Posted by: Fr Chris | April 23, 2014

Happy St. George’s Day; Christ is risen!

 

Saint George

While it is Bright Wednesday it is also the feast of this popular soldier-martyr and model for Christian men everywhere as soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most popular saints ever, his feast day of April 23rd is the only universal feast of a saint other than the Virgin Mary or John the Baptist! Why? He reflects universal Christian values, ones that many men in the western world would do well to emulate: constancy, strength, fidelity, love of God and neighbor, self-sacrifice, upholding a true military code of chivalry and honor. Too often the gifts of Christian men are spurned in pseudo-feminist dialogues of the western world, missing the point of what a solid Christian man offers to the world, and how badly the world needs Christian men! A saint like George, who inspired others both in life and death, and whose heavenly protection has been felt for over 1,700 years, is one who can move Christian men forward in their faith lives.

The basics of the St George icon are the bold warrior astride a white stallion, raising his spear to pierce the dragon in its open throat, while a woman stands in the distance waiting to be rescued. Out of that icon, comes the legend of George slaying a dragon who was fed with an annual tribute of a virgin from a besieged town. But the icon has nothing to do with such a legend at all. Rather, the woman is Ekklesia, the Church. The warrior is indeed George, who we know was an officer in the Roman army and is one of many who died rather than sacrifice incense to a statue of the emperor. We also know that this George suffered a great deal in his martyrdom, probably because of both his high rank and own personal popularity among the troops, in order to frighten other Christian soldiers to convert to paganism. The dragon is the force of Evil – and the righteous George plunges the spear, which is topped with the Cross of the Savior, right into the jaws of hell. Thus Satan is destroyed, the Church’s victory won, and souls are inspired to follow George in his righteous behavior.

In Transcarpathia – East Slovakia, this feast is a major event in the agricultural cultures there. April 23 is when the flocks and herds are moved up out of the valleys and into the highlands, and when the fields are blessed. Even today, this marks the migration of shepherds and animals (they leave the highlands on the feast of another warrior-saint, Demetrius, at the end of October, and the farming season ends on the feast of the Dedication of the Church of Saint George in early November). All the animals are under George’s protection, so if a wolf or bear snatches one on the feast-day, it must be George’s will and no hunter will pursue.

It is also the day to bless fields and gardens. Parishioners come out of the churches carrying all of the processional banners, and the priests go forward to bless the farm fields first, then on their return the gardens of individual houses in the villages. I have seen this practice followed even in driving rain, because there is no thought of delaying the blessing – the private gardens provide so much of the food for villager and townspeople alike.

St George is the patron saint of the Republic of Georgia, of England, Germany, Palestine, Lithuania, Greece, co-patron of Ukraine; of all soldiers, Boy Scouts, the cities of Moscow, Beirut, L’viv, and Venice; the islands of Malta and Gozo where he appeared during an attack by Muslim navies who then withdrew; farmers, shepherds, horsemen and saddle-makers. We all have dragons which need to be slain, and we all should be upright defenders of the truths of the Church: O brave Saint George, help us!

 

Faithful servant of Godand invincible martyr, Saint George;favoured by God with the gift of faith,and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ,thou didst fight valiantlyagainst the dragon of pride,falsehood, and deceit.Neither pain nor torture,sword nor death could part theefrom the love of Christ.I fervently implore theefor the sake of this loveto help me by thy intercessionto overcome the temptations that surround me,and to bear bravelythe trials that oppress me,so that I may patiently carry the crosswhich is placed upon me;and let neither distress nor difficultiesseparate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.Valiant champion of the Faith,assist me in the combat against evil,that I may win the crown promised to themthat persevere unto the end.

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 20, 2014

Christ is risen! Indeed He is Risen!

The Descent into Hades (or Sheol)

The Feast of the Resurrection is our Feast of feasts and the basis of our faith. St. Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead then our faith is in vain. (1 Cor. 15:14). The dominant icon for Easter is not of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but rather the “Descent into Hades”. The Descent into Hades is not an event that was seen, it is a “painting of theology,” as Father Alexander Schmemann says, which corresponds to the meaning of the event, and is based on the bible’s account of Jesus descending into the abyss to deliver the souls of the Just.

The icon of the Descent is very simply an image of Christ, the Victor”. . . Trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” It is an icon rich in meaning. It takes place in Hades, also called Sheol. The term Hades should not be confused with the word hell, as generally understood as opposite of heaven. Hades is a term used in the Old Testament to describe the place where all the dead go; whether righteous or evil. The icon shows us the very depths of the earth, a gaping black abyss, the place referred to in the Old Testament precisely as Hades.

Upon His death, Christ descended into the regions of Hades. A verse on Ps. 119 sung during the Matins of Holy Saturday says, “Wishing to save Adam Thou didst come down to the earth; not finding him on earth, O Master, Thou didst descend to Hades seeking him.” The hymns of Holy Saturday commemorate His presence in Hades and the chanting of Ps. 119 and its verses marvel at His condescension. The fact that Christ appears in Hades is a wonder, “0 life, how canst Thou die?” (Verse on Ps 119.) It is also a confrontation between He who is Life, and death itself, the last enemy (1Cor 15: 26).

The theme of Christ’s death is always interwoven with His Resurrection, and this message pervades all our Church services, especially, those of Holy Friday and Saturday. So the icon of Christ’s death is that of victory. Acts 2:24 says that it was impossible for Him to be held by Hades power. He appears not as a captive but as the Victor. In the icon He appears in luminous golden robes in the middle of a halo, the symbol of glory, with rays of light issuing from Him.

The icon shows “that Hell was embittered” when it met Christ. Often this is symbolized by two angels binding Satan. The verses on “Lord I Call” for Holy Saturday all speak vividly of this: “Today hell cries out groaning” and “hell shuddered when it beheld Thee.” He holds in his left hand either a scroll, the message of the resurrection or the cross, now the symbol of Victory. With His right hand He raises Adam from the grave and with him Eve and all those who await His coming,: King David, Solomon, John the Forerunner, Moses and the prophets. “Hell has been captured and Adam recalled, the curse has been annulled and Eve set free.” (Theotokion-Vigil for the Resurrection) Christ’s descent into Hades is the final abasement in His self-emptying. He takes on all of our human nature so that it can be saved, and not only saved but glorified as well. By descending into Hades He has opened to Adam, and to us, the “path to the Ressurection. We sing in Ode 1 of the Paschal Kanon,”. . . for from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us.” We exalt the “begining of another life” But the Resurrection is not the end of His saving work, for in His Ascension, He took our nature with Him into Heaven.

(Adapted from http://www.dce.oca.org)

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 19, 2014

Do Not Weep for Me, Mother

The vigil of Good Friday night is one of the most powerful for those who come to pray at the tomb before the image of Jesus. It has always convicted me in my heart of my sins, and every year, sad to report, there are some new ones that need conversion from.

The Byzantine tradition followed by Orthodox and those Byzantine Churches in union with Rome, is caught in the tension between heart rending sorrow and anticipating the Resurrection.

He Who holds the whole universe in His hand is raised upon the Cross, and all creation weeps as it sees Him hanging there. The sun hides its rays and the stars lose their brightness; the earth quakes and is filled with fear; the sea draws back and the rocks split in two; the tombs open and the bodies of the saints rise; Hades laments and the Sanhedrin gathers to fabricate a story to deny the resurrection of Christ; and the women cry out: Behold the Sabbath transcendent in blessing in which Christ has slept and shall rise on the third day. 

O Blessed Tomb that sheltered the sleep of the Creator! You have become the divine treasure of life; this was done for our salvation and we praise Him: blessed are You, O Lord, for You save us. 

He Who dwells in the highest heavens accepts burial beneath a sealed rock; and God Himself is treated as a deceiver! O Youths, bless the Lord; praise Him you priests; and let the whole nation exalt Him forever.

Thus the Office of the Jerusalem Matins cries out and weeps!

The Gospels tell us that on the Sabbath, the women prepared spices to finish the burial ritual, but stay inside observing the rest of the Sabbath. But in the Matins, Our Lady cannot rest. She rested her face against the hard stone of the tomb, after the burial was complete, and weeps for her only and most special Child. Her grief torments the hearts of John, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the women led by Mary Magdalene: the mother of Jose (and possibly James the Just and Jude),  the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John; Salome; Joanna who left Herod’s palace; Mary of Clopas.

The service also includes this promise in Ode 9:

Do not weep for Me, Mother, even though you have seen lying in the tomb the Son to Whom you gave birth in a wondrous manner; for I shall arise and be glorified; and in My divine glory, I shall forever exalt the faithful who love you and sing the praises of your glory.

Here we see two things:

1. the compassion of Jesus for the Theotokos, the Mother of God, consoling her in her inconsolable grief, whispering to her in her heart with the good news that His promise of resurrection will be fulfilled;

2. the source of Marian devotion in the Eastern and Western Churches: Jesus will exalt those who, following the Magnificat in Luke,  call her blessed and who love her: it is because of her intimate closeness with Jesus.  Finally, a little something to enjoy today: the recipe for the special cookies  that teach us the truth of Easter:

Make these Easter cookies with children while telling the story of Jesus dying on the cross. You do not eat them until Sunday morning because they are part of the Easter Story and you get a surprise, when you open the oven door the cookies will be empty inside just like Jesus’ tomb.

Ingredients:

1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
A pinch salt
1 cup sugar
A zipper baggie
A wooden spoon
Duct tape
Bible

Directions:

Begin on Holy Saturday, the night before Easter.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit

Place pecans in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break them into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested the Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19: 1-3.

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 teaspoon vinegar into the mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30

Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read John 10: 10-11

Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23: 27

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 cup sugar to the bowl. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Psalms 34:8 and John 3:16.

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1: 18 and John 3: 1-3.

Fold in crushed pecans.

Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheets. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matt. 27: 57-60.

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed. Read Matt. 27: 65-66.

GO TO BED! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers’ were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16: 20 and 22.

On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter morning, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. Read Matt. 28:1-9

THE LORD HAS RISEN!

Resource: Recipe by Wanda Long and appeared in Home Life Magazine.

 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 18, 2014

The Great and Sad Friday

Glory to Jesus Christ. I have not posted in a while – Holy Week opened for me with my nervous system and muscles both clobbered by a cold front that rolled in. I finally felt myself yesterday, the day of betrayal by Judas balanced by the gift of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood at the Last Supper. Jesus completely gave of Himself in the bread and wine which changed into Him, Body and Blood, and He commanded the apostles to continue this self-gift of Himself which founded the priesthood. We as Catholics and Orthodox are so blessed and fortunate to have Jesus Living in the tabernacles of our churches, and given to us in each Divine Liturgy/ Mass that is offered!

And now we come to the other self-giving of Jesus: His saving death, on the life-giving Cross, the paradox of Good Friday. I was asked to preach every Friday of Great Lent at the Stations of the Cross at Annunciation Roman Catholic Church. I was lifted up each Friday and able to do so: my guardian angel was hard at work. This is the meditation that I gave on the awesome self-giving of Jesus when He died on the Cross and what followed. I hope somebody is able to come closer to Christ as a result of publishing this.

One thing to remember in discussing the Passion of Jesus is this: in all four Gospels, Jesus is not a pawn, a helpless victim. In the Byzantine prayers, we always say that He willingly ascended the Cross. Jesus is in charge – He suffers, He falls, He is comforted, He is mocked, but He is in charge of His fate. Once the situation was resolved in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His human and divine natures act in concert in the One Person, Jesus walks through the next hours very aware, and His words are chosen carefully. He falls down for many physical reasons, but He gets up and continues onward.

 

At noon, darkness covers the land. The four Evangelists literally say “darkness” took over. This darkness, Mark says, lasts until the very moment when Jesus gives His death cry at 3 pm. The mockeries Jesus endures from the temple priests and the Roman soldiers alike echo Psalm 22, verse 8. Jesus in His dying quotes the opening words of Psalm 22: 2. The reaction of those who hear him, running to provide the vinegar drink, fulfills Psalm 69:22.

 

Before God made light, there was?

–        darkness.

Darkness is frightening, darkness is to be avoided as dangerous, and darkness must be broken by light. The little fires of the soldiers atop Golgotha do nothing to pierce this darkness.

In Jeremiah 15:9, God says of Jerusalem’s failure to act properly, “Her sun sets at midday, she is shamed and disgraced.” In Zephaniah 1:15 “a day of wrath … a day of darkness and gloom” marks the day of the Lord, which Joel warns about also in chapter 2, verse 2 and again in 2:31 Joel predicts: “The sun will be turned to darkness at the great and terrible coming of the day of the Lord.” In Amos chapter 8, the prophet writes “the sun shall set at noon, and the light shall be darkened on earth in the daytime. I will make them mourn as for an only son and bring their day to a bitter end.”

The death of an only son in antiquity was a disaster – there was now no one to carry on the name, or to pray for the souls of those who have died. The family is doomed to extinction, as are their souls. This only son of the widow Mary leaves her with nothing, it seems, until He commends her to the care of St. John the Beloved, the teenager apostle whom Jesus loved for his innocent enthusiasm and dedication. This Good Friday will end in bitterness, as all Good Fridays do.

 

 

So, while the priests and criminals called for a sign, a miracle, God was busy doing just that, a warning of punishment. The darkness is sometimes interpreted in English readings as the sun eclipsed, or there was an eclipse of the sun. This is not correct, for there was no eclipse on that day. Rather the better translation is to say what the Greek says: the sun failed or the sun was darkened – these convey the dramatic point that God is acting. He Who made everything is now interfering to show both His anger and His sorrow. The secular press always brings up the point on Good Friday that there is no record of an eclipse of the earth, so how could the bible say that there was. The bible is making a spiritual point: Jesus, the Son of God, is dying in agony, and God darkens the sun over Jerusalem while this is happening. And the darkness is there, as is the crucifixion, because of us. It is not a natural darkness. It is a darkness that suffocates the spirit, because this darkness in which God has darkened the sun over Jerusalem is, I think, similar to the darkness which Jesus faced in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed for the chalice of suffering to pass away from Him. It is the darkness of the ages, the primordial darkness when there was nothing, the darkness of billions of souls who commit sins in defiance of God’s radical self-giving grace. Of course there was no eclipse of the sun – it is the darkening of the sun, a weeping by the sun which gives light to all living things, over the death of the divine and human Son of God Who gives life to all people.

At Jesus’ death, Matthew tells us that there is an earthquake, splitting open the stones that covered the tombs of the saints, of holy Jewish people, who after Easter Sunday appear in Jerusalem and testify to Jesus, and the evangelists write of the temple curtain being torn from top to bottom. Why does it matter in what direction the temple curtain was torn? Who cares if it was from top to bottom or bottom to top? Everything in the Gospels is there for a reason – if this heavy inner curtain was torn from the top straight down, then it is the hand of God Himself which does this.

Jesus’ saving death has immediate effect on the Jews and Romans alike that Friday afternoon. 

Here, we have perhaps the saddest, most tragic moment of all – Jesus’ death cry – My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me – spoken out into this frightening darkness, and he says it in Aramaic, the ordinary language of the people, not Hebrew, the language of the synagogue. Hence some people misunderstand and when he says Eloi, Eloi, they think he is calling for the prophet Elijah. But the rest do understand all too well – this is the opening sentence of Psalm 22, a mix of human lonely fear and hopeful trust.

The words used in the Gospels for this exclamation evoke “shout”, or “a scream.” Crucified victims would scream from the pain, from anger at their fate, from frustration, from fear. So this anguished cry would not startle the Roman soldiers, who have heard it all before. But it does startle the Jews, because they know what it means. After this scream, of those significant words, Jesus then says “It is completed”, lowers His head, and dies. This is the only place where Jesus says God – everywhere else in the gospels He says “Father.” Mark and Matthew are the only ones who record this episode – John and Luke chose not to. It is good for us though that the cry, the scream, is recorded in Matthew and Mark. Why? Who here has not felt abandoned by God at least once, or misunderstood by God? Yes, Jesus knows Psalm 22, and He knows that it ends in the triumph of the Messiah, but right now, this psalm says everything that He feels on that wooden cross which is cutting into His wounds, surrounded by enemies who curse Him and make fun of Him, very much alone and in tremendous pain after 21 hours without food or drink, with only some women who wept over Him, His mother and the teenager apostle from all of his followers nearby, and for three long hours the sun has been darkened in an unnatural darkness. He is in terrific pain, and right now fear, and so he cries out like any other humble servant of the Lord and says again My God, the next verse:  

22:2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

22:3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

22:4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

22:5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

22:6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

22:7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

22:8 “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

22:9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

22:10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

22:11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

22:12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

22:13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

22:15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

22:16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;

22:17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;

22:18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

It says everything. From verses 19 to 31 it becomes a proclamation of triumph, of God answering the prayer, feeding the poor, and of all nations bowing down in worship. That’s Pentecost. We’re not there yet. We’re with Christ on this cross and His death is coming at us. And in all four Gospels, after the loud cry, Jesus says, “Father, (back to Abba), into Your hands, I commend my spirit”, and He bows His head, and dies. His soul leaves His broken body, and He is dead. In his death, He brings salvation  – his side is pierced with a lance, and blood and water gush out so much that the Roman centurion says “Surely this was God’s Son” giving the first testimony from a Gentile, and testimony that comes from a soldier of imperial Rome, which was the greatest power in the ancient world of Europe and the Middle East.

Luke, Matthew and Mark give us the penultimate sign: the tearing of the Temple’s veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary. This is where God lived on earth, and with this tearing, from the top to the bottom and thus implying a divine hand doing the tearing, the innermost part of the temple is exposed, God’s dwelling is ended. The Jerusalem leadership failed to recognize Jesus as God’s Son, but the pagans do. This is the direction that the Church will now take, out into the Gentile world, under Saint Paul and with the backing of Saints Peter and James, and has taken ever since.

The tomb of Jesus awaiting His burial, shadowed by the Cross

Now they go to the tomb, a tomb newly cut out of the rock, a tomb never used before by anyone. What does this remind us of? Her womb – new, never used, virginal, and in the East it is also called the bridal chamber. Now He is put in virginal rock, into the bridal chamber from which our Bridegroom will emerge on Sunday. The earth laments for Him and encases Him, behind the huge stone that blocks the entire doorway. And Matthew ends this whole exhausting section with this simple sentence: And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

Now real darkness is settling in – they have left His body unwashed, with no anointing, because the Sabbath was coming. The sun sets, stars appear in the sky, but they stay sitting there, facing the tomb, until they get up with a deep sigh and head back to the upper room to join the apostles in their hiding place, and to rest all day Saturday.

How silent that first holy Saturday was. In John’s gospel, that day was Passover – they probably did not feel like going to a Seder. In the other three gospels, it was a normal Sabbath when the whole city would be still, and everyone was resting. All of the disciples were exhausted by now.

From the Jerusalem Matins:

The sovereign Ruler of creation is dead, and is buried in a tomb

 In a grave they laid you, O my Life and my Christ, yet the Lord of Death has been destroyed by your death, and from you, the world now drinks rich streams of life.

 O my sweet Lord Jesus, my Salvation, my Light, how are you by a grave and by its darkness hid? How unspeakable the mystery of your love!

In the Byzantine Catholic tradition, a tomb is set up in the church on Good Friday. We process in the dark around the church, with candles, singing a mournful dirge that tells this story: Joseph of Arimathea who wrapped the body in pure linen and placed it in a new tomb. Everything is new and untouched for our Lord. We have a life-sized shroud with an icon of Jesus in the tomb painted on it. This is then brought inside, to the tomb, and laid flat, raised up so people can see, on black cloths. The sermon is preached, the lights remain dimmed, and people come up on their knees, shuffling, to reach the tomb. Then they kiss each hand, the wound in the side, and each foot, and then get up and go back to sit in the church. We are all Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, sitting there, facing the tomb. We do that all night long, past the dawn.

It is something to go to our church at 3 am and see people sitting in the dark, Jesus’ wounded body exposed above the black cloth, dark colored flowers around it, and silence. We never have silence in our church – we have singing all through the service, nonstop. But not now, not once Jesus is buried. The choir will lament for a while, but come 10 pm that all stops and then people are silent, facing the tomb.

Here we are confronted with the enormous love of God, with what it means to hear Jesus say to Julian of Norwich, “Were it necessary, I would gladly suffer the passion again and again for each of you, so great is my love for you.”

He would not only suffer, but He would die each time, billions upon billions of times.

I want to imitate Jesus, who did not love the cross, but He loved us at the cost of the cross. – Ven. Luigi Rocchi  

We are also confronted in the darkness

-          with our failures that we continue to cling to, despite Jesus’ great sacrifice. He would willingly endure the passion again if necessary to save me – but why should I put my Lord into that position of needing to do that because of my stubborn sinning?

-          The enormity of His love – that body with the wounds: this He suffered willingly, this He suffered, just for me. Where is my love for God, and what is it like? Enormous? Or small, just a bit.

-          There are other people there. Sometimes someone cries a little. Mostly it is still, no bell ringing anymore, just a wooden clapper. We can only hear God if we are still, and if we sit quietly for a while. Five minutes does not do it – too much stuff is bouncing in our heads.

-          People stay for an hour. The origin of holy hour is to make up for the apostles who fell asleep in the Garden of  Gethsemane, and Jesus said, could you not watch with me for one hour? That’s why people are asked to sign up for an hour to sit before the Blessed Sacrament in your adoration chapel – to make up for their abandonment, and frankly to make up for our own abandonment of Him.

-          We need time to let go of our stuff, to get it out of our minds, write it down on a piece of paper, and then go back to watching the Host or sitting in the still church. That hour can save our lives.

 Suffering is the true leaven that transforms everything. The cross is the true engine of all things. Jesus said so well: “Without me you can do nothing.” What is Jesus without the Cross and the Resurrection?

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 25, 2014

The Annunciation is today!

Rejoice, rejoice! The incarnation of Christ our God takes place today in the pure womb of the Virgin Mary. At her acceptance of this mission, the Holy Spirit descended upon her and the Second Person of the Trinity took flesh in her womb, thus beginning our Christian salvation history.

The feast of the Annunciation, the day on which our salvation begins, is so important that in the Byzantine Churches it is never moved, no matter what day on which it falls, even on Good Friday. Why? Because the date of the Incarnation supersedes everything, this feast must be observed. If it falls on Good Friday, then the joyful Annunciation Liturgy is celebrated in the morning, with bright colors per usual. Then the rest of the day is given over to the sorrowful passion of Our Lord.

The Archangel is usually shown with his feet spread apart as if he is running to share the good news with Mary. His vestments can be showing flowing behind him. In his left hand is a staff, the symbol of a messenger in ancient Greece. His right hand is extended toward Mary as he delivers the message and announces the blessing bestowed upon her by God.

On the right side of the icon the Virgin either sits on an elevated seat, or stands erect ready to receive the message. Either way indicates that as the Mother of God she is “more honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who a virgin gave birth to God the Word.” In her left hand she holds a spindle of scarlet yarn which depicts the task she was assigned of preparing the purple and scarlet material to be used in making the veil for the Temple in Jerusalem. Her right hand is raised in a gesture of acceptance in response to Gabriel’s message. Her posture expresses willing cooperation with God’s plan of salvation. Mary’s garments also have the three stars commonly used to represent her ever-virginity: before, during, and after the birth of Christ.

At the top of the icon the segment of a circle represents the divine realm, from which three rays emerge. This demonstrates the action of the Holy Spirit coming upon her from the Trinity. In other depictions of the same icon, Christ Himself – as a man – is shown in this semi-circle. Some icons show the Infant Jesus taking shape in her womb, surrounded with His unique halo, showing that He is the God-Man from the beginning, and so Mary  is truly the Theotokos, The Bearer of God. The halo reads “I am that I am”, the name God gave in answer to Moses’ question “Who are you?”

The Annunciation icon marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims to the ever-virgin Mary:
“Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you.”    

-courtesy of  “A Reader’s Guide to Orththodox Icons with some additions by myself  http://iconreader.wordpress.com/

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 24, 2014

The Cross, A Funeral, The Western Border, PS

Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox  stand this week in our churches and look at the Cross – resting on a bed of blood-red flowers, mixed with basil for the King of the Jews Who is also King of Heaven, resting on the table right in front of the step to the Royal Doors, the Altar, and the Tabernacle where that same King lives on earth among us.  It is a powerful symbol, the Cross: I have been preaching for three Fridays now at the Annunciation Church here in Albuquerque at their Stations of the Cross. So my Lenten meditations have been very focused on the Cross of our Savior much more so than usual.

When Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, and that pole thudded deeper into Calvary, Hades cried out in pain – so it says in the Divine Offices of this week – realizing that it would soon be forced to give up its hold on the souls of the millions of the Just who had died since the Fall, including the two protagonists of our Fall, Adam and Eve themselves. For all Byzantine icons of the Resurrection depict Jesus freeing those two from their multi-millenial prison, along with everyone else, and pulling them upward to the Father. But it is only possible to get to Heaven through the Cross – no one has gotten there without pain. Why pain? Because to be stripped of our selfishness hurts, and things that hurt often help us to do that. An interesting paradox! My multiple ailments hurt me like the dickens sometimes, but properly understood, the physical decline and losses and pain can be utilized to unite with Jesus’ unique Passion and so save souls in this generation. More so, it purges me, and helps me to shed the things I want to hold onto that just won’t fit into Heaven. A painful process all around, and frustrating/ tiring/ annoying/ etc. But definitely it can lead me somewhere better. That is most certain. And that holds true for all of us.

****

We had the funeral of an 86 year old man today, the husband of my former secretary. He was a feisty little fellow, but devoted to
God and family above all. His Slovak father left the green farms of the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains to work in a steel mill in Pennsylvania so as to give his children a better life. This fellow worked not only in the gas company but multiple side jobs so that all three of his children could go to college. And they paid back handsomely this past year during his painful decline with solicitude and caring for both of their elderly parents.  Too many people in our country today are left alone in nursing homes – the throwaway culture bemoaned by Pope Francis has reaped a bitter harvest from aborted babies to needless euthanasia of the sick and elderly. This family showed that when Catholic values are lived out in an average middle-class American family, the harvest can be sweet and truly edifying.  God grant “Big Al” eternal memory, and that the example of his daughters would be multiplied elsewhere.

*****

And Ukraine stands today shorn of Crimea, Russian troops at the eastern doorstep, land-locked Transnistria now rears its head as the next possible target for Putin’s rescue of allegedly endangered Russians.  A sliver torn out of Moldova in a brief war, this country survives between Moldova and Ukraine sustained by a Russian base of 1,200 soldiers and hopes for rescue by Moscow. It is yet one more Russian-speaking island of people who felt abandoned by the motherland after the peaceful death of the USSR. There is actually a slim Moldovan majority of 32%, Russians number 30.5%.  Like other sections of old Eastern Europe, it is a multi-ethnic country with Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Gagauz and a mix of Jews, Roma and Poles, but a Russian-speaking state.  It is 91% Eastern Orthodox, 4% Roman Catholic.  The people are subjected to limited freedom of the press;  arbitrary arrest and torture; limited freedom of religion; no freedom of assembly (US State Department Human Rights Reports 2006-2011). So, Russia could strike from the east – or claim endangered people on the western border.

Lord our God, have mercy, and grant that the cause of Peace will win out over the violent desires of Your ill-minded servants! Holy Mother of God, intercede for this long-suffering land. SS. Volodymyr, Olga, Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, and Ukrainian Saints and Martyrs intercede with God for the peace of your homeland.

PS Crimea will go on Moscow Time on March 30. Crimea is nowhere near the Moscow time zone, but then Stalin’s acquisitions weren’t either, and they all had to go on Moscow Time in 1940 and 1945.  Live under Moscow, keep time with Moscow, even if it makes no logical sense whatsoever.  We’ll see how long those who “voted” are happy that they live under Moscow.

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 16, 2014

Our Lady weeps over the suffering of God’s children on earth

An all-powerful leader decries problems in the adjoining state, and declares he must act so as to protect unarmed civilians against a cruel government, or an impotent government, or to answer their supposed pleas for assistance: 1912, 1938, 1940, 1945, 1956, 1968. One would think that the 21st century would never have seen that again in Europe – but here we go. And as then, Europe – and now America – does nothing of consequence.  Not even a firm protest!  Apparently very few people in our current government know much about Russian history, or the history of the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships, as we watch the farce of elections in Crimea under the presence of 20,000 Russian soldiers and a host of armored vehicles. Yesterday Russians took over a gas plant outside of Crimea, and Moscow announced that “numerous calls on Russia to protect peaceful civilians” inside Ukraine have been received and that “these appeals will be considered”   (Moscow Heightens the Pressure on Ukraine- Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2014).  Does any of this sound familiar?

1912 – Imperial Russia declares that, because of chaos inside the new Republic of China, it is annexing parts of Mongolia, despite the fact that the new Republic of Mongolia said that it did not want or need any Russian interference. 1936 – Hitler takes back the Rhineland, the Allies do nothing despite violation of Treaty.   1938 – 12 March: Hitler marches to the Austrian border so as to give Austria “peace” from its civil disorders, the Austrian government backs down for fear of bloodshed; Austria is annexed. Allies do nothing.  Hitler says he acts to protect German minorities outside of the Reich.

Hitler’s actions in Central Europe 1938-1939

29 September: Allies give German-inhabited Sudetenland, with all of Czechoslovakia’s fortresses, to Hitler as his “last demand.” 1939 – 15 March – Hitler invades defenseless Czechoslovakia. 21 March – Hitler demands Danzig Free State and direct link across Polish Corridor to East Prussia as a “last demand.” 1 September: Hitler accuses Poland of atrocities against German minority and invades. 3 September: France and Great Britain declare war. Pamphlets are dropped over the Third Reich calling for peace, but no military action is taken whatsoever.  Poland fights alone.   17 September: USSR invades Poland from the east, stabbing her in the back as she is fighting Nazi Germany in the west. This is allegedly done in order to “protect civilians” because the Polish government had supposedly collapsed, ignoring the fact that the Polish government and army are very much alive and fighting, waiting for France and the UK to act.  New People’s Assemblies are set up, which petition Stalin for annexation; he joyfully welcomes them to the Soviet motherland.  Poland is partitioned between the Nazis in the west and the Communists in the east. 

The Red Army frees Ukrainian and Belorussian peasants from the White Eagle of the Polish lords. 

To the north, the USSR forces the Baltic States to allow Soviet military bases to be established because of the fighting in Poland, and attacks Finland.  1940 – USSR blocks the ports of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and prevents their navies from sailing. “People’s Self-Defense” militias are set up by the communists along with Soviet troops and take over the three states. New elections are held under Moscow’s occupation, and over 90% vote in favor of the Soviets: vote results are released before the voting is finished. The new governments “voluntarily” ask for annexation by Stalin, who happily welcomes them. 1941 – 22 June, Hitler orders the invasion of the expanded USSR in a surprise attack.  Stalin is caught unprepared.  But Stalin will win in the end, defeating Hitler and establishing the Warsaw Pact, which put an enormous distance between Russia itself and any possible invasion from NATO in the west of Europe. 1944 – In October, Subcarpathian Rus’ is liberated from fascist rule by the Red Army. Czechoslovakia’s delegates fly in from Moscow to resume civic life in their easternmost districts and prepare to restore the Republic going westward from the province. But, the Soviets interfere and declare that the people must “choose” if they want unification with the USSR.   1945 – First (and only) Congress of the People’s Soviets of  Subcarpathian Rus’ is elected under Red Army occupation: over 90% of the votes are in favor of the Soviet delegates.  This body petitions Stalin for annexation to the USSR.  Stalin joyfully welcomes the province to be “rejoined” to Ukraine, a territory which had never ruled over Subcarpathian Rus’!

 

Blessed Theodore Romzha, bishop of my Byzantine Catholic Church in Subcarpathian Rus’ was executed by the Soviets in 1947 for his resistance to Stalin’s plans to destroy the Church. 

1945- The Allies order Poland to abandon hope of retrieving the one-fourth of the country annexed to Moscow in 1940, and instead clear out 5 million Germans from Silesia, East Prussia, West Prussia, Danzig and parts of Brandenburg and Pomerania to compensate Poland with these “Recovered Territories”, to which 2 million Polish refugees from the lost provinces came.  

Over 19 million people were forced out of their homelands in 1945-48 as Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians were driven out to find refuge elsewhere. 

1956, 1968, 1979 – USSR invades Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan so as to “defend socialism.” 1994 – Ukraine surrenders her nuclear weapons in exchange for assurances that the US, UK and Russia will guarantee her permanent borders, as drawn out in 1991.  Ukraine says that these are guarantees, in 2014 the West says these were only assurances. 2000 – Russia begins distributing Russian passports to ethnic Russians in all of the countries along its borders: the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan.  With these passports, these people are guaranteed Russian protection.  Later, Tajikistan is forced to cede six military bases to 15,000 Russian troops.  2008 – Russia responds to Abkahazia and South Ossetia  after charges of civil unrest, and 5% of Georgians become refugees in their own country. The West protests, US sends ships into Black Sea, nothing happens, to this day as Russia occupies these two Georgian provinces. 2005 – Putin states: we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. He went on to point out that Russia itself faced the threat of being destabilized, and paid a heavy price for this collapse.

See Map at top of blog! 

2014 – February: the Kazan Icon, Russia’s holiest image, is flown across the Black Sea in Putin’s private helicopter: to bless the Olympics in Sochi, or to bless future military operations against Ukraine?

28 February – Military actions against the Simferopol airport, blockade of the Ukrainian navy, and Russian Airborne forces arrive: occupation of Crimea begins. Yanukovych appears in Russia and suddenly Crimea is a victim of neo-fascist, anti-semitics, nationalist extremists who threaten the peace-loving Russians of the peninsula.  Russia acts in response to the cries of terrorized Russians and the so-called local militias in Russian uniforms with Russian armaments “appear.” 6 March – the Parliament votes “unanimously” in favor of joining Russia. However, media fail to report that the chamber was lined by armed soldiers, that the vote was called suddenly, and that the Ukrainian and Tatar delegates were unable to get to the building in time to have their say.  16 March – the highest election turnout since 1991 takes place, and 95.5% of all votes are for unification with Russia. The Crimean Tatars boycotted, as did most Ukrainians/ pro-Ukrainians, denouncing the election as illegal and without merit.

File:Crimean Tatar 2001-num.svgPercentage of Crimean Tatars in population of each raion of Crimea, 2001 

The question now is, what happens next? As I put this together, Russian troops have taken over a gas facility on the mainland, and there are “appeals” from Russian citizens (Ukrainian citizens with Russian passports) in Donetsk oblast for assistance. God only knows what is going to happen next – balkanization of Ukraine? And what will become of the Greek Catholics and Roman Catholics in Crimea who have been struggling for so long to get churches set up? And the Tatars, who have been returning home after 60 years in exile in Central Asia? And Ukrainian patriots, and the isolated Ukrainian military men and their families? I go to bed tonight once again praying for Ukraine’s sovereignty, and the opportunity to put the Euromaidan revolution into good government for the sake of all residents. Russia is still trying to find its place in the post-Cold War world; its population has been crashing with more deaths than births for decades, and a low life expectancy; and Russia fears the advance of NATO up to its borders in the Baltic Sea, bringing up memories of 1941 and the need for keeping the Russian homeland protected by buffer states. What will happen in this volatile mix? Again, God knows. All that I pray for is peace, peace, peace. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches  have been in the forefront of calling for respect for human rights and an end to the kleptocracy of Yanukovych and his ilk, and of the need for democracy.  The Ukrainian Kyiv Patriarchate, and now the Metropolitan of the Moscow Patriarchate Church in Ukraine, also call for peaceful resolution and the opportunity for Ukrainian citizens to establish a democracy. I don’t know why the Kazan icon was flown over the Black Sea, but I hope that the prayers of Our Lady, which are always for peace, will be heard by those who have the power to change the course of history on earth below her.  Ukraine deserves better.

The dark green oblast at far left, Uzhhorod, is home of my Byzantine Catholic Church. This was annexed to USSR in 1945. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 1, 2014

Lent draws near – does darkness also?

Glory to Jesus Christ!

On Monday, all Eastern Christians will begin Great Lent. Of the four Lents on the calendar, this is the “Great” one. Like the St. Philip Fast before Christmas, it runs for 40 days, but the fasting laws are much stricter, and those days are filled with distinct services taken only now. never elsewhere.  For Byzantine Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, daily readings come from Genesis and Proverbs; the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is sung on Wednesday and Friday nights; the service book called The Triodion is used, and it is filled with beautiful poetry for ever day.  So Great Lent will be here on Sunday night at the Vespers of Forgiveness. The question is, will darkness arrive on Monday morning in Ukraine? 

The boots of a dead protester in Kiev are entwined with his rosary and small floral tributes. These people can not have died in vain!

The language being used by Mr. Putin and the Russians all comes from communist times.  It is said that there are dangers of pogroms (actually anti-Jewish riots of the past) against ethnic Russians in Ukraine – although there is absolutely no sign of that.

The new government is supposedly led by fascist and extremist elements, which evokes images of the Nazis – there is one right-wing group but all the rest are basically social democrats with some nationalists.

The unnamed heavily armed soldiers of Crimea are there to protect against Ukrainian extremism – again, no sign of that.

The Ukrainian opposition has conducted a coup d’etat against Mr. Yanukovych – a coup is the takeover of a government by a small force that has no popular backing. If ever there was a government with popular backing, it is the one in Kiev!

Russian citizens’ lives are endangered, and Russia must step in to protect them.  But there are no attacks against ethnic Russians or Russian citizens – the fighting in the eastern Russified provinces seems to be between those who support Kiev and those who long for Moscow’s firm hand.

Agents of “the West” are stirring up trouble, and have acted as provocateurs among the misguided Ukrainian population.  Supposed agents of the western powers were alleged to have created the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – in both cases Moscow marched in to save both “socialism” and Russian power in central Europe.  The Kievan government would probably love to have Western agents working in their country, to give them guidance on what to do!

All of these are claims used by the Bolsheviks to overthrow the social democrat governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the early 1920s; to occupy eastern Poland and destroy the educated classes in the name of providing safety after the Polish state had “collapsed”, but the Polish government had followed its own rules of engagement and retreat and was safely ensconced in  Lwow, keeping up the fight against the Nazis while waiting for Britain and France to attack Hitler: there was no collapse of Poland until the unoccupied lands were brutally taken over by the Soviets.

Soviet soldiers invade Poland, September 17, 1939

In sum, Mr. Putin’s worthless claims are repeats of communist policy from 1920 until the end in 1991. He is trying to create in Russians’ minds a need to send the Army over the border to destroy this fascist threat that wants to murder innocent ethnic Russians in their beds and which has overthrown a democratically elected president with the help of NATO, the EU, and other “western” agents.  Moscow must act now to save those poor souls from a supposedly imminent massacre! Mother Russia cannot let her own be slaughtered! So, by all means, slaughter Ukrainians so as to stop this tragedy from happening.

I had hoped that communist double-speak would disappear from Europe – an unfulfilled hope it seems.  That Messrs. Putin and Yanukovych can talk like this without feeling any shame shows just how much they love power and the ability to plunder an economy.

Jesus resists the temptations of the devil, as we must do also. 

In Great Lent, we pray for our own interior conversion to take place, for forgiveness of our sins, and for the healing of the world still broken by Original Sin. In this Lent, may we also pray for the healing of Ukraine and of Mr. Putin’s addiction to restoring the empire of the tsars and commissars, and that the legacy of the Prince of Peace, whose churches still dot the landscapes and city streets of both countries, will rise up to save us all by Pascha in April. Sweet Jesus, Who loves mankind, have mercy on us and lead us forward, out of darkness, and into Your glorious light. Amen. 

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, founded by St. Vladimir the Great in 1037. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 26, 2014

Pray for Ukraine; Welcome to Hell; Great Lent is coming.

Prayer Request from Ukraine

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, asks that believers would recite the Our Father and Hail Mary daily for a successful transition in Ukraine. Also, he asks that those who recite the Rosary would add Ukraine’s peace to their intentions. 

At this writing, ex-president Yanukovych has not been found, but a new cabinet has been installed, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk named prime minister. In order to stabilize the country and meet future requirements, “extremely unpopular steps” will be taken. The former government was basically a kleptocracy, with authorities at all levels stealing and demanding bribes, and they have left the economy in shambles. “Welcome to hell” was his comment to the BBC after being presented to the camps at Maidan square.  So, indeed, Ukraine will need a lot of prayer to weather the difficult months ahead: see this 60-second BBC video that lays out the financial crisis succinctly http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26359957.

In Kiev, mourners continue to pile flowers at the sites where people were shot down, usually from above by snipers. The people do not want a return of the old political class: too many have died, others have been wounded or brutally tortured. The new cabinet has to explain everything carefully and obtain the support of the middle-class, industrial workers, and farmers and other rural dwellers in order to manage the serous cuts that have to be made so as to save the Ukrainian economy. Russia’s promised loan is now a thing of the past, and all are waiting to see what Russia will do about supplying natural gas to heat Ukrainian homes as well as all of its public institutions, factories, and medical centers. Winter is not over by a long shot. The Berkut has been dissolved, many policemen have been asking for forgiveness from the people who they were supposed to protect, not torture, kill or press for bribes.

Great Lent begins next Sunday night for both the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics, and it does so with the Forgiveness Ceremony. In that, people and clergy ask forgiveness of each other, and many times people in the congregation will exchange a kiss of peace and ask for forgiveness. It is also an opportunity to extend forgiveness to those not present, and surely this year, priests will call for forgiveness of the former rulers and their minions who perpetrated such atrocities on victims, and ruined the nation.  Christians only accounted for about one-third of the population, thanks to many years of Communist anti-religious propaganda in schools, workplaces, and the media from 1918-1991 in the eastern and central oblasts. Believers from the western oblasts who have moved to the center and east for work and opened their Greek and Roman Catholic churches, or reclaimed old Roman Catholic churches that were put to degrading uses such as public toilets in the place of the former altars. But it will be a long time before that two-thirds of the country can be brought to God, as Orthodox infighting among the three Churches scandalizes people, and fierce anti-Catholic propaganda by the Communists and many Orthodox makes life hard for Catholics of both rites who need to open new churches especially in the eastern oblasts where people had no neutral education.

I hope that the message of Christ’s forgiveness and the reality of the need for patience will permeate all levels of Ukrainian society. The opposition has been heroic in their resistance, and most of the world has been impressed by their peaceful tenacity. May they be as tenacious in the first several months of restructuring.  Those months are critical in the formation of a democracy. If they can weather those tough months, then it will be smooth sailing ahead.

The Virgin Orans, or the Praying Virgin, in St Sophia in Kiev. The handkerchief on her belt is said to be used by her to wipe away the tears of generations of Ukrainians who have come to her, weeping while praying heir petitions. 

O Lord, strengthen Your servants and help them all to listen to Your Holy Spirit and to accept sacrifices as a necessity to obtain a brighter future for their children. Grant that the scourge of abortion in Ukraine will come to an end, so that the country will have a healthy demographic structure instead of killing its future citizens. Above all, may the peace of the Prince of Peace reign in their hearts, so that there will be no more bloodshed, no more tortures, and no hatred.  Through the prayers of Your Holy Mother, the protectress of Ukraine as on the wall of St. Sophia,  may Ukraine find peace, prosperity, forgiveness, and a spirit of gentleness.   Amen.

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 23, 2014

The two “Ps” of Maidan and the Future

One of my friends in Ukraine asked me, “where else on earth would you find people standing in sub-zero temperatures for three months, peacefully protesting and calling for democratic change and respect for human rights with not one violent incident, with no looting of the expensive stores that surround Maidan, and with daily prayer?”  Only in Ukraine! The two “Ps” are Protest and Prayer. Enough has been written about the protests – now for the prayers.

Christian clergy offering prayers at Maidan 

 The protesters had established two tent churches on the square, fully outfitted for religious services by Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Protestants.  Lutheran Street runs into the square, and there is a now famous photo of the Lutheran pastor standing between the two opponents and beseeching them to avoid violence.

Pastor Ralph Huska of St. Catherine Lutheran Church, Kyiv. Read more about him at http://risu.org.ua/en/index/exclusive/reportage/54632/.  

http://ucef.org/news/3581/#sthash.WeIpJxi9.dpu

Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Greek Catholic Church and rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University (in L’viv) has been a heroic voice for patience and prayers.  “The whole world sees  you contemplating the peaceful pilgrimage on which we go with a song and a prayer on our lips. This pilgrimage will not be simple and short, and before us today, the Lord raises the question – are you willing to call a spade a spade, are you ready to go for the truth? Today we are together. And when we are at home or in the workplace, we need to bring this spirit of peace and solidarity, and we have the great responsibility of requiring of ourselves what we demand of others.”

From the beginning of the protests, people found sanctuary in St. Michael of the Golden Domes Monastery Cathedral. which has served as dormitory and hospital; on the day of the Massacre, St. Alexander Roman Catholic Cathedral opened its doors and then slammed them shut against the police chasing the protesters.  

Below: St. Michael’s Church as a dormitory for exhausted protesters.

On February 21, this vast crowd filled the square to listen to the Panachidas sung by the Orthodox and Greek Catholic clergy for those slain in the Massacre of Kyiv , to hear the names of the dead recited, and to witness baptisms of adults.  These are the people whom Messrs. Putin and Yanukovych claim are staging a coup d’etat? What arrogance to belittle them so, and to think that the world will believe such stupidity. 

Crowd on Maidan to hear the requiem services on 21 February, 2014 

http://tsn.ua/politika/na-maydani-vidbuvsya-moleben-za-ukrayinu-335782.html

Or perhaps the quiet masses walking through the splendor of Yanukyovch’s ornate mansion, private zoo, and garish landscaping, all laid out while a country has been starving and facing record unemployment – these crowds who did not loot or damage anything, who came out to see where their hrivny have been spent, after going to church on Sunday morning? Are they the Nazi terrorists?

People look through windows of the Mezhyhirya residence of Ukraine's President Yanukovich in the village Novi Petrivtsi

Ukrainians peer through the windows at the sumptuous banquet room, in a country that is the 2nd poorest in all Europe. Documents found floating in the river indicate millions of dollars were transferred in cash to the president, all illegally.  Chandeliers in this monstrous house cost an astounding €30 million!

Ecumenical prayers were offered all the way through with the three Orthodox Churches, Greek and Roman Catholic, and Baptists.  That is simply unheard of, and perhaps Maidan will show the way to unity for the Orthodox in Ukraine at long last: Moscow Patriarchate, Kyiv Patriarchate, Autonomous.  In addition,  Jews and Muslims have had their own clergy available to them.  When threats were made against the Greek Catholic Church for its “political” support of the opposition, phones were tapped, internet site attacked repeatedly, and when Major Archbishop Sviatoslav quickly refused to back down, the other Churches all came forward to denounce the resumption of Communist-style persecution of that Church. With that resolute response, the Yanukovcyh government had to back down. 

Bishop Gudziak pointed out that Maidan has been an occasion for Ukrainians to reclaim their human dignity in the face of a corrupt government that was stealing from the nation and heading down a very dangerous path.  “The people are morally exhausted,” he told Vatican Radio. “So… what began as a Euro-Maidan movement…is really now a Maidan of dignity, a Maidan of citizens recognizing something that is rather transcendental and that is fundamentally spiritual— that every person is created in dignity in the image and likeness of God.”

Here is the key: those who want to turn the clock back to Soviet-style corruption and manipulation of the Orthodox Church and suppression of the Greek Catholics, who have been stealing from their own hungry people, who have been overthrown by massive crowds that are mostly middle-class and university student Ukrainians, those people denied that Man is in the image and likeness of God. Instead, Man for them is the tool to abuse in order to achieve great personal wealth and political power.  The brazen attempt to silence the Greek Catholic Church shows how easily those men were using Soviet tactics in order to keep the masses down and destroy all who extol spiritual values and deny that Man is only a tool to be used by those in power! Humanity consists of living icons of the Trinity, who deserve to be treated with respect and care.  As long as the new Ukrainian State respects what P & P did – Prayer and Protest – and again treats human beings with reverence due to the image of God, there is hope for a bright future.

The crowd at Maidan on 22 February, following speech by Ms. Timoshenko who had been released from prison. What will the future bring? If prayer remains important, then the future should be bright. 

Kiev Crowd 2/22

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