Friday, February 27, 2015

The Earliest Prayer to the Theotokos

By Sophia Desiatov

tabinsk-icon-mg.jpgIn the Church services, there are many prayers concerning the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have feasts that commemorate Her life and hymns that exalt Her name. One such prayer is the oldest known prayer to the Theotokos, known as ‘Beneath thy compassion’. Written on a piece of papyrus and originally in Greek, the prayer dates back to approximately 250 A.D, and asks the Holy Virgin to protect us from all danger.

What’s interesting about the prayer is the use of Theotokos, which means ‘she who gave birth to God’ or ‘God-bearer’ in Greek. The only time the name Theotokos was mentioned was during the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 A.D, when the Nestorian heresy came about. Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, said in his teachings that the Virgin Mary should be called Christotokos (‘Christ-bearer’) instead of Theotokos. Nevertheless, the Council condemned Nestorius and his doctrine and defended the Virgin Mary’s rightful title of God-bearer. However, this prayer illustrates that the term was more than a theological concept and was already in use well before the time of the Ecumenical Council.

theotokos-prayer.jpgὙπὸ τὴν σὴν
εὐσπλαγχνίαν
καταφεύγομεν
Θεοτὸκε• τὰς ἡμῶν
ἱκεσίας μὴ παρ-
ίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνου
λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς
μόνη ἁγνὴ
μόνη εὐλογημένη.

In English:
Beneath your
compassion
we take refuge,
Theotokos! Our
prayers, do not despise
in necessities,
but from danger
deliver us,
only pure,
only blessed one.

It’s fascinating that a soulful and spiritual prayer has been circulated throughout the Christian world and is still used today in Church services. It only serves to illustrate that the Holy Theotokos is with us and will intercede for us on our behalf, if we have fervent prayer in our hearts.

A modern Russian rendition of the same prayer:

Source
Another source
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cheese fare week

This week, the Holy Church calls Her children to prepare for the fast by abstaining from meat. Even though we are still celebrating the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, the divine services begin to have a solemn character, calling us all to repentance and cleansing of our souls.

Grant us humbly and in peace to pass through the days of cleansing that prepare us for the Fast. In Thine ineffable love for mankind, o Christ our God, destroy the wicked schemes of the enemy and preserve us all by Thy Cross, for Thou alone knowest the secrets of man’s heart.
Sedalen, Matins on Wednesday of Cheese week

On Wednesday and Friday this week, we make prostrations with the prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, emphasising that our souls should already be fasting from sin. Although many people tend to over-indulge in cheese and eggs this week, this is not at all what the Church intended for us:

The grace of the holy Fast has begun to shine upon us, cleansing our unstable thoughts and driving away the darkness of our surfeiting. Let us, then, accept this grace with eager faith.
Ode 9 of the Canon, Matins on Wednesday of Cheese week

It is important to remember that the bodily virtue of fasting, although indispensable, is only a tool by which the Christian hopes to gain spiritual virtues:

If thou dost fast from food, my soul, yet dost not cleanse thyself from passions, thou dost rejoice in vain over thine abstinence. For if thy purpose is not turned toward amendment of life, as a liar thou are hateful in God’s sight, and thou dost resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not by sinning make the fast worthless, but firmly resist all wicked impulses. Picture to thyself that thou are standing beside the crucified Saviour, or rather, that thou art thyself crucified with Him who was crucified for thee; and cry out to Him: Remember me, o Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.
Stihira, Matins on Wednesday of Cheese week

Read also the February “Shepherd” magazine from the Brotherhood of Saint Edward in the United Kingdom, which contains more materials on the approaching Great Lent.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prayers for God’s blessing upon us at the Church New Year

icxc4.jpgToday, the Holy Church today celebrates the new year. It does this with prayer.
Who does not desire health, prosperity, peace, and a good life? All these things come from God, so He is the one we must ask for them:

O unoriginate Word and Son, Who is united with the Holy Spirit, Creator and Fashioner of all things visible and invisible: bless Thou the crown of the year, preserving the multitude of the Orthodox in peace, through the prayers of the Theotokos and of all Thy saints.
Stikhira at “Lord I have cried”.

God is, indeed, the one who gives everything to all, regardless of whether men appreciate this fact or not:

God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all - faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and seculars, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old — just as the diffusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the weather are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God’.
St John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent

All men live and are warmed by rays of the spiritual Sun - God. They all enjoy various blessings, which some thank God for. Others again appear to think blessings are their “human right”. The Church teaches us that God is the source of blessings, and that He can withdraw these from us at anytime - whether due to our ingratitude, or to test us, or even to glorify us.

If all things have been made by God and for His sake, then God is better than what has been made by Him. The one who forsakes the greater and is engrossed in inferior things shows that he prefers the things made by God to God Himself.
St Maximos the Confessor: 400 Chapters on Love I:6

Therefore, the Christian must remember that spiritual blessings - faith and virtue - are higher than all earthly things. Only spiritual goods will help us unite us with the Creator, and only these blessings can last us all the way to eternal life. We reach eternal life with God by the path of Christian life in the body on earth. The Church prays that we make a new-years’ resolution to set out on the spiritual path:

O Master, God of all things, lead through this year which beginneth those who adorn themselves with divinely beautiful spiritual works, and who hymn Thee with faith.
Canon, ode 3.

O ye Orthodox people who now begin the year, let us set a beginning to our hymns to Christ Who reigneth over the everlasting Kingdom; and let us piously chant: O God of our fathers, blessed art Thou!
Canon, ode 7.

Nevertheless, the Church, our Mother, knows that Her children often go astray. She calls out to the Mother of God to help us sinners:

To the path of repentance guide us who are ever inclined toward evil and trackless places, and who anger our all-good Lord, O blessed Mary who knewest not wedlock, thou refuge of despairing men and habitation of God.
Sedalen

Through the prayers of the Most-Holy Mother of God, of St Symeon the Stylite and his mother, Martha, of the 40 women martyrs and all the Saints, may the coming year be blessed with spiritual goods for us all!

Read also the edifying spiritual periodical in English from the Convent of the Holy Angels, Greece.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

The transformation of Christ on Mount Tabor symbolizes the spiritual transformation that is expected of each Christian soul.

This process starts at our baptism, our spiritual birth. During our time on earth, praying at Church services, participating in confession, communion and the other Sacraments - our mind and heart gradually transform. Our thinking, understanding of life, priorities and tastes gradually change; and we acquire a taste and preference for prayer, spiritual reading and contemplation whilst here on earth, in this physical world. This is the required preparation for an eternal existence in a spiritual world with God.
For when the world ends, or when our body dies, all physical reality ends and we must exist either with good spirits (angels - in Heaven) or with evil spirits (demons - in hell). For us to be continually with our transfigured Lord it is essential to come to understand the power of His Resurrection, and then freely and voluntarily take part in His sufferings and passion (Philip. 3:10).
Before the appearance of Jesus Christ, the law and the prophets served as guidelines for moral life of people. Now God Himself witnesses in the presence of Moses and Elijah - the representatives of the Law and the prophets - that the Son of God has appeared on earth in bodily form. All people who wish to receive eternal salvation must listen to Him - “Hear Him!” (Lk 9:35) - He will open to us the true meaning of Moses’ Law and the prophets; He will announce to us a new perfect teaching, fulfilling which, we will receive eternal salvation!
Therefore if we don’t like to pray, or don’t pray; if we don’t like to go to church and read spiritual books, we are not ready to be with God in Heaven. If we like worldly entertainment, shows, sports, amusements, or any other physical occupation which steals our time and energy, then how is our soul going to be ready for Heaven? In such cases when the soul leaves its dead body and confronts God, the presence of God burns it and the soul suffers agony, instead of the joy that was intended…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Live transmission of Divine Liturgies from Holy Archangel Michael Sobor in Odessa

Vladika Agafangel has made available live transmission of Divine Services from his cathedral in Odessa, Ukraine. This initiative gives an opportunity for us in faraway Australia to remain connected to our Bishop and his cathedral services.
The Divine services channel is updated every Church feast day

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A mother’s prayer

goravski-molyashasya-staryhka.jpg In 1942 I stayed overnight with a poor peasant family in a small village of the Solets region, which at that time was occupied by the German army.
The hostess of the hut was old and ailing, but worked all day. That evening she told me about her sorrow. Four of her sons were at the front, in the Red Army. She missed them very much, and feared that she would never see them again. However, hoping in the endless mercy of the Lord, she prayed for them zealously every day.
That night I heard her Russian, motherly prayer.
I slept in the small room next to her. In the dark of the night, when her husband, the daughter-in-law and granddaughter were fast asleep, she knelt in front of the Kazan Mother of God icon, and started praying in a loud whisper.
I woke up and listened. I realised it was a prayer, and even without meaning to, I “listened in”. Every word was clearly audible. The meaning of the prayer was obvious. The praying woman’s religious mindset was flaming, pure, and deep.
Here is her prayer, nearly word for word. A prayer which impressed itself on my heart.

O Most-pure Mother, Theotokos, Most-Holy Sufferer, Virgin Mary. Hear me, the sinner, calm my motherly soul, fulfil my prayer and safekeep my children’s life – Dimitry, Alexey, Vasily and Ivan. Where are my poor little ones struggling now? Only You know, o Heavenly Queen. Save, keep and return them to me! If it is impossible to return them, then at least return two, or even just one, the youngest little one, Vaniushka. I don’t have anywhere to turn with my sorrow, except to You, o Mother of God…
You are a Mother too! You understand my motherly sorrow!
You also sorrowed and suffered, when You saw the sufferings of Your Son, Christ our God, on the Cross. What did Your soul not experience when they tortured Your Son, spat Him in the face, and beat Him with a stick on the head…?
My dear! John the Theologion lovingly took You into his home when You returned from Golgotha after the death of Your Son, Who was crucified on the Cross for us sinners…
But now we crucify Him again with our sins, we spit on His face again, and beat Him with a stick on the head again, and tear apart Your motherly heart!
The Lord was right…! He is right to punish the Russian people so harshly. He is calling us to repent and to be purified by sorrows.
We should carry our sorrows with patience and humility, in order to receive forgiveness, and lighten the sufferings of Your Son, and Your sufferings, Mother of God!
If I, the sinner, can do that, if even my sorrows are needful for You, Mistress, then accept them please, as a gift, o Queen of earth and Heaven. If it has to be that my children suffer, in order to redeem the sins of all our people, then take all my four sons….But pray to God for forgiveness for the Russian people, and have pity on all the mothers, who in their tears and motherly sorrows have forgotten about Your Motherly sorrows and Your tears, o Mother of God…!

I did not hear any more – I couldn’t listen any more to what this Russian mother whispered to the Mother of God, quieter and quieter…
My chest filled up with emotion, my heart with compunction, and I started to cry. The whispering on the other side of the wall stopped. Quiet sobbing was heard. The earthly mother prayed to the Heavenly Mother with wordless tears….
The sorrow was diluted into those tears, and imperceptibly turned into a quiet joy.
The black, sorrowful night came to its end, and a sweet, pink sunrise took its place.
In the morning, I reverently kissed the hand of this Russian mother.
She became confused - “what are you doing, Batiushka, what’s this” – and she kissed my hand in return, which I did not manage to pull away in time.
Her face was full of light, calm, clear, with holy eyes.
As she went outside, in an old and shabby coat, a young, clean-shaven and stylish German soldier passed by, and cast a disdainful glance at the poorly clad and beggarly Russian woman.
Then I remembered the words of our Russian poet, Tiutchev:

No understanding and no reverence
In the prideful look of the foreigner
For that which penetrates and mysteriously shines
Through your humble nakedness

Ivan Andreev

Monday, July 7, 2014

Service at the Monastery of St John of Shanghai, Nov 2013

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Metropolitan Agafangel
First Hierarch of the Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad

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    Sundays and feast days: Matins 730 am
    Divine Liturgy: 9 am.
    Please contact us to confirm what time Liturgy is served.
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Community of the Tabinsk Mother of God Icon

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  • Services once a month
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Annunciation of the Mother of God Women’s Monastic Community

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  • Spiritual Father: Bishop John.
  • Address: 266 Nowhere Creek Rd, Nowhere Creek, 3469
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