St. Seraphim of Sarov
Judas the betrayer was fainthearted and unskilled in battle, and so the enemy, seeing his despair, attacked him and forced him to hang himself, but Peter, a firm rock, when he fell into great sin, like one skilled in battle did not despair nor lose heart, but shed bitter tears from a burning heart, and the enemy, seeing these tears, his eyes scorched as by fire, fled far from him wailing in pain.
St. Seraphim of Sarov
Holy Week is a great test of faith for Orthodox Christians, for as long as we decide to enter into the battle. For the one who has chosen to follow Christ in Truth there’s no spiritual “down time”, there’s no time in our life when we can let our guard down. Christ’s exhortation to watch and pray (Mat. 26:41) follows us until our last breath, but it’s during Holy Week when we find the greatest need for vigilance.
One sure way of knowing that we’re on the right path is by observing how much effort the Devil puts into drawing us away from it, because the Evil One doesn’t tempt those who already do his bidding. Those who have resolved to work out their salvation can expect a fierce pushback, something that the Lord allows in order to strengthen us, and as we approach Pascha we will feel it all the more. For those who are faithful to the Church’s teachings, who stand in prayer throughout the lengthy services of Holy Week, who engage themselves in fasting and repentance, such temptations are expected and are quite normal. While we may have human reactions of exasperation when things go awry and we drop our guard, we quickly regroup, repent, and continue on the path that leads us to the Resurrected Christ.
Holy Week is when we find out what it truly means to be a Christian. We find out that true Christianity is a difficult but well-worn path. Those who bear Christ’s name must be imitators of Him, and this week we will behold the betrayed, beaten, and humiliated Christ who has been forsaken by His closest friends. We will hear Gospel accounts that breach our comfort zone, and, if our souls are receptive, we’ll understand that these things happened because we have offended Divine Love. We haven’t been imitators of Him, we’ve been disobedient and ungrateful children. So many of life’s trivial and transitory circumstances cause us paralyzing fear, yet the one fear that we should have, that of offending God out of love for Him, seems to escape us.
God does nothing without the purpose of bringing us toward our salvation, and everything He does is out of His unconditional love for man. Through the mysterious way in which God works we can come to understand that, but if only we’re willing to seek Him with a persevering and receptive heart. Only such a heart is willing to make the journey to Golgotha in order to reach the empty tomb. Only such a heart can truly behold the Resurrected Christ.
Some years ago while I was serving Great Vespers on Holy Friday, an elderly woman who was suffering from dementia was quietly attentive to the appointed Passion Gospel. At the end she turned to the person next to her and whispered: “Oh, how He loves us!”. This woman, who was barely aware of her surroundings, summed up the entirety of what it means to be a Christian.
Holy Week affords us the opportunity to do the same.
Today’s Feast is a reminder that we are the people who have cried “Hosanna” and we are also the people who have shouted “Crucify Him.” We are those who cry “Hosanna” whenever we are in need or feel threatened or feel like we’re losing control of our lives, often these are the only times we will pray and ask God to have mercy on us and save us out of the depths of our despair. But when hard times pass we forget God and all that He has done for us. Sometimes we deny God. We are ashamed of His teachings and His words.
We can honor God by living according to the teachings of Jesus. But when we ignore those teachings and go our own way it is the equivalent of casting Jesus aside as the people did when He was brought before Pontius Pilate. It is as if we are saying “What do we care what happens to this man…..as long as He doesn’t cramp my style, as long I can live my own life.” They become like children in the midst of a tantrum. This is what happened 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. The people were offended by Christ because He did not fit neatly into their worldview or their plans and so the cries of Hosanna quickly turned to cries of “Crucify Him.” It’s the same for each of us, this is our reminder that we are sinful people in need of a great redeemer.
Fr. James Guirguis
O new working of a wonder! A man returns to us in life, being carried out of the tomb in burial clothes, like a child wrapped in swaddling clothes. For the voice of the Master was recognized by the dead man, Who called him out of the grave with his burial clothes. “Lazarus,” He said, “come out.” And speedily the voice was heard by the dead man, and all the members quickened in the grave.
St. John Chrysostom
The Church does not abhor time, but manifests herself in time. She does not grieve for time that has passed, nor is she anxious over that which is to come. The close of the day that passes becomes the beginning of the day that is to come. Every Vespers service leads us into the new day. And while a man may grieve over what he has lost, or be happy over what he is expecting, and while he may regret the past and be fearful of the future, the Church calls him steadily and resolutely to a journey which involves placing himself in the hands of God, of God who is the Lord of time and history - the Pantocrator.
Georgios I. Mantzaridis, "Time and Man".
Welcome to our parish's new blog/newsletter, an e-bulletin that replaces the announcements page on this website. Much like a paper bulletin it will serve to keep you informed of parish events, but in a more timely manner. It will also contain spiritually edifying content such as the writings of the Holy Fathers and catechetical instruction. Please feel free to comment, or if you prefer, use the contact page or call my cell to communicate with me privately if you have any questions or spiritual needs.
Some housekeeping as we approach Holy Week......
Confessions are available before each Divine Liturgy, before or after all other services, or you can contact me for a home visit if you or someone you know is homebound due to ill health. During Holy Week pastoral visitations will be limited to emergencies only. Our website calendar contains the full schedule of services for the remainder of Great Lent and Pascha, but please take note that the services of Pascha will be held at midnight according to the rubrics of the Orthodox Church and that baskets will be blessed after the dismissal of Paschal Divine Liturgy. There will be no basket blessings on Holy Saturday. If anyone would like to volunteer to pick up and deliver Paschal baskets for the homebound so that they can be blessed in church after Liturgy and/or to provide transportation to Paschal services for those who are unable to drive, please let me know.
As directed by His Grace Bishop Matthew we will continue to adhere to the most current Covid-19 precautions as mandated by the State of New Jersey. We are now permitted to hold services with attendance at 50% of the capacity of the church, which of course is a significant number. In addition we will continue to follow the sanitation guidelines that were issued by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on March 17th, 2020. It goes without saying that if you're not feeling well for any reason at all then please stay at home and follow the advice of your healthcare professional.
While the pandemic has disrupted our lives in many ways, every able-bodied parishioner is still expected to participate in the liturgical life of the Church by either attending in person or praying the Typica at home by using the texts and rubrics that were mailed out on March 20th, 2020. If you're in need of an additional copy please contact me and I'll get one over to you. Everyone is also expected to participate in the sacramental life of the Church by tending to regular confession and Communion, either in church or through a pastoral visit. We've been through a lot, but the Lord has preserved us. If there was a time in our life when we needed to become closer to Christ and His Holy Church, it's right now. If you've lapsed during this past year in particular, now is the time to return to Christ in repentance.