4/18/20 – Great and Holy Saturday
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Prominent in the Liturgical Services of Great and Holy Friday/Saturday is the epitaphios icon depicting the dead body of the Lord laid upon His burial cloth or shroud. With bitter sorrow the Theotokos holds her Son closely in a cheek to cheek embrace. Those present at the crucifixion and death are visible, along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. A beautiful hymn recalls the event: “The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in fine linen and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.” (Troparion of Holy Saturday).
During the singing of the Canon of Holy Saturday the Liturgy poignantly recalls the sorrowful yet watchful and expectant hope of the Theotokos: “Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and love.” At this point the epitaphios is solemnly placed on the Holy Table (altar) where it will remain throughout the paschal season as a reminder of the burial cloth left in the empty tomb (John 20:5).
Today the Church commemorates the Lord’s rest in the tomb. Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, seeing all that He had made was good, so too the Lord rests after His great work of re-creation. For this reason Holy Saturday is called the Blessed Sabbath. And yet the Lord’s “rest” is a joyful and triumphant proclamation. In Byzantine Christianity the Resurrection icon is actually the icon of Holy Saturday which depicts the Lord’s descent among the dead to liberate the souls of those awaiting their redemption. Therefore, the “rest” of the Lord is a saving event; the first fruits of His death. And His tomb is not a place of darkness and despair, but rather a powerful source of light and hope. Vespers of Great and Holy Saturday, followed by the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, inaugurates our liturgical transition from sorrow into paschal joy. The fifteen readings from the Old Testament recapitulate all of salvation history; the inspired record of the ancient messianic hopes of Israel. Central to the story is the Exodus event; the liberation of ancient Israel from slavery into freedom. We are God’s people. We are all Israel, both ancient and new. But each individual soul is a Temple of the Holy Spirit and hence, the people of God – the Church – in microcosm. In these challenging times may each one of us find our own unique place and role within the great story told in the readings of the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil today. May we be willing, by God’s grace, to live our Baptism and Chrismation in which we died with Christ in order to rise with Him to new life. In the silence of this day may we prepare our hearts to proclaim the paschal hymn: “Thy Resurrection O Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing. Enable us on earth to glorify Thee in purity of heart.”
4/17/20 – Great and Holy Friday
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Throughout this week Eastern Christians remember and celebrate what Western Christians celebrated last week; namely the paschal mystery or the events that constitute our salvation.
As I have often mentioned over the years in my talks and homilies, the mystery of creation, redemption and sanctification is truly a great love story. It is the story of uncreated divine love calling created humanity to enter into the drama of an extraordinary relationship. This relationship is grounded in belief and trust that culminates in a transforming union of love which we call theosis (partaking in the divine nature by grace).
Tragically, the story of God’s plan for our union with Him is also the story of human refusal or rejection of His love. That rejection, recorded in the Book of Genesis, brought about an alienation of our first parents from God; an alienation that introduced death – both physical and spiritual – into human experience.
Nevertheless, human failure to respond to God’s love – and the consequences of that failure – are not the end of the story. There is, already in Genesis, the hope and the promise of the triumph of divine love. In fulfillment of that promise God Himself enters into the human story through the Incarnation. It is not a “new” plan. Rather, after the fall of our first parents, the original creative plan of God necessarily becomes a saving plan as well. Through His kenosis (voluntary humiliation or self emptying) the Lord restores the hope of theosis for all. He re-tells, so to speak, the story of Genesis with a new beginning. As the New Adam he replaces the pride and disobedience of Adam with His own obedience (conformity of human intellect and will) to the divine will and to God’s loving plan for us.
All of this is manifested and accomplished in the mystery of the Cross; in the betrayal by Judas which the Church remembered yesterday and in the Lord’s passion, crucifixion, death and burial in the tomb which the Church remembers and liturgically commemorates today. The Lord suffers death on our behalf in order to conquer and destroy death and to restore our life.
Thus, the Cross is “Life Giving”. It is for us already the victory of love over hatred, of holiness over evil, of light over darkness and of life even over death itself. Nevertheless, our commemoration and liturgical re-actualization of the events of Great and Holy Friday invites us to enter into the pain, separation and darkness of those events.
The very fact that we cannot worship together this year – along with all the other sufferings of the coronavirus pandemic – make our Great and Holy Friday more “real” than merely intellectual or devotional. It also invites us to restore within ourselves, even in the midst of darkness and separation, a renewed belief and trust in our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who continues to call us to theosis; the great mystery of love for Him and for one another.
3/18/20 – Directives regarding OLF
Dear Parishioners and Friends of Our Lady of Fatima Church,
Praised be Jesus Christ.
We find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis during this year’s observance of Great and Holy Lent. In accordance with current Archdiocesan instructions, and directives from the City and County of San Francisco, all Liturgical Services at our Lady of Fatima are suspended until further notice.
This is a challenging time for all of us.
Sometimes the best Lenten discipline consists not in things we ourselves determine and control, but rather in the acceptance of difficult circumstances in our lives that we can’t control.
At this time may our trust and absolute confidence in God’s providential care help us to grow in virtue and wisdom and goodness. You are all in my daily prayers. With the Lord’s help we shall all get through this.
God’s blessings and peace to all,