Saturday, August 29, 2015

Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Pravmir: Today is a little Great Friday. For today the greatest man among those born of women, John, the Holy Forerunner and Baptiser of the Lord, was murdered. On Great Friday, people murdered God, crucified God. On today’s holy great feast, people murdered the greatest of all men. It is not I who chose to use the expression “the greatest.” What are my praises of the great and glorious Forerunner of the Lord, whom the Lord praised more than anyone among men, more than any of the apostles, the Angels, the Prophets, the Righteous Ones, the Sages? For the Lord declared of him: Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist…(Мatthew 11: 11). In all Creation, there exists no greater praise. 

Following the Baptism of the Lord, St John the Baptist was locked up in prison by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch (ruler of 1/4 of the Holy Land) and governor of Galilee. 

The prophet of God John openly denounced Herod for having left his lawful wife, the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas, and then instead cohabiting with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19-20). On his birthday, Herod made a feast for dignitaries, the elders and a thousand chief citizens. Salome, the daughter of Herod, danced before the guests and charmed Herod. In gratitude to the girl, he swore to give her whatever she would ask, up to half his kingdom.
The vile girl, on the advice of her wicked mother Herodias, asked that she be given the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod became apprehensive, for he feared the wrath of God for the murder of a prophet, whom earlier he had heeded. He also feared the people, who loved the holy Forerunner. But because of the guests and his careless oath, he gave orders to cut off the head of St John and to give it to Salome.
According to Tradition, the mouth of the dead preacher of repentance once more opened and proclaimed: “Herod, you should not have the wife of your brother Philip.” Salome took the platter with the head of St John and gave it to her mother. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in a unclean place. But the pious Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, buried the head of John the Baptist in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod had a parcel of land. (The Uncovering of the Venerable Head is celebrated (February 24). The holy body of John the Baptist was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sebastia, there where the wicked deed had been done.
The Beheading of St John the Baptist is also a strict fast day because of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint.

Relic of the skull of Saint John the Baptist in Residenzmuseum, Munich

Today Orthodox faithful will not eat food from a plate or platter, use a knife, or eat food that is round in shape (apples, pears, peaches, grapes, onions, cabbage ect.) in honor of St. John. Avoiding red wine (symbol or blood) and dancing (since Salome danced before Harod) is also recommended. Soup is a very popular meal on this day.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

St. Phanourios the Great Martyr

We know nothing for certain about the background of St. Phanourius, nor exactly when he lived. Tradition says that when the island of Rhodes had been conquered by Muslims, the new ruler of the island wished to rebuild the walls of the city, which had been damaged in previous wars. Several ruined buildings were near the fortress, and stone from these buildings was used to repair the walls at the end of the fifteenth century, or the beginning of the 16th.
While working on the fortress, the Moslems uncovered the ruins of a beautiful church. Several icons, most of them badly damaged, were found on the floor. The icon of St Phanourius looked as if it had been painted that very day. The local bishop, whose name was Nilus, was called to see the icon. It said, “Saint Phanourius.”
St. Phanourios has become famous for assisting the faithful in revealing lost or hidden spiritual matters of the heart, objects, directing or revealing actions that should be taken, restoring health and similar situations. He is then honoured by the faithful through a symbolic cake, called the "Phanouropita" which can be brought to the church, at any time, for a blessing.
The custom of the Phanouropita ("Phanourios" and "pita" for "bread" or "cake") is a Greek and Cypriot tradition, preserved in many regions of Greece and Cyprus and spread to the Greek people of the diaspora. Though it is not a Holy Tradition, it has been welcomed and adopted formerly into the church as a blessing service, that take no more than 5 minutes to complete.
Many villagers in Greece believe that they follow this tradition to grant rest to the soul of the saint's mother. The Church does not formally hold this position since there is no evidence from what we know of the saint's life to confirm whether his mother indeed was a fornicator, as this 'hearsay' suggests. Despite the Church having made this statement on many occasions, the common people within the Church will still express the phrase, "May God grant rest to the soul of Saint Phanourios' mother."

The Phanouropita pita is small and round, like a cake, and should be made using either nine or eleven ingredients. The basic ingredients include sifted flour, sugar, cinnamon and oil.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

St. Philibert of Jumièges

Saint Philibert of Jumièges (c. 608–684) was an abbot and monastic founder, particularly associated with Jumièges Abbey.
He was born in Gascony as the only son of a Vic or Vic-Jour (now Vic-Fezensac) based courtier of Dagobert I and was educated by Saint Ouen. He later entered the monastery of Rebais as a monk, and was promoted to abbot, but his inexperience was too great for the position. He left and spent some time travelling round monasteries studying their rules and constitutions.
Jumièges Abbey was a monastery, situated in the communof Jumièges in the Seine-Maritime département, in NormandyFrance.
In 654, Philibert received a gift of land from Clovis II on which he founded Jumièges Abbey. He drew up a Rule based on his studies for this and for his later foundations, drawing on several earlier Rules, including those of BenedictColumbanusMacarius and Basil the Great.
For a time Philibert lost the favour of Ouen and the royal family, and was exiled. He withdrew to Poitiers and near Heriou founded the monastery of Noirmoutier, whereupon Ansoald, bishop of Poitiers, put his own foundation of Luçon Abbey under Philibert's charge as well. When he regained the favor of his patrons, he founded other houses, including the monastery of Cunaut and the nunnery at Pavilly.
Philibert died and was buried at Heriou, but in 836 the monks of Noirmoutier abandoned their home in the face of the Viking attacks to seek refuge on the mainland, in 875 finally settling with the relics of Philibert in the abbey at Tournus named in his honour, where the great church of St. Philibert at Tournus still stands. 
Saint-Philibert Abbey in Tournus, France
His feast day is 20 August. The filbert, or hazelnut, is said to have been named after him, since it ripens about August 20 in England.

In observance of the Feast  of St. Philibert, you can bake a filbert cake, decorate it with a filbert-based liqueur (Frangelico)  icing and top it off with toasted filbert nuts!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dormition of the Holy Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary

The Dormition of the Holy Mother of God is a Great Feast of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which commemorates the "falling asleep" or death of Mary, the mother of Jesus and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven. It is celebrated on August 15 (August 28, N.S. for those following the Julian Calendar) as the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. 
The Feast of the Dormition is preceded by a two-week fast, referred to as the Dormition Fast. From August 1 to August 14 (inclusive) Orthodox faithful fast from red meatpoultrymeat productsdairy products (eggs and milk products), fish, oil, and wine. The Dormition Fast is a stricter fast than either the Nativity Fast (Advent) or the Apostles' Fast, with only wine and oil (but no fish) allowed on weekends. As with the other Fasts of the Church year, there is a Great Feast that falls during the Fast; in this case, the Transfiguration (August 6), on which fish, wine and oil are allowed.
In some places, the services on weekdays during the Fast are similar to the services during Great Lent (with some variations). Many churches and monasteries in the Russian tradition perform the lenten services on at least the first day of the Dormition Fast. In the Greek tradition, during the Fast either the Paraklesis Great Paraklesis (Supplicatory Canon) or the Small Paraklesis is celebrated every evening except Saturday evening and the Eves of the Transfiguration and the Dormition.
The Rite of the "Burial of the Holy Theotokos" is celebrated at the Dormition, during the All-Night Vigil. The order of the service is based on the service of the Burial of Christ on Great Saturday. An Epitaphios of the Theotokos, a richly embroidered cloth icon portraying her lying in state is used, together with specially composed hymns of lamentation which are sung with Psalm 118. Special Evlogitaria for the Dormition are chanted, echoing the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection chanted at matins on Sundays throughout the year as well as on Lazarus Saturday and Great Saturday. This Epitaphios is placed on a bier and carried in procession as is the Epitaphios of Christ on during Great Saturday.
It is customary in many places to bless fragrant herbage and flowers on the Feast of the Dormition.

Apolytikion (First Tone)
In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.

Kontakion (Second Tone)
Neither the grave nor death could contain the Theotokos, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection. As Mother of life, He who dwelt in the ever-virginal womb transposed her to life.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

St. Maximus the Confessor

Saint Maximus the Confessor was born in Constantinople around 580 and raised in a pious Christian family. He received an excellent education, studying philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric. He was well-read in the authors of antiquity and he also mastered philosophy and theology. When St Maximus entered into government service, he became first secretary (asekretis) and chief counselor to the emperor Heraclius (611-641), who was impressed by his knowledge and virtuous life.
St Maximus soon realized that the emperor and many others had been corrupted by the Monothelite heresy, which was spreading rapidly through the East. He resigned from his duties at court, and went to the Chrysopolis monastery (at Skutari on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus), where he received monastic tonsure. Because of his humility and wisdom, he soon won the love of the brethren and was chosen igumen of the monastery after a few years. Even in this position, he remained a simple monk.
From about 640 on, he became the determined opponent of Monothelitism, the heretical teaching that Jesus Christ had only one will.
Maximus supported the Orthodoxy of Rome on this matter and is said to have exclaimed: "I have the faith of the Latins, but the language of the Greeks." He argued for Dyothelitism, the Orthodox teaching that Jesus Christ possessed two wills (one divine and one human), rather than the one will posited by Monothelitism.
After Pyrrhus, the temporarily deposed Monothelite Patriarch of Constantinople, had declared his defeat in a dispute at Carthage (645), Maximus obtained the heresy's condemnation at several local synods in Africa, and also worked to have it condemned at the Lateran Council of 649. He was brought to Constantinople in 653, pressured to adhere to the Typos of Emperor Constans II. Refusing to do so, he was exiled to Thrace. 
In 661 Maximus again was brought to the imperial capital and questioned; while there, he had his tongue uprooted and his right hand cut off (to prevent him from preaching or writing the true faith), and then was again exiled to the Caucasus, but died shortly thereafter.
 According to an old Georgian tradition, it is said that the tomb of St. Maximus the Confessor has been preserved until today under the altar of a small church in Tsageri, Georgia. The monastery of St. Maximus was built on the site of the ancient place of worship dedicated to St. Arsenius. During the communist regime the tomb of St. Maximus was abandoned and the monastery destroyed. However, the saint’s memory remained vivid in Georgia.