Presentation of Mary

Today is the feast of The Presentation of Mary or in the East The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Now this feast is unique as it is not based on anything in the Bible but come from the Infancy Gospel of James. This is a unique Gospel since it focuses on Mary it is a twenty-four chapter book which can be separated into three sections of eight chapters. The first eight focus on the birth of Mary to Anna and Joachim, as well as Mary’s childhood and her presentation in the temple. Now, Anna and Joachim were a childless couple when they received a heavenly message that they would have a child Anna and Joachim agreed that the child would be brought to the temple and offered to God like Hannah did to Samuel. In the second section Mary has come of age and is twelve and can’t stay in the Temple so Joseph becomes her husband, but he sort of begrudgingly agrees to be something more like her guardian. Mary becomes pregnant and they think Joseph is the father and there is a bit on that as well. The last section tells of the Nativity of Jesus along with visits from midwives as well as the hiding from Herod by Jesus and John the Baptist.

In the Orthodox Church it is one of the Twelve Great Feasts in their calendar. It began in the Orthodox Church and eventually adopted by the Catholic Church first by monasteries in Southern Italy in the 9th century however it wasn’t until 1472 when it was added to the Roman Missal, the feast was repressed for about 20 years in the 1500s. Pope Paul VI notes in his encyclical Marialis Cultus, that “despite its apocryphal content, it presents lofty and exemplary values and carries on the venerable traditions having their origins in the Eastern churches.”  So take some time and remember Our Mother and God-bearer on this day as we all turn our minds to the upcoming holiday season. Pick up a Rosary and pray it.

Dormition and Assumption

Today is the Feast of the Assumption and the Dormition of Mary in the Western and Eastern Churches respectively. They are technically the same event but there are nuances between the two. At the Assumption Mary is brought up to heaven at the end of her life body and soul, while during the Dormition Mary falls asleep (dies) and is bodily resurrected before going to heaven. I don’t see that big of a difference between the two. In the Orthodox Church today marks the end of the Dormition (Theotokos) Fast which began on the first of August. This is a Holy Day of Obligation in most of the world. If you have some time perhaps take out and pray a rosary today.

Bright Week

This week in the Eastern Church is known as Bright Week. It’s a continuation of the celebration of the Resurrection and according to the Quinsext Council (Council in Trullo), that one between the third Constantinople and second Nicean, “for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him. For this reason on the aforesaid days that by no means there be any horse races or any other public spectacle”

The week itself liturgically is considered like a single day. Bright Week ends on Thomas Sunday when the story of the apostle Thomas is read. Now this in itself is a rather interesting idea that Easter last more than one day it is just the beginning of a larger season of the liturgical year. In most of the Western world Easter is celebrated and then quickly forgotten about, sure in some places Easter Monday is a big to do as well, with like the Easter Egg Roll at the White House, Dyngus Day or Wet Monday. However this is a more commonly low key event and secular. Sure a week later we arrive on Divine Mercy Sunday but Easter is 50 days long not only seven Sundays. So if we could do little more to celebrate the season that would be great, crack open some of the Post-Resurrection Gospel stories and reflect on them in these next 49 or so days.

Great Lent and Lent

On Monday the season of Great Lent begin in the Eastern Church and two days later on Ash Wednesday Lent begins for the Western churches. Great Lent begins on Clean Monday which refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods, some individuals call it Ash Monday. Although the season liturgically begins at Vespers on Sunday night where the church is all decked out in Lenten colors and at the end of vespers there is a ceremony of mutual forgiveness, where everyone asks for forgiveness from one another. During Great Lent just like in Lent prayer, fasting and abstinence and almsgiving play a role, although in the Eastern church it is a abstinence from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, wine, and oil. There are some caveats on this but in general it is no meat or dairy until Easter. In the West the rules get confusing sure there is the abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent, but  There are other difference as in the West the alleluia disappears but in the East it actually increases since as the Bible says in Matthew that Christians should be joyous when fasting and the general since sense of unworthiness must always be tempered with hope in God’s forgiveness. Lenten Joy comes thorough where in the West there is only one week the pink Sunday and the fourth week of Lent.

In many ways they are similar and in several way the observance is different. This year both the Eastern and Western churches will celebrate the great feast of Pascha or Easter on 16 April. I hope that we all can use this Lenten season to grow deeper in our faith.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

We always begin the year with this Holy Day of Obligation and there is good reason for it. Sure Mary plays a role in the Christmas story but she sometimes get lost, since we’ve got Jesus and the shepherds, Joseph, animals, a little drummer boy, those kings all figure prominently in songs. Sure Mary is mentioned “the babe the son of Mary” but of the songs about Mary vary greatly. We have the Kingston Trio in Mary Mild singing about a child Jesus wanting to play at ball and making a bridge with the beams of the sun. Then we’ve got the song which is from Mary’s point of view, Breath of Heaven, this is a decent song from Amy Grant and is sort of like Michael Card’s Joseph’s Song which is kind of about being the parent of the Son of God. Finally we have the worst in my opinion Mary, Did You Know?, it has been covered by a whole bunch of artist, and the simple answer is that Mary learns of most of this in a vague since at the Presentation roughly forty days after the birth, when she meets Simeon “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35)

By turning towards Mary as we begin the year is a way for all of us to look towards someone to aspire to since Mary points us toward Jesus. The Theotokos is honored in Eastern Orthodox Church on December 26th as Father Alexander Schmemann, notes “the Church points to Mary as the one through whom the Incarnation was made possible. His humanity—concretely and historically—is the humanity He received from Mary. His body is, first of all, her body. His life is her life.” Honoring the mother and child at the birth is something that we should all do. Sure we all celebrate our birthday but we weren’t the only ones there, our birth partners, our mothers, are an important part of the event. Let us all remember our heavenly Mother this year and especially our own mothers on the date of our birth.

The Nicene Creed

Since it is the Feast of Saint Nicholas it seems only right to remember him for something he did during the First Council of Nicaea. This is the Council where the Nicene Creed was adopted. Now at this Council there is a rather famous moment where punches were thrown. Nicholas of Myrna couldn’t take any more of what Arius was saying about the natures and relationship of Jesus to the Father. Arius and his supporters argued that Jesus was the first and perfect creation but not God. However after hearing this for several hours according to legend Nicholas of Myrna got up and slapped Arius in the face. After doing this Nicholas was stripped of the office and thrown in jail. While in jail Nicholas prayed for forgiveness and at some point during the night Jesus and Mary appeared to him (according to different accounts Mary and Jesus appeared to the other bishops or the Emperor Constantine)   Jesus and Mary gave Nicholas a book of the Gospels and an Omophorion (a sign of the office of Bishop). In the morning Nicholas was released from jail and his office of Bishop restored to him. The council agreed with Nicholas and rejected the idea of Arius, this was written in to the Nicene Creed.

This Creed is sort of the one that we can say during Sunday Mass, however the original from 325 was a bit different from what we say. The version from 325 is as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down, and became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and dead. And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not,and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or created, or is subject to alteration or change – these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.

This Creed was revised at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and is similar to what we say at Mass.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.  We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son). With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come..

Please note that italicized “and the Son” in the part after the Holy Spirit this is the filioque debate. In the Eastern Church this is not a part of the Creed however in the West it is said. In 1995, the Vatican said that the “And the Son” doesn’t work in the Greek text and therefore when the creed is said in Greek it is not included. Yet in Latin it works and so that is why the Roman Church says this and the Greek Church doesn’t. This is one of the reasons behind the Great Schism. However when the Pope is with one of the Ecumenical Patriarchs they say the Creed in Greek, perhaps a small step toward a reunion.

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Andrei Rublev is an autobiographical film from Andrei Tarkovsky, it tells the story of the famous 15th century Russian icon painter. I watched this movie because it is often on the list of top ten movie of all time and even the Vatican has it on their list of great films to celebrate the centennial of film back in 1995. Tarkovsky main goal was to make a realistic portrayal of medieval Russia as well as making Andrei a world-historic figure and places Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity. This is surprising to see from Communist Russia. Spoiler to follow.

Andrei Rublev tells a story loosely based on the life of the famed monk. The film is a collection of eight vignettes with a prologue and epilogue which seem unconnected to the narrative of the film. The film begins with a hot air balloon flight for some reason. The story actually begins after we see the first title card The Jester where we meet three monks Andrei, Daniil, and Kirill who are traveling looking for work as artists. It starts to rain and they take shelter. We learn that Kirill is jealous of the talent that Andrei has since Kirill isn’t that talented as an artist compared to Andrei. The film is an interesting look at Russia, the middle ages are a time period that we don’t see many movies that aren’t about knights. Here we have the Tartar conflict being depicted. The film is in black and white and doesn’t show any art until the epilogue which is in color. This make a nice reflection on the whole concept of art and what it is. The whole film we hear characters talk about it but it isn’t until the end where we see it.

If you are interested in checking out a good art film this is for you. Sure it’s in Russian and is pretty long but we are offered a unique spiritual experience by watching this film and we learn a bit about Andrei Rublev and 15th century Russia. It is a different film, and wasn’t what I expected it to be.

Franciscan Rosary: The Annunciation

Over the next seven weeks I will be reflecting on the decades of the Franciscan Crown, a rosary consisting of seven decades corresponding to the Seven Joys of the Virgin.

The first decade focuses on the Annunciation. This is the one where the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and announces that she will be the mother of Jesus. The feast day is on March 25 and ties directly to the Passion. As the Eastern Orthodox Church it is one of the Twelve Great Feasts and as a traditional hymn from Athanasius says “Today is the beginning of our salvation, And the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin As 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!”” It is also a part of the Muslim tradition appearing in the Quran and according the Muslim tradition this takes place sometime during Ramadan. Let us all try to remember that things that we all hold in common between Christians (Catholics, Orthodox, etc. ) and the Muslims. As all the Orthodox Churches gather for the Holy and Great Council let us all pray that things get done and there might be some sort of unity within all these churches and perhaps some renewed way of looking at the Latin church.

Good Friday, Divine Mercy Novena Day 1

Today, is the beginning of the Novena to The Divine Mercy, where we pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for nine days.

Today bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me.”

Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.

The novena begins with our focus on all humans, as we are all to often focused on ourselves. Then the second bit, especially all sinners, is a wake up call for all of us since we are all sinners. In the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner ” we are also reminded of this. Many people in the world have embraced the sin and it has become what the world is know for, just look around and we can see the subjugation of people based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, politics, or nation; the horrors that humankind has done to the environment especially in the United States where it seems most everywhere is paved and there is hardly much green space in cities; and lastly the general sense that although we are connected 24/7 by our devices and social media we really aren’t connecting with one another. Often times I stumble across the general advice on the internet of “Be nice to one another” where it’s treated like a strange concept. Let us all try this advice and act like how we want to be treated, since we all are sinner.

Lesser Known…

Stephen Nehmé (March 1889 – 30 August 1938)
Stephen was born Joseph Nehmé in Lebanon and was the youngest of seven children. In 1905 he joined a Maronite monastery and stayed for the rest of his life doing the manual labor in the fields and gardens, as well as in carpentry and construction. When he took his monastic vows he adopted the name Stephen. Stephen used to chant the mantra “God can see me.” In 1951 his body was reported as being incorrupt and in 2010 he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

Jeanne Jugan  or, Sister Mary of the Cross, L.S.P., (October 25, 1792 – August 29, 1879)
Jeanne Jugan is a marvelous saint who cared for the elderly poor. She founded the Little Sister of the Poor and the mission continues all these year later. I’ve gone on about Jugan in the past but the Little Sisters are a begging order and they continue to go out asking for help for the care of the elderly poor.  Jugan’s order has grown to one of the largest communities in the world caring for the aged.

As we being the month of September the Eastern Orthodox begins a new Liturgical year.

September 2 officially marks the end of World War II as it is the day that Japan signed terms of surrender although August 14\15 was the date it was formally announced  as happening.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, MC, (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997)
Mother Teresa is another Blessed but I think that most people know who she is as she did a lot in service of the poor primarily children.  However it is also the International Day of Charity, the UN chose the day primarily because of Mother Teresa, International Day of Charity is to raise awareness and provide a platform for charity related activities around the globe for individuals, charitable, philanthropic and volunteer organizations for their own purposes on the local, national, regional and international level. There were rumors earlier this year that in 2016 Teresa was going to be canonized but there hasn’t been official word from the Vatican about this happening, perhaps because it is a whole year away. Hopefully, Teresa will be canonized at least before 2017.