Three major events this week: the first Pre-Lent Sunday, Three Holy Hierarchs, and the Presentation of Our Lord
Last Sunday we heard the Gospel of Zacchaeus. This marks the start of the Pre-Lenten Season. Today is officially the first Pre-Lenten Sunday. Over the next weeks, we will be presented with different examples to follow during Great Lent. I think that this might be why some people say “Our Lent is so long!” We have six weeks of getting ready for it. But this week is a great way to start: no fasting or abstinence! This is so that we are not proud like the Pharisee. So if you normally abstain on Wednesday and Friday, it is almost obligatory to eat meat on those days. Now is that a great way to start or what?
On a more serious note, Father Lev Gillet says to us:
Do we have the right to condemn the Pharisee and to consider ourselves more righteous than him if, first of all, we break the commandments that the Pharisee observes? Have we the right to place ourselves – in contrast to the Pharisee – on the same level as the justified publican? We cannot do that unless our attitude exactly the same as that of the publican … If we ostentatiously condemn the Pharisee without becoming like the publican, we fall into Phariseeism itself.
-Year of Grace of the Lord, p. 111.
So, while eating the meat, we do well to ask ourselves all week, just how much do I recognize my sinfulness, weakness, and dependency on God? The publican was a tax collector for the Romans, hated by his own people and derided as a thief. But because of his recognition of his sinfulness, God not only is pleased, but exalts him! This then, is a week to get started in breaking free of the chains of minimizing my sins and exaggerating my goodness that I have wrapped around my heart and soul.
Three Holy Hierarchs
Tomorrow is the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs. These are Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. In the 11th century, their partisans defended each one’s qualities the greatest of theByzantineChurch. These were:
-Basil for his teaching and establishing a monastic rule;
-John Chrysostom (Golden Mouthed) because of his eloquent preaching and calling sinners to repentance;
-Gregory, friend of Basil, for his defense against Arianism and beauty of his writings.
All three have January feasts, and in 1048 St. John Mauropous, bishop of Euchatia, had a dream in which the three appeared and emphasized their unity. Thus this feast was established, and the fighting ended. The first seminary of our Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church, in the castle overlooking the city ofUzhgorod/ Ungvar was called Three Holy Hierarchs Seminary. It served for over 170 years, and was closed by the Soviet Union in 1949.
Presentation of the Lord, or Encounter of the Lord with His People
February 2 is the end of the forty days of Christmas. By this time, all memories of that holiday have faded, but today, on the fortieth day after His birth, Mary and Joseph go to theTemple. This happened before the Flight toEgypt, even though we heard that gospel during the days after Christmas.
There were two reasons: one was the purification demanded of Mary by the Jewish law, for in giving birth she had shed blood, and thus was unclean. Second was that of redeeming the first-born male child by giving a sacrifice to God. For the poor, which Mary and Joseph were as a young couple just starting out, they had to offer only a pair of doves or pigeons as the sacrifice. Neither Mary nor Jesus needed this ritual, as she was pure already and He was Divine, but they submit out of obedience and to give good example to others. Their humility and desire to avoid scandal should be imitated by us today!
The hymns of this feast emphasize the Encounter theme. Here Christ is meeting His people for the first time, in the Templewhere God Himself dwelled behind the veil of the Holy of Holies, and the Templeto which He would give Himself at the age of twelve. He Who gave the Law to Moses on Sinai, now submits to the Law in all humility. Now He is recognized by Simeon and Anna, who exemplify the anawim, the holy little ones ofIsrael.
God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit prompts him to go to this little family in the midst of the teeming crowds in the temple courtyard. Deeply moved, Simeon utters his marvelous prayer, sung at every Vespers service:
Now you shall dismiss Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word in truth, for my eyes have seen the salvation which You prepared, before the face of all peoples. A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people, Israel.
Anna is a classic member of the anawim of Israel, those who are poor and humble and deeply loved by God, and love Him in return. She is a widow without a family to take care of her, she is extremely old for that time period and so has outlived all whom she knew, and she prays and fasts constantly. This prophetess confirms Simeon’s words and tells “all who would listen.”
Coupled with the tale of the shepherds who raised the lambs for theTemplesacrifices and who had seen the marvelous birth inBethlehem, this event and that of the Magi, no wonder Herod is ready to kill the new-born King!
Each soul ought to be a Temple of God, to which Mary brings Jesus. And each one of us should, like Simeon, take the child in his arms and say to the Father: ‘My eyes have seen thy salvation.” – Year of Grace of the Lord, p. 90.
SOFTENER OF HEARTS ICON
An auxiliary icon of this feast is one popular in the Ruthenian andRussian Churches alike, “Sorrows of the Mother of God.” All of these icons show Mary in the Roman Catholic style of seven swords, for the Sorrows of the Virgin, not a single sword A common belief is that praying before this icon will bring protection for the seven days of the week.
The Seven Sorrows are:
– the prophecy itself (Luke2:34-35);
– the flight intoEgypt(Matthew2:13);
– losing Jesus in theTemple(Luke2:43-45);
– meeting Jesus as He carries His cross;
– the death of Jesus (John19:25)
– receiving Jesus’ body
– burying Jesus in the tomb (John19:40-42).