The MESSENGER

Submissions by Eugene Stefaniuk

                                                                                                            Number 4 – April 26 – 2015

Myrrh-Bearing Women Sunday

Yes – it has come and gone as though with the blink of an eye.  We were here and have seen the results, but now the greatest Christian Holy Day, (Christ’s Resurrection) is over for another year, and we will await for the next year for its return to remind us of the Greatest mystery – His Resurrection. We greeted our relatives and friends with the greeting: “Christ is Risen!” and replied “Indeed He is Risen!”  We listened to the happy and glorious hymns of the celebration and never tiring of hearing: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and among those in the tombs, bestowing life.”  Having come through the last days of Christ including His Resurrection, are we ready to continue the work of Christ’s Church?

Someone may say that we have helped, now maybe someone else should take over.  No beloved, there is no “someone else” for we are “the someone else.”  We as Christians must live by the rules of the church and God’s Ten Commandments.  I’m sure that by your age you are now, you know that living by the laws of the church was not easy two thousand years ago and it is not easy today.  True, today we have all kinds of conveniences which the people in the Old Testament and for nearly nineteen hundred years they did not have what we have today, but it seems they fared much better then, than we do today.

Let each one ask himself/herself how much they have done for God and His Church in the past year.  You know that in business people often take stock to learn and know if they are making money, are they losing money or are they the same – never change.  The Church also has made provision in our daily lives to take stock of ourselves.  The Church has put a few periods of Fast (Lent) and with the hope that at the end of the fast period each member may look at himself/herself and see if he/she made any headway in being a better Christian.  To be a perfect Christian is not simple even though Christ said that we should be perfect as His Father is Perfect in Heaven.   Therefore you shall be perfect,  just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48) In the Old Testament there were a few nearly perfect people; Abel, Noah, Abraham and others.  Abel was almost perfect because God was pleased with Abel and accepted Abel’s gift while he refused to accept Cain’s gift.  Why you ask?  Because God always wants the best.  When the two brothers brought their gift’s to God, Abel had picked out the best lamb he had in his flock and brought that to God.  Cain on the other hand offered God as we should say, “second best” and kept the better for himself.  When it is something to be done or given to God it must be the best.

Then how about Abraham.  We say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation.”  Some may say that God lead Abraham into temptation when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son on an altar to God.  What would you do if tonight God came to your place and asked you to sacrifice your child?  God asked Abraham to take his son Isaac into a mountain, kill him and burn him.  If tonight God came and told you to do the same, would you do it?  No God did not lead Abraham into temptation, but God was trying out Abraham’s faith, to see if Abraham really loved God more or his son.  How strong is your faith towards God?  Poor Abraham was baffled and as we would say, was not sure of himself if God was really talking to him.  He took his son to the top of the mountain, had him bound and placed on the altar he built, and with his knife in his hand he was ready to sacrifice his son when all of a sudden God’s voice from heaven came as thunder – telling not to kill his son.  After Abraham and Isaac were again back in themselves, they noticed a ram caught with his horns in the brush which they sacrificed (offered) for God.

Today is the second Sunday after Christ’s Resurrection called “The Myrr-Bearing Women.”  Those women sacrificed their time and money for Christ and they were awarded being the first people to know that Christ had risen from the dead.  They sacrificed their money which they may have been saving for some other use, but used that money to buy spices to anoint Christ’s Body.  When Christ was buried Friday, the following day was Sabbath and as the Bible says it was a “High Day” so everything was closed, so where did they get the articles they needed to anoint the Body?  “Where there is a will, there is a way.”  Then they sacrificed their time.  While everyone was asleep, they were already awake and on the road to Christ’s tomb.  They did not complain to anyone that they had to do that.  They did it with joy knowing that it had to be done.

That is why today as we celebrate this Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, we can also think of ourselves: “AND WHAT HAVE I SACRIFICED FOR MY CHURCH AND GOD?”  Remember the late United States of America President John Kennedy’s address: He said: “Don’t ask what your country has done for you, but rather, what have you done for your country.”  In place of the word country put the word church and see what you have done for your church.   The day is coming of the Last Judgement and God will ask us what we sacrificed for and did for Him?  May God bless each with the richness of health and good being for many long years to continue to serve our church each and every day.

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:39)


                          

                                                                                                         Number 3 – April 12 -2015   

Resurrection of Christ

“This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”, are the words we hear day after day during Bright Week.  Starting early Sunday morning in the Orthodox Church after the faithful have encircled the church three times and stop at the front door, are the words which are proclaimed by the priest.  The first words we hear on the steps of the church are: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.”  How many times have you heard these words ring out year after year and you never seem to get tired of hearing them.  Why?  Because they are words of hope for the living and the deceased.  Jesus Christ showed us that there is no end to life after death.  He proved that Himself, by dying on the Cross and then resurrecting from the dead.

As the service continues we also hear the priest proclaiming these words: “a day which the Lord hath made,” so that we may rejoice in it.  Some say that Christ’s Nativity is the happiest day of the year, but today we hear the words which tell us to rejoice in this day for it is Holy and brings hope to all.  The Lord did not make this day for you or me only.  He did not make it only for the president of some country or some Prime Minister of a nation.  The Lord did not make this day only for some Hollywood star or some famous sports figure.  Surely and honestly God made this day for every living being that ever lived on the face of this earth.  Yes God made this day for the Holy Saint, He made for the prisoner and those who forsake Him. The Lord made this day for every family, for the orphan, the widow and those who did not have an opportunity to know Him.  This day God has created for the just and the unjust.  And God created this day for those who died unexpectedly and those with long suffering.  God created this day for the whole world.  He created this day for the soldier injured on the battle field and for the one who died in the battle.  This day was created for the police officer who died in the line of duty and the one that was injured.  This day was created for the doctor and nurse who tenderly with loving care gave hope to the injured and the infirm.  The Lord also created this day for the fireman and ambulance personal.  This day was created by God for all humanity.

We sing the hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”  How many times have you heard these words in your lifetime, and yet each and every year they are just as hopeful as if thou this scene happened just yesterday or today.  Why is it that some great composers composed many beautiful compositions but somehow if you tried playing them each day they do not bring hope like the above words.  Hope for the living because our Savior died unmercifully on the Cross for our sins, but also at the time a bright and hopeful future for: “those in the tombs bestowing life.” What great and wonderful hope for us living and our deceased loved ones.  As you sit around your table at home, remember also those who are not with you at this hour.  They may be at work, a great distance from home or may be with the Lord in heaven, so whatever remember them and pray for their soul here on earth or in heaven.

What other religion or faith in the world has such great hope and future for eternal life for those in the tombs(graves) who have already fallen asleep in the Lord?  Year after year we fast for 40 days praying to Christ, and then comes, the Paska along with other foods is blessed in church and people hurry home to consume of the blessed food.  If you prepared this same Easter food in October or July, it would not have the same taste and flavor as it does during His Resurrection.  Why?  This is something special and mystical that happens at this blessed time of the year, even like at Christ’s Nativity the “kutia” (wheat) always tastes different than if you would prepare it in June.  There is something mystical that happens at that special time of Christ’s Birth and His resurrection.  May this day bring to you and your loved ones a life full of joy:  “and to those in the tombs bestowing life.”

                                              CHRIST IS RISEN!        INDEED HE IS RISEN!


                                                             Number 2 – March 29 – 2015

5th  Sunday of Fast

THE GREAT FAST (LENT)

In the Orthodox Church there are four main fasts in the yearly cycle.  Yes there are lesser fasts like Wednesday and Friday, but the four main fast periods are thus by the Gregorian calendars:

1.  Great Lent forty days before Christ’s Resurrection (some say Easter). Dates change every year called a     “moveable fast.”

2.  Apostle’s of Sts. Peter and Paul Lent starts Monday after All Saints Sunday and concludes July 12.

3.  Dormition or falling asleep of the Mother-of-God (Theotokos). Fast starts August 14 and concludes August 28, a two week fast.

4.  Phillips Lent (some call it Advent) November 28 to January 06 is also a forty day fast.

During the Great Fast each of the five Sundays is designated to some Saint or some special event.

1st Sunday: Sunday of Orthodoxy celebrated since 842 AD proclaiming victory over the iconoclasts of those who were against icons and other heresies.

2nd Sunday: Celebration in memory of St. Gregory Palamos, Archbishop of Thessalonika.

3rd Sunday: Celebrating and reverencing the Cross.

4th Sunday: In memory of St. John the Climacus.

5th Sunday: Commemorating St. Mary of Egypt.

6th Sunday: Is Palm SUNDAY and the week following is Resurrection of Christ.

Today being the Fifth Sunday of Lent we will stop for a moment to learn the story of the woman who is celebrated each year on this Fast Sunday.  Yes there are many Saints and each one led a different life but all dedicated their life sooner or later to God.  The story of St. Mary is really a story of repentance, humility and love.  St. Mary was born in Egypt.  In her young and youthful years she ran away from home to Alexandria when she was twelve years of age and turned her life into disgrace, dishonor and passions of the body.  She lived about seventeen years in this life and learned to spin flax and from this she made her living.

One day she saw a number of young men going to sail to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Veneration of the Precious and Life Giving Cross.  Mary thought this was a chance to go to Jerusalem hopefully finding more new young men with whom she could spend her time in seducing them.  As people were walking to the church she joined them and came to the Church, but a mysterious indivisible force would not let her into the church.  Everyone was entering the church but some unforeseen power would not let her in.  Three times she tried to enter but to no avail.  She noticed an icon of the Virgin Mary above the door and then she started to weep and pray to Her asking Her to let her enter the church and she would then do as Theotokos would ask.  She tried again to enter the church and she entered and prayed with the people.

Mary left the church and as she was fleeing away someone stopped her and gave her three loafs of bread on which she survived for years and then she lived on herbs and wild fruit.  The wild animals of the dessert tormented her and her bodily passions which she fought for nearly twenty years.  Having overcome the temptations she lived as a hermit spending her time in prayer.  The Virgin Mary would appear to her and give her strength to carry on her life.

Forty-seven years she lived in the wilderness of the dessert having not seen one human being all those years until one day a monk by the name of Zosimas coming through the desert met her.  Mary having never seen Zosimas knew who he was.  She had no clothing, so she turned around and Zosimas gave her his cloak and gave her the Holy Sacrement of Christ’s Body and Blood.  There she revealed to him her story and begged him not to tell it to anyone.  As Zosimas was leaving she asked him to bring her the Holy Communion again next year and he promised that God willing he will come back in a year’s time.

As the year passed Zosimas went back into the wilderness to fulfill the promise.  When he arrived he found that Mary had died and beside her written in the sand was the message that she had died the day after Zosimos left a year ago.  She asked him to bury her.  Zosimas started to dig the grave, but soon was overtired when a lion came along.  Zosimas fearing for his life moved some distance from the beast, but the lion began to dig where Zosimas was digging.  Zosimas seeing what was happening lost fear of the beast and together they dug the grave and buried Mary.  Zosimas returned back to the monastery and told the story of Mary of Egypt.  With God’s help Mary had spent her life in the wilderness in prayer and humility, having received Sainthood and being remembered each year on the fifth Sunday of Lent.  Mary died in 344 AD in Palestine.

   


                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Number 1 – March 22 – 2015 4th Sunday of Fast

Ukrainian Orthodox Cross. Does your family have a Cross at home hanging on a wall?  You may ask why we should have a Cross at home.  From the earliest of times in Christian life, people reverenced the Cross and do so till this very day.  People wear a Cross on a chain on their chest, on their lapel clothing, the Cross is in and on their churches, on their books, and so forth.  The Cross is a sign of Christ’s Crucifixion where He died for our sins.  The Cross is a very similar article like the Holy Icons which are in our churches and where Christians have them in their homes.

Every year in Orthodox Churches the Cross is carried out twice at services, on the third Sunday of Fast(Lent) and on the Holy Day of the elevation of the Cross on September 27th.  Christians do not worship icons or the Cross, but they only reverence them.  The Cross is a very important part in the life of Christians.  Apostle Paul in his writings to the Corinthians says this about the Cross.

“For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but onto us which are saved it is the power of God.”   (1 cor. 1:18)  Do you see what the Cross is to us: “the power of God,”  as Apostle Paul tells us. Apostle Paul had people who walked with him but some were enemies of the Cross as he weepingly tells us.

He says “For many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ.”  (Philppians 3:18)

The Ecumenical Councils(325-787 AD) mentioned about the Cross eleven times of different ways the Cross is to be honored and respected.  They say it is to be adorned only second after the Holy Gospel.  So we see what an important roll the Cross plays in a Christians life.  When a person is baptized the sign of the cross is used in anointing the one being baptized.  As the person continues in growth and becomes an adult, many times the sign of the Cross was made on the person.

When a person marries, a number of times the sign of the Cross is made over the couple.  As the person continues one’s life hundreds of times the sign of the Cross will be made upon that person. When finally the person reposes, the sign of the cross is made on the person in the casket. At the end of the service at the cemetery again the sign of the Cross is made in sealing the grave. Even after we die the sign of the Cross will still be made over our grave during the blessing of the grave when the priest, family members and congregation meet on the cemetery to pray and sing that “Christ is Risen.”

Why does our Cross look different than other Crosses?  There are different shapes of Crosses.  There are the Greek Cross, Roman Cross, and many other crosses, but only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has what we call “The Three barred Cross.”  “Three barred” means three bars across one vertical bar.  Crucifixion was a severe punishment for grave sins.  A number of reasons for the three bars are.

1.  The top short bar had the name of the person and why the person was crucified written on it.

2.  Christ’s hands were nailed to the long bar.  But it’s the angle bar that most people are baffled why it is as it is.  For this slanted bar there are also a few reasons.

A.  For a person to suffer more and prolong his life, a piece of board was nailed to the vertical bar and the crucified person somewhat stood on this bar.  Because of the pain that Christ endured, He lifted up His Right Leg and the board twisted into a slant as we see it on the Cross.

B.  Historical roots show us that Apostle Andrew wanted to go to Rome, so he went on the Black Sea and up the Dnieper River.  There he stopped for the night.  In the morning he went to the top of the banks and looked around and said: “One day a great city will arise here and many churches will be built here.”  Those prophetical words have been fulfilled where Kyiv the capital city of Ukraine stands today.  Apostle Andrew was crucified upside down on a Cross in the form of an “X”.  For three days and nights he hung on the Cross.  One of the bars of Saint Andrew’s Cross “X” is the bar on the Cross to tell us that Apostle Andrew is the Patron Saint of Ukraine.

C.  The third reason is that on each side of Christ there were two robbers crucified.  The robber on Christ’s right repented for his sins and asked Christ to be in Heaven with Him.  The thief on Christ’s left was blaspheming Christ and as we would say today: “making fun of Christ.”  This bar tells us that if we repent for our sins we likewise will go to heaven as the bar points heaven ward.  If we do not repent we will go to hades or hell as we say, in the way the bar on Christ’s left points – downward to hell.

“But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: He is their strength in the time of trouble.” (Ps.37:39)