Father Justin considers topics that arise in the life of a Melkite Catholic.
The Divine Liturgy, Great Lent, History of the Melkites and other topics related to Eastern Christian faith.
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Celebrating the Nativity Fast
The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance in preparation for the Nativity of Jesus.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates two historical events: the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, in 320 under the temple of Venus in Jerusalem, and the dedication in 335 of the basilica and shrine built on Calvary by Constantine, which mark the site of the Crucifixion.
The Nativity Of The Mother Of God
The Feast of the Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on September 8 each year. The Feast commemorates the birth of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord
The Byzantine New Year
Its Year One, marking the supposed date of creation, was September 1, 5509 BC, to August 31, 5508 BC. This would make the current year (2019 AD)
The Dormition of the Mother of God is a Great Feast of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which commemorates the "falling asleep" or death of Mary the Theotokos, and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven.
Christ is Risen!
He is truly risen!
This simple statement, repeated in all of our services and used as a greeting during the 40-day paschal season, profoundly expresses the core of Christian belief. St. Paul says, “If Christ did not rise from the dead, then your faith is useless” (1 Cor 15:17). The Resurrection of Christ is our core belief; our constitutive identity. Liturgically, it forms the core of our Church calendar. We begin preparing for Pascha ten weeks before. The pre-Lenten Sundays orient us to the rich and challenging season of Great Lent. Lent ends at Great and Holy Week which culminates in the celebration of Pascha. Although Christmas seems like the ‘bigger’ feast because of its popularity in our society, in fact, Pascha is the ‘Feast of Feasts,’ the New Passover, the Eighth Day.
Bright Week, the Week after Pascha, is an extension of that Eighth Day. We repeat the same prayers sung on Pascha all through that week. Our usual 8-week cycle of liturgical music is condensed to one week with each day of Bright Week assigned a different tone in turn.
During Bright Week and then the weeks that follow, we remember the various encounters described in the Gospels between the Risen Jesus and his disciples. Jesus walks with Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24) and yet they do not recognize him until he breaks bread with them. The disciples encounter the Lord in the Upper Room where they had eaten the Last Supper. The Doubting Thomas, absent during this first visit, is skeptical until he sees Jesus with his own eyes and proclaims, “My Lord and My God!” (Jn 20:19-29)
The Second Sunday of Pascha recalls how the Myrrh-bearing Women are the first to see Jesus at the tomb early on Sunday morning (Mt 28: 1-8, Mk 16:1-8, Lk 24:1-12, Jn 20: 1-2). Although each Gospel presents slightly different details, they all agree that the Risen Christ first appeared to these women disciples.
Jesus’ followers had to come to terms with the amazing reality of the Resurrection. Some, like Thomas, had to struggle with doubts. We contemporary followers of Jesus inherit his blessing for those who have not seen, but believe.
The Journey of Great Lent:
The Turning Point
Any visit to Istanbul must include visiting the remains of the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople. The top two pictures below are from a trip there in 2010. Chariot races were a huge part of Roman culture. So much so that the Emperor had his own box seating, the Kathisma, connected to the Great Palace. The chariot teams were designated not by mascots, but by colors: the greens and reds, the blues and whites. A hippodrome is a long oval with a turning point on both ends. Check out the diagram below. Racers started at one end and would race down the side opposite to the imperial box first and then turning would run up the side closest to the Emperor and his retinue.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Holy Cross with a procession in the Church. Throughout the week, the Cross has stood in the center of the Temple without the icon of Jesus-crucified. Jesus will not go back on the Cross until Great and Holy Thursday night when we remember his Passion. Sunday was the middle-point of the 40-day Lenten Period and as of Wednesday, we have reached half of the days until Pascha, the Resurrection of Jesus. This week is a turning point in our journey through Great Lent. Like the Chariot teams in Constantinople, we are now racing closer and closer to the King.
We mark this turn in a few ways. Since the preparation Sundays prior to the beginning of Great Lent, we have been hearing Gospels that focus on how we live our lives and make our choices. To help us reject sin and embrace the Light of Christ, these scriptural passages coached us in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so that we would run the race of Great Lent profitably. In these last weeks of the season, we will hear Gospel passages in which Jesus prepares his disciples for his Passion, Death and Resurrection; we have made the turn in the race toward the King. We often describe Lent using movement metaphors like ‘journey’ or ‘race’ because movement is the whole reason for the season in the first place. At the beginning of the season, we reflected upon the sin of Adam and Eve and their exile from Eden. Lent is the way back. We run the race not to earn a crown of laurel leaves in victory, but to return to what God intended for us in the beginning.
What's So Great About Great Lent?
One of the challenges that any ancient religious group experiences is translating culture, beliefs and values for a different time and place. We who belong to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, who following the Greek or Byzantine rite, experience this challenge when it comes to our observance of Pascha (Easter) and the beautiful season that prepares us to celebrate this holiest of feasts.
We begin thinking about Great Lent a whole month before it actually begins. The Gospel passages appointed for those Sundays help us to turn our attention from the joy and wonder of the Christmas/Theophany Season to the seriousness of Great Lent which culminates in the joy and wonder of Pascha. Two weeks out, we observe Meat-fare Sunday, the last time we can eat meat until Pascha (for those keeping a stricter fast). The next Sunday, just before Clean Monday, is Cheese-fare. This is our last shot to enjoy dairy products until Pascha.
Since we begin the season of Great Lent on Clean Monday, which is always the Monday before the meaningful Western Ash Wednesday, we never get to celebrate Mardi Gras. But, in a way, we observe a two-week Mardi Gras, as we gradually work our way into the full fasting of the season.
Great Lent begins with Forgiveness Vespers on Cheese-fare Sunday afternoon. How beautiful to enter the season of physical and spiritual cleansing by forgiving and asking for forgiveness. At the end of the prayer, everyone asks everyone else for forgiveness. As each person makes the way down the line, the whole parish winds their way around the inside of the Church. When the last person has made the way around, everyone is left looking at each other fully forgiven. It is a powerful way to begin Great Lent.
Observing Clean Monday fully means that one fasts from all food from midnight on Monday until Tuesday noon. Then, the weekdays of the Fast are vegan with no wine or olive oil except on feasts. We do not eat at all from midnight until noon. Saturday, the Sabbath, and Sunday, the Lord’s Day, are fast free but we still abstain from meat and dairy. We can enjoy a little wine and olive oil on the weekends. During the Fast, we can always drink non-dairy beverages: water, juice, coffee, tea, etc. According to our Byzantine Tradition, we are free to adjust the Fast for health reasons or strenuous work. The challenge is to use that freedom wisely and not make excuses.
In future posts, we will consider the complex web of themes and practices that make Great Lent really a great time of the year. How will you spend these Forty Days?
-Father Justin Rose