MOST REV. STEPHEN SOTER ORTYNSKY, O.S.B.M., D.D. “Kyr Soter” : THE FIRST GREEK CATHOLIC BISHOP IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (1907-1916)

  
Since today is the 100th anniversary of the death of His Beatitude Ortynsky, we here at Holy Synergy would like to post an article in rememberance of him. Please note that the following article is copyright and does not belong to us.

+Stefan SorokaMetropolitan/Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in U.S.A., April 12,2007

©The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia 827 North Franklin Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123-2097 

  

THE AUTHOR: Rev. Kaszczak is a priest of the Stamford Eparchy of The Ukrainian Catholic Church. He was educated in Philosophy at St. Basil College in Stamford, CT. He received a Master of Arts degree in Theology from Oblate College in 1985. That same year he was ordained a priest on May 4, 1985. His pastoral assignments included such cities as: Troy, NY; Spring Valley, NY; Syracuse, NY; Rochester, NY; Woonsocket, RI and Fall River, MA. He also served in Hempstead, NY until taking a sabbatical to study at La Salle University in 1996-97. It was there that he received a Master’s in Education. Following that he served for several years as Vice Rector of the Minor Seminary in Stamford, CT and as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. He was awarded a Ph.D . in Religious
Education from Fordham University in 2005. He is the author of several books and has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for over eighteen years.
 
                  1.  The Swan

When the tempest passes, the wicked man is no more; but the just man is established forever”
(Proverbs 10:25).

The swan is a very popular, romantic bird that has several memorable stories attached to it. The most popular story is the ballet, Swan Lake, where a prince falls in love with a princess who is under a curse that forces her to take on the shape of a swan. The most recent variations of this ballet take inspiration from the myth that, just before it dies, a swan sings sweetly. When displayed on a shield, the swan is seen “closed,” with its wings folded. In heraldry, the swan represents poetry and harmony, and was often the charge of a knight who was musical. It was featured on the Ortynsky fam- ily crest.

ORTYNSKY’S COAT OF ARMS: Bishop Ortynsky placed a prelate or priest’s hat above his shields. It is an external ecclesiastical adornment which protects and adorns the noblest part of the person – their head. If the prelate’s (Roman) hat were omitted it would be more properly oriental. It has a cord on each side, both terminating in six tassels arranged in three rows. 

Six tassels have been commonly used for bishops. It has a cross and bishop’s staff behind the shield. They are emblems of Episcopal rank. The bishop’s staff is a sign of jurisdiction and the office of Good Shepherd. The staff of a Byzantine bishop terminates in two serpents facing each other between which there is usually but not always a cross. 

The serpents are the Old Testament symbol of the cross (Numbers 21:9 and John 3:14f). The Eastern bishop’s crown in the center above the shield is a symbol of his episcopal dignity and represents a sacred rank.
  

 On March 24, 1916, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a relatively young man of fifty lay dying. His name was Stephen Soter Ortynsky and he was the first Greek Catholic Bishop of the United States of America.

 He was known to be a hard working and dedicated pastor who had contracted pneumonia after some particularly difficult days of labor in the vineyard of the Lord. This was to be his final day. His funeral was held on Thursday, March 30, 1916. He was buried in the Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on North Franklin Street in the city of Philadelphia. 

This young hierarch was for many a cryptic and enigmatic figure during his life. He was a Greek Catholic bishop but he was not a Greek by nationality. He preached in English, Lithuanian and Ruthenian. He was born on January 29, 1866, in the province of Galicia, Austria, but he was not Austrian. He became a citizen of these United States and never left his adopted homeland. His own Catholic brothers and sisters sometimes did not understand how this “Greek” could be connected to the “Roman” Church. In the midst of such misunderstanding he preached the Gospel fervently and ministered to all.
       2. The Beginning

In 1867, the Austro-Hungarian government passed a very liberal emigration policy into law. Their citizens were free to migrate to various parts of the globe. Many decided to seek their fortune in America. 

This was to be the first mass migration from Eastern Europe into the “new world.” Among these immigrants were approximately half a million Eastern Catholics who were labeled since 1772 as “Greek Catholics” by the Austrian government.  

3. Providence Association and the “Ruthenian Bank”

Bishop Ortynsky wished to give our immigrants financial security and stability. In 1912, he established “The Providence Association” partially based on an organization of Greek Catholic Brotherhoods. 

This organization had three main goals as is apparent from article 2 of their statutes: Moral – preach the faith, Material – help their members and National – a development of national identity for the Ruthenians.
The bishop also sought to established a Ruthenian Bank. On May 13, 1915 the charter for the Ruthenian Bank was approved by the U. S. government.

 This bank was to be in the chancery office of the eparchy; however, the untimely death of the bishop put this project on hold indefinitely. They had even installed a vault which the chancery used for many years.
In America there was much misunderstanding regarding these “new Catholics.” They did not use the Latin language in their services, their customs and liturgical rites appeared foreign and perhaps, most shocking of all, they had married men as ordained priests. Antagonism towards these ancient eastern Catholic traditions, which some western Catholics mistakenly labeled as scandalous, was a catalyst for many Greek-Catholics abandoning their church:

 “The main issue on which the American bishops [Latin rite] chose to chal- lenge the newcomers was that of clerical celibacy. They refused to allow married eastern-rite priests to exercise the ministry. 

Meeting in 1893, the archbishops resolved: that the presence of married priests of the Greek rite in our midst is a constant menace to the chastity of our unmarried clergy, a source of scandal to the laity and therefore the sooner this point of discipline is abolished before the evils obtain large proportions, the better for reli- gion….The possible loss of a few souls of the Greek rite, the archbishops thought, ‘bears no proportion to the blessings resulting from uniformity of discipline’.” (James Hennesey, S.J., American Catholics (Oxford University Press: New York, 1981), 193.)

  
This apparent disregard for the spiritual and ecclesial needs of Eastern Catholics was mostly born of ignorance. The Latin Catholic Church hierarchy and people had not been exposed to their Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters. 

Eastern Catholic customs and traditions were therefore rarely seen as customs and traditions of the Catholic Church. There was also the matter of episcopal jurisdiction. The Catholic Church had an ancient tradition of not placing two bishops into one city.6 The church authorities also did not differentiate between an Eastern Catholic Church and a national parish within their jurisdiction. In a pamphlet defending Bishop Ortynsky his priests write:

“The reason for a separate hierarchy for the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church in the United States is a very different one from that urged by cer- tain foreign Catholics…With the Ruthenian Greek Catholics, however, there is an absolute difference in the Rite, form of worship and usages…No ques- tion of Ruthenian racial affiliations or of nationality, whether Austrian or Hungarian, is involved, but only that of the religious Rite.”

              4. Ortynsky’s Youth

  

Bishop Ortynsky was born in the village of Ortynychi, Galicia, on 29 January 1866. His primary education was completed in Drohobych. At 18 he entered the Basilian Order and took the monastic name Soter. On January 1, 1889 he took his solemn vows within the Basilian Order. He was also sent for University studies to Krakow where he developed a friendship with the future Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky. 

They both received doctorates in Philosophy and Theology.
On July 18, 1891, he was ordained a priest by Metropolitan of Lviv
Sylvester Sembratovych and celebrated his first Divine Liturgy at the Monastery Church in Dobromyl. 

He was thereafter named professor of Philosophy for clerics in the Basilian monastery of Lavriw where he taught for two years. 

He was later called to the Lviv monastery. It was during this time that he, along with Frs. Sheptytsky and Platonid Filas preached missions all over Galicia. They also began to publish the religious journal “The Missionary.” This time of evangelization and oratory fervor garnered for young Fr. Stephen the title “golden-mouthed – Chrysostom.”

In 1895, he was named Ihumen (abbot) of the renewed monastery in Mykhailivka in Podillya next to the Russian border. When he arrived he found things in disarray. After nine years of dedicated service and sacrifice he was able to bring the status of the monastery to some acceptable level. He was developing his talents as both an organizer and leader.

         5. The Episcopacy – His First Pastoral Letter

  
In 1906, he returned to Lviv, Galicia, and prepared to be a missionary to Brazil. On March 26, 1907, he was quite surprised when Pope Pius X appointed him bishop for the Greek Catholics in America and named him titular Bishop of Daulia. He was consecrated by Metropolitan Andrew Roman Sheptytsky, Bishop Constantine Chechovych and Bishop Gregory Chomyshyn in St. George’s Cathedral (Lviv) on May 12, 1907. Before he left Europe he stopped to see the Greek Catholic bishops in Subcarpathia and Rome. He also wrote his first Episcopal letter in which he states: 

“The power of obedience held me back from the road to Brazil, where my heart desired to bring help to the poorest of our emigrants. The power of obedience placed upon me the shackles of the episcopacy, by which I was united to the fate and sufferings of our Ruthenian Church in the United States. The power of obedience told me: take up this most difficult cross and crucify upon it your “Ego”, and through the sufferings you will endure, save yourself and your people.” (Dated from Lviv, Galicia June 25, 1907 – it was received in the United States on August 7, 1907.)

 

 
Cover of program for the consecration of Bishop Ortynsky as bishop in 1907.
Courtesy of Ukrainian Museum and Research Center – Stamford, CT

He arrived in the United States on August 27, 1907, with his secretary Rev. Vladimir Petrivsky. They were met at Hoboken, NJ, by a committee headed by Revs. Cornelius Laurisin, Gabriel Chopey and Joseph Chaplynsky. 

The bishop was escorted onto Manhattan Island to St. George’s Church, then located on east 20th Street, where he held a Moleben (Prayer Service). The following day he celebrated his first Divine Liturgy at St. George’s Church.
On August 29, he went to Philadelphia and then to Washington, D.C., where he met with the Most Rev. Diomede Falconio, O.F.M., the Apostolic Delegate.

 On September 1st, Bishop Stephen Soter went to South Fork, PA, to bless St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church. The Bishop had no residence or cathedral so he accept- ed the hospitality of the priest and stayed there until
November when he announced his transfer to a residence on North Sixty-Third Street in Philadelphia.
             6. Church Structure

  

The faithful and clergy of the Greek Catholic Church had been without a bishop since the beginning of the immigration in the 1880s. They had developed their own ways of governance. Rev. Nicephor Chanat (1891-1895, Administrator) and Very Rev. Andrew Hodobay (1902-1907, Apostolic Visitator) had been the initial attempts at organization. Czarist Russia through propaganda and financial manipulation wanted the loyalty of all Slavs and so took advantage of there being no bishop to attempt to make everyone Orthodox. There were Protestant sectarian influences, increased factional conflicts and prolonged misunderstandings of the Latin hierarchy. In general there was a lack of discipline and a breakdown of authority.

 

 The apostolic letter “Ea Semper” of June 14, 1907, which limited the position and power of the new bishop, was a surprise to Bishop Ortynsky. Although the new bishop received his jurisdiction directly from Rome, he was to exercise it as an auxiliary to every Latin ordinary. 

No married priests were to be sent to the U.S., nor were any married men to be ordained for the U.S. For many Greek Catholics, Ea Semper became a symbol of Western suppression and control over the Greek Catholic Church. For Bishop Ortynsky it was a constant source of stress and misunderstanding.

Bishop Soter called for a meeting of his clergy on October 15-16, 1907, in New York City. Seventy-six priests attended this meeting and among the many items they discussed were dividing the territory into nine Deaneries, schools for cantors, homes for orphans and widows and the erection of a seminary. A similar conference for parish delegates was held in New York in the fall of 1907. 

They voted that all Ruthenian churches (about 120 in 1907) sign over their property to Bishop Ortynsky; nevertheless, the jurisdictional problems were a source of continuing frustration.
The Bishop began to settle in at Philadelphia by becoming rector of the Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church on 1925 West Passyunk Ave. 

Later, he celebrated at the church of St. Michael at 9th and Buttonwood Streets which was close to his residence at 1105 North 63rd Street. Late in 1908, Bishop Ortynsky purchased the former St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in the 800 block of N. Franklin Street which was eventually consecrated on October 2,
1910 as the Ruthenian Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Thus Franklin Street became a religious center for Ruthenian Greek Catholics.
                    7. Education 

On September 15, 1909, at a conference in
Philadelphia, Bishop Ortynsky established
“Prosvita” – an educational-cultural organiza-
tion for Ruthenians. The bishop also invited
the Basilian sisters from Galicia, Austria, to
help with the education of children, especially orphans. 

Three sisters and two candidates arrived in December, 1911, and three more sisters arrived in November of 1912. The first abbess, Sr. Helena Longevych, O.S.B.M., helped establish the Mother-house and Novitiate. There was also a plan to establish a hospital and Nursing Home. 

In short, the sisters became the heart and soul of much of Bishop Ortynsky’s social program.
He encouraged parishes to establish evening schools. He formed a Brotherhood of Ruthenian Greek Catholic Cantor/teachers on July 13, 1913.

He also purchased over 222 acres of land in Yorktown, VA, upon which he intended to establish a seminary, technical school, factory and nursing home.11
At this time a group of Subcarpathian Rusyn Greek Catholic priests in Harrisburg, PA, created a committee: “The Civilian Executive Church Committee” and issued a memorandum that proposed to recall Bishop Ortynsky from America because of his alleged nationalism.

                8. The Orphanage 

 

 The Orphans were the weakest of the immigrant
population and Ortynsky with his own funds purchased a
building on the corner of 7th and Parrish Streets for
$24,000 dollars. It provided housing for over 200
orphans. In association with the orphanage he
established a printing press, bookstore, and vestment
store and rug factory. Aside from this, in 1914, for $8,500
he purchased a 300 acre tract of land in Chesapeake City, MD, where the orphans from ages 2-6 would stay and all orphans would spend their summers. He often visited the orphans and was solicitous for them at all times. His fond affection and care for them lasted until his death.
      9. The Latin Hiearchy and         Bishop Ortynsky

  

The American Latin Catholic hierarchy was against the nomination of an Eastern Catholic bishop for the United States. In fact, on October 11, 1894 and again in 1896 “the American bishops again proposed that they be given the faculty of transferring all Ruthenian rite Catholics to the Latin rite in order to preserve uniformity.” 

They did not differenti- ate between national churches and Eastern Catholic parishes and it may be said that some, due to their regional interests, did not have a comprehensive vision of the Catholic Church. 

In fact, some wanted Eastern Catholics to simply become Latin Catholics: “The American bishops of the 19th century realized that national parishes were a necessity and may have conclud- ed that these Ruthenian Catholics could be absorbed into the Latin rite discipline under the same conditions provided for
national parishes of the Latin rite.” (Walter Paska. Sources of Particular Law for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States (Washington, DC, 1975), 52.)

On account of the bull “Ea Semper” Bishop Ortynsky needed to get permission from every Latin bish- op in whose territory he wished to minister. As a rule this was handled with tact and Christian diploma- cy. 

There were, however, certain demands that needed to be met depending on the will of the individ- ual bishop. Also, sometimes Latin bishops would assign Greek Catholic priests without Bishop Ortynsky’s knowledge.

The Greek Catholic priests were also forbidden to administer Chrismation. All these unjust restrictions placed upon the ritual life of this church were a boon to those who wished to foment mistrust and agi- tation among the faithful.

  10. The Subcarpathians, Galicians and others

  

The Greek Catholics were not Greek. They were an amalgam of various ethnic groups. Among the various names they were referred to as: Rusyns, Rusins, Russians, Galicians, Subcarpathians and Austrians. The Magyarized Subcarpathians (Transcarpathians), who were the majority, were stunned by the appointment of a Ukrainian patriot from Galicia as Bishop.

They had had two of their own priests who acted as administrators. The highly capable Archpriest Hodobay was seen by the majority of Greek Catholic Clergy as an episcopal candidate. There were also those elements within the clerical ranks that preferred anarchy and disorder to be the usual norm.

 They viewed any bishop as a restriction upon their freedom.
It is therefore no small wonder that the weakened jurisdiction and various restrictions upon Bishop Ortynsky played into the hands of those who disliked his presence. 

There were various delegations to Latin dioceses that sought to remove Bishop Ortynsky. A famous gathering of 44 parish representatives and 6 priests gathered in Johnstown, PA, on 11-12 January 1910. They did not want to be under Ortynsky but rather under the Latin bishop until they received a Subcarpathian bishop of their own.

Another meeting took place in Scranton, PA, on June 30, 1911, where 44 priests wanted to leave the Catholic Church. These priests were suspended and a group of 66 faithful priests gathered in New York City on March 12, 1912, and responded to all the allegations against Bishop Ortynsky. They stood fast with their bishop and his just quest for juridical independence.

 

 Among the Galicians, the immigration began to see some
new intellectuals arriving. Some, however, were socialists
in training and belief. They organized various societies
and began to edit their own papers and publications.

Often these would be in conflict with the bishop. On
account of these tendencies even the “Ruthenian
National Union” (later the U.N.A. – Ukrainian National
Assoc.) began to shy away from the bishop. Bishop
Ortynsky and Metropolitan Sheptytsky, visiting the U.S. at
the time, refused to attend the convention in Cleveland
on Sept. 20-23, 1910; nevertheless, Bishop Ortynsky was
on the statutes committee and expressed his desire to
change the name of the organization to: “The Greek
Catholic Union.”

This was eventually rejected by the
members as a clerical attempt to control the organization.
There was much ill will toward the bishop because it appeared he wanted to control the organization. He was now at odds with major portions of both the Subcarpathians and Galicians.
 11. Metropolitan Sheptytsky in Philadelphia

 
   Metropolitan Andrew Sheptystky of Lviv, Galicia, was a personal friend of Bishop Ortynsky and the one most responsible for his appointment as bishop. For the longest time Metropolitan Andrew had wanted to visit his flock in the United States. 

The Eucharistic Congress in Montreal, Canada, gave him the opportunity in 1910. Metropolitan Andrew arrived in New York on August 25, 1910. The Metropolitan was also a representative of the Holy See who was to investigate the conflicts swirling around Bishop Soter. He interviewed various priests and laypersons and found Bishop Ortynsky to be in the right.
On the occasion of his visit Metropolitan Andrew was deeply involved in key moments of this church’s history. In September and October Metropolitan Sheptytsky blessed the grounds in Yorktown, VA, the cathedral in Philadelphia and the cemetery in Fox Chase, PA. His presence inspired many and was a bold endorsement of Bishop Ortynsky’s pastoral role.

12. Providence Association and the “Ruthenian Bank”

Bishop Ortynsky wished to give our immigrants financial security and stability. In 1912, he established “The Providence Association” partially based on an organization of Greek Catholic Brotherhoods. 

This organization had three main goals as is apparent from article 2 of their statutes: Moral – preach the faith, Material – help their members and National – a development of national identity for the Ruthenians.
The bishop also sought to established a Ruthenian Bank. On May 13, 1915 the charter for the Ruthenian Bank was approved by the U. S. government. 

This bank was to be in the chancery office of the eparchy; however, the untimely death of the bishop put this project on hold indefinitely. They had even installed a vault which the chancery used for many years.

  13. A Greek Catholic Eparchy in the U.S.A

  

On May 28, 1913, the Apostolic See granted Bishop Ortynsky full ordinary jurisdiction making him independent of every Latin diocese. On August 17, 1914, the Congregation De Propaganda Fide put out a decree about the governance of the Greek Catholic Church for the next ten years called: “Cum Episcopo”. It had four main points:

1) The bishop is subject only to the apostolic see and his seat is to be New York while the vicar general and rector of seminary should be in Philadelphia.

2) That they establish a seminary.

3) That the faithful should belong to their own church.

4) Deals with mixed marriages and states that youth should be baptized in the rite of the father.

  
With renewed zeal Bishop Ortynsky reorganized his eparchy into deaneries and selected a priest consulters body composed of both Galicians and Subcarpathians. Fr. Alexander Dzubay, a Subcarpathian priest, was his Vicar General. He also over the past few years had developed a Brotherhood of the Holy Eucharist and the newspaper “America”, the journal “Missionary” and “Eparchial Visti (News)” while also organizing the Brotherhood of Cantor/teachers.

   14. A Trip to Rome and the Great War

On June 2, 1913 Bishop Ortynsky set off for Rome to thank Pope Pius X for the establishment of the Greek Catholic Eparchy for the United States. While in Rome, he entertained the idea of building a Greek Catholic Church in Rome based on St. Sophia in Kyiv. 

From Rome, on July 24, he went to see Metropolitan Sheptytsky in Lviv. He also visited the Subcarpathian Bishops Anthony Papp (1912-1923) of Uzhorod and Stephen Novak (1914-1919) of Presov in order to discuss the situation of the Subcarpathian Greek Catholics. He then returned to America.

In September of 1914 World War I began and Bishop Ortynsky began various efforts to aid our church and even to help Metropolitan Sheptytsky who had been imprisoned by the Russian tsar. Bishop Ortynsky was sometimes the lone voice that spoke out in defense of the Greek Catholic Church which was undergoing persecution in Galicia and Subcarpathia.

Some Greek Catholics also held a National Church Congress in Johnstown, PA, on December 12, 1913. Among the proposals of the Congress was one that provided that the bishop would ordain married men to the priesthood and defend Greek Catholic rights. Once again, Bishop Ortynsky signed the proposals of this congress and began in some way to consolidate his leadership role among Greek Catholics.

 

He  convened a National Convention in Philadelphia on December 8, 1914, at which he wanted to establish a “Ruthenian National Council” to help those left behind in Europe. Many, however, thought this was a clerical attempt to usurp power over the immigrant community.

15. The Death and Burial of Bishop Ortynsky

On Saturday March 11, 1916, Bishop Ortynsky gave the last sermon of a two-week long mission held at the cathedral. This sermon lasted two hours. On March 13 he went to the hospi- tal to drive the superior of the Basilians, Sr. Helen, O.S.B.M., back to the monastery. On the way he contracted pneumonia (for the fourth time in his life). When he was hospitalized he called his lawyer, Julian Chupka, and in the presence of Revs. Joseph Guryansky and Kulmatytsky, along with his brother Joseph Ortynsky, he finalized his Last Will and Testament.

  March 21 the doctors began to worry and administered morphine. When this was of no help the doctors agreed to administer a greater dosage of medication. The weakened condition of the bishop precipitat- ed his death on March 24 at 11:30 A.M.

Although there was
some talk of burying the
Bishop at the cemetery
in Fox Chase they decid-
ed to bury his body in the
cathedral. On March 26 at 10 A.M. the body of the beloved Bishop was carried to the cathedral dressed in new Episcopal vestments. On March 30, 1916, the Bishop was buried in his cathedral on Franklin Street. Many thought that Bishop Nicetas Budka, as the only remaining Greek Catholic bishop in North America, would arrive from Canada for the funeral but he was unable to make it.
 

 The Apostolic Delegate, Most Rev. John Bonzano, informed everyone that all ecclesiastical consulters of Bishop
Ortynsky must cease their office
and he would telephone Rome for directions regarding the administration of the eparchy.
The police and newspapers estimated that from 10-15 thousand people attended the funeral. The main celebrant for the funeral was the Vicar General of the Eparchy, Very Rev. Aleksander Dzubay. The deacons were Revs. Levytsky and Chornyak. 

There were four homilies: Fr. Joseph Chaplynsky, Fr. Gorzo, Monsignor Label (who met the Bishop in 1907 when he arrived – representative of the New York Archbishop) and Fr. Pidhorecky who delivered his sermon in English as did Msgr. Label.

The family of Bishop Ortynsky wanted to carry out his wish of shipping the body to Galicia, Austria, but the expense and complication of such an endeavor during wartime rendered it only a wish. In some small way his place was with his flock and he remained not out of compulsion but out of obedience.
        

    16.Concluding thoughts

  
The Church is always part of an historical context. Her traditions and particular customs breathe life into her primary mission of “preaching the Gospel to all nations.” Bishop Stephen Soter Ortynsky dedicated his life to preaching that Gospel and trying to save all the various ethnic groups that called his “Greek Catholic” Church their home. He saw his mission not as a narrow mission to a particular people but to everyone in
the United States. 

He was a pastor and an “episcopos-overseer.” So, while many of his fellow Catholics tried to remind him that he was the bishop for the Ruthenians, he reminded them that the Gospel command was to preach to everyone. Yes, the Gospel was preached within the historical tradi- tions of the Greek Catholic Church but its goal must never be to remain parochial but always to be universal – for all. 
 

Depiction of Bishop Ortynsky in stained glass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C. Ortynsky and DeSmet – has Metafile; Photographer: Geraldine M. Rohling / © Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., 2005. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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A Defense of the Theotokos and Her Dormition

Calling to remembrance our all holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, will all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God (The Great Ektenia, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, 5th Century

The Heresy of Patriarch Nestorius

To understand the Catholic Church’s teaching upon whom Mary is and why she was such a big role in the Early Church, which is the present day Catholic Church, let us examine the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus and first go over why it was called in the year 431 AD. In the years of 428-431, the heresy of Nestorianism was brought about. This heresy was advanced by Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople in who has emphasized Christ’s humanity and later suggested that God had not come into the world Incarnate (become Man), but that Jesus was selected by God to become His adoptive son.

When Christ had become the “adopted son” of God the Father, He later gained a separate nature in which was Divine, thus Christ wasn’t necessary both God and Man, but two separate persons: one being human and one being divine. Since Christ was “normally human”, Nestorius suggested that the human nature of Christ must be emphasized over His Divine Nature, thus the Virgin Mary must be called Christotokos (Greek for Christ bearer) rather than Theotokos (Greek for God bearer).

If anything, this suggests that the humanity of Jesus was possessed by a divine spirit. As we are aware, this is a doctrine of demons since Christ is both 100% Human and 100% Divine, two co existing natures in which cannot ever be separated. Since this heresy was on the rise within the East and caused a huge division within the Church, Nestorius suggested that Emperor Theodosius II call a council since he was being accused of heresy and even hoped that the emperor would prove his orthodoxy since he claimed that it was a biblical teaching.

When the council was finally called, the entire universal Church declared that Nestorius was, in fact, a heretic. The Council of Ephesus, through Saint Cyril of Alexandria third letter to Nestorius, states the following:

“Confessing the Word to be united with the flesh according to the hypostasis, we worship one Son and Lord, Jesus Christ. We do not divide him into parts and separate man and God as though they were united with each other [only] through a unity of dignity and authority… nor do we name separately Christ the Word from God, and in similar fashion, separately, another Christ from the woman, but we know only one Christ, the Word from God the Father with his own flesh… But we do not say that the Word from God dwelt as in an ordinary human born of the holy virgin… we understand that, when he became flesh, not in the same way as he is said to dwell among the saints do we distinguish the manner of the indwelling; but he was united by nature and not turned into flesh…

There is, then, one Christ and Son and Lord, not with the sort of conjunction that a human being might have with God as in a unity of dignity or authority; for equality of honor does not unite natures. For Peter and John were equal to each other in honor, both of them being apostles and holy disciples, but the two were not one. Nor do we understand the manner of conjunction to be one of juxtaposition, for this is insufficient in regard to natural union….

Rather we reject the term ‘conjunction’ as being inadequate to express the union… [T]he holy virgin gave birth in the flesh to God united with the flesh according to hypostasis, for that reason we call her Theotokos… If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is, in truth, God, and therefore that the holy virgin is Theotokos (for she bore in a fleshly manner the Word from God become flesh), let him be anathema.”

Since Mary is the very vessel in whom God had come into the world, it explains why she plays a very important role in the Church since she is the Mother of God, Jesus Christ, in who is God Himself. This is why we as Catholics venerate her and love her so much, because she has given birth to Christ our Divine Savior, in whom has trampled death by death in order to save us sinners in this fallen world, in whom I am first.

Apostolic Tradition

Now recently, it was brought to my attention that a minister of a Protestant bible study had suggested that Catholic teaching upon Mary is unbiblical, in this case the Assumption of Mary. (In the Catholic East, we call this the Holy Dormition or the Falling asleep of Mary.) But the question remains, is this factual? What our dear protestant brother is not aware of is the fact that Mary was assumed into heaven after the scriptures were completed. If everything that is true must be within the scriptures alone, he must explain the deaths of the Apostles, especially Peter and Paul, since these are not recorded in scripture.

Apostolic Tradition tells us that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. Even though this isn’t strictly within the scriptures, does it make it any less true? Of course it does not. The fact of the matter is that even though it is not explicitly written in scripture in the words “Mary was assumed into Heaven”, it doesn’t mean that this Sacred Event did not happen and isn’t within scripture any less than the fact that Christ is Incarnate. If we are to depend on scripture alone, then scripture contradicts itself since the Chair of Moses cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. The chair of Moses wasn’t revealed until the New Testament scriptures were compiled.

Let us take a look at Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the early church fathers (the very disciples of the apostles, or the later disciples of the disciples of the apostles.)

First, we must understand what the Catholic Church teaches on Apostolic Tradition. Are these mythological manmade teachings that have come into play over time? No, for it is quite the contrary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

“The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The First generation of Christians did not have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition”. (CCC 83)

I know what you are thinking: ‘Where is this in the bible?’ Let us start with John 21:25 in where Saint John states:

“But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” This scripture verse is suggesting that not all of the actions of Christ we’re recorded by the apostles by writing them down, but also by mouth. Later, in 1 Corinthians 11:2, Saint Paul states the following:

“I command you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” In 2 Thess. 2:15, St Paul continues to emphasize the importance of the Traditions in which they handed down. “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

Continuing: “Now we command you, brethren, in in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” (2 Thess. 3:6)

As you can see, Saint Paul speaks upon Tradition being something that is handed down orally. These are the same traditions in which the early church fathers have passed down upon us in regards to Mary’s Assumption into heaven etc.

“If the Holy Virgin had died and was buried, her falling asleep would have been surrounded with honour, death would have found her pure, and her crown would have been a virginal one…Had she been martyred according to what is written: ‘Thine own soul a sword shall pierce’, then she would shine gloriously among the martyrs, and her holy body would have been declared blessed; for by her, did light come to the world.” Epiphanius, Panarion, 78:23 (A.D. 377).

“[T]he Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones…” Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles, 1:4 (inter A.D. 575-593).

“As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.” Modestus of Jerusalem, Encomium in dormitionnem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae (PG 86-II,3306),(ante A.D. 634).

“It was fitting …that the most holy-body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinised, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full glory …should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God.” Theoteknos of Livias, Homily on the Assumption (ante A.D. 650).

“You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.” Germanus of Constantinople, Sermon I (PG 98,346), (ante A.D. 733).

“St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.” John of Damascene, PG (96:1) (A.D. 747-751).

“It was fitting that the she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father, It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.” John of Damascene, Dormition of Mary (PG 96,741), (ante A.D. 749).

“Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten Thy Son our Lord incarnate from herself.” Gregorian Sacramentary, Veneranda (ante A.D. 795).

“[A]n effable mystery all the more worthy of praise as the Virgin’s Assumption is something unique among men.” Gallican Sacramentary, from Munificentis simus Deus (8th Century).

“God, the King of the universe, has granted you favors that surpass nature. As he kept you virgin in childbirth, thus he kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.” Byzantine Liturgy, from Munificentis simus Deus (8th Century).

The Dormition

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From James Seghers and Totus Tuus Ministries:

The Bible gives many examples of unusual departures. The first is the righteous Enoch. “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him” (Gen 5:24). St. Paul informs us that “by faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him’” (Heb 11:5).

There are also unusual circumstances surrounding the death of Moses. “He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Bethpeor, but no one knows his burial place to this day” (Deut 34:6). This mystery is augmented in the Epistle of Jude. “But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9)! Finally, during Jesus’ transfiguration: “Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Mt 17:3). The implication is that these two Old Testament saints, who represent the law and the prophets, appeared in bodily form. Finally, the parting of Elijah was also extraordinary. “As they [Elijah and Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended into a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kgs 2:11).

These events regarding Enoch, Moses and Elijah lay a biblical foundation for accepting the reality that we will be both body and soul in Heaven, thus the resurrection of the dead. In Christian theology it finds a basis in Paul’s epistles. “For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:15-17). “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52).

In portraying Mary as the ark of the covenant (Rev 11:19), she is described in bodily terms. “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the son, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Scholars have interpreted the imagery of this vision in multiple layers referring to Mary, the Church and even Israel.4 However, the possibility of multiple meanings does not negate the specific application to Mary. It is she, alone, to whom it can be most accurately affirmed: “she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5).

 

The Dormition of the Holy Mother of God by Byzantine Seminary Press

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly proclaimed the centuries-long belief that the “Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of Her earthly life, was assumed body ad soul into heavenly glory” (Apost. Const. “Munificentissimus Deus,” n. 44) This Solemn proclamation of the dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven fittingly describes the crowning event in the life of the Most Holy Mother of God, whose liturgical veneration originated in the East.

1.

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The origin of the feast of the Dormition or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is closely connected with her public veneration since the beginning of the fourth century.  It developed from early celebration of Christmas in which the “Theotokos,” the Mother of God our Savior, played an important role. The solemn proclamation of Mary as the “Theotokos” at the Council of Ephesus (431) greatly enhanced Her public veneration as the “Mother of God.” This is evidenced by the fact that few years later Her divine maternity was celebrated in Jerusalem as the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on August 15. (cf. Armenian Lectionary, 434 A.D.)

In Egypt, the same Feast of Mary was celebrated on January 18 under the influence of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) who presided at the Council of Ephesus. In Constantinople, the veneration of Mary’s divine motherhood was promoted by St. Anatolius (d. 458) who also composed the first liturgical hymns in honor of the Theotokos.

A the beginning of the sixth century, a magnificent basilica was erected over the tomb of Mary in Gethsemane. With this, the feast of Mary celebrated on August 15 took on a new meaning and became the solemn celebrated of Mary’s death and assumption into heaven under the name of the Feast of the Dormition. In some liturgical calendars of the East, the feast was referred to as the Journey of the Theotokos into Heaven, or the Deposition of Mary, i.e. the interment of Mary into Her grave.

2.

In Constantinople, the Empress St. Pulcheria (d. 433) promoted devotion to the Blessed Mother and built three churches in Her honor. Being present at the sixth session of the Council of Chalcedon (451), she asked St. Juvenal of Jerusalem (d. 458) for some relics of the Blessed Mother to be enshrined in St. Mary’s Church at Blachernae, near Constantinople. The saintly Bishop replied:

“We have received the ancient and the most reliable tradition that at the time of the glorious dormition (falling asleep) of the Mother of God, the whole company of the Apostles were brought together in Jerusalem. So, amid divine and heavenly praises, they commend Her holy soul to the hands of God and, taking Her God- conceiving body, they carried it in procession to Gethsemani and there placed it in a little tomb.

For three days a choir of Angels continued to sing above Her tomb. After the third day, when finally St. Thomas arrived, (he had been absent and desired to venerate the body that had borne Christ God), they (the Apostles) opened the tomb and found no trace of Her blessed body. Thus, taking the winding sheets, which were filled with fragrance, the Apostles closed the tomb.

Wondering at this mystery they could only think that He, Whom it had pleased to be born of Her in the flesh, the Lord of Glory, desired that after Her departure from this life, Her immaculate and all-pure body would be honored by incorruptibility, being translated (to heaven) before the universal resurrection of the dead.” (Cyril of Scythopolis, The History of St. Euthymius III, 40, written about 515)

Only July 2, the Byzantine Church commemorates the Deposition of the Venerable Mantle of Our Lady, the Mother of God at Blachernae. It seems that, instead of the holy relics requested, the imperial city had received Mary’s vestments which were found in Nazareth and brought to Constantinople in 474,i. e. after the death of Juvenal and Pulcheria.

3.

The solemn celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God was extended to the entire East during the sixth century. Since the feast was celebrated on different days, it was decreed by Emperor Maurice (582-602) that, in the entire Byzantine Empire, the feast will be celebrated on August 15 under the name of Dormition (Old. Slav. “Uspenije”) which, literally translated, means the falling asleep. (1 Thess 4:14) St. Modestus of Jerusalem  tradition concerning Mary’s wondrous departure and the assumption of Her purest body to heaven. (cf. Migne, P.G. 86, 3277 ff.)

In the middle of the seventh century, the Feast of Dormition was introduced in Rome from where it gradually spread to the entire West. However, at the end of the eighth century, the Western Church changed the name of the Feast to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.

In the East, the celebration of the feast was enhanced by the famous homilies of St. Andrew of Crete (d. about 720), St. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733), and especially St. John Damascene (d. 749) who became the main champion of the traditional belief in the bodily assumption of Mary. According to his testimony, the tomb, which harbored the purest body of the Mother of God for only a short time, became an object of the public veneration and the source of numerous miracles and special graces. (cf. Homily on Dormition 1,13) St. John Damascene, in the homily he delivered at the Basilica of the Dormition in Jerusalem, pointed to Mary’s tomb and said: “Her immaculate body was placed here, in this renowned and all-glorious tomb, from whence after three days it was taken up to the heavenly mansion.” (Homily on Dormition, 2:14)

4.

The liturgical hymns extolling the wondrous dormition of the Blessed Mother, most part, were composed during the eight and ninth centuries by such renowned hymnographers as St. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733), St. John Damascene (d. 749), St. Cosmos of Maiuma (d. 760), St. Theophanes Graptos (d. 845) and others. In their hymns, these inspired writers clearly revealed the traditional belief in Mary’s “translation from earth to heaven.” (cf. 2nd Stichera of Vespers)

imgThrough these liturgical compositions, the general belief in the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven remained well preserved and provided sufficient historical evidence for the proclamation of the dogma in 1950. The principal arguments from Byzantine tradition and liturgy in support of the dogma were collected by our Ruthenian theologian, Msgr, Nicholas Russnak, S.T.D. (1872 – 1952) and were submitted to the Holy See by Bishop Paul P. Goldich OSBM of Prjashev (1927-1960) on January 25, 1932. (cf. G. Hentrich-R. De Moos, Petitiones de Assumption Corporea B.V.M., Vatican 1942, vol 1, p.770-779)

Concerning the petition of Bishop Gojdich, the authors write: “The Importance of this petition is obvious since it comes from the Ruthenian Hierarch, well versed in the Greek and Old Slavonic liturgical texts, starting with the ninth century, are in constant use by both Catholic and Orthodox. And these texts ‘clearly and absolutely’ contain the doctrine of the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Thus, we can conclude that the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, based on the deduction from Holy Scriptures, is a logical development of the centuries-long tradition deeply rooted in the liturgical prayers and minds of the people.

5.

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The Feast of the Dormition is one of the twelve Major Feasts of the Byzantine Rite and is celebrated with uncommon solemnity. In preparation for the feast, a two weeks period of fasting is prescribed for the faithful, called the Fast of Dormition. (“Uspenskij Post”), which begins on the first day of August. Since the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, popularly known as “Spasa,” fell within this time, the people in the Old Country referred to this fast as the “Spasovaka,” meaning the Savior’s Fast. Historically, the Fast of the Dormition can be traced to the ninth century but it was officially introduced into the Byzantine discipline by the Synod of Constantinople in 1166.

Liturgically speaking, the Feast has one day of pre-festivity and eight days of post-festivity during which time the mysteries of Mary’s wondrous death and Her Glorious assumption to heaven are celebrated. The Vespers of the Feast, celebrated with Litija, repeatedly implore the intercession of the Mother of God: “O Lady, do not forget the kinship with those who commemorate your all-holy Dormition with faith.” (Stichera of Litija)

Accord to an old custom, flowers and medicinal herbs are blessed after the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Dormition. This custom most probably originated from the traditional belief that after Mary’s glorious assumption into heaven, Her holy tomb was filled with a “heavenly fragrance” and flowers. (St Germanus, 1 Hom on Dormition.) The herbs, used by our people as natural medicine, are blessed in commemoration of the numerous healings and extraordinary graces bestowed on the pilgrims at Mary’s tomb. (St John Damascene, Hom. on Dor 1,13)

(Tomb of the Virgin Mary at Gethsemane)

The blessing of herbs on the Feast of Dormition was introduced by the Fathers to combat he superstitious incantations and charlatanism among our people. Preaching at the tomb of Mary, St. John Damascene reminded the people that: “Divine power is not circumscribed by any place and neither is the inexhaustible goodness of the Mother of God. For if the graces were restricted only to Her tomb, only a few people would gain them. Now Her graces are poured out in every place throughout the world.” (Hom. on Dom 2,19)

In his Homily on the Dormition, St. John Damascene makes the Tomb of Mary talk:

“Why do you seek in the tomb what has been assumed into heaven? Why do you exact from me an account of Her dissolution? I had no power to go against the divine command. Leaving the winding sheet, that holy and sacred body, which filled me with myrrh, sweet fragrance and holiness, has been caught up and has departed with all the power of heaven accompanying it. Now the angels keep watch over me. Now the divine grace dwells in me. I have become a well of healing for the sick,  defense against demons, a refuge to those who fly to me. Draw near in faith, you people, and you will receive grace in streams.” (Hom. on Dormition 11,17)

(Byzantine Leaflet Series No.11, August 1979, Byzantine Seminary Press)

 

Saint Abbot Daniel: The Story of the Real Presence

  

 
Due to the fall of the world as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God’s Commands, we live in a world in where God is challenged. Instead of faith by hearing, man rather have faith by sight. Man’s logic is sadly based upon a mindset that grasps materialism rather than the supernatural. 

Unfortunately; those within the Church throughout the centuries began questioning the dogmas of the Church due to their lack of faith and not being able to physically see truth, therefore the rising of heresies. A good example of this is the common rejection of The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Even though fingers are commonly pointed at the Protestant congregations in regards to the denial of the real presence, we must go back to the 5th century in where the Eucharist was also challenged by even those within the Church, something that is sadly making a come back.

  
Since this contradicts the ancient faith, let’s first examine the lesson of Saint Abbot Daniel;  a desert Church father from the 5th century and a disciple of Saint Arsenius.

St Abbot Daniel the Pharanite stated: “Our Father Abba Arsenius told us of an inhabitant of Scetis, of notable life and of simple faith; through his naivete” he was deceived and said, “The bread which we receive is not really the body of Christ, but a symbol.” 

Two old men having learnt that he had uttered this saying, knowing that he was outstanding in his way of life, knew that he had not spoken through malice, but through simplicity. So they came to find him and said, “Father, we have heard a proposition contrary to the faith on the part of someone who says that the bread which we receive is not really the body of Christ, but a symbol.” 

The old man said, “It is I who have said that.” Then the old men exhorted him saying, “Do not hold this position, Father, but hold one in conformity with that which the catholic Church has given us. We believe, for our part, that the bread itself is the body of Christ and that the cup itself is his blood and this in all truth and not a symbol. 

But as in the beginning, God formed man in his image, taking the dust of the earth, without anyone being able to say that it is not the image of God, even though it is not seen to be so; thus it is with the bread of which he said that it is his body; and so we believe that it is really the body of Christ.” The old man said to them, “As long as I have not been persuaded by the thing itself, I shall not be fully convinced.” 

So they said, “Let us pray God about this mystery throughout the whole of this week and we believe that God will reveal it to us.” The old man received this saying with joy and he prayed in these words, “Lord, you know that it is not through malice that I do not believe and so that I may not err through ignorance, reveal this mystery to me, Lord Jesus Christ.” The old men returned to their cells and they also prayed God, saying, 

“Lord Jesus Christ, reveal this mystery to the old man, that he may believe and not lose his reward.” God heard both the prayers. At the end of the week they came to church on Sunday and sat all three on the same mat, the old man in the middle. Then their eyes were opened and when the bread was placed on the holy table, there appeared as it were a little child to these three alone. And when the priest put out his hand to break the bread, behold an angel descended from heaven with a sword and poured the child’s blood into the chalice. When the priest cut the bread into small pieces, the angel also cut the child in pieces. 

When they drew near to receive the sacred elements the old man alone received a morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this he was afraid and cried out, “Lord, I believe that this bread is your flesh and this chalice your blood.” Immediately the flesh, which he held in his hand, became bread, according to the mystery and he took it, giving thanks to God. Then the old men said to him, 

“God knows human nature and that man cannot eat raw flesh and that is why he has changed his body into bread and his blood into wine, for those who receive it in faith.” Then they gave thanks to God for the old man, because he had allowed him not to lose the reward of his labour. So all three returned with joy to their own cells.’
 
 

First Post: Fifth week of the Great Fast

Since ByzCath has recently released an amazing post upon the Great Fast, I would like to share it with our viewers since this is an outstanding witness to the Lord and His Grace.

  
The icon is of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. In his spiritual classic book of the same name St. John Climacus (whom we commemorate on the Fourth Sunday of the Fast) compares the stages of spiritual growth to the steps upward to heaven on a ladder. At the top of the ladder is Christ, coming from heaven. The goal of the spiritual life is theosis (growing towards God). We are reminded that the meaning of the Fast is so that “you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Isaiah 38:1-6 – In those days Hezeki’ah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezeki’ah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in thy sight.” And Hezeki’ah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezeki’ah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city. (RSV – Part of the reading for the Sixth Hour on the Fifth Monday of the Fast)
The power of repentance – Do you want to know the power of repentance? Do you want to understand this strong weapon of salvation and the might of confession? By confession Hezekiah routed 185,000 of the enemy. That was important but it was nothing compared with what else happened. The same king’s repentance won the repeal of the sentence that God had passed on him. When he was sick, Isaiah had said: “Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover.” What expectation was left? What hope of recovery was there? The prophet had said, “You shall die.” But Hezekiah remembered what was written: “In returning …you shall be saved.” He turned his face to the wall, and from his bed of pain his mind soared up to heaven (for no wall is so thick as to stifle fervent prayer). He said, “Lord, remember me.” … He whom the prophet’s sentence had forbidden to hope was granted another fifteen years of life. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)