Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

Prayers of Intercession

Prayers for Individual Parishes

Praying for the Reunification of Our Patriarchate

At their 1996 session, the synod of Melkite bishops issued a call for the reunification of the Greek patriarchate of Antioch. They committed themselves "to find ways for the two Churches — Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox — to return to communion with each other and into unity within one Antiochian patriarchate."

To hasten the day, the bishops asked all their faithful to join with them in prayer that the holy will of God may be fulfilled in all of us. Since then, Melkite and Antiochian Orthodox clergy and people have begun to pray for one another that we reach unity through oneness of heart. Intercession for the growth of unity between our sister Churches has become another of the regular prayer intentions in the Society.

Our Church will be renewed as its individual parishes are renewed, and each parish will be renewed as the individual believers in it are renewed. Likewise, the desire for unity will grow in our respective Churches as individual parishes and believers foster that goal through prayer and action. Therefore it is particularly important that each of us recommit ourselves to pray daily for each other, for all the members of our eparchy and for the reunification of our patriarchate.

If our diocese is to grow in faith and the union of mutual love, it must have the prayer of faith as its foundation. Join us in this effort to bring the life of the Lord in our communities ever closer to where the Lord wants us to be.

 

Among works done for the love of Christ, prayer is the one that most readily obtains the grace of the Holy Spirit, because it is always at hand.

It may happen that you want to go to church, but there isn't one nearby; or else you want to help a poor person, but haven't anything to give or you don't come across one; or again you may want to remain chaste, but natural weakness prevents your resisting temptation.

But prayer is within reach of everyone, and everyone can give themselves to it: rich or poor, learned or unlearned, strong or weak, sick or healthy, sinner or righteous. Its power is immense. Prayer, more than anything else, brings us the grace of the Holy Spirit.

St. Seraphim of Sarov wrote about prayer:
Pray Always.

Morning Prayer

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

Glory to You our God, glory to You.

Heavenly King, Consoler, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and the giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, O good One.

Holy God, Holy mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen,

Grace before Meals

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied. Those who seek the Lord shall praise Him and their hearts shall live forever. Christ God, bless the food and drink of Your servants, for You are holy at all times, now always and forever and ever. Amen.

Prayers before Sleep

Now that the day has come to a close, I thank You, O Lord, and I ask of You that my evening and night be without sin. Grant this to Me, O Savior, and save me. Glory to the Father and the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Now that the day has come to a close, I glorify You, O Master, and I ask of You that my evening and night be without offense. Grant this to me, O Savior, and save me. Now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

Now that the day has come to a close, I praise You, O holy One, and I ask of the that my evening and night be undisturbed. Grant this to me, O Savior, and save me.

Under the protection of your wings I shall be covered and fall asleep, for in you only Lord, does my hope lie.

Into you hands, O lord, I commend my soul and body. Do bless me, do have mercy on me and do grant me eternal life. Amen.

Other Prayers

Prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria
O Lord, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and inquisitiveness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.
Grant instead to me, your servant, the spirit of purity and humility, the spirit of patience and neighborly love.
O Lord and King, bestow upon me the grace of being aware of my sins and not thinking evil of those of my brethren.
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
Prayer of the Trinity
My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit. Holy Trinity, glory to you.
Never Failing
O never failing protection of Christians, and their ever present advocate before the Creator, turn not away from the prayers of us sinners, but in your goodness extend your help to us, who call upon you with faith. Hasten, O Mother of God, to interceed for us, for you always protect those who honor you.
Prayer of Dorotheus of Gaza
O God, help my brothers and sisters in _____________and help me by their prayers.
 
Exterior of a Church - Detail from an oil painting, c.1575
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

During the Paschal Season:

Christ is risen from the dead and by His death He has trampled upon Death and has given life to those who were in the tomb (three times).

During the Year:

Glory to You, our God, glory to You.

O Heavenly King, Consoler, Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, the Treasury of blessings and the Giver of life, come, O Good One, and dwell in us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls.

+ Holy God! Holy Mighty One! Holy Immortal One! Have mercy on us (three times).

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.

Lord, forgive our sins

Master, pardon our transgressions.

Holy One, look upon us and heal our infirmities for Your name's sake.

Lord, have mercy (three times).

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the + Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

Lord, have mercy (twelve times).

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

+ Come, let us worship God our King and bow down before Him.

+ Come, let us worship Christ God our King and bow down before Him.

+ Come, let us worship Christ, our King and our God, and bow down before Him.

Here recite one of the Psalms from your Bible, then conclude with:

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

+ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia: glory to You, O God (three times). O our Hope, glory to You!

Troparion for the Church

As You had shown from on high the splendor of the firmament, so did You show on earth the splendor of the Dwelling Place of Your holy glory. Make it stand firm forever and ever, and accept the supplications which we offer to You unceasingly through Your Mother, O You the Life and Resurrection of all.

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

Kondakion for the Church

You have made of the Church a resplendent heaven, enlightening all the faithful; wherefore we stand in the midst of this holy Dwelling Place and we cry out to You: "Make firm this house, O Lord!"

Here you may wish to add the New Testament readings shown on your parish calendar.

A General Intercession

(Remembrance of the Living and the Dead)

Remember, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Your mercies and bounties which are from all eternity. By them You became man, willing to suffer crucifixion and death for the salvation of those who rightly believe in You. Having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, You sit at the right hand of God the Father, hearing the humble prayers of those who call on You with their whole heart. Incline Your ear and accept my prayer, unprofitable servant though I am, as the fragrance of spiritual incense which I offer You for all people.

Remember first Your holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which You have established through Your precious blood. Confirm, strengthen, extend and increase it and keep it in peace, forever proof against the power of hell. Calm the dissentions of the Churches and foil the plans of the powers of darkness. Dispel the prejudice of unbelievers and root out the rising of heresies, frustrating them by the power of the Holy Spirit (bow).

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on the government empowered by the American people and their armed forces. Protect their power with peace. Speak peace and blessings in their hearts for Your holy Church and for all Your people and grant that in their tranquility we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty (bow).

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on our bishop, N., and on my spiritual father, N. By their prayers forgive my sins (bow).

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on my parents, my brothers and sisters and all my relatives, my neighbors and friends and all the members of our parish, granting them Your worldly and spiritual goods (bow).

Save, O Lord, and have mercy in Your boundless generosity on all priests, deacons, monks, nuns and all living in virginity, devotion, fasting and right faith in every place of Your domain. Lighten their burden, console them in their afflictions, and grant them strength, power and perseverance in their struggle; and by their prayers grant me the remission of my sins (bow).

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on the old and the young, the poor and the destitute, the orphans and widows, those suffering from spiritual, mental and physical illnesses, those in misfortune, tribulation and sorrow, those held captive or sent into exile and especially on those of Your servants who are suffering persecution for Your sake and those for whom we have been asked to pray: NN. Visit, strengthen, comfort and heal them and by Your power quickly grant them relief, freedom and deliverance. (bow)

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on those whom I have offended or scandalized by my neglect or carelessness and whom I may have turned from the way of salvation or led into harmful and evil deeds. By Your divine providence restore them again to the way of salvation. (bow)

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on those who hate and offend me, and who do me harm, and let them not perish through me, a sinner. (bow)

Illumine with the light of Your grace all who have given up the Orthodox faith or who hold heretical teachings and draw them to Yourself, uniting them to Your holy, catholic and apostolic Church. (bow)

Remember, O Lord, all those who have departed from this life in the true faith and grant them rest with the saints in Your eternal dwellings. (bow)

Remember, O Lord, the souls of Your servants who have reposed: my parents and all my relatives NN. Forgive them every transgression, whether committed voluntarily or involuntarily. Grant them the Kingdom, a share in Your eternal joys and the delight of Your blessed and everlasting life. (bow)

Remember, O Lord, all the members of our Church and all Orthodox Christians who have reposed in the hope of resurrection to eternal life. Give them repose with Your saints where the light of Your face shines and have mercy on us, for You are good and the Lover of mankind.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

May 152011
 
A Practical Guide to Evangelization for Eastern Catholic Parishes

A Practical Guide to Evangelization for Eastern Catholic Parishes

by Anthony T. Dragani, MA, re-edited by Shawn A. Dorisian (reprinted with permission, all rights reserved by the authors)

I would like to start this presentation with a prayer from the Maronite Sedro:

By your wisdom, make us worthy / To be your faithful witnesses in the world And to be renewed in our commitment / To the Christian Life. We Praise you O Christ,Your FatherAnd your living Holy Spirit Now and for ever, Amen.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Word of Christ be brought to all persons in such a way that anyone who hears will want to come to Christ and be baptized (see Romans 10:10-17), that this will and work be known and believed. This is the mission of the Church known as evangelization and it should be the desire of all committed Christians to want to tell of their Savior [1]

This guide labors to present a practical strategy of parish-based evangelization. Many of the concepts utilized have been carefully selected from the writings of Protestant evangelists, who have demonstrated a high aptitude in this field. Other ideas have also been drawn from the writings of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox evangelists. However, I have only included those approaches that are well suited for the typical Eastern Catholic parish. Our parishes have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and these have been taken into consideration when writing this guide.

In the Protestant world, much research has gone into the study of evangelization. Many Protestant scholars have become experts on the subject, and have developed it into a "science" known as church growth. Drawing on insights from sociology, psychology, and other fields of study, church growth experts have developed approaches to evangelization that yield proven results. In a very real sense church growth can be considered a true science "with theories that can be tested and proven."[2]

The strategy presented in this guide is essentially parish-based. For numerous reasons, denomination wide evangelization is not as effective.[3] Ultimately, it is the quality and outreach of the local congregation that will attract new membership. Given this circumstance, what role should a Eparchial office or committee of evangelization play? It should first and foremost serve to assist individual parishes in implementing a plan of evangelization. Likewise, it should only focus its efforts on those parishes that wish to grow. Some parishes unfortunately have no desire to expand their membership. An Eparchial office would be wasting its time trying to help a congregation (and typically pastor) that has no desire for growth. Instead, the Eparchial office should only expend its energy and resources supporting those parishes that request its aid in implementing a strategy for growth.

Before proceeding, a few words of caution are in order. First and foremost, evangelization must be pursued with integrity. In no way can the theology or worship of the parish be diluted in an attempt to increase attendance. As warned by evangelization expert Peter Barna, "any church growth strategy that is geared to increasing the number of people without emphasizing the necessity of commitment to Jesus Christ is working in opposition to scriptural command."[4] In incorporating new members into the Church, it is crucial that the Gospel message is not watered down. Barna warns against following the example of a certain well-known Protestant "cathedral":

A church in Southern California began with less than a dozen people attending the first week's service. You cannot find a seat in the sanctuary today, because more than 10,000 people regularly file into the church every Sunday. But the growth of the church occurred as a consequence of spiritual compromise. People who attend that church see a good show, but they don't hear the gospel the way Jesus proclaimed it. Yes, this church is well marketed, but it is marketed for a different purpose than to serve Jesus Christ.[5]

It is also important to remember that there are no magic formulas for successful evangelization.[6] Ultimately, it is not slick tactics or brilliant strategies that cause a parish to flourish, but the work of the Holy Spirit.[7] Hence, persistent prayer must accompany all efforts.

The Necessity of Evangelization

In recent centuries, Eastern Christianity has been very lax in the field of evangelization. We have rightly focused on serving the needs of our people, but sometimes to the exclusion of spreading the Gospel to those who have not heard it. Historically, this has not always been the case. In the ninth century, SS. Cyril and Methodius conducted a successful mission to the Slavs, under the patronage of St. Photius the Great. And in the nineteenth century the Russian Orthodox mission to Alaska bore great fruit. It is unfortunate that the missionary imperative seems to have fallen on the back burner since then.

The most compelling reason to evangelize is to fulfill Jesus' command:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."[8]

The tendency of Eastern Christian Churches to minister exclusively to one ethnic group, failing to "make disciples of all nations" directly contradicts the will of Christ. Christ's Church is to be universal, spreading the Gospel to all persons of every racial and ethnic background. In as much as we neglect evangelization, we fail to be Christ's Church.

Archeparch Joseph Tawil, a revered leader of the Melkite Catholic Church, cautioned against an emphasis on ethnicity. Archeparch Tawil envisioned Eastern Catholic Churches open to all Americans, and in turn the World. He eloquently spoke of this in a famous Christmas pastoral letter:

One day all of our ethnic traits – language, folklore, customs – will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we cannot think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.[9]

Archeparch Joseph warns of the danger of our Churches vanishing in North America, and in turn the West. Research indicates that this is a very real possibility. The best evidence clearly suggests that parishes that neglect evangelization tend to stagnate or decline in America.[10] Studies show that the typical congregation will lose 6% to 10% of its membership annually.[11] This loss is attributed to parishioners dying, relocating, and dropping out. For a parish to thrive, it must annually replace these lost members – or face eventual extinction.

There is a prevalent false assumption in how these lost members are to be replaced. Most Eastern Catholic parishes wrongly assume that the children will take their place. The sad truth is that most of the children raised in our parishes will not be there as adults. In our transient societies, most of these children will either move away or join other Churches. Very often less than 10% of the children found in a parish will remain there in adulthood.[12]

Also, denominational loyalty is not nearly as strong as it was in previous generations.[13] In our consumer-oriented cultures, young people are accustomed to shopping for the institution that best meets their needs. The reality that they were raised in a specific tradition is unlikely to assure that they will not leave for something more appealing. One fact is clear: the parishes that grow and flourish are those that actively evangelize.[14]

In the past decade, Eastern Christianity has demonstrated an unprecedented appeal in the United States. While there are no firm figures, it is probable that as many as ten thousand Evangelical Protestants have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the past ten years. Father Peter Gillquist, a former Protestant minister whom once led Campus Crusade for Christ, is now director of evangelization for the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. He believes that Orthodoxy's present success is largely due to dispelling the myth that it is an exclusively ethnic Church.[15] Orthodoxy offers magnificent worship, sound theology, and a rich treasury of spirituality. Once North Americans were made aware of its existence, and that they were welcome to join, many jumped at the opportunity.[16] I am firmly convinced that Eastern Catholicism is also capable of attracting an influx of new members, provided that we also unambiguously open our parishes to all.

Phase I: Preparing the Parish

Before beginning evangelization per se, it is crucial to prepare the parish for what is about to occur. Many Eastern Catholic congregations are not familiar with visitors, and often times do not know how to properly welcome perceived "outsiders." Well-intentioned parishioners are often prone to ask visitors such questions as "Are you a Ukrainian, Lebanese, and the like?" or the infamous "What is your last name?" Questions such as these send a strong signal of exclusivity to visitors, who most likely will never return.

What typically needs to occur is a change in a parish's self-perception. Most of our parishioners subconsciously believe their parishes to exist for the preservation of ethnic identity. There is some historical warrant for this belief. In our Old Countries the Church was a crucial means of safeguarding national identity. However, this approach is not tenable in the West. Our young people think of themselves as Americans, Canadians, European or Brazilians for example first and usually have little ethnic consciousness. They are attracted to the Roman Church, which they perceive as being universal. Hence, the hyper-ethnic parish often unwittingly drives out the young people, and excludes potential new members – ensuring its immanent demise.

To be successful, an Eastern parish must become conscious of a greater purpose. The congregation must first come to understand that Christ's Church exists to spread the Good News to all persons. Evangelization is a fundamental aspect of the Church's mission, not an optional activity. This must be clearly communicated to the congregation. Regular homilies are an effective tool in conveying this message.[17] If there is still resistance, it may be necessary to warn of the eventual likelihood of the parish dying through lack of membership.

Most visitors will have their first contact with the parish at Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. It is important that this first impression be a positive one. To ensure that it is, certain practices must be implemented before the visitors arrive. One of the best things that a parish can do in preparation for growth is to assign greeters to the main entrance and exits. Greeters must be carefully selected, and briefly trained to recognize and welcome visitors. The greeter must understand that he or she is there first and foremost to make the newcomer feel welcome and comfortable.[18] Today, many Roman Catholic parishes have greeters, and find them to be a true blessing.

It is especially necessary that the greeters interact with the visitors immediately after worship, as well as before. According to Robert Bast, Minister of Evangelism for the Reformed Church in America, the moments following the end of Sunday worship are among the most important in determining whether or not a visitor will return. Rev. Bast cautions that "this can be the loneliest moment of all, if everyone is greeting friends, while the visitor goes up the aisle in a pocket of isolated silence."[19] Designated greeters with good hospitality skills can prevent such awkwardness from occurring.[20] Experience proves that "when visitors feel that no one cares whether or not they have come, they are not likely to return."[21]

It is also useful to give the visitor something to take home as a reminder of the visit. A simple visitor's packet, distributed by the greeters, can make a powerful impact. It is not necessary to arrange an elaborate selection of information, as it can overwhelm the reader. Rather, a successful visitor's packet need only consist of a manila envelope containing a parish brochure, a brief introduction to Eastern Catholicism, and an invitation to join the parish.

I also highly recommend erecting a literature rack near the church entrance. Both the Maronite and Melkite offices of religious education in the United States offers a wonderful selection of leaflets on their forms of Catholicism at a very reasonable price. A literature rack stocked with such leaflets can sufficiently answer many questions that the visitor may have. Nearby there should also be a guest book, where visitors can leave their names, addresses and e-mails to receive parish mailings.

One of the most effective preparations for evangelization is already in place in many of our parishes: the post-Liturgy coffee hour. Most visitors are looking for a community where they can feel comfortable. The friendliness of a congregation is perhaps the most important factor in attracting a new member.[22] According to Bast, "Coffee/fellowship time after worship is indispensable for the church that intends to attract and keep visitors. It provides an immediate occasion for inviting, and an excellent opportunity for socializing. Without it, visitors are unlikely to remain long enough to meet anyone in the church."[23]

During this phase of preparation, I strongly recommend that the pastor appoint an evangelization task force to implement the strategy. This will usually consist of a group of five to seven people who show genuine interest in the growth of the parish.[24] As many of our pastors are already stressed for time, it is essential for them to delegate responsibility to a task force.[25] If the parish is blessed with a permanent deacon, it would be wise to place him in charge of the effort.

Phase II: Attracting the Visitor

Once the parish has been properly prepared, it is time to begin attracting visitors. Our chief obstacle in this task is overcoming widespread ignorance. Most Americans are oblivious to the existence of Eastern Christianity. The common presupposition is that the Christian world is divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants. An educated few may be aware of Eastern Orthodoxy. Even less are aware of Eastern Catholicism.

Among those who know about Eastern Christianity, it is commonly believed that Eastern Christian parishes are ethnic enclaves. Most Westerners are not aware that they are welcome to attend and join an Eastern parish. Therefore, our task is two-fold. First, we must make others aware of our existence. And second, we must inform them that they are welcome to join our parishes.

With these two objectives in mind, we will now briefly explore some of the best techniques for attracting visitors. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does present what I believe to be the most effective techniques available.

The Church Sign

This is one of the most overlooked tools of evangelization. A visible sign with accurate liturgy times can have significant impact. Bast remarks that "possibly the single most important advertising a church can do is through the sign it has in front of its building."[26] He recommends a readable, simple sign that is perpendicular to the road.[27] Service times are a must, and accuracy is crucial. Very often our parishes neglect posting Liturgy times outside of the building. The assumption is that everyone who needs to know the Liturgy times can just look in the bulletin. This presumption fails to consider the possibility of visitors.

Because of the widespread belief that Eastern parishes are exclusively ethnic, we must take extra measures to let potential visitors know that they are welcome. The sign is an excellent place to do this. A simple phrase such as "Everyone is Welcome" can go a long way in this regard.

The Telephone Directory

Market research indicates that people under the age of forty use the telephone directory extensively. Frequently, families who have recently moved into the area will consult the telephone directory pages to find a church to join.[28] This is a golden opportunity for parish growth that should not be passed up. It is recommended that the parish take as large an advertisement as is affordable. Include in the ad liturgy times, an attractive description of the parish, and a phone number and address. Further, if the directory permits, setup a separate Eastern Catholic subsection, or even better a section that lists the tradition of the Churches like the Byzantine or Syro-Antiochene Catholic Churches. I suggest emphasizing our majestic, mystical worship. Again, a slogan such as "Everyone is Welcome" is essential.

The Mailing/E-Mailing Lists

A mailing/e-mailing list of previous visitors and friends of the parish can be an invaluable resource. Such a list can be cultivated through the guest book mentioned earlier. A well-maintained list can be used to regularly send out notices of upcoming events, as well as invitations to worship with the parish during holidays. Such letters of invitation can bring back someone who otherwise may have forgotten about the parish. With every mailing, I strongly suggest sending an attractive, professionally designed parish brochure.[29] A professional copying establishment can produce such a brochure for a very reasonable price. Be certain to include in it accurate Liturgy times, directions to the parish, and activities such as scripture studies and youth education classes. If you are e-mailing make sure that it is not cluttered with too many graphics.

Information Night

An information night is an opportunity to introduce the church to the local community. Eastern Orthodox missions throughout the West have used such information nights with great success.[30] Frederica Matthews-Green, a famous convert to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, writes of the use of information nights by her growing mission parish:

We hold evenings like this a couple of times a year, and from past experience I know that some of these strangers will be joining us as regulars at Holy Cross. We sing through Vespers… After I describe my conversion to Christ and journey to Orthodoxy, Carl speaks a little more knowledgeably about the Orthodox Church; after all, he has a recent doctorate in Byzantine history… As the meeting breaks up we move to the fellowship room for platters of snacks that include plenty of cold cuts and sausages, since everyone's clearing out refrigerators. The crowd is jovial, and the conversations go on for hours.[31]

A successful information night has several key ingredients. First, it must be well advertised. A noticeable newspaper advertisement is called for, inviting the community to discover the rich spirituality of the Eastern Church. If a guest speaker will be present, his or her name and credentials should also be mentioned. A flyer should also be sent to everyone on the mailing list.

Second, an engaging speaker must deliver the talk. Absolutely nothing is more effective than a convert to Eastern Catholicism telling his or her story. The advertisements are likely to attract spiritual seekers who will readily identify with conversion stories. Such accounts are easy to relate to, and are almost never boring. If the parish does not have any converts, one should be recruited from a neighboring parish for the event. Most converts are full of zeal for their newfound Church, and will gladly share their stories.

Third, contacts must be made. An information night is an excellent opportunity for visitors to meet regular parishioners. Much like a coffee hour, the information night is also a chance to demonstrate the sense of fellowship present in the parish. Also, every visitor should be given a printout inviting him or her to join the parish, with instructions on how to do so. Visitor addresses should also be collected, and added to the mailing list. With a minimal amount of planning, information nights can be as effective for Eastern parishes as they have been for Orthodox missions.

Tithing Community

Many people do not see the connection between effective evangelization, but tithes are the lifeblood of the Church. If we get our parish to become a Tithing Community then we will have the financial resources to grow. Below are a couple of web sites that outline the Catholic Principal of Tithing.

Adopt A Community

There are Eastern Catholics around the world have no organized parishes.To use my own Maronite Church as an example, in Sweden, Ecuador, Ghana and West Africa, England, either have no parishes or do not have the resources to own their own Church (as is the case in England) We can also look at adopting communities in our own homelands.

Let me use Ecuador as an example because it stands out most in my mind.

When I was in Ecuador, I was shocked to see Statues of St. Maron, St.Sharbel, and St. Rafka in the Amazon Jungle side of Ecuador. There are noMaronite Churches there (even though there are thousands, and LebaneseMaronites have served as president of Ecuador), but the Maronites arestruggling to keep their heritage and faith.

A. We can help our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters by sending money down there help build Eastern Catholic Churches.

B. We can send ourselves. How better than to spend a week building a New Home for God? It helps bind a parish as a family, also for our teens, and young adults it will give them a sense of service.

C. Our establish parishes can adopt a priest. The cost of living is very inexpensive in many third world countries, so even a few hundred a month could support one priest.

All of these activities help show an active form of evangelization. Many Protestant Churches are doing this now and we can see how they are growing in leaps and bounds.

Canvass Your Local Parishes Neighborhood

This is one of the easy things that a group can do, especially a youth or young adults group. Leave a small note inviting the neighbors to services. You would be surprised at how many people will usually respond. Also, if you are having a special event after liturgy, such as a Church Carnival, this helps the neighbors feel that "OUR" Church is really every ones Church.

Phase III: Incorporating New Members into the Parish

Once a visitor expresses interest in the parish, it is imperative to provide opportunities for him or her to become incorporated into the life of the community. The key principle is that a visitor will not remain in the parish unless he develops friendships within the church. As evangelization experts testify, "without friendships within the congregation, most new members will not stay."[32] Here we will look at two proven vehicles for developing these friendships.

The Small Group

The number one personal problem in our modern age is loneliness. National surveys conducted in recent years indicate that loneliness is one of the major, fastest growing problems in Western Nations.[33] Although we generally are living in closer proximity to one another, we know each other less and less. Most visitors to parishes are not searching for theological purity, but for friendships.[34] It is the responsibility of Christ's Church to try and meet this need by providing opportunities for Christian friendships to develop. Thom Rainer, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, writes of this crucial necessity:

In the early church, people caring for one another, eating in each other's homes, and giving out of love was the norm. Today city-dwellers do not know even the names of the family living three houses down the street.[35]

Historically, one of the most effective ways to counter loneliness and develop friendships in the parish is through small group studies. These studies usually meet weekly and feature "a combination of Bible study, prayer, and personal sharing."[36] For a Eastern Catholic community, the structure can be tailored to incorporate liturgical prayer and patristics. These small groups are an excellent way to incorporate potential members into the parish. Very often a person becomes heavily involved in a small group long before officially joining the church.[37]

Today, there is a serious spiritual thirst. Many adults are longing for in-depth, substantive spiritual learning.[38] It is impossible to fulfill this need solely through Sunday morning homilies. One of the main reasons that Catholics join evangelical Protestant congregations is to study the scriptures. As well as facilitating friendships, a small group can also serve as a valuable tool for adult religious education. And usually from these small groups, parish leaders will emerge who will take positions of responsibility, easing the burden of the pastor.

The Inquirers Class

One variation on the small group is the inquirers class, a small group study for those interested in joining the Church. Roman Catholic parishes have had tremendous success with this concept, which they refer to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). As a result of RCIA classes, thousands of converts join the Roman Catholic Church every Easter Vigil. In the RCIA program, each new member is assigned a sponsor who acts as his or her guide in exploring the faith. This program has borne great fruit.

Every parish should offer an annual inquirers class. Even parishes that seem to have little growth should make the class available, demonstrating an expectancy of new members. To quote a recent adage, "if you build it, they will come." Some parishes expect no growth, and believe planning for such a class to be an unnecessary expenditure of time. Bast frowns upon this negative attitude:

It is ideal to plan and announce a year's schedule of new member classes. Unfortunately, many congregations hold new member classes only when enough potential participants can be identified to warrant scheduling. This passive approach is "reactive" rather than "active" and may be characteristic in other areas of church life, which then becomes a "self-fulfilling" prophecy. The result of a planned and publicized schedule is a sense of expectancy… "we are going to receive new members."[39]

A successful inquirers class places no pressure on the prospective members. No commitment is asked for until the end. I propose that the RCIA program developed by the Roman Church could serve as a valuable model in developing an authentically Eastern class. The RCIA process is based on the initiation of Christians conducted by the early Church, and prepares the convert for reception of the Christian Mysteries. It has proven to be one of the brightest spots in the Roman Church today, and could also be a source of growth for the Eastern Catholic Church.

Needed: Parishes with Vision

The plan of evangelization outlined in this guide is by no means the final word on the subject. There are many other approaches that can also bear fruit. However, I believe that I have presented a very practical plan of action that almost any parish can implement.

If we become disciples by the Mysteries of Initiation, and thereby here the Word of the Lord, we may not afford ourselves the luxury of thinking that hearing the Word is enough. By our Chrismation the Holy Spirit sends us out on mission – to share the Good News of Christ with others. [40]

By sharing the Word in a gentle, yet powerful and persuasive way, we follow in the steps of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Forerunner, who were, from the beginning of the Christian adventure, teachers and evangelist. [41]

This guide was not written for my pleasure, or the pleasure of any reader. Rather, it is to be put into practice. It is very easy to bewail the problems in our Church. But it is much harder to take the necessary actions to make a difference. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church is growing at an astounding rate. The Roman Catholic Church is flourishing, winning thousands of new converts daily in Africa and Asia. And yet there are still millions of people who have not heard the Gospel, right here in North America, and in Europe, Australia, and Central and South America. Will we sit by and quietly watch our Eastern Catholic Churches die? Or will we take the actions necessary to spread the Good News to the unchurched, and in the process usher Eastern Catholicism into a whole new era of growth and prosperity?

 

The Pilgrims of Ibillin is an American organization that works to support the wonderful schools founded by Melkite priest Father Elias Chacour.

Through the Mar Elias Educational Institutions, Fr. Chacour is working to build peace in the Holy Land.

A Brief Report of Trip to Ibillin, Israel, by Don Griggs - December 2002

(Rev. Dr. Donald Griggs is a Director of the Board of the Pilgrims of Ibillin, a Presbyterian Pastor and educator in Livermore, California)

It was a wonderful experience to be with the people of Mar Elias Educational Institution in Ibillin. I was with friends in a very special, familiar place. They kept me busy from morning to night everyday. The students, faculty, and staff welcomed me in ways that made me feel like I was one with them in their community. If only I could have spoken a little Arabic I would have felt even better. Fortunately, everyone I spoke with at any length was able to communicate with me in English. By the time the students graduate from high school they are fluent in Hebrew and English, in addition to their native Arabic. I conducted more than 20 interviews with students, faculty, staff, graduates, and others. All of the conversations were recorded so that all I need now is the time to sort through them to select important quotes. I also shot about 800 photographs of which I hope 200 or more are keepers.

Some brief observations:

  • Everyone was genuinely appreciative of the contributions Pilgrims of Ibillin has made to Mar Elias. On the first day, Father Chacour introduced me to the whole student body of the high school at their morning assembly in the parking lot. I told them that I came to learn more of their story in order to share that story with people in America. I also told them I brought a check for $40,000 to help with the construction of the elementary school. During my time in Ibillin I spoke with many students, faculty, staff and graduates. Everyone said, "Tell the people in America, thank you for their prayers, for their concerns about us, and for the financial help you provide."
  • Even though everything is going well in Ibillin, there is clearly an undercurrent of frustration and despair regarding the political situation in Israel. They feel deeply the pain of their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza. They object to being treated as second-class citizens in their own land. They observe that the U.S. government is too one-sided in our unconditional support of Israel and the present regime and that a grave mistake will be made if we attack Iraq. I taught in an introduction to Bible class that is the beginning of the university program with a certificate in theology. One of the students asked me, "How many Americans are like you?" His impression is that all Americans are supportive of the present policies of our government. He was heartened to hear that there are many Americans who disapprove of the actions and policies of our government, who care very much about the plight of the Arabs/Palestinians.
  • The development of the first Arab Christian University in Israel, under the auspices of Mar Elias, is proceeding according to plan. I met with members of the University Start-up Team, which includes two Jews, one from the Ministry of Education of Israel and the other an Urban Planner. They are very enthusiastic and committed to this project and look forward to the first classes being offered no later than next September. Ninety Ph.D. professors have submitted their vitae indicating their desire to be part of the founding of the university; thirty of them are Jews. I visited the site where the university will be built, in Mi'ilya (Maylya). Mi'ilya is a small Arab Christian village about an hour north of Ibillin. It is one of only two remaining Christian villages in all of Israel. The village council has given 50 acres of land for building the university and I was present at the signing of the documents by the Mayor and Father Chacour. The Mayor presented me with a certificate declaring that I am an honorary citizen of Mi'ilya. Every person I interviewed among faculty, staff, and graduates expressed great enthusiasm for the university. I have the impression that when the university becomes a reality Mar Elias will have a status and stature that far exceeds what they have now and the people will have a pride and also opportunities that are greater than they have presently.
  • Construction of the elementary school has begun. While I was on campus they began pouring concrete for the retaining walls that will help extend the site so there will be room for playing fields for the children. The 200 children of the elementary school now have their classes in the first floor of the college building, which serves the purpose temporarily but is not a good situation for either the children or the college students. Next fall, when the elementary school building is completed they will be able to accommodate more than 600 students. In addition, the top two floors of the building will have dormitory rooms to accommodate female students. It was good to see the progress of the elementary school, since it is one of the three projects Pilgrims of Ibillin is supporting in our Capital Fund Appeal.
  • The academic standards of Mar Elias Educational Institution remain high. Their students perform above average in the annual standardized exams to determine their eligibility for college and university admission. Last year one of the Mar Elias graduates achieved the highest score in the exam in all of Israel, a perfect 800 out of 800.
  • In addition to all of the above observations, I should report that I made a few side trips during my time in Ibillin. I visited holy sites in the Galilee that included a visit to Tel Dan where we walked to the source of the Jordan River. We visited Biram, the destroyed village of Father Chacour's childhood. I visited a Melkite Church in Akko that is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its present building. A visit to Nazareth Village was another highlight. This is a reconstruction of a village to represent life in Nazareth at the time of Jesus. Sunday worship was in the Melkite Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Sheferam, an adjacent community to Ibillin. Father Chacour was the celebrant of the Eucharist. My visit to Mi'ilya included participating in the olive harvest, seeing olives pressed into oil, visiting a restored peasant's home built in the late 1800s, and spending the night with an Arab Christian family.

I plan to return to Ibillin in 2003, if the way is clear. It will be important to build on the relationships that were established with key people on this visit. In addition, there are tasks to accomplish that were not completed on this trip. I will keep you posted.

 
Passage to Heaven: An Appreciation of the Divine Liturgy excerpted from Eyes of the Gospel by Archbishop Joseph M. Raya

Foreword

The Epistle to the Hebrews presents an expansive vista depicting the history of our salvation: the manifestations of God to the Old Testament prophets, the incarnation of Christ and His all-sufficient self-offering. It concludes this anamnesis of God's faithful love to us with the following injunction:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ..." (Hebrews 10:25)

Our response to God's fidelity, then, is to be faithful to Him by being steadfast in our belief and to be faithful to one another by supporting each another in the Christian life. And this faithfulness to God and to one another is described as centered in the regular "meeting together" or synaxis of the Christian community: what we call the Divine Liturgy.

In looking for a way to express our call to be faithful to God and one another through the Divine Liturgy, we turned to one of our hierarchs, Archbishop Joseph Raya, who through his translations of the liturgical texts has placed his stamp on so many Byzantine churches in the English-speaking world. In The Eyes of the Gospel, published almost twenty years ago, Archbishop Joseph had woven a number of reflections on various of the prayers and movements of the Divine Liturgy. Archbishop Joseph has graciously allowed us to rearrange and reproduce his meditations in a new format. We trust that, in breaking the bread of his thought, as we do the Eucharistic bread, we have not rent it asunder.

To highlight the connection of the Church's Liturgy with models of Biblical prayer, we have interspersed within this book a number of Scriptural texts to which the Liturgy refers or which it echoes. To emphasize the continuity of our Liturgy today with that of the Eastern Churches over the centuries, we have also included passages from some historic commentaries on or references to the Liturgy, for our celebration each Sunday resonates with the worship of thousands of years.

We hope that this work will serve more than one purpose: first of all it can provide those of us who regularly attend the Liturgy with a new appreciation of the mystery we celebrate. But if we are truly committed to be faithful to one another, this reflection can also be a means of encouraging one another: an avenue for us to lead others to participate in the Liturgy themselves.

This monograph was originally published in connection with the 1991 convention of the Melkite Greek Catholic Diocese of Newton.

Introduction

Justin, one of the first apologists of the Christian faith, himself born shortly after the Apostles, gives an account of his faith and of the practice of the Christians of his time. He describes in detail the celebration of the Eucharist as it was conducted, and claims that these details are what the Lord Himself ordered His disciples to follow.

The account of the Liturgy described by Justin witnesses to the details of the Sacred Supper of the Lord and harmonizes with the details of the Breaking of the Bread by the Apostles. It is this same Liturgy of the first Christians that Clement of Rome describes and which the Church kept faithfully and transmitted in all its integrity. It is from this Liturgy that the Byzantine Liturgy derives and has its origin.

The ancients called this gathering of the faithful synaxis, a convention: a community that looks to eternity. Worshipping together in community, the faithful experience more readily both their unity in Christ and the power of the Spirit. They learn how to open and abandon themselves to the revelation of God, to experience Him, and thus be able to witness to their religious experience.

All the celebrations of the mysteries of heaven take on a special quality of joy and beauty in which one longs to participate. No one is merely a spectator or a pupil: every one is engaged in an action. Everyone is in readiness, calling on and waiting for the coming of tile Lord, who is coming, yet always present. They gather to receive the saving power of God and to rejoice in His goodness and glory

In these public functions there is constant motion and personal participation. Every act, gesture and movement of the body has its meaning. People sway with their bodies, move their hands, raise and lower their eyes, bow their heads. Their voices rise and fall in heartfelt supplication. Every person performing a bodily gesture in the celebration points to a spiritual reality and acclaims it.

People in prayer see the saints around them, wrapped in their icons with a mantle of eternity; candles flickering in a thousand hues of light; incense whirling in a warm atmosphere; music swelling from every corner of the assembled congregation; vestments of multicolors and designs which sway and shine. The deacons move around between the people and the celebrant. In the middle of the sanctuary stands the Bishop, image of Christ, presiding over the celebration.

The priests do not stay at the altar. They and their retinue of assistants come out of the sanctuary and walk in the midst of the congregation: first, perhaps, to incense, then to carry the Gospel book, finally to transfer the oblations or to receive them in a solemn procession, where angels mingle with us to carry the King of all and welcome His coming among them. They go around the church to sprinkle the people with perfume, to shower the congregation now with flowers, now with a smile, and yet another time with encouragement and a blessing.

It is not possible to understand Eastern Christianity by only reading or talking about it. It is necessary to experience its life, its actuality, by being present at its celebrations. The organic and completely self-evident center of Eastern Christianity is in its celebrations. "Come and see!"

The Holy Place

"I shall enter into Your dwelling place;
before Your holy temple I shall bow in fear of You."
(Psalm 5:7)

The sanctuary and the altar have been, throughout the spiritual development of the Church, gradually hidden and separated not by an ecclesiastical, bureaucratic mandate but by the Christian sense of the sacred, by a real sense of the awesomeness of the mystery of God. St. John Chrysostom and all the Fathers constantly call the altar the "terrifying table", and the mystery of the altar "terrifying mysteries," "the terrifying sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ to which we have to approach with fear and trembling." This is sacred terror and not fear of the unknown. It is a mystic trembling in the presence of heaven: "Take off your shoes," said God, "for the place where you stand is holy" (cf Exodus 3:5).

The more secularized we become, the more our vision of the sacred and the holy becomes blurry, and even blinded. The closing of doors and curtains is not setting apart the clergy as if in a special class, shutting off the People of God from participation. It is rather a forceful revelation that there is a mystery, and that we cannot see or experience this mystery by physical contact. No human eyes or physical sight can penetrate or comprehend it. Only love and the surge of the soul on the wings of faith can meet the Lord and God of all.

'The sticharion of the priest is fashioned after the robe of Aaron, the one going all the way down to his feet (Exodus 28:33).

'Moreover it has the appearance of fire, according to the Prophet who says: 'He makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flames of fire '" (Psalm 103:4; Hebrews 1:7), St. Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica, 14 (C. 725 AD)

The Preparation of the Gifts

In the ancient Church only the baptized, the initiated and those instructed in the faith were allowed to bring their offerings to the altar. Bread and wine symbolize and represent those who are united to Christ and made one with Him in baptism. As the many grains of wheat and the many grapes have to be crushed to become a new form of life-giving element which is bread and wine, so also the baptized are grafted onto Christ and voluntarily surrendered and given to Him to be one with Him. With Christ who is our Bread we become new life, life divine.

From the material offerings of bread and wine of the faithful, the deacons and, later in history, the priests selected what was necessary for the sacrifice and used the rest for their subsistence or the subsistence of the poor. The simple ceremony of offering, receiving, selecting and distributing the bread and wine, which is the human part of the covenant, was made at a special place called prothesis or proskomedia (table of oblation). This ceremony became more elaborate later and developed into a short story and a condensed drama of the whole eucharistic sacrifice.

Among all the loaves offered there is one called prosphora, representing Christ and stamped with a seal bearing His name: "Jesus Christ the Victor," IC XC NIKA. When this seal is cut it is called "the Lamb", the Lamb of God who represents here all humanity.

The priest lifts up the prosphora and signs it three times with the lance that pierced the side of the Lord on Calvary. He cuts the seal marked with Christ's name, saying: "As a sheep He was led to the slaughter. And as a spotless lamb before the shearers, He did not open his mouth. In His lowliness His judgement was taken away. And who shall describe His generation?"

The priest, thrusting the lance into the right side of the bread, lifts out the lamb, saying: "For His life was taken away from the earth." He turns it face down and pierces it on the side stamped "Jesus," saying: "One of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance."

Wine is then poured into the chalice with some drops of water. The memory of Calvary becomes alive again, and the priest declares, "...and at once there came forth blood and water and he who saw it bore witness, and his witness is true."

Another special piece is cut "in honor and memory of our most highly blessed and glorious Lady the Mother of God" and is placed at the right of the Lamb, for indeed, "at Your right stood the queen in an embroidered mantle of gold." Angels, prophets and saints, people living and people dead are also represented and arranged in rows around the Lamb on His throne.

The priest puts a star on the oblation and declares that a "Star came and stood where the Child was." He declares the faith of the assembly in the Incarnation of the Son of God and in His appearance in human flesh. Here is Bethlehem!

Even the covering of the oblation becomes an occasion for the glorification of God and for our identification with Him: "The Lord is king, He has clothed Himself with splendor; the Lord has put on might and has girded Himself! Your glory, O Christ, has covered the heavens, and the earth is full of Your praise."

"We offer You incense, Christ our God, for an odor of spiritual fragrance: receive if on Your altar in heaven, and send down on us in return the grace of Your all-holy Spirit. " (Service of the Prothesis)

Through this ceremony we see the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God on the altar of heaven reproduced in the here and now. It is already a vision, a Theophany of God. The physical elements of bread and wine are filled with the Invisible. Our faith, love and prayer meet the Lord, who is present and ready for His mission of salvation by which He seals His covenant with God and with His people:

"That our God who loves mankind, having received them on His holy altar in heaven as a fragrance, may send down upon us in return His divine grace and the Holy Spirit as His gift..." (Divine Liturgy).

The "Sacrifice" is already present. We already call the elements of the Divine Liturgy of Christ "sacrifice of Christ," "our sacrifice," "sacrifice of the people." Christ was alone in His suffering and offering on the cross. Now the people of God are present on Calvary and they have the occasion to ratify and accept the sacrifice as their own. The point is that we become co-offerers with Christ by our obedient self-giving; we offer to God the totality of our lives, of ourselves, and of the world in which we live. The sacrifice of Christ has been offered and accepted. Now we make it our own and we call it a "sacrifice of praise," because in it we recognize already the goodness and generosity of God.

The Enarxis or Rite of Assembly

"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit "

Every prayer, as every act of the Christian, is ordained ultimately, not only to his own fulfillment in the "vision of God" in heaven, but also to the transformation and consummation of all things in Christ. In Christ all that is, is full of possibilities for beauty, truth, community and justice. And the Christian is vowed to draw out all these possibilities into the realities of this world. All of reality invites him to respond to goodness with goodness of his own. The swayings and sounds and whispers of nature and of man are a continual prayer that brings God to man. The Christian hears within his soul these cries and sighs and longing, and he brings them in an upward movement of praise and glory to God.

This vision of the praying Christian is most explicitly clarified in the Litany of Peace, which opens all Byzantine public prayers and some Western liturgies also. In this litany the Christian gathers within himself the public servants: authorities both religious and civil; cities, country places and all those who live in them, the travelers by sea, land and air; the sick and those who suffer and those forgotten brothers who are in prisons. The Christian lives deeply in touch with all the troubles of the world and feels the pain of human life intensely. He brings all the earth and whatever it contains to God for His mercy, and dedicates himself for its healing and welfare.

When Christ ascended the cross, He succeeded in spreading over the whole world more of Himself, more of love and salvation than there will ever be of death, hatred, self-centeredness and sin. The mercy of God is the life-giving perpetuation of the divine energy of the Redeemer's love, an outpouring of love and goodness that sanctifies and divinizes. The mercy of God is not a condescension, a paternalism on the part of God, a "crumb that falls form the Master's table." The mercy of God is God Himself in His transforming presence. It is He, the Bread broken for all, generously given and completely surrendered. The cry of "Lord, have mercy," therefore, invokes the divine presence on the whole of creation, upon mankind and matter, upon the whole world thought of as gathered in the one embrace of Christ.

Many are the needs. Many, therefore, are the cries for mercy. The rhythm of the intentions and the repetition of the "Lord, have mercy" is the manifestation of the all-embracing concern of Christ and of the Christian's heart. It teaches the individual and the community their true relation with the world and with all mankind as it makes them go beyond themselves to embrace the whole world, all mankind and every circumstance, and carry them in their prayer and in their daily life.

This litany of intentions is the vibrant acclamation of the Christian that everything and everyone belongs to God's kingdom, where saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever are at home, and where all share in the peace of God. It proclaims the universality of the embrace of Christ which the Christian makes his own. The praying Christian realizes here that he is the brother of all and responsible for all. This is the kingdom of God!

"The antiphons of the Liturgy are the prophets' predictions which foretold the coming of the Son of God... that is, they reveal His incarnation which we proclaim again, having embraced knowledge of it through those who have become servants, eyewitnesses and attendants of the Word." St. Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica, 23 (c 725 AD)

In the antiphons Christians witness to the goodness of the Lord and shout their own hopes and joys at the sight of Christ's action of salvation. Historically speaking, the antiphons were popular demonstrations and processions through the streets and winding roads of a given locality, from church to church, leading to the main Church where the celebration had to take place. These processions were meant to gather on their way the "good and the sinners, inviting every one, believer and unbeliever, to the wedding-feast of the King" (Matt 22:8).

The word antiphon means a refrain to a reading or to a rhetorical declamation often repeated during the course of a procession. Antiphons are devised to provoke in people enthusiasm, and joy, and to help them see the goodness of God who hears the immense desire of humanity. Humanity sighs and longs for the coming of the Savior, and God bends toward the earth, sending His Son to be incarnate. Salvation is then seen as present and already working among us. These street demonstrations, as they are worked out in the antiphons, end in a peaceful and nerve-relaxing hymn which sings the presence of the Son among men:

Only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal as You are!
You condescended for our salvation
to take flesh of the holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary,
and without undergoing change, You became man.
You were crucified, O Christ God,
and crushed Death by Your death.
You are One of the Holy Trinity,
equal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit:
save us.

Once we have seen that the promises of God and the expectations of His people have been fulfilled, we understand that the wedding-feast is open to all and in full progress. An excited air runs through the congregation: the Bridegroom is now coming! We prepare to receive Him.

The ministers form a great procession with lighted candles, covered with a cloud of incense. The bejeweled Holy Gospel book, which is the symbol and sign of Jesus Christ Himself, is carried high on the head of the celebrant or the deacon.

" here the gospeller, as he holds the golden Gospel, passes along; and the surging crowd strives to touch the sacred book with their lips and hands,while moving waves of people break around." (Paul the Silentiary, c. 550 AD)

The whole assembly rises to honor the coming of the Lord, using singing, imagination and all the human emotions. Everyone bows profoundly at the passage of Christ, adoring Him really present in His book of life. By bowing and by many signs of the cross, everyone proclaims his or her readiness to hear his voice and heed the lessons of His love. The Gospel Book is thus brought with solemnity and majesty into the midst of the congregation and finally to the sanctuary.

" the priest, standing in front of the altar, raises the Gospel Book and shows it to the people, thus symbolizing the manifestation of the Lord, when He began to appear to the multitudes. For the Gospel represents Christ in the same way that the books of the Old Testament are called the Prophets ( They have Moses and the Prophets,' Lk 16:29

) " Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 20 (c.1350 AD)

The Service of the Word

After the entrance of the Gospel Book and its enthronement on the altar, the throne of God as it were, the people go on with their merry celebration of the saints or of an event in the life of Christ, remembering again a phase of the deeds and goodness of God. Christians assemble to celebrate the saints also. Heroes and benefactors of humanity, the saints have surrendered themselves to God and to their brothers and sisters. They become pure transparencies for God's action, and thus they are to us extended radiances of the incarnation.

"After He who was foretold had appeared and made Himself manifest, no one could pay attention to the words of the Prophets. Therefore after the showing of the Gospels, the prophetic texts cease and we sing something from the New Testament: we praise the all-holy Theotokos or the other saints, and we glorify Christ Himself for coming to dwell among us." Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 20

Christians are the associates of angels in their service before God. We enter into this association when we proclaim with them the holiness of the divine Trinity. At this point in the Liturgy indeed, at the beginning of every prayer we affirm this association as we chant the Trisagion:

"Holy is God:" the Father, who is origin, source and point of return of all creation;

"Holy the Mighty One:" the Son. He is mighty because He conquered evil and death and wrought salvation and resurrection. "He is mighty, because through Him the Father was revealed to us and the Holy Spirit came to this world" (vespers of Pentecost).

"Holy the Immortal One:" the Holy Spirit, who is life and life-giving, whom nothing no evil, no sin, no amount of gravity of sin can ever kill or wipe out from the soul of the Christian.

"The Fathers originally received from the angels the Holy, holy, holy' and from David the remainder, where he glorified God in Trinity, saying, My soul thirsted for God, the mighty One, the living One' (Ps 41:3), and rightly and most appropriately composed the Trisagion Hymn. As a mark of petition they added again from David the have mercy on us'." St Simeon of Thessalonike, Treatise on Prayer 24 (c. 1425 AD)

The assembly that reads the Word of God is the human race in miniature. In fact, such an assembly represents the whole human race. When it reads the Word of God and recalls His deeds of the past, it proclaims also His present action and care.

"Before the Gospel, the deacon comes with the censer in his hand to fill the church with sweet fragrance for the reception of the Lord, reminding us by this censing of the spiritual cleansing of our souls with which we should attend to the fragrant words of the Gospel." Nikolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy (19th Century)

... it got about that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door, and He was preaching the word to them." (Mark 2:1-2)

The whole life of Christ, all His teaching, even His smallest gestures, are aimed at saving mankind from tyrannies and changing the water of this life into the wine of the feast. The Gospel is like the charter of this freedom and dignity. The words of Christ, taken one by one or collectively are a stirring experience of life, allowing man to go into life and live it fully. Christ's voice reaches an ecstasy beyond and above any voice ever heard on earth. The tone of His voice is a bearer of that sublime message that we are on our way to another, lovelier world, tinted with unimaginable wonders, alive with ultimate music and bursting with radiance and joy. We are going to a "banquet", a "wedding" and a "kingdom". Only those who go beyond appearances, and contact the reality of persons and of things, are allowed into that kingdom. God, man, creation, Christ and His entire life are so many reasons and subjects for wonder and joy that enable us to enter into that kingdom. Each one is a poem and a miracle of beauty that makes us sing in glory, awe and joy. Each celebration designed to make our life a celebration.

The story of the life and deeds of Christ is called Gospel, good news, because it is precisely news of life. The message of the Gospel penetrates to the heart and sweeps away sin and ugliness. It is always new because it is fraught with wonder. We Christians do not read, we proclaim the Gospel. Those who are gifted musicians and singers chant its words, its texts and its message. The Ancients always insisted, with a profound sense of wisdom, on the way the voice should be modulated, the way the words of the Gospel should be pronounced, and how the whole meaning should be brought out. Whether elaborate or simple, the proclamation of the Gospel has this one function: to convey the poetry of the text and the feeling of glory and joy of being in the presence of God.

Easterners call the Gospel the second incarnation. Whereas in the first the Son of God became Son of man, in the second incarnation in the Gospel the Word of God became word of man. He became a Book! For this reason the Gospel is always bound in silver or gold or precious materials. He is always on our altars, as it were God on His throne. The Gospel is carried in procession, borne aloft on our heads, incensed and kissed with reverence and devotion.

Saint John Chrysostom says, "When emperors of this world speak, we all shout with one voice and one heart, Glory to you, lord.' But when the Lord Jesus speaks in His Gospel, our enthusiasm grows stronger and louder and we repeat it twice, Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You!'" Our enthusiasm becomes love and we repeat the cry twice, once before the proclamation of the Gospel and once when the proclamation has ended.

"After the reading of the Gospel, the deacon urges to congregation to prayer. The priest in the sanctuary prays in a low voice that the prayers of the faithful may be acceptable to God.

"And what prayer could be more fitting for all, after the Gospel, than one for those who keep the Gospel, who imitate the goodness and generosity of Christ, the shepherds of the people and those who govern the state. These, if they are faithful to the precepts of the Gospel, as the Apostle says: Achieve after Christ that which is lacking in Christ' (Col 1:24), in governing His flock as He would wish. Such, too, are the founders and heads of religious houses and churches, the teachers of virtue and all those who in any way contribute to the common good of the Church and of religion; they have a place here and are entitled to the prayers of all." Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 23

After the readings have been proclaimed and the special celebration of the day has put the Christian in the realm of God, the official and solemn transfer of the oblations to the altar takes place. A stir of anticipation runs through the whole congregation. Seized by the awareness of what is going to happen, everyone falls into a humble, yet confident, change of heart. Ministers and faithful express sorrow for their sins and the sins of the world:

Again and many times we fall down before You
and pray You in Your goodness and love for mankind to regard our supplications
and cleanse our souls and bodies from all defilement of flesh and spirit,
and grant that we may stand without guilt or condemnation before Your holy altar.
And upon these also who pray with us,
O God, bestow increase of life and faith and spiritual insight.
Give them ever to minister to You in fear and love,
to share without guilt or condemnation in Your holy mysteries
and to be made worthy of Your heavenly kingdom (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Purification of all sins is effected. The faithful know that they are forgiven and sanctified. Now they can face their Redeemer and God, unite with Him and feel their complete oneness with Him. They realize that they "mystically represent the cherubim," consequently they "put aside all worldly care and sing the thrice holy hymn to the King of the universe who is coming escorted by all the angelic hosts."

Let all mortal flesh be silent; let us stand in fear and trembling,
having no other thought but the thought of the Lord.
For behold, the King of kings and Lord of lords is coming to be sacrificed
and to be given as food to the faithful.
He is escorted by hosts of archangels and by all the principalities and dominions.
He is indeed escorted by the many-eyed cherubim
and by the six-winged seraphim covering their faces, all chanting:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (Liturgy of St. James)

The sign and seal of the love of God is the love of neighbor. After having obtained forgiveness from God and making our peace with Him, we now ask forgiveness from each other." "Everyone present confesses and proclaims his unity with Christ, the Lover of mankind: "I will love You, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my fortress, me refuge and my deliverance!"

Because of the love of the Lord who fills us with His peace and joy, we overflow with love. And because we know that Christ has forgiven us, we feel the urgent desire to forgive others and to be at peace with them. Each member of the assembly enthusiastically embraces his neighbor and gives the kiss of Christ, saying: "Christ is in our midst." And the other answers, "He is and always will be."

What a marvelous reality! Christians cannot hide or forget their all-embracing love. The Church, to be the Church of Christ, has to be first the revelation of that divine love which God poured into our hearts. Without this love, nothing is valid in the Church. The kiss of Christ is the dynamic sign wherein Christians express their love for each other before they share the one bread. Christ is our real love and life and our forgiveness. We share Him with others. Breaking the bread of Christ becomes a little vacuous without the breaking open of ourselves. It is Christ who unites us to one another and through one another to God.

"If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23 24)

"The veil, that is the aer, stands for the stone with which Joseph closed the tomb, which the guard of Pilate also sealed.

"He approaches the stone of the tomb, the angel clad in white, raising the veil and indicating by his gesture the third day resurrection " St Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica 41, 42

Once the brotherly love of forgiving is secure, the whole assembly bursts into singing the glory of the Trinity, by singing the Creed. This was composed in the year 325 at Nicaea on the occasion of that Council. It fixed in human words the content of faith and its proclamation.

In reciting the Creed we plunge into life, the life of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Creator is an artist, a worker, an inventor and maker of things and producer of life. Since God is a worker-artist, all of His creation is good. The Son is a savior and a lover. "For us men and for our salvation" He lived, died, resurrected, ascended and will come back again. The Holy Spirit is life and Giver of life and eternal joy.

Christians who proclaim in the Creed their acceptance of life in God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, enter into the realm of creation, into the Kingdom of heaven, and become ready to respond to God's excellence and love in the accomplishment of the mysteries soon to become reality on the altar. Within the reality expressed by the Creed, we find ourselves living and moving in an infinite and unmeasured Being who is Father and tenderness, who is Son and Lover, who is Spirit and Life-giver. It is the glory of the Christian to declare that all this was planned and executed by God, not for God's sake, but "for us men and for our salvation." We were redeemed, not because of our success or our mature years, but because of our troubles and perils and God's greater love for us. In this we find rebirth in death, resurrection and life eternal. We are ready to go deeper into the realities of God and become "eucharistic."

"Through Him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God..." (Hebrews 13:15)

The offerings of bread and wine are now "lifted up" from the earthly place to the divine and holy altar of God in heaven, thereby uniting the two. In this action of lifting up, the whole creation finds its way to God who pours out on it the same love He has for His Son. Salvation is thus made present and real. The Church also becomes real. She is seen to be what she really is, "the Bride of Christ," pure and undefiled.

The anaphora or lifting-up remembers and expresses in its reality a double movement, one of descent and one of ascent. In the first movement, God descends upon man and creation to "lift them up" and make them sharers in His divine life. This movement is called "a mercy of peace". The mercy of God is the gift of God, His self-revelation and self-giving. The second movement is a movement of ascent. Man is taken up to God to offer Him praise and thanks. This movement of ascent is called "sacrifice of praise."

Thanks and praise: this is the answer of man to the gift of God, his awareness and recognition of God's goodness. The tremendous mystery of the power, condescension and infinite love of God in "descending" and "lifting up" is enacted on the altar in these two successive and dynamic movements by which creation and man are deified. This mystery will culminate in the final and decisive union of the Creator with His creature in Holy Communion.

Let us stand well!
Let us stand in awe!
Let us be attentive!

Heaven and earth listen! God is pouring Himself down upon us! We adore in a great hush. We plunge into the abyss of concentration and the rapture of a mystic vision. We shut out all noises. We collect ourselves and all our faculties to breathe praise and adore. The voices are hushed, and chanting ceases. The shortness of answers gives time to listen only. All attention is centered on the marvelous happening.

At this point the amazement of the priest seeks and strains to make others hear what he hears. He hears the remote and strange sound of angels singing: "Holy! Holy! Holy!" He sees the Holy Trinity at work, pouring down on him all the goodness and love that Infinity itself contains. He becomes a whirl of admiration and praise:

It is truly fitting and right and worthy of the immensity of Your holiness that we praise You, sing to You, bless You, adore You, give thanks to You,
glorify You who alone are truly God;...
How could anyone tell Your might and sing the praises You deserve,
or describe all Your marvels in all places and times?
... O Master of all, You are eternal invisible, beyond understanding:
beyond description the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the great God and Savior, the Object of our hope...
[Jesus Christ] is the image of Your goodness, the Seal who bears Your perfect likeness, revealing You, His Father, through Himself He is the living Word,
the true God, the Wisdom, the Life, the Sanctification, the true Light ...
By Him the Holy Spirit was made manifest, the Spirit of truth, the Gift of adoption,
the foretaste of the future inheritance, the First-fruit of eternal good, the life-giving Power, the Fountain of sanctification.
Empowered by Him, every rational and intelligent creature sings eternally to Your glory,
for all are Your servants. It is You the angels archangels, thrones, dominions praise
and glorify ... they cry one to the other with tireless voices and perpetual praise ... (Liturgy of St. Basil)

This "eucharist" or thanksgiving is the expression of life in God and the only true relationship between man and God. It is what really "makes possible" all that will follow.

The breadth of perspective of the true meaning of God's intention and of His relation to creation is present here. The Father planned from all eternity and made this world and man and placed them in space and time. The Son embodied them in His own divine person in the incarnation and saved them by His offering or sacrifice. The Holy Spirit renews this salvation and divinization by His descent at the epiclisis, just as He did by His descent at Pentecost. All these divine historical actions become actual and alive before our very eyes. The world of faith takes shape, and the eternal mystery of God becomes reality in time.

Once again Christians share in the life of angels and declare that we are sharing in their function and playing their role. We recognize that we are not only associates of angels, but much more: we take their place on earth as ministers before the altar:

"We thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands,
even though there stand before You
thousands of angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim,
six-winged and many-eyed singing, proclaiming,
shouting the hymn of victory and saying:
Holy! Holy! Holy Lord of hosts!
Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!"

As we surge on the wings of our dignity, we join in the vision of Isaiah to sing the hymn of heaven, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" The world to come is already here present in the "Fullness of Your glory." Christians reach the apex of their glory when they go beyond the horizon of the prophets and visionaries to look at the Trinity and melt into the divine Persons with an ineffable movement of joy. We address ourselves first to the Father:

"Holy are You and all-holy
You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.
Holy are You and all-holy and magnificent is Your glory!
You so loved Your world as to give it Your Son,
that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. "
(Liturgy of St John Chrysostom)

Then we recall the memory of the Son:

"When He had come and fulfilled all that was appointed Him to do for our sake,
on the night He was delivered up or rather, delivered Himself up for the life of the world
He took bread, and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles and said,
Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins.'"
With the same simplicity and realism,
He took the cup of wine and said,
"Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood of the new testament,
which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins."

After having heard the voice of the Lord declaring the bread to be His body and the wine to be His blood, the Christian never asks "how." It is simply the body and blood, the real and total Christ, just as when He walked around the lake and as He is now in His resurrection. The Christian has the mystical knowledge and a paradoxical grasp of the inconceivable. In an intuitive, primordial and simple approach, he knows beyond the process of the intellect. The Fathers say that the Christian "hopes for what exists already" and remembers what is to come in the immediate, because he drinks at the Source of the living water.

"Remembering, therefore, this precept of salvation
[ Do this in anamnesis remembrance of me."]
and everything that was done for our sake:
the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day,
the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand [of the Father],
the second and glorious coming again, "

This is the anamnesis, the memorial, which makes present and manifest here and now the divine events of the life of Christ. The Christian remembrance or memorial is not simply a recalling to mind of an event which existed once upon a time. Recalling the mysteries or events of the life of Christ who is risen, alive, always present, always active, makes them present with the same effectiveness and strength as when they were enacted by Christ. The ministers around the altar and the assembly of the baptized are now all wrapped in adoration. The deacon crosses his hands, the right stretching over the left to take up the diskos which lays on the left, the left hand stretching under the right to take up the chalice which is at the right.

He elevates both in gesture towards the east, then towards the west, the north and the south, thus planting Christ in the four corners of the universe, or rather gathering the universe in these four movements to offer it in Christ and with Christ to the Father, as the priest says:

"We offer You Your own from what is Your own,
in all and for the sake of all."

What a simplicity in the grandeur and nobility of this gesture! The whole history of salvation, the whole revelation of God's love, the whole meaning of Christianity is here made manifest. The whole value and the very meaning of life is given to the Father. The Father recognizes the whole creation in His Son and pours upon the whole universe the same love He has for His Son. "In this offering," says Cyril of Jerusalem, "we bring to the presence of God the Father heaven, earth, oceans, sun, moon and the entire creation " and we break out in praise and thanks:

"We praise You,
we bless You,
we give thanks to You, O our God."

Until now we have marveled at the works of God and praised Him for His deeds of salvation. The Father "out of nothing brought us into being, and when we had fallen He raised us up again " (anaphora). The Son declared matter to be His body and blood, and suffered and died and rose to make us one with Him. Now we fall on our knees, begging for the descent of the Holy Spirit: "We ask and pray and entreat: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered."

It is another awesome and most astounding action of God for us. The Holy Spirit comes to fill us and to fill the oblations of bread and wine with His own eternal being and presence by acting personally and creatively. Bread and wine and the baptized all receive Him and are possessed by Him. The wonderful event of Pentecost is now renewed and is indeed most real! "Our God, who loves mankind, having received these gifts on His holy altar, sends down upon us His divine grace and the Holy Spirit "

Now, anyone partaking of this Bread and Wine will receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit who is "cleansing of the soul, remission of sins." The body and blood of Christ will also confer the "communion," the fellowship of oneness with the Holy Spirit Himself, who becomes also "Fullness of the kingdom of heaven, intimate confidence of the Father," who sees only His Son present and who will not judge juridically or condemn, but save.

The Spirit of God "becomes closer to me than my own breath" (Gregory of Nazianzus) and "more intimate than my own intimacy" (Augustine). By this descent of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, anyone eating the body or drinking the blood of Christ receives the divine uncreated energies in all their majesty and holiness. Sins are forgiven and life is given. The Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit takes hold of us, divinizing us. Theosis is realized!

Ministers at the altar and all the assembly of worshippers fall down on their faces, saying: "Amen! Amen! Amen!"

"After the spiritual sacrifice, the unbloody worship, has been accomplished in this Victim that is offered in propitiation, we call on God for peace in all the Churches, for tranquility in the world, for the emperors, for the armies and the allies, for the ill and the afflicted. In brief, for all those in need of help, we all pray and offer this sacrifice.

"We then remember all those who have fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs, that through their prayers and intercession God would accept our petitions; then for our fathers who have fallen asleep in holiness, for the bishops, and, in short, for all those who have already fallen asleep. For we are convinced that our prayers, which rise up for them in the presence of the holy and venerable Victim, are most profitable to their souls." St Cyril of Jerusalem, Fifth Mystagogical Catechesis, 23:8,9 (c 375 AD)

"Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!" (Psalm 133:2)

The word "Father" on the lips of those who believe the message of Christ adds power and dignity and heightens their already sublime role in creation. The early Church found the "Our Father" a devastating and frightening prayer. No one can utter such words unless he has overcome all inner unrest, all selfishness and all provincialism. At one point of history, the words of the "Our Father" were not revealed to neophytes until they were ready to be baptized and receive the body and blood of Christ.

We are commanded to say to this Abba, "Thy kingdom come!" which means, "take over, be the only one who inspires, directs and rules my life." We say it with mixed emotions but with daring. "Kingdom of God" means justice, peace and love. It is not simply a question of personal salvation or fulfillment, but the establishment of a new order of things. Those in the kingdom give to whomever asks, treat everyone as real children of God, forgive without question, resist evil.

The kingdom is characterized, therefore, by healing, forgiveness, sharing, reconciliation: all of which are acts a "family" shares and enjoys. God is a Father, Abba. The person who says the "Our Father" comprehends that he or she is united with everyone and that all are equal in the eyes of God, in whom they all find peace and salvation. They all belong to the kingdom: they are brothers and sisters.

Whoever says the "Our Father" must say it aloud, because it is "Our." "Our" is a word of the community. Every member of the community must hear it. We say it also with our arms open to the heavens, the "Shamaim": to "the everywhere." It is in the "everywhere," indeed, that the Abba resides and dwells.

"The priest takes the Bread of Life and, showing it to the people, summons those who are worthy to receive it fittingly: Holy things to the holy!' The faithful are called saints' because of the holy thing of which they partake: because of Him whose body and blood they receive.

"The priest breaks the Holy Bread, saying, Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God: broken and not dismembered, always eaten and never expended, but making holy those who receive it.'"

"Since this warm water is not only water, but shares the nature of fire, it signifies the Holy Spirit, who is sometimes represented by water, and who came down upon the apostles in the form of fire. This point in the Liturgy represents that moment in time, for the Holy Spirit came down after all things pertaining to Christ had been accomplished, In the same way, when the holy offerings have attained their ultimate perfection, this water is added." Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Liturgy, 36, 37

"Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold, this has touched your lips, will remove your transgressions and wash away your sins" (Isaiah 6:6-7).

By uniting to our human nature, Christ made our flesh a part of His divine person. When we unite to Him in the Eucharist, His divine energies penetrate to the very essence of our being and transfigure us into the light of the divinity. Theodore of Cyr wrote: "By eating the flesh of the Bridegroom and drinking His blood, we enter into the chamber of the nuptial unity."

In receiving the divine, the Christian becomes a flame of divinity. In accepting the "Gift," he reflects the radiance of divine glory, Here he finds his real self, the dignity and grandeur of His humanity, which is shot through and through with divinity.

"... each one goes up, not to the priest, but to the fiery Seraph, preparing himself with open lips to receive from the holy spoon the fiery coal of the body and blood of the Lord, who will burn away all his sins like thorns." Nikolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy

"We have seen the true Light,
we have received the heavenly Spirit..."

Having become one flesh, one soul and one heart with Christ, the communicant bursts into a hymn of glory and joy, the joy and glory of being and of existing. His feet are, indeed, on the ground, but his chin is uplifted and his head stretches to the highest heaven. All his senses are awake and vibrant to the presence of Christ.

"O You, who graciously give Your flesh to me as food, consuming the unworthy: consume me not, O my Creator, but rather pass through all the parts of my body, into all my joints, my heart, my soul. ... Ever shelter, guard and keep me in Your love. Chasten me, purify me and control all my passions. Adorn me, teach me and enlighten me always. Show me how to be a tabernacle of Your Holy Spirit and in no wise the dwelling place of sin.... "O my Christ and my God, make me, Your child to he a child of light: for You alone are the sanctification and the splendor of my whole being..." (Prayer of Simeon Metaphrastes)

this is life in the Holy Trinity, a perichoreisis, a dance, a playful twirl, an allegro con grazia, which whirls with the elegance of a waltz. Once the Christian has received Christ and realized the real meaning of his life, he is filled with emotion and motion and power. Even when he feels within himself a whole atmosphere of tears, he is underneath it all a smile. He has discovered the rhythm and movement about and within himself. He might be going through uncertainty, but he always emerges in a dazzling march towards the Light who is Christ. In Holy Communion he reaches an enthralling verve and a breathtaking, dramatic climax. These are really the heroic affirmations of the life force, which is in Christ and which from Christ flows into him. The finale for him is always the eyes of the Gospel illumined with all the glory and beauty of God, who is a never-ending feast and a supreme celebration.

"The priest brings out to the people the prosphoras or altar bread from which the portions were cut out and removed, and thus is retained the great and ancient pattern of the Agape or love-feast, which was observed by the Christians of primitive times. Therefore, everyone who receives a prosphora ought to take it as bread from the feast at which Christ, the Creator of the world, has Himself spoken with His people, and one ought to consume it reverently, thinking of oneself as surrounded by all men as one's dearest and most tender brothers.

"And, as was the custom in the early Church, one ought to eat the prosphora before all other foods or take it home to one's family or send it to the sick or the poor or to those who have not been able to attend the Liturgy." Nicolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy

May 152011
 

Mariam Baouardy

Blessed Mary of Christ Crucified

"I thirst, I thirst for Jesus alone! Happy the souls who suffer in secret, known to God alone!

How I love a soul suffering with patience, hidden with God alone!

Once you have given God something, you must never take it back."

"The Little Arab" by Doris C. Neger

Reprinted from Sophia, Volume 31, Number 1, Jan. - Feb. 2001

Who was she? And what is her relevance to all of us in the year 2001? Here is a synopsis of her short life here on earth.

Mariam Baouardy was a child of Galilee, Palestine. Her family originated in Damascus, Syria. They were Christians of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Rite, descendants of the Archeparchy of Antioch, the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. The Baouardy lived in the hill country of upper Galilee. Her father, Giries (George) Baouardy, came from Horfesch, Palestine; her mother, Mariam Shahine, came from Tarshiha, Palestine. Both villages were populated by Druse, Sunni Muslims, and Christians' Arabs. They were folk of very modest means. Mariam bore her husband 12 sons; none survived their infancy to the great sorrow of their parents.

Mariam, devoted to the Virgin Mary, prayed for a daughter. She prevailed upon her husband to travel to Bethlehem and there to beseech the Mother of God for a girl-child. They did so. At the Grotto of the Nativity of Jesus they poured out their request in prayer. They then returned to Galilee and their home in Ibillin. On January 5, 1846, the eve of the Epiphany, an infant daughter was born. Ten days later in the local Melkite Church she received Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. She was named after the Virgin and called, Mariam.

Two years later a baby boy was born. He was named Boulos (Paul). The tiny family had a short time together. Both mother and father died within a few days of each other. Giries' last words, while looking at a picture of Saint Joseph were: "Great Saint, here is my child. The Blessed Virgin Mary is her mother. Please look after her, be her father." A maternal aunt from Tarshiha took tiny Paul into her home; Mariam was adopted by a paternal uncle in Ibillin.

Ibillin has scenery of incomparable beauty. From the rocky peak which dominates the village, the whole of upper Galilee is viewed. The small Galilean, Mariam, would recall these sights with great nostalgia throughout her short life. To the north, the lofty mountain chain, the frontier of Lebanon could be seen. On the northeast was mighty Jebel Shaykh, the Sheikh of the Mountains as the Arabs call it, snow-capped yearlong. In the east waves of hills slope down gently downward to Lake Galilee, also named Tiberias; on the south the opulent Plain of Esdralon stretches outward till meeting Mount Carmel. Northwest beyond the sand dunes sparkles the blue Mediterranean.

Mariam dwelled in the comfortable home of her uncle receiving all proper care and attention. One incident from the time of her childhood revealed significant insight into her forming character. It clearly indicated the direction of her life to come. It took place in her uncle's orchard amidst the apricot, peach and pecan trees. She kept a small cage filled with small birds, a gift given to her. One day she desired to give them a bath. Her child-like well-intentioned efforts caused their death from drowning. Their death broke her small heart. Grief-stricken she began to bury them when deep inside she heard a clear voice, "This is how everything passes. If you will give me your heart, I shall always remain with you."

When Mariam was eight years old her uncle left Palestine with the entire family and settled in Alexandria, Egypt. She was not to see her beloved Ibillin till shortly before her death in 1878.

According to oriental custom, Mariam, then age 13, was promised in marriage. The wedding was arranged without the bride-to-be's consultation or consent. This was a common custom among Middle Eastern Christians as well as Muslims. Mariam's reaction was one of shock and deep sadness. The night before the wedding ceremony was sleepless. She was not prepared at all for the life of a married woman. She prayed earnestly that night for guidance and solace. In her heart's depths she again heard a familiar voice, "Everything passes! If you wish to give me your heart, I will remain with you." Mariam knew it was her master's voice, the one, the only spouse she would have - Jesus. The remainder of the night was spent in deep prayer before the icon of the Virgin Mother of Jesus; she then heard the words, "Mariam, I am with you; follow the inspiration I shall give you. I will help you.

Her adoptive uncle reacted with wild rage when he saw that Mariam would not marry, but would remain a virgin. He tried outburst of rage, screams, hits and slaps. Nothing would change her determination. He then resorted to treating her as a hired domestic, giving her the most difficult kitchen tasks and subjecting her to a position lower than his hired help.

Mariam sank into a deep sense of desolation and desperation. She turned to her younger brother, Boulos. She wrote a letter to her brother inviting him to come and see her in Alexandria. In her isolation from her uncle's family she turned to a Muslim domestic to have him deliver her letter to Nazareth. The young man encouraged Mariam to reveal her personal troubles. He became outraged at her uncle's treatment of her and played upon the mind and feelings of the young girl. He introduced conversion to Islam as a remedy to Mariam's problems. His words and actions focused young Mariam directly upon her Christianity. Her realization of the young man's true intentions stiffened her will. She denied his advances and loudly proclaimed her faith in the Church of Jesus. "Muslim, no, never! I am a daughter of the Catholic Apostolic Church, and I hope by the grace of God to persevere until death in my religion, which is the only true one.

Her so-called protector, furious at being rejected by this little Christian became violent. Eyes flashing with hatred he lost control and kicked her to the floor. He then drew his sword and slashed her throat. Thinking her dead he dumped her bloody body in a nearby dark alley. It was 8 September 1858. What followed was a strange and beautifully moving story, told years later by Mariam to her Mistress of Novices at Marseilles, France. "A nun dressed in blue picked me up and stitched my throat wound. This happened in a grotto somewhere. I found myself in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints. They treated me with great, kindness. In their company were my parents. I saw the brilliant throne of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ in His humanity. There was no sun, no lamp, but everything was bright with light. Someone spoke to me. They said that I was a virgin, but that my book was not finished. When my wound was healed I had to leave the grotto and the Lady took me to the Church of St. Catherine served by the Franciscan Friars. I went to confess. When I left, the Lady in Blue had disappeared." Years later when in ecstasy, on September 8, 1874, the feast of our Lady's nativity, Sr. Mary said, "On this same day in 1858, I was with my Mother (Mary) and I consecrated my life to her. Someone had cut my throat and the next day Mother Mary took care of me."

Mariam never saw her uncle again. She supported herself by working as a domestic. An Arab Christian family, the Najjar, hired her to work for them. After two years she was directed by her confessor to the Sisters of St. Joseph. With several postulants from Lebanon and Palestine, she stayed with the Sisters. Soon her health declined and mystical phenomena began. It was disturbing to the congregation. They became upset over her supernatural actions and aura and would not permit her to enter the novitiate. Her Mistress of Novices, Mother Veronica, took her to the Carmelite convent of Pau where both gained admission. Mariam entered Carmel at age 21 as a lay sister. After two months she entered the cloister to begin her novitiate. She took the name of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified.

Little Mariam Baouardy, now known as Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, was professed on 21 November 1871 as a Carmelite Religious. Prior to that action she was subjected to severe supernatural adversities. One of the most terrible was diabolic possession for a period of 40 days. She persevered in her simple child-like faith in God the Son and His Holy Mother Mary. Her rewards were those reserved for the most privileged of humans. She was fixed with the stigmata of her crucified Savior, experienced levitations, transverberations of the heart, knowledge of hearts, prophecies, possession by the Good Angel, and facial radiance. Again and again she would say, "Everything passes here on earth. What are we? Nothing but dust, nothingness, and God is so great, so beautiful, so lovable and He is not loved."

Sister Mariam of Jesus Crucified had an intense devotion to the Holy Spirit, Possessor of the Truth without error or division. Through the Melkite Patriarch Gregory II Sayour, she sent a message to Pope Pius IX that the Church, even in seminaries, is neglecting true devotion to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Her prayer to that great Unknown was: "Holy Spirit, inspire me. Love of God consume me. Along the true road, lead me. Mary, my good mother, look down upon me. With Jesus, bless me. From all evil, all illusion, all danger, preserve me." This simple prayer has gone around the world.

Sister Mariam was instrumental in the founding of a missionary Carmel in Mangalore, India, in 1871, and in Bethlehem of Palestine. Also she was the inspiration for the establishment of the Congregation of the Betharram Priests of the Sacred Heart.

On 5 January 1878, Sister Mariam entered her 33rd year of life. One day in August she fell while working in the convent injuring herself severely. Gangrene set in quickly and spread the infection to her respiratory tract. She never recovered from this trauma. On 26 August 1878, she suffered a life-threatening suffocation attack. She died soon after murmuring, "My Jesus, mercy." It was ten minutes past five in the morning.

Her tomb is engraved with this inscription:

"Here in the peace of the Lord reposes Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, professed religious of the white veil. A soul of singular graces, she was conspicuous for her humility, her obedience and her charity. Jesus, the sole love of her heart called her to Himself in the 33rd year of her age and the 12th year of her religious life at Bethlehem, 26 August 1878."

She is still known today as "Al Qiddisa" (The holy one) in Ibillin, Palestine. On 13 November 1983, Pope John Paul II beatified her in solemn ceremony at Vatican City. She is scheduled for formal canonization this year placing her among the Saints in formal proclamation.

The "Little Arab", a living lesson of the virtues of humility and the love of God, His son Jesus and His Mother Mary, is a special inspiration to those who pursue the Truth as present in the Holy Spirit of God . . . And she was one of us, a Melkite Catholic and a Carmelite.

PS. In his preface Reverend Amedee Brunot, SCJ, the author of the book "Mariam The Little Arab" writes: how can we fail to see that this child of Galilee and of the Eastern Church has a special message for those of her face and her rite? Accordingly how could anyone have ever maintained that the sap of sanctity no longer flows in the veins of the Churches of the East, that this land of anchorites and cenobites, of lauras and monasteries no longer produces flowers and fruits of grace? The Lebanese Charbel Makhlouf and the Galilean Mariam Baouardy are the indisputable answer to these pessimistic judgments. The divine power has always been pleased in these biblical lands to effect at times national resurrections, at other times individual prodigies; once more it is assuring to these peoples a subject of noble pride and a motive of hope.

What is more astonishing than the trajectory of a saint? What a greater message of hope could there be today in the troubled Near East than to tell the Palestinians: here is a young girl of your race, your language and of one of your most honored rites?"

(Doris C. Neger, OCDS, writes from Mineola, NY)
 
Protrait of Beshara Abou Mrad B.S.O., Melkite Priest

Beshara Abou Mrad B.S.O.,

Melkite Priest

An Eastern Curé d'Ars

The Holy Synod in June 2009 studied the announcement from Pope Benedict XVI of a Year of the Priest 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010. In order to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of Jean-Marie Vianney (April 25 2009), patron of parish priests throughout the world, the Synod suggested some commemoratory activities: firstly, to address a letter in the name of the Patriarch and the Holy Synod to all priests; second, to present the Servant of God Beshara Abou Mrad, Salvatorian Father, as a model for parish priests; thirdly, to prepare a congress for all priests of the Melkite Church; fourthly, to publish some leaflets about the priestly vocation and fifthly, to organize meetings in the various congregations, schools, universities and parish movements so as to invite young people to consider the priesthood as a vocation.

A committee was appointed under the leadership of Archbishop Selim Ghazal to supervise the whole celebration of this year.

In September of 2009 the Melkite Patriarch started preparations for the letter, taking into consideration eventual suggestions from bishops.

The following presentation was given by His Beatitude to His Holiness at their meeting on September 19, 2009 in Castelgandolfo.

Beshara Abou Mrad B.S.O., Melkite Priest -

An Eastern Curé d'Ars

This little presentation aims to draw out from the discourses of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI the characteristics of the spiritual life of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney that are to be found in the life of Father Beshara Abou Mrad.
Curé d'Ars Father Beshara Abou Mrad

The Curé d'Ars dedicated himself with all his might to shepherding his flock, making his chief priority the religious education and edification of the people confided to his care.

The pastoral zeal of Father Beshara Abou Mrad and his devotion to his parish were shown through his motto taken from the Prophet Ezekiel, "I have placed thee as guardian of this people and for each soul that is lost, I shall require in its stead thine own."(Ezekiel 17:3) This strong conviction created in him a huge respect for the priestly ministry and for the service of souls.

The Curé d'Ars dedicated his life to humble, patient work. He undertook to be the faithful servant of the holiness of the service entrusted to him, so he decided to make the parish church his home: he went into it before sunrise and only went out after the angelus prayer...

The parishioners of Deir Al-Qamar would speak with respect and veneration of Father Beshara. According to them he is a saint, as they never saw him but with arms outstretched in prayer: he would spend his time in church, ceaselessly repeating hymns to the Mother of God.

Old people from the parish tell how, having been woken by the sound of the bell, they were astonished to see their priest already kneeling before the altar, meditating in deep silence.

The Curé d'Ars used to visit all sick persons and their families and take care of orphans... by his own witness he taught his parishioners.

Father Beshara, following his Saviour's example "took upon himself people's frailties and bore their sicknesses." He continually visited all the families, giving special care to all its members, both young and old. He took care of the sick and suffering, offering them heavenly nourishment and helping them bear their illness, and above all ensuring that the dying received the sacraments.

The Curé d'Ars affirms, "Good works cannot match the sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the work of humanity, but the Liturgy is God's work." He was convinced that the life of the priest is dependent upon the Eucharist.

Before the Church of the Annunciation was built, Beshara Abou Mrad used to begin the day with Mass in one of the houses among the villages he served. Nothing could stop him celebrating Mass - neither cold, nor rain, nor unseasonal weather.

People from the region recall how often they helped him cross the river by ladder because of torrential currents. Seeing their astonishment at his zeal, he would say to them, "What rain, what cold? Could I leave you without Mass?"

The Curé d'Ars sought by preaching and other means to enable the rediscovery of the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Reconciliation, which is, according to him, an inseparable condition for receiving the Eucharist. And it is unforgettable how crowds used to flick from all over France to make confession.

The reputation of Father Beshara in the villages in the Saida region and the districts around Deir Al-Qamar, made him a source of blessing for the people of those villages who would come to him. In fact, he would spend most weekdays hearing confession. He would go from school to school and church to church, spending hours hearing the confessions of several hundred people, taking back the lost sheep to the Father's house. Everybody wanted to go to him for confession and receive his blessing. As a result he no longer had enough time to pray. Therefore, so as to be able to pray, he decided to sleep in church under the pretext of keeping alight the sanctuary lamp in front of the Holy Sacrament.

The poverty, chastity and obedience of the Curé d'Ars were an example to be followed for the priests of his day. He was poor among the poor. What was his he considered as belonging to others. His life was entirely dedicated to God and his Church.

The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience were like an eighth sacrament for Father Beshara. In fact he lived like the most deprived of the poor. In his room there were but a bed and a wooden crate that he used as a wardrobe ... he gave the presents he received to the poor, withholding nothing for himself.

He would habitually eat as the poor did. Father Malatios Khoury said of him that he ate half what others ate. The countless sacrifices and mortifications that he made and the hours of prayers that he spent in front of the Holy Sacrament were so many tokens of his chastity. For Father Beshara, God's will was manifest in the will of his superiors.
 
Nativity Icon from St. George Melkite Church of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Feast of the Nativity of Christ

A Collection of Reflections

by Frances Collie

Nativity

About the Icon of the Nativity of Christ

The Nativity Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom

ABOUT THE ICON OF THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST

The Feast of the Nativity of Christ is a celebration of both the Incarnation and re-creation of the world in Christ. The liturgical texts for the feast are reflected and represented in the icon. The icon reproduces in artistic designs and harmony the details of the narratives of the Gospels. We see in the icon what our hearts have already heard and sung.

"Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being, and the earth offers a cave to Him whom no man can approach 'The whole creation is made rich: let it rejoice and be of good cheer. The Master of all has come to live with His servants, and from the bondage of the enemy. He delivers us who were made subject to corruption (Rom. 8.20,21). In swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, He is manifest a young child, the pre-eternal God.'

The ray of light from heaven shines over the place of the Incarnation and points directly to the Christ-child who lays in the manger. In another text we see that all creation is involved in an act of gratitude and welcome to the Incarnate God:

"What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, who for our sakes has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks. The angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger: and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother, O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.'

The ox and the ass in the icon looking down on the Christ-child represent the fulfillment of Isaiah 1.3 The ox knows its owner and the ass its master's crib - i.e., the animal creation joins in recognition of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

The Virgin Mother lies in the center of the icon, as the second Eve. Just as the first Eve was the ‘mother of all living' (Gen.3.20) so the Virgin Mother of God is the Mother of the new humanity restored and deified through the incarnation of the Eternal Son. She is dressed in royal purple and outstretched in majesty. She is lying down because he is tired, her maternity is real and not an illusion.

The angels praise and glorify God and bring the message to the shepherds, one of whom looks in wonder and the other plays his pipe in celebration. If the shepherds symbolize simple folk and the Jewish people, the Magi symbolize wise and learned people, and the Gentile nations.

Below the Virgin, women deal with the practical consequences of a human birth - the washing of the baby. Their function in the icon is to stress the true humanity of the Incarnate God, against heretical teaching that Christ only appeared to be human. This is to show that Christ is a real human who requires caring for all His human needs.

At the bottom left corner of the icon sits Joseph, the one who is not the father of the child, and who represents those who cannot comprehend the wonder of this event, which is beyond the natural order of things. An old shepherd Thyros, representing the devil, is stirring more doubts in his heart, telling him that something went wrong with the mother because there is no human child ever without a human father. A virgin birth is not possible; it goes against all the laws of nature. The face of the Virgin is turned towards Joseph - a symbol of compassion for those beset by doubts in believing.

The homily details in the icon along with the rich coloring help to convey something of the joy of the feast.

(Baggley,, Windows of Perception, Raya, ,Christmas )

THE NATIVITY SERMON OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing! The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise! The seraphim exult His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy.

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in the place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask now how this was accomplished, for where God wills the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He has the power. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who is born. And He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man - while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His.

And so the kings have come and they have seen the heavenly King that is come upon the earth, not bring with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominations, nor powers, nor principalities, but treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God.

And behold the kings have come that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

Women, so that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child birth to joy;

Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin . . .

Infants that they might adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

Men to Him Who became man hat He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisidech;

Servants to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom;

Fishermen to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him Who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women to Him Who exposed His feel to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they might look upon the lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp, nor with music of the pipes nor holding the torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation! This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels sing: "Glory to God in the Highest," and with the shepherds: "and on earth peace to men of good will."

NATIVITY: BIRTH OF OUR LORD GOD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST

The Feast of the Nativity of Christ is a celebration of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the Son of God and the fact that through this incarnation the world is transfigured and restored. With the appearance of God the world enters upon a new beginning and takes on a new direction. In incarnation, God became real man to identify with His creation, to save His creation and to divinize humanity and the universe.

St. Irenaeus, a Father of the Church in the 3rd century, speaks of the Incarnation as "the necessary means to bring about salvation that we human beings would never have attained by our own power. The Word of God became human in order that we might become God though God's graceful, divine life. He comes to restore the likeness of God in us." He comes to show us the way to the Father and to restore humanity born bankrupt in a "bank world". Humanity started in Paradise - now, with the coming of Christ, Paradise is in humanity. When we accept the person of Jesus Christ and His self-revelation, the whole wealth and beauty of God becomes ours. We have the potential to rise high above our own limitations to the light and life of God.

When we wonder in awe at this event beyond our wildest imaginings, we must marvel at the Divine pedagogy of God, to condescend out of love for our salvation to choose to send His only begotten Son to take on human flesh as the psychological means to educate humanity. .Beyond all the seasonal exhortations of loving, giving, and forgiveness, etc., the Nativity of the Son of God means that man can now have a relationship with God. We cannot have a relationship with an abstract entity. When God decided to show us His face, so that we could see Him in person and not be bewildered by perceiving the impossible to perceive, He covered His glory with an appearance we can approach and understand: He became man. St. Paul calls this generous attitude kenosis (emptiness) also "condescension". St. John Chrysostom says,"The condescension of God is when God does not appear as He really is, but according to the capacity of the one who seeks to contemplate Him."

In a relationship we can experience the otherness of the person we are relating to. So, we know God only by being united to Jesus Christ, by seeing His face, by experiencing Him in our whole being, person-to-person.

We communicate with and experience others when they reveal themselves to us and in turn we reciprocate with the revelation of ourselves. Experience is cumulative. We know God only by being united to Jesus Christ. The glory of God was revealed and made manifest in a face that invites and reveals. Divinity and humanity were united in the Incarnation, and now they appear without separation in the face of the One Divine Person of Jesus Christ. " Life was made visible. . . and we saw it."(1Jn1:1-2) Heaven and earth are now partners in a unique drama of a sublime movement of relationship. When our humanity meets the humanity of Jesus Christ, the God-made-man, we touch and meet God, Father-Son-Spirit. When His revelation of Himself is so accepted, the receiver becomes richer with all the riches of the Person revealed. God's revelation is regulated with patient love and by the measure of our own spiritual development.

The church invites us and all humanity to rejoice. The liturgy overflows with joyous praise designed to make us aware of the coming of God, who at the moment of His birth radiates goodness and love. All of creation, even mountains and valleys are equally invited "to share in the joy of the feast" because it is a celebration of God's love and care for his creation. We should feel ourselves transformed and alive with new life which we and the whole of creation share.

We, upon hearing these exhortations should be filled with joy and peace because we can "see", "hear", and "touch" the reality and truth of our divinization. We should realize that we are a product of an infinite divine love, that we are immersed in divinity in our present life, that we can experience God through Jesus Christ, and that our final destiny is God Himself.

 
A Photograph Album of the Melkite Services from Palm Sunday through Pascha with notes from the Byzantine Daily Worship by Archbishop Joseph Raya.
The Holy table dressed for Holy Wednesday

Holy Thursday

Photo of Greek style crucifix

Good Friday

Parishioners on Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Pews inside church during the late night Saturday service

Holy Wednesday

People carrying palms in procession inside of a church

Palm Sunday

Priest standing behind the holy table on Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

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