Faith and Confession: A Homily for July 12, 2020

Imagine you’re growing a vegetable in a garden, such as a broccoli plant. If it’s hot out, it needs enough water to survive.

Let’s say that it’s getting just the right amount of water. Then if all is well, it will produce broccoli heads, which you can roast with garlic or do whatever you like with them. It produces food for you, that’s the main thing.

Now, let’s say that you’re providing the plant everything it needs, except you’re a bit spotty on watering. What’s going to happen? The plant is wilty and will not produce a broccoli head. Eventually you’ll decide to pull up the plant—what good is it taking up space in my garden when I can plant something else there that will actually produce vegetables for me?

This situation illustrates what St. Paul is explaining to the Christians in Rome in today’s Epistle reading.

“…If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Such faith of the heart leads to uprightness; such profession of the lips to salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10).

Regarding our hypothetical broccoli plant, water represents faith, faith that runs deep to the roots of our being and fills our heart, the center of our convictions, the very core of our person.

St. Paul affirms that there is one path to salvation: belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ with all your “heart, soul, mind, and strength.” There is one way to like an upright, holy life: through faith that penetrates into our deepest convictions.

The broccoli head represents the public confession of our faith, that “Jesus is Lord”—that is, that He is truly God, the Son of God, “begotten, not made, by Whom all things were made.” As a vegetable grows by receiving enough water, so does our public confession of Jesus Christ grow by having faith in His resurrection.

When we truly believe in Christ’s resurrection with all our being, then that produces fruit in our lives—we then live the faith, and Christ’s resurrection shines through our words and actions.

When we have faith in the resurrection of Christ and confesses this faith, we trust in God’s mercy that we will be saved. As St. Paul affirms,

“Such faith of the heart leads to uprightness; such profession of the lips to salvation.”

But what does it really look like to believe in Christ’s resurrection? What does confessing Him with our lips really look like?

What does this look like as I do my work, raise the kids, go to an exercise class, chat with a neighbor, take care of an aging parent? How might we describe faith and confession in the context of everyday life?

***

Let’s return for a moment to our hypothetical broccoli plant. If it gets the right amount of water, with everything else it needs, then it will produce broccoli heads.

Let’s say that I watered the plant from above for maybe a few seconds. Maybe I was more thorough, and the water soaked the ground below, giving the roots plenty of moisture. But then I left it alone and didn’t water it for a few weeks. What do you think would happen?

It would shrivel up and die.

And so it goes with faith in Christ’s resurrection. If I recite the Nicene Creed once a week, but fail to live as though Christ is actually risen from the dead, then do I really have faith in His resurrection?

An early Church Father wisely puts it this way:

“What would it profit me to know and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? If I should not have Him raised within myself, if I neither ‘walk in newness of life’ [Rom. 6:4] nor flee from the old habit of sinning, Christ has not yet resurrected from the dead to me.”

Powerful words. If I continue to live according to my fallen human nature, according to my bad habits, my passions, then Christ is not actually risen from the dead to me. I live as if there was no resurrection, being content to live according to my habitual sins.

Then I would live contrary to my baptism, in which I died with Christ and was raised with Him so that I could “walk in newness of life.”

If I continue to dwell on lustful thoughts at the park, feelings of resentment at work, continued anger at my spouse or children, lashing out at others in my thoughts or words, then I have not died to the “old man,” my fallen human nature.

This would be like watering the plant once on the leaves, for a few seconds. The water doesn’t have a chance to get to the roots, and so it bears no fruit. If our faith in Christ doesn’t reach down to our hearts and stay there, then we spiritually shrivel up and bear no fruit.

If I don’t “walk in newness of life” nor flee from the old habit of sinning, then I cannot expect that a one-time belief in Christ’s resurrection will lead to living an upright, truly Christian life.

***

Likewise, if I say one time, “Jesus is Lord,” but then live as if I am Lord, as if I am my own highest power, then can I really say that that profession of faith will save me? Wouldn’t it be an empty utterance, words with no weight?

Confessing Jesus as Lord means asking Him to be the Lord and Master of my life not only now, not in one moment, but later today, tomorrow, when I take my kids to the park, when I spend time with family, when I go to the grocery store, when I just can’t handle that one person anymore, when I’m alone in my room.

Confessing Jesus as Lord means not only making the verbal statement that He is Lord, as we do during the Nicene Creed or in the Jesus Prayer, but means speaking this truth through the entirety of our lives—through all our words, thoughts, and actions.

“Such profession of the lips [leads] to salvation” when all my actions are aligned with my verbal profession of faith.

For Jesus does not say that we are saved by faith alone; He declares that at the Last Judgment, “The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with the angels; and then He shall render to every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27).

And as St. John writes in Revelation, “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12).

So if I’m going to say “Jesus is Lord,” I have to back it up with my life, I have to live according to Christ’s Gospel commandments.

Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Some of them? No. All of them? Yes. That’s how we show that we truly believe that He is our Resurrected Lord.

So confessing Jesus as Lord means not only making a verbal profession of our Orthodox Christian faith, but it means living according to that faith, acting, thinking, speaking, doing that which is according to the way of life that Jesus Christ commanded us to live.

***

This is a continuous process. You water the plant, but then again, and again, and again. You pick the broccoli head, then again and again. When it receives water and everything else it needs, it produces food for you.

“Such faith of the heart leads to uprightness; such profession of the lips to salvation.”

This is a continuous process, as the Greek in this verse suggests. Belief in the resurrection is something we continue to grow in—we ask God to “increase our faith” as the Apostles did (Luke 17:5).

Likewise, confessing Jesus as Lord of our lives is also something we grow in—we ask God to permeate our lives, all our thoughts and actions. For God knows the heart, He knows if I truly believe that He is Lord or if deep I operate as if I believe that I am Lord.

Salvation is therefore not a one-time event, but is a continuous process that lasts our entire lives, and even after our lives. Our spiritual growth begins in this life with our profession of faith in Christ’s resurrection and our confession of Jesus as Lord, but then continues throughout all the challenges and joys that life brings, through all our spiritual failures and victories, at the gas station, at home, at the park, in our exercise class, at work, whatever we are doing and whoever we are interacting with.

All of these situations are opportunities for us to live according to our faith that Christ is truly risen from the dead, and not only objectively, but in me, that He has raised me from death to “newness of life.”

And then, all of these situations, all of our lives become a proclamation of Jesus’ Lordship; then, all of our lives are opportunities to bear spiritual fruit, to grow in uprightness, in righteous living, doing good works as a sign of my faith, even as a broccoli plant produces food by having enough water.

May the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit grant us this “faith of the heart [that] leads to uprightness” and this “profession of the lips [that leads] to salvation,” today and all the days of our lives. Amen.

The Persian Sage on Prayer

It is not uncommon to find apparent contradictions in the writings of the Church Fathers. Sometimes their words may seem paradoxical, with the appearance of simultaneously asserting two contradictory positions. If this was unintentional in other writers, I have a hunch that St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage reveled in the tension of paradox, much like his younger contemporary, St. Ephrem.

As we last discussed the Persian Sage’s perspectives on fasting, and there being several days of the Apostles’ Fast left, today we will look at what he has to say about prayer. His Demonstration on prayer follows the one on fasting, and the two themes, with almsgiving/works of mercy, constitute the three major spiritual disciplines during fasting seasons in the Orthodox Church.

St. Aphrahat seems to support two apparently contradictory assertions about prayer: first, that it is found in silence, inaction; second, that it is found in deeds, action. Whatever tension that exists between the two modes of prayer is certainly not an issue for him, as he makes no effort to release this tension by giving an extended explanation. He just lets the tension exist and assumes his reader can sort it out.

To begin his Demonstration on prayer, St. Aphrahat says,

“Purity of heart is a prayer more excellent than all prayers uttered in a loud voice, and silence, combined with a pure mind, surpasses the loud voice of the person who cries out.”

Demonstration 4: On Prayer (4.1; Lehto translation)

As is his way, he provides a whole slew of Scriptural examples, beginning with Abel, all the way up to Daniel: the whole course of the Old Testament. His point is to show “how prayer was for them a pure offering.”

Now what is curious is that in all his examples, the Biblical characters do not actually, on first appearance, exemplify his assertion at the beginning of his Demonstration that pure prayer is primarily through silence, quiet, an inward purity of heart. Rather, he shows that pure prayer is linked to action: the sacrifices of Abel, Manoah, Abraham, Solomon, Elijah: the miracles that came about through the prayers of Moses, Hannah, Asa, Hezekiah, Jonah, the Three Holy Youths, and Daniel. Finally he writes, “Each of our righteous fathers, at the time when tribulation came upon him, put on the armor of prayer, and through it was delivered from tribulation” (4.9).

So at this point of his Demonstration, St. Aphrahat seems to have joined “action” to “silence” in his portrayal of pure prayer. Prayer is therefore not only an interior dialogue with God, but is manifest in the actions of those who love God, and particularly in those who call on Him in their hour of greatest need, in faith. Their actions were borne out of purity of heart, which to St. Aphrahat, is prayer.

St. Aphrahat then returns to his first theme—prayer as an interior, silent, mystical experience:

“Why, my friend, did our Savior teach and say, ‘Pray to your Father in secret while the door is closed’?… This is what the word of our Savior shows us: pray in secret in your heart, and close the door. What door did he say to close, if not your mouth? For this is the temple in which Christ dwells, as the Apostle says, ‘You are the temple of the Lord,’ so that he might enter into your inner man, this house, and purify it from every impurity, while the door (the mouth) is closed.”

Demonstration 4.10

Naturally, he explains, the Savior’s injunction has nothing to do with a literal door, or else those out in the country or on a mountain wouldn’t be able to pray, there being no door there. Rather, he explains, prayer is an interior indwelling of God’s very Presence.

Reflecting on the Lord’s words, “At the place where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them,” he continues,

“When a person gathers his soul in the name of Christ, Christ lives in him, and God lives in Christ. Thus, he becomes one of the three persons: himself, Christ who lives in him, and God who lives in Christ, as our Lord said: ‘I am in my Father and my Father is in me.’ And He said, ‘I and my Father are one.’ And again He said, ‘You are in me and I am in you.’ Again, He said through the prophet, ‘I will live in them and I will walk with them.’ It is in this way that you can understand this word which our Life-Giver spoke.”

Demonstration 4.11

Again, for the Persian Sage, prayer is a secret, inner reality. “As I have explained to you above, when you pray, direct your heart upward, and your eyes downward, and enter into the midst of your inner person, and pray in secret to your Father in heaven” (4.13).

Pause. In the Post-Enlightenment West, we might be concerned and confused that St. Aphrahat is holding to several definitions or illustrations of prayer that might at first glance seem mutually-exclusive: prayer is silence, yet prayer is action, borne out of purity of heart: prayer is sacrifice, yet prayer is a divine indwelling.

Yet he joyfully exclaims that prayer is all these things. As another Orthodox saint once succinctly said, “Prayer is God.” Prayer defies simple explanations, which is why he revels in the tension between action and contemplation.

Prayer is all these things. For St. Aphrahat, it seems that nearly anything in the Bible that reflects love for God and faith in Him can be identified as prayer. His ever-expanding definition of prayer finds another facet in a comment he gives on Isaiah 28:12, “This is My rest: give rest to the weary.” He writes, “give rest to the weary, visit the sick, and provide for the poor: this is prayer. I will persuade you, my friend, that whenever a person brings about the rest of God, it is prayer” (4.14).

“Whenever a person brings about the rest of God, it is prayer.” How dearly our broken world needs this rest of God! How dearly our broken world needs people of prayer!

For St. Aphrahat, prayer comprises the entirety of the Christian life. Prayer is entering into the secret place in the heart, yet prayer is also keeping the commandment of love in action. Ultimately, prayer is doing God’s will, in whichever circumstances we find ourselves in, like the multitude of the righteous fathers and mothers in the Old Covenant.

“Prayer is accepted when it provides rest, and heard when forgiveness is found in it. Prayer is cherished when it is free from all deceptions, and powerful when it is perfected by the might of God. I have written to you, my friend, that a person should do the will of God, and that this is prayer.”

Demonstration 4.16

In these strange times, when it seems as though Satan’s primary weapons against the Church have been division, a weakening of zeal, despair, lack of concern for one’s salvation, and most importantly, a disruption of the Church’s cycle of prayer, it is imperative to our spiritual survival to keep St. Aphrahat’s exhortation to diligence in prayer in the entirety of our lives. As the Persian Sage has shown, prayer can be anything, as long as it is according to the will of God.

“Be vigilant by day and by night,” he lovingly writes, “and do not become discouraged” (4.16).

The Persian Sage on Fasting

In my last post, An Introduction to Fasting, I presented the basics of fasting from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Fasting is a tool we have in our spiritual toolbox to teach us to say “no” to ourselves.

And yet, as St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage notes, “There are many ways to undertake a fast.” In this reflection, we will examine what this vastly under-appreciated saint has to say about fasting.

St. Aphrahat lived in the Persian Empire in the fourth century, which explains his fantastic appellation, “the Persian Sage.” His lack of popularity in the Orthodox Church certainly does not reflect the quality of his writings, as his twenty-three Demonstrations show a grasp of the Bible and Christian teaching as masterful as any Greek or Latin Father. The fault for his absence from the canon of Patristic writings is rather due to his language and location: writing in Syriac (Aramaic) in the Persian Empire, his works did not easily find their way through the Greek-speaking, Eastern Roman Empire, and have only recently been fully translated into English. (Eight of his Demonstrations in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series may be found here.)

At any rate, back to what St. Aphrahat has to say about fasting. “There are many ways to undertake a fast.” Apart from abstinence from meat, wine, certain foods, and what seems to be hint at sexual abstinence, he continues,

“There is also one who fasts by building a fence around his mouth, so as to avoid speaking hateful words, and there is one who abstains from anger, who crushes his desire [to get angry] so that he might not be conquered [by it].”

Demonstration 3: On Fasting (3.1), Lehto translation

This gets to the main purpose of fasting as found in the Byzantine hymnography for Great Lent: that we not consume our brother, that we abstain from sin. This, for St. Aphrahat, is a true fast—the combination of bodily fasting and abstinence from sin. “And [finally], there is the one who brings together all of these practices and makes them one fast.”

What do we gain if we abstain from eating meat but consume our brother with angry words? What benefit is it to us if we forego eating cheese and dairy but lash out in anger at others?

During this fasting season we would do well to take to heart St. Aphrahat’s encouragement to keep the fast not only in a physical way, but in a higher, spiritual way as well, especially as regards the words we speak:

“If, indeed, a person abstains from bread and water, let him not mix insults and curses with his fast. For there is only one door to your house, which is the temple of God, and it is not appropriate, O human, that manure and mud should leave by this door through which the king enters. For when a person fasts from all these vile things, and receives the body and blood of Christ, let him keep watch over his mouth, through which the Son of the King enters.”

Demonstration 3: On Fasting (3.2)

In St. Aphrahat’s view, pure fasting is therefore much more comprehensive than simply what we eat and drink: it is fasting with the totality of our being—body, soul, and spirit—to “[bring] together all of these practices and [make] them one fast.” What we eat, think, feel, say, and do, should all be vetted by the person who desires to practice pure fasting.

According to St. Aphrahat, pure fasting, true fasting, is not only from food and water, but also requires fasting from sin with purity of heart, repentance, faith, commitment to prayer, and keeping the Law of love (love God, love others, period).

It is this understanding of fasting that should be the lens through which we conceive of and interact with other people during these strange and highly challenging times, during which falls the Apostles’ Fast. We “mix insults and curses” with our fast when we deride those whom we disagree with. We defile the Temple of the Living God with fresh, steaming manure when we go from receiving the Holy Eucharist to speaking or thinking evil of others. Our fast is to be a comprehensive fast: not only from food and drink, but also from sin, lest we be conquered by our passions.

Our model of fasting, as St. Aphrahat reminds us at the close of his third Demonstration, should be that of Our Lord in the wilderness: we will encounter temptations, we can feel like we’re being clobbered by demons, the temptation to speak evil of others may be overwhelming, yet the Godman Jesus Christ shows us that through pure fasting we also can be victorious over sin.

“…Our Lifegiver, our Lord Jesus Christ… has suffered, and has been tempted in the flesh which he has received from us, and can therefore assist those who are tempted. For he fasted on our behalf, and has conquered our Enemy. He has commanded us to fast and to keep watch at all times, so that by the power of pure fasting, we might attain his rest.”

Demonstration 3: On Fasting (3.16)

An Introduction to Fasting

From the earliest days of the Church, fasting has been an integral part of Christian spiritual discipline. The Didache, an early Christian catechetical document (1st/2nd century AD), explains that while the Jews fast on Monday and Thursday (referring to them as “the hypocrites” of Matt. 6:16), the Christians instead fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

This should not be surprising for Orthodox Christians, as this practice of weekly fasting has continued down to the present day: every Wednesday and Friday, apart from non-fasting periods, Orthodox Christians should strive to keep a vegan fast as they are able.

In addition, certain periods of fasting have developed over the centuries of Christian life to prepare us for certain feasts; thus, we keep a forty-day fast in preparation for the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas), a forty-day fast (plus Holy Week) in preparation for Great and Holy Pascha (Easter), a fast of varying length in preparation for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), and a two-week fast in preparation for the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15).

These fasts are mostly aimed at limiting the kinds and amount of food eaten. There are only a handful of days in the Church year in which we are encouraged to keep a strict fast, eating and drinking absolutely nothing. For the rest of the fasting days, whether on Wednesdays and Fridays or during fasting seasons, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to 1) keep a vegan fast, 2) limit the amount of food we eat, and 3) keep our food simple and inexpensive, so as to have more money on hand to give to those in need.

And although we’re eating some food during these fasting seasons, these fasts can be very difficult to keep as the days and weeks go on. It’s easy to get bogged down, to slip up, even to give up. It can become difficult to see the purpose of our efforts.

Lest we view fasting as a meaningless “requirement,” an arbitrary box to tick off because the Church said so, or even a practice that only serves to bolster self-righteousness, we should remember that fasting is itself a tool, an item in our spiritual toolbox to help keep us from sin.

If fasting is a tool, what is its purpose? Jackhammers break up concrete and screwdrivers drive a screw into something. They have a purpose.

The purpose of fasting is to practice denying ourselves, to learn to say “no” to ourselves. It might not seem like a big deal, saying no to a snack in the mid-afternoon of a fasting day, or choosing to make mujadara (one of my favorites) instead of grilling burgers; but practicing saying “no” to ourselves exercises our “no” muscle for other situations: when we want to talk behind someone’s back, when we are tempted by something on the internet, when we want to lash out at someone in anger. The more we work that “no” muscle in fasting, the stronger we will be against temptations, with God’s strength.

This brings us to an important point: fasting isn’t just about self-denial—it’s about self-denial while seeking the Lord’s strength. If we can rely on the Lord’s strength to help us when we’re hungry, or when we want ice cream, then we’ll be better suited, more accustomed to seek His strength when temptations present themselves. Because they will.

As we begin this Apostles Fast, leading us to the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on the 29th, may we exercise this muscle of self-denial, seeking God’s strength to say “no” to ourselves. Then, may Our Lord Jesus Christ protect us from every temptation that comes our way.

Come, O faithful!
With great fervor, having the mighty weapon of the fast as a shield,
Let us turn away all charms of the Enemy.
Let us not be scorched by the sweetness of our passions,
Nor fear the fires of temptations,
For Christ the lover of mankind will crown us with honor for patience.
Let us fall down, praying with boldness, and crying out:
Asking peace for our souls and great mercy.

From Monday Vespers in the first week of Great Lent

Suggested reading: Matthew 4:1-3, 6:16-18, 17:14-21; Luke 5:33-39; 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 8:8-13

Image: “Christ in the Desert,” Ivan Kramskoi, 1872

Ascending the Beatitudes with Martynov and Nyssa

A lilting melody of only five notes rises and falls, swells and relents, until at last it begins all over again. Sublimity in simplicity. Yet in each successive verse, the other voices transition from harmonizing droning notes, gradually, to lofty, glorious, shifting chords, yet each chord only serves to accentuate the beauty of the melody. As the lilting melody progresses into the final verse, the music takes a new melodic turn, revealing the direction toward which the whole piece has been moving; the soloist repeats “in heaven” ad libitum, leading the listener toward eternal and unchanging blessedness.

Such is my attempt to describe Vladimir Martynov‘s (b. 1946) choral setting of the Beatitudes, which one critic aptly described as being “tortured by beauty.” (Martynov also composed the score for “The Island,” the gripping story of a wonder-working Orthodox monk’s life of repentance.)

The simplicity of Martynov’s setting, as one repetition of the musical phrase swells into the next, suggests a linear, ascending interpretation of the Beatitudes, whereby one virtue leads to the next, in an ascent to loftier and more glorious blessedness, finally leading heavenward. (I have H. Paul Finley to thank for first bringing this interpretation to my attention.)

This is precisely how St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. c. 394) understands the progression of the Beatitudes:

When one climbs up by a ladder he sets foot on the first step, and from there goes on to the one above. Again the second step carries the climber up to the third, and this one following, and hence to the next. Thus the person who goes up always ascends from where he is to the step above until he reaches the top of his ascent…. It seems to me that the Beatitudes are arranged in order like so many steps, so as to facilitate the ascent from one to the other. 

The Beatitudes, Sermon 2

In the minds of both Martynov and St. Gregory, the Beatitudes are presented a ladder of divine ascent, as each rung builds on the last, describes another facet or characteristic of blessedness, and leads to the next verse, up and up, leading finally toward the end goal of the ascent: eternal life in heaven. There the righteous enjoy the reward of all their struggles, eternal union and communion with God, the Source of blessedness.

And insofar as the Christian has entered into mystical, unending union with God, to such a degree does he participate in God’s own unchanging, eternal, and infinite beatitude. For as St. Gregory explains, 

Now the one thing truly blessed is the Divinity Itself. Whatever else we may suppose It to be, this pure life, the ineffable and incomprehensible good, is beatitude. It is beatitude, this inexpressible beauty which is very grace, wisdom, and power; this true light that is the fount of all goodness, mighty above all else; the one thing lovable which is always the same, rejoicing without end in infinite happiness. 

The Beatitudes, Sermon 1

At the outset of Martynov’s setting of the Beatitudes, from within the silence, the lilting melody reflects Jesus Christ’s own beatitude, His own blessedness, being the pre-eternal God and the Son and Word of God. We hear the same voice that once said, “Let there be…” now singing to us atop a grassy hill how we might share in His own divine, unending blessedness.

And as the verses of His song progress, new voices are created out of nothing. They also are invited to join in the music, having a spark of their Creator, the Great Composer, within their hearts. As the new voices ascend the ladder of blessedness, their own creative potential is released, creating a soaring harmony with the pre-eternal melody. As the harmony of their wills and voices with the Composer’s will and voice grows more and more complex, and yet, even more simple, they are brought into union with Him Who is Himself the very definition and Source of blessedness. 

The overpowering, “tortuous” beauty of the song subsists in this very harmony of wills, minds, and hearts, being the product and result of the image of the Great Composer shining through His co-singers. As St. Gregory teaches (no doubt by his own experience), it is by virtue of the image of God in us that we may likewise have a part in God’s own blessedness: 

But as He who fashioned man made him in the image of God; in a derived sense that which is called by this name should also be held blessed, inasmuch as he participates in true beatitude. For as in the matter of physical beauty the original comeliness is in the actually living face, whereas the second place is held by its reflection shown in a picture; so also human nature, which is the image of the transcendent beatitude, is itself marked by the beauty of goodness, when it reflects in itself the blessed features.

The Beatitudes, Sermon 1

Therefore, when the Lord Jesus says, “Blessed are…,” He is speaking of His own blessedness, His own meekness, purity, righteousness, etc., as it is reflected in the lives of His disciples: then the “beauty of [God’s] goodness” shines in and through their lives, as a mirror reflects the noonday sun.

And yet, every single human being has a portion of this blessedness within them innately. When God made man in His image and likeness, He breathed a portion of this very “eternal blessedness” into human nature—that is, a “divine spark” as St. Arseny calls it (d. 1975), or a “divine part,” as St. Gregory the Theologian calls it.

The Word of God taking a portion of the newly created earth, has with his own immortal hands fashioned our frame, and imparted life to it; since the spirit which he breathed into it, is an effluence of the invisible Divinity.… That is why being but dust, I am bound to the life here below; having also a divine part I carry in my breast the longing for eternal life.

Dogmatic Poems 8, “On the Soul”

This longing for eternal life is a yearning for a greater share of God’s grace, a further participation in His uncreated energies, a further experience of blessedness in this life and in the world to come.

As we ascend this ladder of blessedness, we find that God Himself is our reward, He Himself is Heaven, He is prayer, He is everything. To this effect St. Gregory of Nyssa, commenting on 1 Corinthians 9:24, asks,

What is it that we shall obtain? What is the prize, what the crown? It seems to me that what we hope is nothing else but the Lord Himself. For He Himself is the Judge of those who fight, and the crown of those who win. He it is who distributes the inheritance, He Himself is the goodly inheritance. He is the portion and the giver of the portion, He makes rich and is Himself the riches. He shows you the treasure and is Himself your treasure.

The Beatitudes, Sermon 8

As all fades, a single voice repeats that which the lover of God yearns for, longs for—that which she has labored for while ascending the Beatitudes: to gain her eternal reward in Heaven, which is God Himself, the Source of blessedness.

An instrumental version no less sublime

Creeping Creatures

“So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah” (Genesis 7:7-9).

As a creature that “creeps on the earth,” did turtles go into the Ark or did they just swim in the Flood?

Solomon and the Fundamentals of Spiritual Life

Solomon is an example of a great beginning but a lousy finish.

We are likely familiar with the story of Solomon, early in his kingship, when the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon responded that all he desired was the understanding to govern God’s people, to be able to discern between good and evil. God was pleased with this answer, and told him that because he had not asked for long life, riches, or the defeat of his enemies, He would not only give him an incomparably wise and discerning mind, but all of the other blessings as well. All he had to do was be faithful to God: “And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (see 1 Kings 3:5-14).

And God was better than His word. Not only did people come from all over the world to witness Solomon’s wisdom, they also were dazzled by his gads of gold, swanky servants, delectable dishes, and—“wait, you have literally seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines?”

Yes, wives from all over the Near East, each one likely representing an alliance of her home country with Israel. (That is a lot a wives by anyone’s standards.)

Yet, although God had said He would make Solomon fabulously rich and powerful, the king was nevertheless at fault on several points. The Law of Moses expressly forbade intermarriage with other nations, especially with Egypt, in expectation that foreign wives would lead their Israelite husbands to follow foreign gods. And that is exactly what happened with Solomon. At first, he married the Pharaoh’s daughter as a marriage alliance, perhaps presuming that it wasn’t such a big deal after all. And then he married another six hundred and ninety-nine wives and acquired three hundred concubines from other nations. (One wonders what the family dynamics of such a household might have been like.)

And although God had given him unheard-of wealth, Deuteronomy 17:17 expressly prohibited rulers having excessive wealth, associating it with apostasy. Did God therefore cause Solomon to break the Law of Moses? No. Although 1 Kings speaks for several chapters on how fabulously rich Solomon was, the author has nothing to say about how he shared his wealth with others. We may presume that he was hoarding God’s gifts for himself and not sharing them with his subjects. Just as his wisdom had been given to him by God not merely for himself alone but for the betterment of all his people, so had his wealth been given not for himself alone, but so that he could bring prosperity to the whole people. (See 1 Kings 9-11; contrast Exodus 13:35-36, where all the Israelites plunder the Egyptians before the Exodus.)

We might say that Solomon was given his wealth so that he could in turn give it away (see Matt. 10:48). Instead of sharing God’s generosity with his people (as far as we know), he made five hundred solid gold shields to be hung up in his palace—quite an impressive display. In our time, this would be like having dozens of cars made out of solid gold in your 100-car-garage.

And although Solomon had thought he was making a lasting treaty Egypt by marrying the Pharaoh’s daughter, only five years after Solomon’s death, King Shishak of Egypt invaded and carried off those same golden shields back to Egypt. And whatever treasures of Solomon were left several hundred years later, the Babylonians shipped off to Babylon after they destroyed the temple and palace Solomon had built, and had nearly annihilated Judah.

And although God had tasked him to build the Temple instead of his father David, which he did, he nevertheless ended up building temples for the gods of his foreign wives all around Jerusalem. What had started with one marriage alliance with Egypt ended up leading to Solomon’s apostasy to all the hosts of demons parading as gods. The Temple, where the only true God was to put His Name and Presence forever, became one of many temples of Solomon’s personal pantheon.

(Aside: his palace was easily four times larger than the Temple. Does this show where his priorities were at?)

Finally, God told Solomon that because he failed to be loyal to Him alone and to keep His commandments, He would tear away the kingdom from his son, yet not from Solomon himself, for his father David’s sake.

Solomon is therefore an example of a great beginning but a lousy finish.

At first his heart was right toward God. He had made some mistakes, but God saw that he sincerely desired to rule God’s people in wisdom. However, as time went on, he transgressed several important commandments—commandments which might not have looked like a big deal at the time, but the breaking of which would end up having disastrous consequences for all Israel: marrying foreign wives, acquiring excessive wealth, and apostatizing to false gods.

Hopefully these are strong enough illustrations of the dangers of laxity in regard to faithfulness to God in what appear to be small things.

***

Having spent time in reflection on the life of Solomon, let’s turn our attention to ourselves. Hopefully we made a strong effort during Great Lent and Holy Week to seek God, in spite of the quarantine. Many of us made extra effort to attend Church services online, to read the Scriptures pointing to Christ’s death and resurrection, to fast, to pray, and to serve others.

And God truly poured out His grace on us. Never before have we had access to so many live-streaming services, thoughtful articles, reflections, and exhortations to spiritual growth, all in such a time as when the distractions of life (for most of us) had all but disappeared, and we could simply, prayerfully focus on Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. (We, of course, remember in prayer all of the healthcare workers who have worked day and night on behalf of the sick.)

And now Pascha has come and gone, and we find ourselves approaching the summer—a time when it is usually difficult enough to stay spiritually focused with all the many events, activities, and travel plans that summer usually brings. And although many of us will not be able to participate in these things this summer, still, it might be even more difficult to sustain the joy of the Resurrection of Christ all the way to the Ascension, not having our services and time together to encourage us.

As Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak) recently observed in an insightful reflection on Bright Week,

“The day-to-day variety of Holy Week keeps us checked in, keeps us focused. We’re also still fasting and exerting ourselves as we travel the path to the Tomb. But take away this variety, take away the drama, take away the momentum and anticipation, and the heightened tension that comes with fasting, and it becomes difficult to preserve our spiritual focus. This is why any parish priest will tell you that Church attendance is better during Lent and Holy Week than during the Paschal season. People look forward to Pascha. But after a few days, or a couple weeks, the intense brightness of Pascha becomes difficult to bear.”

What is true for Bright Week is even more true for the weeks following, when it becomes increasingly easy to become lax in small things, to give in to small temptations, whatever they may be. Like Solomon, we might not always see the effects of the “little things,” though they might very well end up being disastrous.

Take for instance, time set aside daily for prayer. If skipped one day, it is more difficult to do the next day, and the next day, and the next day. And before we know it, we don’t talk with God anymore. And that opens us up to the influence of demons parading as the gods of this age.

Also take for instance a small sin that “doesn’t really hurt anyone” (in our perspective). It might not, for now (think of Solomon marrying the Pharaoh’s daughter). But over time, as that sin takes a firmer and firmer grip on our mind, heart, and habits, we might not even noticing ourselves doing it or recognizing that what we are doing is wrong, so habituated we have become to its presence in our lives. This recalls the many times Solomon broke God’s Law by marrying foreign wives and building another pagan temple. The Holy Apostle James affirms that “sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15). Eventually even “small” sins may bring unintended consequences, pain, suffering, spiritual death, and even physical death.

What will sustain us during these coming weeks, and perhaps even months, of quarantine and restriction of the outward life of the Church, is a commitment to God in the little things, the fundamentals the of Orthodox Christian way of life: prayer, fasting, and works of mercy—the very same fundamentals we practiced during Great Lent.

Notice that these are all disciplines that Solomon failed to practice, even after he had experienced the joy of receiving God’s rich blessings.

First, prayer. Solomon built God a “house of prayer,” but his heart was not right toward God. God says over and over again in the Old Testament that what He truly desires from us is a heart that seeks after Him alone as our ultimate source of strength, protection, rest, and comfort. Faithfulness to God alone as exhibited by a life of prayer, which is union and communion with Him, is what He most desires for us.

Second, fasting: With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, it seems self-evident that Solomon did not exercise restraint in regard to his desires. And the writer of 1 Kings says as much, and likewise describes the sundry delicacies of Solomon’s table, which we can imagine did not inspire self-control. Fasting is learning how to say “no” to myself, so that when it comes time to reject temptations, we have built up the spiritual muscle of abstinence.  

Third, works of mercy. The writer of 1 Kings goes to great lengths to describe Solomon’s riches, yet perhaps purposefully leaves out any mention of how Solomon used these riches to help his own people. He appears to have hoarded God’s gifts to himself, without concern for others. The optimal situation would have been for Solomon to use his God-given treasures and position to ease the suffering of his own people.

The fundamentals of spiritual life are not always exciting, but they’re absolutely necessary if we desire to sustain the joy of the Resurrection in our lives throughout the summer and until our churches fully reopen. If anything, the life of Solomon shows that it is necessary to practice basic Orthodox Christian fundamentals not only at the beginning (that is, during Lent and Holy Week), but likewise afterwards (the Paschal season) and beyond. There are no “little things” in the Orthodox Christian way of life.

***

There is a scene toward the beginning of the classic baseball movie “Angels in the Outfield,” where the (then) Anaheim Angels had just got clobbered again. In a fit of rage after the game, the coach yells to the team, “I want you here in uniform at nine tomorrow! We’re going back to work on fundamentals!!”

A surprised player responds, “Fundamentals? In the middle of the season?!”

Yes, fundamentals, in the middle of the Paschal season! That is how we can avoid Solomon’s sins and focus on serving our Lord and our neighbor in such a challenging time. By God’s grace, may we build on a strong beginning and endure with patience to the finish of our time of quarantine.

The Gate

“Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly'” (John 10:7-10).

Akathist for Preparation for the Holy Eucharist

Now that some of our churches are opening up again, and more of the faithful are able to receive Holy Communion, it is important that we prepare ourselves as much as possible for this incredible gift. One thing we can learn from recent events is to not take Holy Communion for granted, i.e., as something we simply do without thinking about. Rather, it is an experience that we need to prepare for, by saying the Pre-Communion prayers (as given in Orthodox prayer books), fasting, regular Confession, and even abstaining from movies and going out on the night before receiving the Eucharist.

“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

To this end, you will find here a new Akathist for Preparation for the Holy Eucharist, the text of which is also given below. I find that variety in Pre-Communion prayers can be very refreshing, especially if I have the blessing of attending the Divine Liturgy more than once a week. May this resource therefore be used in harmony with the established Orthodox Pre-Communion prayers, which were written by saints, in great contradistinction to this author.

Akathist for Preparation for the Holy Eucharist

KONTAKION 1
This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Today is the day of salvation, for Jesus Christ, my immortal King and my God, invites me to receive His divine Life in the Holy Eucharist. O, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! In awe of His great love for me, I approach the Holy Eucharist, praying:
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

IKOS 1
Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You, O Lord. This life has been given to me for repentance; grant that I may fall down at Your feet every day of my life, seeking forgiveness for all the ways in which I have separated myself from You. Grant that I may receive Your Holy Mysteries for the remission of my sins and unto life everlasting. In my desire to make a new beginning, I worship at Your footstool, crying:

Lord Jesus Christ, act in and through my life!
Lord Jesus Christ, direct my steps according to Your word!
Lord Jesus Christ, remember me in Your Kingdom!
Lord Jesus Christ, grant me Your peace from above!
Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my mind to Your Gospel teachings!
Lord Jesus Christ, help me to lay aside all earthly cares!
Lord Jesus Christ, remind me to lift up my heart to You!
Lord Jesus Christ, give me a spirit of thankfulness!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 2
In the beginning, Adam and Eve desired immortality, and ate the fruit of the Tree, contrary to God's command. Because of their disobedience, they died and returned to the earth from which they were taken. Yet in His abundant love for mankind, God the Word became Man, and offers me His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink, that I may not die like Adam. Therefore, in my thankfulness for His infinite mercy, I do not cease to sing: Alleluia!

IKOS 2
Having repeated Adam's sin of rebelling against God's commandments, I weep outside the gates of Paradise. Yet I hope in Your mercy, Who are truly a good God Who loves mankind. Grant that I may eat of the Fruit of the Tree of the Cross, Your most pure Body and Blood, and that I may live eternally in union and communion with You. O Word of God, Who came to save fallen Adam, receive this hymn of repentance:

Lord Jesus Christ, teach me obedience!
Lord Jesus Christ, protect me from Satan’s lies!
Lord Jesus Christ, find me who am lost!
Lord Jesus Christ, restore to me the garment of light!
Lord Jesus Christ, help me to live out my baptism!
Lord Jesus Christ, purify my conscience!
Lord Jesus Christ, bring me back to Paradise!
Lord Jesus Christ, raise me up with Adam on the Last Day!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 3
Instead of offering the flesh of bulls and the blood of goats, Melchizedek the King of Salem and High Priest of God Most High made an offering of bread and wine, clearly prefiguring the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ's own Body and Blood. Jesus has established the New Covenant in His Blood, and so we sing to Him a new song: Alleluia!

IKOS 3
Since the Law of Moses could make no one perfect, our Great High Priest Jesus Christ offers me His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink, for the remission of sins and unto life eternal. I approach the Bloodless Sacrifice with faith and love, worshipping Him Who loved me and gave Himself for me. Therefore, cleanse my heart, O Most High God, that with a pure conscience I may approach Your most pure Mysteries, singing:

Lord Jesus Christ, receive my sacrifice of praise!
Lord Jesus Christ, accept my life as an offering!
Lord Jesus Christ, perfect me through Your grace!
Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to pray!
Lord Jesus Christ, give me a broken and contrite heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, let my whole life be a spiritual song!
Lord Jesus Christ, daily I worship Your great name and Your power!
Lord Jesus Christ, accept my humble worship!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 4
Moses led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, yet they complained in the desert because of their hunger. God sent them manna from Heaven in His great love for them, to satisfy their physical hunger; mankind ate the bread of angels, yet hungered once again, and died in their sins. But Jesus Christ is the True Bread which came down from Heaven, that those who eat of Him will never hunger again. You have satisfied our spiritual hunger, O Lord, and we forever praise You with the song: Alleluia!

IKOS 4
I have doubted God's providential love for me, though in my journey to the heavenly Promised Land He quenches my spiritual thirst with His own Blood flowing from His side. Yet once again, I repent of my unfaithfulness to Him, and ask forgiveness from my Redeemer. Having been delivered from the power of Death, I praise Him Who with a mighty hand and with outstretched arms on the Cross slew the spiritual Amalek, and I sing to Him the song of deliverance:

Lord Jesus Christ, rescue me from slavery to passionate desires!
Lord Jesus Christ, circumcise the hardness of my heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me from cruel temptations!
Lord Jesus Christ, drown my sins in the sea!
Lord Jesus Christ, fill me with the heavenly Bread!
Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to rejoice in You always!
Lord Jesus Christ, guide me to Promised Land which You have prepared for me!
Lord Jesus Christ, fight against those who fight against me!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 5
When Isaiah saw Christ’s glory in the vision, he lamented the uncleanness of his lips and speech. Then one of the seraphim flew to him, bringing in his hands a live coal which he had taken from the heavenly altar with tongs. Having touched Isaiah’s mouth with the coal, he exclaimed, “Behold, this has touched your lips, and shall take away your iniquities, and cleanse your sins.” Yet now I receive the fiery coal of the Eucharist not from the hands of an angel, but from the Lord Himself, Who is worthy of the angelic hymn: Alleluia!

IKOS 5
Purify my lips from idle talk, O Lord of Hosts, for I know that I will be judged for every idle word I speak. Cleanse not only my lips but my hearing, my mind, my vision, my heart, my deeds, my whole self. Burn away the dross from my heart with the fire of Your love, so that all that remains is purely and wholly Yours. Teach me to fall down in repentance like Your prophet Isaiah, praying:

Lord Jesus Christ, let me only hear what is true!
Lord Jesus Christ, let me only see what is noble!
Lord Jesus Christ, let my heart only dwell on what is just!
Lord Jesus Christ, let my mind only think of what is pure!
Lord Jesus Christ, let my hands only work deeds of love!
Lord Jesus Christ, let my feet only go to places of good report!
Lord Jesus Christ, let my every sense only perceive that which is virtuous and praiseworthy!
Lord Jesus Christ, let me only meditate on that which You approve!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 6
After Adam and Eve’s fall, God sought them out, to give them an opportunity for repentance. Yet mankind fell further and further away from Him, and so in His great love for us He continued to seek us: He called Abraham out of the land of his fathers, He gave the Law through the hand of a mediator, He spoke through the prophets. Even still, Jew and Gentile alike chose to continue in Adam’s sin of rebellion. Yearning for man’s redemption, God became Man that man could become permeated with the divine Life. The Word was born of the Virgin and dwelt among us, teaching us to pray: Alleluia!

IKOS 6
The Word has taken on the fullness of my human nature so that I may become a partaker of His divine nature. Praise the Lord from the heavens! For He condescended to my lowliness to raise me to the heights of divinity. As the means of my salvation, God the Word gives me His most pure Mysteries, that my body, soul, and spirit may be transformed by God’s deifying grace. Yearning for words to express my thankfulness to Him for His great mercy, I offer my poor worship with words such as these:

Lord Jesus Christ, I praise You for becoming Man!
Lord Jesus Christ, I bless You for taking on my weakness!
Lord Jesus Christ, I give thanks to You for making a path to the resurrection for me!
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray to You Who lives to make intercession for me!
Lord Jesus Christ, I love You Who first loved me!
Lord Jesus Christ, I bow down to You Who bowed the heavens and came down to earth!
Lord Jesus Christ, I offer you my life in exchange for Your Life!
Lord Jesus Christ, I worship You with the hosts of angels and saints!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 7
The Lord Jesus, in the night in which He was given up—or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world—took bread in His holy, most pure, and blameless hands, and when He had given thanks, and blessed it, and hallowed it, and broken it, He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying: “Take, eat: This is My Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins.” Therefore, O Lord, forgive my sins, my rebelliousness, my pride; forgive me if I have denied You by thought, word, or deed, as did Judas. Accept me, your unprofitable servant, as I approach Your Holy Body in fear and trembling, singing: Alleluia!

IKOS 7
And likewise, after supper He took the cup, saying: “Drink of it, all of you: This is My Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” My sweetest Lord Jesus, mingle Your Blood in my blood, Your Body in my body; give me a new heart and put a new spirit within me. Grant that I may know You and the power of Your resurrection by being cleansed by Your Blood, that I may sing in thankfulness:

Lord Jesus Christ, return and have compassion on me!
Lord Jesus Christ, cast my sins into the depths of the sea!
Lord Jesus Christ, take from me my heart of stone!
Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to walk in Your statutes!
Lord Jesus Christ, free me from the grave!
Lord Jesus Christ, put Your laws into my mind!
Lord Jesus Christ, write Your laws on my heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 8
One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. Praise be to Him Who suffered humiliation, scourging, and death for my sake! When I approach Your holy Mysteries, Lord Jesus, let it be in deepest reverence, as though drinking from Your very side. Like the holy centurion Longinus, teach me always to approach Your Body and Blood in fear and love, confessing You as the Son of God and shouting out: Alleluia!

IKOS 8
I worship the Trinity, One True God, united in one will and one essence, Who saved the human race: the Father so loved the world that sent His Only-begotten Son; the Son was obedient to the Father’s will and was voluntarily crucified for my sake; and the Holy Spirit makes me a participant in the divine Life. At every hour, every day, every moment, give me strength to endure all things for Your sake. Wash away my sins, O Undivided Trinity, and fill me with Your divine Presence. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God.

Lord Jesus Christ, create in me a clean heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, wash me and make me whiter than snow!
Lord Jesus Christ, sprinkle me with hyssop and I will be clean!
Lord Jesus Christ, give me Your living water to drink!
Lord Jesus Christ, pour out Your love into my heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, cleanse me from all unrighteousness!
Lord Jesus Christ, put to death the old self in me!
Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen me to take up my cross and follow You!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 9
In the tomb with the body, and in Hell with the soul as God, Christ snared the power of Death. His human nature was the bait and His divinity the hook whereby Death was caught and dealt a mortal wound. As Man, His Body rested in the Tomb from all His works, though His soul was not left in Hades, and His flesh did not see corruption. Therefore, deliver me from the power of Death, O my Jesus, and grant that the corruption of my soul and body may put on incorruption through participation in Your Body and Blood, that I may sing the song of resurrection to You on the Last Day: Alleluia!

IKOS 9
In Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit were You, O boundless Christ, filling all things. Slay the power of Death in my life, that I may live eternally with You. Give me strength to endure sufferings and temptations to the end, that I may reign with You. For to suffer with You and for You is better than a life of ease with others. Grant that I may receive Your Holy Mysteries without any mixture of sin in my heart, that like the thief I may enter Your blessed rest in the world to come.

Lord Jesus Christ, I searched for You with my whole heart; do not drive me away from Your commandments!
Lord Jesus Christ, I will run in the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, remove the way of unrighteousness from me, and with Your law have mercy on me!
Lord Jesus Christ, it is good for me that You humbled me, that I might learn Your ordinances!
Lord Jesus Christ, I am Yours; save me, for I search Your ordinances!
Lord Jesus Christ, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my paths!
Lord Jesus Christ, nail my flesh with the fear of You, for I fear You because of Your judgments!
Lord Jesus Christ, I went astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I have not forgotten Your commandments!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 10
Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus; for He has crushed the head of the Serpent; He has blunted the sting of Death; He has snatched the victory from the gaping maw of Hades. And beyond all hope or expectation, he invites me, who is as good as dead, to share in His victory. Therefore, I join in with the thousands of archangels and hosts of angels who unceasingly worship the King of Glory around His heavenly Throne, singing the triumphant hymn: Alleluia!

IKOS 10
Through the Cross, joy has come into all the world. For what Satan meant for evil, God meant for good: Death has been swallowed up in victory! Joyfully I receive Christ's crucified and risen Body, for It is my remission of sins; with thankfulness I receive His Blood, shed for the life of the world, for It is the Fountain of Immortality. What shall I render to the Lord for all that He has given me? I will take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord:

Lord Jesus Christ, let me not perish but have everlasting life!
Lord Jesus Christ, grant that I may keep Your word and never see death!
Lord Jesus Christ, raise me up at the last day!
Lord Jesus Christ, come and make Your home with me!
Lord Jesus Christ, give me Your peace!
Lord Jesus Christ, keep me from the Evil One!
Lord Jesus Christ, let Your love abide in me!
Lord Jesus Christ, let me be where You are, that I may behold Your glory!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 11
Today the Lord invites me to enter the cloud of His glory, that by His grace I may receive His Body and Blood through the indwelling Presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet when I seek the Lord, enemies surround me on every side: judging thoughts, evil memories, and a wandering mind. Do not let me be put to confusion or be prey to distractions when I seek to offer the sacrifice of praise in Your holy Church, O Lord, that I may sing with singleness of mind: Alleluia!

IKOS 11
Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in His holy place? Those whom You have found worthy to receive Your most pure Mysteries. Through the prayers of the Theotokos and of all the saints, O Lord, make me worthy to receive Your Body and Blood; and by receiving You, transform my whole being. As I pray with my Christian brothers and sisters, let our prayers arise before Your heavenly altar as a sweet spiritual sacrifice, that we may be found worthy to bow down and worship You with words of supplication such as these:

Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to be poor in spirit!
Lord Jesus Christ, grant that I may mourn for my sins!
Lord Jesus Christ, let me learn meekness from You!
Lord Jesus Christ, train me to hunger and thirst for righteousness!
Lord Jesus Christ, fill me with mercy for my neighbor!
Lord Jesus Christ, purify my heart!
Lord Jesus Christ, instruct me how to be a peacemaker!
Lord Jesus Christ, give me endurance if I am persecuted for righteousness’ sake!
Lord Jesus Christ, grant me love for those who revile and slander me!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 12
All that I have is from You, O God my Savior: You have created my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and my heart as an altar on which to offer sacrifices of praise. Purify my body and spirit from any unclean offerings I have made to the gods of this age: selfishness, pride, and unrestrained desire. Grant, O Lord, that instead of joining myself to my sinful passions, I may rather unite myself to You and worship You only, singing the hymn of those who have been faithful to You in all ages: Alleluia!

IKOS 12
I have found Him Whom my soul loves: the Lord of Hosts is His name. My heart and my flesh greatly rejoice in the living God, Who condescended to my weakness to share His life, glory, and divinity with me. O my King and my God, disregard all of my offenses, whether by word, deed, or thought, and make me worthy of the most pure Mysteries of Your Son. May I not receive them unto condemnation, but for the remission of my sins. Make my heart an altar, O my Jesus, on which I implore You to send down holy fire from heaven. Fill me with Your divine glory, that I may sing the hymn of Your great mercy:

Lord Jesus Christ, justify me and do not condemn me according to my words!
Lord Jesus Christ, shine the light of Your love in and through my life!
Lord Jesus Christ, help me to love my neighbor as myself!
Lord Jesus Christ, may my whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless!
Lord Jesus Christ, increase my faith!
Lord Jesus Christ, grant me pure prayer!
Lord Jesus Christ, teach me humility!
Lord Jesus Christ, instruct me in Your truth!
Lord Jesus Christ, receive me as a communicant of Your holy Body and Blood!

KONTAKION 13
O Christ, great and most holy Pascha, O Wisdom, Word, and Power of God: grant that we may more perfectly partake of You in the never-ending Day of Your Kingdom. Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to You, O Lord my God! Grant that by receiving Your precious and holy Body and Blood, I may receive a foretaste of the eternal life to come. Grant that I may forever partake of the eternal wedding banquet with You in Your Kingdom, crying out with the multitudes of angels and saints: Alleluia!
(Thrice)
Then repeat Ikos 1 and Kontakion 1

A Prayer before Holy Communion

O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever! The Lamb that was slain invites me, in His goodness, to partake of the new Passover feast, His Flesh and Blood, that I may abide in Him, and Him in me.

Yet I approach in trembling, O Lord, knowing that I sin against You and my neighbor every day. I have not kept Your commandments, nor have I remained faithful to You in my heart. I have been caught by the Enemy’s snares by my own free will, and I am unable to free myself. Yet, O Lord my God, You made the heavens and earth by Your word alone; nothing is too hard for You! Therefore, rescue me from my sins, from myself, from evil habits, from temptations of demons. Having received Holy Communion, free me from all bondage to my fallen nature and to the devil, that I may serve and worship only You until my dying breath. Grant that I may see Your face in this life and in the life to come.

O Father of Our Lord Jesus: make me perfect as You are perfect. O Son of the Eternal Father: receive me as a communicant of Your precious and holy Body and Blood. O Holy Spirit of God: come and abide in me, and dwell in me as in a holy temple. I pray to the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided, to make Your home in me, that I may dwell in Your heavenly courts unto all eternity. For You are a good God Who loves mankind, and to You we send up glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.