Tag Archives: St. John of Damascus

Matters of heart and flesh.


Today we celebrate the second of three days considered the “Winter Pascha.”
We are still singing these hymns of Nativity:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshiped the stars
Were taught by a Star to worship Thee
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Dayspring from on High.
O Lord, glory to Thee!

and

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

On Christmas Eve, the sky dark with clouds at midday, we celebrated a Vesperal Liturgy, and the church glowed in a special way with the combination of candlelight and muted daylight.

Then Christmas Eve proper, when it became the next day liturgically, the Festal Matins of Nativity. How joyous! In the cathedral was the darkness of winter night, but with more candles and more festivity, because Christmas Day had begun! Our hearts were soaring. The children were drooping….

When I woke on Christmas Day I also was bushed. I had baked a few cookies between the previous day’s services, which meant I’d been on my feet most of that day. I chose different shoes Christmas morning, and before the service even began I had retrieved my joy. I was introduced to a woman who was visiting out of curiosity, had been raised Christian Scientist, and considered herself “more of a Buddhist.” But her friend of Ukrainian descent, who also had not been to our parish before, had invited and brought her.

As I began to explain why the icons, the incense and candles…  to tell her about the materiality of our worship, how this very feast was a celebration of God Who has no flesh taking on human flesh for our sakes… well, it was thrilling to be able to give a little background to what was so vividly being expressed in fullness right there.

I pointed to the pillar with a fresco of St. John of Damascus painted on the side, and part of this quote on the scroll he is holding: I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.

On the home front, concerning the matter that is our earthly food, I feel that I am way behind in my cookie-baking.  I have made four kinds now… and no chocolate yet! I guess I never do have much chocolate in the Christmas cookies. But so far my collection leans heavily toward the nut-brown tones, partly because Trader Joe’s was out of their cranberry-orange relish that I use to make my jellies. I am out of energy to create an alternative recipe from scratch. I did one of those already last week.

The cookies above are the Apricot-Coconut Macaroons, which ended up low on the apricot element this time; I don’t know how that happened. I hope to make cookies for several more days, and during the next couple of weeks to invite friends to eat them with me!

Today after church I visited two friends on opposite sides of town. I have no family with me this year, meaning more options than usual; I’m almost forgetting that I need to go to bed early and provide for some down time. At first I thought I could make four stops on Christmas afternoon, but that doesn’t sound very likely, does it? As it turned out, I got home in time for a bowl of Greek Wedding Soup that my housemate had made, and which tasted perfectly delicious and also seemed the perfect delicious holiday food to balance out cookies. She also had a fire burning in the stove, and Christmas movies playing on the TV.

I have plans for today, too, so I had to draft this post last night. I’m still trying to write every day in December — but maybe that was intended to be only till Christmas? I’ll check with Pom Pom. I think it’s been good for me to have this gentle pressure to write every day, because it’s a kind of work that satisfies something in me and helps keep me on an even keel in the midst of such a busy season. And it’s given me more chances to warm up to this:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Christ Who is offered, and to Christ the offering.

On Holy Thursday one of the events the Orthodox Church commemorates is the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at Christ’s last meal with His disciples; on this occasion I thought to share a post from Abbot Tryphon on the topic of this mystical sacrifice:

The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice, in which Christ himself performs the act of offering, and is both priest and victim. This sacrifice is offered to God the Trinity, and not just to the Father, but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. It is Christ Who is offered, and to Christ the offering.

Our Orthodox theology also teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of both the living and the dead, and is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. This sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.

All the events of Christ’s sacrifice, the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present. The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical, and is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because the bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and His manifestation to us in Christ. It is a mystery precisely because the Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is “not of this world.” The Eucharist, because it belongs to God’s Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born “logic” of fallen humanity.

Saint John of Damascus tells us, “If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit … we know nothing more than this, that the Word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable”.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

From Abbot Tryphon’s blog

The Feast of Angels

Being raised in Protestant churches, I learned little about angels. Since coming to Orthodoxy, I’ve been introduced to a large body of teaching, and some practices that help me learn experientially, too. Some lessons come through the feasts such as on November 8th (beginning with Vespers tonight, actually), when we celebrate the Feast of The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers.

I read that the commemoration was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea. It was set to be celebrated in what was at that time the ninth month of the year, because there are nine ranks of angels.

This very rich article also tells a lot about angels according to our tradition. One teaching that gets me thinking about the mysteries of God’s Kingdom is about the angels’ bodies. But aren’t they body-less, as the name of the feast calls them? On that topic and others, here are some excerpts from the blog post, passing on to us the teachings of several church fathers:

St. John of Damascus says they are creatures limited in space and time; they have their own specific external appearance. Compared to humans, they are bodiless due to the human’s “heavy body,” but compared to God they have a body. “We speak about the angels as bodiless and immaterial compared to us, but in fact everything is heavy and material compared to God, to Whom nobody can be compared, because only the Divine is non-material and bodiless.”

St. John Chrysostom says that “… every one of us has his angel;” and St. Basil the Great adds, “Beside every believer in God sits his angel, so repent.” Finally, the angel of prayer is the angel who helps us to pray. St. Clement of Alexandria says, “Even when a person prays alone, he is accompanied by angels.” Tertullian commands the Christian not to sit when he prays in respect for the angel of prayer standing beside him.

That last sentence is the kind of nugget of truth that I can hope to remember, and let it influence my everyday life. Some will say, Why not just remember that God Himself sits with you, so repent? etc. What I have concluded after debating about these things many years ago is that if God has chosen to use angels in His salvation work, why should we ignore or reject them? Why don’t we just say, Thank you, Lord! and show our appreciation by our acts?

In our parish we have many who are named for the Archangel Michael; we’ll have Divine Liturgy tomorrow morning and give thanks for the work of angels in our lives. I’d like to muse longer over more quotes from this article but I better return to my housework if I want to make it to church in the morning.