Blessing of the graves at St. Nicholas.

 One only has to visit other Orthodox Churches to see a variety of differences and practices, even beyond the noticeable stuff, like language or music. With Thanksgiving to God, I have been blessed to experience all these differences, over my 20 years of service.

One such difference I experienced when I moved to Manitoba was the timing of Grave blessings. I grew up with the blessing of the graves happening on Thomas Sunday, or the Tuesday after Thomas Sunday (“day of rejoicing” -Ра́доница, Проводи) and through the Paschal season. Truly there is significance in blessing the graves of our departed loved ones on those “bright” days; confronting the sadness of loss and death, with the Paschal proclamation “Christ is Risen”!  Yet I came to understand the beauty and significance of blessing graves, even after the Paschal season has ended. 

Last year when I was serving  with Archbishops Irenee, Nathaniel, and Bishop Andrei in Leonard MB over the feast of the Ascension, (a Romanian tradition) and blessing hundreds of graves, I was struck by the significance of commemorating the departed in the context of the feast of the Ascension. Indeed we are consoled by the words of the Lord in this “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you,.” (Jn.14:1-3). Among many Ukrainian communities (especially rural ones) these grave blessings generally happen after Pentecost, on what are called the “Green Holidays”  (Зелені свята). Again there is something significant in connecting the grave blessings and those commemorations of the departed, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the treasury of blessings and Giver of life”, manifested even as trees and gardens truly come to life, and the beige and browns of an early spring, give way to the green in the leaves and grasses. 

Indeed there are differences between various Orthodox Churches and traditions about when is the proper time to bless the graves and commemorate our departed loved ones; yet despite these differences, they all express the saving love of God for humanity, that not even death can skew or cover. 

Normally we would bless the graves (in the cemetery behind our Church) of our founders during the Paschal season, but given the fickle weather of an early Manitoba spring, and unforeseen scheduling issues, it was agreed that the most appropriate time to bless our graveyard would be on the Sunday after the Ascension

On Sunday morning following the Liturgy our parish made a small procession to the graveyard and served a Trisagion (shorter memorial) for our founders, starting at grave of our blessed friends, John and Sophie Barchyn. At the conclusion of the Trisagion, the Choir sang “Christ is Risen” and Fr. Serhii, Fr. Stephen, and myself started to work our way through the cemetery, commemorating our founders, and blessing the graves with Holy Water.

Indeed this was a beautiful affirmation of our love for those who have departed this life, and an affirmation of our faith and hope, in the Lord’s saving love for us; manifested in His Resurrection, Ascension into heaven, and sending of the Holy Spirit, regardless of any differences, that we might experience. May their memories be eternal! Вічна Пам’ять! 

The feast of the Ascension – bringing together the past, present and future.

We are in the twilight of this blessed Paschal season, where the sound of our proclamation  “Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen!” ends and we are left in wonder and awe as the Lord of Glory ascends into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father until He comes again in glory to judge the earth.

It is by faith that the joy the Lord’s saving Pascha celebrated for the past 40 days changes into joy, as the incarnate Lord of Glory (flesh and blood like you and me) is glorified and enthroned in the Kingdom, with the joyful promise, that the Father will send to us the “comforter”  and Spirit of truth, who guides in all righteousness (Jn. 16:13) at Pentecost.

The services this week blend all these elements seamlessly; looking back at the Lord’s holy Pascha, beholding His Holy Ascension into heaven, and looking forward to His holy Pentecost. It is by faith we see a God who acts to save us by “His trampling down death by death” in His Resurrection; it is by faith that we see a God who glorifies our mortal and corruptible nature at the right hand of the Father, at His Ascension; and it is by faith, that we can participate in His victory and glorification by gift of the Holy Spirit at poured out on all humanity!

Truly these days bring to our attention the past present and future of the Lord’s timeless love for us; and it is a  blessing that we can experience the timelessness of this “trinity of feasts” even now. A confirmation that restores (past), establishes (present), and promises (future) the eternal and everlasting love of God for humanity. 

A puzzling feast day for St. Nicholas, for puzzling times.

Most of us are aware that St. Nicholas’ feast is on December 6th  (thus the connection to Christmas), yet this is not his only feast. Whereas the feast day in December is when the Church commemorates his falling asleep in the Lord, on May 9th the Church commemorates the translation (movement) of his relics from Myra (in Modern day Turkey) to Bari, in Italy.

To be honest, this is somewhat of a puzzling feast day. There are many feasts that commemorate the movement of saint’s relics from one place to another; but generally all parties involved are somewhat in agreement about it all. But if one reads the story of this particular feast, it is pretty obvious there wasn’t a lot of agreemeent, as St. Nicholas’ relics were forcibly stolen by Venetians traders.

Yet even in this (and maybe especially because of this), the Lord’s merciful desire to save humanity is revealed. St. Paul asks us to consider these kinds of circumstances when he states “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rm. 8:28). There is something in this to consider, even in the face of the outright theft of such an important saint from his very home.

Given the erosion of the Romano/Byzantine Empire, and the increasing desecration of Christian sites and holy places by the Ottomans and pirates, there is something providential that St. Nicholas’ relics were moved to safety. As well, the people of Myra were given the opportunity to strengthen their relationship with the Lord and His saint, Nicholas; for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

It is not as if St. Nicholas stopped caring for the people of Myra (or anywhere else) once his relics were moved; nor did the people of Myra (or anywhere else) stop praying for his help because His relics were moved. One of the Vespers hymns for this feast beautifully states this “Not from Bari do we now invoke you, but from the Jerusalem on high, where you rejoice with the apostles, prophets and hierarchs in gladness”

Indeed the same compassion, that he visited on the poverty stricken father and his daughters, or intercessions he made for the unjustly condemned generals, could even shine brighter for the faithful of Myra (or anywhere else), that even having the relics of their saint being taken, his love for the Lord and them could not. 

This is something that we should consider, as we will enviably face situations in our lives that don’t make sense, or seem/are unjust. It doesn’t mean that we should let people walk over us, but rather, we should ask the Lord to grant us wisdom to understand what it is He is teaching us, and ask for His strength to endure the changes. Most importantly we should like the people of Myra, give thanks to the Lord for his providential mercy and love, knowing nothing (let alone the forceable removal of a saint’s relics) “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:39) 

Just maybe, celebrating this feast, for our beloved patron and protector, in these puzzling times, should become for us a new tradition, especially as it reveals the love of God, and his heavenly intercessions all the more. By the prayers of St. Nicholas, may it be so. 

Holy Week; a divine paradox of attendance and attention.

In the same way we would put aside our personal cares and needs to attend to a loved one who is sick or dying; the services of Holy Week offers us those moments, to consider and act upon, what really matters. Regardless if it is at the bedside of someone who is sick, or in front of the Icon of the Bridegroom, we are called to see that what really matters is love. 

This love is expressed over and over again in the services of Holy Week, yet it is done in a manner that is somewhat of a paradox. While it might seem that we are the healthy and living one’s that out of love, attend to the broken and mocked Lord upon the Cross (in the same way we would visit a loved one at a hospital or hospice); it is actually humanity; each of us, that the Lord attends to out of love. 

We are the sick and dying ones whom He loves; and in this love, experiences it by submitting to it, that He might save us from it “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). “who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant (slave), and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philp 2:6-8)

Indeed our attention, and participation in the services of Holy Week,have little to do with what we have to offer in the way of tears, sorrow, and compunction, as we behold the evil and injustice suffered by Jesus. Rather it has everything to do with what the Lord is doing for us; as he beholds the evil and injustice we suffer. It is about His love and mercy, His patience, and forgiveness; His victory shared with us by “destroying death by His death, and  upon those in the tombs, bestowing life”. 

In This Holy Week, may we encounter, and experience this paradox of divine love; in our attendance and attention to His mocked, broken and dead body upon the Cross and in a shroud; and truly see Him, who has attended to our broken hearts and mortal nature. That in this we might be healed and raised eternally with Him, who acts to save us from the ravages of sin – sickness, and death- eternally.

How is your Lent going (a mid-fast check in)- Matushka Taesia Scratch

How is your Lent  going?

Now that you have all stripped away those creature comforts of one form or another; what have you found, what have you uncovered ? What will you be working on? 

Have you realized that under the layers of music, food, busy-work, posturing, the noise of life – the things we do to hide our pain and insecurities-  that this is the dark place where we are meant to bring light to during Lent. Lent is where we heal with God.

This is the meatiness, where the real stuff is. Under all of this is where every human needs to continually heal. 

The same prayers are said over again in our church, so we can take them to the core of ourselves, with God, He is there with us, to give us strength to heal. We are given the blessing of Lent to uncover the layer upon layer of personal struggle. 

Why are we so prideful or angry or judgemental? What pain is under there?  Do not say nothing is wrong, because if we are being honest, we are not perfect. We are here to be healed; each of us.

This healing is private, and  possibly painful to do, but here we are doing it together as a community. How beautiful is that. 

The answers are given in the richness of Orthodoxy. Truly it takes time, and time again to find it within. We need to be honest with ourselves and God, and be healed. 
What will you make new? 

Doing more, does more.

Etching of the Lord feeding the five thousand.

There is a thought that with the beginning of Great Lent, everything changes in regard to our Orthodox Christian life.  I suppose there is an aspect to this that is true; after all, the character of some of our services change, different melodies are sung and scriptures read; even the light and gold vestments and coverings are changed to purple (or a darker colour). Yet if we look at Great Lent as having a particular function in the Church year, as opposed to being a unique or extraordinary time, we will see that we actually don’t change many things; rather we “do more” that we might clearly see and understand how much the Lord loves us. 

Fasting from certain food and activities is a regular part of our Orthodox Christian life, yet Great Lent calls us to do more, by fasting more comprehensively. Throughout the year, we pray and read daily scripture readings, but Great Lent calls us to do more praying and reading of scripture. Throughout the year, we give freely of our treasures to those in need, yet Great Lent calls us to do more, in caring for the needy. We faithfully attend Church on Sunday mornings (truly a miracle in this day and age), yet Great Lent calls us to do more, by offering us many more beautiful services. We confess before the Lord our need of His mercy, forgiveness, and life, by offering our sins in repentance; but Great Lent calls us to do more, by examining our conscience more diligently through the sacrament of confession.

Yet the greatest, and most pressing effort that Great Lent calls us to might also be the hardest: to love. Truly, it is love that is the foundation of everything humanity strives for (mercy, peace, forgiveness, healing, unity, etc), and our life in the Church is no different in this respect. Yet Great Lent calls us to not just foster and cultivate the love of God and neighbour, but rather do more in seeking to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (Jn.4:10).

All of Great Lent (and by extension, our Christian lives) hang on this virtue alone (Cf. 1 Cor. 13). Truly this is the context for everything we do as Christians. Doing those things that bear witness to the love of God and neighbour alike, does more, in transforming the grief and sorrow of the cross (and all the world’s evil)  to the unending praise and thanksgiving of the Resurrection (and the victory of Christ over that evil).

Doing more fasting, even if it is as simple as reducing one’s servings to half portions, does more; in bringing us closer to the Lord, who offers us Himself, “the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35)

Doing more praying and reading scripture, even if it is as small as reading a Psalm each day, saying the Lord’s prayer or the Lenten prayer of St. Ephriam, does more in revealing the “words of Eternal life” (Jn. 6:68) and the Kingdom to come (Mt. 6:10).

Doing more works of mercy, in even giving some change to a beggar and asking their name (so as to pray for them), does more,  in serving the Lord himself in the least of His brethren (Mt. 25:40).

Doing more services, even if it’s attending only one of the midweek service in Great Lent, does more, in revealing that the content of every moment in our lives is truly  “the accepted time;” and “the day of salvation”(2 Cor. 6:2).

Doing more confession, even if it for the smallest source of shame, does more, to help us see that  “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world (and us), but that the world (and us) through Him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17) 

Doing more love, even when we patiently respond with love to anger or indifference at even the smallest transgression, does more, for abiding in love, we abide in God (Jn. 4:26)

Nothing really changes in Great Lent in regard to what we do; with one profound exception. In doing more of those normal parts of our life in Christ, it does more for us; it changes us! 

 “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:53-55)

Truly Great Lent reveals that  this “change” isn’t necessarily the correction needed to get to the Resurrection of our Lord,  but rather as reason for the Cross, passion, death and Resurrection of our Lord on that blessed and Holy third day.

The Temptation of Christ, and our Lenten Discipline. (Esther G. Juce)

The Temptation of Christ According to Luke 4:1-13 and Its Application to Our Church’s Lenten Discipline

Luke 4:1-13, and its parallel in Matthew (Mt 4:1-13), used to scare me when I was a kid because they mentioned the devil.  Then, as I grew up, I learned that Christ has overcome the devil, and that there is no longer anything to fear.  So why are these potentially disturbing passages in the Bible in the first place?  The simple answer is that by showing us how Christ has conquered temptation, by His mercy and power, we can be able to do the same.

During Great Lent, the Church instructs us to increase our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.   Luke 4:1-13 describes how Jesus uses these three graces to overcome temptation.  The setting of  this scripture is the desert, recalling the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness for forty years during their journey to the Promised Land.  The Evangelist Luke tells us that for forty days Jesus also has been in the wilderness, and there is tempted by the devil.  Christ’s salvific responses to the devil’s three temptations not only fulfill scripture, but they also give us a guide for our own forty-day Lenten journey, and thus for our entire lives.  Let’s follow our Saviour’s way through the desert.

The devil uses many schemes to tempt Jesus.  Satan begins with pride:  “If you are the Son of God…”(Luke 4:3a, 9b) and “To you I will give all this authority and their glory…” (Luke 4:6a).  He continues with magic:  “…command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3b); and “…throw yourself down from here.” (Luke 4:9c).  Satan even quotes scripture in order to tempt our Lord:  In verses 9-11, Satan says, “For it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,’ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” (Luke 4:10-11 quoting Psalms 90 (91):11,12)  

Each temptation involves a different aspect of our fallen human existence and weakness. The first is about physical need, because Jesus is hungry after having had nothing to eat for forty days (Luke 4:2b).  The second temptation is about earthly power and glory (Luke 4:6).  And the third is about irresponsible and careless living (Luke 4:9-10).

Christ responds to these three temptations with scripture, all from the book of Deuteronomy.  These passages in Deuteronomy are set in the Israelites’ forty years of wandering in the desert.  The Hebrews did not fare well there; none of them made it to the Promised Land.  Thankfully, though, Jesus shows us the way:  His triumph over the temptations in the wilderness not only corrects the Israelites’ weakness, but also gives us a practical guide in how to follow Christ in overcoming our temptations on our journey with Him into the Promised Land.

The first temptation is that Jesus should turn a stone into bread.  He replies with Deuteronomy 8:3:  “Man does not live by bread alone…” (Luke 4:3-4)  Deuteronomy says that the Hebrews had been murmuring that they had no bread.  The passage then explains that the Lord was humbling the Israelites them in order to test them, to see what was in their hearts, and to see if they would follow His commandments.  God allowed them to hunger, and then fed them with manna from heaven (Deuteronomy 8:2-3.  See Exodus 16).  So the Lord fed them and took care of them:  He helped the Israelites to understand that they were, as we are, completely dependent upon God not only for food, but for all things.

The second temptation is that Jesus could have the power and glory over all of the kingdoms of the world in return for worshiping the devil.  Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:13:  “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:5-8)  Deuteronomy says that the Lord was reminding the Israelites that it was He, the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the house of bondage in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)  Because the Israelites accepted this deliverance, they were not to go after other gods, but to fear, worship, and serve the Lord their God only (Deuteronomy 6:13-19.  See Exodus 15:1-18).  So the Lord delivered them:  He reminded the Israelites of the love He has in His Covenant for His people, and therefore for us all.

The third temptation is that Jesus should throw himself off of the pinnacle of the temple to demonstrate that God would send His angels to save him.  Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:16:  “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” (Luke 4:9-12).  This scripture in Deuteronomy alludes to the incident at Massah.  (Deuteronomy 6:16.  See Exodus 17:1-7)  Here the children of Israel had been complaining that they had no water to drink, putting the Lord to the test by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  God answered by instructing Moses to strike with his rod the rock at Mount Horeb, and then water miraculously gushed out of the rock.  So the Lord responded to their testing (tempting) Him:  He put an end to their doubts and questions about Him by loving them and providing for them, as He does for us.

Yes, Christ’s responses to the devil’s temptations are based on scripture, but these responses also demonstrate the Lord’s love for us.  In every instance of the Hebrews’ grumbling, doubting, and unfaithfulness in the wilderness, God provided for them and offered them an everlasting Covenant.  In the same manner, the Lord responds to us in our time of need with His Love, extends his Covenant to us, and leads us to the Promised Land of His Kingdom.

Today, we, like Jesus, face these same temptations.  We are tested about our bodily needs, about the attraction of earthly power and  glory, and about living recklessly without care.  By allowing God to work in and with us, we have been given in His Church the tools to address these temptations.  During the Lenten season, we are instructed to fast from certain foods and activities in order to remember that we are dependent upon the Lord for all things.  We are instructed to increase our prayer in order to say “Yes” to the Lord our God and to His Covenant, and to therefore worship Him only.   We are instructed to increase our almsgiving in order to have more care for ourselves and for others.  By following our Church’s Tradition of fasting, praying, and almsgiving, both during Great Lent and extending to every day of our lives, we can work with our Lord to conquer the temptations that lie before us.

In conclusion, during our Lenten journey, let us follow the Lord Jesus, the Example of examples.  Let us follow Him into the wilderness in order to fight our temptations.  Let us increase our love of God and of our neighbours through more fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  And let us accept and embrace the Lord, the One who has delivered us and who is bringing us into His Inheritance of the Promised Land.

Esther G. Juce

Thanksgiving and beyond.

I can not express enough how moved I was this past Sunday evening when our parish came together to celebrate my tenth anniversary of ordination and assignment to St. Nicholas. 

Indeed there is so much to be thankful for. Whether it be for the amazing dinner,  the kind words and  gifts, let alone for the care and generosity for myself and family, I find myself being the most thankful for the fact that there are too many people to thank. This celebration and the last ten years, truly bear witness to the blessed love and generosity of this community as a whole and not anyone person or another. 

In the same way that a head or a hand is useless without a body, and needs each other member to properly function, the priesthood can only be properly understood (and fulfilled) within a  community; as each is dependent on the other.  My ten years at St. Nicholas bears witness to this. I have brought very few people into our Church, compared to our faithful who have echoed the words of the Apostles “Come and see” (Jn. 1:46) with their friends and families, let alone spent as much time talking with those coming to our parish as our faithful. I have done very little work at “keeping the lights on”, or cleaning and maintaining our Church; let alone, conducting and singing with the splendour and beauty that is a mark of our services, in comparison to the faithful of our parish, who have laboured and laboured in their love of God. Indeed the last ten years bear witness to the life of our Church; a witness of our community as a family.

Although I had talked with the council leading up to my assignment, and had met many people in the community, when Matushka Taesia and myself came to visit and look for a place to live in Winnipeg, the first real first experience of this parish being a family,  was when we showed up at our new home after driving for three days from Ottawa. I don’t know what I was expecting, but was surprised to find our new home clean and prepared for us (as best as it could because the landlord still had furniture and personal items all over the house). Yet this surprise turned into an outpouring of tears, when  I opened the fridge and saw that it was fully stocked with food. This might have just been my exhaustion, or just feeling overwhelmed by a move across the country, but I think it was mainly because I was moved beyond words, by the acceptance and love of this parish  for a “stranger”; demonstrated in even the little things of a clean house, and full fridge. Truly it was a “cup of cold water” offered in love (Mt. 10:42). This acceptance and love offered ten years ago has truly been the standard of this parish for the world around us;  offered time and time again, to those who cross our threshold regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they do. 

Of course throughout these past 10 years, that generosity has far exceeded a clean house and full fridge, and that acceptance of me as a stranger, has grown into something more personal and touching;  but that first impression of generosity has been always something I have held onto as being more precious than gold, if only because it was a witness of what this parish was and still is;  a family, and even more. The Church and the Body of Christ. 

Yet, as much as our parish bears witness to the love and work of our faithful, I truly think that the context for all of this stems from the work of our beloved Fr. Bob and Matushka Dianne. The words of the Lord express this beautifully “ Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not laboured; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.”(Jn. 4:35-38) 

The manifestation of our parish as a  family, (something that we now “reap”) has everything to do with the work of  Fr. Bob, and Matushka Dianne, who diligently labourd (“sowed”)  with boundless love and generosity in their witness of the Lord’s saving love. Not only did they guide me pastorally as I learned how to serve as a priest, but they guided (and continue to guide) our community in attending to the “one thing needful” (Lk. 10:42) as a family and not anything else; that is sitting at the feet of our Lord in humility and thanksgiving. None of what we have today, would ever have been possible had it not been for their love and dedication to God and neighbour alike. I pray that neither I, nor our parish, ever forget their offering of love that opened the hearts of a community that  accepted me and many others.

As we now look to the future and continue to be  faithful to the witness offered by Fr. Bob and Matushka Dianne, and each other as Christians, we are promised something much more by the Lord.  That glorious celebration we just had, will be something more glorious, as it will be a celebration  that will stretch on for centuries to come; even  into the Kingdom of Heaven! May the Lord bless that I can continue to be a part of this journey, with this my family in Christ! 

This photo was taken about Just after I came to St. Nicholas. Although they are many people in this photo who have moved on, or reposed in the Lord, not to mention that it doesn’t include many of those who have come to call St. Nicholas their home, it nonetheless speaks to the character of this community as a family bound by the Love of the Lord, for which I am eternally thankful to God for!

Nativity of the Theotokos (Fr. Bob’s wisdom)

“…The fact that there is no Biblical verification of the facts of Mary’s birth is incidental to the
meaning of the feast. Even if the actual background of the event as celebrated in the Church is
questionable from an historical point of view, the divine meaning of it “for us men and for our salvation”
is obvious. There had to be one born of human flesh and blood who would be spiritually capable of being
the Mother of Christ, and she herself had to be born into the world of persons who were spiritually
capable of being her parents.

The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, therefore, is a glorification of Mary’s birth, of Mary
herself and of her righteous parents. It is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation
of the world. For the “Vessel of Light,” the “Book of the Word of Life,” the “Door to the Orient,” the
“Throne of Wisdom” is being prepared on earth by God himself in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary.
The verses of the feast are filled with titles for Mary such as those in the quotations above. They
are inspired by the message of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. The specific Biblical readings
of the feast give indications of this.

At the Vespers the three Old Testament Readings are “mariological” in their New Testament
interpretation. Thus, Jacob’s Ladder which unites heaven and earth and the place which is named “the
house of God”
and the “gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17) are taken, to indicate the union of God with
men which is realised most fully and perfectly – both spiritually and physically – in Mary the Theotokos,
Bearer of God. So also the vision of the temple with the “door ‘to the East” perpetually closed and filled
with the “glory of the Lord” symbolises Mary, called in the hymns of the feast “the living temple of God
filled with the divine Glory.”
(Ezekiel 43:27-44:4) Mary is also identified with the “house” which the
Divine Wisdom has built for himself according to the reading from Proverbs 9:1-11.

The Gospel reading of Matins is the one read at all feasts of the Theotokos, the famous Magnificat
from St. Luke in which Mary says: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me
(Lk. 1:47).

The Epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy is the famous passage about the coming of the Son of
God in “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man” (Phil. 2:5-11) and the Gospel reading
is that which is always read for feasts of the Theotokos – the woman in the crowd glorifies the Mother
of Jesus, and the Lord himself responds that the same blessedness which his mother receives is for all
“who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27-28).

Thus, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as on all liturgical celebrations of Christ’s
Mother, we proclaim and celebrate that through God’s graciousness to mankind every Christian receives
what the Theotokos receives, the “great mercy” which is given to human persons because of Christ’s
birth from the Virgin.”

Archpriest Robert Stephen Kennaugh

Monday, September 8, 2008
Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God