27th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST — Tone 2. Sunday before the Nativity. Sunday of the Holy Fathers. Martyr Sebastian at Rome and his companions: Martyrs Nicostratus, Zoë, Castorius, Tranquillinus, Marcellinus, Mark, Claudius, Symphorian, Victorinus, Tiburtius, and Castulus (ca. 287).
Tone 2 Troparion (Resurrection)
When You descended to death, O Life Immortal, You slew hell with the splendor of Your Godhead. And when from the depths You raised the dead, all the powers of heaven cried out:// “O Giver of life, Christ our God, glory to You!”
Tone 2 Troparion (Holy Fathers)
Great are the accomplishments of faith, for the three Holy Youths rejoice in the fountain of flames as though in the waters of rest; and the Prophet Daniel appeared a shepherd to the lions as though they were sheep.// So by their prayers, O Christ God, save our souls!
Tone 6 Kontakion (Holy Fathers)
You did not worship the graven image, O thrice-blessed ones, but armed with the immaterial Essence of God, you were glorified in a trial by fire. From the midst of unbearable flames you called on God, crying: “Hasten, O compassionate One! Speedily come to our aid,// for You are merciful and able to do as You will!”
Tone 4 Prokeimenon (Holy Fathers)
Blessed are You, O Lord God of our fathers, / and praised and glorified is Your Name forever! (Song of the Three Holy Children, v. 3)
V. For You are just in all that You have done for us! (v. 4)
Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40 (Epistle, Sunday Before)
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command. And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
V. We have heard with our ears, O God, for our fathers have told us. (Ps. 43:1a)
V. For You have saved us from them that oppose us, and hast put to shame them that hate us. (Ps. 43:8)
Matthew 1:1-25 (Gospel, Sunday Before)
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
Excerpts from the book Gifts of the Desert
Responding to a question on the role of study in a person’s spiritual struggle, Father Maximos stressed that the elders considered prayer and study as twin and necessary preconditions for the road to holiness. “In addition to the practical aspects of engaging in spiritual exercises, such as managing anger, being kind to others, praying, working toward developing a charitable predisposition, and so on, we must also devote time to study. Studying is a way of preoccupying our mind with God. Drops of water hitting marble rhythmically over a long period of time will crack it in two. It is the same with our hearts. Preoccupation with spiritual work along with the study of the lives of saints can keep our minds focused on God and the Agathon, or the Good. Over a period of time our hearts will open up.”
Father Maximos went on to repeat that systematic prayer is of utmost importance in the effort to move to the second stage of true faith. “Prayer offers us the strength that will eventually lead us to the experience of God. In the same way that a person needs to eat in order to be healthy and have strength to face the tasks of everyday living, so too does a person need prayer to develop resistance and immunity to temptations and evil acts. It is like the system of antibodies we have within our physical body that keeps it in good health. When a virus enters the body the antibodies are activated, offering resistance.”
“I have one question, Father Maxime,” said Emily. “You’ve talked so much tonight about prayer and its power, particularly the constant repetition of the Jesus Prayer. What can you say to those who are not Orthodox but wish to practice the prayer within their own denomination?” “Anybody can engage in the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ the ‘Prayer of the Heart’ as we sometimes call it. What is important, however, is to pray with humility and not reduce the prayer to some kind of a mental technique. Such an approach can backfire and lead to unpleasant developments.” Father Maximos did not elaborate on what these “unpleasant developments” could be but went on to point out that the systematic practice of the Prayer can solve three fundamental existential problems that all people face.
He turned back, looked at Emily, and held up three fingers of his right hand. “First, it liberates us from loneliness. We cannot feel lonely when we are connected with the Christ. Second, we are freed from any form of anxiety, about our health, our property, our work, our children, and so on. Third, we are liberated from fear. By surrendering to Christ we overcome the fear of death, for in reality there is no death. So as we know from experience, the Prayer of the Heart helps us overcome our fundamental existential problems.”
“I am just wondering,” I said with some reluctance, “if in order to get to God you need to undergo such excruciating forms of askesis, then what chances do we have who live in the world? What chance has someone like me, a married person committed to wife, children, friends, to attain union with God? I know, of course, that we talked about this before. But that thought always crosses my mind.” “It is just as excruciating and difficult living in the world as it is being a monk,” Father Maximos replied. “It only appears more difficult to be a monk because you are not a monk. In reality it is the same thing. You yourself are asked to transcend and forget yourself for the sake of the other. That is the deeper meaning of marriage and family life, an askesis of self-transcendence for the sake of the other. To raise a family means sacrifice and toil, no less demanding than living in a monastery. In fact I know of women who are real martyrs, their lives are much more challenging and difficult than the life of monks and hermits, believe me.”
Homily on Ruth by St. Nikolai from the Prologue of Ohrid
Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God … naught but death shall part thee and me (Ruth 1:16,17)
These are wonderful words, whether they are spoken by a son to a father, a daughter to a mother, or a wife to a husband. But they are three times more wonderful when a daughter-in-law says them to her mother-in-law. Blessed Ruth spoke these words to Naomi, her sorrowful mother-in-law. When both of Naomi’s sons died in the land of Moab, where they lived as immigrants, the aged mother wanted to return to Bethlehem, her native land, and there to lay her bones to rest. And Naomi, noble in her grief, counseled her young daughters-in-law to remain in their own land and to remarry. Orpah remained, but Ruth said: Naught but death shall part thee and me.
Behold a most beautiful example of how a mother-in-law can tenderly love her daughters-in-law, and again how a daughter-in-law can be wholeheartedly devoted to her mother-in-law. But in Bethlehem someone had to feed these two souls. Who would feed them? God and the diligent hands of Ruth. Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn (Ruth 2:2), said the daughter-in-law to the mother-in-law. And Naomi replied: Go, my daughter (Ruth 2:3). In a strange field, with strange reapers, she had to glean the ears of grain. That was not only toil but also shame. However, Ruth took upon herself both toil and shame out of love for her aged mother-in-law. The All-seeing God saw these two sweet souls and rejoiced. Their Creator rejoiced and rewarded and glorified them, as only He knows how to reward and glorify those who fear Him. And God, in His providence, provided that Ruth should enter the field of the wealthy Boaz to gather the gleaned ears of grain, and Boaz saw Ruth and asked Naomi for her hand in marriage. Of this marriage was born Obed, the father of Jesse and grandfather of David the King. So it was that Ruth had humbled herself to being a beggar but God made her the ancestress of the great king (David), from whom came many kings and finally the King of kings, our Lord Jesus Christ.
O All-seeing and Gracious Lord, how wonderful art Thou in Thy providence toward the righteous and the merciful. Do Thou guide us also and have mercy on us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.