Orthodox Contact

A St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication

Issue #35 August 2002.

 

Where are the prophets in our days ?
How far are we from St Elijah ?

The Church in Woollongong was packed on the feast day of its patron Saint St Elias ( Elijah ). Eight buses filled with the faithful went from Sydney in order to share in the joy of this blessed occasion. Our clergy from various parishes participated in the Liturgy, and in a prayerful ambiance celebrated this blessed and popular feast. During the liturgy Fr Nabil delivered a spiritual message pertaining to the feast, he enumerated the virtues of St Elias and how we as faithful can benefit from them and become in turn prophets as he was. He went on to say that :

St Elias was one of the Old testament prophets. He is recognised by the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At his birth the grace of God encompassed him, according to his father angels surrounded him and fed him with flames foreshadowing his fiery character and his God given power. St Elias was distinct in his way of life, his asceticism, his zeal for God, his piety and faith were the core of his life. His courage in attesting to the Truth, reminds us of St John the Baptist who lost his life because he spoke the truth. St Elias was not afraid of saying what should be said in order for justice and truth to prevail. God blessed his work. According to 1 Kings, during the reign of Ahab the king and his wife Jezebel, St Elias came to the greatest conflict of his time. Idol worshiping thrived, and the people turned away from the service of the living God, instead they worshiped the Syrian god Baal. Our saint admonished the king for encouraging such idolatry. He thought that hunger would bring them back to the Truth. He prayed so no rain should fall and rain ceased for three years and six months. At that time he went and lived near the river Jordan where a raven used to bring him food to eat. During that time he did his best to bring the people back to right worship but to no avail. He proved the truth to them about the living God, at the sacrificial altar where fire was ignited miraculously for him. During his life time he performed many miracles, and foretold many events, he multiplied corn and oil at the home of the widow of Zarephath and restored life to her dead son. His prophecies came true. With his mantle he parted the river Jordan, and walked on the dry land. Finally he was lifted up to Heaven in a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses. He bestowed his mantle upon his pupil Elisha who is also one of the Old Testament Prophets.

Having said all that we can ask ourselves what is the message for us ? What can we profit from the prophet ? What does it mean to be a prophet ? Is there any contemporary prophets ? We ask these questions and we hope for positive and convincing answers .

According to St Paul Prophecy will not cease, it is the manifestation of the Spirit which is being given among other gifts (1 Cor 12 : 10 ). The Holy Spirit is continuously present in the Church imbuing His power on her and strengthening her faithful. The Holy Spirit fulfils all the sacraments, heals the sick and completes that which is wanting. The Holy Spirit sanctifies and blesses all our works. The Holy Spirit imparts various gifts according to His will. Jesus himself said to us according to St John that he will not leave us orphans He will send the comforter the Spirit of Truth, that He will teach us all things and remind us of all things. The Holy Spirit will show us the way to become prophets the only thing is, we need to be serious about the faith, we need to hear the word of God and apply it in our daily life. Jesus taught his disciples, he told them that He is the way the truth and the life. We need the prophets like St Elias to shake our conscience with their words of truth, we need prophets who do not fear the prince of this world, his status and his power. However we do not have to rely on past prophets only, we need our own contemporary ones. Every household should have a prophet attesting to the Truth, making sure that things are done at home decently and in order, with love and mercy according to Christ’s teachings and ordinances. We need the prophets because they pluck out the thorn from our hearts in order to plant the life giving word of God instead. Everyone of us is called to be a prophet. Any member of the body of Christ can be a prophet. The Church is built from a living stones, from people who were created in the image and likeness of God. The Church is the holy body of Christ. The Church has her canon law and her authority and her teachings. The Church should be like Elijah attesting to the Truth, she cannot mute her self when something wrong is going on. The Church admonishes her members in order to right what is wrong leading them through the narrow gate of salvation.

In conclusion we can say that a prophet is a member of the house hold of God who cannot see wrong and say nothing just to please others, that is hypocrisy at its best. A prophet is a person who brings God back into our midst, because he knows that there is no life with out His constant presence within us .Our awareness, our commitment to Him through love, obedience and humility make us His slaves reaping the fruit of Holiness unto eternal life and that is His gift in Christ Jesus our Lord  His absence make of us slaves to sin and the wages of sin is death.

We ask where are the prophets in our days ? In answering such a question we should not go too far, we should examine ourselves in order to see what are we doing as individual members, as branches of the vine tree are we producing any fruit to Holiness? These fruit of holiness bring us from glory to glory until we attain to the stature of Christ making of us saints and prophets Like St Elias. If not we have to start practicing our faith as is befitting in order to become one of these prophets witnessing to Christ, attesting to the Truth, living by it, glorifying God fulfilling His purpose for us by uniting ourselves to Him. The choice is ours, the decision is ours, the only thing is we have to act in order to achieve, we have to seek in order to find, we have to knock in order to be received. May the Almighty God strengthen us all in our endeavour through the intercession of St Elias and all His Saints.

 

 The Feast of the Transfiguration

This Feast is observed as one of the Twelve Great Feasts in the Calendar of our Orthodox Church. It is background and meaning are well described in the Festal Menaion (Mother Mary and Archim. Kallistos Ware) and it is from this work that the following account is taken.

‘The Transfiguration is par excellence the feast of Christ’s divine glory. Like Theophany, it is a feast of light: ‘Today on Tabor in the manifestation of Thy Light, O Word, Thou unaltered Light from the Light of the unbegotten Father, we have seen the Father as Light and the Spirit as Light, guiding with light the whole creation’ (exapostilarion). Nor is this the only parallel between the two feasts. Like Theophany, although less explicitly, the Transfiguration is a revelation of the Holy Trinity. On Tabor, as at the baptism in Jordan, the Father speaks from heaven, testifying to the divine Sonship of Christ: and the Spirit is also present, on this occasion not in the likeness of a dove, but under the form of dazzling light, surrounding Christ’s person and overshadowing the whole mountain. This dazzling light is the light of the Spirit.

‘The Transfiguration, then, is a feast of divine glory - more specifically of the glory of the Resurrection. The Ascent of Mount Tabor came at a critical point of Our Lord’s ministry, just as He was setting out upon His last journey to Jerusalem, which He knew was to end in humiliation and death. To strengthen the disciples for the trials that lay ahead, He chose this particular moment to reveal to them something of His eternal splendour, ‘as far as they were able to bear it’ (troparion of the feast). He encouraged them - and all of us - to look beyond the suffering of the Cross to the glory of the Resurrection.

‘The light of the Transfiguration, however, foreshadows not only Christ’s own Resurrection on the third day, but equally the Resurrection glory of the righteous at His Second Coming. The glory which shone from Jesus on Tabor is a glory in which all mankind is called to share. On Mount Tabor we see Christ’s human nature - the human substance which He took from us - filled with splendour, ‘made godlike’ or ‘deified’. What has happened to human nature in Christ can happen also to the humanity of Christ’s followers. The Transfiguration, then, reveals to us the full potentiality of our human nature: it shows us the glory which our manhood once possessed and the glory which, bu God’s grace, it will again recover at the Last Day.

‘This is a cardinal aspect of the present feast, to which the liturgical texts frequently revert. At His Transfiguration, it is said, the Lord ‘in His own person showed them the nature of man, arrayed in the original beauty of the Image’ (Great Vespers, aposticha). ‘Today Christ on Mount Tabor has changed the darkened nature of Adam, and filling it with brightness He has made it godlike’ (Small Vespers, aposticha). ‘Thou wast transfigured upon Mount Tabor, showing the exchange mortal men will make with Thy glory at Thy second and fearful coming, O Saviour’ (Mattins, sessional hymn).

‘The Feast of the Transfiguration, therefore, is not simply the commemoration of a past event in the life of Christ. Possessing also an ‘eschatological’ dimension, it is turned towards the future - towards the ‘splendour of the Resurrection’ at the Last Day, towards the ‘beauty of the divine Kingdom’ which all Christians hope eventually to enjoy.

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The transfigurative and eschatological dimension of the Christian message is communicated particularly through icons using Byzantine art. ‘What [icons] actually express is not a dematerialization, but a transfiguration of the world, human beings and nature alike’ ... ‘not just to the original harmony and beauty they possessed before the fall, but to the much greater glory which they will acquire in the kingdom to come.’ Petros Vassiliadis.

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Christ opens the way through the Incarnation. ‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14). Matter is transformed for: ‘God became man so that man might become god.’ This well known catch phrase from the early Church Fathers concerns our theosis or deification. Christ is transfigured and shows us the potential for human nature. St. Ephrem the Syrian captures this succinctly:

‘Christ came to find Adam who had gone astray,

He came to return him to Eden in the garment of light.’

(Virginity 16.9)

The Saints and the Rest of Us

Who are the saints?

Many people now think of the saints as Christians of foregone eras, who died, suffered for or taught the faith, and who performed wonders and miracles during and after their lives on earth. Originally it was not so. St. Paul refers to living Christians as saints. “The faithful are called saints because sanctity is their gift, their inheritance, and God’s will for them.”[1] Sanctity is the only lifestyle for those in the Church.

The honour accorded to the early martyrs

The early Church honoured its martyrs. “Their relics were kept with care as most precious treasures. Not because they were necessarily miraculous, but because their owners fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:3);They presented their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1); they became like the Lord in his death (Phil 3:10); they bore on their bodies the marks of Jesus (Gal 6:17), and it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives in them (Gal 2:20).”

The faithful would commemorate the martyrs on a yearly basis, with a Divine Liturgy celebrated in their honour, and the reading of an account of their martyrdom. Slowly, what was a local observance, concerning the Church to which the martyr belonged, or where his relics lay, spread to other parts of the Christian world. Later, the practice grew to encompass other categories of reposed saints, like confessors and hierarchs.

The Intercession of the saints

The early Christians asked the reposed saints for their prayers, in the same way that they asked the living saints for theirs. Excavations of the catacombs have unveiled inscriptions such as: “Peter and Paul, pray for Victor.”[2]

Patron saints attached to the individual Christian, or more widely to a profession or a type of calamity, came later. An example of this is St Nicholas who is considered the patron saint of sailors.

Later developments

When the Christians came out of the catacombs, and had the freedom to build Churches, they took to exchanging lives of martyrs and other saints. They wrote hymns and canons in their honour and people began to be called after the names of saints..

Lives of saints

We now have volumes of lives of saints that we can use to get better acquainted with them. The saints are to be emulated, not thought of as beings with abilities that are beyond the normal. There are several contemporary saints that have been glorified by the Church. Such are Saints Rafael of Brooklyn, Silouan the Athonite and Maria of Paris.

In conclusion, as Fr Dimitri said in a recent sermon at St. Nicholas, everyone is to regard their life as a project of sanctity.

from Ziad Baroudi.

[1] From the introduction to the Synaxarion (Arabic), compiled by V. Rev. Archimandrite Thomas (Bittar). The translation is mine and does little justice to the original. All subsequent quotes are from the same source.
[2]Donald Attwater, Dictionary of Saints, quoted in the Synaxarion

Orthodox Names
by Fr Andrew Philips.

With the progressive dechristianisation of society, the use of the expression 'Christian name' is becoming less and less common and is being replaced by 'first name' or 'forename.' Not so long ago Roman Catholics always gave their children saints' names. Even Protestants used to give their children names only if they appeared in the Bible, Old Testament or New. Thus Jonathan, David, Jeremy, Ruth, Judith, Esther, Rebecca, Rachel, Deborah, Abigail and Sarah all became popular names in Protestant-based societies. In Orthodox and Catholic societies, they sound rather Jewish and although they are saints' names, they are rare, even in monasteries.
However, it does seem as if, once more, Orthodox are now the only ones to keep a tradition, that of giving their children saints' names. But many questions are posed as to what exactly a Christian name is and what names those entering the Orthodox Church should take.

First of all it is necessary to point out that someone entering Orthodoxy should not take a new name if he has one which is already borne by a saint in the calendar. We have come across two cases where men with perfectly good Christian names changed them to exotic-sounding Vladimir and Auxentius. Both were cases where in fact the persons concerned were going through identity crises. Psychologically unstable, neither in fact wanted to take a saint's name, but in fact wanted to assume another identity. Both, unsurprisingly, have since lapsed from the Orthodox Church. It would seem that the pastor should discourage uncalled-for changes of name.

Another question which sometimes arises is whether a person with a female form of a male saint's name, for example, Nicole, should be able to keep it.

In Russian practice this is only allowed in monasticism, whereas in modern Greek practice it is quite common among lay-people. Other differences between Russian and Greek practice also occur. For instance Greek women and girls called Maria or Panaghia celebrate their namesdays on Feasts of the Mother of God. In Russian practice it is held that the name Maria is too holy to be given in honour of the Virgin, for we are unworthy to bear her name. Russian Marias therefore celebrate namesdays in honour of other Marias, for example, St. Mary of Egypt or St. Mary, Sister of St. Lazarus.

In Greece and the Balkans, names like Christos (accented on the first syllable,) Sotiris (Saviour) and Kyriakos are also common. Russians tend to find such names unacceptable, for the same reason that Russian Marias are not named in honour of the Virgin. Another custom, unknown to both Greeks and Russians, is that of the Serb Slava, whereby individuals may not have individual saints' names at all, but do have a common family feastday in honour of a particular saint. As regards saints' days there are some which fall on different days in the Greek and Russian calendars. The best-known example of this is St. Catherine whose feast falls on 25 November in the Greek Church, but on 24 November in the Russian. ...

Ultimately, however, there are names which do have to be changed since they are simply not saints' names at all. What approaches are there to this question? Some change to a name which is similar to their own. An obvious example is that of those who change from Neil to Nil. Similarly Lee can easily be changed to Leo or Leon. There are many other examples.

Some people have second Christian names. Thus someone called Pamela Mary could simply use her second Christian name as her Orthodox name. Some people simply have a favourite saint and have always wanted to be called by that name. This is the simplest case of all. Others may wish to take on the name of someone in their family. Thus we know of one little Russian boy who was not baptised and did not have a Christian name. On baptism he took the name of his grandfather, who did have a Christian name. The result was that not only was the little boy baptised, but also that his grandfather started going to church, so bringing happiness to three generations.

There is also the question of how parents should name their children. The tradition was to look in the calendar either on the day of birth, or on the eighth day at the naming ceremony, or else on the fortieth day on the day of the baptism. These are pious customs which future parents should bear in mind.
If parents choose a name simply because they like it, rather than for the saint, there is another aspect of names which is also often overlooked. This is where there are several saints of the same name. For example there are several St. Nicholases in the calendar, but in general only one is honoured this seems most unfortunate. The Church calls us to honour all the saints, not only our favourite few.

Of Anglo-Saxon saints in the English tradition of Orthodoxy, there are a number whose names could be used, although unfortunately some of them are now out of fashion. For boys these are: Adamnan, Adrian, Aidan, Ailred, Alban, Albert, Aylwin, Bede, Benedict, Bernard, Cedd, Chad, Clement, Cuthbert, Dunstan, Edmund, Edward, Edwin, Felix, Geoffrey, Gilbert, Herbert, James, John, Kenelm, Laurence, Ninian, Oswald, Owen, Peter, Philip, Richard, Sigfrid, Theodore, Wilfrid.

For girls: Agatha, Alfreda, Audrey, Eanswytha, Edith, Elfreda, Elgiva, Ethel, Hilda, Mildred, Thecla. (Also from male saints: Adriana, Alberta, Augustina (Tina), Benedicta, Clementine, Edwina and Theodora.)
We hope that these considerations will be useful for all parents and those wishing to enter the Orthodox Church. May they receive the blessings of the saints through their holy names. See: Wondrous is God in His Saints published in 1985, by Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Publications, Alamagordo, New Mexico.

Mary Hallick, The Book of Saints, 1984, Light & Life Publishing Co.
E. G. Withycombe, The Concise Dictionary of English Christian Names, Omega Books, 1988.
Adamcio, Matushka Melania, Orthodox Baptismal Names, St Ignatius of Antioch Press, 1994.

IN THE HEART OF THE CITY,
IN THE CITY OF MEN

"By choosing to pray at the heart of the city, you mean to show your life is centred in God. [In your calling to pray] your priority is to contemplate God freely and incessantly in the most beautiful of all his images. That is, more than in solitude, on the mountains, or in the wilderness or the temple, you gaze on him in the city of men, being faces of the face of God and mirrors of the [image] of Christ." ("The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life" by Fr Pierre-Marie Delfieux, Paulist Press, 1985, Darton, Longman and Todd)

When we want to get close to God we immediately think of first going somewhere quiet, far off. It may be the mountains, the sea-side, a valley with a gentle stream. The underlying need is to experience the presence of God in the surrounding beauty, in the quiet solitude.

Consider Genesis 1, we see the hand of God in the creation of the mountains, the sea, the valley. As parts of creation, they all hint towards, the Creator. All good. It is thus understandable that these are the places we tend to escape to. Especially this is so if our work is centered in the heart of the city.

Yet when we read Genesis 1, we read how God also created man, but something else took place here. He created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him. So while the world reflects something of the Creator, it pales in significance when compared to the reflection of God in man.

So one asks the question, if there be a place on earth where one could best be enveloped by the reflection of God, where would it be? The ocean; with the powerful force of the waves? Or the mountains; majestic expressions of God? Or perhaps the valley, with the quiet flowing stream?

However, could it be instead in that place where one is surrounded by countless reflections of the image of God? Could it be in the heart of the city, in the city of men?

The answer would be an emphatic no, if and only if, you took the position that man was totally depraved, that he lost the image of God when he rebelled.

There is, however, nothing in scripture to suggest this. The image may be blurred by sin, shattered by grief, blinded by loneliness, but still it is there, more often than not, hidden, but real nevertheless.

The value of man does not begin when he gives his life to Christ. It indeed finds its fulfillment there, its completion, but not its origin. No, the value of man is seen in the fact that he has been created in the image of God.

By way of analogy, consider those remarkable stories one hears now and then; how when cleaning out an attic, or perhaps a long-forgotten store-room, someone comes across a painting, long neglected, covered in dust and cobwebs. An ugly still-life or perhaps a poorly painted portrait is revealed on superficial cleaning. Yet on the point of discarding it to the rubbish heap, a ray of light captures a fragment of something other than that bowl of flowers, that portrait, something painted over.

On further cleaning, a 'master-piece' is uncovered, long lost or even to that time, unknown. What delight, what surprise!

Well, as it is with long lost 'masterpieces', it can be said so it is with long lost man - man created in the image of God. Whatever the over-laden ugliness, the portrait of the Master Painter is still there, waiting to be revealed.

What is needed, is people with the eyes to see, eyes that can penetrate the surface ugliness of sin, to see the beauty of God.

Has it ever been known that the people of God went through the heart of a city praising Him for the surrounding beauty of His image? I fear not often if at all.

O, to have such eyes, what difference it would make to the city of men.

While we forever look for ways to see a city reclaimed for God, we often neglect the greatest need. It is the need for God's people to see man with the eyes of the Spirit. How much easier it would be to see the redemption of the city. How much bolder we would be in our witness. How more convinced and convincing we would be in our proclamation in the reality that the men of the city belong to God, that they are His by Creator's right.

We would become like a Michelangelo, cutting away the hardened surface of marble to get at the David within.

We would become like the servant of Elisha who saw the chariots and horses of the heavenly host when God opened his eyes to see.

If we could see thus, the cities of this world would become the cities of our God. No force in this realm or that of the unseen could stop us. Yes it would still be up to the people to respond, to make their free-will choice. But, the reality of the power, the love, the joy of Christ, would be so more greatly manifest in and through His witnesses that many would come to His Kingdom, in numbers as yet experienced, as yet known to man.

It's possible, for we do have the Spirit of God within us. Yet how do we embrace such a reality, especially in the city of men? The beginning to the answer lies in worship, in prayer, in exclamations of the joy of Christ, of proclamation of the reality that God created man in His own image, of telling that man belongs to God, in the city of men.

Perhaps it is time to ask God to open our eyes, through prayer, through worship, to see with the eyes of the Spirit.

Perhaps He will touch us as He did Elisha's servant. Our lives of witness will change dramatically and the fruit of our witness will be increased dramatically.

We will see the men of the city turn to God, we will see the city of men become the city of God.

By George Robinson (1991)

Celebration of our Patron Saints

 Down here in Melbourne at the Convent of St, Anna we have just enjoyed our first Liturgical Celebration of St. Anna’s day: July 25th. A beautiful new Censer is hanging in the Chapel on a stand hand made for us by Ken Haddad in Perth and given by the faithful of the Parish of St. Anthony, WA. Our visitors were touched by the arrival of a parcel from Khouriyeh Sue containing embroidered Bookmarks  and other items for the use of the Convent.

The Celtic Saints are represented in our midst: Fr Columba lives on a property named St Aidan’s Croft and has dedicated the Church at Officer in which he serves to St Cuthbert.

Fr Geoff Harvey, who has been assisting at Officer during Fr Columba’s absence to have his hip attended to, serves in the newly created parish of St Paul’s near Dandenong. On the recent Feast of SS Peter and Paul he was heard  teaching the children there to respect St. Paul, to treat him as their hero.

Our Patron Saints provide us with a focus and each imparts a particular ambience to the Church bearing their dedication. We seek the prayers of our Patron, be it St. Nicholas, or St. George, St. Herman and the Dormition of the Mother of God for Melbourne, St Ignatius for Canberra, and many more. God is wondrous in His Saints.

Coordinating Contact:

October 2002:deadline for written contributions September 15th. Please send them to

Riasaphor Virginia. 14, Mihil Street, Preston, Vic. 3072. Tel. & Fax. 03 9484 2238.

e-mail: virginiahutchinson@bigpond.com

We thank Archimandrite Nabil for his assistance.