarchate for the USA and Canada headquartered in New York City.

EFFORTS TOGETHER

In 1970 representatives from the Melkite and Ruthenian dioceses in the United States began discussing the possibility of common catechetical action. Out of this discussion, the God With Us series was envisioned and developed. Over the next ten years, representatives from these dioceses worked together to produce this material. In time, representatives from several other dioceses became involved in this cooperative venture.

With more dioceses committed to this work and with the completion of the eight grade series, diocesan catechetical personnel formed an ongoing organization, the ECDD (Eastern Catholic Diocesan Directors of Religious Education) conference. Working as an arm of the United States Eastern Catholic bishops' conference, the ECDD has published nine books for adult enrichment and catechist formation. ECDD is also in the process of publishing Light for Life, a handbook for Byzantine Catholic catechesis. Two parts, entitled The Mystery Believed and The Mystery Celebrated, have already been published. The third part, The Mystery Lived, is currently in preparation. ECDD is also in the process of expanding and revising the God With Us Series. It also distributes other publications of catechetical interest through Theological Book Service.

 
by Rev. Economos Romanos Russo
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917- Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

'LET THE MANGER BE PREPARED'

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger he prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away. Born of a virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve and they call out, "Your good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind."

St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem

"God became man so that man could become God." With this sentence St. Athanasius summed up the entire Bible. The liturgical year in the Byzantine tradition is a prolonged celebration of the two truths contained in those few words. During the first half of the year, from September 1st to February 2nd we rejoice in the first mystery: God become man. During the Lenten and Paschal seasons we contemplate the second mystery: man becomes God.

The main focus in preparing for the feast of the Nativity of our Lord in the Byzantine tradition is on the incarnation of the Son or Word of God: in other words, God hecoming man. In order to more fully enter into the meaning of this mystery, we must reread the Genesis account of the creation and fall of man.

In the Image of God

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'... So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them."(Genesis 1:26-27)

The Church recognizes certain of its earliest teachers as having received the divine gift of interpreting the Holy Scriptures and Tradition in the orthodox (i.e. correct) manner, and calls them the 'Fathers of the Church'. The Eastern Fathers made the above passage from Genesis the cornerstone of their anthropologv or doctrine of man. In the plural pronouns "Let US make...in OUR image, after OUR likeness" they saw a prefiguring of the Holy Trinity. Though the work of creation is attributed to the Father, they saw the Son and the Holy Spirit as the "two hands by which the Father created."

The patristic tradition (i.e. the thought of the Fathers) also saw profound implications in the words "in our IMAGE" and "after our LIKENESS". They conceived of the image as something static or unchanging. Either it was there or it wasn't, but the likeness was something dynamic or changing: it could become greater or less. In other words man was created such that he bore a resemblance to God in a way that could grow more and more like God.

Now perhaps the temptation of the serpent in Genesis 3:1–5 is clearer. The serpent "...said to the woman, 'Did God say, "You shall not eat of any tree of the garden"?' And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die."' But the serpent said. to the woman, 'You will not die. For God knows that when You eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."'

How clever is the Evil One! He knew that Adam and Eve had been created in the likeness of God and that they desired nothing so much as to become more like God; so he tempts them to achieve a good end by an evil means. Know good and evil and you will he move like God. That was the essence of the temptation.

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate." (Genesis 3:6)

The act of eating involves taking something outside of you and, by ingesting it, making it part of you. Thus eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of coed and evil means that Adam and Eve made evil part of themselves:

"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." (Genesis 3:7)

Their first reaction was one of guilt. They who, up till then, had rejoiced in their natural nakedness, now that they had ingested evil, felt guilt and, in their embarrassment, covered their nakedness. The Fathers saw this as the darkening of the image of God in man. As a mirror when mottled reflects a distorted image, so was the image of God in man distorted beyond recognition.

Creation to Be Redeemed

God could have abandoned man to his new found evil, but He loved His creation so much that He decided to redeem man from his sin. God says to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15) So God promised that a descendant of Eve would bruise the head of the serpent, which is to say destroy the source of that evil. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of that hope for the deliverance or redemption promised by God to man in paradise.

A descendant of Eve, a man, will deliver us from evil. But who will restore the distorted image and bring the likeness to the highest degree? The closest that one thing can resemble another is that the one actually participates in the life of another. Or, as St. Peter says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:3–4)

In other words, God intends us to be so much like Him that we will actually share in His being. The process of becoming sharers in the divine nature is called THEOSIS (deification or divinization. This is what St. Athanasius means when he says, "...so that man might become God". But who can give us this power? Only God can give us a share in Himself. And so only God can fully redeem man. If God promised that a descendant of Eve - i.e. man - will crush the source of evil and if only God Himself can restore His image and likeness in mankind, then only the God-Man, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, can accomplish the mystery of our salvation.

Since He is the eternal Son of God, He must take upon Himself a human nature and become man, so that the Divine image in fallen man might be restored and the likeness dynamically oriented to sharing in His nature. God becomes man so that man might become God.

Kenosis: the Mystery of God's Love

The mystery of God-becoming-man is called the INCARNATION, the enfleshment, from St. John's Gospel: "And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us" (John l:14). But the Eastern tradition has a special fondness for another word to describe this mystery and its implications for us: KENOSIS or self-emptying, from St. Paul's words in the epistle to the Philippians: "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Phil 2:6-7)

The Second Person of the all-holy Trinity "emptied Himself" and took the form of a servant, that is, became man. He did not count equality with God the Father a thing to be clutched. Our thoughts go back to Adam and Eve in Eden grasping at the forbidden fruit because they thought it would make them more like God. Now it is God the Son, the Word of Cod, who does not grasp at the Divinity, but is born in the likeness of men to give us as a gift what we tried to steal in paradise: likeness to God.

During the Christmas Preparation Period, the Byzantine Churches invite the faithful to enter into the spirit of this mystery by experiencing the expectation felt by the first-chosen people as they awaited the coming of the Savior. But this Savior is God and man: He is the God-Man. And so the period of preparation focuses on these two natures of our Savior. He is true God: He is born of the Father before all ages, the pre-eternal Word of God. In His divine nature He has a Father but no mother. He is also true man. He did not merely appear in human form: He really took upon Himself a human nature.

Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. This is the message of the Fast in preparation for Christmas. In His divine manhood we see an icon of our own divinization. Thus, to celebrate Christmas is not just to recall the birth of our Lord 'way back then' but to reapplv the reality of Christ's being to the continuing process of rebirth in our hearts that is the Orthodox way of salvation. As the process by which the Son of Cod became the Son of Man involved 'kenosis' or self-emptying, a similar kenosis is required of us if we are to be remade in the image and likeness of God. This self-emptying is achieved by prayer, repentance, fasting and the works of charity. When thus purified we can become, like St. Paul, chosen vessels. Into these living chalices are worthily placed the divine body and blood of Christ, so that, as St. Leo the Great says, through these Holy Mysteries we may be transformed into that which we consume.

Rev. Economos Romanos Russo

 

In the Byzantine tradition we celebrate two resurrections during the Great Week. The first is that of Lazarus, remembered on the first day of the celebration, the day before Palm Sunday. As recorded in Jn 11:1-44, Lazarus is restored to life by Jesus after he had been dead four days. This event was what brought the crowds to acclaim Jesus that first Palm Sunday (cf.. Jn 12:17-18).

The second resurrection is, of course, the resurrection of Christ which we are celebrating during these 40 days of Pascha. In a deeper sense, however, we should not describe both these events with the same word. In the case of Lazarus, his resurrection was really a resuscitation: a restoration to physical life. In the case of Christ, it was not a return to the form of life He had before. It was a transformation of that life, a transfiguring of ordinary human life to the life of glory.

Looking at tile icons of these feasts we find a graphic representation of the difference. In the Lazarus icon we see Christ pointing to the tomb, calling on Lazarus to return. The dead man, wrapped in the burial shroud, does just that. He comes out of the tomb, restored to his family and resumes ordinary life. In the paschal icon, an an­gel points to an empty tomb and all we see are the dis­carded funeral wrappings which held the now glorious body of Christ. There is no restoration, no ordinary life. The message is clear: while Lazarus has come back, Jesus has gone on.

These contrasting events have something to say about the style of community life we desire for our pari­shes. Most of our churches have experienced some kind of resurrection in the past few years, sometimes after an apparent - or even real death. Most, however, have experienced a restoration of life after the manner of La­zarus. They have been restored to a kind of physical life: new temples, new neighborhoods, new church appointments, halls, externals in the liturgical life. However it is the risen Christ, not the resurrected La­zarus who is the source and pattern of Christian life. We are called to enter into His resurrection life, to progress to life in the Spirit of God.

Resurrection life is life directed and permeated by the Spirit of God. For us, this is not something which comes automatically, without attention and a conscious effort to cooperate with what God wants to do for us. Life in Christ must become a focus for our activity: one on which we pray, reflect and share in faith. This holds for our personal lives and also for our common lives. At this time of year there are two common areas of activity which we need to submit to the Spirit of God: our evaluation of the past year and our planning for the year ahead.

It goes without saying that any parish program worthy of the name will conclude the season with an evaluation. As a rule, these tend to focus on the physical or ordinary life of the program:

  • the time frame (we insist on a minimum of 1 hour actual class time, meaning l½ hours unless participants are coming directly from church);
  • attendance (ways of positive reinforcement, contact with parents, etc.)
  • scheduling, facilities, etc.

However there are several other questions, ulti­mately more pressing which we need to ask if our programs are to live on the level of the Spirit:

  • teacher formation (are the catechists com­mitted to their own growth both in the spi­ritual life as well in skills development?)
  • fidelity to programs (Are the programs employ­ed being used in a manner faithful to the spirit in which they are intended? For example, does every session of the children's program include prayer at the icon corner, liturgical singing, and an activity for reinforcement?)
  • liturgical participation (Do the catechetical programs lead to greater awareness of prayer and liturgical life. Do participants come to the rite with understanding or are they just going through the motions teacher wants?)

It is also time to plan for the year ahead (now, not two weeks before the program begins). Again, focus this planning not merely on the physical level but on that of the Spirit. First of all, plan to pray together for direc­tion and growth. Discern where the program and the cate­chists in particular are going in the life of the Lord. Is He asking anything of you in this ministry? Are there any particular goals for the parish in the year ahead which should be reflected in the educational program?

As the summer nears, think of having an overnight of reflection for parish leadership - council officers, education coordinators, etc. - to reflect on these ques­tions. Conduct it at a recreational facility, at parish expense, if at all possible (to say thank you!) or with the possibility of members' families taking part for the fun of the outing.

The raising of Lazarus had a spectacular but limited effect. More to our point, after only two or three days those who had been so excited about this wonder had forgotten and rejected the Wonderworker. The new hall or icons may prove of passing interest, but only the life of the Spirit will touch the lives and hearts of the faith­ful. Let us examine the life of our community and of its catechetical program so that the more vital life of the risen Christ may be manifested in it.

 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

In many western Churches, Catholic and Protestant, catechetical materials (and worship materials, for that matter) are produced commercially without any specific connection to the structure of the Church itself. In other Churches, including our own, many curriculum materials are produced by the Church Itself and so are an actual statement of the faith of the entire community. Some materials, such as the God With Us series, are produced by a number of Byzantine Churches together; others are published by our own diocese. All these resources are approved by all the bishops of the respective Churches. We believe that catechesis, like liturgy, is a function of the Church, not of each individual catechist or group of catechists. This is why many curriculum materials are mandated (obligatory) in our Church in the same way that the typicon of our Church prescribes the liturgical services for the parish. These items are indicated in the listing below.

A number of other materials discussed below are produced by one or another Eastern Church, Catholic or Orthodox. They are recommended because they reinforce the basic orientation of our Church toward re-appropriation of our entire Tradition. Since there are few differences between the various Byzantine usages, at least at the church school level, we are able to use many of them without adaptation.

Required and recommended materials for the church school

A major element in the conduct of any catechetical program is the curriculum, which provides the content for the session in which it is employed. The choice of curriculum, therefore, is a basic aspect of program planning. In one sense, however, the local community does not have an unrestricted choice in this matter. Like the texts of our liturgical services, the content of our catechetical programs is meant to reflect, not simply our own preferences, but the Tradition and mind of the Church. In our situation this means that, whenever possible, all materials employed should reflect the Tradition and direction of the Byzantine Churches.

FAMILY CATECHESIS

Adult Instruction Progran on the Sacraments of Initiation Instruction Program on the Sacraments of Initiation (Educational Services) - Catechesis for parents planning to baptize a child. Includes a leader's guide and two participant's texts, one of which is also available in Arabic. Mandated in our diocese.

A Guide for the Domestic Church (Educational Services) An introduction to family practices through the year. Useful for instructing new families and for parents who wish to implement Byzantine family prayer in their homes.

Anthony Coniaris, Making God Real in The Orthodox Christian Home (Light and Life) - Close to 100 suggestions for family centered activities to reinforce the young child's church experience, the liturgical seasons, etc.

Anne Gallagher, Nurturing The Seed of God-Life (Educational Services) - Suggestions for introducing religious practice to infants from birth to 30 months. Includes five activity cards graded according to the child's development.

Mary Lafter, God Made a Beautiful World (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) - Thirty one-page stories on family and church life for pre-nursery and nursery.

Mary Ann Gidus-Mecera, A Way of Life: Introducing Your Child to the Orthodox Faith (available from both OCEC and the Greek Archdiocese). Material for weekly discussion on saints, major feast days, the Church, and Christian living in the home.

Constance Tarasar, Feasts and Families: 1, The Season of Christmas (OCA Religious Education Dept) - Suggestions for celebrating the Christmas­Theophany season in the home. The text is complemented by a supplement containing patterns for an Advent calendar, Jesse tree, and iconographic creche.

PRE-SCHOOL RESOURCES

Note: The revision of the God With Us Series currently under way includes the addition of two pre-school resources, Learning About God (a two-year pre-school curriculum) and God Is With Us! (kindergarten), currently being piloted in selected parishes. Until these resources are available, we continue to recommend the following:

Basic Curriculum (Recommended):

The Wonder of It All (OCEC) - A basic program for nursery-3 year olds based on pre-liturgical themes introducing the child to the wonder of life and creation.

God My Friends, and Me (OCEC) - A continuation of the above program for nursery-4 year olds, emphasizing relationships among friends, family and God.

Together With God (OCEC) - An introduction for kindergarten-5 year olds to the church building, liturgical gestures, the Divine Liturgy and some major Church feasts.

Note: Many prefer using the current God With Us first grade text, Discover, in their pre-school class and Together With God in the first grade.

Supplementary:

Guardian Angel Children's Prayer Book (Toronto Diocese Religious Ed Dept, available from the Greek Archdiocese) - A beautifully illustrated child's introduction to the Divine Liturgy, basic prayers and the Great Feasts.

Byzantine Coloring Books (Byzantine Seminary Press) and Our Church (Stylite Publishing, Lid) - Basic coloring books on the church building and the Divine Liturgy, Great Feasts, etc..

PRIMARY THROUGH JUNIOR HIGH

Basic Curriculum (Mandated):

God With Us Series (God With Us Publications, available through Theological Book Service) -The official eight-grade series for all Byzantine Catholic dioceses in the United States and several in Canada. The grade-appropriate texts are as follows:

Discover (Grade 1) — the gradual discovery of creation in the light of faith.

Life (Grade 2) — the mysteries of Christian initiation

Together (Grade 3) — The Church, God's people, made visible in the church building and realized in the local community

Promise (Grade 4) — Introduction to the New Testament

Share (Grade 5) — The signs of Christian life as manifested in the lives of the saints

Respond (Grade 6) — Introduction to the Old Testament and Church history

Becoming (Grade 7) — The divine economy as shown in creation, the re-creation in Christ and the life of the world to come

Journey (Grade 8) — A summary of the elements of Christian teaching and living presented throughout the series.

Sacramental Preparation:

‘Pre-Chrismation Catechesis' in General Policy for the Administration of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Educational Services) - Suggestions for catechizing children who may have been baptized but not chrismated on three levels (primary, intermediate, and junior high).

Celebrating Life and Love: A Guide for Families Growing in Appreciation of the Divine Liturgy (God With Us Publications) - An eight-theme program for parents helping their primary age children (6-8 years) grow in understanding of the Liturgy and the Eucharist.

Celebrating Forgiveness: A Guide for Families Growing in Appreciation of the Mystery of Repentance (God With Us Publications) - An eight-theme program for parents preparing primary age children (6-8 years) for their first confession.

Constance Tarasar, We Return to God & A Manual for Preparing Children for the Sacrament of Penance (OCA Religious Education Dept) - A text designed for parents working with their children in preparation for first confession. More useful with older children (8-10 years old) than the above, as it presumes the child will read the text.

Note: The above resources must be adapted for group use.

John Boojamra, ‘Penance and Confession', in All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese)- A five-session program for primary and intermediate children (7-11) on sin, repentance, and confession, including instruction on how to prepare for this mystery and to participate in it.

Stewardship Programs:

Did You Ever See a Steward? (Concordia, 3558 S Jefferson Av, St Louis, MO) 63118; 1-800-325-3040) - A program for primaries on the basic sense of Chriostian stewardship of creation. Includes sound filmstrip (also available on VHS videocassette), planning guide, and coloring book.

Learning to Give (OCA Department of Stewardship) - Suggestions for introducing this topic with children on five levels of development, beginning with nursery age. Includes a 12-minute sound filmstrip and an idea booklet, Giving Children the Opportunity to Give.

Vacation Programs:

Celebrating Faith (God With Us Publications). A seven-lesson program on the Nicene Creed. Each theme is developed on three levels: primary, intermediate and junior high. This allows each of three classes to experience the program at age-appropriate levels. Also useful for beginning programs in smaller parishes unable to mount a full 8-grade program.

And Jesus Said... (CORE, Romanian Episcopate) - A five day program on Old Testament stories and the parables of Christ with lesson plans on four levels (pre-school through junior high).

Saints and Celebrations (CORE, Romanian Episcopate) - A second vacation school series on the

Great Feasts (Ascension through Dormition) and saints days of the summer.

All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese) Six five-session mini courses on various topics (the beatitudes, Christian witness, belonging to the ‘ Church, the church building, confession, and creation) for different levels. Appropriate for a one ~ week summer program or other use.

Baptism and Chrismation (OCEC) - An eight-session program on the mysteries of Christian initiation on four age levels (preschool through high school) on concept/activity cards. Originally designed for the non-graded or combined-grade situation, this- program, now out of print, is useful for an experienced catechist designing a program on these mysteries.

Other short-duration programs can be formed from the OCEC and Greek Archdiocese curricula (see Chapter 16).

Supplementary:

Build Your Own Church: A Paper Construction Kit (Antiochian Archdiocese) - A cut-and-assemble model of the exterior of a Byzantine church building, useful as a project when studying the meaning of the church building (eg in God With Us books three and five).

Byzantine Coloring Books II, III and IV — Feastdays, Sunday Gospels, and Parables (Byzantine Seminary Press) - Three iconographic coloring books containing images for these celebrations and pericopes.

Come Bless the Lord (God With Us Publications) — Forty 8½ x 11" icon prints of the great feasts and major saints. Each print includes a detailed explanation printed on the back of the print and in a separate booklet as well. Booklet also available in an English-Spanish edition.

Coming to Worship and A Visit to the Sanctuary (OCEC) - Two plastic design storyboard sets on the icon screen, holy table, prothesis, and Divine Liturgy enabling students to place the items in these scenes in their proper locations. Useful for reinforcing lessons on the church building and the Divine Liturgy.

Ikon Packets (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) - Three separate packets, each containing 20 3x4 prints, of icons of the Life of Christ, the Miracles of Christ, and the Saints.

Sophie Koulomzin, God Is With Us: Bible Stories for Children (OCA Religious Ed Dept) - Thirty two-page stories from creation to Pentecost useful for primary classes.

Leslie Merlin, Courage for a Cross (Friendship Press, available from Light and Life) - Six brief stories about the difficulties encountered by a boy growing up Christian in the Soviet Union. Themes include icons, wearing the cross, witness, and the celebration of Pascha.

Louis Savary, ed, The Holy Spirit for Children (The Regina Press, available from Light and Life) - Nineteen Scriptural citations and descriptions on the work of the Holy Spirit from creation to the Church.

Lenten Lotto (OCEC) - A board game teaching the basic biblical and historical events celebrated during the Great Fast and the Great Week.

Lenten Workbook (OCEC) - An activity book based on the themes,' services, and practices of the Great Fast and the Great Week.

Saints for All Ages (OCA Religious Ed Dept) - A ten-booklet series on various sains grouped thematically (eg women martyr; new apostles, Church Fathers, monastics, hymnographers, etc). Useful to supplement classes from the sixth grade on.

We Pray to God: A Prayebook for Children (OCA Religious Ed Dept) - A 24-page booklet of basic daily and seasonal prayers (OCA text) with a brief explanation of prayer for children.

The Divine Liturgy Activity Book (OCEC). Fifty fun activities for the home and classroom to teach children about the meaning of the Liturgy.

Build Your Own Kits: Church; Iconostasis and Altar; Bishop, Priest and Deacon (Antiochian Archdiocese). Each of these three punch-out and assemble kits is a useful help for teaching children about the church building and the orders of the priesthood.

HIGH SCHOOL

While the following materials are not assigned to any grade level, they are listed in an increasing order of sophistication:

General Topics:

Second Helpings (OCEC) - A two volume anthology of 40 articles from past issues of On the Upbeat treating a wide assortment of topics from basic Christianity to liturgy to contemporary questions.

Liturgy

Come Let Us Worship (Educational Services) - First of two ‘liturgical catechisms' covering topics including the concept of worship and the church building. The companion teacher's guide, Exploring Eastern Christianity, offers lesson plans for four mini-courses (history, iconography, church design, worship) using this book as its text.

Sacrifice of Praise (St Basil's Seminary)- Second volume in the series, currently out of print, presenting the Divine Liturgy, and the liturgical year.

Sexuality and Personhood:

The first supplementary track in Becoming (book seven of the God With Us series) discusses this topic from a Christian perspective in four lessons covering the following themes: sexuality is of God and therefore good; it is touched by sin and therefore broken; it is transfigured by the victory of Christ in the mystery of marriage, and - as witnessed by monasticism - its ultimate destiny is to be transfigured in the Kingdom.

Scripture:

The Bible: An Introduction (OCEC) – A six-session text on Scriptural basics, including the makeup of the two Testaments, the cultural background, and the life of Christ. No teacher's guide available.

Jesus the Word (OCEC) - A ten-chapter treatment of the formation of the Gospels, the infancy and theophany narratives, and the temptation in the wilderness, connecting these passages with liturgical use and the commentary of Church Fathers.

Jesus the Teacher (OCEC) - Companion volume to the above, focusing on the call of the disciples, the sermon on the mount, and the messianic mission of Christ.

‘The Beatitudes', in All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese)- A five-session program on this summary of the messianic proclamation.

Spirituality:

‘Christian Witness', in All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese) - A five session program on the concept of bearing witness and scriptural examples. Appears to be based in part on Called to Be Witnesses (OCEC), a 17 segment series of concept cards which also includes segments on the martyrs, confessors, and monastics in Christian history. Originally intended as a follow-up to the unit on the mysteries of initiation (see Vacation Programs).

The Jesus Prayer (Educational Services) - A six-session introduction on learning to pray the Jesus Prayer. Teacher's guide and participants' leaflets.

Personal Development:

Dee Pennock, Who Is God? Who Am I? Who Are You? (Greek Archdiocese) - A 14-session program on issues relating to personal maturity and the Christian life (identity, guilt, sexuality, fears, etc.), based on the psychological teaching of the Church Fathers. Text and study guide.

 

Catechetical Sunday 2006

An Overview and Introduction


Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
Email - doccolie@yahoo.com
Saint Stephen

The Beginning of the Indiction--The New Liturgical Year

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in the year 325 adopted the first of September as the opening of the New Church Year and this day has been observed to the present time. The indiction of which we are speaking—for there were other indictions—is called the Byzantine (or Constantinopolitan or Constantinian) indiction which, except for Egypt, became mandatory throughout the Roman Empire. Justinian I (527-565) made dating by indiction compulsory for all legal documents.

We are aware of the way the year unfolds—the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God among the first observance. This birth is a prelude to the salvation that was promised to humanity. The Elevation of the Holy Cross follows soon after—focusing our attention upon this fulcrum of human history—the saving Cross of the Lord.

In the days that follow we learn more of the Christ—His Nativity, Baptism, and mission. We follow along through the blessed days of Lent to find the way to be joined with Him in Resurrection, and then experience the fullness of His grace through the Gift of the Church He gave us for the present day.

We learn to make the world alive with His spirit. And, in the spirit of the Apostles—for we commemorate on September 26 the death of St John the Theologian—the end of Scriptural input, and an impetus for a new era in our Church.

In many places the secular school year—and our parochial programs—also begin anew around this very same time. The anticipation of new experiences often motivates students and teachers alike to strive to take advantage of the opportunity to grow—in knowledge and in faith.

"Catechetical Sunday" has long been a feature in American religious education. What better way to open the school year than to co-incide with the new Church Year? You can tailor the first class to take advantage of the natural progression that flows from the local school year.

What follow is the troparion and prokeimenon verse for September 1, the first day of the Church New Year. You may wish to incorporate them with "Catechetical Sunday" observances. A suggested ceremony has been adapted from various euchologia:

BEGINNING OF THE NEW YEAR

Troparion (tone 2)
Fashioner of all creation, you fixed times and seasons by Your own authority; bless the crown of the year, O Lord, with Your goodness, preserving our nation and Your city in peace; and save us through the prayers of the Mother of God.

Prokeimenon (tone 3)

Great is our Lord, and great is His strength, and of His knowledge there is no end.

[The above is a troparion for September 1— it is included only as a reference point, to appreciate the connection between the Church year and the School year, which begins with a special commemoration, known as "Catechetical Sunday" for which the parishes are asked to set aside a date in early September.] For the beginning of the School Year, a petition for the Augumented Litany. During the Divine Liturgy the following may be inserted.

Deacon or Priest:

Again we pray that the Lord will enable these students to grow in wisdom, understanding and virtue, for the glory of His Holy Name; and that He would give them health and long life for the up-building of His Holy Church, we pray to You, Lord, hear and have mercy.

After the Ambo Prayer and the announcements, all of the school-age children and catechists come to the front of the church, where the priest reads the following prayer over them:

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord

All: Amen!


Priest: O Lord, our God and Creator, You have honored us with Your own image, and You taught Your chosen disciples that the fear of You is the beginning of true wisdom. You revealed Your wisdom to children and taught Your law to Solomon and to all who have sought You in purity of heart. Open the hearts, the minds, and the lips of these students.

Enable them to receive the power of Your law, and to comprehend the useful things which will be taught them. Help them understand Your perfect will and contribute to the building up of Your holy Church. Deliver them from eVery' snare of the enemy, preserve them in the true faith, and righteousness and purity all the days of their lives. May they grow in wisdom and in the observance of Your commandments. May they be revealed as worshippers of Your name and heirs of Your Kingdom.

Bless also their teachers; grant that their words be free from every worldly deceit and vanity, and that they always clearly proclaim the word of Your truth. For You are God, the Author of Truth and the Fountain of Wisdom, and to You we render glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

All: Amen.

After the final "Amen," all of the school-age children (and catechists) approach the priest who sprinkles each one of them with holy water, saying:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: May you be preserved from all evil and falsehood, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

At the same time the catechists may be commissioned:

Commissioning and Blessing of Catechists

In conjunction with Catechetical Sunday, and/or on or near the feast of Saint John the Theologian, (September 26) Petition for the Augmented Litany: (may precede petition for blessing of children during the same Divine Liturgy)

We also pray for all of our catechists, that the Lord our God would send His all-holy Spirit to guide and strengthen them as they instruct our students, Lord, hear us and have mercy.

After the Ambo Prayer all of the catechists (and students) come to the front of the church, where the priest reads the following prayer over them. (may precede petition for blessing of children during the same Divine Liturgy)

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: O Lord, Jesus Christ, our God: You revealed fishermen as wise teachers, and commanded them to make disciples of all nations. Look upon these catechists, who offer themselves in service to You and Your holy Church. Bless them, enlighten their minds, and help them to proclaim Your word in their daily lives. Let their faith and love radiate throughout our community, so that all who know them might desire to glorify our Father in heaven. Help them vanquish all fear. Empower them to overcome all fatigue. Fill them with love for their students, and drive from their classrooms every wile of the devil. May their lessons be filled with Your wisdom, so that all who hear them might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. For You are the Wisdom of God, O Christ our Lord, and we render glory to You, together with Your Father and Your enlightening Spirit, now and always, and for ever and ever.

All: Amen.

Some parishes have the custom of presenting the catechists a copy of the Scriptures or another appropriate item. In either case, after the Dismissal,
the priest intones the God grant you many years" to the catechists, and they all approach him to receive a Blessing.


SAMPLE BULLETIN ANNOUNCEMENTS


Two weeks prior to "Catechetical Sunday":

"Catechetical Sunday" is an annual observance at the onset of the instruction of our parish's students. In two weeks we will have a special blessing of our children (and their teachers) during the Divine Liturgy. (specify time, if needed). We ask that all students and faculty be present for this ceremony that emphasizes the importance of our teaching and learning ministry as Christians.


Week before "Catechetical Sunday":

Next Sunday, an important ceremony will take place in our parish. The importance of religious instruction will be emphasized. Special prayers for the Beginning of the School Year will be included during the Divine Liturgy. (specify time, if needed) We will give authority to our catechists, and implore God's Wisdom upon them and their students, for whom we will also pray, and bless. All instructors and students are reminded to be present.

"Catechetical Sunday":

Today we are pleased to celebrate an important event in our parish life. The children and the adults who teach them are here to pray together—and to be blessed—at the start of a new School Year. This coincides with several other important events: the Beginning of the Church New Year; The Nativity of the Mother of God; the Elevation of the Holy Cross; and the death of the Apostle, John, the Theologian, which are key moments in our spiritual life and growth. We join the history of the Church in this ceremony today to our own. God grant his servants, our students and teachers many happy years!

Sunday following "Catechical Sunday"

Last Sunday ____ (#) students and ___ (#) teachers received special blessings as they embarked on a new step in their journey toward Heaven. Keep them in your prayers, encourage the students and their parents in their studies, and ask God's enlightenment upon them and those who accepted the responsibility to teach them through lessons, activities and example the Way of our Lord.

 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

YOUR TASKS AS COORDINATOR

The coordination of a parish catechetical program, of whatever size, has a number of dimensions Each of these aspects utilizes different skills and presumes different abilities. They may all be done by one individual, in which case that person is probably a paid church staff person. In communities where these tasks are done by part time or volunteer ministers, several people may assume various parts of the supervisory role. In either case, the goal of parishes committed to strong catechetical programming should be to se that all these tasks are the responsibility of someone in the community.

A catechetical program coordinator's responsibilities are often seen in terms of: direction, formation, and management.

By "Direction" we mean decision-making in the program: who determines what will happen on the various levels of catechesis in the parish. By "Formation" we mean, besides the implementation of programs directed at general parish membership, those aspects of teaching done by the supervisors themselves, eg. The training of catechists. Finally, by "Management" we mean the attention to logistics which can be expected in any program.

The individual tasks are many. An overview of the aspects in coordinating a program follow. A fuller treatment of these topics will be given in future chapters.

On the Level of Direction

Program Planning
The determination of programs needed in the community, both regular ongoing programs (such as the church school, sacramental preparation, adult enrichment, etc.) and special programs (such as retreats, feastday observances, end of year celebrations, etc.)
Curriculum Design
The selection of materials for use in church school programs, from pre-school through high school levels as well as family programs. Note: The use of certain materials is mandated in the diocese.

On the Level of Formation

Catechist Recruitment, Training, and Support
Working with your catechetical personnel is the most important aspect of program coordination. It involves communicating a sense of ministry, providing the spiritual and pedagogical resources needed for the work at hand, and supporting the catechists in their commitment to the Lord in the catechetical ministry.
Working with Parents
It is essential to the success of your programs for children and youth that parents develop a commitment to the values and goals you are promoting. Organized programs (such as orientation days, open houses, parenting programs), church school parents' associations, or pastoral visitations help to involve the entire family in the effort of catechesis.
Working with Persons with Special Needs
Every program has some students who do not fit into the average categories (catch-up students, language problems, erratic attendees). Special approaches may have to be taken in these circumstances.

On the Level of Management

Class Design and Scheduling
The placement of catechists and students in appropriate groupings, the combining of classes, and the involvement of substitutes should follow standard patterns to insure consistency.
Records
The development of efficient systems of record keeping, registration, and calendar formation for your programs
Promotion
Keeping your program highly visible to the parish at large through written communications, displays, and presentations helps make the entire community feel a part of what you are doing
Facilities
The selection and arrangement of facilities appropriate to your program helps provide a supportive atmosphere to catechists and student alike.
Resources
Your program should include a library stocking the various supplementary resources called for in your curriculum and the equipment necessary to use them as well as items for the personal enrichment of the catechists.
Finances
What you should expect from the parish as a whole in terms of financial support and what the parish should expect from you in terms of an appropriate budget and accountability.

Questions for Reflection

Based on the tasks indicated above, write your own job description, listing those tasks for which you accept responsibility.

Go through the list again. Determine who is to be responsible for the tasks you do not undertake

 

The Face of God

by Fr. Joseph Hallit


Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
Email - doccolie@yahoo.com

THE FACE OF GOD
By Fr. Joseph Hallit

The icon of the Holy Face is the symbol of the great mystery of God's graciousness towards us. God is grace: that is, an inexhaustible and ceaselessly abundant self-giving Source of goodness, Giver of life, sustaining, strengthening and communicating His gifts. And the greatest of these is to be His image, His face. Therein is the great meaning of the Incarnation.

To be the face of someone is to be that someone. In effect, the face is the meeting point of the person. It is the person. It is at once that which sees and that which is seen.

Our icon is a face: it is the Face par excellence. God is face. He sees, He foresees, He provides. The glance of God is tied to His creative Word right from the beginning of Scripture. The divine Word creates. His face looks and sees that it is good, that it is beautiful. "How great are Your works, O Lord; in wisdom You have wrought them all. Bless the Lord, O my soul." (Psalm 103)

Before this image of the Incarnate God, we must pause for a moment to recall the theology of the face. The face-to-face of human encounters symbolizes and enkindles the interior meeting of hearts, for the face is the mirror of the heart. In effect, "A man's heart molds his expression, whether for better or for worse." (Sirach 13:25).

To seek the face of God was the obsession of the Psalmist, expressing himself in the name of his people. They were convinced that this divine face lived in the midst of Israel. Invisible, it was nonetheless full of the extraordinary vitality of the living God. Also, this presence of the divine face is the strength of its people (Ex 33.14: Is 63:7): it gives rise to the cultic aspiration to see the face of God (Psalm 42:3) and to seek the face of God (Amos 5:4). But because the face of Yahweh is that of God, holy and just, only "the upright will contemplate his face" (Psalm 11:7).

Always in the Old Testament, that contemplation would remain something exceptional. a favor granted to Moses and Elias. Moses himself would be allowed to see only the back, after God's passage (Ex 33:20-23), although he longed to see God face-to-face. No one could see the face of God and live, because of sin.

With the Incarnation, the face of God is found in ours, and ours in that of His Son. In the face of Christ, God showed His own face, in effect. We can see on that face the glory of God who shone there (2 Cor. 4:6). The glory of the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:2). is the sign that, in Jesus, God Himself took on a face (Rev. 1:16) and that in Him is seen the face that "no one has ever seen" (Jn. 1:18): "He who sees me sees the Father" (Jn. 14:9).

All of this is summed up in the icon of Christ Pantocrator. it is a theological and historical coming together as well as a recapitulation of all the elements of nature: wood, stone, sun, water, air, colors, the elements which directly or indirectly enter into the iconographic composition. This icon stands in the tradition of the Holy Face "not made by human hands." It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Further, for the Fathers of the second council of Nicea in 787, "the Holy Spirit is the first iconographer."

A harmonious blend of colors, lights and shadows, our icon "of Beauty and Light" naturally appears to the believing and loving contemplator as an invitation to come to know the prototype it represents: "Of all men you are the most handsome. Your lips are moist with grace". (Psalm 45:2)

To tell the story of the Icon: The gold nimbus surrounding the head is circular in form. svmbolizing incarnate perfection. Often the nimbus reaches to the edges of the icon, indicating the unlimited and uncontainable fullness which emanates from Christ. The merciful fullness of Christ, the Lover of Mankind, is abundantly communicated to his members, that is, to us.

In the two upper corners of the icon we read the monogram of Christ, IC XC, formed from the first and last letters of the two words making up the name of Jesus Christ in Greek (Ihsous Christos). The inscription of this name is very important in iconography, containing in effect the entire theology of the name. To give a name to someone is to create him, to situate him, to know him, to possess him, to communicate with him, to seize him. And in the case of the icon, the inscription gives a spiritual dimension, a holy character. Thanks to that, the icon is linked to its prototype in such a way that, for whoever looks into it, it becomes the place of a celebration of love between two beings. In it they mutually contemplate each other and the means by which heaven is found within our reach, and our earth sees itself captured by heaven. Thus the icon is justly titled "a partial presence of heaven on earth".

On the inside of the nimbus one may see the discreet shadow of a cross, a clear reminder of the mystery of redemptive love which is seen on the face of Him who died for our salvation. The cross signifies that it is the loving kindness of God, incarnate in Jesus, which holds first place. The cross is simply an external proof assumed by love in witness to divine Love.

The wide brow in this balanced face symbolizes the great vision of the God-- Man in the history of our creation - redemption. Truly, God sees on a large scale. He confronts our reality with courage, indeed insistence, for therein is the privileged place of His epiphany of goodness and love.

The eyes, open wide on the infinite and on the totality of our history, are all-seeing, all-embracing, all-present, all-knowing. The look is penetrating and fascinating, visible and seeing, seized as well as seizing, loved and loving. Turned towards the Infinite, it is at the same time turned to the interior. Because of that look, we feel ourselves immediately in the "inner depths" of Christ, meek and humble of heart. We feel ourselves adopted, loved, cared for, redeemed, saved, inspired, illumined, adorned, sanctified, christified, deified. That look is truly the resumé of the theology of Beauty and Light of which we spoke before.

Dostoyevsky once wrote, "There is not and cannot be anything more beautiful than Christ". However, the contemplation of beauty, a contemplation purely aesthetic, even of Christ, is not all-sufficient. It demands an act of faith, an active participation in and incorporation into the transforming beauty of the Lord.

The beauty of the Son is the Image of that of the Father, source of Beauty: it is also the example and cause of our own beauty, which is contained therein. Because where the Son is, the Father is, and there also are the brothers of the Son, sons of the same Father: "Who has seen me, has seen the Father".

Physionomy of peaceful serenity, photogenic, eloquent testament of a silent yet efficacious divine presence, living communion with the Distant-yet-Near and Invisible- become-Visible, mystical yet real integration with the Incorporeal-become-Corporeal: this icon is a reflection of the Light of Tabor. Thus we may, through it, say with certitude: "Emmanu-el" ( "God is with us").

"A theologian is one who knows how to pray," said Evagrios of Ponticus and St. Gregory of Nyssa. And we may add: "A contemplative is one who knows how to see and discover the Beautiful and the Divine." It is not a question of knowing how to speak, to analyze, to discourse. More simply, it is a question of feeling that "God dwells there among us", with a dwelling that is beautiful and, because it is beautiful, ravishes souls and bears them to the heights of understanding and love.

Thus, what the Word proclaims, the icon shows silently. It is that experience which caused the Fathers of the Second Council of Nicea to explain, concerning icons: "What we have heard spoken of (in the Gospel), we have seen". Hence for us the vital relationship between reading the Gospel daily and contemplating the icons. The Gospel leads us to the icon, and from the painted icon to the icon which is our neighbor, and from there back again to the Gospel.

A saint is not a superman, but rather one who lives his truth as a liturgical being. That is to say, he is a being "of the Holy One" in communion with the angels who, in an "eternal movement around God, sing and praise with triple blessings the one God" (St. Maximos the Confessor). Further, it is for this that we are created. The psalmist again: "I will sing to my Lord as long as I last" (Psalm 104: 33).

"When grace sees us aspire with all our strength towards beauty, it grants to us the gift of resemblance". Thus, in becoming capable of seeing the glory of the face of Christ. Christians, through the Holy Spirit, which dwells in them, remain illumined and transformed with the light of life and salvation. "And we, [unlike Moses, whose transformation was passing] with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect: this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

It is that "glory of God" on the face of Christ, which makes shine on each of the faithful the grace of contemplation.

 

The Feasts of September

By Archbishop Joseph Tawil


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The Feasts of September By Archbishop Joseph Tawil

The month of September marks the return of our children to their schools and studies and, for the rest of us, the resumption of our normal routine after a vacation break. Time is God's gift to us to experience His loving and mysterious Presence in His creation and in each one of us. ‘For if our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day," (2 Cor. 4:16) "until we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son and form the perfect man who is Christ come to full stature." (Eph. 4:13). "For in Him, the fullness of Deity resides in bodily form." (Col. 2:8) The month of September also marks the beginning of the liturgical year and is illuminated by two Major Feasts: the Nativity of the Theotokos on the 8th and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the 14th. Let us pause a moment with each of them so as to uncover their rich meaning for our daily lives.

The Nativity of the Theotokos

Mary's figure appears in the second chapter of Genesis "crushing the head of the dragon, representing Satan (v. 15). She is the ‘‘Predestined Woman whom God has selected from all eternity to be the shining dawn introducing Christ, the Sun, into the world." (Acathist). "For God who rests upon the spiritual thrones, has made ready for Himself a holy throne upon the earth. He who has made firm the earth in His Wisdom has pre­pared a living heaven in His love for man." (Vespers). "She is the prologue of the pleasure of God and the first announcer of salvation to mankind. According to the Eastern tradition, Mary was born in Jerusalem, in the house of Joachim and Ann near the Pool of Bethsaida, the ruins of which have been unearthed, and where Our Lord healed the paralytic. St. John of Damascus, who lived in St. Saba's Monastery in the Judean Desert which still exists, wrote in one of his homilies, "I will enter this house and I will cover with kisses the walls which are so dear to me, the walls which sheltered the Mother of God." Since there is no distance for those who love, let us go, in turn, and enter in spirit and cover with kisses the birthplace of the Theotokos, the Queen who gave birth to the King of the Universe, and our Mother.

So, God entered our human history through a woman: "when the designated time had come, God sent forth His son horn of a woman... so that we might receive our status as adopted sons." (Gal. 4:4). He became one of us to make us one with Him. He took what we are and gave us what He is. He took our infirmities and gave us His Divinity. All that we have received from Him was lavished upon us through the "Woman full of grace,'' whom all genera­tions shall call blessed forever. And if the Lord, who promised the sinful woman who washed His feet that "wherever the Gospel is preached, what she did for Him will be told in her memory', ‘ (Mark 14:9), how much more will He not do for His Mother "the All-holy and Ever-Blessed Virgin." Indeed, whoever honors the Son, honors the Mother who gave Him birth and, whoever honors the Mother, also honors the Son. They are so intimately associated in the Mystery of Redemption that they cannot be dissociated, as is shown in Byzantine iconography which always requires that the Mother be represented with the Child and never without Him. This is the eloquent picture on our iconostasis, where the Mother of Light is always associated with the Author of Life, Christ the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. This teaches us that, while our worship must be Christ-centered, we can not forget that it was the fiat of Mary which made it all possible.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

This feast commemorates the return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem after it had been taken away by Chosroes, king of Persia, who invaded the Holy Land and defeated the Romans in 614. It took fifteen years for the Cross to be returned by Herac­lius, the only Roman Emperor ever to visit the Holy Land, who replanted it on Calvary in the midst of the tears of joy of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (629). There is a local tradition that Calvary is located in the center of the world and which gave the name to the adjacent church. The Psalmist says, "Our God is a great God and He wrought salvation in the midst of the earth." (Ps. 73:12). The Church has added to it the following, in speaking to Christ, "When You extended Your arms upon the Cross, uniting all the nations crying out to You, ‘Glory to you, O Lord.'"

The Mystery of the Cross is the Mystery of Mysteries. How can the Source of Life die, the Maker of all be annihilated and exclaim, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" This is the kenosis of the Son of God, who emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross. The human mind, which is accustomed to asking why, is completely lost. The Mystery of the Cross is the Mystery of Atonement and wonder: "Let every creature remain silent and adore." For the message of the Cross is complete absurdity for those who are heading to ruin, but to those who are experiencing salvation, it is the Power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18). If we ask why, the only answer we receive is that of St. John, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life." (Jn. 3:16). Up until the sixth century, Christians were forbidden to depict Christ on the Cross, because the Cross was the punish­ment of slaves. The first time it appeared was through some Syrian monks living in Narbonne, France, and from whence it spread.

No one is exempt from the cross; not even the Blessed Virgin, who carried her cross from Christ's birth in Bethlehem to Golgotha, where she stood at her Son's side, as He hung on the Cross. The closer we are to Christ, the heavier is our cross for, as St. Paul says, "Those whom He foreknew, He predestined to share the Image of His Son, so that the Son might be the first-born of many brothers." (Rom. 8:29)

The Mystery of the Cross, itself, is not the end. Behind it lies another Mystery, a glorious Mystery of which St. Paul also speaks, "The present burden of our trial is light enough and can earn for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We do not fix our gaze on what is seen, but on what is unseen. - What is seen is transitory; what is unseen lasts forever." (2 Cor. 4:17-19). We have been created for life and not for death. We have been created for glory since, in God's wisdom, the world did not come to know Him through "wisdom." it pleased God to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching of the Gospel. (1 Cor. 1:21). This is why the Church proclaims, "Behold, through the Cross, joy has come into the world." Christianity is the announcement of joy, the announcement of hope and the reason for our joy and hope is that Christ is risen and lives forever and is at work in the world, through the Holy Spirit, living in the Church and in us. "Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad with the whole universe visible and invisible, for Christ, our Eternal Joy is risen." (Paschal Liturgy) This is what we must live and inculcate into our children. We thereby give the world the reason for out hope, for Christianity is Christ—and Christ risen—and, since Christ has risen as the Firstborn, we too shall rise in Him and share in His Glory.

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