FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT — Tone 5. Sunday of Orthodoxy. Translation of the relics of St. Nikēphóros, Patriarch of Constantinople.
Tone 5 Troparion (Resurrection)
Let us, the faithful, praise and worship the Word, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, born for our salvation from the Virgin; for He willed to be lifted up on the Cross in the flesh, to endure death, and to raise the dead// by His glorious Resurrection.
Tone 2 Troparion (Sunday of Orthodoxy)
We venerate Your most pure image, O Good One; and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God. Of Your own will You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and deliver Your creatures from bondage to the Enemy. Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to You: “You have filled all with joy, O our Savior,// by coming to save the world.”
Tone 8 Kontakion (Sunday of Orthodoxy)
No one could describe the Word of the Father; but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former state by uniting it to divine beauty.// We confess and proclaim our salvation in words and images.
Tone 4 Prokeimenon (Song of the 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 11:24-26, 32-12:2 (Epistle)
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. 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. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
V. Moses and Aaron were among His priests; Samuel also was among those who called on His Name. (Ps. 98:6)
V. They called to the Lord and He answered them. (Ps. 98:7a)
Luke 18:10-14 (Gospel)
The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
These words, variously translated as “The Existing One” or “He Who Is,” are in essence the name that God gave himself when Moses came before him asking (in Exodus 3:13-15), “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”. And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations . . .’ The word in capital letters, LORD, represents the Hebrew letters YHWH, associated with the verb “to be.” These four letters (or “Tetragrammaton”) were to the Jews the unpronounceable name of God.
That God gave this as his name reflects that truth that, while the gods of the nations had various names, God is nameless, beyond all name and concept—his various “names” and titles being mere pointers to the nature of him whose essence is beyond all. This name is a kind of negation of name, underscoring the mystery and namelessness of God. Indeed, it confirms what the Church fathers later taught, that God so surpasses all that can be imagined about Him that the “negative [or apophatic] way” of speaking of him is superior to the positive (cataphatic) way of his many titles.
This same name was also chosen by Jesus in the Gospel, when he said, “. . . before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58) and also in his many “I am” declarations (“I am the light of the world”, “I am the true vine”, etc.). In the Greek text of the Gospel these “I am” sayings take the form “ego eimi,” denoting emphasis. By using this name, Jesus identified himself with the God who had spoken to Moses and in doing so had given himself that same name; he was the God who had led Israel out of bondage to Egypt.
Appropriately, this name, by which God the Word identified himself to his people in both the Old and New Testaments, is the name used on the holy icons of Christ to identify the Savior: the Greek letters “O WN” have the meaning “He who Is” or “The existing one”, and these same words are again used in the concluding parts of the services of vespers and matins (orthros), to remind us that Jesus Christ is “YHWH [He Who Is], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
There are two blessings at the end of the service. The first one blesses (speaks well of) God, and the second blesses God’s people (asks for God’s blessing on them). Praise of God precedes petition. The first blessing is based on the name God gave himself: “Christ our God, the Existing [He who Is] is blessed, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” The second blessing concludes the service “May Christ our true God . . . have mercy on us and save us . . .”
The Shared Christian Life of Monks and Laymen
In speaking about the meaning of our life [on the Holy Mountain of Athos], we share the basic experience inherited by all of us. The things we share are simple advice. Christ is known in the Orthodox Church as the sanctification of our souls and our bodies. Externally, the one who is in Christ does not look any different from a criminal; it is internally that he is in Christ.
I like the story in the Gerontikon when St. Anthony asks God where he should go [to see someone who had attained the grace of the desert ascetics], and God sent him to a cobbler. This cobbler is now in the position of St. Anthony. St. Anthony is not as great as a cobbler: one who is unknown, unrecognized by the world, and yet living in the same holiness of life. That is the greatest thing. You might say, “You are on the Holy Mountain, a place holy and sacred, but we are in the world. So, you are in a coveted position.” But it is not so. The great fact is that God is love and that we are Orthodox Christians. Whether we find ourselves on the Holy Mountain or in the world, it is the same thing.
Because God is love, one realizes that the greatest blessings are the trials, not the easy things. Within Orthodoxy we are helped in order to love life, and we are given a grace that conquers death. The Lord Himself said, I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Consequently, this is what is offered in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy differs from heterodoxy (the non-Orthodox) in a small way, but this small matter is the greatest thing. Orthodoxy gives you rest. A heresy is an easy answer, but it is one that actually tortures you because it ignores man. The way of Orthodoxy is filled with difficulties and crosses, but it leads you to the path wherein you glorify God for all things and are thankful for all things—the Resurrection. I remember reading somewhere that man is an ungrateful biped.(Dostoyevsky) When you say, “Glory be to God for all things,” then all things become holy. Therefore, in the Divine Liturgy we have the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist (thanksgiving). Giving thanks for all, everything becomes holy, sanctified. Whereas if we complain—we’re murmuring, we’re grumbling—then things change. One who lives in Christ and breathes in Christ—even if you put him in hell he would rejoice. One who complains and never says “thank you”—even if you put him in Paradise, he would consider it hell. Therefore it is greatly important to have trust in the love of Christ. And I think this is what the Church teaches us. When you realize that whatever Christ does He does out of love, then you accept everything.
They say that monastic life is difficult. Yes, it is, and no, it is not, because, when you love this life, you feel deprivation as a fullness and separation from others as a union with them. So whatever the Church urges us to do, it does so out of love, because the Church is our mother: she who is with us when we are small and when we are old, when we are alive and when we have died. Therefore in all things [that the Church urges us to do] we should say, “Glory to God.” I heard a sermon that I did not like. The preacher was speaking about Great Lent, about fasting. He said that God gave the commandment to fast, therefore you have to fast—as if God were some kind of tyrant who wants to make our life miserable and dark. Whereas fasting in the life of the Church is a kind of nourishment. In the Triodion we read that in the time of the Fast the Holy Spirit is the One Who feeds us, the Nourisher. We see that when we have food we say glory to God that He feeds us. And also during Lent, our Great Fast, we say, “Glory to God.” With joy we give glory to God and in sorrow we say, “Glory to God,” because in all these things God gives us His love and helps us to progress. Therefore if someone says, “I am in the world; I am at a lower level of spiritual life; you are in the monastery on the Holy Mountain; you are on a higher level,” I don’t see that as being correct. We see from an Orthodox view that God judges things differently. Great is the one who is small and seemingly non-existent. Whoever is patient, suffers afflictions, and says internally “God’s will be done,” the grace of God visits him, and all within him becomes a doxology to God. This person finds himself in a state of spiritual health. And I think that the one who is in spiritual health is the one who has no complaints about any person or any problem or situation in his life. So if we suffer from certain situations or certain people we say, “Glory to God.”
God is Love; we are weak. But we have a great asset. That asset is that Someone loves us. He is the Good Shepherd, Who sacrifices His life for the rational sheep, calling the sheep by their own names, each one individually. He does not call them as a group: each one of the sheep has its own name, not its own number.
Excerpts from Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron, The Thunderbolt of Ever-Living Fire