Beautiful Theophany Troparion (Church Slavonic)

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Тропарь Крещения (Tone 1):

“When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made maifest;/
for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son./
And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of His Word./
O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and enlightened the world,/
Glory be to Thee!”

Here is another testament to the international catholicty and unity of the Orthodox faith: Singing the same above troparion, Japanese Orthodox Christians congregate outside Tokyo’s Holy Resurrection Cathedral to receive from their bishop, Metropolitan Daniel, the blessing of sprinkling with holy water.

Thoughts on the Cherubic Hymn

When the choir intones the other-worldly supplications of the Cherubikon (literally “song of the angels” in Greek), even the most theologically unschooled person present in the church can discern that a kind of awe-inspiring, wondrous veil falls over the worshipers gathered together.

What is this veil? Is is the angelic host descending into the temple to worship the Lord together with the people, the choir and the clergy. The angels move invisibly among the church as the choir hymns them, but through a worshiper’s noetic eye (his or her spiritual consciousness of the grace of God in the mystical unity between heart and soul) he or she is inexpressibly aware of their presence.

Since our worship is an other-worldly event which joins us here on earth to the very cosmos, uniting heaven and earth as we join with the bodiless powers of heaven and all the Saints in their endless worship of the Trinity, during the Cherubic Hymn, as the angels move about the temple, we are ushered even more intimately into the heavenly worship which goes on for eternity.

As the choir raise their voices to the heavens, calling on the heavenly hosts of cherubim and seraphim, worshipers whose noetic soul is awakened behold in awe a deep spiritual presence. This presence envelops all who can discern it in a kind of effusive, radiant light. This is the very light of the Lord’s angels moving among the faithful, worshiping God alongside them.

As the priest moves about the temple, censing the icons of Christ and His saints, then censing the people, venerating the image of God present in each of them, the angels move about, hymning and praising the Lord while the choir hymns them. As this takes place in these holy moments, the grace of God overflows in the souls of those who can discern it.

The temple altar represents – and during the Eucharistic offering becomes – the throne of God in heaven. Just as the faithful bow down in worship before the Eucharistic altar when they enter the church, and just as the clergy bow down before the altar at the consecration of the divine gifts during the Epiclesis, so too do the angels bow down before the altar, the heavenly throne, as the choir praises them.

Ponder, if you will, the opening words of the Cherubikon and their profound implications for all those who sing and hear them:

In Greek: Οἱ τὰ Χερουβεὶμ μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες

Transliterated to the Roman/Latin alphabet this becomes: I ta cherouvim mystikos eikonizondes

The normative translation into English is: We who mystically represent the Cherubim

A more literal and theologically profound translation would be: We who mystically image the Cherubim (or) We who are mystically icons of the Cherubim.

We who are icons, or images, of the angels, the bodiless powers of heaven. Think on the deep spiritual meaning of these words.
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Rightly, the Cherubic Hymn is considered one of the most ethereal, mysterious choral pieces in the Liturgy, for it is the choir’s attempt to imitate the host of angels singing before the heavenly throne of God.

Recalling the words of St Isaac the Syrian, one cannot help but think of the mystical, transcendent beauty which these words, and the Cherubikon, evoke:

“Let us take refuge in the Lord, and ascend a little to the place where thoughts dry up, and stirrings vanish. Where memories fade away and the passions die, where human nature becomes serene, and is transformed as it stands in the other world.”

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This particular Cherubic Hymn is in the Old Bulgarian Chant style of the late Byzantine period. The Very Reverend Igumen Silouan, Abbot of Optina Hermitage arranged this composition in 1993. The Male Choir of Optina Monastery near Kozelsk, Russia sings this transcendent, compellingly beautiful Cherubikon.

http://www.optinachoir.ru/ CD “Russian church singing”

Херувимская песнь. Староболгарский распев. Изложение игумена Силуана (1993 г.)
Мужской хор Санкт-Петербургского Подворья монастыря Оптина Пустынь.

Here is another beautiful Cherubikon, chanted in the first Byzantine mode by Romeiko Ensemble.

A picture says a thousand words

Here are some insightful images from His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah’s tenure as primate of the Orthodox Church in America, as well as many poignant photos taken following his July resignation. I share these photos in the hope that they will provide a glimpse, for those who are not blessed to know him in person, and especially to those who have never met him, of the Metropolitan ‘at work’ in his various Church roles: interacting easily and joyfully with the faithful, especially young people; presiding over many historically significant inter-jurisdictional meetings and liturgies; and con-celebrating with fellow hierarchs and bishops from other Orthodox jurisdictions. I hope they convey a sense of his grace, his profound piety and love for Christ and the Orthodox faith, and his joy and love for Orthodox Christians everywhere.

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A young parishioner is lifted up to kiss the cross at St Nicholas Cathedral on Pascha.

A young parishioner is lifted up to kiss the cross at St Nicholas Cathedral on Pascha.

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Metropolitan Jonah greeting a group of Orthodox faithful in Mexico.

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On Sunday evening, October 23, 2011 the miraculous myrrh-streaming Iveron icon of the Theotokos came to St Nicholas Cathedral. Metropolitan Jonah presided over the beautiful akathist sung in honor of the Theotokos in the packed Cathedral. I was present to venerate the icon, and, incredibly, when I kissed it, my lips came away covered in myrrh! That night, more than any other time, the Cathedral was filled with the abundant warmth, light and grace of God’s presence.

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Receiving a gift of flowers from a young Orthodox girl.

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Metropolitan Jonah with Father Constantine White and students at the Georgetown University Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF).

Metropolitan Jonah with Father Constantine White and students at the Georgetown University Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF).

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His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia.

My chrismation took place on Sunday, December 4, 2011 at St Nicholas Cathedral in Washington.

Metropolitan Jonah addressing the faithful at St Nicholas Cathedral on the feast day of St Nicholas (Julian Calendar), Monday, December 19, 2011. Father Valery stands in the left foreground and my godmother Marilyn is visible in the bright red coat.

Addressing parishioners during the same December 2011 Liturgy commemorating St Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of the Cathedral. The tall man standing in the back in the white shirt is my godfather, Mikhail (Misha).

At Saint Nicholas Cathedral on the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, bishop of Myra and Orthodox opponent of Arius.

At Saint Nicholas Cathedral on the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, bishop of Myra and Orthodox opponent of Arius.

Metropolitan Jonah celebrates the Divine Liturgy in honor of the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) at St Nicholas Cathedral on December 25, 2011 (New Calendar). Behind him to his left is Father Valery Shemchuk, acting dean and pastor of the Cathedral, and to his right is his personal assistant, Monk James Stevens.

The very kind Deacon Blagoje (left) and Father Valery, pastor and acting dean of St Nicholas Cathedral, (right), standing on the solea with Metropolitan Jonah presenting the Holy Gifts during the Nativity Liturgy.

Metropolitan Jonah blessing the worshipers during the Christmas Divine Liturgy.

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Metropolitan Jonah with Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and some members of their respective Holy Synods of bishops, mitred archpriests, priests, and monks.

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His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah and His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy for the first time together at the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City on Saturday, December 10, 2011 in the presence of the Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God. Present and con-celebrating along with the primates were the respective Holy Synod of bishops of the OCA and of ROCOR, and many attendant priests and monks. My godmother was also present and the Liturgy left a lasting and memorable impression on her.

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On New Year’s Day, Sunday, January 1, 2012, at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion and Archpriest Fr. Victor Potapov, Metropolitan Jonah celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the ROCOR Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington, D.C. This historic Liturgy, which my godmother and many parishioners from St Nicholas attended, marked the first time a primate of the Orthodox Church in America celebrated Liturgy in a cathedral of the Russian Church Abroad without a ROCOR hierarch also present.

At St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Washington for the January 1 Liturgy. Father Vladimir, a ROCOR priest, is wearing his purple mitre, while Monk James, His Beatitude’s personal assistant, holds his train.

With the clergy of St John the Baptist Cathedral on New Year's Day, 2012.

With the clergy of St John the Baptist Cathedral on New Year’s Day, 2012. The Cathedral rector Fr. Victor Potapov, a mitred archpriest, stands in the foreground.

With Russian parishioners and His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Moscow Patriarch’s Department for External Church Relations, at St Catherine’s church, the official Moscow podvorie (Greek: metochion, ’embassy church’) of the OCA.

In gratitude for her brilliant lecture “Our Great High Priest: the Church as the New Temple”, on January 29, 2012 at the 29th annual Father Alexander Schmemann Lecture at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, NY, Metropolitan Jonah, president of the seminary, presented Dr. Margaret Barker with an icon of “Christ the High Priest”.

On Saturday, June 23, 2012, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah welcomed His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), internationally renowned Orthodox author and theologian and titular bishop of Diokleia (under the jurisdiction of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople) to St Nicholas Cathedral. The two bishops, who have spoken together at the popular annual Orientale Lumen theological conferences, concelebrated Divine Liturgy together.

Vigil for the Dormition of the Theotokos (Julian Calendar), August 27, 2012: Metropolitan Jonah served in San Francisco’s historic Holy Virgin Cathedral alongside His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and brother bishops of the respective Synods for ROCOR and OCA.

On Tuesday, August 28, 2012, the Julian Calendar celebration of the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah served with and stood on the episcopal ambo with two of his brother bishops: Their Eminences Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), left, and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, center.

Standing in the altar with the respective Metropolitan bishops Hilarion (Alfeyev), center and Hilarion (Kapral), right. Archbishop Justinian  of the Moscow Patriarchate is to the left.

On Sunday, September 16, at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and Cathedral rector Father Victor Potapov, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah con-celebrated the Divine Liturgy with them at Washington D.C.’s historic St John the Baptist Cathedral.

Walking with a parishioner outside St John the Baptist Cathedral after Liturgy

Walking with a parishioner outside St John the Baptist Cathedral after Liturgy

On the thirteenth anniversary of Bishop Basil’s Repose

Today, September 17, 2012, marks the thirteenth anniversary of the repose of His Grace, the late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) of the OCA Diocese of San Francisco and the West. I will be attending an 8am Liturgy commemorating His Grace of blessed memory at his small apartment here in Washington, D.C. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah has often celebrated weekday Liturgies here. His Grace peacefully reposed in this studio apartment,  a cozy place filled with books, icons, religious items, and thousands of tape cassettes of his broadcasts, which also contains a beautiful little chapel. Metropolitan Jonah will be celebrating the commemorative Liturgy this morning, and I will share your many prayers and good wishes with him.

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His Grace, the late Bishop Basil Rodzianko (May 22, 1915-September 17, 1999).

My godmother is very devoted to preserving the memory and legacy of Bishop Basil, and she has been instrumental in maintaining the Holy Archangels Foundation, an informal group which he helped organize in 1986 to assist him in his various efforts and broadcasts. This group continued assisting him in the later years of his life in carrying on his various broadcast ministries, writings, and other endeavors.

After his death, the group set to organizing and making available to the public many of Bishop Basil’s incredible sermons, brilliant audio recordings and wide-ranging thoughts on many topics, including Orthodox asceticism, contemplative prayer, the Liturgy, Orthodox history, the communist regimes, spiritual reflection, contemporary issues, personal holiness, and life in the Church. One intriguing and comprehensive result of their collaborative efforts is this beautiful web page. Included on this website is a remarkable and compelling account of Bishop Basil’s fascinating life!

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As a younger, married man living in England, then Fr. Vladimir Rodzianko gave many broadcasts with the BBC. Following his beloved wife’s death, he was tonsured as a monk.

My godmother, whom Bishop Basil as a newly consecrated bishop received into the Church, maintains the small apartment where he lived after his retirement, including the tiny, beautiful chapel where he often celebrated the divine services. While I never knew Bishop Basil in his earthly life, as many of my older friends from St Nicholas did, I have been blessed to hear and read so much of his life that I feel I have come to know him in many ways. This article is one small attempt I have made to describe, in my own words, the extraordinary breadth and impact of his long life.

Metropolitan Jonah has spoken movingly of his vivid memories of Bishop Basil, including in this video which includes his sermon at the Liturgy commemorating His Grace on the tenth anniversary of his repose in 2009 at St Nicholas Cathedral. As my godmother recorded in this article featured on the Cathedral website, His Beatitude observed about Bishop Basil that

“Ten years ago he died and was buried – and yet he is alive in our midst. . . His presence is powerful and the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to perceive that presence – that grace that came forth from him during his life through his prayers and the grace which comes forth from him now through his prayers”.

These words embody the very fullness of our intentions when we say, in reference to our departed loved ones, “Memory eternal!” / “Вечная память!” For Bishop Basil, however, the extraordinary holiness and depth of faithfulness and wisdom which permeated his life as a monastic and a bishop call to mind another aspect of our references to our beloved ancestors and forerunners who have reposed in the Lord. These words are from the very prayers offered at the commemorative Liturgies in memory of the reposed:

“Among the spirits of the righteous perfected in faith, give rest, O Savior, to the soul of Your servant. . .”

“The righteous perfected in faith”. Many have spoken to me of the deep veneration and love they have for Bishop Basil, and, although the Orthodox Church has yet to formally canonize him as a saint, many ordinary faithful already honor him as such. What is beyond doubt is that, in his vocation as a bishop, Bishop Basil touched the lives of thousands of the faithful with his glowing countenance, demeanor, and kindness of spirit.

My godmother has recounted to me that, on the late bishop’s many visits to Russia, trips on which she often accompanied him, countless ordinary villagers upon first meeting him immediately discerned that he was a holy man. Russian babushkas in particular would exclaim, “He is with the angels!”. Most of us can only ponder what this means, to be in the presence of a living saint! I count the testimonies of those who knew Bishop Basil, especially those who were very close to him, as invaluable in preserving for the rest of us an account of this man’s extraordinary life and the path to holiness which he followed in his later years.

Bishop Basil spent the last fifteen years of his life serving at St Nicholas Cathedral at a time of tremendous growth in parish life, serving as the beloved spiritual father to many in this parish. As a retired bishop, after 1984 he concentrated his efforts on his radio broadcasts to the faithful living in the Soviet Union. My godmother and many others who knew him and frequently traveled with him in Russia have recounted that these broadcasts played a major role in the reemergence of Orthodoxy in Russian spiritual and public life following the collapse of the Communist regime.

Bishop Basil maintained his love for the radio throughout his life.

I count it among the greatest of blessings in my life that I have been able to attend these intimate Liturgies at the chapel where Bishop Basil so often served in his latter years, in the apartment where he lived and reposed. I have felt his calming, healing presence permeating the room and softening the hearts and countenances of all present.

To give you just one small sense of the extraordinary holiness and grace which sanctified and transformed this man’s life as a bishop, here is one quote from a veritable library of sermons, addresses, and special messages he recorded, which are continually being transferred to more updated electronic media files:

“When Christ promised his disciples that the Spirit of God, His Holy Spirit, would descend upon them, He called Him the Comforter. To be in the Spirit promised by Christ is to be comforted, consoled. One need not fear any kind of sorrow or surrounding evil or inner affliction when there is such consolation. But in order to come to this consolation, it is necessary to understand in the depth of one’s soul that any sorrow, any suffering, any affliction is a consequence of sin – either one’s own or another’s. And if you accept everything as your own sin, if you identify yourself with the whole of sinful humanity and understand the fall and that you deprived yourself of Paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven – first of all, you yourself – then tears of repentance will flow at once and with them, all encompassing consolation. Such a person (who has come to such repentance) becomes meek, filled with an inner calm, silence and peace. Only in such a condition is it possible to subdue surrounding evil, win people over and win over the world. ‘Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved’ said St. Seraphim of Sarov.”

Relatives, close friends, and spiritual sons and daughters of Bishop Basil gather at his grave in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park on September 17, 2009, the tenth anniversary of his repose. Present, among others, are his niece, Matushka Anna, my godmother Marilyn Swezey, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, Father Valery, acting dean of St Nicholas Cathedral, and his wife, Matushka Marina.

It is my hope that Bishop Basil’s legacy will continue to live on in the stories of all who knew him, and, through their efforts, that more and more people come to know of his extraordinary life. May his memory be eternal! Вечная память!

Metropolitan Anthony on forgiveness

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“You have already asked what love is. Forgiveness is just as difficult. Learn to pity, and find, if not justification, then an explanation for the actions of those who have hurt you, and always put yourself in the place of these people. Hatred only burns you. Do not seek justice from God, but seek mercy. If we are to be judged, we are all condemned. But through mercy and grace we are forgiven and loved.”
-Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) was an internationally renowned Russian Orthodox author, speaker and radio broadcaster who served as bishop, archbishop, and then Metropolitan for the Diocese of Sourozh, the community of Orthodox parishes in Great Britain and Ireland under the Moscow Patriarchate. Many revere him as a saint.

 

On Confession, Repentance and the Healing Love of God

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“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  – James 5:16

“My child, may our Lord and God Christ Jesus by the mercy of His love absolve thee from thy sins; and I, His unworthy priest, in virtue of the authority committed to me, absolve thee and declare thee absolved of thy sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” An Orthodox priest’s prayer of absolution

Repentance: few words in Christianity are as misunderstood as this one. This word literally means “to turn away”, to turn from our sin, to reject it and depart from it. Like our salvation, the process of repentance is not accomplished in a single instance, but it is realized over a period of time, a period of healing in which we are exhorted to use that most beautiful of channels of communication with God, prayer of the heart, to reach out to Him for comfort, for healing, and for the strength to walk in His light. The late and venerable Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, writing on the mystery of Confession, observes that the God we come to in Confession, the one whose grace and love we seek to find anew, is the “One who waits for us to come to be healed, to be consoled, to be supported—not to be condemned, not to be judged.”

In her two thousand years of wisdom, the Church has offered the mystery of confession so that her faithful may come to her priests, her servants, as if they were approaching a trusted confidante, a friend who is there just to listen and observe, to hear of your sorrows and your tribulations. You know your confessor is not the doctor of your soul but only the secretary facilitating the meeting, as the priest reminds us when he tells his spiritual child in the prayer read before Confession, “I am but a witness”. As Metropolitan Anthony observes, the priest “is called by Christ to be before the person, the sinner, a witness to the fact that he, the sinner, is loved, that Christ is there, that He has no other desire or intention but the salvation and the joy eternal of the one who has come today.” Think on this: the priest, the man who represents Christ to your parish, comes to you as a servant of your Creator, and he is there not to condemn you, or to presume to judge you, for God alone knows your spirit and what is written on your heart. The priest is there to point you toward the “joy eternal” the Savior would offer to you.

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Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) was an internationally renowned Russian Orthodox author, speaker and radio broadcaster who served as bishop, archbishop, and then Metropolitan for the Diocese of Sourozh, the community of Orthodox parishes in Great Britain and Ireland under the Moscow Patriarchate. Many revere him as a saint.

Who then are we meeting, to whom do we come with our spiritual illnesses, the tumors of sins and misdeeds weighing down our spirits? We come to our Creator, the Physician of our souls and sculptor of our very being. Metropolitan Anthony writes that “When we come to confession we come to meet a friend face to face.” This friend is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer! Rather than be afraid of Him, let us do as St. John the Beloved Apostle exhorts, and come to Him as His children, who “know the Father” and are aware of His Son’s love for us (1 John 2:12-13).

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St. John promises us that we are beloved “children of God” (1 John 3:1-3). Our heavenly Father loves us and beckons us to become “like Him” purifying and sanctifying our bodies, spirits and souls in faith. The Lord’s Beloved Disciple reminds us that “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be” and that when the faithful shall someday see God “as He is”, “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:1-3). Think on this! It makes sense that if we are all His children, made in His image, with a unique spirit and a soul of His crafting, He would want us to become “like Him”! Only He knows our true potential, our true personhood which He fashioned out of nothing. If we have “this hope” to become like Him, we must purify ourselves of sin (1 John 3:3) and we do this through confession. Let us not be afraid, for to confess to Him is to return to His light, to leave behind the burdens of guilt or grief or shame, and to repent, to turn away from these things, and unto Him, our “Light of Light, true God of true God.”  As the Prophet Isaiah reminds us, our sins separate us from God, obscuring from us the light of His face (Isaiah 59:1-2).

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Many Russian Orthodox and British converts came to deeply love and honor Metropolitan Anthony.

As St. Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin literally means “to miss the mark”, so, as you can imagine, most priests are sinners as much as any of their parishioners. This is why the priest acts only as a witness in confession. I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, and in this Christian Tradition, similar to yet in many ways very different from the Orthodox faith, the priest similarly says, at the prayer of absolution ending the confession, “I absolve you of your sins” but without the humble reference the Orthodox priest invokes as God’s “unworthy servant”. Both Orthodox and Catholics cite John 20:23, when Christ bestowed upon His Apostles the authority to remit the sins of the faithful, for biblical proof that Christ gave their priests the power to absolve sins as successors to the apostles. Yet the Roman Catholic prayer of absolution does not implore Christ “by the mercy of His love” to absolve sinners, mainly because the Roman Church views their priests as ‘dispensers of grace’.

Unlike in Roman Catholicism, in Orthodoxy, when you confess, the priest is present, but only as a witness of your words. You confess directly to our Heavenly Father and to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As Metropolitan Anthony observes, when we come into the mystery of confession, “we are not coming to be judged or condemned. We do not come in terror of what will happen. We come to the One who, being God, beyond suffering, beyond death, has chosen, for the love of us, to become Man, to take upon Himself all our human destiny and to give His life for us.” We come to our Savior and Redeemer, who loves us with a love we can barely comprehend, a love we can hardly fathom from the depths of our heart! We do not quake or kneel before a terrible God of anger and wrath, but, as Metropolitan Anthony reminds us, we come to Him who took on our fallen form, the form He created that it might realize its innate divine purpose. We come to Him who gave His life so that we might, in cooperation and obedience to His will and His life-giving Spirit, realize His promise of eternal life.

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Memory Eternal to the venerable reverend Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh!

The Metropolitan observes, “We are so loved of God that we can come up to Him whether we are good or bad with hope that He will receive us with open arms; that if anyone is to cry over our unworthiness and our sins it is Him, for compassion, for pity, for love.” What an awesome, cosmos-shaking love this is! What a love which captivates and astounds people to this day! When you unburden your heart of your sins, putting them into words before the priest, you show God, who knows your sins before you even commit them, that you understand them and admit them for what they are. You thus begin the process of repentance even as you are confessing! As the Beloved Disciple of our Savior reminds us in 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” It is so simple: rather than deceive ourselves, we need only admit our sins, our “missed marks”, wherever we have done wrong or failed to do good, and, as St. John promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

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He loves you, and wants to cleanse you “from all unrighteousness”, that you may be fulfilled to the very summit of your being, the very height of the purpose for which He created you in His image. Thus, when you are deliberating whether or not to go to confession, do not worry. Pray in simple words and humility to your Savior, pray to your Father in Heaven, and the Spirit of the Lord will move you to confess when God wants to illumine your spirit. If you feel promptings to go to confession which you did not previously, this is the Holy Spirit speaking within your soul! Go, then, to confession, when you have “missed marks” to speak of, be they wrongs committed or good deeds left unfulfilled. Go when you want to talk to a Friend who is waiting for you. Go when you feel the burdens of sin in your soul, in the quiet of your heart, and, as in prayer, you will find a constant Friend who knows your sins before you committed them, who has numbered every hair on your head and is already aware of every sin you will ever commit in your life.

You cannot hide secrets from Him Who is all knowing, for He made the hearts of holy saints just as He made the hearts of those who wish to deceive themselves and Him. As Metropolitan Anthony observes, do not think “of punishment or of rejection but with open heart pour out everything evil or doubtful there is in this heart. And Christ will receive you. He does not reject you. Come, open your heart, speak in all truth to Him, knowing that you are loved beyond judgment, to the point of sacrifice and death: His death, and your life—life in time and life eternal.” Go to your Lord, seek out your God, and fear not. He will never stop loving you. He craves for you to return to His loving embrace, His light which is the true path. Thus, He invites you to turn from whatever harmed you, whatever caused that disturbance in your soul, and turn to Him.

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Memorial to Metropolitan Anthony in Brompton Cemetery, London. Holy reverend Anthony, pray to God for us that He might save our souls!

The witness of the Church, thus, is the antithesis of cold legalism. She closes her doors to no one, nor bars any of her children from the process of healing and repentance. The Church has never said, does not say, and will never say, “If you do this, go away, for you are lost”, or “If you sin this way, despair, for you are irredeemably lost!” For the Church to say this would be blasphemy. Instead she says “if you sin, if you transgress, do not flee from us, do not go away, but stay with us!” To those who flee from her in fear, shame, or trembling, she beckons, “Come back!” She is a loving mother—when her children are hurt, even if they tripped up and hurt themselves, she wants to help heal them. She is always waiting for them to come to her, always endeavoring to bring them unto the Physician of our souls, the Father of our spirits.

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Whatever you have done or failed to do, whatever is ailing your spirit, plaguing your soul, she wants you to heal. Let her help you. Do not wallow in shame or guilt and become as an island unto yourself, for that leads to isolation, then loneliness, then a deep spiritual famine, a noetic starvation of the soul which can become a prison, a snare in which the Evil One becomes your master. This can lead to despair, in which God, though right next to you, waiting to dwell within you, can seem far away, absent, even uncaring.

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The Church of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr in Moscow is the Orthodox Church in America’s representative parish church to the Moscow Patriarchate.

As a caring mother, the Church, who raised you in the light of the Lord, brought you into communion with the Savior and Creator of your spirit. In baptism her servants helped you “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) as a babe new to the world and spotless of sin, awaiting the promise of greater communion with Him as your life unfolded. In chrismation you confirmed the promises of your baptism, taking on the mantle of a Christian, an ‘anointed one’ who believes in the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world, and you received the transcendent grace and outpouring of the Holy Spirit which seeks at all times to dwell within you. In all these formational years, from your birth to your glorious years of youth, you see that the Church seeks to bring you and keep you in the light of God, and in this light “is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5-7) but cleansing “from all sin” by faith in the “blood”- the loving redemption- of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Lviv Church of the Transfiguration, Ukraine.

So the Church implores you: do not allow yourself to fall into the snare of guilt and despondency, but remain in the light of the God who cherishes you, whose beloved child you are. Remain here with us, among us, part of the Church, joined to the Body of Christ. Remain here, whatever you have done or failed to do, for you are no less worthy to bask in the light of God’s presence than I am, or any one of us standing next to you. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, Jesus told the mob in John 8:7 as they planned to stone a woman for adultery. This passage is not silent on the woman’s guilt: Jesus does not declare her innocent of adultery, for she was apparently caught “in the very act” (John 8:4). He does not wipe away what she has chosen to do, for that kind of a rewind does not lead to any real healing or repentance. What did Christ do for this woman, besides save her life when He told her “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11)? By telling her to “go, and sin no more”, He gave her the freedom to go on as she had been doing, continuing in sin, but exhorted her to “sin no more”. He commands her to turn away from adultery. He commands her to a life of new-found sanctity and repentance.

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Think on this passage, and its truly awesome implications: Jesus Christ, who was present as the Logos, as the Word of God, at the very creation of the world, Who created each of us in His image, intervenes directly to save the life of a sinner, a woman rightfully condemned to death under Mosaic law, the law of His people Israel. Why does He do it? What does He say to her? He does not give her a free pass to continue sinning with impunity, nor does He humiliate her in public, for a permissive attitude toward sin does nothing but perpetuate and encourage its soul-destroying cycle which separates us from God, and public humiliation scourges our very soul, traumatizing us to the core of our being. No, what Jesus does for her is what He offers to us: the free will to continue to sin if we so choose, with the caveat, the invitation, to choose a different path, one of repentance, righteousness, and, in time, sanctity, holiness and even deification.

Jesus, that beautiful name by which we call the Son of God, means “O Lord, Save!”. He saves this sinful woman in such a direct, simple way. He quietly tells her, “Go, and sin no more.” He gives her the full freedom to go on her way, knowing full well what sins she has committed and what sins she will yet commit because He is her Creator. But He does not condemn her, nor does he humiliate her. He speaks to her gently. He understands her and knows her better than herself. He loves her, for she is His child, and He sends her on her way to heal. Christ’s treatment of this sinful woman is the greatest metaphor for how the Church is to treat her sinners as the living Body of Christ, the New Israel of the New Dispensation: gently, kindly, with quiet firmness, soft words, and warm and loving guidance. Put yourself in this woman’s place. You might feel shame for your sins, and you might feel tempted to run from real repentance if the reality of your sins overwhelms or scares you. Our Lord forgave this woman her sins, her offenses which carried the penalty of death under the Law of the Old Dispensation. Surely He will forgive you of yours!

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As sinners struggling in our fallen condition, we need Christ and His Church to restore in us the fullness and promise of the faith and light found uniquely in God. We need the Bridegroom and His Bride, we need the Physician of our souls and His beloved Church, to heal us. As difficult as it may be to realize and admit, you need the Church. She is your beloved mother who feeds your spiritual consciousness by which you sense the presence of God. We need you here; you are a part of this body. And you need us. As part of the Body of Christ, as part of the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly of worshipers here on earth and in the next world, we need each other. At the core of our being, we are meant to work out our salvation together through faith and the grace of God. We are saved not as lonely islands in an archipelago of individual sin and repentance and loneliness and spiritual famine, but together, as one whole, as one Body. The true weight of all our sins, and all our rejoicings, and all our love for God, comes together kata holikos– “according to the whole”.

In this is the true Catholicity of the Church. In this is its wholeness. The Church’s universality everywhere, its presence around the world and in heaven, is summed up and dependent on its wholeness– the fullness of its catholicity in your parish, in the monasteries where Christ’s faithful brides and bridegrooms pray unceasingly for us all, and in every Liturgy offered every day throughout the world. This is why we need you. This is why you are such a crucial member in the Body of Christ. As a child of God you have incredible worth in His eyes, and you are precious in the eyes of His Church. If you have been away from the Divine Liturgy, if you have been avoiding confession, do not be afraid. The Lord who raised you to the possibility of eternal life in His Church in your baptism, who sealed the fire of His Holy Spirit into your soul at your chrismation, beckons you to return to the fullness of the life uniquely found in His Church.

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Worshipers at Christ’s tomb in the third century Church of the Resurrection (Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem receive the “undying light” of the Paschal flame. Taken from the Paschal vigil, April 15, 2012.

As soon as you sense the presence of God in your soul, prompting you in the depths of your heart to seek once more the noetic fulfillment which can only be found as a worshiping creature, I exhort you to respond. Seek after the perfection of God found in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Like a loving mother, the Church’s steadfast witness over two millennia is entirely positive. In her invitation to the transcendence of the Divine Liturgy, to the healing process found in confession, to loving service of one’s brethren, even to transformation of your nous, of your very being, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, the Church calls you to unite yourself to your Creator, Redeemer and Savior. Do this, that you might be transformed unto the very likeness of God. Do this, that you might be perfected as He is. Do this, that you might become holy, that you might be made a saint. God’s promise of “salvation and joy eternal” remains open to all who seek after it. He waits for your confessions as a Physician ready to heal you, one of His patients. He waits for your prayers as your loving Father to aid and protect you. He waits for your tears of sorrow, gratitude, and repentance unto life everlasting. “Come, open your heart. . .” and let the Spirit of God dwell within you.

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“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life; and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”—1 John 5:11-13

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May the Lord bless you and shine His radiant light upon you. Amen.

The extraordinary life of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko)

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In the above video, my godmother reflects on her close relationship with her spiritual father, the late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko). By all accounts, Bishop Basil was a remarkably holy man whose life was truly extraordinary. Among her many activities, Marilyn served for thirty years as the parish historian at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The young Vladimir Rodzianko grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, Yugoslavia. This photo was taken in 1926 when he was 11.

Born into an old Russian noble family as Vladimir Rodzianko, his grandfather Mikhail served as the Chairman of the last Imperial Duma prior to its dissolution in February 1917. At the age of five, the young Vladimir emigrated to Belgrade, Serbia with his family following the Bolshevik Revolution, and his family lived in greatly reduced circumstances. One of his uncles was a leading general in the White Tsarist forces during the Russian Civil War, and in a cruel twist of irony, the young Vladimir endured years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of his cruel tutor, also a former White army officer, who took out his hatred for Vladimir’s grandfather on the young boy.

Growing up in Belgrade, young Vladimir was blessed to receive a superb religious and spiritual education from two of the shining luminaries of twentieth century Orthodoxy: his spiritual mentors were the professor and hieromonk Fr. John Maximovitch, the future St John the Wonderworker, Archbishop of San Francisco, and Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev, the first ruling Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. After attending a prestigious gymnasium, Vladimir attained his undergraduate theology degree at the University of Belgrade in 1937 and in that year married Marya Kolubayeva.

Mikhail Rodzianko (1859-1924) served as Chairman of the Fourth State Duma. The head of an old noble family living in what is today Ukraine, Mikhail supported the Imperial Family but criticized the Tsar for what he perceived were failures in leadership on the part of Nicholas II during the First World War. He urged the Tsar to separate himself from Rasputin, relax censorship and institute universal suffrage. Shortly before Nicholas II’s abdication he sent the Tsar a telegram which may have influenced him to renounce the throne.

Vladimir continued his post-graduate work at the University of London before returning to Serbia where he was ordained a deacon and then a priest in 1941. After the Second World War in which his parishioners experienced numerous privations and abuses by the Nazis, he was sentenced to eight years’ hard labour by the communist authorities for spreading “religious propaganda”.

Following his release in 1949, due in part to the intercession of the Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, Father Vladimir and his family moved to France before settling in the United Kingdom where he continued serving as a priest in London. Always fascinated with radio technology, he began broadcasting religious programs to the faithful in the Soviet Union on the BBC. Due to the popularity of these programs, the Soviet KGB targeted the priest for assassination, and tragically one of his grandsons was killed by communist agents seeking to kill Fr. Vladimir.

Father Vladimir delivering a radio programme at the BBC in the 1950s.

Father Vladimir lectured widely on Orthodoxy at leading British religious and academic institutions and was an active member of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, an Anglican-Orthodox ecumenical society. Following the tragic death of his wife Marya in 1978, Father Vladimir was tonsured a monk the next year by his spiritual mentor, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh, taking the name Basil.

In 1980, with Metropolitan Anthony’s blessing, Hieromonk Basil was received into the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) from the Moscow Patriarchate and consecrated as auxiliary bishop in Washington, D.C. to the Church’s primate Metropolitan Theodosius. In November of the same year Bishop Basil was consecrated as Bishop of San Francisco and the West, a diocese he served until his retirement in 1984.

Following his retirement, His Grace Bishop Basil spent the closing years of his life in Washington, often serving at St Nicholas Cathedral, where my godmother met him and became his spiritual daughter (his very kind niece Masha is her godmother). Following the end of communist rule in the Soviet Union, the bishop was at last free to travel to his Russian homeland and meet with many of the adoring and pious people who had come to love his radio broadcasts on all aspects of Orthodox spirituality, which he had given without interruption over four decades since leaving Serbia for the United Kingdom.

Bishop Basil continued giving regular Russian-language radio broadcasts until the end of his life. Several recordings of sermons he gave in English at St. Nicholas Cathedral have been carefully preserved.

Patriarch Aleksey II with Bishop Basil in Moscow.

Patriarch Aleksey II with Bishop Basil in Moscow.

In May 1991 His Holiness Patriarch Aleksey II of Russia asked Bishop Basil to journey to Jerusalem and bring back to Russia some of the fire which miraculously ignites each Pascha at the tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulchre. En route to Moscow, Bishop Basil met the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I in Istanbul and received his blessing. Upon arriving at the Kremlin’s Uspensky Sobor (Dormition Cathedral) just as the choir and bishops began singing “O Come, let us worship”, His Grace placed the sacred fire on the altar Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Aleksey. Following the Liturgy he then processed with the Patriarch and senior bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate around Moscow.

Bishop Basil in the Kremlin carrying the holy fire from Jerusalem, May 1991.

Bishop Basil in the Kremlin carrying the holy fire from Jerusalem, May 1991.

Bishop Basil fell asleep in the Lord in Septemb1999. Many Russians in the St. Nicholas community feel his close presence even today and he is considered a saint among a number of Orthodox believers across the world. May his memory be eternal! For more information about his remarkable life, please visit this website run by Holy Archangels Foundation, a group of Orthodox in Washington dedicated to preserving and honouring Bishop Basil’s memory. Here is the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation‘s principal website.

Friends and family of the late Bishop gather at his grave site in September 2009 to mark the tenth anniversary of his repose. Since this date, every year Metropolitan Jonah, former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) offers an annual memorial lecture in Bishop Basil’s memory usually during Great Lent. Standing to the left are his nieces, my godmother, and His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah. On the far right are Fr. Valery (Shemchuk) and his wife Matushka Marina.

This Vimeo video was produced by Peter Vlasov in 2005.