Blessings of Harmonious Union

Parish icons lit during an Evening Vigil.

Christ is Risen!

Greetings on Thomas Sunday!

Nothing elevates the soul, nothing gives it wings as a liturgical hymn does. A holy hymn gives birth to piety of soul, creates a good conscience, and is accepted by God in the treasuries of the heavens. ~ St. John Chrysostom

Bis orat qui cantat. (Means) He who chants prays twice. ~ Ancient Proverb

Psalmody – bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining people into a harmonious union of one choir – produces also the greatest of blessings: love. ~ St. Basil the Great

When you worship God with hymns, you should be worshipping Him with your entire being: your voice should sing; your heart should also sing; and your life should also sing. Everything should sing! ~ Blessed Augustine

Music is unique among the liturgical arts in that it’s something we have to do every time we come to church. Iconography, architecture, church furnishings, liturgical books, all these are things an artist can produce once and be done with. But music is never finished. As soon as you sing a note it vanishes forever. As soon as the service is over, whatever beauty you achieved during it has to be produced all over again in the next service.  ~ Rowan Benedict Sheehan

Truly He is Risen!


Spring garden flowers line our Pascha Basket.

Christ is Risen!

I would like to share just a couple of past musical mondegreens. A mondegreen is a mis-hearing or misinterpretation of a phrase that gives it a new meaning. 

For instance… during my early childhood years in the Baptist Church, there’s a lovely Easter hymn I adored, which (I thought) was titled “At Calgary” Couldn’t really say why we were singing about a Canadian city at Easter, but people in the pews would nod and smile when us kids belted out those last two words to the refrains: Mercy there was great and grace was free, Pardon there was multiplied to me, There my burdened soul found liberty, At Calgary! One year at Easter, when I could read better, I sheepishly realized the last line of each stanza was actually At Calvary… a holy location which had nothing to do with the province of Alberta.

As an adult in the Orthodox Church, I sing in the choir and for awhile my music stand housed an older choir book. At the ends of certain sections on the faded liturgical sheet music, there was hand-printed in a thick, dull, stubby pencil, the word “repent”. This huge WOW-factor made me wonder occasionally about the book’s previous (obviously devout) owner who would unsparingly post themselves repentance reminders! One day an unexpected pattern emerged. I noticed the numerous repents were always pencilled in at the ends of certain bars of faded music… where one could barely make out the 2 dots of a musicalrepeat” sign. The pencilled words weren’t “repent” they were actually “repeat” albeit, in poor penmanship. *Smacks Forehead* Nevertheless, repentance, and repeat repentance are indeed crucial. Sometimes, to this very day, if I see a musical repeat” sign, or have a fleeting thought of Calgary… I can’t help but smile.

Truly He is Risen!

Let My Prayer Arise

Image by Matthias Grießhammer 

The beautiful Lenten hymn below is from Psalm 141, and sung only at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

By opening the noetic eyes and ears of our hearts during these special services, we are imbued with the timeless, heavenly beauty of the Presanctified Liturgy.

May your Lenten Journey be peaceful and fruitful.

Happy 3rd Day of Christmas

Christ is Born!

Today we celebrate Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, protector of the Virgin Mary, as well as the Feast of St. Stephen the Archdeacon and Protomartyr.

St. Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Church, ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor.

The eastern church observes St. Stephen’s Day on the third day of Nativity, and not on the second day, as western churches do. Since times of antiquity, on this day the Church Collection Boxes, of cash, food and clothing hampers were opened and given to the poor and needy... the Original meaning of Boxing Day!

Of course, it’s spiritually beneficial to distribute alms in the memory of a loved one, not only at Christmas, but on any day of the year. …Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing! Many have heard about the “Feast of St. Stephen” from Good King Wenceslasa carol set to a 13th century melody.

An Everyday Carol below – by 9th century St. Joseph the Hymnographercan be sung to the 13th century melody we know as Good King Wenceslas!

Christian friends, your voices raise, wake the day with gladness.

God Himself to joy and praise, turns our human sadness:

Joy that martyrs won their crown, opened heaven’s portal,

When they laid the mortal down, for the Life Immortal.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

More Beautiful Than the Stars

Happy Saint’s Day to my goddaughter Cecilia.

Cecilia-strong in faith, rich in faith – Her faith more beautiful than the stars, more precious than gold… ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Greetings on St. Cecilia’s Feast Day! (December 5/November 22)

The two featured photos are from a visit to Rome in 2009. Below the main floor is the Church’s Chapel of Relics. The altar with the candlesticks is situated in front of the crypt. Behind the altar’s screened gate is the repository of the second century martyrs, St. Cecilia and her husband St. Valerian.

The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere (a Roman neighbourhood), was originally established in the 3rd century, and built on the site of her home after her martyrdom. At the time of her death, St. Cecilia’s body was interred for five centuries in the Catacomb Cemetery of St. Callixtus. However, in the early 800’s, the Pope returned her “home” again, to her own Basilica.

On the upper floor of the main church and in front of the main altar, is the later addition (commissioned in the 16th century), of a glass case enclosing the white marble statue of St. Cecilia. A marble slab on the floor in front of it, quotes the Italian sculptor Stefano Maderno’s sworn statement, recording her miraculously incorrupt body was positioned as seen, and seemingly asleep when the tomb was reopened during the renovations in 1599.

St. Cecilia is considered a patron saint of music in the west. During her undesired earthly wedding; she heard heavenly music, and sang hymns in her heart to Christ. (In the east, St. Romanos the Melodist is a patron saint of music.)

Here is a beautiful, short, 2 minute YouTube video, with detail of St. Cecilia’s Chapel Crypt.

Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. ~ Psalm 42:8

Kontakion in the 4th Tone

Let us in Godly wise, the hosts of the faithful, / sing hymns to her wedded to Christ of her own will, Cecilia, / whose pure heart with virtues was adorned; / for she wholly put to shame the conceit of Almachius, / and she shone bright as the sun amidst them that pursued her / and then appeared to those upon the earth as a divine staff // that strengthened the holy Faith.

St. Cecilia’s radiant prayers continue to God for us, and are as ever-shining as stars in the heavens.

Happy Ecclesiastical New Year!

Photo of the Altar, in St. Sophia’s original Mission House Church. Services began there in September of 1991 and continued for 10 years, until the parish could purchase a building and move location of worship. Reminiscent of St. Paul’s dear friends and helpers in Christ, Sts. Priscilla and Aquila who had a church in their house our priest and his matushka’s home was used as a church, and the dining room was set aside as a permanent Altar area, and kept completely separate as such, for a decade.

The entire Liturgical Church Year is a treasury of spiritual wisdom and blessings.

In this busy month of September, there are two Great Feasts, the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 21/8) and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 27/14).

There are also other holy days during this month, such as the Beginning of the Church Liturgical New Year on September 14/1.

The first day of the Church’s Liturgical New Year is called the Beginning of the Indiction. It occurs in September for  both Scriptural and historical reasons.

The Scriptural reason is that God, through Moses, ordained the Old Testament Church to celebrate the New Year at the time of the harvest in the seventh month, that is, September – actually the seventh month according to ancient Hebrew reckoning.

Tradition says the Hebrews entered the Promised Land in September. The Holy Scriptures (Leviticus 23:24-25 and Numbers 29:1-2) confirm the people of Israel celebrating the feast of the Blowing of Trumpets on this day, with the offering of hymns and thanksgiving.

The historical reason is the Roman-Byzantine Emperors and the Eastern Patriarchs of the New Testament Church also decreed the New Year should be in September. According to Holy Tradition, Christ entered the synagogue on September 1/14 to announce His mission to mankind (St. Luke 4:16-22). He was given the book of the Prophet Isaiah to read. He opened it and proclaimed, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:1-2 )

The Church continues to keep the spiritual significance of the Liturgical New Year, with prayers asking God to grant temperate weather, seasonable rains, and abundance of the fruits of the earth. We are reminded that time is a precious gift.

Let us re-examine our priorities and offer unto the Lord, a New Year… in which we put Him first!

Beyond the Clouds

Sunset Clouds photo shared by Juliana T.

Oh Thou Who art above all things! For what besides this am I allowed to utter concerning Thee? How can words hymn Thee? For Thou canst not be expressed by any words. How can the mind behold Thee? For Thou art inaccessible to any mind. Thou alone art unutterable, because Thou past brought forth all things that can be uttered in words! Thou alone art unknowable, for Thou hast brought forth all that can be embraced by thought. All things, both rational and irrational, give Thee honour. The common desires of all are directed towards Thee; all hearts are pained for Thy sake; all things send up entreaty to Thee; to Thee all things that understand Thy beckoning utter a silent hymn of praise. By Thee alone do all things exist? All things strive together towards Thee. Thou art the end of all things; Thou art single and all; Thou art neither single, nor solitary, nor all. O Thou Who art named by all names! What shall I name Thee, the single unnamable! Moreover, what heavenly mind can penetrate the veils beyond the clouds? Be merciful, O Thou Who art above all things! For what besides this am I allowed to utter concerning Thee? ~ St. Gregory the Theologian

Spiritual Vitamins

St. Nicholas Orphanos Church – Thessaloniki, Greece 2008

Christ is Risen!

Read often and insatiably the books of the teachers of the Church on divine providence, for they lead the mind to discern the order in God’s creatures and His actions, give it strength, and by their subtleness they prepare it to acquire luminous intuitions and guide it in purity toward the understanding of God’s creatures. Read also the Gospels, which God ordained for knowledge for the whole world, that you may find provisions for your journey in the might of God’s providence for every generation, and that your intellect may plunge deeply into wonder at Him. Such reading furthers your aim. Let your reading be done in a stillness which nothing disturbs… Reading assists the soul when she stands in prayer… From reading the soul is enlightened in prayer… Whenever it happens to you that your soul is shrouded by thick darkness from within and… for a brief time is deprived of spiritual comfort and the light of grace on account of the cloud of passions that overshadows her; and further, that the joy-producing power in your soul is curtailed for a little, and your mind is overshadowed by an unwonted mist: then do not be troubled in mind, do not lend a hand to despondency. But be patient, be engaged in reading the books of the Doctors of the Church, compel yourself in prayer, and expect to receive help. ~ St. Isaac the Syrian

The various patristic texts, which thank God are available by the thousands today, are very helpful. One can find whatever one needs and desires in these books. They are authentic spiritual nourishment and a sure guide on the spiritual path. However, in order to be of benefit to us, they have to be read with humility and prayer… We do not need great knowledge to be devout. If we concentrate and ponder on the few things we know, our heart will be spiritually embroidered. One may be profoundly affected by a single hymn, while another may feel nothing, even though he may know all the hymns by heart, as he has not entered into the spiritual reality. So, read the Fathers, even one or two lines a day. They are very strengthening vitamins for the soul. ~Elder Paisios the Athonite

Truly He is risen!

How Can I Hold Thee?

Detail from Icon – Greece 2017

St. Luke 2: 22-40 describes the Feast of the Presentation of the Infant Jesus Into the Temple. (February 15/2)

When Jesus was forty days old, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph the Betrothed brought Christ to the temple, in order to fulfill the law and dedicate Him to God. 

The Orthodox Christian tradition of Churching a mother on her return to church with her child for a blessing, 40 days after the birth of the baby, comes from the Jewish rite observed in this feast. 

Sharing one of the many beautiful hymns for this Feast written by 9th Century female saint, St. Kassiani:

How can I hold Thee as a Child,
Thou, who holdest everything together?
How do I bring Thee to the temple,
Thou, who art beyond goodness?
How do I deliver Thee into the arms of the elder,
Thou, who sitteth in the bosom of the Father?
How dost Thou endure purification,
Thou, who purifieth the whole corrupt nature?”
So sayeth the Virgin, the temple, who containeth God –
Marveling at Thy great condescension, O Christ.

Since 450 AD, church candles are also blessed on this day, because of elder St. Simeon’s reference to Christ as a Light of revelation to the Gentiles. (Candlemas)

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