This life is given to you for repentance. Do not waste it in vain pursuits.
Saint Isaac of Syria

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BibleHub on eleos

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eleos at BibleHub.com

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:54 pm

«— Who Has “Found the True Faith”?
—» Former Launch Officer on Trump’s Potential for Nuclear First Strike

You Won’t Believe How Ted Cruz Treats Syrian Christians

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Senator Ted Cruz wants the US to accept only Christian refugees from Syria and other ISIL-ravaged countries in the Middle East, reports Amy Davidson in the New Yorker. This is curious, because his past actions tell a different story than his recent words.
Read the rest of “You Won’t Believe How Ted Cruz Treats Syrian Christians”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:38 pm

«— The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part III
—» You Won’t Believe How Ted Cruz Treats Syrian Christians

Who Has “Found the True Faith”?

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“We have seen the true light…![1] We have found the true faith…!” These words appear in a hymn that Byzantine rite Christians sing after communion in the Divine Liturgy. They are a source of pride for many, a source of embarrassment for others. Many Orthodox interpret “the true faith” to mean the entirety of the Eastern Orthodox faith in all of its peculiarity, and converts in particular often take pride having found this “true faith” and abandoned their “former error.”[2] But it may be worthwhile to ask: Is that what the hymn itself says? We do not always sing this hymn after communion: We do not sing it from Pascha to Pentecost.[3] This fact hints that perhaps the hymn’s meaning lies deeper than the surface reading.

Read the rest of “Who Has “Found the True Faith”?”

Linknotes:
  1. This incipit is Εἴδομεν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν/Eidomen to phos to alethinon.
  2. This phrase, also translated as “former delusion,” appears in various euchologies in rites for receiving non-Orthodox Christians into the Orthodox Church.
  3. Archimandrite Robert Taft, sj, cites A. A. Dmitrievski and L. D. Huculak that this hymn is also replaced by the festal apolytikion on dominical feasts. [A History of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, vol. VI: The Communion, Thanksgiving, and Concluding Rites. Orientalia Christiana Analecta 281. (Rome: Pontificio Instituto Orientale, 2008) 472.] I am not familiar with this variant custom, which is not prescribed in the standard English-language source on East Slavic liturgical practice, The Order of Divine Services by Peter Fekula and Matthew Williams [(Liberty, TN: St John of Kronstadt Press, 2007.)].
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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:33 pm

«— The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part II
—» Who Has “Found the True Faith”?

The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part III

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Icon of Ss Mary of Egypt and ZosimusIn Part I, I examined the context in which Saint Sophronius wrote “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt.” He draws on a long tradition of monastic literature in which there are several similar stories which he amplifies in his tale. In Part II, I briefly summarized the tale as Sophronius tells it, and I examined the character of Saint Zosimus. Sophronius describes Zosimus as a nearly perfect monk, the “monk’s monk,” so to speak, who begins to be tormented by thoughts that he is perfect and there is no one on earth who could teach him anything further. He enters the desert as a temporary hermit, according to the custom of his monastery for Lent, “hoping to find a holy father dwelling there, who could help him to find what he longed for,” someone to teach him some new ascetic discipline, so that he can attain even greater heights of ascetic perfection.

When first we encounter Mary, Zosimus wonders if she might be a demonic phantasm, evoking Christ’s temptation in the wilderness,[1] but from the beginning she is shown to be an ascetic who charismatically earns the authority to be a spiritual guide. She is characterized as a thaumaturge—a wonder-worker—who unselfconsciously commands the created order: by clairvoyance and by levitating a cubit (a foot and a half) above the ground. So before she begins narrating her life, the story within the story, we already know she’s a living saint[2] (whereas we may have wondered about Zosimus’ sanctity, since he is described as being precipitously close to succumbing to pride).

Once she begins telling her story, however, she reveals herself to have been a harlot among harlots—the “sinner’s sinner,” as it were. Read the rest of “The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part III”

Linknotes:
  1. Lynda L. Coon, Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997) 86.
  2. The ability to work miracles is a common way to indicate sanctity in the lives of the saints.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 3:37 pm

«— Teaser for the Next Installment
—» The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part III

The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part II

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Icon of Ss Mary of Egypt and ZosimusIn the previous installment, we examined the context for the story as told by Saint Sophronius and saw that Saint Mary’s story becomes progressively more magnified. In Sophronius’ version, both the monk who finds Mary and Mary herself become magnified to almost unbelievable proportions.

Sophronius begins by introducing Zosimus, who we are told has been in the monastery since being weaned.[1] After many years of obeying the rule of his monastery, ceaselessly singing psalms and studying the scripture, and acting as spiritual father or guide to many monks far and wide, he begins to be “disturbed, as he said, by certain thoughts, namely, that he had become perfect in all practices and did not need anyone else’s teaching at all.” Zosimus moves to a monastery by the river Jordan which has a custom whereby all the monks leave the monastery during Lent and live as anchorites or hermits in the desert. Zosimus journeys into “the innermost part of the desert,” a key ideal for monasticism, and a key phrase for our story, “hoping to find a holy father dwelling there, who could help him to find what he longed for,” which is a father either to instruct him in some new discipline or to confirm that he has reached perfection.

Read the rest of “The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part II”

Linknotes:
  1. In the summary that follows, quotes are from the translation by Maria Kouli unless other wise noted. Sophronius of Jerusalem, “The Life of Mary of Egypt, the Former Harlot, Who in Blessed Manner Became an Ascetic in the Desert of the <River> Jordan.” Translated by Maria Kouli, in Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints’ Lives in Translation, edited by Alice-Mary Talbot. Byzantine Saints’ Lives in Translation.(&C: Dumbarton Oaks, 1996). I have omitted the brackets with which Kouli notes her interpolations. Greek text of Sophronius is found in Patrologia Graeca (PG) 87:3697–3726.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 10:28 pm

«— The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part I
—» The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part II

Teaser for the Next Installment

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I said yesterday that I would begin analyzing the role of Saint Zosimus in Saint Sophronius’ “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt.” I greatly underestimated the toll that assisting my parish in hosting Lenten vespers this evening would take, or how late I would be arriving back at my dormitory. I must beg your forgiveness—I will not be fulfilling that stated goal. Even so, as not to leave you entirely empty of hand, I offer some questions as teasers. 

What clue does Saint Sophronius give us early in his story that foreshadows the advent of Saint Mary? He paints a very rosy picture of Zosimus’ life as a monk. Are there any problems? What is Zosimus looking for in the desert?

Tune in tomorrow. 

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Filed under: — Basil @ 8:21 pm

«— The Cross is a Time Machine (and It’s Bigger on the Inside)
—» Teaser for the Next Installment

The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part I

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Icon of Ss Mary of Egypt and Zosimus“The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt” by Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem comes to us in a form that is, to put it bluntly, very inefficient. When I was first investigating the Orthodox Church, I tried to download a copy of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt.” This was the late 1990s, and finding information on the internet was often feast or famine. What I got was not right at all. It started out talking about some guy named (Saint) Zosimus, and it kept going on and on about him. Obviously not the life of Mary. So I deleted it and tried again. Finally, I realized that Saint Mary’s story does not start until somewhere between one third and one half of the way into what is ostensibly her Life!

Who cares about Zosimus? Sure, he’s the monk who finds St Mary out in the desert,[1] but does that mean a third to one-half of the Life of Mary needs to be taken up with his story? I thought for a very long time that “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt” needed an editor. More Mary—no Zosimus. On closer inspection, though, the whole point of this story lies in the contrast between Zosimus and Mary, and it’s a surprise ending.

Read the rest of “The Real Point of “The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt,” Part I”

Linknotes:
  1. That is, according to the version of the story told by Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:29 pm

«— Hatteras-style Clam Chowder
—» PO;DR—Pop-over; Didn’t Read.

Beautiful Websites Will Save the World

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A dear classmate of mine wrote me today to ask for examples of good parish website design—the “best to examine for style, layout, information and the most welcoming to the non-Orthodox.” My reply was short on examples, but long on some fundamental design principles. I wondered if maybe I had not really answered the question my friend asked. In concluding, I realized why I think these principles are so important: I have seen too many bad parish websites. Getting a parish website right is not optional. It is a pastoral and evangelical necessity. Here is my reply to my friend (edited for style and content):

Read the rest of “Beautiful Websites Will Save the World”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:05 pm

«— Punching the Heretic: You’re Doing It Wrong
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When in Rome, Do What St Ambrose Does

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“When in Rome,” so the famous proverb goes, “do what the Romans do.” That is a significantly shortened reference to the following guidance of Saint Ambrose to follow the local traditions of a place, which Saint Augustine passes on to his disciple, Bishop Januarius:

I think you may have heard me relate before, what I will nevertheless now mention. When my mother followed me to Milan, she found the Church there not fasting on Saturday. She began to be troubled, and to hesitate as to what she should do; upon which I, though not taking a personal interest then in such things, applied on her behalf to Ambrose, of most blessed memory, for his advice. He answered that he could not teach me anything but what he himself practised, because if he knew any better rule, he would observe it himself. When I supposed that he intended, on the ground of his authority alone, and without supporting it by any argument, to recommend us to give up fasting on Saturday, he followed me, and said: “When I visit Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am here, I do not fast. On the same principle, do you observe the custom prevailing in whatever Church you come to, if you desire neither to give offence by your conduct, nor to find cause of offence in another’s.” When I reported this to my mother, she accepted it gladly; and for myself, after frequently reconsidering his decision, I have always esteemed it as if I had received it by an oracle from heaven. For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church or by their manifest good influence on manners raise questions, it may be, from some crotchet of their own, or from attachment to the custom followed in one’s own country, or from preference for that which one has seen abroad, supposing that wisdom is increased in proportion to the distance to which men travel from home, and agitate these questions with such keenness, that they think all is wrong except what they do themselves.

Augustine, Letter 54 (Book 1: Replies to Questions of Januarius), 2.3.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:34 pm

«— Is “Carol of the Bells” Really Copyrighted?
—» When in Rome, Do What St Ambrose Does

Punching the Heretic: You’re Doing It Wrong

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Icon of St Nicholas with our Lord, Jesus Christ, and his Mother, the Virgin Mary. This icon is available for purchase from Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Have you heard the story of St Nicholas punching the heretic Arius in the face? Do you know what happened next? In a Google image search for icons of St Nicholas icons, about a third of the icons show this very tale, but almost none of them have Arius or a punch. How is this possible? If you have only heard about the punch, you have been done a grave disservice. If you know the rest of the story, but you only tell people about the punch, you fail them. And if you have never heard the story at all, I have a tale to tell!

Let me put this story in some perspective. Let us suppose, for a moment, that there is an impeachment trial underway in the U.S. Senate. Suddenly, while the defendant pleads his case with the assembly, one Senator jumps up, rushes to the speaker’s desk and punches him in the face! Not only does this sound highly unlikely on its face (though Senators have scuffled on the Senate floor), you are probably asking several questions right now: Would the Senator even be able to get to the speaker without anyone stopping him? Even if he were to get a punch in, what would happen next? Surely Secret Service would be on him like flies on honey. He would be arrested; perhaps his own impeachment would be imminent.

The context in the previous paragraph mirrors closely (almost exactly) the setting of the Nicene Council in which our story begins, wherein St Nicholas punches the heretic Arius. That disbelief and those questions are the point of the saintly punch: Set up the narrative tension. The punch is not the end of the story; it is only the beginning!

So, for those who have not heard the story: Arius was a priest who preached a particularly insidious opinion that turned out to be completely contrary to the orthodox and catholic faith of the church. What the heresy is turns out to be quite irrelevant to the story. Arius is the archetypal villain of church theology; this is all that matters to our tale.[1] His teachings rocked the church so badly, it was almost split in two. The Roman emperor, Constantine, thought this reflected fairly badly on his newly found faith, so he convened a council of all the church’s bishops to figure this whole thing out. While Arius was explaining his teachings, a little known bishop from Asia Minor (that’s Turkey today) suddenly jumped up and ran to the dais and punched Arius in the face.

Imperial Roman soldiers descended quickly on the unruly bishop and detained him. The emperor was furious! “I am the emperor of the whole world!” he cried. “How dare you interrupt this council I am presiding over? What is your name?” The bishop replied, “Nicholas, my lord. I apologize, but I could not bear to hear this man say such things about our savior.”

The emperor did not know the story of Nicholas who provided money to save young women from slavery. The other bishops did not know the story of Nicholas who stood between a Roman soldier’s sword and an unjustly accused man. They only knew that this bishop did not know his place. The council immediately deposed Nicholas and removed from him the gospel book and bishop’s stole — the symbols of his authority. Then, the emperor flung him into prison.

That night, Nicholas could not sleep. No longer a bishop, chained to the wall in a dungeon, he knew how enemies of the emperor usually fared. If he was not killed in a few days, he would be left to rot there forever! “O Lord,” he cried, tears streaming down his face, “I stood up for you! Is that not what a bishop does? Mother of God, help me!” Finally, he fell into a fitful sleep.

In his dreams, he was visited by our Lord, Jesus Christ, and his mother, the Virgin Mary. The Mother of God placed on his neck the stole of a bishop, and our Lord placed in his hands the book of the gospels. “Fear not,” the Lord said. “You are still a bishop in my book.” When he awoke, he still held in his hand the gospels, and the stole still hung around his neck. The guards were shocked. They took Nicholas before the emperor and the council to explain himself. Nicholas told them about the dream, and how he awoke finding the gospel book in his hands and the stole around his neck.

This council was in chaos! The bishops quickly realized their mistake: God himself had overruled their deposition! Nicholas was truly a bishop. The council moved to depose Arius, who died soon afterwards in a very rude fashion. But that is a tale for another day, because the story today is not about the heretic.

This tale does not appear in the acts of the Nicene Council, at which the Arius known to historians was convicted of heresy and deposed. What does this tell us? It tells us we need to look deeper into the story and see that it is not, as I said, really about Arius but about St Nicholas.

The hymn that Orthodox Christians sing to Nicholas, the troparion, a song which establishes the theme for his feast day, says, “You are a model of kindness and rule of faith.” This hymn, in fact, is the model for most bishop saints, just like Nicholas is. This tale of St Nicholas receiving his episcopal authority directly from our Lord and his Mother shows bishops that they must imitate St Nicholas. He gives them a model to follow — the quintessential bishop: The bishop who protects his people from injustice, who intervenes on behalf of the poor, who stands up to heresy. St Nicholas is all of these and an icon of what a true bishop really is and an icon for us all.

Linknotes:
  1. It’s Arianism, of course. – However, Arius becomes the archetype and quintessential heretic. Later heretics often get associated with Arius so they can be clearly perceived as heretics, even if their teachings are almost completely unrelated.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:40 pm

«— The Roots of This Tree Go Deep
—» Is “Carol of the Bells” Really Copyrighted?

Four Reasons It’s Not “Advent”

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Tomorrow begins the Christmas fast in Byzantine-rite churches following new calendars.[1] Notice that I did not call it “Advent.” Orthodox Christians sometimes lapse into calling this fast “Advent” because it overlaps with the Latin-rite season of preparation for Christmas which goes by that name. But ask yourself: Are they really the same? So, with a nod to the four Sundays of Advent, here are four reasons why they are not. Read the rest of “Four Reasons It’s Not “Advent””

Linknotes:
  1. For the Orthodox, the new calendar is the revised Julian calendar, which is almost identical to its counterpart in Byzantine-rite Catholic Churches, the Gregorian calendar.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:39 pm

«— Warning: These 3 things could ruin your Valentine’s Day
—» Four Reasons It’s Not “Advent”

The Roots of This Tree Go Deep

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Fr Justin Patterson blesses the newly-planted cross with incense. (Image source: Michelle McCallum, Flickr)

I often try to forget or ignore stuff I have done that is embarrassing or hard to explain. (Maybe you do, too.) I look for ways to spin things so they sound awesome (or at least acceptable). But sometimes, turning points force me to recall my roots and not to ignore them. This week I plunged into just such a reverie, because a parish which I helped establish purchased some land recently and this week planted a cross there. Unfortunately, I missed this beautiful service, but when I saw the photos online, the sight of that weathered old cross on the site of the church’s new property made me very, very happy. Let me tell you why. The roots of that cross go very deep for me and for that parish.

Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church, just outside of Lexington, Kentucky, was founded about fifteen years ago.[1] In those early days, we dreamed a lot. Boy, did we dream! But one dream stood out: Read the rest of “The Roots of This Tree Go Deep”

Linknotes:
  1. When we first started, we were outside the normal boundaries of the Orthodox church. We call this kind of existence outside the ordinary boundaries of the church “non-canonical.” In the case of our mission, we were continuing in the tradition we received from the church that founded us — a very Orthodox thing to do, ironically. When that church requested to join an established Orthodox church, so did we.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:29 pm

«— The Monagamous Front?
—» Warning: These 3 things could ruin your Valentine’s Day

The Crucial Cure

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A close friend of mine (and my godson) recently preached on the Sunday of the Paralytic. As I commented when he posted the text of his sermon, “I particularly liked the reversal of the ‘crutch’ accusation at the end, and how it tied in with the central medical theme. Great job, and I hope that your hearers were edified.” I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

I would like to offer one further remark — and it may simply reflect a different perspective: I have become somewhat sensitive of late to the fact that the cross is the center and sine qua non of Christian faith. Chris mentioned the Lord’s passion (which is the cross); it could have been a bit more central to the entire homily. The cross is the sacrament from which every other sacrament flows. You see this in icons of the crucifixion: A cup capturing the blood and water flowing from the Lord’s side. (This image of baptism and eucharist — of the church as sacrament — represents a timeless connection rather than an historical event. The crucified Lord eternally gives birth to the church in the timeless reality of the cross.) I would have nailed the fact that the Lord’s cross is the medicine (and sometimes, we don’t get a spoonful of sugar to make it go down more easily).

Sometimes we speak easily of the church and theology without referring it back to the cross. However, the earliest patristic writers, as well as many of the most important through the centuries, always took the cross as their starting point and referred to it constantly. The more that our teaching becomes able to stand apart from the cross (which is the revelation of God enfleshed), the less it resembles patristic teaching. A theology which can stand without the cross is not the gospel and it is not really Christian.

In closing, I reemphasize that I really liked this homily. However, I think that the cross is crucial to Christian teaching and thought it important enough to mention. In some ways, this merely reflects a different perspective. I am emphasizing this crucial element of Christian teaching partly due to the deep vale where my own journey has taken me. However, part of it is also a shift in thinking spearheaded by Fr John Behr, now the dean at St Vladimir’s Seminary, where I am a student. I highly recommend his book, The Mystery of Christ. To get an idea of his central thesis, read this article: “The Paschal Foundations of Christian Theology.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:56 pm

«— Veneration of the Happy Joy
—» The Crucial Cure

The Monagamous Front?

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What is the end goal of fighting for equal rights for the GLBT[Q] subculture? asks librarian Ronald G. Lee in “The Truth About the Homosexual Rights Movement.”[1] In answering it, his thesis is that:

…actual behavior …distinguished from the arguments… [put] forward for the benefit of the naïve and gullible, represent the real aims and objectives of the homosexual rights movement. … In other words, if you support what is now described in euphemistic terms as ‘the blessing of same-sex unions,’ in practice you are supporting the abolition of the entire Christian sexual ethic, and its substitution with an unrestricted, laissez faire, free sexual market.

To some of my readers, that thesis may sound like the ravings of a homophobe. By the time we get to this thesis, though, Mr Lee has already let us know that he’s an insider. “By the time I lived in Austin, I had been thinking of myself as a gay man for almost 20 years,” he writes in the second paragraph. Lee’s article is entirely anecdotal, and it may be a sophisticated, extended ad hominem against GLBT[Q] rights activists. However, it seems to me that his perspective may not be isolated or eccentric, and his conclusion should be answered, if not accepted.

Lee argues that he never found monogamous gay couples. I know two. My experience is biased (both of the couples I know are family members). I am asking several friends, family members and acquaintances to comment on this article with their experience — anonymously if necessary. Is the gay subculture as Lee describes it? How should a reader understand his thesis that monogamous homosexuality is merely a front for indiscriminate sexual license, the real goal?

Please read the article and comment on the article. Uncharitable comments will be deleted. Anonymous comments are welcomed if charitable.

Linknotes:
  1. This article is somewhat graphic in its description of GLBT[Q] subculture, and it has a warning at the top of the page saying so. It originally appeared in the New Oxford Review in 2006 and was reprinted on the Orthodoxy Today website sometime later.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:09 pm

«— Holy Patrick of Ireland
—» The Monagamous Front?

Veneration of the Happy Joy

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Today’s gospel:
Mark 8:34-9:1 (Schmemann Standard Version)

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him find what makes him happy and take up his joy and follow me. For whoever would save his happiness is blessed, but whoever loses his joy for my sake and the gospel’s will be cast out into eternal darkness where the fire never ceases and the worm never dies. For what does it profit a man to gain his soul and forfeit his happiness? For what can a man give in return for his joy? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my happiness in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the happiness of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God coming with joy.”

Today’s hymn:
Troparion of the resurrection

O Lord, save your people, and make joyful your inheritance. Grant happiness to the people who are always happy, and by your resurrection preserve your habitation.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:58 pm