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Fr. NicolaieReflection

The Gospel According to Matthew 2:13–23

“She refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”

By Fr. Nicolaie Atitienei

 How can the joy of the nativity touch the sorrow that cannot be consoled anymore?
  God hides in Egypt while the innocents are dying? I remember this question coming from a child a few years ago. Why does God allow that to happen? Was it because He was born that they died? I heard the same question from older people this year on Christmas day, people who do not go to church but because of their age start to see the reasonableness of the gospel today, in a world that has lost its meaning. Older people start to rediscover the innocence of children, asking the right questions, with a desire to believe that somehow goodness will prevail.
  In reality, even as we speak, the joy of the Nativity seems to be less present in our hearts while the skepticism and anger of the world are predominant and steadily growing. We have reason to be angry, because we live in a time when people are hurting themselves and each other. The loss that could not be consoled is turning into anger that looks for vengeance, while the pain becomes bigger and the wound deeper. Nothing satisfies that.
  It was always the power of death that made the “kings of the world” strong and undefeated in the eyes of the poor. They can take a life easily with no justification.
  They harm you to show their power. They take from you people whom you love in ways that are diverse. They teach us to do the same with each other. Their oppression was as real at the time of Herod as it is today. A feeling of hopelessness and anger is taking over the hearts of the people. We see that today, with the authorities make laws that enable them to do that, and we feel more vulnerable and more alone and more ready to die without cause. The only thing we have left seems to be the justification of our inner anger that does not seize the pain, but rather makes us look like cowards because we do not act on it. It seems that the spirits that run rampant today in the streets are winning.
  During the procession this year at the Refuge, we found out that God becomes human and He shares in the sorrow that cannot be comforted by man. (see the original Huron Carol below.) This is the miracle at Christmas and during the year, while the sorrow that cannot receive comfort is shared with Christ. There is no more loneliness because “God is at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul”(Psalm 109:31). Rachel cries alone because nobody can feel her pain. Nobody was sharing the sorrow. “And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Psalm 69:20).
  Today, the joy of the Nativity is born out of this encounter between the one who cannot be consoled with the one who can feel her pain and console her. He shared in this pain from the time he lost to death the man He loved. And so, through Christ, those who have the experience of inconsolable loss learn to comfort the loss of others. We are called to be part of this encounter in order to heal our anger.
Icon, Holy Innocents  We might have found ourselves close to people’s sorrows that cannot be consoled.We might have experienced losses in our lives, smaller or greater. We know the hopelessness that comes with that, and we know the tendency to keep that alone within the heart. Nativity tells us that God is with us, it is time to open the heart and to receive comfort. By doing so we become witnesses today for the authorities that there is nothing they can take away that cannot be consoled by Christ.
  Christ does not teach us to forget what we lost. He does not teach us to replace the loss with a new reality that is as fragile as the one before. He does not give us guaranties that what we have now will last forever. Within time, that is not possible. He enlarges our heart so we can love what is temporary and fragile and remember the loss in prayer with Him. It is not through its length that time touches on eternity, but rather through its moments which are deep and real in manifestation of the uncreated light that we see at Nativity with our own eyes. Every moment of time opens into eternity, while its length is as an old cloth that will eventually become completely worn out.
  It is the experience of the community at St John’s to witness this love for what is not perfect and which can be lost tomorrow while gifted today. The asceticism of the open doors brings this news of the sorrow that cannot be consoled yet is shared by Christ. At times, we are given to experience the loss that is irreplaceable, at times to receive the comfort of seeing others healed or comforted in their pain. The evil spirit of today is powerless when we learn that we can love God with all our soul and all our heart. This is the time for us to experience this freedom. This comforts the soul and heals the encounters between us.
  This evil time today is teaching us to fall in love with Christ and with everything that He loves in humanity. Because God is with us.

St. John the Compassionate Mission, Toronto, 1 January 2023

———

Wendat Carol (original verses from 1642)
Take courage every human for Jesus Christ is born.
The spirit that enslaved us has left the woods, is gone.
So stop your ears, don’t let your thoughts be weakened by this spirit dark.
  Chorus: Jesus Ahtonia, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria
The sky people are coming with message great and rare.
Be on top of life, rejoice, at Mary’s child most fair.
Three such have left for such a place, they are important men of place
  Chorus: Jesus Ahtonia...
Above the trees a star appears to lead them to the place
where Jesus born is resting on Mary’s lap and face.
This child do they come and greet, his name they can’t stop to repeat.
  Chorus: Jesus Ahtonia...
With reverence they do oil his head, his goodness they exclaim.
How good he is to come to them and as his family claim
he has come for us to care, our griefs and loves with us to share.

Reflection

(Excerpts from St Basil Homily 23: On the Holy Martyr Mamas)

St. MamasThe Church is founded upon such fathers of truth [as Mamas]. Do you see how in keeping this feast people are honoring virtue and not riches? The Church honors those who formerly led us forward so that they might continue to exhort us in the present. “Let us not aspire to wealth for ourselves,” the martyr says, “or to the unreliable wisdom of the world, or to passing glory. Such things vanish with this life. Be a holy laborer, for this is what you will take with you to heaven, leaving behind an immortal memory and acquiring permanent fame.” So then, if such is the memorial of a shepherd, let us not worship wealth. For we have gathered to praise one who had no wealth at all. Let us not go home marveling at one who was rich, but at one who had both poverty and piety. A shepherd is of virtually no significance. He has no appreciable skill. Wouldn’t you be insulted if someone provoked you by asking, “Are you a shepherd?” A shepherd possesses nothing more than his daily food, a leather satchel, a staff, and whatever he needs for that day, with no thought for the next. He shuns crowds, flees legal entanglements, knows nothing of flattery, business, or wealth. He has no roof over his head, living out under the open sky, gazing up to heaven at night and learning to know the Creator from the wonder of the stars. A shepherd: let us not be ashamed of the truth, nor imitate the pagan myth-makers who embellish the truth with elegant trappings. We have here a humble man, a poor shepherd, the pride of Christians. If our father in faith is such as this, a teacher of those who seek piety, well then, so were the disciples – fisherman and tax collectors. No one was rich. No one was illustrious. All were of no account in the eyes of the world. This is the kind of person we celebrate today – one we are delighted to honor, one we love so much that (we at St. John Mission) alter our lives for his sake.

By John Sanidopoulos, johnsanidopoulos.com/2019/09/by-honoring-saint-mamas-one-honors.html

 

Eliana’s Baptism

Our friend Eliana was baptized on the Sunday after Theophany, January 9, 2022. Eliana is originally from Guatemala. She has been saying the ‘Our Father’ in Spanish during the liturgy for the last couple of years, and attended all the catechumenate classes. She is one of the faithful members of our community who has been regularly attending all our services, including during the week. She has never missed our Bridges sessions on Wednesday evenings, or our reflections on the Gospel after the sixth hour on days when the Mission is open.
While being a single mother, Eliana always finds time to care for the elderly in our neighbourhood. Every week she brings names to the proskomidia table so we can pray for them during the liturgy. She also takes holy water from church to bring it to those in need for holiness in their lives. She has a heart which has seen much, because she has loved much. Her heart was renewed on that Sunday through the grace of baptism, a rare gift that our community was given to witness and receive so that her new prayer can become our prayer, and her joy can become our joy in Christ Jesus.
Father Nicolaie

Baptism of Eliana
For more photos, see the album.

Catechumen Bradley

After a time of discernment and prayer, Bradley was received into the order of the catechumenate during the sunday Liturgy, January 16, 2022.

Catechumen Bradley

Elisha’s Chrismation

On Lazaros Saturday, Elisha was chrismated. She first came to our community around six years ago. She returned during the pandemic, and became a catechumen. She cannot be with us for long stretches of time, because of a physical condition. However, you can find her at times praying in silence in the chapel, early in the morning, almost weekly. She prays for us, and for those the community cares for. She has a deep understanding and love for those who are vulnerable. She keeps them in her prayers all the time. Elisha also writes short reflections on the scripture as part of her learning of faith journey. Some of her writing was shared in the bulletins or newsletter. Some reflections on the Psalms were read during our Psalms teachings on Tuesdays.
Through her chrismation, we were given to witness the gospel at the Mission. Elisha chose the “life and the resurrection” (“I am the resurrection and the life,” John 11:1–45, the gospel on Saturday), during a time when our culture tempts us with death. Her choice is not a temporary one, but one that gives us a glimpse of what Christ prepared for those who love Him.
In general, we suffer today because of a lack of commitment to good things. Elisha’s choice becomes a living witness for us. Her prayer guides us, because she knows well the One she prays to. She knows Him from the reality of her life, and she knows Him from the lives of those she prays for.

Elisha Chrismation

Zachary’s Chrismation

Zachary was chrismated on Holy Saturday, 2022. He has a gentle and honest heart in a strong body, with a genuine desire to acquire the gift of prayer. We discovered all this when he spent some time with us at St. Mary’s Refuge over the summer, together with other cathehumens. The work he did in the forest became a testimony of his character – just as the time spent in prayer in the chapel and the common reflections on the scripture we shared within the community revealed to us his inclination toward silence and prayer.
When he has time, Zachary spends a day with us at the Mission, helping with anything we need. He studied philosophy, and as with any spirit who loves wisdom, Zachary balanced this out with handyman skills. The work and prayer makes him happy. We know how to take advantage of this.
His desire to be in the church came as a result of his reflective and inquiring nature. However, his choice became personal as he discovered the praxis of it. Zachary’s chrismation on Holy Saturday really feels like this is the beginning of something new that is going to open and sanctify his life. Because of his integrity, he will pursue what is revealed to him in Truth.
Zachary is a real witness for the new generation, on how to find the light and keep it, in a time when confusion, hypocrisy, and superficiality come across as shiny ‘realities’ worthy of living. He gives them hope, and he gives us joy.

Zachary Chrismation
 

Books for Sale at the Mission

St. John’s Mission has a wealth of new books available for purchase, with subjects including Orthodox spirituality, saints, and theology. Here’s a sample lists (approx. 1 Mbyte each), or come to 155 Broadview and enjoy browsing at your leisure:

 
 
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