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University of Reading scholars in the Arab village of Nazareth in Israel have discovered the remains of an Eastern Orthodox church, encompassing a 1st Century AD Jewish home. Cross-referencing this with 7th century travellers accounts, it is believed that this church is the Church of the Nutrition, built during the period of the Eastern Roman Empire over the site traditionally believed to have been the dwelling of Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.

The video below explains the findings in more detail. While the veracity of Jesus’ residence in this home can not be proven, it is obvious that Christians in Nazareth in the early days of Christianity believed it to be the case and convinced the Church hierarchy of this.

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Last Sunday began the three week-long Pre-Lenten period, where Christians consider the issue of repentance before beginning the rigourous fasting season of Great Lent. Last Sunday was designated as the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, referring to one of Christ’s better-known Parables on the importance of knowing oneself, humility and repentance. This week is designated as the Week of the Pharisee and the Publican, and next week follows the Week of the Prodigal Son (another parable concerning repentance and forgiveness).

Luke 18:10-14 provides the parable, where two men, one from the Pharisee sect (known for their strict adherence to the Law) and the other a Publican (a Jew in the service of the Roman Empire as a tax collector, widely despised by Jewish society as collaborators and thugs, and considered ritually unclean) enter the Temple. The Pharisee, while praying, proudly tells God he is so happy that he is virtuous, and does not conduct himself like adulterers, extortionists or tax collectors, and that he engages in many good works. The Publican, in grief over his wicked past,  begs God to forgive him and acknowledges himself as a sinner. Christ concludes that it was the Publican who returned home justified and forgiven, not the Pharisee, and He states, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).

A Greek word “metanoia” is frequently used when discussing repentance in this context. It means “change of mind” and conveys a deeper meaning of repentance than just self-pity, dissatisfaction or regret over past actions. It is an active process rather than a passive mood, involving transformation of one’s viewpoint and a re-appraisal of how we interact with God and with others. The Pharisee in this parable is self-satisfied, complacent and believes that his adherence to the Law and his good works are enough to maintain a solid relationship with God. The Publican truly seeks a “change of mind”, not only regretting his misdeeds but humbling himself before God and resolving to improve his conduct; through God’s mercy rather than only his own works he will be forgiven and hence saved.

In our own church, we may meet people who resemble the Pharisee, who are unjustifiably proud of their piety and look down on overt sinners, are unkind to people of other religions or harsh to people of other races. It has ever been so, such is the nature of human frailty. We may also encounter people like the Publican, who have made serious errors in their lives, are frequently held in contempt for it, and humbly seek to transform their lives through Christ. Recapitulation of this parable before our eyes on a weekly basis should not make us cynical about the devout, but remind us that Christ’s parables are timeless and the struggle with pride goes on relentlessly in every human heart, even in people who are basically decent.

The icon for this feast is full of significance, and an explanation of the didactic (teaching) icon above is well covered here.

The ever-eloquent Saint John Chrysostom discusses this feast in great detail;

“When lately we made mention of the Pharisee and the Publican, and hypothetically yoked two chariots out of virtue and vice; we pointed out each truth, how great is the gain of humbleness of mind, and how great the damage of pride. For this, even when conjoined with righteousness and fastings and tithes, fell behind; while that, even when yoked with sin, out-stripped the Pharisee’s pair, even although the charioteer it had was a poor one. For what was worse than the publican? But all the same since he made his soul contrite, and called himself a sinner; which indeed he was; he surpassed the Pharisee, who had both fastings to tell of and tithes; and was removed from any vice. On account of what, and through what? Because even if he was removed from greed of gain and robbery, he had rooted over his soul the mother of all evils— vain-glory and pride. On this account Paul also exhorts and says “Let each one prove his own work”; and then he will have his ground of boasting for himself, and not for the other. He publicly came forward as an accuser of the whole world; and said that he himself was better than all living men. And yet even if he had set himself before ten only, or if five, or if two, or if one, not even was this endurable; but as it was, he not only set himself before the whole world, but also accused all men. On this account he fell behind in the running. And just as a ship, after having run through innumerable surges, and having escaped many storms, then in the very mouth of the harbour having been dashed against some rock, loses the whole treasure which is stowed away in her— so truly did this Pharisee, after having undergone the labours of the fasting, and of all the rest of his virtue, since he did not master his tongue, in the very harbour underwent shipwreck of his cargo. For the going home from prayer, whence he ought to have derived gain, having rather been so greatly damaged, is nothing else than undergoing shipwreck in harbour.

Knowing therefore these things, beloved even if we should have mounted to the very pinnacle of virtue, let us consider ourselves last of all; having learned that pride is able to cast down even from the heavens themselves him who takes not heed, and humbleness of mind to bear up on high from the very abyss of sins him who knows how to be sober. For this it was that placed the publican before the Pharisee; whereas that, pride I mean and an overweening spirit, surpassed even an incorporeal power, that of the devil; while humbleness of mind and the acknowledgment of his own sins committed brought the robber into Paradise before the Apostles. Now if the confidence which they who confess their own sins effect for themselves is so great, they who are conscious to themselves of many good qualities, yet humble their own souls, how great crowns will they not win. For when sinfulness be put together with humbleness of mind it runs with such ease as to pass and out-strip righteousness combined with pride. If therefore thou have put it to with righteousness, whither will it not reach? Through how many heavens will it not pass? By the throne of God itself surely it will stay its course; in the midst of the angels, with much confidence. On the other hand if pride, having been yoked with righteousness, by the excess and weight of its own wickedness had strength enough to drag down its confidence; if it be put together with sinfulness, into how deep a hell will it not be able to precipitate him who has it? These things I say, not in order that we should be careless of righteousness, but that we should avoid pride; not that we should sin, but that we should be sober-minded. For humbleness of mind is the foundation of the love of wisdom which pertains to us. Even if you should have built a superstructure of things innumerable; even if almsgiving, even if prayers, even if fastings, even if all virtue; unless this have first been laid as a foundation, all will be built upon it to no purpose and in vain; and it will fall down easily, like that building which had been placed on the sand. For there is no one, no one of our good deeds, which does not need this; there is no one which separate from this will be able to stand. But even if you should mention temperance, even if virginity, even if despising of money, even if anything whatever, all are unclean and accursed and loathsome, humbleness of mind being absent. Everywhere therefore let us take her with us, in words, in deeds, in thoughts, and with this let us build these (graces).”

 

 

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As powerful now as when this eloquent Byzantine bishop first uttered this homily in the 4th Century, this distils the Christmas spirit into its purest essence. A Blessed Christmas to you all, გილოცავთ შობა!!

 

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!

The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;

soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;

virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;

infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings, He might perfect praise;

children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;

servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;

fisherman, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;

publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;

sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant; and that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of the pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds, and on earth peace to men of good will.

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Today we are drawing very close to შობა/Shoba (Christmas) and the Holy Bible readings today pay close attention to the role that the Prophets played in foretelling Christ’s birth and preparing the world for His arrival. The past two weeks have witnessed commemorations of individual Prophets both major and minor, and today we commemorate them all together.

A wonderfully detailed interpretation of this icon of the Holy Forefathers is provided here

The Epistle reading is from Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40, referring to the heroic acts of the Prophets from Abraham onwards, including their many acts of self-sacrifice. The Letter to the Hebrews is an exhortation for Christians to be resolute in the face of persecution they were suffering in the 1st Century. The unknown author mentions that, though these sacrifices by the Prophets were noble and unique, the centuries-old promise of redemption from sin has only been recently made possible by the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, allowing ordinary contemporary Christians to experience the same joy of redemption and eternal life as the Holy Prophets who preceded them.

 

32

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:

33

who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

34

quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

35

Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36

Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.

37

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-

38

of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

39

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,

40

God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

The Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 1;1-25, which accomplishes the difficult task of first reconciling Jesus’ human nature via his geneaological descent from Abraham through King David to Saint Joseph, with his Divine nature as the Son of God, begotten of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary.

1

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

2

Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers.

3

Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram.

4

Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon.

5

Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse,

6

and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.

7

Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa.

8

Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah.

9

Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah.

10

Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah.

11

Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.

12

And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel.

13

Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor.

14

Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud.

15

Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob.

16

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.

17

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.

18

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.

19

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

20

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

21

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.

22

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:

23

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.”

24

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,

25

and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

 

 

 

 

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With only a few hours to go until the Vigil, this rendition of ‘Christ is Risen from the Dead” is a splendid example of this hymn by a well known men’s choir, Mdzlevari.

The lyrics, to refresh your memory, are:

Krist’e aghsdga mk’vdretit
Sik’vdilita sik’vdilisa
Damtrugunveli da saplavebis shinata
Tskhovrebis minbich’ebeli

In English, the translation is:

Christ is risen, and by dying conquers death.
We need no longer fear the grave. He is the giver of life.

A blessed and joyous Pasqa to all of you, and your families.

 

 

 

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For westerners living in Georgia, it is perplexing as to why Georgian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, in common with the Churches of Russia and Serbia. Even more perplexing is that the Orthodox Churches of Greece, Constantinople, Romania, Bulgaria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria celebrate it on December 25.

https://i0.wp.com/farm5.static.flickr.com/4017/4254405656_ff9970d3a3.jpg

Throughout the Orthodox World, the old Julian calender was maintained for Ecclesiastical events until quite recently. The civil authorities in the Slavic Lands (the Russian Empire, Serbia and Bulgaria) maintained the Julian Calendar until the early 20th century; Church authorities continued using the Julian Calendar regardless. Various Patriarchates decided to adopt the Gregorian Calendar during the 20th century but Russia, Serbia and Georgia refused to change. They continue celebrating Christmas on December 25 according to the Julian Calendar, but that falls on January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar used by the civil authorities. The result is that the latter three Patriarchates celebrate Christmas two weeks later than their western and southern co-religionists.

This article by Roman Catholic writer William Tighe examines why the date December 25 in the Julian Calendar was appropriated by the early Church for the date of the Nativity in the first place.

“Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

Continue reading the article here

 

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Saint Luke is one of the most significant saints in the Church; his Feast is held today. As a Greek medical doctor from Antioch, schooled in Greek medicine, art and philosophy, his background was quite different from the many Jewish peasants and fisherman whom Christ called to serve. Saint Luke was a witness to Christ’s Resurrection on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24.13) , and became a constant companion to Saint Paul the Evangelist in his extensive travels. It is hard to imagine a more “odd couple” to work together as evangelists for so many years, one formerly a Pharisee, the other an affluent Greek physician, but obviously their talents were complementary and they were very effective at spreading the faith amongst both Jews and Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

He is attributed as being the first iconographer, painting under the direction of the Virgin Mary.

He is most widely known as the author of the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Icons of the saint usually show him as a well-dressed professional gentleman in Greek garb, carrying a copy of the Holy Gospel.

11th Century Georgian Miniature of Saint Luke

The Holy Disciple and Evangelist Luke, was a native of Syrian Antioch, a Disciple from amongst the Seventy, a companion of the holy Apostle Paul (Phil. 1: 24, 2 Tim. 4: 10-11), and a physician enlightened in the Greek medical arts. Hearing about Christ, Luke arrived in Palestine and here he fervently accepted the preaching of salvation from the Lord Himself. Included amidst the number of the Seventy Disciples, Saint Luke was sent by the Lord with the others for the first preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven while yet during the earthly life of the Saviour (Lk. 10: 1-3). After the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Saints Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus.

The Disciple Luke took part in the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul, and from that time they were inseparable. At a point when all his co-workers had left the Apostle Paul, the Disciple Luke stayed on with him to tackle all the toiling of pious deeds (2 Tim. 4: 10-11). After the martyr’s death of the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul, Saint Luke left Rome to preach in Achaeia, Libya, Egypt and the Thebaid. In the city of Thebes he finished his life in martyrdom.

Tradition ascribes to him the writing of the first icons of the Mother of God. “Let the grace of He born of Me and My mercy be with these icons”, – said the All-Pure Virgin in beholding the icons. Saint Luke painted likewise icons of the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul. His Gospel was written by Saint Luke in the years 62-63 at Rome, under the guidance of the Apostle Paul. Saint Luke in the preliminary verses (1: 3) spells out exactly the aim of his work: he recorded in greater detail the chronological course of events in the framework of everything known by Christians about Jesus Christ and His teachings, and by doing so he provided a firmer historical basis of Christian hope (1: 4). He carefully investigated the facts, and made generous use of the oral tradition of the Church and of what the All-Pure Virgin Mary Herself had told him (2: 19, 51).

In the theological content of the Gospel of Luke there stands out first of all the teaching about the universal salvation effected by the Lord Jesus Christ, and about the universal significance of the preaching of the Gospel [Lat. “evangelum” with Grk. root “eu-angelos” both mean “good-news”].

The holy disciple likewise wrote in the years 62-63 at Rome, the Book of the Acts of the Holy Apostles. The Acts, which is a continuation of the Four Gospels, speaks about the works and effects of the holy Apostles after the Ascension of the Saviour. At the centre of the narrative – is the Council of the holy Apostles at Jerusalem (year 51 A.D.), a Church event of great critical significance, with a dogmatic basis for the distancing of Christianity from Judaism and its independent dispersion into the world (Acts 15: 6-29). The theological objective of the Book of Acts is that of the Dispensation-Economy of the Holy Spirit, actualised in the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, from the time of the Ascension and Pentecost to the Second Coming of Christ.

From “Calender, Saint John of Kronstadt Press”

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