Alleluia! A fasting season is upon us!

This evening, we begin one of the minor fasts, the Fast of the Apostles.  This fast takes us from the feast of All Saints (the Sunday after Pentacost) to the eve of the feast of the prime apostles, Peter and Paul (June 29th).  This fast is not as strict as the great fast, but serves to remind and refocus us after the joys of the Pentacost season.  Our father among the saints, John Chrysostom says:

(Fasting) lodged with us for forty days, we gave it a warm welcome and sent it on its way.  So now that we are on the point of laying a spiritual table, let us recall it and all the good things that came to us from it….Just as our loved ones fill us with deep satisfaction not only when they are present but also when they come to mind, so too the fast days, the assemblies, the time spent together and all the other good things we gained from it give joy to us on recalling them…(Homily 1 on Hannah)

So with joy we recall the Fast, and we begin it anew.  In our liturgy, we celebrate it it.  Many of the upcoming days are “days of Alleluia”, days when “Alleluia” is sung with greater frequency.  On more ordinary days, if the saint is not Doxology rank or above, we replace the Vespers prokeimenon with “Alleluia”, and the same with “The Lord is God” at Orthros.  We again say the Prayer of Saint Ephrem.  This helps refocus us our our own spiritual life.  For us Byzantines, we “Praise God” more strongly in the ordinariness of life.  By contrast, the use of “Alleluia” diminishes the greater the celebration (with Pascha using the word at only one point the entire day).

Now we “Praise God” for the gift of this fasting season, of the gift of the Church at Pentacost, and of our apostles, martyrs,   hierarchs, priests, monastics, spiritual Fathers and Mothers, who have gone before us.  I think, this season placed between All Saints and Sts. Peter and Paul helps up to focus on our relationship with the Church, and gives us a moment to fast and pray for our brothers and sisters all over the world, those who have fallen away and are cut off from a life in Christ, as well as our numerous brethren who suffer persecution and even death for proclaiming the name of Christ throughout the earth.

Let us praise the Name of God glorifying the unoriginate Father, the only-begotten Son, and life-giving Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Christ is Risen!

Well, I broke down in tears during the Paschal Aposticha.  Here are the two verses that impacted me most:

Let us joyfully embrace one another. O Passover, save us from sorrow; for today Christ has shown forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber and filled the women with joy by saying:  Announce the good news to my disciples.

This is the Resurrection day.  Let us be enlightened by this Feast, and let us embrace one another.  Let us call Brethren even those who hate us, and in the Resurrection forgive everything and let us sing:  Christ is risen from dead ! By death he trampled Death, and to those in the tombs, He bestowed life.

I got so choked up, I could barely croak the hymns out.  The Resurrection Matins is the pinnacle of the year for me.  The Byzantine Catholic Church, and all Greek Catholic Churches, for that matter, are Churches of resurrection.  We are unwanted, called aberrations, and an offense to others  We are a scandal, a stumbling block to larger Churches, to the larger religious world in which we find ourselves struggling to make and keep our identity .  But so was Christ. Christ is a scandal to the wisdom of the Greek, and to the Jewish religious world from which Christianity came.  Christ was beaten, cursed, afflicted, tortured, and buried, guarded by the authorities lest He make a come back.

Yet He did come back.  He did return.  The powers of this world were no match for Him, for he is the strongman who robbed Hades of its treasures.  He burst the iron bars locking the doors, and the bronze gates crumpled before Him.  And He took our father, Adam, and our mother, Eve by the hand, and lead them to Paradise, with all the righteous Fathers and Mothers who went before Him in this world, and lay the road for all humanity to be save.

So it is with our Church.  Our Churches were beaten, tortured, killed, and buried by the authorities, whether in the Communist era in Eastern Europe, or today in the Middle East and Africa, where all Christians, despite confessional lines, have their blood mixed up the ground.  Christ will descend to raise us as He did our Father Adam.  It will not be a violent victory, or a militant victory, for these victories do not guarantee peace.  It is a victory by embracing each other.  It is a victory that calls brethren-brothers and sisters-everyone, even those who hate us, do not want us, find us offensive, who torture and kill us.  It is a victory of forgiveness.  It is a victory where we all sing the risen Christ!.