A Hymn to the Theotokos

In the original post the Dogmatic of the first tone at Great Vespers was placed on the about page.  I am hoping to continue along these lines of honoring the Mother of God and to begin every post with a hymn to our most pure Lady the Birth-giver of God.  The hymns of our Church for the Theotokos are not only songs of praise to her but they often also express the Christology of the Church.  It is first the Sunday cycle that I would like to delve into and look at the Dogmatics and Apostika  Theotokions at both Great and Small Vespers. So then, what follows is the Dogmatic of Small Vespers in Tone One:

Today, O Brethren, let us keep the feast of Virginity!  Let creation leap for joy, and let the nature of man exult; for the holy Birth-giver of God has called us together.  She is the undefiled treasury of Virginity, the noetic paradise of the second Adam, the storehouse of the unity of the two natures; the saving triumph of reconciliation, the chamber in which the Word was truly espoused to flesh.  She is the light cloud, within her body she carried Him Who exists over the Cherubim: through her prayers, O Christ God save our souls.

Integrating Converts into the Church

This is something of a follow up of the article in the first post “Concerning converts entering the Church”.   It is certain that many of us have had the sad experience of knowing someone who has been received into the Church yet has turned elsewhere.  This is quite a distressing thing for we know that the Orthodox Church is the Church; and it is the “Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”(ITim. 3:15).  And there are not many valid Churches but one, as the apostle Paul indicates in writing to the Ephesians: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith” (Eph. 4:4-5).  Therefore to leave the Church is to be an apostate against the truth.  So then, one can’t help but thinking: Why does this occur?   They have turned from the fullness of the truth, so then, what was lacking in their said conversion?   Did they really ever convert?

We could speculate and come up with a number of reasons as to why, but rather than do this let us consider how each of us—and not only converts—are integrated into the Church.  How can we be bound to the Church?  We should desire to be indissolubly bound to the Church.  How is this possible?

So let us consider the question: When someone comes to the Church what is it that they have come to?   The Holy Apostle Paul writes to the Hebrews:

Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-3).

So to where have we all come?  To Mount Zion.  Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem and is often figuratively used for the Church.   The Church is not only a structure here on earth but it is the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem where there is an innumerable company of angels, the general assembly of the firstborn, which are written in heaven and the spirits of just men made perfect—all this indicates the Church triumphant in heaven.  And I would like to add here a few words about the term: “general assembly”.  Unfortunately it is lacking in conveying the original Greek.  It is more accurate it express it as “a public festal assembly” (see www.e-sword.net, Thayer Greek Dictionary).  The Greek word is panegurei and in Church usage it is the tern employed for an all-night vigil.

Now back to the main subject.  The Apostle Paul also calls the Church the household of God.  As he writes in to the Ephesians: and specifically to the Gentile converts:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Eph. 3:19-22)

So when one comes to the Church one becomes a fellow citizen of the household of  God—the heavenly Jerusalem—with all the saints built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles.  God has given us a potential place in His kingdom together with them.  This is potential because we need to make some effort for this to be realized.  And so, it is to this family of the saints of God into which we need to become integrated.  In reference to the Church Triumphant as our family St John of Kronstadt writes: “The holy angels and God’s saints are our best, kindest and truest brothers and friends, so often helping us in various circumstances in which no human being can help us”.  And he says of us Orthodox Christians, “After God there is no one more reverenced by them than His Most Pure Mother” (My Life in Christ, p. 398).

To speak about all this is comforting but we should put it into practice and how to do this should be obvious.  But let me quote a monk of Iveron Monastery on the Holy Mountain who once spoke about this in a very simple, pleasant way when he spoke of a healthy self esteem:

I think we can have self-esteem when we sense that God, and Christ, and all the saints; that they love us and we sense this love of theirs and comfort and consolation.  And that we are able to establish this communication or link with Christ and all the saints and basically we look to them for comfort and consolation.  So if a person has faith and trust in Christ and the Mother of God and all the saints, in a sense that person lives in another world, the world of the Church.  Such a person exists in unison with the icons or the relics or the services.   Like the services of Christ and the Mother of God and all the different saints and the reading of the lives of the saints and their writings. So in this way, in this sense, one actually has some contact or communication with them.  And so. The Church is the place where we can transcend the barriers of time and space.  This is what our services and icons and literature means for us:  We can have this contact with people who lived in another time and place, that is, Christ, the Mother of God and all the saints.

And this is how we become integrated into the Church and become indissolubly bound to the Church which is the body of believers and the body of Christ.

The Struggle of Prayer

Great Lent is a time of increased Church services and to remain attentive in prayer whether at Church or at home is a difficult struggle.  One struggle while praying is that the mind is often captivated by thoughts of things that have occurred during the passing day.  Therefore we shall pass on some words about this struggle from contemporary Athonite elders.

The Elder Parthenius of the Monastery of St. Paul:

It is a very difficult thing once a recollection has come in that is why the Lord has said, “Enter into your closet and shut the door”—leave everything.  But once you start having recollections it is very difficult.  And when we are in that state we can only again call upon the Lord to deliver us once more to deliver us again because with God nothing is impossible.  Deliverance comes of itself by God’s power, we do not know how.  It is something very mysterious.  If we have much love for the Lord we can cast these things from us and then we can be completely delivered.

We must also take into account the activity of the devil.  Someone once inquired how does one pray?  And it was revealed to him: He saw a monk on a Cross and demons were around him throwing spears at him and he just endured.  He bore this, but imagine what all that means, all the thoughts and whatever else was there.  Sometimes we have not only innocent recollections but also thoughts such as revenge and wickedness.  How does this board on and compromise your prayer?  You must ask the Lord for good thoughts in prayer.

A monk of the Monastery of St. Gregory

A young father of this monastery was told by his Elder: If, at the end of the day, one has a lot of thoughts and is taken captive, then all you can do is continue praying until Jesus will give you help.  This is like a test from Jesus and you are expected to work.  It is a test from Him to see how you will work.  Help comes by itself to show you that it is not your own efforts, but that it is rather Christ’s help.

Father Marcarius of the kelli (a small monastic dwelling, usually more secluded and less busy than a monastery) dedicated to the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple

Prayer is a mirror of a monk’s life and the things that happen during the day do return to us in the evening at the time of prayer. What one must do is be watchful during the day.  It could be that you have passed the day with a lot of work, talking to visitors, and doing different things, but if you have been watchful   these things would not take hold of you.  But if you go into converse with the thoughts that go through your mind throughout the day and become mingled with them and couple with them in a union with them—then these are the things that can return to you and seize you at the time of prayer

The Elder Ephraim of Arizona

In general, concerning the struggle in prayer, the Elder Ephraim once said: Abba Pimen says that prayer is the most difficult of all virtues to acquire.  It is in prayer that we touch God, that with our mind we are united to God.  This is our direct contact with God, our communication with Him.  The devil hates this and it is at this time more than any other time that he fights against us.  In prayer we must struggle to keep our minds pure and clear from all distractions and totally concentrated on God and immersed in Him.