The Nativity Fast
The fast, it means an extra little bit on our part.
It is a given that during a fast period (like the one we are in right now) one does not eat meat and other foods, or at least tries and be modest about what one does eat. Certainly this is a very important part of preparing ourselves for whatever feast or event we have coming up, but it is only part of the equation.
In the same way that no athlete consumes a special high protein diet, only to sit on the couch and watch TV until the big game, we shouldn't simply change our eating habits only to carry on life as normal. If that kind of training doesn't work for a NHL hockey player, why would it work for us spiritually.
A period of fasting gives us an opportunity to prepare ourselves in a complete way. We change up our diet, that is certainly a necessary consideration, but we also do a little extra.
From Our Dean, Father Gregory Scratch
Archimandrite Alexander [Pihach], 64, unexpectedly fell asleep in the Lord on the night of October 7, 2016 while visiting the rectory of Christ the Savior Sobor here, where he was the guest of Archpriest Vasyl and Matushka Oksana Kolega.
Archimandrite Alexander had faithfully served as Dean of the Orthodox Church in America’sRepresentation Church of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr and as OCA Representative to the Patriarchate of Moscow since his appointment by the Holy Synod of Bishops on November 30, 2012.
Born Dennis Alexander Pihach in Saskatoon, SK, on June 27, 1952 and raised in an Orthodox Christian family, Archimandrite Alexander graduated from Saint Andrew’s College, Winnipeg, MB, in 1973. He continued his studies in Sociology and Slavic Studies and graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, after which he was employed with Social Services. In 1986, he was ordained to the priesthood in the OCA’s Archdiocese of Canada and assigned to plant a mission in Yorkton, SK—now Saint Mark’s Church—while continuing his employment with Youth Addictions Services.
He was elected Dean of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Deanery and appointed Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Canada in 1996. Two years later, he was assigned Rector of Saint Herman of Alaska Sobor, Edmonton, AB.
On July 11, 2009, he was tonsured to monastic orders and elevated to the dignity of Igumen of Saint Elias Skete, Dickie Bush, AB. On September 1 of the same year, he was appointed Interim Dean of Annunciation Cathedral, Ottawa, ON. He was elevated to the dignity of Archimandrite and returned to Saint Herman Sobor on a full time basis in May 2011.
Archimandrite Alexander is survived by two brothers, Terry and Murray Pihach, and his nieces and nephews Andria, Jesse, Bryan, Chantelle, and Genna-Rae.
What was it like for the Good Thief, after Jesus died? He was left alone on his cross in terrible pain, and the one he put all his hopes in was gone, unmistakably dead. Jesus had not come into his kingdom after all.
No matter how bleak your faith has become at times, it can’t have been worse than that.
I expect we all love the Good Thief. His name is not certain; Russians call him St. Rakh, and to the Copts (and in the West) he is St. Dimas.
At first, it seems, he joined the other thief in mocking Christ:
"And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way" (Matt. 27:39-44).
"Those who were crucified with him also reviled him" (Mark 15:32).
But then he had a change of heart:
"One of the criminals who was hanged railed at him, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!'
But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'
And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'" (Luke 23 39:43).
Something changed the heart of the Good Thief, and he put all his desperate hopes on Jesus. He probably didn’t have a very clear idea, theologically, of what was going on at that moment. He wouldn’t have been able to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. He certainly would not have understood that Jesus was dying for our salvation, and would rise again. He thought that maybe Jesus really was some sort of king, and that some dramatic, supernatural event was going to take place. When it happened, and Jesus was freed from his cross and revealed as king, the Good Thief wanted to be with him.
His faith couldn’t have been very accurate or mature; but it was still enough to be saved. The Good Thief had repentance, and he had humility. He knew his own abject need. That was enough to make up for his theological imprecision.
So he cast all his hopes on Christ
—and then Christ died. And he was all alone.
Whatever he had expected, in that glow of newfound faith, it wasn’t that Jesus would simply die. The soldiers came and broke his legs, to hasten death. He wouldn’t be able to hoist himself up to catch a breath, and suffocation would soon set in. They broke the legs of the Bad Thief as well. But when the soldiers saw that Jesus was already dead, they didn't break his legs. One of them pierced Jesus' side with a spear, and the Good Thief saw that Jesus was unresponsive; the soldiers could have done anything with that body. Jesus was truly dead. Blood and water flowed from the pierced pericardium, further evidence that this was now a corpse.
What thoughts went through the Good Thief’s head, in his final moments? He hung there beside Christ’s ruined body. There would be no miraculous rescue after all. No matter how bleak a state your faith might decline to, it can't have been as miserable as the Good Thief’s thoughts were at that moment.
And yet, minutes later, he was flooded with light and joy. He saw his Lord again, face to face, in Paradise.
When we hear a story about a terrible death, we think: it gets worse and worse and then you DIE. But what actually happens, to those who love the Lord, is this: it gets worse and worse, and then you SEE THE LORD. It gets worse, unbearably worse, and then suddenly it’s over. Suddenly, all the darkness vanishes. All the pain is gone. You are flooded with joy and light. Suddenly you are with Jesus in Paradise.
If your faith is weak, if you have even mocked God, if you doubt whether the Lord would really be with you if you were bound for a terrible death, remember the Good Thief. Your situation can't have been worse than his. It turned out that he didn't really need very much to be saved. He didn’t need a theological education, or even a clear idea of who Jesus was. He just needed to cast all his hopes on him. That was enough. And he was with Christ in Paradise that day.
Here's a beautiful Catholic prayer to the Good Thief:
Glorious St. Dimas, you alone of all the great penitent saints were directly canonized by Christ himself; you were assured of a place in heaven with him “this day” because of the sincere confession of your sins to him in the tribunal of Calvary and your true sorrow for them as you hung beside him in that open confessional.
You who by the direct sword thrust of your love and repentance did open the heart of Jesus in mercy and forgiveness even before the centurion’s spear tore it asunder; you whose face was closer to that of Jesus in his last agony, to offer him a word of comfort, closer even than that of his beloved Mother, Mary; you who knew so well how to pray, teach me the words to say to him to gain pardon and the grace of perseverance; and you who are so close to him now in heaven, as you were during his last moments on earth, pray to him for me that I shall never again desert him, but that at the close of my life I may hear from him the words he addressed to you: “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
On March 20th St Mark and it's sister parish St. Anargyroi where honoured and blessed to host the pan-Orthodox service Sunday of Orthodoxy.
We had 120 guests coming from as far as Moose Jaw, Sk, Regina, Sk, Canora, SK, Swan River, MB as well as other locations closer. We were blessed to have eight clergy serving from the various jurisdictions. These included the Orthodox Church of America, Archdiocese of Canada, Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, Orthodox Church of America, Romanian Archdiocese. Serving were Father Cosmin, Father Lucian, Father Michael, Father Vladimir, Father Rodion, Father Spiridon, Father Christian, Father John. A beautiful vesper service was conducted and Father Christian gave an inspiring message. Then the faithful gathered together in fellowship and enjoyed a beautiful lenten feast afterward. Glory be to God.
Let it be
“Today the Theotokos, the temple that is to hold God, is led into the Temple and Zacharias receives her… Let us cry aloud with Gabriel: Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you, he who has great mercy.” So we sang at Vespers last night. The one who is to become the temple and palace of God is led into the temple.
In the readings last night, we heard how, of old, the tabernacle was constructed according to the command of God as the place where the ark of testimony was to be placed, covered with a veil, illumined by candlesticks and lamps, with incense offered on a golden altar, and with the tabernacle and all the vessels anointed with the oil of anointing.
We heard that when it was finished, the tabernacle was overshadowed by the cloud and filled with the glory of the Lord, so that no one, not even Moses, was able to enter the tent.
Now, today, the Theotokos is led into the temple of the Lord, to preach Christ to all, and to become the temple, the dwelling place of the glory of God, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; and not only the dwelling place, as the tabernacle of old, but the one who gives birth to God, so that in her and through her, in and through a human being, the glory of God radiates to the world.
All aspects of the temple point to her; she is their fulfillment. She is the jar containing the manna, the ark of the covenant, the rod of Aaron which budded forth, and all the other images we use to praise her. As we sang: “The written law has passed away and vanished as a shadow, and the rays of grace have shone forth at your entry into the temple of God, O undefiled Virgin Mother.” All the Law and the Prophets point to her; the reality has come and the shadows have passed away.
She is, as we sing, the fulfillment of the dispensation of the whole economy, indeed, of the whole of creation. As St Nicodemus put it: the world was created for Mary… and she for Christ. The whole world was created for the one who would say, “Let it be!”—the one who gives space to God as his temple and so allows the creator to enter his creation.
The tabernacle made by hands finds its fulfillment in the temple that is Mary, and through her, God enters this world to dwell amongst us, no longer hidden in the inner sanctuary in the man-made temple in Jerusalem, but dwelling among us, and now us in him.
She is the gate, as Ezekiel says, through which the Lord has entered the world: “O Gate of the Lord, unto you I open the gates of the temple,” Zacharias exclaims. “I now know and believe that the deliverance of Israel shall come to dwell openly in our midst.”
For this deliverance to come about, however, we must go one step further into the temple. The epistle reading spoke of how the priests would go into the outer tabernacle to perform their ritual services, but the high priest alone would go into the Holy of Holies only once a year, to offer blood for himself and the errors of the people.
The apostle continues: Christ himself, the High Priest of the good things to come, entered the greater and more perfect tabernacle, the one not made by human hands, entering once for all, offering not the blood of animal sacrifices, but his own blood, so securing an eternal redemption for all.
It is by his self-sacrifice that Christ enters this more perfect tabernacle and does so once-for-all… so that the gate remains shut: “It shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut,” says Ezekiel.
His sacrifice is once and for all—for all people and for all time. It is an eternal sacrifice and an eternal redemption. The gateway remains shut, but salvation is available for all. Today, then, as the Theotokos enters the temple, preaching Christ to all, she becomes the one through whom the glory of God enters this world, by being the gateway through which the Lord enters the more perfect tabernacle, offering his eternal sacrifice and being the High Priest of the good things to come. She is the bridge, the passageway or the exodus from creation to recreation and redemption.
The Temple is both the place where God enters the world and the place where the sacrifice is made; and these two aspects—the womb and the tomb—cannot be separated. For all this to happen, of course, Mary had to say: “Let it be!” Not only “Let the power of the most high overshadow me,” but also, “Let the sword piece my heart, too.”
Yet these words of Mary—“Let it be!”—are glaringly absent from the hymnography for this feast. The reason for this is because, today, as we celebrate this feast, she is our “Let it be!” She is the completion or culmination of creation as it—as we—respond to the Word of God.
Mary is not simply brought into the temple; she is offered there, she is sacrificed by our “Let it be!” Joachim and Anna, the hymns said, “rejoice exceedingly, for they have offered to God, as a three-year old victim of sacrifice, the Queen without blemish.” Mary is the pure and blameless sacrifice to God on behalf of all human beings, “the dove without blemish and the ewe-lamb of God without spot.” This is what it means to say “Let it be”!
For our high calling, to be conformed to the image and likeness of God, for this to be realized, we too need to be able to say for ourselves: Let it be! God does not enter into this world except by our offering him space, not a geographical space somewhere else in the world, but our own place—ourselves and our own time, today—the sacrifice of our own sense of self, our attempts to construct our own identity, to set limits and boundaries on how much we are prepared to accept, to say “let it be,” but only on my terms.
No! Our own terms need to be sacrificed if we are to say: Let it be! We must sacrifice ourselves, becoming ourselves temples of God, sacrificing ourselves on the altar of our heart, so that he can now be present in us and through us; we must decrease so that he might increase.
This has been accomplished in our offering of the virgin child Mary. In a month’s time we will sing of how we offer her at Christ’s Nativity and for his Nativity; today we offer her as the temple and the Gate of the Lord, so that High Priest can, by his own once-for-all sacrifice enter the Holy of Holies. We too, even we, can be refashioned—pass through from the creation to the new creation, but only if we can say for ourselves, “Let it be!”
As we present the Theotokos into the temple today, saying to God “Let it be,” let us not misunderstand what it demands of us as ourselves temples of God. May we have the strength to say with her: “Let it be!”
On September 4th, Faith Build held its sod turning ceremony for the duplex that we will soon be building. Faith Build is a group of Yorkton area Churches that have joined together to raise the funds and to build a house for a family. Faith Build is working under the umbrella of Habit for Humanity. After 3 years of planning and raising funds, we are excited to see this project moving forward and nearing completion. The families are excited to have stability in their accommodation situation.
St. Mark is part of the Faith Build and is forming work crews to help during the build. We are looking forward to helping out a family in our local community. This gives us the opportunity as Christ commanded us, to go and help our neighbors. Come and join in the build. All help is appreciated.
Update: The walls are up and soon the roof. We are making good progress.
Volunteers are needed to help out. Contact Gwen at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a
message on her phone 306-782-4093 if you can help.
September 14, Feast Of the Holy Cross “O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries and by virtue of Your Cross, preserve Your habitation.” Each year on September 14 the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of “The Elevation of the Honorable and Life-giving Cross.” This is one of the great feasts of the Church year, and one which has an important historical background. Although one or two of the hymns for the day refer obliquely to the vision of the cross in the heavens, the actual commemoration is not that of Constantine’s vision before his battle with Maxentius on October 28, 312. On that occasion, while he was in doubt about the outcome of the impending battle for Italy, he saw in the heavens the arms of the cross stretching far and wide, and the words. “In This Conquer.” The battle won, he begin to aid Christians, and ended by being baptized himself.
When Heraclius was crowned Emperor on October 5, 610, after the overthrow of the unworthy Phocas, the provinces on all sides were overrun by the Persians, Avars, and Slavs. He started on a series of internal reforms, such as canceling the dole of grain, which enabled a great many able-bodied loafers in Constantinople to spend their time attending the circus and games instead of doing something useful, and in trying to improve the finances of the government. He embarked on a series of campaigns in due course of time to re-establish Byzantine rule in the neighboring parts of the Empire. The Persians had for some years been harassing Syria and Asia Minor, and in 613 they attacked the city of Damascus. The next year they took Jerusalem, and left a garrison in charge of the city. The population revolted as soon as the main body of the invading army left, and slaughtered the garrison. This brought back the conquerors, who are said to have killed 90,000 of the inhabitants, sparing only the Jews who aided them in the conquest. They took the Patriarch Zacharias and the case containing the relics of the cross back to Persia with them.
This event was regarded by all the Christians as the greatest possible disaster, since they regarded the sacred relics as the palladium of the city. Added to this was the insolence of Chosroes, King of the Persians, who taunted the Christians with their religion and their Lord, who so obviously had failed to deliver them. For the next eight years Heraclius was busy with the Avars, and was not able to go out against the Persians until 622. He waged six campaigns between 622 and 627, and finally defeated Chosroes and his generals decisively, but at great cost. The Empire was in great danger: in 626 the Persians were in Asia Minor right across the Bosporus from the City, while their barbarian allies were encamped on the north in Thrace. But Heraclius managed to fight them all off, and restore some control.
He brought back to Jerusalem the Patriarch and the relics of the cross, which had not been molested. The populace demanded to see and venerate the relics, and accordingly they were solemnly elevated for all to see and reverence. The Emperor took a part of the sacred wood back to Constantinople with him. From the time of the finding of the cross by the Empress Helena, small bits of the wood were sent all over the world as most sacred relics, and the part which remained, although large, was still portable.
The hard-won peace of 626 left both the Persian anti Byzantine empires exhausted. At this very time a new danger appeared on the horizon: both Chosroes and Heraclius received letters from the Arab Mohammed, who invited them to adopt Islam, his newly founded faith. They both declined, but their contacts with the Moslems were to be many and difficult. In 629 Arab attacks on the empires began, and in 635 Damascus was taken, and Jerusalem in 637. Heraclius went back to Jerusalem and removed the sacred relics to Constantinople for safe keeping, but the Patriarch remained behind to greet the new rulers.
The ceremony of Elevation as performed in Church is actually a patriotic one, with prayers for the Rulers and their people, for Church and State, and for their establishment and preservation. The key to the observance is to be found in the Hymn for the Feast, the Troparion, which runs as follows:
“O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance.
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries
and by virtue of Your Cross, preserve Your habitation.”
To the Byzantines, their Empire was the civilized world, the Oikoumene, the habitation of law and order; outside the pale were the barbarians, the people who spoke some other language that no one could understand, and whose ways were violent and strange. The Christian religion was a part of this, the vehicle of salvation and civilization. This is the heritage that was transmitted down through the ages by the Byzantine Empire, the struggle for civilization against the power of the destroyers. When we celebrate the feast today, we should have this in mind; it is apt that the Feast of the Cross is always a Fast. This paradox is striking, but accentuates the understanding our ancestors had that victory comes hard, and that nothing good is achieved without sacrifice.
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