Friday, February 24, 2012

February, 24th. The First and Second Findings of the Venerable Head of S. John the Baptist.

The Reading from The Synaxarion;

The first finding came to pass during the middle years of the fourth century, through a revelation of the holy Forerunner to two monks, who came to Jerusalem to worship our Saviour's Tomb. One of them took the venerable head in a clay jar to Emesa in Syria. After his death it went from the hands of one person to another, until it came into the possession of a certain priest-monk named Eustathius, an Arian. Because he ascribed to his own false belief the miracles wrought through the relic of the holy Baptist, he was driven from the cave in which he dwelt, and by dispensation forsook the holy head, which was again made known through a revelation of Saint John, and was found in a water jar, about the year 430, in the days of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, when Uranius was Bishop of Emesa.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The Forerunner's sacred head, having
dawned forth from the earth, doth send
incorruption's rays unto the faithful, whereby
they find healings of their ills. From on high
he gathereth the choirs of the Angels and on
earth he summoneth the whole race of
mankind, that they with one voice might
send up glory to Christ our God.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Since we have obtained thy head as a most
sacred rose from out of the earth, O
Forerunner of grace divine, we receive sure
healing in every hour, O Prophet of God the
Lord; for again, now as formerly, thou
preachest repentance unto all the world.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31st. On this day in 1788 died Charles Edward Stuart

December 31st, 1720 - January 31st, 1788

 Charles the Third, 
by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.,  
de jure

Absolve, Domine,
animas omnium fidelium defunctorum
ab omni vinculo delictorum
et gratia tua illis succurente
mereantur evadere iudicium ultionis,
et lucis æternae beatitudine perfrui.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30th,  Three Righteous Monarchs Commemorated Today

S. Bathilde of Chelles, Foundress  +680

S. Peter of Bulgaria, Confessor  +970

S. Charles of England, Martyr  +1649

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January 28th, St. Isaac of Nineveh


Be at peace with your own soul

then heaven & earth will be at peace with you.

Enter eagerly into the treasure

house that is within you,

And you will see the things that are in heaven,

for there is but one single entry to them both.

The ladder that leads to the Kingdom

is hidden within your soul...

Dive into yourself and in your soul

and you will discover the stairs

by which to ascend.

Saint Isaac of Syria, Bishop of Nineveh (ca. 660-680) 

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16th, Veneration of the Precious Chains of the Holy and All-Glorious Apostle Peter

Today the Eastern Church commemorates the chains which held the Apostle Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem by King Herod Agrippa and which were broken by an Angel to facilitate his escape. An account of this happening is related by St. Luke in Acts 12:1-19.  The chains were kept by the Church in Jerusalem where they were venerated by visiting pilgrims. In the fifth century, St. Juvenal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, presented them to Eudocia, wife of Emperor Theodosius the Younger, who took them to Constantinople.
Eudocia later sent a portion of the chains to Rome with her daughter Licinia Eudoxia, the wife of Valentinian III. Licinia Eudoxia built the church of S. Petrus ad Vincula on the Esquiline Hill to house the relic. Already in Rome were the chains with which Peter was bound when he was imprisoned by Nero. These latter chains were placed together with the chains from Jerusalem. The Western Church venerates these combined miracle working chains on August 1st.

The chains kept in Constantinople were presumably lost during the fall of that city in 1453, although I believe that portions of these chains had previously been distributed to Mount Athos and others had perhaps found their way to Russia.

I mention this feast primary to reference today's days reading from the Greek Synaxarion and it's words about the veneration of relics in general.

Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great and king of the Jews, grew wroth against the Church of Christ, and slew James, the brother of John the Evangelist. Seeing that this pleased the people, he took Peter also into custody and locked him up in prison, intending to keep him there until after the feast of the Passover, so that he could win the favour of the people by presenting him to them as a victim. But the Apostle was saved when he was miraculously set free by an Angel (Acts 12:1-19). The chains wherewith the Apostle was bound received from his most sacred body the grace of sanctification and healing, which is bestowed upon the faithful who draw nigh with faith.

That such sacred treasures work wonders and many healings is witnessed by the divine Scripture, where it speaks concerning Paul, saying that the Christians in Ephesus had such reverence for him, that his handkerchiefs and aprons, taken up with much reverence, healed the sick of their maladies: "So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (Acts 19:12). But not only the Apostles' clothing (which certainly touched the bodies of the sick), but even their shadow alone performed healings. On beholding this, people put their sick on stretchers and beds and brought them out into the streets that, when Peter passed by, his shadow "might overshadow some of them"(Acts 5:15). From this the Orthodox Catholic Church has learned to show reverence and piety not only to the relics of their bodies, but also in the clothing of God's Saints.

Pictured above is my own reliquary. From top and then left to right; S Patrick, Bishop; S Sebastian, Martyr; S Bonitatis, Martyr; S Germain de Granfeld, Martyr *; Ss Sebastian & Catherine, Virgin Martyr;  at the bottom are physical remembrances of a personal friend.  
* S. Randoald, the companion of S. Germain is pictured next to S. Sebastian on the icon which is my profile picture.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15th, The Second Sunday after Epiphany

Today's Gospel reading was from St. John 2.1 

AT THAT time there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six water-pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water-pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

After the communion hymn the choir sang a beautiful motet by Luca Marenzio

Tribus Miraculis Ornatum Diem

Tribus miraculis ornatum diem sanctum colimus: hodie stella Magos duxit ad praesepium: hodie vinum ex aqua factum est ad nuptias: hodie in Jordane a Joanne Christus baptizari voluit, ut salvaret nos. Alleluia.

We celebrate a day sanctified by three miracles: today a star led the Magi to the manger; today water was changed to wine at the marriage feast; today Christ chose to be baptised by John in the Jordan for our salvation. Alleluia.   

Here is a recording of this work from 1999 by the group Claritas. 
15 Tribus miraculis

Saturday, January 14, 2012

14 January, St. Agnes the Virgin-martyr

I am espoused to Him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at His glory.”

Today is venerated in the Eastern calendar, St. Agnes of Rome, virgin and martyr. Her feast in the West is observed on January 21st. This saint who suffered martyrdom at the age of 13 in 304 under the Emperor Diocletian has always been extremely popular. She is one of just seven female martyrs commemorated by name during the Canon of the Mass.

For anyone interested there are many articles concerning her on-line but here are links to just two;
Wikipedia - Agnes of Rome
Catholic Encyclopedia – St. Agnes of Rome  

S. Agnes’ bones, except for her skull which is elsewhere in the city, are preserved in Rome under the High Altar of the Basilica of Saint Agnes outside the wall, S. Agnese fuori le mura
This church is the subject of an excellent book by Margaret Visser, The Geometry of Love: Space, Time, Mystery and Meaning in an Ordinary Church (2000). Well written and highly readable, I   highly recommend it to anyone interested in ecclesiastical architecture.

Ms. Visser writes that she chose to study the intricacies, history and architecture of this church because, "it is a building that feels as if it has been on a very long journey out of the past, has altered and suffered and gathered accretions, and now it is here with us, still bearing its cargo of memories and still carrying out the purpose for which it was built."

I’m not sure I would agree that this beautiful jewel is an “ordinary church” but Ms. Visser’s loving yet exhaustively detailed study of this sacred building makes me wish that she or other like minded writers would take similar pains to record the histories of just a few of the other innumerable buildings like it.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

6 January
The Theophany or Epiphany of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

The 6th of January is celebrated in the Eastern Church as the Feast of the Theophany and in the West as the Epiphany. I find very interesting the difference in emphasis placed on this Feast of Our Lord by the Eastern and Western churches.  

In the Eastern Church, Theophany celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. It commemorates the public “showing forth” of God, in His fullness, as The Trinity for the first time in the earthly life of Christ.  As is so beautifully stated in the apolytikion of the feast, a hymn repeated at every service during the season of the Theophany;

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son.  And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of the word.  O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee.

By accepting baptism from his cousin John, Jesus institutes the seminal Christian sacrament. Baptism is the rite that makes a Christian a Christian. It is the one sacrament that even laypersons can perform if necessary. The Church honors this event with the Great Blessing of Waters. As Christ has blessed the River Jordan through his baptism, the Church ritually blesses water to be used during the year both as holy water and for baptism. If possible the ritual blessing continues at an open body of water, such as a pool, lake, river, or sea. This blessing is intended not only for the water, but also mystically for all of creation. It is a continuance of the great work of regeneration begun when God took on human flesh.

Theophany is, after Pascha, the most important feast in the Eastern Church, much more important than Christmas.

Perhaps I am ignorant of the Epiphany’s full significance, but in the West the Feast seems to be simply a part of the Nativity cycle. Emphasis is placed on the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. Christ's ministry to the gentiles is highlighted as is His fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah. Of course this element of Christ’s nativity plays a role in the Eastern Church, but the story of the Magi's visit is included on the day of the actual nativity. The apolytikion of the Nativity states;

Thy birth, O Christ our God, dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth. For by Thy birth those who adored stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Justice, and to know Thee, Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to Thee.

I wonder if Western discomfort with the baptismal aspects of the feast is somehow due to the importance that Jesus’ baptism played in Arian and Adoptionist heresies. In much Adoptionist thought, Jesus is born simply a man, no different than any other. At his baptism in the Jordan and through the descent of the Holy Spirit, the man Jesus is adopted the Son of God, becoming the God-Man Christ.  Of course this is totally contrary to the orthodox understanding of the Nature of Christ as detailed in the Creed. In fact much of the Creed was developed to directly address this sort of erroneous thought.