Your 4-Step Guide For Preparing For Lent

Your 4-Step Guide For Preparing For Lent

Happy Monday, and a blessed Cheesefare Week to you all!

Yes indeed, it is that wonderful time of year again–or at least, it almost is. Great Lent is just around the corner: a time to intensify our relationship with Christ and the saints; go an extra mile or two to see what awaits us down the road; prepare for the salvation of mankind in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Great Lent is, inherently, a time of preparation. It is the period demarcated by the church to get us ready for such an earth-shattering event as the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But, despite the fact that Great Lent is supposed to be a time to prepare, we still must ensure we are ready for its own unique trials. We must prepare for our period of preparation, if you will.

Consider studying for a final exam. Do you just start picking up the textbook and reading? No, you often plan more deliberately than that. You make sure you know what’s on the final exam, so that you can study the correct source material. You aggregate multiple sources on the material in question, to get all of the perspectives. You don’t just start studying in the crowded dining hall, surrounded by your friends–you go off, into the library, find somewhere you can be undisturbed. You fill up your water bottle, bring a snack, put on some tunes, and then you are ready. You are ready to prepare.

As such, we must take this week–Cheesefare Week–to get ready for everything Great Lent will bring to us. Here are the steps that I’m going to try to take:

1) Eat a ton of dairy

While this one isn’t necessarily geared toward spiritual depth or anything, it’s the last week we can eat cheese and milk for 40 some days. If you intend on keeping the full fast–meat, dairy, wine, oil, fish, everything–then you should take these last days to savor those foods. If not solely because you’ll miss them, because fasting from mac and cheese will be way easier if you made yourself, very deliberately, a delicious farewell mac and cheese this week.

2) Reinvigorate your prayer life

The hope and prayer is that your prayer life is healthy, active, and strong–I know for me, this is not the case. As such, I think we will struggle to go through these added efforts of Lent–increased fasting, more services, et cetera–if we don’t re-establish a relationship and dialogue with God, and that relationship and dialogue comes through prayer. We will need His help to get through Lent in the best possible way–so begin praying for God’s strength and mercy now, so that you can be better prepared when temptation comes knocking later.

3) Schedule extra services–today

Lent adds a whole slew of services to the schedule, from the weekly Presanctified Liturgy to the Canon of St. Andrew next week. It can be nice and easy in our heads to say “Oh, when I’m free, I’ll go” but we are college students–we are never really “free.” There’s always something we could be doing. If we don’t very intentionally, firmly, pointedly carve out the space on Wednesday evening to head to Presanctified–or just make sure we attend every Saturday Vespers–we will likely not increase our church attendance. Make the decision now, so that you’re prepared when the time comes.

4) Consider the depth of your fast

The church prescribes a fast–but all fasts are individual, personal. The encouragement is to follow the dietary fast as strictly as possible, but if you can’t avoid oils in the dining hall, that’s okay. Fast as to your capacity. However, we should also consider fasts beyond the dietary restrictions: Great Lent calls for a decrease of auxiliary noise in our lives, an increase in self-reflection and personal growth. Consider what a fast–even if it isn’t a completely cold-turkey cut-off, but just a gearing down–from Netflix, music, movies, parties, and alcohol could do for your spiritual life.

I hope that your Lent is fruitful, and that you return to the OCF blog often for more readings/OCF opportunities to help you through your effort of Great Lent.

What is Ours? – Guided Discussion: Almsgiving & Thanksgiving as Reflections of Our Love for God and Our Neighbor

What is Ours? – Guided Discussion: Almsgiving & Thanksgiving as Reflections of Our Love for God and Our Neighbor

This discussion is made up of two parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a portion each week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.

Opening Prayer

Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, I give thanks for your loving kindness and all the blessings You have richly bestowed upon me. I fall down in worship and adoration before You, the King of Glory. I praise You, I glorify You, I bless You and I give thanks to You for Your great goodness and tender mercy. To You I come, my sweet Lord and loving Master. Shine in my heart the light of Your grace. Enlighten my mind, that I may walk uprightly all my life by keeping Your commandments. Glorified and exalted is Your holy name, now and forever. Amen.

Part I: Our Call to Give

Reflection

“The Lord said this parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” As he said these things, he cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”[1]

“The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.”[2]

It is the beginning of a new year, and for many of us, a time to restart our lives with new goals and new perspectives. We may make goals to improve our health or plans to become more organized in our studies. Some of us even feel inspired to have a more disciplined prayer rule, or to attend more church services. What about goals of almsgiving?

Almsgiving always coincides with prayer and fasting, as it displays our love for God through serving our neighbors. Our call to give does not always mean to give away all of our possessions and live as a hermit, but to serve unconditionally to everyone we encounter.

Questions to Discuss

  • Think about the rich man in the parable in Luke, and how he was so eager to build more storehouses for himself. How can you relate to this man? What are your storehouses?
  • Since we are both physical and spiritual beings, almsgiving should be targeted to serve both of these needs. What are some practical ways we can practice almsgiving for ourselves? If you are by yourself, think of some personal goals. If you are with your OCF Chapter, plan some ideas as a group.
  • In what ways do you currently use your money any differently than you would if you were not an Orthodox Christian? Identify some areas in your life that you can surrender to Christ.

Part 2

“Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same who said, “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.”  St. John Chrysostom “On the Gospel of St. Matthew”, 50, iii (PG 58, 508)

Almsgiving can oftentimes denote monetary donations or contributions to those in need, but in actuality, giving alms can simply be to show mercy and compassion on our brothers and sisters. In fact, the Greek word for alms“eleemosune”literally translates to actions of mercy and compassion. We see how almsgiving is so interwoven in our worship, our theology, and our faith. We constantly hear the petition “Lord have mercy” during our liturgies, we pray for the Lord’s mercy with our prayer robes, and we frequently recite Psalm 50 in our services. Mercy is at the centrality of our faith. As we pray for the Lord to have mercy on us, we in turn must show mercy on those that hurt us, those that wrong us, and those that need love. Let us learn from the Gospel and a few words of the Saints of the Church.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Let words of consolation leap forward before the rest of your speech, confirming your love for your neighbor.”  (Saint Basil)

 “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” (Saint John Chrysostom)

 As Orthodox Christians and servants of the Lord we are called to love one another faithfully, fervently enduring one another’s sorrows and joys. In Galatians 6:2, Saint Paul states that we are to “bear one another’s burdens”, suffering with one another in brotherly love. Our relations with our neighbors are of utmost importance in our daily life, as we are called to be a living icon, a home for those without shelter, and ultimately a loving and giving force. We are all members of Christ’s body, each presenting different skills and talents that work together to create harmony in the Church. Saying this, all members are called to serve one another. “If one member suffers, the others are sorry for it and help it. If one member rejoices, all the members rejoice; our whole body rejoices.” [3] Ultimately, we are called to bring love and light to each other, to see the image of Christ in every living thing. Almsgiving is more than a transactional relationship to gain mercy from God, but a way to achieve living communion with Him. Christ on the Cross demonstrated the awe-inspiring unconditional love and mercy for the other, and in order to be more like Him, we must show mercy on our neighbor. Our love for one another should be shining on our faces, spoken in our speech, felt in our touch, and embedded in our hearts.

Discussion Questions:

  • We live in a highly materialistic culture, as we are bombarded by new things to eat, more things to buy, and more people to be like. Sometimes it feels as though darkness is all around us in the world. What are a few ways you can combat this, and walk in the light of Christ?
  • Many early Christians would hand over all of their riches and possessions to a community fund and share with any person in need. How are we able to emulate this same charity in our day and age?

[1] Luke 12:16-21

[2] On Wealth and Poverty, 110

[3] 1 Cor 12:26-27

St. Basil the Great – On the Hexameron  | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Basil the Great – On the Hexameron | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Saint Basil the Great is highly revered in the Orthodox Church, being one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the Orthodox Church as well as one of the three Cappadocian Fathers. We will begin this guided discussion by listening to this excerpt from the Synaxarion about his life. Along with founding the first recorded monastic rule, St. Basil is known for defending the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the father and the son in his work On the Holy Spirit.

Keeping with the OCF’s theme this year of “Walking in the Light”, we will limit today’s discussion to his text On The Hexameron (‘hexameron’ meaning ‘six days’, which refers to the first six days of creation in Genesis; this is the full text, including other works of St. Basil’s including On the Holy Spirit). Please take turns reading the following text.

Homily II. “The Earth was Invisible and Unfinished.”

4.  “Darkness was upon the face of the deep”.  By “darkness” these wicked men do not understand what is meant in reality—air not illumined, the shadow produced by the interposition of a body, or finally a place for some reason deprived of light… If God is light, they say, without any doubt the power which struggles against Him must be darkness, “Darkness” not owing its existence to a foreign origin, but an evil existing by itself…. “The earth was invisible.”  Why? Because the “deep” was spread over its surface.  What is “the deep”?  A mass of water of extreme depth….  Thus, the deep is not a multitude of hostile powers, as has been imagined; nor “darkness” an evil sovereign force in enmity with good. In reality two rival principles of equal power, if engaged without ceasing in a war of mutual attacks, will end in self destruction.  But if one should gain the mastery it would completely annihilate the conquered. 

Thus, to maintain the balance in the struggle between good and evil is to represent them as engaged in a war without end and in perpetual destruction, where the opponents are at the same time conquerors and conquered.  If good is the stronger, what is there to prevent evil being completely annihilated? But if that be the case, the very utterance of which is impious, I ask myself how it is that they themselves are not filled with horror to think that they have imagined such abominable blasphemies. It is equally impious to say that evil has its origin from God; because the contrary cannot proceed from its contrary. Life does not engender death; darkness is not the origin of light; sickness is not the maker of health. In the changes of conditions there are transitions from one condition to the contrary; but in genesis each being proceeds from its like, and not from its contrary.

If then evil is neither uncreated nor created by God, from whence comes its nature?  Certainly that evil exists, no one living in the world will deny.  What shall we say then?  Evil is not a living animated essence; it is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good. Do not then go beyond yourself to seek for evil, and imagine that there is an original nature of wickedness. Each of us, let us acknowledge it, is the first author of his own vice…. Here you are the master of your actions. Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls. If it were involuntary, and did not depend upon ourselves, the laws would not have so much terror for the guilty, and the tribunals would not be so without pity when they condemn wretches according to the measure of their crimes.

But enough concerning evil rightly so called. Sickness, poverty, obscurity, death, finally all human afflictions, ought not to be ranked as evils; since we do not count among the greatest boons things which are their opposites. Among these afflictions, some are the effect of nature, others have obviously been for many a source of advantage. Let us then be silent for the moment about these metaphors and allegories, and, simply following without vain curiosity the words of Holy Scripture, let us take from darkness the idea which it gives us.

But reason asks, was darkness created with the world?  Is it older than light?  Why in spite of its inferiority has it preceded it?  Darkness, we reply, did not exist in essence; it is a condition produced in the air by the withdrawal of light.  What then is that light which disappeared suddenly from the world, so that darkness should cover the face of the deep?  If anything had existed before the formation of this sensible and perishable world, no doubt we conclude it would have been in light.  The orders of angels, the heavenly hosts, all intellectual natures named or unnamed, all the ministering spirits, did not live in darkness, but enjoyed a condition fitted for them in light and spiritual joy. No one will contradict this; least of all he who looks for celestial light as one of the rewards promised to virtue, the light which, as Solomon says, is always a light to the righteous, the light which made the Apostle say “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”  

Finally, if the condemned are sent into outer darkness evidently those who are made worthy of God’s approval, are at rest in heavenly light.  When then, according to the order of God, the heaven appeared, enveloping all that its circumference included, a vast and unbroken body separating outer things from those which it enclosed, it necessarily kept the space inside in darkness for want of communication with the outer light.  Three things are, indeed, needed to form a shadow, light, a body, a dark place.  The shadow of heaven forms the darkness of the world.

6.  And the Spirit of God was borne upon the face of the waters.   Does this spirit mean the diffusion of air?  The sacred writer wishes to enumerate to you the elements of the world, to tell you that God created the heavens, the earth, water, and air and that the last was now diffused and in motion; or rather, that which is truer and confirmed by the authority of the ancients, by the Spirit of God, he means the Holy Spirit.  It is, as has been remarked, the special name, the name above all others that Scripture delights to give to the Holy Spirit, and always by the spirit of God the Holy Spirit is meant, the Spirit which completes the divine and blessed Trinity.  You will find it better therefore to take it in this sense.  How then did the Spirit of God move upon the waters?  The explanation that I am about to give you is not an original one, but that of a Syrian, who was as ignorant in the wisdom of this world as he was versed in the knowledge of the Truth.  He said, then, that the Syriac word was more expressive, and that being more analogous to the Hebrew term it was a nearer approach to the scriptural sense.  This is the meaning of the word; by “was borne” the Syrians, he says, understand:  it cherished the nature of the waters as one sees a bird cover the eggs with her body and impart to them vital force from her own warmth.  Such is, as nearly as possible, the meaning of these words—the Spirit was borne:  let us understand, that is, prepared the nature of water to produce living beings: a sufficient proof for those who ask if the Holy Spirit took an active part in the creation of the world.

7.  And God said, Let there be light. The first word of God created the nature of light; it made darkness vanish, dispelled gloom, illuminated the world, and gave to all beings at the same time a sweet and gracious aspect.  The heavens, until then enveloped in darkness, appeared with that beauty which they still present to our eyes.  The air was lighted up, or rather made the light circulate mixed with its substance, and, distributing its splendour rapidly in every direction, so dispersed itself to its extreme limits.  Up it sprang to the very æther and heaven.  In an instant it lighted up the whole extent of the world, the North and the South, the East and the West…. 

The divine word gives every object a more cheerful and a more attractive appearance, just as when men in deep sea pour in oil they make the place about them clear.  So, with a single word and in one instant, the Creator of all things gave the boon of light to the world. Let there be light.  The order was itself an operation, and a state of things was brought into being, than which man’s mind cannot even imagine a pleasanter one for our enjoyment.  It must be well understood that when we speak of the voice, of the word, of the command of God, this divine language does not mean to us a sound which escapes from the organs of speech, a collision of air struck by the tongue; it is a simple sign of the will of God, and, if we give it the form of an order, it is only the better to impress the souls whom we instruct.

Homily VI. The creation of luminous bodies.

1. …Thus, to investigate the great and prodigious show of creation, to understand supreme and ineffable wisdom, you must bring personal light for the contemplation of the wonders which I spread before your eyes, and help me, according to your power, in this struggle, where you are not so much judges as fellow combatants, for fear lest the truth might escape you, and lest my error might turn to your common prejudice.  Why these words?  It is because we propose to study the world as a whole, and to consider the universe, not by the light of worldly wisdom, but by that with which God wills to enlighten His servant, when He speaks to him in person and without enigmas.  It is because it is absolutely necessary that all lovers of great and grand shows should bring a mind well prepared to study them.  If sometimes, on a bright night, whilst gazing with watchful eyes on the inexpressible beauty of the stars, you have thought of the Creator of all things; if you have asked yourself who it is that has dotted heaven with such flowers, and why visible things are even more useful than beautiful; if sometimes, in the day, you have studied the marvels of light, if you have raised yourself by visible things to the invisible Being, then you are a well prepared auditor, and you can take your place in this august and blessed amphitheatre.  Come in the same way that any one not knowing a town is taken by the hand and led through it; thus I am going to lead you, like strangers, through the mysterious marvels of this great city of the universe….

If we are penetrated by these truths, we shall know ourselves, we shall know God, we shall adore our Creator, we shall serve our Master, we shall glorify our Father, we shall love our Sustainer, we shall bless our Benefactor, we shall not cease to honour the Prince of present and future life, Who, by the riches that He showers upon us in this world, makes us believe in His promises and uses present good things to strengthen our expectation of the future.  Truly, if such are the good things of time, what will be those of eternity?  If such is the beauty of visible things, what shall we think of invisible things?  If the grandeur of heaven exceeds the measure of human intelligence, what mind shall be able to trace the nature of the everlasting?  If the sun, subject to corruption, is so beautiful, so grand, so rapid in its movement, so invariable in its course; if its grandeur is in such perfect harmony with and due proportion to the universe:  if, by the beauty of its nature, it shines like a brilliant eye in the middle of creation; if finally, one cannot tire of contemplating it, what will be the beauty of the Sun of Righteousness?   If the blind man suffers from not seeing the material sun, what a deprivation is it for the sinner not to enjoy the true light!

2.  “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to divide the day from the night.”   Heaven and earth were the first; after them was created light; the day had been distinguished from the night, then had appeared the firmament and the dry element.  The water had been gathered into the reservoir assigned to it, the earth displayed its productions, it had caused many kinds of herbs to germinate and it was adorned with all kinds of plants.  However, the sun and the moon did not yet exist, in order that those who live in ignorance of God may not consider the sun as the origin and the father of light, or as the maker of all that grows out of the earth.   That is why there was a fourth day, and then God said:  “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven.” When once you have learnt Who spoke, think immediately of the hearer.  God said, “Let there be lights…and God made two great lights.”  Who spoke? and Who made?  Do you not see a double person?  Everywhere, in mystic language, history is sown with the dogmas of theology. The motive follows which caused the lights to be created.  It was to illuminate the earth.  Already light was created; why therefore say that the sun was created to give light?  And, first, do not laugh at the strangeness of this expression.  We do not follow your nicety about words, and we trouble ourselves but little to give them a harmonious turn.  Our writers do not amuse themselves by polishing their periods, and everywhere we prefer clearness of words to sonorous expressions.  See then if by this expression “to light up,” the sacred writer sufficiently made his thought understood.  He has put “to give light” instead of “illumination.”   Now there is nothing here contradictory to what has been said of light.  Then the actual nature of light was produced:  now the sun’s body is constructed to be a vehicle for that original light.  A lamp is not fire.  Fire has the property of illuminating, and we have invented the lamp to light us in darkness.  In the same way, the luminous bodies have been fashioned as a vehicle for that pure, clear, and immaterial light.  The Apostle speaks to us of certain lights which shine in the world without being confounded with the true light of the world, the possession of which made the saints luminaries of the souls which they instructed and drew from the darkness of ignorance.  This is why the Creator of all things, made the sun in addition to that glorious light, and placed it shining in the heavens.

3.  And let no one suppose it to be a thing incredible that the brightness of the light is one thing, and the body which is its material vehicle is another.  First, in all composite things, we distinguish substance susceptible of quality, and the quality which it receives.  The nature of whiteness is one thing, another is that of the body which is whitened; thus the natures differ which we have just seen reunited by the power of the Creator.  And do not tell me that it is impossible to separate them.  Even I do not pretend to be able to separate light from the body of the sun; but I maintain that that which we separate in thought, may be separated in reality by the Creator of nature.  You cannot, moreover, separate the brightness of fire from the virtue of burning which it possesses; but God, who wished to attract His servant by a wonderful sight, set a fire in the burning bush, which displayed all the brilliancy of flame while its devouring property was dormant.  It is that which the Psalmist affirms in saying “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.”   Thus, in the requital which awaits us after this life, a mysterious voice seems to tell us that the double nature of fire will be divided; the just will enjoy its light, and the torment of its heat will be the torture of the wicked.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Does St. Basil acknowledge ‘natural evil’ the way that it is understood in Western Theology? Discuss the quote, “Here you are the master of your actions. Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls”.
  1. What does St. Basil mean when he says, “The shadow of heaven forms the darkness of the world”?
  1. How ought we approach enigmas we encounter as we observe the scientific reality and beauty of the universe? You may reference Homily VI.
  1. Discuss St. Basil’s choice to refer to Christ as the ‘Sun of Righteousness’. Can you think of any other similarities that Christ has with the sun?
  1. Read the following excerpt from St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit:

Inasmuch as all created nature, both this visible world and all that is conceived of in the mind, cannot hold together without the care and providence of God, the Creator Word, the Only begotten God, apportioning His succour according to the measure of the needs of each, distributes mercies various and manifold on account of the many kinds and characters of the recipients of His bounty, but appropriate to the necessities of individual requirements.  Those that are confined in the darkness of ignorance He enlightens:  for this reason He is true Light.

Discuss what ‘enlightenment’ means within the Orthodox Faith. Can any immutable traits prevent someone from being enlightened by Christ?

After the discussion, additional edifying content can be found by listening to this biography of his sister St. Macrina’s life (written by St. Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa). The OCF chapter may decide to implement this reading into a new or existing book club.

There’s a Saint for That: St. John of Damascus

There’s a Saint for That: St. John of Damascus

St. John was born in Damascus around the year 680 into a Christian family. His father was well-respected in the city since he served the Muslim caliph as a high-ranking financial official. Thus, St. John received an exceptional education that included studying Christian, classical Greek, and Muslim texts. He was fluent in Arabic and Greek and easily absorbed anything he was exposed to from his various areas of study such as astronomy and music. In fact, in his later life, he would go on to produce a number of well-known pieces of hymnography including the Paschal Canon!

Despite growing up in a Muslim society, St. John remained steadfast in the faith. This was a direct result of his parents’ commitment to Christ and the guidance of the monk Cosmas, who was ransomed by St. John’s father from captivity to tutor his sons. Upon his father’s death, St. John assumed his position in the Damascene court as city prefect. However, only a few years into his service in 726, he stepped down to become a monk at the Mar Saba monastery in Palestine.

In his new role, St. John had the unique opportunity to prayerfully defend the Orthodox faith in a number of ways when it was most needed. Muslim society did not force Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, but conversion opened doors and allowed people to be exempt from the Jizya tax. Further, the Islamic faith presented an explanation of Jesus as a prophet for Jews and a compromise for Christians who were uncomfortable with the idea of God becoming man through Christ. In response to these worrying trends, St. John authored a 3-part defense of Christianity which included one of the first philosophical defenses of the faith. The unique thing about this defense was the insight St. John’s deep knowledge of the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, and many other relevant topics provided him. He was able to address the Quran directly and provide a Christian response to the increasingly popular religion of the day.

A few years before St. John became a monastic, Leo III was instated as Byzantine emperor. He took a deep interest in involving himself in church matters, and one of his adopted stances was the belief that icon veneration invited sinful idol worship into the Christian life and that the Byzantine empire’s recent misfortunes were due to this practice. He formalized this view in the form of a royal edict in 726. As part of the pushback against the heretical Iconoclast movement, St. John authored a series of 3 treatises in defense of the veneration of icons. Since he was not under Byzantine jurisdiction, Emperor Leo forged a letter supposedly written by the saint to the emperor, offering his help in overthrowing the Muslim Caliphate in Damascus. When the letter was intercepted, St. John was thrown into prison and had his right hand cut off. Our Tradition holds that the Theotokos miraculously restored the saint’s hand, which caused the caliph to repent and release St. John from prison.

Following these events, St. John entered the monastery of Saint Savva as a novice and led an ascetic lifestyle, completely humbling himself in spite of his renowned background. He spent much of his later life producing spiritual books and hymns, which still nourish us as Christians today. St. John remained humble and steadfast in his faith throughout his life despite his impressive education and harsh trials. He provides us with an example of how we can live in a world that goes against our beliefs and values, yet not conform to it. Christ can and will give us the strength if we truly desire to do so, just as he did for St. John.

Feast Day: December 4

Sourced: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2022/12/04/103473-venerable-john-of-damascus and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnCPQsjl1k4

How can St. John of Damascus intercede for us?

During our time as college students, we are surrounded with opportunity and flooded with ideas of what our future can be. St. John of Damascus was also faced with many opportunities possessing a background as a government official, scholar, musician, poet, and apologist among other things. He could have pursued many different paths, but the key is that he maintained his focus on Christ and proclaimed the Truth of our faith without fear of the consequences. He lived in a Muslim society but remained ardently Christian.

In every Christian’s life and especially college students, we have to process many different ideas thrown at us and make sense of them in the context of our faith. St. John can intercede on our behalf so that we might have the wisdom to discern what is right and wrong and the courage to stand up for the Truth. In this way, we can strive to follow St. John’s example and remain close to Christ, regardless of the choices we make in life.

Because of his great contributions to Christian hymnography, St. John is also regarded as the saint we can pray to for help in the study of church music. Pray to Christ for us, St. John, that we may always use our talents to glorify God and we may have the wisdom and courage to remain steadfast in the Truth.

Discussion Questions

  1. As one of the great Christian apologists of his time, St. John was unafraid to speak the Truth in a tolerant yet opposing society. What are some ways we can be keepers of the Truth like St. John on campus and everywhere? Are these things easy/comfortable to do and why or why not?
  1. In his piece An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John says, “He who longs always after God, he seeth Him: for God is in all things.” The saint longed after God to the point of becoming a monastic, but he maintained this commitment even during the parts of his life when he was surrounded by opposing views or hardship. Why is it difficult to see God in every situation even when we know we want to serve Him? What action/commitment will you take today to remain as committed to the Faith as St. John?

Learn his troparion.

Tone 8

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,

The enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs:

All-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.

Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

Sourced: https://www.oca.org/saints/troparia/2022/12/04/103473-venerable-john-of-damascus#:~:text=Troparion%20%E2%80%94%20Tone%208,God%20to%20save%20our%20souls.

Pray with him.

From a passage in the Divine Office by St. John of Damascus

Lord, you led me from my father’s loins and formed me in my mother’s womb. You brought me, a naked babe, into the light of day, for nature’s laws always obey your commands.

By the blessing of the Holy Spirit, you prepared my creation and my existence, not because man willed it or flesh desired it, but by your ineffable grace. The birth you prepared for me was such that it surpassed the laws of our nature. You sent me forth into the light by adopting me as your son and you enrolled me among the children of your holy and spotless Church.

You nursed me with the spiritual milk of your divine utterances. You kept me alive with the solid food of the body of Jesus Christ, your only-begotten Son and our God; you let me drink from the chalice of his life-giving blood, poured out to save the whole world.

You loved us, O Lord, and gave up your only-begotten Son for our redemption. And he undertook the task willingly and did not shrink from it. Indeed, he applied himself to it as though destined for sacrifice, like an innocent lamb. Although he was God, he became man, and in his human will, became obedient to you, God his Father, unto death, even death on a cross.

In this way you have humbled yourself, Christ my God, so that you might carry me, your stray sheep, on your shoulders. You let me graze in green pastures, refreshing me with the waters of orthodox teaching at the hands of your shepherds. You pastured these shepherds, and now they in turn tend your chosen and special flock. Now you have called me, Lord, by the hand of your bishop to minister to your people. I do not know why you have done so, for you alone know that. Lord, lighten the heavy burden of the sins through which I have seriously transgressed. Purify my mind and heart. Like a shining lamp, lead me along the straight path. When I open my mouth, tell me what I should say. By the fiery tongue of your Spirit make my own tongue ready. Stay with me always and keep me in your sight.

Lead me to pastures, Lord, and graze there with me. Do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path. Whatever I do, let it be in accordance with your will, now until the end.

Life in Death in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch | Guided Discussion Guide

Life in Death in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch | Guided Discussion Guide

Introduction

This month, we are learning to “Walk in the Light” with St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Ignatius was the disciple of the disciples! His writings give us one of the earliest glimpses into the faith of the earliest Christians. St. Ignatius is known for his famous letters, sent to the communities he cared for, and written on the way to his martyrdom. As St. Ignatius shared with them to meet their needs, we can pull similar lessons from his writings which are just as relevant to us today in our walk as Orthodox Christians.

Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day.

Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.

Part I: Living by Dying

The most notable thing about the letters of St. Ignatius is that he’s writing them on his way to be martyred. As St. Paul before him, St. Ignatius is writing in chains (Philippians 1:12-13). One would think that he’d be writing to ask for their help, pleading with them to come to his aid. We find the exact opposite. Rather, he “implores the Christians at Rome not to interfere with his own coming martyrdom:”

“It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. The pains of birth are upon me. Suffer me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to die. Do not give to the world one who desires to belong to God, nor deceive him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light; when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being. Suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God.”

Epistle to the Romans

“Pains of birth are upon me…hinder me not from living…do not wish me to die.” St. Ignatius has turned everything upside down (Acts 17:6)! He sees his coming death as his way to be born. He begs that they don’t put a stop to his martyrdom lest he die from being kept from death! St. Ignatius, seeing things with heavenly clarity, describes to us a reality where laying down our life in Christ is the source of living and not a loss at all (Philippians 1:21).

Discussion Questions

  • What are your reactions to hearing the words of St. Ignatius? Discuss together.
  • The majority of us won’t have the opportunity to “die” in Christ in the same way as St. Ignatius, and yet, his clarity and wisdom seem to pour out beyond the bounds of martyrdom. How might we apply his lessons of life through death to our own lives?
  • St. Ignatius mentions that when he has met his martyrdom, he shall then become a human being. Each of us would typically consider ourselves human beings—what’s the difference here? How might his understanding of a human being differ from ours?

Part II: Living As Lights

St. Ignatius sees that his journey to perfection lies in his martyrdom but for his flock, he does not lay the same heavy burden. Rather, he spends his letters encouraging them to walk in the light of Christ. He exhorts them to live lives of holiness so that they might experience the power and beauty of God. He also reminds them that the way they live their lives matters because they must shine the light of Christ on everyone they meet. He takes extra care to remind them that what we profess with our lips must be lived out through our actions and that our actions are a witness (martyria) to all those they come in contact with.

“Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply.”

Letter to Polycarp

“Pray without ceasing on behalf of other men. For there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.”

Letter to the Ephesians

“It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach if he who speaks also acts.”

Letter to the Ephesians

“Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart.”

Letter to the Romans

Discussion Questions

  • St. Ignatius emphasizes the importance of prayer and setting an example through our actions. How do these practices relate to his “Life Through Death” theme?
  • If you could make one change tomorrow that would have a significant impact on your ability to “Live as a Light”, what would it be?
  • St. Ignatius highlights the importance of silence which is a common theme in many of the writings of the saints. St. Arsenius, the Egyptian desert father is famous for saying, “Many times have I repented of having spoken, but never have I repented of having remained silent.” Have you ever been in a situation where it would have been much wiser to stay silent than to speak?

Closing Prayer

Conclude your meeting with this prayer of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

I am the wheat of God
and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts,
that I may be found the pure bread of God.

I long after the Lord,
the Son of the true God and Father, Jesus Christ.

Him I seek, who died for us and rose again.
I am eager to die for the sake of Christ.

My love has been crucified
and there is no fire in me that loves anything.

But there is living water springing up in me
and it says to me inwardly,
“Come to the Father”

Amen.