Monday, March 31, 2008

St Hypatius the Wonderworker and Bishop of Gangra

Commemorated on March 31

Hieromartyr Hypatius, Bishop of Gangra, was bishop of the city of Gangra in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor). In the year 325 he participated in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, at which the heresy of Arius was anathematized.

When St Hypatius was returning in 326 from Constantinople to Gangra, followers of the schismatics Novatus and Felicissimus fell upon him in a desolate place. The heretics ran him through with swords and spears, and threw him into a swamp. Like the Protomartyr Stephen, St Hypatius prayed for his murderers.

An Arian woman struck the saint on the head with a stone, killing him. The murderers hid his body in a cave, where a Christian who kept straw there found his body. Recognizing the bishop's body, he hastened to the city to report this, and the inhabitants of Gangra piously buried their beloved archpastor.

After his death, the relics of St Hypatius were famous for numerous miracles, particularly for casting out demons and for healing the sick.

From of old the hieromartyr Hypatius was particularly venerated in the Russian land. Thus in the year 1330 the Ipatiev monastery was built at Kostroma, on the place where the Mother of God appeared with the Pre-eternal Christ Child, the Apostle Philip, and the hieromartyr Hypatius, Bishop of Gangra. This monastery later occupied a significant place in the spiritual and social life of the nation, particularly during the Time of Troubles.

The ancient copies of the Life of the hieromartyr Hypatius were widely distributed in Russian literature, and one of these was incorporated into THE READING MENAION of Metropolitan Macarius (1542-1564). In this Life there is an account of the appearance of the Savior to St Hypatius on the eve of the martyr's death.

The entry for the saint's Feast consists of his Life, some prayers, and words of praise and instruction. The pious veneration of St Hypatius was also expressed in Russian liturgical compositions. During the nineteenth century a new service was written for the hieromartyr Hypatius, distinct from the services written by St Joseph the Studite, contained in the March MENAION.


Blue and White

Orthodox Vistas: One of the main churches on the eastern side of the island and the main harbour of Kamares, right; Sifnos has many beautiful beaches to lure heat-struck tourists
Cool it: By the pool at the Lighthouse Hotel near tiny Faros on Sifnos
The Big Story: Greece Published:Mar 29, 2008
Michael Burke drops anchor at one of the lesser-known islands in the Cyclades, where there is a church and a beach for every day of the year.

When one has decided on a holiday to a Greek island, one is quickly confronted with the problem, which Greek island ? Selecting an island to go to in the Cyclades or Dodecanese becomes an exercise in discovering something essential about yourself: will you choose one of the larger, heavily-touristy yet lovely islands, such as Santorini, or one near the coast, like Andros, or perhaps Mykonos, a green island further north?
I’m not sure what it says about us that we chose Sifnos (Seef-nos), an island that is not on many lists of popular islands. It is tiny, rocky and dry, and is reported to have about 365 Greek Orthodox churches, more than eight per square mile of island. That’s not counting monasteries. Yet it was an excellent, if arbitrary, choice, even if we didn’t need all those churches.

Sifnos is about halfway between Piraeus, the main port near Athens, and Santorini. We arrived at the port town of Kamares on the high-speed ferry in mid-June, a date we’d chosen in order to beat the height of the summer tourist season. One could stay in Kamares, I suppose, and never venture further onto the island, and have an excellent visit. Everything one might need on a holiday was there, in limited quantities: a tourist office and a few gift shops, an Internet café (actually an Internet bar, with good gin and tonics), a few hotels, a couple of the obligatory beach-side restaurants under a shade tent, a long beach, and motorcycle and car rental. But we were headed further inland, to a tinier place, by taxi we thought. One missing piece of information about the island was that one needed to call ahead for a cab to meet the ferry; otherwise, more experienced visitors had claimed them all. Fortunately most services are clustered around the port, so I walked 50 metres and rented a car, quickly and easily and cheaply. We hadn’t planned on renting a car, but as it turned out this was the right move: it might be charming to take the buses that regularly traverse the few roads on the island, but for a visitor there only a week or less, too time-consuming.
Leaving Kamares in late afternoon, we headed uphill and in 5km were at the top of the island, where two roads intersect in the village of Apollonia. There are seven communities on Sifnos, none of which quite rise to the level of a city, only towns. The most ancient of them, Kastro, perches on a cliff above the eastern shore.

From the spine of the island, you can look down on Kastro, a walled- in cluster of houses, all blue and white, and you suddenly realize why the Greek flag is blue and white — those two colors are inescapable here, whether in the sea and sky, or in the buildings. Sifnos is coloured entirely that way, with the domes of churches blue, the walls white, the doors and shutters blue, the paving stones leading to the door white, and so on . It makes for a brilliant effect, and the fact that the sea is visible from almost every spot on the island, with those blue and white buildings in the foreground, makes the claim I read in a book on Greek traditional architecture, that Sifnos “is the most beautiful of the western Cyclades” plausible.
Carefully following the directions I’d received from the English- speaking man who rented me my car — a lucky event, as English on the island was sometimes spotty — we found the right road towards Faros, a very small fishing village on the southeast edge of the island. We had reservations at the Lighthouse Hotel on top of a ridge (the island is all ridges) a few kilometres before Faros. A relatively new construction, the Lighthouse is not a lighthouse in any sense — not now, not historically, and it isn’t built to resemble one, either — it is simply in a location which could conceivably provide a lighthouse function. The hotel was one long building of stone and brilliant white plaster, and blue doors, naturally. Our room was typical of the upper floor of apartments, which each had a kitchenette, a king bed, bathroom, and a loft, with two small porthole-like windows, where our daughter slept happily; finding a place that a 15- year-old will be happy while travelling with her parents is crucial. The back door of our room opened onto a kind of deck, where we sat every night to read, facing out across the Aegean towards the trendier island of Paros.

On our first night we took the recommendation of Iphigenia, the deeply-tanned and elegant young woman running the front desk, and went down the hill to Fasolou, a place (not a town) which was close to the village of Faros; the only things there were a beach, a guesthouse, and an open-air restaurant beneath a grove of fragrant tamarisk trees.
What a pleasure it is to finally arrive after a long trip, hoping to find a place to eat that won’t be the same old experience of home, or of airports, quick food, chains; that will somehow represent the place you’ve landed. The restaurant wasn’t exceptional, but by George it was Greek, thoroughly Greek.

We had chicken souvlaki, a dish I’d never heard of called Imam (baked eggplant and tomato), huge salads with Sifnos cheese, and excellent cheap table wine. Most refreshing of all, when it came time to pay the bill, and I discovered what should have been obvious, that they didn’t take credit cards, the waiter shrugged and said, “no matter, pay tomorrow if you like”. This was one of those moments that clarify that you are no longer at home. When I went back the next evening to bring him the money, the waiter said, “I think this is not what you do in America if you can’t pay the bill? Here, we say if you lose some money, you’ll find some later, so it is all right.”
Figuring out how to pay for meals was a persistent problem. Another night we went into the village of Faros, parked right on the beach along with everyone else, and with some difficulty found a restaurant we’d been told to seek, at the top of a building, open to the sky.

While we were waiting for our meal, a fisherman came in with a bag of fish which instantly became someone’s meal, as did the vegetables that a woman brought in a few minutes later. When we were finished we asked for the bill, but no one knew what we meant.
It turned out my wife had to go into the kitchen and wait while the people in front of her discussed every one of the black and white photos on the wall with the woman at the register, then the two of them consulted with the cook for the total.

Of course, the only real reason to go to a Greek island is beach and sea, and we tried several; like churches, there was probably a beach for every day of the year. Our first was at Platis Yalos, the southern-most town on the island.
Yalos is an end-of-the-road place, one way in and the same way out. The beach at Platys is a long strip, between a ridge on the east and a hotel on the west. It was, like most beaches on the island, backed by tavernas and restaurants and guesthouses, none especially precious. The Aegean was a perfect temperature for our baptism: warm enough to enter without hesitation, cool enough to be utterly refreshing, a temperature one could stay in for a long time, floating and diving and thinking about how cold the water in the ponds at our home in Maine would still be in mid-June.

Everywhere we went there were churches, churches and churches. There were so many that we drove past many of them, oblivious, not suspecting that this structure or that could be yet another church. One we recognised was off to the ocean side of a road that wound through the hills, with a tiny parking area next to it, and a key in the front door. Inside, it was church in miniature: one short pew at the back, a censer to the right of a little altar, with candles burning, devotional paintings high on the walls, a holy water font near the front door, and of course the windows looking over the sea.
We were told about another church by two American men, island hopping for a month, whom we met on a beach. The directions were a little cryptic, but we memorised the name “Chrysopiggi” and found a sign for it as we left Platis Yalos. The road was a one car-width track that ended at the church, another blue and white masterpiece, this one full grown, perched on a rocky thumb sticking into the bay of Faros.

As we passed through dazzling white gates we realized that locals were wedged into little rocky ledges all around the three sides of the thumb, occasionally sliding into the sea for a brief swim.
It was so inviting that Harper, our daughter, had to jump from a small ledge into the blue and clear Aegean, becoming, for a time, a Sifniot.

That evening we had dinner at the restaurant Apakafto down the beach from the church of Chrysopiggi. As we were finishing our wine, I struck up a conversation with a man who had been sitting at a nearby table with about a dozen other men.
They had been there since before we arrived, and were now heading out to two yachts anchored in this tiny harbour.

I asked the man what they were up to. In halting English he told me the group of them had rented sailboats together every summer for 27 years, and sailed from island to island in the Cyclades for a month. I told him I was jealous.
Sifnos had just enough of everything for my tastes — beaches, tavernas, restaurants, and plenty of churches — but now I’d seen one island of the Cyclades, which invited a slightly different question from the original one: now it was, which island is next?

Muslims Outnumber World's Catholics

The Vatican's newspaper reported that for the first time in history, there are more Muslims in the world than Roman Catholics. All groups of Christians still outnumber Muslims, according to 2007 estimates from the CIA World Factbook.
Christians: 33 percent
Muslims: 21 percent
Hindus: 13 percent
Buddhists: 6 percent

Sikhs: .4 percent
Jews: .2 percent
Baha'is .1 percent

And the rest:Other Religions 12percent/Non-Religious:12 percent/Atheists 2 percent Sources AP,
Posted: 2008-03-31 00:09:06
Filed Under:
World News

VATICAN CITY (March 30) - Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world's largest religion, the Vatican newspaper said Sunday.
"For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us," Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. Formenti compiles the Vatican's yearbook.
He said that Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population — a stable percentage — while Muslims were at 19.2 percent.
"It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer," the monsignor said.
Formenti said that the data refer to 2006. The figures on Muslims were put together by Muslim countries and then provided to the United Nations, he said, adding that the Vatican could only vouch for its own data.
When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population, Formenti said.
Spokesmen for the Vatican and the United Nations did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Sunday.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday of the Holy Cross

Tone Three
Eleventh Orthros Gospel

Resurrectional Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Let the heavens sing for joy, and let everything on earth be glad. * For with His Arm the Lord has worked power. * He trampled death under foot by means of death; * and He became the firstborn from the dead. * From the maw of Hades He delivered us; * and He granted the world His great mercy.

Resurrectional Kontakion in the Third Tone
From the tomb You rose today, * O Lord of tender compassion, * also from the gates of death * You led us out, O our Savior. * On this day is Adam dancing and Eve rejoices, * and with them together Patriarchs and the Prophets * are unceasingly extolling the divine power of Your authority.

Seasonal Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
To you, Theotokos, invincible Defender, having been delivered from peril, I, your city, dedicate the victory festival as a thank offering. In your irresistible might, keep me safe from all trials, that I may call out to you: "Hail, unwedded bride!"

With the help of God, we have almost reached the middle of the course of the Fast, where our strength has been worn down through abstinence, and the full difficulty of the labour set before us becomes apparent. Therefore our holy Mother, the Church of Christ, now brings to our help the all-holy Cross, the joy of the world, the strength of the faithful, the staff of the just, and the hope of sinners, so that by venerating it reverently, we might receive strength and grace to complete the divine struggle of the Fast.


Ancient tradition

Tuva Blom, 4, along with her father, Andreas Blom, participate in a Greater Lent service at Holy Theophany Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

MCT photo

Times Leader Photo Store

12:40 AM

MARK BARNA The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Amid burning candles and glowing icons, the Orthodox choir lifts up its voice during an evening service. As incense fills the air, about 50 parishioners bow, make the sign of the cross and join the choir in singing psalms.

Offering an Old World ambience and elaborate liturgies dating to early Christianity, Holy Theophany Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., is a respite from the noise and clutter of modern society, parishioners say.

And with Great Lent that began March 10, church members are preparing to go deeper into the tradition as Easter approaches.

But wait — didn’t Lent start Feb. 6 on Ash Wednesday? It did for Catholics and some Protestants. But Eastern Orthodox churches follow a different calendar, a holdover from their ancient past.

In the Eastern Orthodox faith, Great Lent lasts 40 days, until April 18. Easter will be celebrated on April 27, while most Christians observed it on March 23.

Despite some basic similarities, Great Lent is more demanding than the Lent practiced by many other Christians, Orthodox leaders say. Moreover, the Orthodox faithful fast not only through Lent, but also during Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week. From Monday until Orthodox Easter, congregants refrain from consuming meat, dairy products, fish, wine and olive oil. They avoid malicious talk and many refrain from sex.

“Lent is a time of spiritual cleansing, renewal, purification,” said Anthony Karbo, priest of Holy Theophany. “Life is not food. Life is not entertainment. Life is not earthly gratification. It is becoming more human, more like Christ.”

Strict Lenten practices reflect claims by the Orthodox that they’re bearers of early Christian teachings, which are manifested not only in determining Easter dates, but also in the faith’s rites, rituals and liturgies.

That’s a big attraction for some.

Matt Duncan, 47, converted to Orthodoxy because he felt separated from church history as a nondenominational Protestant.

Olga Ciesel, 33, converted last July because her evangelical church was “putting God in a box” through its dogma.

Anders Blom, 33, converted in September because the preaching at his evangelical church was market-driven, he said.

“Orthodox teachings have stood the test of time,” Blom said. “They are not teachings that serve popular culture.”

For about 1,000 years, the Orthodox and Catholic churches were one Christian body. Doctrinal disputes eventually led to their schism in 1054.

At the time, Orthodoxy was already spreading throughout Russia (then called Rus’), Bulgaria and Serbia. Eventually it became the dominant faith in Russia, parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. With 160 million members worldwide, the faith is second only to the Catholic Church in Christian adherents.

Yet Orthodoxy has been slow to catch on in the United States. According to a study released in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, only 0.06 percent of Americans are Orthodox.

Long services, ascetic practices and hard-to-grasp teachings are reasons for the low numbers, Karbo said.

“People want a passive, entertaining, consumer-driven Christianity,” he said. “That’s not Orthodoxy.”

Cal Peters, the choir director at Holy Theophany, is drawn to the rigors of the faith. During Great Lent, he plans to fast, attend multiple services each week, say his daily prayers, refrain from gossip and banter, and regularly recite the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Lent helps me gain discipline,” said Peters, 39. “It is participating in the sacrifices Christ went through.”

Simon Scionka and his wife, Ira, will be celibate during Lent, while also fasting, attending services and saying the prayers.

Orthodox practices “have changed me dramatically,” said Scionka, 27, who was raised Protestant. “It’s about not living for myself but for others.”

Fasting is hardly a novelty among the Orthodox. They fast about 180 days a year, including every Wednesday and Friday.

But Great Lent intensifies the practice.

“Lent reminds us that we eat food to live; we don’t live to eat food,” said Dennis Schutte, priest of Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs. “The true food is God.”

For about 1,000 years — until 1054 — Orthodoxy and Catholicism were one church grounded in the apostolic tradition. Key dates in the history of the Orthodox church:

150 AD: Liturgical church worship begins to take shape.

325 AD: First Ecumenical Council held. Christianity becomes the official religion of Rome.

787 AD: The dispute over whether the veneration of icons, part of Orthodox worship, is idolatry is resolved when the Seventh Ecumenical Council approves icons for worship.

988 AD: Conversion of Russia — then called Rus’ — to Orthodox Christianity begins.

1,000 Orthodoxy spreads into Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

1054: The Great Schism: Orthodoxy and Catholicism split.

1204: Catholic Crusaders sack Constantinople, the center of Orthodoxy during the Byzantine Empire.

1794: Missionaries arrive in Kodiak Island, Alaska, marking the arrival of Orthodoxy in North America.

2006: Pope Benedict XVI meets with Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, to discuss relations between the two churches. Nothing substantive came of the talks.

SOURCE: Collier Press and Gazette research

The reason Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on a different date from Catholics and some Protestant faiths is mind-bending.

Catholic and Orthodox churches agree Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., and Catholics follow the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and followed in most countries, including the U.S.

And, unlike Catholics, Orthodox churches honor the fourth-century decree that Easter always comes after Passover.

As for the full moon, Catholics determine it using church tables, while Orthodox churches use astronomical charts. The churches also calculate the vernal equinox differently.


“Lent is a time of spiritual cleansing, renewal, purification. … Life is not food. Life is not entertainment. Life is not earthly gratification. It is becoming more human, more like Christ.”

Anthony Karbo

Priest of Holy Theophany Orthodox Church


7 members of Russian cult that feared world's end emerge from cave

The Associated Press Published: March 28, 2008

MOSCOW: Seven women who are members of a Russian cult that has been holed up in a cave for months awaiting the end of the world have emerged and are being treated by emergency workers, regional officials said Friday.

More than two dozen members who remain inside the cave could come out as early as Saturday, said the official in the governor's office of the Penza region, about 650 kilometers (400 miles) southeast of Moscow. He gave only his first name, Alexander.

He said four children, who were reportedly under the age of two, were among those remaining inside the cave.

Penza Vice Governor Oleg Melnichenko said in televised comment that the group's leader, self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, was brought from a local psychiatric hospital to help persuade the women to come out. He said the women — six Russians, one Belarusian — emerged voluntarily, carrying satchels with their belongings.

"They refused help and walked on their own for some 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) to a nearby prayer house," he was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti. "There is no reason to urgently hospitalize any of them."

He said officials feared that melting snow could eventually lead to the collapse of the cave, but there was no immediate threat to those who remained behind.

The cultists dug the cave near the village of Nikolskoye and a total of 35 people entered it in early November to await the end of the world, which they said would happen in May. They told authorities that they would detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.

Officials had repeatedly enlisted the help of priests from the Orthodox Church in an effort to persuade the group to leave, communicating mainly through a small chimney pipe that poked up through the snowy hillside.

Earlier this week, Melnichenko told reporters that some of the cultists had indicated they might leave the cave on Orthodox Easter, which is April 27.

Kuznetsov, has been charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence. Earlier this week, officials said they had seized literature that included what appeared to be extremist rhetoric. He has been confined to a psychiatric hospital since last November.

An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov, who goes by the title of Father Pyotr, declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church and recruited followers in Russia and Belarus.

He reportedly told followers that, in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell.

Followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.



Moscow Patriarchate to “monitor” Catholic orphanages

» 03/28/2008 16:06
by D. Dudochkin, A. Pirogov
The decision comes at the end of a meeting by a joint working group on problems between the two Churches. The Patriarchate wants to keep an eye on Orthodox children who live in Catholic institutions. This however has been the rule for years. Once again silence prevails on other, more important issues.
Vladimir (AsiaNews) – The Russian Orthodox Church has decided that it will closely and constantly monitor the activities of Catholic social organisations, especially orphanages. The decision was taken at a meeting of a joint working group on problems between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches that was held in the city of Vladimir, east of Moscow.

“The working group is ready to do such monitoring,” said working group Co-Chairman Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. It will “try to work out a common vision of ways that could make Orthodox-Catholic interrelation [. . .] more systematic.”
For Archpriest Chaplin, who is also Vice Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations at the Moscow Patriarchate, this means that Orthodox children in Catholic orphanages and other Catholic institutions will obligatorily receive spiritual assistance and services from Orthodox clergymen.

There are no precise data on the exact number of children in Catholic orphanages, but according to some experts, the number is no more than 200 throughout the entire Russian Federation.
The Orthodox clergy’s request is understandable and reasonable, but the rights and interests of Orthodox children are already protected. Orthodox children in fact are already cared for by Orthodox priests and are free to practice their faith according to the principles of their Church.

One example among many: Father Igor Vyzhanov from the Department for External Church Relations at the Moscow Patriarchate baptised a child in April 2006 inside the St John Bosco Orphanage.
Over the years the approach of the Catholic Church to the education of minors has not changed. None the less, Catholic social activities will be “monitored”.

Like the 19 March meeting between Patriarch Aleksij II and the Mother of God archbishop that was postponed upon request by the Patriarchate, the Vladimir meeting represents another lost opportunity to talk about issues that are “sensitive” in the relationship between the two sister Churches, issues like visas for foreign religious, the return of Church property seized by the Soviet state, or the absence of Catholics from the Inter-faith Council of Russia (whose members include Orthodox, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mark, Bishop of Arethusa

Commemorated on March 29

Hieromartyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). By order of the emperor Constantine (May 21), St Mark had once destroyed a pagan temple and built a Christian church.

When Julian came to the throne, he persecuted Christians and tried to restore paganism. Some citizens of Arethusa renounced Christianity and became pagans. Then St Mark's enemies decided to take revenge on him. The old bishop hid himself from the persecutors at first, but then gave himself up when he learned that the pagans had tortured many people in their search for him.

The holy Elder was led through the city and given over to torture. They tore out his hair, slashed his body, dragged him along the street, dumped him in a swamp, tied him up, and cut him with knives.

The pagans demanded that the holy bishop pay them a large sum of money to rebuild the pagan temple, and he refused to do so. The persecutors invented several new torments: they squeezed the Elder in a foot-press, and they cut off his ears with linen cords. Finally, they smeared the holy martyr's body with honey and grease, then hung him up in a basket in the hot mid-day sun to be eaten by bees, wasps, and hornets. St Mark did not seem to notice the pain, and this irritated the tormentor all the more.

The pagans kept lowering the price he had to pay for their temple, but St Mark refused to give them a single coin. Admiring him for his courage and endurance, the pagans stopped asking him for money and set him free. Many of them returned to Christ after hearing his talks.

St Gregory the Theologian (January 25) describes the sufferings of St Mark in his First Oration against Julian. Theodoritus of Cyrrhus also mentions him in his CHURCH HISTORY (Book 3, Ch. 6)

Troparion - Tone 3

In preparation for the contest, O glorious Mark,You anointed an assembly of martyrsAnd strengthened them by your steadfastness.You finished your course with them.And you were all found worthy of the joys of heaven.O righteous Father,Pray to Christ our God to grant us his great mercy!

Kontakion - Tone 4

Having been illumined by the grace of truth,You radiantly instruct the ends of the earth in piety, O glorious Hieromartyrs.Therefore we bless you in faith.


Sophocles interviewed on "Come Receive the Light"

Last week I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed on the program, Come Receive the Light, a weekly show on the Orthodox Christian Network(OCN).

I was asked by Anne, a wonderful lady there, if I would be interested in the interview several weeks ago and I agreed.

Father Chris Metropolis was also very kind and gracious and I am thankful for the opportunity to have been on the program.

My interview is heard at the beginning of this particular program of Come Receive the Light and can be heard here.

I will add a link to the Orthodox Christian Network on my sidebar under "Orthodox Sites of Note".

Please be sure to visit this site often for very good daily, and in the case of Come Receive the Light, weekly, programming.

Russian Orthodox bishop's leave reversed by church

Bishop Nikolai (KTUU-TV)
National church leaders say they'll continue their probe into the allegations of abuse against Bishop Nikolai. (KTUU-TV)
Father Isidore (Mike Nederbrock/KTUU-TV)
Father Daniel (Mike Nederbrock/KTUU-TV)

by Angela Blanchard
Thursday, March 27, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Bishop Nikolai has been restored to his perch as head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska three weeks after national church leadership ordered him to vacate the post.

Now, those who initially spoke out against Bishop Nikolai say they are afraid of retaliation.
Nikolai had already refused an order from the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church of America that he vacate his position as bishop and leave the state during an official investigation.

Thursday, the bishop described it as "excellent news ... absolutely the best possible news."
The bishop's leave of absence was lifted after he met with church officials in New York.

"I suffered for the last three weeks terribly in this process," Nikolai said. "And I'm sure a lot of those other people have, too, but we can't look for an ounce of flesh, we have to look for the love of Christ."
Meanwhile, national church leaders say they'll continue their probe into the allegations of abuse against Bishop Nikolai.

Troubles in the church surfaced during the Lenten period and continue during this holiest time in the Russian Orthodox calendar.
The Holy Synod reportedly received more than 100 letters alleging the bishop abuses his clergy and laity.

The Russian church's second highest-ranking official, Father Isidore, had himself reportedly spoke out against Bishop Nikolai last summer.
Isidore now dismisses those remarks, claiming he was battling alcoholism at the time.

"I don't think he's a very vindictive man," Isidore said. "The truth that people express drunk is much different than what's real. You know, I may have expressed some dissatisfaction with a work situation that I've found often very difficult, not because the bishop puts a lot of pressure on me, but because there's a lot more work in this diocese than the two of us have been able to do."
But others who lodged complaints against the bishop say they fear repercussions -- specifically being suspended or even defrocked for speaking out.

Father Daniel, Parish Priest of the Saint Tikhon of Moscow Mission in Anchorage, says many clergymen now feel they've been betrayed by the national leadership.
"I think that, yes, as a clergy are, were afraid, are afraid, and they will be afraid to be honest, to be truthful," Father Daniel said. "A lot of the clergy have even expressed the idea that they're not even sure what is the point of existence of the Holy Synod?"

The question remains whether Bishop Nikolai will be welcomed back as a loving leader or church tyrant.

Ultimately, clergy and parishioners may have to ask God for that answer, according to Father Daniel.

The Holy Synod said it is sending two bishops to Alaska next week to continue the investigation.
They will report back to the Synod at the next meeting in May.

Contact Angela Blanchard at

Russian Orthodox and Catholic believers treat each other better - joint working group

28 March 2008, 10:58

Vladimir, March 28, Interfax - Representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches have stated an improvement in relations between Orthodox and Catholic believers in Russia.

A joint group on problems separating the two branches of Christianity convened in Vladimir. It underlined the importance of exchanging information between the two Churches and stated a better climate in the information sphere and the prevalence of a respectful and kind attitude between Orthodox and Catholic believers.

Participants in the session welcomed mutual support of socially significant initiatives launched by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. They called for further improvements and for joint efforts to resist attempts by some media to provoke Orthodox-Catholic conflicts.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Venerable Hilarion the New the Abbot of Pelecete

Commemorated on March 28
Saint Hilarion the New, Igumen of Peleke Monastery, from his youth, he devoted himself to the service of God and spent many years as a hermit. Because of his holy and blameless life he was ordained to the holy priesthood, and later he was made igumen of the Pelekete monastery (near the Dardanelles). St Hilarion was granted gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking by the Lord.
Through prayer he brought down rain during a drought, and like the Prophet Elisha he separated the waters of a river, he drove harmful beasts from the fields, he filled the nets of fishermen when they had no success in fishing, and he did many other miracles. In addition to these things, he was able to heal the sick and cast out demons.
St Hilarion suffered on Great and Holy Thursday in the year 754, when the military commnander Lakhanodrakon suddenly descended upon the Pelekete monastery in pursuit of icon-venerators, boldly forcing his way into the church, disrupting the service and throwing the Holy Gifts upon the ground. Forty-two monks were arrested, slapped into chains, sent to the Edessa district and murdered. The remaining monks were horribly mutilated, they beat them, they burned their beards with fire, they smeared their faces with tar and cut off the noses of some of the confessors. St Hilarion died for the veneration of icons during this persecution.
St Hilarion left behind spiritual works containing moral directives for spiritual effort. St Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9 and October 18) was well acquainted with the work of St Hilarion, and he also wrote about the significance of monastic struggles in his own theological works.
Troparion - Tone 5
Adorned with gladness of soulAs a pure vessel of the wisdom of Christ,You were a reflection of the life in God.Therefore you are resplendent with the light of virtues,O Father Hilarion,And you guide us unerringly to the salvation of our souls!
Kontakion - Tone 4
Righteous Hilarion, like a fruitful olive tree that has blossomed,with your oil you mystically make radiant those who sing to you:"Rejoice, unwavering rule of the righteous."

Tensions rise between rival Ukrainian Orthodox groups

Kiev, Mar. 26, 2008 ( - A noted Russian political scientist has charged that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko plans to break up the Orthodox Church in that country.

Sergei Markov, speaking to the Interfax news service, said that Yushchenko is involved in efforts to divide the Orthodox faithful of Ukraine-- an effort that he described as a "crime against the Russian Orthodox Church being masterminded by enemies of the Orthodox religion."

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine has actually been split for years, since 1992, when Metropolitan Filaret-- who had been the head of the Russian-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church-- broke with Moscow to establish an independent Kiev patriarchate. The Russian Orthodox Church has refused to recognize that group, instead backing the rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow patriarchate.

The tensions between the rival Kiev and Moscow patriarchates have troubled Ukrainian Orthodox clerics and even spilled over into the political world, prompting government officials like Yushchenko to seek an end to the rivalry. Their efforts have raised hackles in Moscow, where government leaders look askance at the Ukrainian drift away from political alignment with Russia.

The heavy influence of the Moscow patriarchate, which has sought to maintain its traditional control over the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, has also been a point of contention. Earlier this month Archbishop Dimitri, the rector of Kiev's Orthodox Theological Academy, acknowledged to reporters that a visit by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II could provoke a strong reaction among Ukrainian believers who resent Moscow's involvement.

Archbishop Dimitri was asked to comment on a proposal that the Russian prelate could be invited to participate in celebrations marking the 1020th anniversary of the "baptism of the Rus"-- the first establishment of the Christian faith in Ukraine. He replied: "We will recognize this visit if it is conducive to Church unity."



The Moscow Patriarchate objects to media’s unscrupulous coverage of Orthodox-Catholic theme

26 March 2008, 14:51

Moscow, March 26, Interfax – The Russian Orthodox Church called journalists to be scrupulous when covering religious life in Russia.

Thus the Church reacted on the recent report on Easter mess in the Moscow Catholic cathedral when 35 people were baptized. Its author claimed the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative had attended the sacrament and cited a Catholic nun as saying “We are very pleased that the Russian Orthodox representative was sympathetic and didn’t object to the baptism of Russians.”

The mentioned Orthodox priest has criticized the way his visit to the Catholic cathedral was reported. It was the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations secretary for inter-Christian affairs Fr. Igor Vyzhanov.

He told Interfax-Religion that he considered “the presentation unfair.”

“In spite of the author’s claims I didn’t greet the newly baptized, it was just a welcome address to everyone present and among other things I mentioned Christ’s presence in life of every Christian. The act of baptism wasn’t specially emphasized,” Fr. Igor said.

He stressed that baptism was carried out in the Moscow Catholic cathedral every Easter.

“Baptized are adults, some of them are foreigners who came to Russia, so the theme of their conversion and proselytism (converting to another confession – IF) is hardly actual in this case. Besides I didn’t express any sympathy or my attitude to this baptism,” the interviewee of the agency said.

He further said the Russian Church could hardly be “sympathetic” when people baptized in Orthodoxy were converted to Catholicism. “Surely, it’s their private business, but we don’t approve of such steps. I don’t know why a Catholic nun got such an impression,” he said.

The Russian Church’s representative is convinced that “such quotations falsifying real events and such way of presentation are unacceptable, especially in so subtle and responsible questions as relations between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia.”

“I am perplexed that on the basis of the mentioned report journalists concluded that the Russian Church’s representative approves of proselytism,” Fr. Igor said and urged mass media “to observe professional ethics.”


Berlin police: Russian artist condemned by Orthodox Church reported missing

The Associated Press Published: March 27, 2008

BERLIN: A Russian artist who has been condemned by the Orthodox Church for an exhibit in her home country has been missing from her apartment in western Berlin since Friday, police said Thursday.

Anna Mikhalchuk, 52, left her apartment on March 21 and has not been seen since, police spokeswoman Gabriele Kobbe told The Associated Press.

"The investigation is continuing but we do not have any concrete hints at this point," Kobbe said.

Mikhalchuk, also known in Russia under the name of Anna Alchuk, moved to Berlin with her husband in November 2007.

In 2005, Mikhalchuk was tried by a Moscow court on charges of inciting religious hatred for her works in a controversial art exhibit condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church. She was acquitted.

The 2003 exhibit — titled "Caution, Religion" — was organized by the Sakharov Museum, which is also a leading activist group, promoting democracy and human rights in Russia.

Sakharov Museum director Yury Samodurov said Thursday that he was deeply concerned to hear of Mikhalchuk's disappearance and expressed hope it was not connected with her work at the museum.

"I can hardly believe anyone would intentionally pursue somebody, especially when she was found innocent by the courts," he told The Associated Press in Moscow. "I just hope she is found."

According to a report in Berlin's Tagesspiegel daily, Mikhalchuk's husband Michail Ryklin informed police about her disappearance late Friday. Ryklin, is in Berlin on a scholarship and teaches at the Humboldt University.

On Saturday he sent a letter to Berlin police asking them to intensify their search, Tagesspiegel reported on Thursday.

"A political or anti-Semitic crime cannot be disqualified," the paper quoted him as writing, adding that there had been several anonymous threats against Mikhalchuk in the past.

Ryklin declined to comment on his wife's disappearance, Tanja Postpischil from his publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, told The Associated Press.

The 2003 exhibit at the Moscow museum included a Russian Orthodox-style icon with a hole instead of a head where visitors could insert their faces. Another work featured a Coca-Cola logo with Jesus' face drawn next to it and the words: "This is my blood."

Members of the Russian Orthodox Church called the exhibit blasphemous and insulting.

For days after opening, the exhibit was vandalized and six attackers were detained and charged with hooliganism. Those charges were dropped after a publicity campaign conducted by a Russian Orthodox priest.

About two-thirds of Russia's 144 million people are considered Orthodox Christians. After decades of state-sponsored atheism, destroyed churches have been rebuilt and many Russians have embraced the church and its rituals.

However, the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church and its centuries-old ties to the state have prompted concern among religious minorities. Some professed atheists claim that religious symbolism is as omnipresent and oppressive as atheism was in Soviet times.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Martyr Matrona of Thessalonica

Commemorated on March 27

The Holy Martyr Matrona of Thessalonica suffered in the third or fourth century. She was a slave of the Jewish woman Pautila (or Pantilla), wife of one of the military commanders of Thessalonica. Pautila constantly mocked her slave for her faith in Christ, and tried to convert her to Judaism. St Matrona, who believed in Christ from her youth, still prayed to the Savior Christ, and secretly went to church unbeknownst to her vengeful mistress.

Pautila, learning that St Matrona had been to church, asked, "Why won't you come to our synagogue, instead of attending the Christian church?" St Matrona boldly answered, "Because God is present in the Christian church, but He has departed from the Jewish synagogue." Pautila went into a rage and mercilessly beat St Matrona, tied her up, and shut her in a dark closet. In the morning, Pautila discovered that St Matrona had been freed of her bonds by an unknown Power.

a rage Pautila beat the martyr almost to death, then bound her even more tightly and locked her in the closet. The door was sealed so that no one could help the sufferer. The holy martyr remained there for four days without food or water, and when Pautila opened the door, she again found St Matrona free of her bonds, and standing at prayer.

Pautila flogged the holy martyr and left the skin hanging in strips from her body. The fierce woman locked her in the closet again, where St Matrona gave up her spirit to God.

Pautila had the holy martyr's body thrown from the roof of her house. Christians took up the much-suffered body of the holy martyr and buried it. Later, Bishop Alexander of Thessalonica built a church dedicated to the holy martyr. Her holy relics, glorified by many miracles, were placed in this church.

The judgment of God soon overtook the evil Pautila. Standing on the roof at that very place where the body of St Matrona had been thrown, she stumbled and fell to the pavement. Her body was smashed, and so she received her just reward for her sin.

Troparion - Tone 3

With undaunted spirit you preserved the Faith,And your soul, Matrona, was not enslaved by the cruelty of your torturers.You excelled in contest, slaying the crafty oneAnd were mystically wedded to the Lord of creation.Fervently entreat him to deliver us from all harm!

Kontakion - Tone 4

Filled with the light of the Spirit, O Matrona,you regarded your prison cell as a bridal chamber;and from it you hastened to your radiant dwelling in the heavens, crying out:"In divine love for You, O Word, I gladly endured scourgings."


President Bush Attends Celebration of Greek Independence Day

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Metropolitan Youth Choir performs at the Celebration of Greek Independence Day Tuesday, March 25, 2008, in the East Room of the White House. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
President George W. Bush is joined by Archbishop Demetrios as he delivers his remarks at the Celebration of Greek Independence Day Tuesday, March 25, 2008, in the East Room of the White House. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
3:41 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Your Eminence, thank you very much. Welcome to the White House. I'm always open for a few suggestions. (Laughter.) You're an easy man to listen to.

And I want to thank you all for coming. Here we are to celebrate the 187th anniversary of Greek independence. And it's an interesting place to celebrate it, isn't it? You know, the White House is a great symbol for independence and freedom and liberty, and it's a fitting place to celebrate the independence of Greece.
Mr. Minister, thank you for coming. We appreciate you coming all the way over for this event, and we're proud you're here, and thanks for bringing your son.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming. Ambassador Mallias is will us today. There you are, right there, Ambassador. Thank you. It's good to see your wife. Appreciate you all being here.
Ambassador Kakouris of -- to Cyprus is with us -- from Cyprus to U.S. is with us. Senator, thank you for coming. It's good to see you again. We miss you around these parts. (Laughter.) I don't know if you miss these parts, but we miss you around these parts. (Laughter.)

Father Alex, good to see you again, sir, thanks. I appreciate very much my Greek -- fellow Greek American citizens coming, as well as those who wear the uniform. We're proud to be in your presence. (Applause.)
Your Eminence, all free people stand on the shoulders of Greece. In the ancient world where political power usually came from the sword, the people of Athens came together around a radical and untried idea that men were fit to govern themselves. It was this freedom that allowed them to create one of the most vibrant societies in history. And that society deeply influenced America's founding fathers when they sought to establish a free state centuries later.

Throughout their history, the people of Greece have been committed to liberty. They've also been committed to the important principle that liberty only survives when brave men and women are ready to come to its defense.
In the years leading up to Greece's war for independence, one of the rallying cries of the Greek people was that it was better to be free for an hour than to be a slave for 40 years. Those are the kind of folks who had their priorities straight.

The United States was by Greece's side from the very beginning of the struggle for independence. In those early days, some Americans volunteered to serve in the Greek army, and many more contributed the funds that were necessary to keep the fight alive. Former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all spoke in favor of the Greek people's right to self-determination. And after many long years, Greece emerged victorious and free. And that's what we're celebrating today. (Applause.)
And from that time forward, the United States and Greece have been strong allies in the cause of freedom. Today, we continue to work to spread the hope of liberty. Our countries are working together in Afghanistan where Greek troops are an important part of the NATO forces that are restoring hope to that country. We're also partners in promoting stability in the Balkans and in the Middle East, where Greece provides peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo and Lebanon. Please thank your governments [sic] for those strong signals that liberty is universal, and that liberty will bring the peace we all hope.
Our nation has been inspired by Greek ideals and we have been enriched by Greek immigrants. Today, more than 1.3 million Americans trace their ancestry back to Greece, and we're better for having them here. America is a richer place, a better place. Our two countries also share ties of faith. The Greek Orthodox Church has well over one million members in the United States, under the leadership of this fine man. The Church is a source of strength and inspiration for a lot of our citizens. It's a proud part of our country's tradition of religious diversity and religious tolerance.

For nearly two centuries, the bonds between the United States and Greece have continued to strengthen, and during the earliest days of our friendship, one Greek leader told the American people: "It is in your land that liberty has fixed her abode. In imitating you, we shall imitate our ancestors."
Today I know that both our countries are making these ancestors proud through our commitment to freedom, and I'm confident that this tradition of friendship between the United States and Greece will continue for many years to come.

And so I ask God's blessings on the people of Greece and the people of America -- and now welcome the Metropolitan Youth Choir of the Archdiocese. (Applause.)

Beleaguered church leader to meet with national officials

Bishop Nikolai (KTUU-TV)

by Angela Blanchard
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Three weeks after being ordered to step down, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska says he's finally going to meet with national church officials.

Bishop Nikolai Soraich says he's traveling to New York Wednesday to discuss his status in the Alaska Diocese with leaders from the Orthodox Church of America.
Nikolai was placed on a mandatory leave of absence after national church officials received hundreds of letters accusing him of abuses of power, intimidation and disrespect for Native culture.

Unless the problem is solved this week, Nikolai says it could reach an international level -- something he says will not be good for the church's image.
The bishop maintains he will not step down without due process in a canonical court.

"I don't know what's in the heads of other people, you know, to try to make me out to be this monster and that I misappropriate things," the Right Rev. said. "I will tell you this, that I'm squeaky clean."
Meanwhile, Rev. Alexander Garklavs has been appointed administrator of the Alaska Diocese.

He has reportedly been meeting with church clergy and parishioners over the past several days. Attempts to contact Garklavs were unsuccessful.

Contact Angela Blanchard at

British Embryo Bill makes Russian Church seriously concerned

26 March 2008, 12:40

Moscow, March 26, Interfax - New research by British geneticists - the creation of an embryo by injecting human DNA into an animal cell - need scrutiny, likewise they need to control from the Church and public, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin told Interfax-Religion.

"Such an embryo cannot be considered as a human being. That is why its creation and its further destruction for medical purposes, at first glance, does not breach any formal requirements of the Christian morality," the priest said.

The Russian Orthodox Church does not however condemn "cloning separate cells and tissues of an organism to treat serious diseases," he said.

Recent British research could eventually turn out to be "a violent blow on the integrity of the nature granted to us by God," he said in comments on the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill, currently being discussed by the British Parliament.

The bill stipulates that human DNA can be placed in a cell of an animal in order to create an embryo suitable for further research. Geneticists claim that the study of such embryo will help to better understand the nature of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.


Could Gorbachev be a Christian?

Originally posted: March 25, 2008

European media were all in a tizzy last week about the supposedly sudden spiritual awakening of Mikhail Gorbachev. The former Soviet leader’s silence at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy apparently spoke volumes to reporters who spent the week guessing whether Gorbachev had returned to the Russian Orthodox church in which he was baptized.

They cited Ronald Reagan’s speculation and a visit with Pope John Paul II as proof that Gorbachev could have been concealing a hidden connection to God all along. But the Tribune’s Moscow correspondent, Alex Rodriguez, tells us that Gorbachev still denies having any faith.

CIn his Out There column this week, Rodriguez summed up the reaction in Russia, including that of Gorbachev.

"Over the last few days some media have been disseminating fantasies—I can’t use any other word—about my secret Catholicism, citing my visit to the Sacro Convento friary, where the remains of St. Francis of Assisi lie," Gorbachev told the Russian news agency Interfax. "To sum up and avoid any misunderstandings, let me say that I have been and remain an atheist."

Though Gorbachev acknowledged the vital role that religion plays in people’s lives, he insisted it still plays no role in his own and wondered out loud why his many tours of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, mosques and synagogues never prompted similar speculation that he was Protestant, Muslim or Jewish.

Gorbachev’s response comes as no surprise to Eugene Clay, an associate professor of religious studies who specializes in Eastern Rite Christianity. Of all the Soviet leaders, Gorbachev most recognized and respected the role of religion, Clay told me.

"The church is an important institution culturally and politically, and politicians have recognized that," he said. "In fact the church is more widely trusted than many of the political institutions. The personal faith of these politicians is less clear."

Though conversions are possible, the likelihood that Gorbachev harbors any relationship with Jesus Christ is slim to none, Clay said.

"A lot of the older people were raised as atheists and taught religion was something that was going to disappear. ... At best, it was something obsolete. At worst, it was something sinister."

Scholars say the notion that Gorbachev is Roman Catholic is even more absurd. The Russian church has been unable to forgive or forget the differences over papal authority and creed that sparked the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western churches. Even eight centuries later, Russian Orthodox leaders accuse the Roman Catholic church of poaching believers by offering humanitarian aid and pews where parishioners can sit during worship.

Judging from his philanthropic work, Clay said, if Gorbachev has adopted any religion it is secular humanism.



Georgian Church marks restoration of autonomy

By Shorena Labadze

Wednesday, March 26
Yesterday the Georgian Orthodox Church celebrated the anniversary of the renewal of its autocephaly, or religious autonomy within Christian Orthodoxy, with Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II holding a service in Sameba Cathedral.
The Georgian Orthodox Church first obtained autocephaly from the Church of Antioch in the fifth century AD, but was subsumed into the Russian Church in 1811. It regained its autocephaly on March 25, 1917, but was not officially recognized until 1990 after a campaign led by Ilia II.
In the fourth century AD, Georgia became the second nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion. The Church was a dominant social presence, but experienced decline after Georgia was annexed first into the Russian Empire, then into the Soviet Union.
“Georgian culture is weaved into Christianity. One comes from another. The base of Georgian culture is religion,” Priest Aleksandre told the Messenger.
The devout saw assaults on the Georgian Church as an assault on Georgia.
“Our many enemies knew that our weak point was our respect for Christianity,” one parishioner said. “The abolishment of autocephaly in 1811 was meant to break the Georgian people’s courage.”
Many churchgoers credit Ilia II, Patriarch since 1977, with reviving church attendance and increasing the flock after years of Soviet-era decline.
A voter values survey commissioned by the International Republican Institute in summer 2007 found 88 percent of Georgians professed Orthodox faith, and 15 percent attended church once a week.
“Our Patriarch has done everything to turn the Georgian people towards the Church,” churchgoer Nino Varadashvili said.

Why does the date for Easter change every year?

Have you ever wondered why Easter Sunday can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25? And why do Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on a different day than Western churches? These are all good questions with answers that require a bit of explanation.

In Western Christianity, Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon date of the year. I had previously, and somewhat erroneously stated, “Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox.” This statement was true in 325 AD, when it was established by the Council of Nicea.

However, the course of history has modified the meaning of this instruction, and therefore, a clearer, more accurate explanation is necessary today.

There are, in fact, as many misunderstanding about the calculation of Easter dates, as there are reasons for confusion about Easter dates. What follows is an attempt to clear up at least some of the confusion.

In actuality, the date of the Paschal Full Moon is determined from historical tables, and has no correspondence to lunar events. In the year 325 AD astronomers approximated the dates of all the full moons in the year for the Western Christian churches. These were called the Ecclesiastical Full Moon dates, and they have been used ever since 326 AD to determine the date of Easter. So, the Paschal Full Moon is always the first Ecclesiastical Full Moon date after March 20 (which happened to be the vernal equinox date in 325 AD).

The Paschal Full Moon can vary as much as two days from the date of the actual full moon, with dates ranging from March 21 to April 18. As a result, Easter dates can range from March 22 through April 25 in Western Christianity. Western churches use the Gregorian Calendar to calculate the date of Easter and Eastern Orthodox churches use the Julian Calendar. This is partly why the dates are rarely the same.

Easter and its related holidays do not fall on a fixed date in either the Gregorian or Julian calendars, making them moveable holidays. The dates, instead, are based on a lunar calendar very similar to the Hebrew Calendar.

The Eastern Orthodox Church not only maintains the date of Easter based on the Julian Calendar which was in use during the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD, but also according to the actual, astronomical full moon and the actual vernal equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem. This complicates the matter, due to the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar, and the 13 days that have accrued since 325 AD. This means, in order to stay in line with the originally established (325 AD) vernal equinox, Orthodox Easter cannot be celebrated before April 3 (present day Gregorian calendar), which was March 21 in 325 AD.

Additionally, in keeping with the rule established by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, the Eastern Orthodox Church adhered to the tradition that Easter must always fall after the Jewish Passover, since the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ happened after the celebration of Passover. Eventually the Orthodox Church came up with an alternative to calculating Easter based on Passover, and developed a 19-year cycle, as opposed to the Western Church 84-year cycle.

Since the days of early church history, determining the precise date of Easter has been a matter for continued argument. For one, the followers of Christ neglected to record the exact date of Jesus’ resurrection.



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel

Commemorated on March 26

Synaxis of the Holy Archangel Gabriel: The Archangel Gabriel was chosen by the Lord to announce to the Virgin Mary about the Incarnation of the Son of God from Her, to the great rejoicing of all mankind. Therefore, on the day after the Feast of the Annunciation, the day on which the All-Pure Virgin is glorified, we give thanks to the Lord and we venerate His messenger Gabriel, who contributed to the mystery of our salvation.

Gabriel, the holy Archistrategos (Leader of the Heavenly Hosts), is a faithful servant of the Almighty God. He announced the future Incarnation of the Son of God to those of the Old Testament; he inspired the Prophet Moses to write the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), he announced the coming tribulations of the Chosen People to the Prophet Daniel (Dan. 8:16, 9:21-24); he appeared to St Anna (July 25) with the news that she would give birth to the Virgin Mary.

The holy Archangel Gabriel remained with the Holy Virgin Mary when She was a child in the Temple of Jerusalem, and watched over Her throughout Her earthly life. He appeared to the Priest Zachariah, foretelling the birth of the Forerunner of the Lord, St John the Baptist.

The Lord sent him to St Joseph the Betrothed in a dream, to reveal to him the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God from the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and warned him of the wicked intentions of Herod, ordering him to flee into Egypt with the divine Infant and His Mother.

When the Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Passion, the Archangel Gabriel, whose very name signifies "Man of God" (Luke. 22:43), was sent from Heaven to strengthen Him.

The Myrrh-Bearing Women heard from the Archangel the joyous news of Christ's Resurrection (Mt.28:1-7, Mark 16:1-8).

Mindful of the manifold appearances of the holy Archangel Gabriel and of his zealous fulfilling of God's will, and confessing his intercession for Christians before the Lord, the Orthodox Church calls upon its children to pray to the great Archangel with faith and love.

The Synaxis of the Holy Archangel Gabriel is also celebrated on July 13. All the angels are commemorated on November 8.

Troparion - Tone 4

Gabriel, commander of the heavenly hosts,we who are unworthy beseech you, by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:"Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commander of the powers on high!"

Kontakion - Tone 8

Supreme commander Gabriel,you are the glorious intercessor and servantbefore the all-radiant, worthy, all-powerful, infinite and awesome Trinity.Ever pray now that we may be delivered from all tribulations and torments,so that we may cry out to you:"Rejoice, protection of your servants!"



Ukrainian Orthodox Church could split from Russian Church in 2008 - analyst

25 March 2008, 12:57

Moscow, March 25, Interfax - The Ukrainian authorities are preparing to break up the Church in Ukraine, and this could take place as early as this year, Kremlin-connected political scientist Sergey Markov claimed.

"One of the biggest challenges this year is fighting the split in Ukraine, the crime against the Russian Orthodox Church being masterminded by enemies of the Orthodox religion. Preparations are under way, and according to their plans, this could happen as early as this year," Markov claimed in an interview with the Interfax-Religion.

Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko and his brother Pyotr Yushchenko are behind these plans, he added.

The Russian authorities should pay attention to "the sources of the funds being handled by Pyotr Yushchenko," he said.

"It seems to me that this money is partially Russian, that is, part of our natural resources, possibly, gas is being used for something such as breaking up our Orthodox Church. If these plans are not stopped, a crime will be committed, and it will lead to an enormous tragedy," the analyst said.



New First Hierarch of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to be elected on May 12

25 March 2008, 11:55

Moscow, March 25, Interfax - The new supreme pontiff of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will be elected in New York on May 12, the day following the meeting of the Archbishop Council, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has reported on its official website.

Metropolitan Laurus of Eastern America and New York was buried on Friday.

For the last seven years of his life, Metropolitan Laurus was Father Superior of the Holy Trinity Monastery in New York. According to his will, he was buried in a crypt next to the grave of his spiritual teacher Metropolitan Filaret.

Metropolitan Laurus died in his residence in the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, U.S., on March 16. He was 80.



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Annunciation of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

Commemorated on March 25


The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the earliest Christian feasts, and was already being celebrated in the fourth century. There is a painting of the Annunciation in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome dating from the second century. The Council of Toledo in 656 mentions the Feast, and the Council in Trullo in 692 says that the Annunciation was celebrated during Great Lent.

The Greek and Slavonic names for the Feast may be translated as "good tidings." This, of course, refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation He brings. The background of the Annunciation is found in the Gospel of St Luke (1:26-38). The troparion describes this as the "beginning of our salvation, and the revelation of the eternal mystery," for on this day the Son of God became the Son of Man.

There are two main components to the Annunciation: the message itself, and the response of the Virgin. The message fulfills God's promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15): "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel." The Fathers of the Church understand "her seed" to refer to Christ. The prophets hinted at His coming, which they saw dimly, but the Archangel Gabriel now proclaims that the promise is about to be fulfilled.

We see this echoed in the Liturgy of St Basil, as well: "When man disobeyed Thee, the only true God who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from Paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself."

The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee. There he spoke to the undefiled Virgin who was betrothed to St Joseph: "Hail, thou who art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."

In contrast to Eve, who was readily deceived by the serpent, the Virgin did not immediately accept the Angel's message. In her humility, she did not think she was deserving of such words, but was actually troubled by them. The fact that she asked for an explanation reveals her sobriety and prudence. She did not disbelieve the words of the angel, but could not understand how they would be fulfilled, for they spoke of something which was beyond nature.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34). "

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.' And Mary said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1: 35-38)."

In his Sermon 23 on the day of the Annunciation, St Philaret of Moscow boldly stated that "the word of the creature brought the Creator down into the world." He explains that salvation is not merely an act of God's will, but also involves the Virgin's free will. She could have refused, but she accepted God's will and chose to cooperate without complaint or further questions.

The icon of the Feast shows the Archangel with a staff in his left hand, indicating his role as a messenger. Sometimes one wing is upraised, as if to show his swift descent from heaven. His right hand is stretched toward the holy Virgin as he delivers his message.

The Virgin is depicted either standing or sitting, usually holding yarn in her left hand. Sometimes she is shown holding a scroll. Her right hand may be raised to indicate her surprise at the message she is hearing. Her head is bowed, showing her consent and obedience. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon her is depicted by a ray of light issuing from a small sphere at the top of the icon, which symbolizes heaven. In a famous icon from Sinai, a white dove is shown in the ray of light.

There are several famous icons of the Annunciation. One is in the Moscow Kremlin in the church of the Annunciation. This icon appeared in connection with the rescue of a prisoner by the Mother of God during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Another is to be found in the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow (July 8). It was originally located in Ustiug, and was the icon before which St Procopius the fool (July 8) prayed to save the city from destruction in 1290. One of the most highly revered icons in Greece is the Tinos icon of the Annunciation (January 30).

The Annunciation falls during Lent, but it is always celebrated with great joy. The Liturgy of St Basil or St John Chrysostom is served, even on the weekdays of Lent. It is one of the two days of Great Lent on which the fast is relaxed and fish is permitted (Palm Sunday is the other).

Troparion - Tone 4

Today is the beginning of our salvation,The revelation of the eternal mystery!The Son of God becomes the Son of the VirginAs Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!

Kontakion - Tone 8

O Victorious Leader of Triumphant Hosts!We, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos!As you possess invincible might, set us free from every calamitySo that we may sing: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!



The moon, sun, equinox, and Easter's elusive dating

By Michael Hill Sun reporter
March 23, 2008

If the youngsters are shivering in their new Easter finery - instead of basking in the gentle April sun most of us are accustomed to - you can blame it on the stars.

Actually, on the moon.

This year's March 23 Easter is almost as early as the holiday can get for the Western churches - the product of an arcane set of rules dating to the first millennium.

For the record, it is possible to have Easter on March 22. That last happened in 1818 and will occur again in 2285 - unless the rules are changed between now and then. The March 23 date, by the way, won't pop up again until 2160.

For the record, it is possible to have Easter on March 22. That last happened in 1818 and will occur again in 2285 - unless the rules are changed between now and then. The March 23 date, by the way, won't pop up again until 2160.

As the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pagano, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, explains it, many early Christians celebrated what has become Easter on the same days Jews celebrated Passover, the 15th day of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish year - which is based on a lunar calendar.

"But that could be any day of the week," Pagano said. "So the first thing they sorted out was that Easter had to be on a Sunday. Then they had to figure out which Sunday.

"Much of this was figured out at the Council of Nicea in the year 325. Famed for the Nicene Creed, the council also tried to standardize the date of Easter as the 14th day of the Paschal moon, the first moon of spring. They let the astronomical scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, work out the details.

That basically set the current rules for determining Easter - the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. But all sorts of complications cropped up in the ensuing millennia.

For starters, consider what Easter celebrates - the Resurrection of Christ after his Crucifixion. The Gospels report that these events - the Passion - took place around Passover, which is why the early church linked the two. But there is considerable dispute, even in the gospel reports, about the exact relationship between Easter and Passover.

P. Kyle McCarter, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, notes that the Gospel of John says Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, while the other Gospels report that he celebrated the Passover seder with his disciples."

"The favorite way to deal with this problem in contemporary scholarship is to assume that Jesus was following a different calendar than the one followed by the priests in charge of the Temple," McCarter wrote in an e-mail.

"More specifically, scholars surmise that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover supper according to an Essene calendar, like the one followed by the community at Qumran and followed, therefore, in the Dead Sea scrolls."

There were also theological and cultural reasons for breaking of the specific link between the dates of Easter and Passover.

"I expect something big happened in the church when that break occurred, in the ways in which people understood Easter," Pagano said. "This is speculation on my part, but the breaking of Easter from the Jewish calendar, from Passover, really represented, I would imagine, a major shift in the symbolic understanding of what Easter meant."

No longer was Easter, along with the Christian church, a younger version of its elders in Judaism. With that break, the church stood on its own, as did Easter, as a celebration of Christ's Resurrection.

The actual break was based on the Christian church's following the solar-based calendar used in Rome, while Jewish authorities stuck with their lunar calendar. That calendar celebrates Passover very late this year - from April 19 to April 27.

The fact that the date of Easter in is still dependent on a full moon is something of a vestigal remnant of its lunar origins linked to Passover.

split within the Christian Church occurred in the 16th century when papal authorities, noticing that the March 21 vernal equinox specfied by the Council of Nicea was getting further and further away from the actual equinox, removed 10 days from the calendar and made a few more adjustments to come up with what became known as the Gregorian calendar, in honor of Pope Gregory XIII.

There are further complications: For purposes of Easter calculations, March 21 is the spring equinox, even when it's not. And the full moon is determined as occurring 14 days after the new moon, even when it is not actually full on that day.

The Orthodox Church did not go along. According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and other Orthodox sources, it stuck with the vernal equinox date of March 21 in the Julian calendar, the equivalent of an early April date in the Gregorian calendar (which means that the Orthodox Church can never have a March Easter).

Add to that a different table for calculating full moons, and in most years there will be two Easter dates in Christianity. The Orthodox Easter is likely to be much warmer this year, since it comes on April 27.

Pagano said he likes Easter as a moveable feast - and not just another date on the conventional calendar, as Christmas is.

"It helps if people experience liturgial time, religious time, as something different than ordinary time," Pagano said. "There is a certain sense of value when Easter comes real early as it does this year and surprises us.