The Word became flesh; that is, the Son of God, co-eternal with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, became human – having become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. O, wondrous, awesome and salvific mystery! The One Who had no beginning took on a beginning according to humanity; the One without flesh assumed flesh. God became man – without ceasing to be God. The Unapproachable One became approachable to all, in the aspect of an humble servant. Why, and for what reason, was there such condescension [shown] on the part of the Creator toward His transgressing creatures – toward humanity which, through an act of its own will had fallen away from God, its Creator?
'The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.'
So reads the troparion of St Nicholas, hierarch of the Church of Myra in Lycia (now Demra in Turkey), known as 'wonderworker' and 'father' throughout the Christian world. He is beloved in the Orthodox Church, and indeed far beyond, for his kindness, almsgiving and aid, meted out both during his earthly life and after. As one of the multitude of English lives of the saint joyously proclaims, 'he is one of the best known and best loved saints of all time.' And in another: 'The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples. In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals, monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to his honour.'
The origin of the Service of the Dead (Panikhidi) is as follows: St. Macarius of Alexandria once inquired from the Angels who accompanied him an explanation of the Church's custom to celebrate the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a death by religious services. And the Angel told him: "When, on the third day, the body is brought to the Temple, the Soul of the dead man receiveth from his Guardian Angel relief from the grief which he feeleth at parting from his body. This he receiveth because of the oblation and praise which are offered for him in God's Church, whence there ariseth in him a blessed hope. For during the space of two days the Soul is permitted to wander at will over the earth, with the Angels which accompany it. Therefore the Soul, since it loveth its body, sometimes hovereth around the house in which it parted from the body; sometimes around the coffin wherein its body hath been placed: and thus it passeth those days like a bird which seeketh for itself a nesting-place. But the beneficent Soul wandereth through those places where it was wont to perform deeds of righteousness.
Commentary on Luke, Sermons 141 and 142
22:7-16. Then came the day of unleavened bread, on which it was fitting for the passover to be sacrificed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare for us the passover, that we may eat. And they said to Him, Where will You that we prepare? And He said to them, Behold, when you have entered into the city, there shall meet you a man carrying a pitcher of water: follow him to the house into which he enters. And say to the master of the house, The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest-chamber, where I may eat the passover with My disciples? And he will show you a large upper room, provided with couches; there make ready. And they went, and found as He said to them; and they made ready the passover. And when the time was come, He lay down to meat, and the twelve apostles with Him. And He said to them, I have desired a desire to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for 1 say to you, that henceforth I twill not eat of it, until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
The law by its shadows prefigured from of old the mystery of Christ: and of this He is Himself the witness where He said to the Jews, If you had believed Moses, you would have believed also Me: for he wrote concerning Me. For everywhere He is set forth, by means of shadows and types, both as slain for us, as the Lamb without blame and true; and as sanctifying us by His life-giving blood. And we further find the words of the holy prophets in complete accordance with those of most wise Moses. But when the fullness of time was come, as Paul says, in which the Only-begotten Word of God was about to submit to the emptying of Himself, and to endure the birth in the flesh of a woman, and subjection also to the law, according to the measure that was fitting for human nature, then He was also sacrificed for us, as the lamb without blame and true, on the fourteenth day of the first month. And this feast-time was called Phasek, a word belonging to the Hebrew language, and signifying the passing over: for so they explain it, and say that this is its meaning.
This Sunday we commemorate the great female ascetic St. Mary of Egypt. There are so many things we can learn from St. Mary. The Church gives her to us during this time of fasting as the supreme example of a life of asceticism. Last Sunday was the Sunday of St. John Climacus whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is the supreme ascetical text, and this week we have St. Mary of Egypt who shows us the supreme ascetical life. We even read her entire life during the Great Canon of St. Andrew this past Thursday, so you know that she is incredibly important. There are so many things we can learn from her—but the thing I want to focus on is the remembrance of sins. I think that when we are tempted to sin we like to justify it to ourselves saying “I’ll just do this now, it won’t be a big deal, I can confess it later”—but this is precisely what the devil wants us to think. Before we fall he tries to convince us that our sin is no big deal, and afterwards he tries to drive us to despair over the sin we have just committed. But as we see from the life of St. Mary, sin never has just an immediate, temporary effect—the consequences stay with us. She lived a debaucherous, lustful life of iniquity for seventeen years, but upon her dramatic conversion she fled into the desert to flee the temptations that beset her and to dedicate her life to Christ in prayer and fasting. She was in the desert for forty-seven years before she met St. Zosimas, and as she tells him, for seventeen of those years she was continually haunted by the memories of her sins—of the rich food and alcohol she consumed, of the trashy songs she used to sing, and especially of the lustful deeds she used to commit. And she says these lustful memories and temptations were like a fire raging within her. The Church Fathers even say that when we die, our soul will remember every sinful deed it ever committed. This is a heavy teaching, a hard saying. The thought of this is simply terrifying. If we really, truly believed this and had this in our heart, then it would be very hard to transgress again. And this is why the Church teaches us to remember our sins and remember death.