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Christ is born!

We are all on a journey: an ancient journey, full of perils.
We travel together for safety, and our companions, chosen or haphazard, largely determine our experience of our travel,
Except for two unalterable truths…
Everything changes, nothing stays the same.
No one can ever go back the way they came.
And, like all journeys, the ultimate significance of our endeavours depends largely upon our intended destination
And on our intended purpose, once we get there:
Are we some rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born?
Or are we a vulnerable young mother,
Voluntarily submitting ourselves to the pains of travel and the labour of childbirth
To do our part to help provide a body for and to bring into the world the Christ-child?
And, if the latter, our journey does not end at Bethlehem.
For, once we have so participated in His embodiment, we have chosen, and been chosen, to go further:
To go as far as needed, to continue the journey as long as we are needed
To protect and nurture and bring up Him who has chosen to be born of us
In the humiliation of the stable:
the helpless saviour of the world, the Prince of Peace.
Christ is born!
May we, with our souls and our bodies – our entire beings, throughout our entire journey –
Glorify Him.

Christmas and Theophany Services

Christmas is coming… and so is Theophany! Since our custom is for the priest to take a bit of “time off” after Christmas (consisting largely of not doing Wednesday services), and Christmas is slightly different, here’s the list of services coming up:

  • Dec 24, 6:00pm: Christmas Eve Vigil (usually a bit over two hours long)
  • Dec 25, 9:00am: Christmas Liturgy (starting at 9am sharp, no Hours; usually about an hour-and-a-half, followed by a Christmas feast for any who can stay)
  • Dec 28: NO Compline!
  • Dec 31, 6:00pm: Great Vespers (as usual)
  • Jan 1, 9:00am: Hours and Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
  • Jan 4: NO Compline!
  • Jan 5, 6:30pm: Vesperal Liturgy and Great Blessing of Waters (indoor) for Theophany
  • Jan 7, 6:00pm: Great Vespers
  • Jan 8, 9:00am: Hours and Liturgy, followed by the Great Blessing of the Waters (outdoor)

And, speaking of the Great Blessing of the Waters, here’s a short piece that Mike McCardell did when he happened to run across us blessing the waters at Kits Beach in 2012:

Finally, calendars are here! Many thanks to Zane, of Ancient Burials, for providing them for us (in a wonderfully timely manner) this year!

The Feast of the Dormition

My young daughter is trying to teach my youngest how to count. “There are two carrots.”

My youngest: “Three carrots!”

“No, two carrots. One, two.”

My youngest, cheerfully and enthusiastically: “Three carrots!”

Teaching, like parenting, is a frustrating occupation!

One of the challenges common to both parents and teachers, but which is even more challenging for parents than it is for teachers, is the challenge, as one’s children grow up, of treating them as independent adults – and even, occasionally, as our own teachers. Yes, good parents are always learning from their children, but it is a rare thing for a parent to be able to accept direct instruction, or even correction, from someone whom they have toilet-trained. This is the basic human reality behind my most common advice to parishioners struggling with their relationship with their parents: Don’t try to change them – it’s not your job and it rarely does anything other than further undermine an already problematic relationship.

So it is interesting that our first glimpse of “the mother of Jesus” in the Gospel of John reveals her holy response to her son’s correction. “They have no wine,” she tells him at the wedding at Cana. “Woman,” he addresses her formally but respectfully, “what has that to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary does not “pull rank” on Jesus – does not correct him or object or rebuke him. She humbly accepts her son’s correction and turns simply to the servants and tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary, “the mother of Jesus”, was the first Christian: the first one to trust in her son, Jesus, as the Messiah, her saviour and Lord. Throughout her life, she treasured in her heart the things she observed about him, and after his death and resurrection she was always to be found in the midst of his Church, praying to him for them all.

And her love and faithfulness were not forgotten. As God did not abandon his Holy One to the grave, so tradition tells us that our Lord did not abandon his mother to the grave upon her “falling asleep”, but raised her up from the grave bodily as the “first-fruits”, as a promise to all those of us who follow her in following him, as the ultimate confirmation of his divine-human love for his own beloved mother “after the flesh.”

In this feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, then, we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, as his mother, served him, and, though his mother, learned from him, and, as his follower, teaches us to pray to him, and, as his first follower, was the first to be raised by him. Most Holy Theotokos, pray to God for us!

“Feast Means Joy”

As those who have been attending our Wednesday evening study of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World already know, I was recently “blown away” by the section on feast (section four) in Chapter 3, “The Time of Mission”, particularly the following paragraph:

To understand the true nature—and “function”—of feasts we must remember that Christianity was born and preached at first in cultures in which feasts and celebrations were an organic and essential part of the whole world view and way of life. For the man of the past a feast was not something accidental and “additional”: it was his way of puttingmeaning into his life, of liberating it from the animal rhythm of work and rest. A feast was not a simple “break” in the otherwise meaningless and hard life of work, but a justification of that work, its fruit, its—so to speak—sacramental transformation into joy and, therefore, into freedom. A feast was thus always deeply and organically related to time, to the natural cycles of time, to the whole framework of man’s life in the world. And, whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, Christianityaccepted and made its own this fundamentally human phenomenon of feast, as it accepted and made its own the whole man and all his needs. But, as in everything else, Christians accepted the feast not only by giving it a new meaning, by transforming its “content,” but by taking it, along with the whole of “natural” man, through death and resurrection.

As I mentioned to those at the study, one of the “occupational hazards” of being a priest (or a choir-director, for that matter) is that feasts can become burdens, extra work, rather than occasions of joy. Fr. Schmemann’s words, “Feast means joy,” thus deeply convicted me, and reminded me of earlier days back at St. Herman’s when a whole bunch of new converts to Orthodoxy were discovering – much to their joy – that it was work, but deeply worthwhile work, to “keep the feast.” (This was in conjunction with a local custom that had developed to hold a rotating feast “from house to house” for every one of the Twelve Days of Christmas.)

If there is an area in which I can improve, in which we as a community can improve, I think it is in the keeping of the feasts. Well, there are many areas in which we can improve, of course, but, given what Fr. Schmemann has said about the feasts giving meaning to our lives, it seems to me that this is a very worthwhile area to focus on. Here are a few ways in which we might, as a community, work on better keeping the feasts:

  1. Meditate on their meaning. I have been intending, for some time now, to write a bit of a meditation preparing our hearts for and reminding us of each of the Great Feasts. I will try to do better at this, but, even if I don’t manage to write anything, there’s nothing stopping any of us from watching our calendars and meditating on the meaning of the Great Feasts as each one comes our way!
  2. Come to the feast! We do our best to schedule our feast-day services at times which the majority of the community will be able to attend. Make attendance at the festal services a priority. Yes, it is often an inconvenience to take/make the time to attend, particularly in our over-busy society, but that’s part of the point! Choosing to celebrate the feast is a choice to incorporate the meaning revealed by that feast into our daily lives.
  3. Bring food for the feast. Our pot-luck at St. John’s has always had a bit more emphasis on “luck” than it should. It would be wonderful if everyone who was able to brought something to offer – and I’m speaking to myself as well in this regard!

Each one of the Twelve Great Feasts, especially including tomorrow’s Great Feast of the Transfiguration, takes something ordinary and reveals it to be extraordinary. In the Transfiguration, our Lord, who had taken on the form of our lowliness (with “no form or beauty that we should desire him”), was revealed as God Himself made flesh, in all of His divine glory – or at least as much of it as the apostles were able to bear to look upon. Our Lord’s conversation with Moses and Elijah reveals our connection, in Him, with all “those who have gone before”, and the series of seemingly random coincidences in our Lord’s life and death were revealed to the apostles to be the Hand of God at work in history for the fulfillment of His prophetic Word – and, by extension, that God is still at work in all things for the good of those of us who love Him and are the called according to His purpose.

Ultimately, there are no “random” coincidences. I needed to read and be convicted by Fr. Schmemann’s words – and, hopefully, God will use those words in your life as I pass them on to you. Ultimately, all of life is transfigured by the presence of God as He works in all things for our good to draw us up into His Son, the God-man, in whom we are united, in love, with God Himself.

Love in Christ,

Fr. Justin.

400 Texts: The Conclusion

I am pleased and thankful to be able to report that, as of yesterday evening, we have finally finished our study of St. Maximos the Confessor’s Four Centuries on Love – and it didn’t even take us one century! A few highlights from last night’s concluding study:

Only God is good by nature (cf. Matt. 19: 17), and only he who imitates God is good in will and purpose. For it is the intention of such a person to unite the wicked to Him who is good by nature, so that they too may become good. That is why, though reviled by them, he blesses; persecuted, he endures; vilified, he supplicates (cf 1 Cor. 4:12-13); put to death, he prays for them. He does everything so as not to lapse from the purpose of love, which is God Himself. (IV.90)

This is great advice for us to keep in mind when we are considering any response to make or advice to give: Is the intent behind our response/advice, like God’s, to overcome our enemy by helping them to become God’s friend?

There are four principal ways in which God abandons us. The first is the way of the divine dispensation, so that through our apparent abandonment others who are abandoned may be saved. Our Lord is an example of this (cf Matt. 27:46). The second is the way of trial and testing, as in the case of job and Joseph; for it made Job a pillar of courage and Joseph a pillar of self-restraint (cf. Gen. 39:8). The third is the way of fatherly correction, as in the case of St Paul, so that by being humble he might preserve the superabundance of grace (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7). The fourth is the way of rejection, as in the case of the Jews, so that by being punished they might be brought to repentance. These are all ways of salvation, full of divine blessing and wisdom. (IV.96)

This one just blew me away when I realized that if we leave out the examples, it is essentially saying, “There are four principal ways in which God abandons us. … These are all ways of salvation, full of divine blessing and wisdom.” If we then add the examples back in, we begin to understand the significance of the old Orthodox Christian saying: “Everything that happens to us is coming to us from the hand of God for our salvation.”

The friends of Christ love all truly but are not themselves loved by all: the friends of the world neither love all nor are loved by all. The friends of Christ persevere in love to the end; the friends of the world persevere only until they fall out with each other over some worldly thing. (IV.98)

I particularly loved James’ response to the first part of this saying, pointing out that the reality behind “not themselves loved by all” quite spectacularly highlights the shallow understanding that all-too-often undergirds that classic appeal, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”


And the study concluded, quite fittingly, with all-but-absolute silence at the work’s stunningly beautiful conclusion:

Many have said much about love, but you will find love itself only if you seek it among the disciples of Christ. For only they have true Love as love’s teacher. ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy’, says St Paul, ‘and know all mysteries and all knowledge . . . and have no love, it profits me nothing’ (1 Cor. 13:2-3). He who possesses love possesses God Himself, for “God is love’ (1 John 4:8). To Him be glory throughout the ages. Amen. (IV.100)

I think the only word that was said at this point was a simple and heartfelt, “Amen.”