Year 2 - Week 19 (January 9-15, 2022)

Day 1 (Monday)

Exodus 15:1-21

Before the Christmas/Theophany recess, we were reading about the Patriarch Abram, and how he left his ancestral city of Ur and followed the call of the Lord to go into a strange country, where God would make him into a new nation, a people called by the name of the Lord. We will leave Abram behind now, and see what happened to his descendants.

Abram was re-named Abraham (which means father of many nations), and had a son according to God’s promise, Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, and Jacob/Israel had twelve sons, and they eventually ended up living in Egypt due to a famine. They stayed there for 400 years, and grew into a numerous people, and the Egyptians became afraid of them, so they enslaved them and began to kill all the baby boys that were born to Abraham’s descendants.

One of these baby boys, however, was saved by God through the cleverness of his mother and the mercy of the daughter of Pharaoh, who adopted him and raised him as her own. When he grew up, he ended up having to flee from Egypt, and went out into the wilderness, where he settled with a tribe of traveling herdsmen. He married and had two children there, but one day God spoke to him up on a mountain, and told him to go into Egypt and deliver God’s people from slavery. God told him to tell Pharaoh that the nation of Israel was His firstborn son, and that if Pharaoh did not let them go, God would bring justice upon Pharaoh and the people of Egypt for the murder of the baby boys of the Israelites, and would kill the firstborn children of the Egyptians.

When Moses went to Egypt, his brother Aaron was sent by God to meet him, and together, they went to Pharaoh to deliver God’s message. This is where we will pick up the story.

Bricks without Straw

5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.”

4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” 5 Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!” 6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.”

10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” 12 So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.” 14 And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, “Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?”

15 Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.” 17 He said, “You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.”

19 The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, “You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.” 20 As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21 They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should note that the English translation can make it seem like God is playing tricks with Pharaoh, asking him to just let the Israelites go for three days, and promising that they’ll come back later, when there is in fact no intent for them to return. This is just a problem of the translation. When it says, “Let my people go,” the clear meaning in the original is “free/release/let go completely of your power over my people.” The statement of the three day journey is not intended to promise a return afterward, but to express that the Israelites will go completely out of Egypt, a three day journey beyond the border. The point is that they are going to leave Egypt, and not come back. When Pharaoh refuses, saying that he doesn’t know Israel’s god, he is saying he doesn’t believe Yahweh exists, or has any power. He only believes in himself and his own divinity. In following this refusal with the command to require bricks to be made without providing straw, his intent is to discredit Moses & Aaron, to make the Israelites hate them; and as we can see, his methods are effective. Moses’ prayer to God is clearly frustrated, but God’s response will be clear and powerful, as we will see in the coming weeks. Finally, we should note that God is being merciful to Pharaoh; for what he has done in murdering the countless baby boys of the Israelites, he and his people are deserving of much worse, but God is giving him a chance to escape that punishment and simply let the people go. He is not making a good start at receiving that mercy, though.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Apolytikion (Dismissal Hymn) of St. John the Baptist

This past Friday, we celebrated the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, and on this coming Friday, we will read the account of his death from the Gospel of Mark. This makes today an appropriate time to read and discuss the Dismissal Hymn of the Forerunner. As a side note, the Dismissal Hymn (Apolytikion/Ἀπολυτίκιον) is the last hymn sung in the Vespers service, right before the Dismissal of the people at the end of the service, which is why it is called that. It can be thought of as the theme song of any given feast or saint, and often sums up the most important things about them.

Apolytikion of St. John the Baptist

The memory of the just is observed with hymns of praise; for you suffices the testimony of the Lord, O Forerunner. You have proved to be truly more ven'rable than the Prophets, since you were granted to baptize in the river the One whom they proclaimed. Therefore, when for the truth you had contested, rejoicing, to those in Hades you preached the Gospel, that God was manifested in the flesh, and takes away the sin of the world, and grants to us the great mercy.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that in this hymn, we talk about St. John as being the greatest of the Prophets, because while all the Prophets had foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist not only saw Him in the flesh, but even touched Him and baptized Him in the river. Because of this great honor, the hymn says that St. John doesn’t need hymns to praise him, because the Lord’s words praising him glorify him more than a thousand hymns could. Finally, it makes the important point that St. John didn’t just proclaim the coming of the Lord while he was alive, but even after he was killed, he continued to be the Forerunner and herald of Jesus Christ, going before Him even into Hades, where he announced that the Lord was coming SOON to deliver the captives of sin and death from their slavery.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 6:14-29

Last time we saw Jesus go back to His home town of Nazareth, where the people who had known Him as a child refused to accept Him as the Messiah, and doubted and questioned and rejected Him. At this point, we saw the Lord send out the twelve disciples to preach the Gospel of His coming and His victory throughout the country, and they did so, and cast out many demons and healed many sick people, to the point that the name and actions of Jesus and His disciples became known more widely through the region. That is where we will pick up the story.

The Death of John the Baptist

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that Herod seems, at first glance, better than Pharaoh. He doesn’t understand or submit to John, but he doesn’t reject him out of hand, and on occasion likes to listen to him. But at the end of the day, he is no better than Pharaoh; he is too attached to his own reputation with his courtiers and friends, on the one hand, and too enslaved to his passions and desires, on the other, to be able to hear and understand and submit and be saved by St. John’s preaching, and ultimately, he becomes the agent of St. John’s murder. This ultimately serves as a warning to us all, against succumbing to peer pressure, against the great sin of pride, and against the dangers of lust and the other passions. May the Lord deliver us from all these things.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 18 (January 2 - 8, 2022)

Day 1 (Monday)

Proverbs 3:1-10

As we begin the New Year of 2022, we will continue for one more week to pause from our normal narrative readings, and return once again to the Book of Proverbs. This book, written by a father seeking to provide good guidance to his son, and by extension to all of us, directs us to walk the narrow path of faithfulness, avoiding the common temptations and holding fast to the Lord in all things. It is a good way to begin the new year.

Admonition to Trust and Honor God

3 My child, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments;
2 for length of days and years of life
and abundant welfare they will give you.

3 Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 So you will find favor and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8 It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.
9 Honor the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that in this passage, the teaching of the father is equated with the teaching of the Lord, because the father is faithful and is teaching what he is responsible to teach. We are assured here that following the Lord’s teaching and commandments will protect us from evil and grant us peace. And the substance of that teaching is loyalty and faithfulness to God, trust, humility, and repentance, offering our lives to Him, and receiving from Him all the blessings that come from Him alone. For us who are parents or godparents, this is what we are commanded to teach, both by word and by example. For us who are children, this is what we should be seeking to learn and to do.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Hymns from Theophany

On January 6th, the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of Theophany, which commemorates the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. This feast is not a simple historical remembrance, but is laden with cosmic significance; the Church sees this moment as a turning point, a fulfillment of many expectations, and a promise of greater things to come, as the water of the Jordan becomes the first matter to be made holy by the Lord Who has come into our midst as one of us, in order to sanctify us, and all Creation with us. These are the themes that the Church reflects on in the hymns of this feast day. There are a great many hymns worth reading for the feast-day, so do not hesitate to read only a selection, if you wish.

Idiomelon 1 of the First Hour

Today the substance of water is made holy, for the Master is washed in the Jordan. When the River sees Him, it stops its flow and bursts forth

Idiomelon 2 of the First Hour

You have come to the River as a man, O Christ our King; and You urgently request to receive a Baptism befitting a servant, at the hands of the Forerunner, all because of our sins, O good Lord who loves humanit

Doxastikon of the First Hour

When You had taken the form of a servant, O Lord, You approached John, the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" and You requested Baptism, although You were without sin. The waters saw You and were afraid. The Forerunner trembled in reaction, and he cried out and said, "How can I, who am the lamp, illumine You, who are the Light? How can I, the servant, lay my hand on You, my Master? I pray You sanctify me and the waters, O Savior, who takes away the sin of the world!

Kontakion from the Royal Hours

To the flowing streams today * of River Jordan * comes the Lord and cries aloud * to John the Baptist, and He says, * "Be not afraid to baptize me now; * for I have come to save Adam, the first-formed man."

Idiomelon 1 of the Kekragaria

O Lord, our illumination, who enlightens everyone, when the Forerunner saw You coming to be baptized, his soul rejoiced, while his hand trembled. He pointed at You and said to the people, "Behold, the One who delivers Israel, the One who frees us from corruption." O sinless One, O Christ our God, glory to You.

Mid Reading Troparion 1

You appeared in the world, even as the world's Creator, to illumine those who sit in darkness. Lord who loves humanity, glory to You.

Troparion 1 of the Great Blessing of the Water

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, crying out and saying, "Come all, and receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, yes, of Christ, who has come in His epiphany.

Idiomelon 1 of the Liti

He who covers Himself with light as with a garment ⁄ has granted for our sakes to become as we are. ⁄ Today He is covered by the streams of the Jordan, ⁄ though He has no need to be cleansed by them: ⁄ But through the cleansing that He Himself receives -- ⁄ wonder -- He bestows regeneration on us! ⁄ He refashions without shattering, ⁄ and without fire, He casts anew, ⁄ and He saves those who are enlightened in Him, ⁄⁄ Christ our God, the Savior of our souls.

Idiomelon 1 of the Aposticha

At the River Jordan, when John saw You coming to him, he said to You, O Christ our God, "Why have You come to a servant, for there is no dirt on You, O Lord? In whose name should I baptize You? In the name of the Father? But you have Him within You. In the name of the Son? But You are He incarnate. In the name of the Holy Spirit? But You know how to give It to the faithful by mouth." O God, who have appeared, have mercy on us.

Troparion 1 of Ode 1 of Canon 1 of the Feast

The Lord, the King of the ages, ⁄ renewed corrupted Adam, in the streams of Jordan. ⁄ He shattered the heads of the dragons hidden there, ⁄ for He has been glorified

Troparion 2 of Ode 1 of Canon 1 of the Feast

The Lord, incarnate of the Virgin, ⁄ having clothed material flesh with the immaterial fire of His divinity, ⁄ wraps Himself in the waters of Jordan, ⁄ for He has been glorified

Troparion 3 of Ode 1 of Canon 1 of the Feast

The Lord who purges out the filth of men, ⁄ was cleansed in the Jordan for their sake. ⁄ Of His own will, He made Himself like them, ⁄ while yet remaining what He was. ⁄ He enlightens those in darkness, ⁄ for He has been glorified.

Troparion 2 of Ode 1 of Canon 2 of the Feast

Word without beginning, ⁄ You have buried mankind with Yourself in the stream: ⁄ He was corrupted by error, but You make him new again! ⁄ The Father ineffably testified to You with a mighty voice: ⁄ This is My beloved Son, equal to Me by nature.

Idiomelon 3 of the Praises

When You our Savior were baptized in the River Jordan, You sanctified the waters, You were touched by the hand of Your servant, and You cured the world's passions. Great is the mystery of Your economy! O Lord who loves humanity, glory to You.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out the basic point of all these hymns is that Jesus is being baptized in the water, but it is not washing Him; rather, He is cleansing IT, and all of us by means of it. The Feast of Theophany is, in many ways, the pre-eminent celebration of the Lord’s Incarnation, and this is what we reflect on and marvel at in this season: that God has become human, and in becoming human, has transformed humanity. God has entered into His own creation, and by His entrance, the Creation itself is made holy. The Lord goes into the water, and its very nature is transformed, and it becomes the first fruit of the New Creation for us. This is why we consecrate the Holy Water on this day, so that we can participate in this joy and this glory. This is why we drink the Holy Water, and also why we use it to bless our homes and our businesses; because we don’t just remember that the Water was made holy, we don’t just confess that this happened, we don’t just marvel at the miracle. It is done for a purpose, to be an instrument of sanctification, a means by which we are made holy, and which we can use to cleanse our homes, and dedicate them to the service and worship of the Lord.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 6:1-13

This week we return to our journey through the Gospel of Mark. In the previous chapter, we saw Jesus cross the Sea of Galilee and cast out the legion of demons from the man there, and then return to the Judaean side, where He healed the woman with the flow of blood and raised the little girl from the dead. This time, we will see Him go to His hometown, but things will be different there.

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The Mission of the Twelve

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out what St. Mark says, that Jesus “could do no deed of power there.” This is something remarkable; it tells us that something is required from the people that Jesus heals for Him to be able to help them. We know that this cannot be righteousness, because the demon-possessed man was not righteous. We know it cannot be poverty, because the father of the little girl who died was not poor. We know it cannot be purity, because the woman with the flow of blood was ritually impure, and had been for twelve years. What St. Mark says (and the other Gospel writers agree) is that faith is what is required. Faith in Greek is πιστις, and can be translated variously as belief/faith/trust/faithfulness. When it says in verse 6 that “He was amazed by their unbelief,” it is this word again. He was amazed at their lack of belief/faith/trust/faithfulness. All the people in His hometown could do was question, doubt, criticize, or co-opt…it was as though they could not accept that someone they knew from childhood could be worth listening to, obeying, or following. Therefore, they missed out on the great blessings that He had brought to other towns. When the Lord, then, sends the disciples out to begin to preach on His behalf, we see Him warn them against spending their time preaching to people without belief/faith/trust/faithfulness. So we must attend to ourselves, and ensure that we are not approaching the Lord ourselves without belief/faith/trust/faithfulness.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 17 (December 26, 2021 - January 1, 2022)

Day 1 (Monday)

Isaiah 40:1-31

In this week between Christmas and the New Year, as we do not have Sunday School this coming Sunday, we will hold off one more week on continuing the story of Abraham and his family. Instead, we will read a passage from the prophecy of Isaiah, in which the prophet begins to speak of the coming Incarnation of the Lord, and of the prophet who will proclaim His Coming in the desert. This reading is the perfect bridge between Christmas and the Lord’s Theophany, and also provides words of comfort and encouragement as we leave behind one year and begin the next.

God’s People Are Comforted

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?

13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?

15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol? —A workman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
and casts for it silver chains.
20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood
—wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
to set up an image that will not topple.

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 Who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when He blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that this text is the source of the words of St. John the Baptist when he is asked who he is, and what he says about himself, that “he is the voice of one crying, ‘in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.’” With this, then, we begin immediately to prepare for the Feast of Theophany, but more than that, throughout the passage the Prophet is turning the priorities of the world upside-down, affirming the Lord’s care for His people, the foolishness of those who pursue power or wealth or give worship to idols, and concluding with the reminder that it is those who wait on the Lord, those who put their trust and their hope in Him, who will find fulfillment and joy in the end. This reading, then, is also perfect for the celebration of the New Year, as we reflect on what our priorities should be. Let us seek the Lord above all, that we may be counted among His Faithful, now and into eternity.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Abba Poemen on New Year’s Resolutions

Abba Poemen was a monastic saint in the early days of monasticism, and lived out in the Egyptian desert. He was a contemporary with such figures as St. Anthony, St. Macarios, St. Moses the Ethiopian, and St. Pachomios. Their life and sayings were foundational to the lives of many of the most important saints of the Fourth Century, including St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom. Most of what we know of them is preserved in collections of brief sayings; the greatest number of sayings are attributed to this Abba Poemen. (Abba is a word that means “father”). The monastic rule that is still practiced in the Orthodox Church is built on the experience and wisdom of the Desert Fathers.

Abba Poemen

Abba Poemen heard of someone who had gone all week without eating and then had lost his temper. The old man said, “He could do without food for six days, but he could not cast out anger.”

Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior, “Everyday he makes a new beginning.”

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should mention that it is indeed easier to do “spiritual” feats than it is simply to keep our temper and walk in love toward one another. And that the right way to live is not to dwell on the past, whether we have done well or have done badly, but instead to begin each day fresh, looking to God for mercy, and walking in faithfulness, humility, and repentance.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

1 Peter 4:1-19

We will take one more week looking at the 1st Epistle of St. Peter to the Church at large, but will return to the Gospel of Mark next week. We saw St. Peter last week urge the Faithful to be prepared to suffer, even when they did good, even BECAUSE they did good, because the Lord Himself had suffered these same things. This is a general principle in the Christian life, but it also tells us that the Church in his time was actively experiencing persecution, and lets us know that one of his reasons for writing is to encourage them and guide them in this difficult time. We will see him continue this theme here.

Good Stewards of God’s Grace

4 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. 5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Suffering as a Christian

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?”

19 Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that St. Peter expects the Christians to live in a different way from those around them, that their lives should be changed because of their Faith. It is not acceptable for Christians to continue to live ‘in drunkenness, carousing, passions, and idolatry.’ St. Peter, indeed, expects Christians to be hated by those around them precisely because they refuse to take part in these things any longer. He urges them to stand firm and remain faithful, even when they are hated and tortured and killed, remembering that God is Faithful, and will reveal them as victorious if they suffer with Christ in this world. He urges them, however, to be certain that they do not commit actual crimes, such as murder or theft, but to rejoice if they are punished for being Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. And so to should we live.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 17 (December 26, 2021 - January 1, 2022)

Day 1 (Monday)

Isaiah 40:1-31

In this week between Christmas and the New Year, as we do not have Sunday School this coming Sunday, we will hold off one more week on continuing the story of Abraham and his family. Instead, we will read a passage from the prophecy of Isaiah, in which the prophet begins to speak of the coming Incarnation of the Lord, and of the prophet who will proclaim His Coming in the desert. This reading is the perfect bridge between Christmas and the Lord’s Theophany, and also provides words of comfort and encouragement as we leave behind one year and begin the next.

God’s People Are Comforted

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?

13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?

15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol? —A workman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
and casts for it silver chains.
20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood
—wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
to set up an image that will not topple.

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 Who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when He blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that this text is the source of the words of St. John the Baptist when he is asked who he is, and what he says about himself, that “he is the voice of one crying, ‘in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.’” With this, then, we begin immediately to prepare for the Feast of Theophany, but more than that, throughout the passage the Prophet is turning the priorities of the world upside-down, affirming the Lord’s care for His people, the foolishness of those who pursue power or wealth or give worship to idols, and concluding with the reminder that it is those who wait on the Lord, those who put their trust and their hope in Him, who will find fulfillment and joy in the end. This reading, then, is also perfect for the celebration of the New Year, as we reflect on what our priorities should be. Let us seek the Lord above all, that we may be counted among His Faithful, now and into eternity.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Abba Poemen on New Year’s Resolutions

Abba Poemen was a monastic saint in the early days of monasticism, and lived out in the Egyptian desert. He was a contemporary with such figures as St. Anthony, St. Macarios, St. Moses the Ethiopian, and St. Pachomios. Their life and sayings were foundational to the lives of many of the most important saints of the Fourth Century, including St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom. Most of what we know of them is preserved in collections of brief sayings; the greatest number of sayings are attributed to this Abba Poemen. (Abba is a word that means “father”). The monastic rule that is still practiced in the Orthodox Church is built on the experience and wisdom of the Desert Fathers.

Abba Poemen

Abba Poemen heard of someone who had gone all week without eating and then had lost his temper. The old man said, “He could do without food for six days, but he could not cast out anger.”

Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior, “Everyday he makes a new beginning.”

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should mention that it is indeed easier to do “spiritual” feats than it is simply to keep our temper and walk in love toward one another. And that the right way to live is not to dwell on the past, whether we have done well or have done badly, but instead to begin each day fresh, looking to God for mercy, and walking in faithfulness, humility, and repentance.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

1 Peter 4:1-19

We will take one more week looking at the 1st Epistle of St. Peter to the Church at large, but will return to the Gospel of Mark next week. We saw St. Peter last week urge the Faithful to be prepared to suffer, even when they did good, even BECAUSE they did good, because the Lord Himself had suffered these same things. This is a general principle in the Christian life, but it also tells us that the Church in his time was actively experiencing persecution, and lets us know that one of his reasons for writing is to encourage them and guide them in this difficult time. We will see him continue this theme here.

Good Stewards of God’s Grace

4 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. 5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Suffering as a Christian

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?”

19 Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that St. Peter expects the Christians to live in a different way from those around them, that their lives should be changed because of their Faith. It is not acceptable for Christians to continue to live ‘in drunkenness, carousing, passions, and idolatry.’ St. Peter, indeed, expects Christians to be hated by those around them precisely because they refuse to take part in these things any longer. He urges them to stand firm and remain faithful, even when they are hated and tortured and killed, remembering that God is Faithful, and will reveal them as victorious if they suffer with Christ in this world. He urges them, however, to be certain that they do not commit actual crimes, such as murder or theft, but to rejoice if they are punished for being Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. And so to should we live.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 16 (December 19 - 25)

Day 1 (Monday)

Galatians 3:6-9; 15-29, 4:1-7

This week of Christmas, in the place of our normal Old Testament reading, we will instead read what St. Paul has to say about the purpose of the Lord’s birth. He develops an argument based on Abraham’s relationship of faith with God, making clear that the Lord comes to perfect and fulfill that relationship that Abraham had, so that all of us in the Church are genuine children of Abraham, perfected for God’s purpose in our trust in the Lord, in exactly the same way that Abraham was justified and made perfect.

Law or Faith

6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed…

The Promise to Abraham

15 Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17 My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

The Purpose of the Law

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.

21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

4 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3 So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that St. Paul, beginning from Abraham and ending with Christ Himself, is assuring us that we are not just being invited to live in accordance with God’s rules and that if we do so, we will be safe from God’s anger. Rather, we are created and invited and called to do more than “barely” escape condemnation, but rather to become children of God, to be raised up to become like Christ, even as we were created in His image and likeness.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Hymns from Christmas

Every year, on December 25th, we celebrate the Nativity, or Birth, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this feast, we see our Creator and God become human, born of the Virgin Mary, present in our midst for our salvation. The themes of this celebration are nothing less than the wonder and awe of beholding Emmanuel, God With Us, but this marvel has manifold facets, which the Church meditates upon in the hymns that accompany the Feast. The feast-day celebrations last two full days, not just one, and begin with the Royal Hours the morning of Christmas Eve, continuing with the Vesperal Liturgy that evening, and finishing with the Orthros and Liturgy on Christmas Day itself.

Troparion of the Royal Hours

As she carried in her womb * what she conceived without seed, * Mary went to Bethlehem * with elder Joseph to enroll, * for they were of the house and the lineage of David. * The time arrived for her * to give birth to her Child; * but then there was no place * in the inn for them. * Therefore the grotto served as a luxurious * royal palace for the Queen. * And Christ the Lord is born, to raise the image * which was formerly fallen.

Idiomelon 2 of the 6th Hour

Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth. Let the foundations be shaken, and let trembling seize the netherworld. For God the Creator has entered the physical world; He who created creation with His mighty hand is a fetus of His own creature. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments, how unsearchable His ways!

Idiomelon 4 of the Vespers Kekragaria

What shall we offer you, O Christ, because you have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by you offers you its thanks: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert, the Manger; and we, a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us.

Idiomelon 4 of the Liti

Beholding Him who was in God's image and likeness ⁄ fallen through transgression, ⁄ Jesus bowed the heavens and came down, ⁄ without change taking up His dwelling in a Virgin womb: ⁄ that He might refashion Adam fallen in corruption, and crying out: ⁄⁄ Glory to Your Epiphany, my Savior and my God!

Eirmos of Ode 1 of Canon 1 of the Feast

Christ is born; glorify Him! * Christ is come from heaven; go and meet Him. * Christ is on earth; arise to Him. * Sing to the Lord, all you who dwell on the earth; * and in merry spirits, O you peoples, praise His birth. * For He is glorified.

Troparion of Ode 1 of Canon 1 of the Feast

The Master Builder, seeing collapsed * the man whom He constructed with His own hands, * bowing the heavens now descends. * And through a pure and holy Virgin unites * wholly with his nature, having truly taken flesh. * For He is glorified.

Troparion of Ode 6 of Canon 2 of the Feast

God the Word, who was in the beginning with God, ⁄ seeing our nature powerless to guard unharmed its ancient fellowship with Him, ⁄ now grants it a new strength: ⁄ abasing Himself, in a second act of fellowship ⁄⁄ He makes it once again free from the passions.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that what is happening at Christmas is the birth of God the Word/Logos Himself, the Son of God, through Whom the Father created all things, enters into His Creation, in order to raise us up, to restore in us His image in which we are created, to free us from sin and slavery to the demons, to heal and re-fashion and restore us. God becomes human, which is marvel enough; but He does it for us, in order to save us.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

1 Peter 3:8-24

We have been reading through the Gospel of Mark, but this week of Christmas, we will take a break (since Mark doesn’t provide a narrative for the Lord’s birth, but rather starts the story with His baptism.) Instead, then, we’ll continue to read from the 1st Epistle of St. Peter. This reading does not talk directly about the birth of the Lord, but it does reflect on what He has done to save us, and what it is that His life and death and resurrection accomplishes for us.

Suffering for Doing Right

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For

“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out the basic thread of St. Peter’s thought: that people who follow Jesus Christ need to live differently, in a way that is worthy of the name of the Lord that we bear. He then points out that generally, those who do what is right will not be treated badly because of that, but then notes that sometimes Christians ARE treated badly precisely because they are faithful to God, and that, since the Lord Himself suffered for no reason, and by His suffering saved us. He concludes by reminding us that all of us who are baptized are saved by the Lord’s suffering, and that we are called to new life by the Lord’s Resurrection.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 15 (December 12 - 18)

Day 1 (Monday)

Isaiah 9:1-7

As we approach Christmas, we will read one of the prophecies of the birth of the Lord, from the prophecies of Isaiah. The prophet begins by talking about the region of the nation of Israel that is falling into darkness in his own time, the northern region of Galilee, which was first part of Israel conquered by other nations after they abandoned the worship of the Most High God. He is saying that a great light will dawn there, which of course is fulfilled when Jesus goes there with Joseph and Mary after they return from Egypt, and then he goes on to prophecy the Lord’s birth directly.

The Righteous Reign of the Coming King

9 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out, of course, that the birth of God Himself become human is very clear in verses 6 through 7, with the clear statement that the Lord’s birth is the beginning of the healing and transformation of the entire world. We should note, however, that the previous verses, and especially verses 4 and 5, about the Lord overthrowing the oppressors, is PRECISELY a prophecy of what we have seen Jesus doing in the Gospel of Mark so far, and especially with the driving out of the demons around the sea of Galilee. He is delivering His people, and establishing peace and justice and righteousness for them, and for the entire world.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Life of St. Spyridon

On December 12th, the Church celebrates the feastday of St. Spyridon, who lived during the last days of persecution, and attended the Council of Nicaea. He is one of the most commemorated bishop saints in the Church, and is very much beloved, especially among the Greek Orthodox faithful throughout the world.

Life of St. Spyridon

The island of Cyprus was both the birthplace and the place where this glorious saint served the Church. Spyridon was born of simple parents, farmers, and he remained simple and humble until his death. He married in his youth and had children, but when his wife died he devoted himself completely to the service of God.

Because of his exceptional piety, he was chosen as bishop of the city of Trymithous. Yet even as a bishop he did not change his simple way of living, handling his livestock and cultivating his land himself. He used very little of the fruits of his labor for himself; instead, he distributed a greater share to the needy.

He manifested great miracles by God’s power: he brought down rain in time of drought, stopped the flow of a river, raised several people from the dead, healed Emperor Constantius of a grave illness, saw and heard angels of God, foresaw future events, discerned the secrets of men’s hearts, converted many to the true Faith, and did much else.

He took part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (325), and he brought many heretics back to Orthodoxy by his simple and clear expositions of the Faith as well as by his mighty miracles.

He was so simply dressed that once, when he wanted to enter the imperial court at the invitation of the emperor, a soldier, thinking that he was a beggar, struck him on the face. Meek and guileless, Spyridon turned the other cheek to him.

He glorified God through many miracles, and was of benefit, not only to many individuals but also to the whole Church of God. He entered into rest in the Lord in the year 348. His miracle-working relics rest on the island of Corfu, and even today they glorify God with many miracles.

Reflection From His Life

St. Spyridon once sold a hundred goats to a merchant at an agreed price, and the saint told the buyer to lay down the money. The buyer, knowing that Spyridon himself never counted money, handed over enough money for ninety-nine goats and hid the money for one. Spyridon then counted out a hundred goats for him. But when the merchant and his servants drove off the goats, one of them returned bleating. He drove it off, but it returned again. And so the goat continually returned to the enclosure, not wanting to go with the other goats. The saint then whispered into the merchant’s ear: “Observe, my son: this animal is not doing this in vain. Did you perhaps withhold her price?” The merchant became ashamed and acknowledged his sin. As soon as he paid the amount he had concealed, the goat immediately joined the other goats.

On another occasion, some thieves entered Spyridon’s sheepfold. .When they had seized as many sheep as they wanted, they tried to leave the sheepfold, but an invisible force nailed them to the ground, and they were unable to move. At dawn, the bishop came to his sheepfold. Seeing the thieves, he reproached them mildly and instructed them to strive in the future to live by their own labors and not by thievery. He then took a sheep and gave it to them, saying, “Take this for your trouble, so that your all-night vigil not be in vain,” and he dismissed them in peace.

From https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/12/saint-spyridon-wonderworker-of.html

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out both the extreme humility of St. Spyridon, as shown in his accepting the mockery and beating of the soldiers when visiting the emperor, but also his holiness and discernment, as shown in the two stories at the end, about the sale of the goats and the theft of the sheep. He knew exactly what was being done, and expressed a care for the soul of the cheating merchant and the thieves, urging and drawing them along to repentance.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 5:21-43

Last time, we saw Jesus and His disciples on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, in the country of the Gerasenes, where He delivered the man possessed by the legion of unclean spirits. This time, as He returns to the Judean side of the sea, we will see two people come to Him for help.

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that, in both of these healings, Jesus doesn’t seek out the people, but they rather seek Him out. We have seen previously that sometimes Jesus seeks out those who need to be delivered, as He did with the demon-possessed man last week, but this time, the people who need help seek Him out. What He says to the woman who touched the hem of His garment, that her faith has made her well, is a way of pointing out that she has been saved because she came to Him with purpose and intent, entrusting herself to Him. The same holds for the little girl, although in this case it is the faith, the purpose and intent of the father, that entrusts her to Jesus. We need to understand that in our lives, if we wish to receive the blessings of God, we also need to approach Him with purpose and intent, entrusting ourselves to Him with steadfast faithfulness.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 14 (December 5 - 11)

Day 1 (Monday)

Genesis 12:10-20

Last time, we saw Abram leave his father’s house and go where God called him, and arrive in the land of Canaan, which God promised to give to his descendants. He was moving from north to south through the land, together with his wife and nephew and those with him, but as we will see, there will be a famine, a severe food shortage, and this will result in Abram going somewhere that God did NOT command him to go.

Abram and Sarai in Egypt

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”

14 When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.” 20 And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that this story of Abram contains a foreshadowing of the time that his descendants, the Israelites, will spend in Egypt, including the famine as the reason they went there, the fact that the Egyptians wanted to take the Hebrew women as their own and kill all the males, God delivers both the women and the men by means of plagues, and in the end they leave with great possessions from Egypt. This should also be understood as showing an early fulfillment of the tension set up with Ham and Noah, and Noah’s prophecy about how Ham’s descendants would try to dominate Shem’s descendants, but it wouldn’t work. We should also note that Abram’s attempt to take care of himself results in problems; he followed God’s instructions to go into Canaan, but then doubted and went astray into Egypt, where problems resulted, until God brought him out again and back to the Promised Land.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

St. Paisios about Water

This is a story told by St. Paisios, who was a much beloved elder in the mid-to-late 20th century. He fell asleep in the Lord in 1994, and was canonized as a saint in 2015. This is a simple story, but it conveys an essential observation about human nature, and how we relate to God.

St. Paisios about Water and Gratitude

Elsewhere he said:

"In Sinai, there in the Hermitage of Saint Episteme where I lived, the water was minimal. A drop ran from a rock into a cave, about twenty meters away from the hermitage. I had made a cistern and I was collecting three kilos of water twenty-four hours a day.

When I went to get water, I put the can to fill and said the Salutations to the Panagia. I just wet my forehead a little with my hand, because that helped me - a doctor told me to do it - I took some water to drink, and I collected a little in a tin for the birds and mice of the hermitage. This water was also for washing clothes, etc. What joy, what gratitude I felt for this little water I had! Doxology, because I had water!

When I came to Mount Athos and stayed for a while in the Skete of Iveron, because the place is sunny there, it had a lot of water. It had an overflowing cistern and water was running outside. Oh, I washed both my legs and my head…, but I had forgotten.

In Sinai my eyes were watering with gratitude for the little water, while in the Skete I had forgotten because of the abundance of water. So then I went and stayed about eighty meters away and I had a small cistern. How we get lost, how we forget with abundance!

https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2021/11/saint-paisios-and-hermitage-of-saints.html?m=1


Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that St. Paisios, who was very pious and always praying, is still observing that his own response to plenty, to having enough water that he didn’t need to worry about it, was to take it for granted, and the result was that he had less occasion to pray, to give thanks to God, to draw near to the Lord in thanksgiving. His solution, to move further away from the water, to make sure that he didn’t drift farther away from God due to the ease of life that came from easy water, is one that we should all remember. Both the principle of the thing, that comfort is NOT good for us spiritually, and the method, to deprive ourselves of easy comforts for the sake of prayer, are worth attending to and internalizing, and even worth putting into practice. This is, in fact, exactly what we are doing when we fast, and as we prepare enter upon the final two weeks of the Nativity Fast before Christmas, it is good to be reminded of the purpose of our fasting.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 5:1-20

Last time, we saw Jesus and His disciples start across the sea, and encounter a severe storm, which the Lord calmed with a word. We noted, however, last week, that it was at Jesus’ urging that they had started across the sea in the first place, and that, unless His entire purpose for this was to show His authority over the wind and the sea, that there might have been another purpose for the voyage, and we should pay attention to see where they ended up after the storm was calmed. Today we will see where Jesus was going.

Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac

5 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.

5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should note that Jesus encounters the demon-possessed man AS SOON AS He steps off the boat. Everything about how St. Mark talks about this makes clear that driving these demons out of this man was the sole purpose for Jesus’ voyage across the sea here. As we have noted before, this is one of the primary things that Jesus is doing; He is seeking out places where demons are dominating and oppressing and enslaving human beings, and is abolishing their power and freeing His people. We should see in this a clear connection to His death and descent into Hades, where He abolishes the authority that the Devil had over those who were dead, and delivers them from that oppression and leads them, and all of humankind, into freedom and new life.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 13 (November 28 - December 4)

Day 1 (Monday)

Genesis 11:27 - 32; 12:1-9

Two weeks ago we read the story of the Tower of Babel, and we saw how all the nations came into being when the languages were divided and all of them were exiled from the presence of God. We discussed how with this, the whole world was falling once more into rebellion against God, and all the nations were corrupt. We also read through the genealogy of the descendants of Shem, until we reached Terah, the father of Abram and his brothers. We are moving directly to this story because this is what God did next after Babel, as He began to prepare the way for all the nations to be brought back to Him, as we see happen on the day of Pentecost. We aren’t going to read the full story of Abram this year, but will see him introduced here, and see what promises God makes to him as He calls him to leave his homeland and follow God instead.

Descendants of Terah

27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chal′deans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

The Call of Abram

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out what God asks Abram to do, to leave his homeland and even to leave his father’s house, to follow where God leads and to trust Him; he should also point out what God promises to Abram, that if Abram leaves the nation of his birth behind, God will make his descendants into a great nation, a new nation, and that ALL the nations of the world will be blessed through him. This promise is enacted with the covenant at Mt. Sinai that God makes with the children of Israel, and fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who enters into the Creation through the Theotokos, the descendant of Abraham, and who saves all of humankind, calling us to restored communion with God, and to everlasting life, so that indeed, all of us are blessed through Abraham.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Hymns from the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (November 21)

Every year on November 21st, we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. The story of this feast is that when the Virgin Mary was three years old, her parents dedicated her to serve in the Temple. When she was brought to the Temple, the Priest Zacharias (the father of St. John the Baptist) greeted her, but she walked straight into the Temple by herself, and went straight into the Holy Place, and beyond the curtain into the Holy of Holies, which is where the Ark of the Covenant had used to be, until it was lost. The Holy of Holies had therefore been empty for hundreds of years, since the Temple was rebuilt, and along with its absence, the people of God understood that God’s Presence had never returned to the Temple. With the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, the Fathers of the Church understand the true Ark of the Lord’s Presence, which the lost Ark had only prefigured, to have finally arrived to take her place in the Temple. The following hymns reflect on this.

3rd Hymn of the Kekragaria

You are she of whom the Prophets preached, * the Apostles' glory, and the martyrs' pride and joy. * You are the renewal of all us who were born on earth, * O Virgin Mother of God, for we have been reconciled to God through you. * And therefore we honor your procession into the Temple of God the Lord. * And together with the Angel, we cry out in psalms, Rejoice, * to you, all-holy Lady, * at whose intercession we are saved.

4th Hymn of the Kekragaria

Now the holy and blameless girl * to the Holy of Holies is * by the Holy Spirit brought in to be at home. * A holy Angel provides her food. * And she is indeed a most * holy temple of our God, * who is Holy and who has made the entire world * to be holy, by making her His dwelling, and who deified the fallen * nature of mortal humanity.

Hymn from Ode 2 of Canon 1 of the Feast

The transgression came upon mankind of old from Eve, ⁄ and now from Eve's stock our restoration and incorruption blossoms: ⁄ the Theotokos who is brought today into the house of God.

Hymn from Ode 2 of Canon 2 of the Feast

The prophets proclaimed you in ages past, speaking of you as the ark of holiness, the golden censer, the candlestick and table: as we sing your praises as the Tabernacle that held God.

Hymn from Ode 8, Canon 2 of the Feast

The saints David and Jesse exult today and Judah is filled with pride. For from their root a branch has sprung: the pure Virgin from whom the pre-eternal God is to be born.

Glory Hymn from Ode 8, Canon 2 of the Feast

Let Holy, Holy, Holy! be sung to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Indivisible Unity, one Godhead holding creation in the palm of His hand throughout all ages.

Both Now Hymn from Ode 8, Canon 2 of the Feast

He Who is without beginning now begins to be: according to His good pleasure the Word is born in the flesh from a Virgin Maid, both God and mortal man, and in His extreme compassion He refashions us who had fallen.

Hymn from the Praises of the Feast

The Theotokos was shown forth unto the world in truth * to be the noble offspring of a most holy promise, * superior to all things. As she is led * reverently into the house of God, * the pious prayer of her parents she now fulfills; * and by the Holy Spirit she is preserved.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out, in the same way that the Fathers of the Church see the Tower of Babel and the Feast of Pentecost as two ends of the same story, they see the promise to Abraham that we read on Day 1 as the beginning of a promise and process that reaches its fulfillment with the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary. Abraham is promised that he will have many descendants, and that all the nations of the world will be blessed because of his descendants. This is talking, of course, about Jesus Christ Himself, Who has saved us from sin and death and leads us into everlasting life; but the Mother of God is the daughter of Abraham through whom this is accomplished. When the hymns today talk about the prophecies, about Eve and David and Jesse and Judah, they are simply listing the many ancestors of the Virgin Mary who had been promised that God would be faithful, and pointing out that she is the one in whom God fulfills all those promises.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 4:35-41

Our last reading from the Gospel of Mark, two weeks ago, included several brief parables following the Parable of the Sower from three weeks ago. We may remember that Jesus was preaching those parables on the seashore, and was even preaching from a boat a little off shore. We continue here with what happened that evening, after Jesus had finished preaching, as He leaves the crowd behind and crosses the sea with his disciples.

Jesus Stills a Storm

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out two things that we should pay attention to here, besides the simple facts of the story, that Jesus calms the sea during the storm. First, the way in which the Lord calms the storm is one of the clearest revelations of the Divinity of Jesus that we have, next to His healing of the sick and casting out of demons. The answer to the disciples’ question at the end is clearly “only the Most High God has authority even over the wind and the sea.” The second point is in anticipation of next week’s reading: crossing the sea here was Jesus’ sole idea. Unless He wanted to show them His authority over the sea, He has something to do on the other side of the sea. We should be attentive to that as we wait for next week.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 12 (November 21 - 27)

Day 1 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 32:1-14

Because this is the week of Thanksgiving, there is no Sunday School at the Church this coming Sunday. We are therefore selecting readings a little bit off the beaten path, for those families that are reading these things at home. Last time we saw the nations divided at the Tower of Babel, and how the different nations were scattered throughout the world. We also saw how the icon of the event shows each nation being entrusted to an angel, and talked about how all of these angels began to accept human worship, and thus fell into sin, and became the demon-gods of the pagan world, those who held humanity as slaves until the Lord came to deliver them.

That deliverance began when God called Abram out from his country and his father’s house, and promised to make him the father of many nations. Abram’s descendants, the Israelites, ended up slaves in the land of Egypt, and specifically slaves to the demon-gods of Egypt, until God sent Moses to deliver them out, and to make the Israelites His own special people. Despite this deliverance, they rebelled against God again and again. Today we will read a song that Moses sang to the Israelites just before he died, as a summary of their God’s purpose for them, as an indictment of their sins, as a warning of God’s judgment that was yet to come, and as a promise of God’s final deliverance in the end. This is actually the second of the nine Biblical Odes, and is found at the end of every Orthodox Psalter.

The Song of Moses

30 Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:

32 Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
like showers on new growth.

3 For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
ascribe greatness to our God!
4 The Rock, his work is perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God, without deceit,
just and upright is he;
5 yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him,
a perverse and crooked generation.

6 Do you thus repay the Lord,
O foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?
7 Remember the days of old,
consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you;
your elders, and they will tell you.

8 When the Most High apportioned the nations,
when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of the gods;
9 the Lord’s own portion was his people,
Jacob his allotted share.

10 He sustained him in a desert land,
in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him,
guarded him as the apple of his eye.
11 As an eagle stirs up its nest,
and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
and bears them aloft on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him;
no foreign god was with him.

13 He set him atop the heights of the land,
and fed him with produce of the field;
he nursed him with honey from the crags,
with oil from flinty rock;
14 curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
with fat of lambs and rams;
Bashan bulls and goats,
together with the choicest wheat—
you drank fine wine from the blood of grapes.

15 Jacob ate his fill;
the nation God established in righteousness grew fat, and kicked.
You grew fat, bloated, and gorged!
He abandoned God who made him,
and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They made him jealous with strange gods,
with abhorrent things they provoked him.

17 They sacrificed to demons, not God,
to deities they had never known,
to new ones recently arrived,
whom your ancestors had not feared.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.

19 The Lord saw it, and was jealous;
he spurned his sons and daughters.
20 He said: I will hide my face from them,
I will see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
children in whom there is no faithfulness.
21 They made me jealous with what is no god,
provoked me with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with what is no people,
provoke them with a foolish nation.

… (the verses we are omitting, from verse 22 through verse 34, go into detail about how God will render judgment on His people)

35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
because the day of their calamity is at hand,
their doom comes swiftly.
36 Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone,
neither bond nor free remaining.

37 Then he will say: Where are their gods,
the rock in which they took refuge,
38 who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
and drank the wine of their libations?
Let them rise up and help you,
let them be your protection!
39 See now that I, even I, am he;
there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and no one can deliver from my hand.

40 For I lift up my hand to heaven,
and swear: As I live forever,
41 when I whet my flashing sword,
and my hand takes hold on judgment;
I will take vengeance on my adversaries,
and will repay those who hate me.
42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
and my sword shall devour flesh—
with the blood of the slain and the captives,
from the long-haired enemy.

43 Praise, O heavens, his people,
worship him, all you gods!
For he will avenge the blood of his children,
and take vengeance on his adversaries;
he will repay those who hate him,
and cleanse the land for his people.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that God is framing the entire story of Israel, and of all humanity, in terms of those who have rebelled against Him, and of what He is doing to bring them back. For those who make themselves His enemies, and persist in that despite warnings and discipline and judgment, there will be utter failure and defeat, so that for those who repent, and turn back to the Lord, there will be blessings and compassion and communion. He might point out as well that human beings tend to do very poorly when we are strong and fat, that this is when we fall into sin, when we believe that we don’t need God. Conversely, it is when we are weak, and understand that we are weak, that we are able to turn to the Lord and begin again to be His children, the sheep of His pasture, the ones that He protects and sustains against every need and every threat.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

First Vespers Prayer at the Lighting of the Lamps

At sunset each day, the Church celebrates the service of Vespers, which simply means sunset, or evening. This is built around the very ancient custom of lighting the lamps inside the Church, while Psalms are read that reflect on the coming of the night, the rest that God gives to us, and our expectation of the new day that is to come, and of the enlightenment that we are given by the Lord as He illumines our hearts and our minds. As the service begins, there are seven prayers that are read by the Priest; this is the first of those seven.

First Prayer at the Lighting of the Lamps

O Lord, compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and very merciful, give ear to our prayer and attend to the voice of our petition; accomplish a sign for good with us; lead us in Your way, that we may walk in Your truth.

Gladden our hearts that we may fear Your holy Name; for You are great, and work wonders; You alone are God, and there is none like to You among the gods, O Lord; mighty in mercy, and good in power, unto helping, and comforting, and saving all those who hope in Your holy Name.
For to You is due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should make note, as always when we read a prayer, of how we begin by confessing Who God is, that He is merciful and compassionate. It continues, very quickly in this, by asking Him to hear us and help us to be with Him. The basic idea of this prayer is that we are confessing that it is good to be in the presence of the Lord, and that all good things come from Him, so we are asking His help to transform our hearts and help us to desire the Communion with Him for which He created us. There is a particular significance to the fact that we do this at evening, that as the light fades and as we light lamps inside, we are ask for our desire for the things of this world to fade as well, and seek to stoke our desire for the light of the Lord.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

1 Peter 2:18-25

We had mentioned a number of weeks ago that St. Mark the Evangelist spent much of his time with St. Peter, and as a result it is presumed that the Gospel of Mark records basically St. Peter’s witness of the Lord’s Proclamation of salvation to the world. Since we are taking something of a week “off” for Thanksgiving, we are reading then some more from the 1st Epistle of St. Peter to the Church at large, to see some other aspects of how Peter teaches and preaches.

The Example of Christ’s Suffering

18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should note that this is a challenging reading. St. Peter is talking to people who are actual slaves, and is telling them to submit to their masters. It is important to note that he does NOT say that slavery is a good thing, or that it is a good thing for masters to dominate their slaves. He is, however, telling the slaves themselves how THEY should act, how they should understand their servitude, that they should take it as an opportunity to follow the example of the Lord. What we should take from this, then, is not any particular lesson about slavery (which the Church is unequivocally opposed to, to be clear), but about how we ourselves should face whatever troubles and difficulties we face in life. Instead of resenting those troubles and complaining about them, St. Peter is saying that the Christian response is to “take up our Cross” and take the opportunity to imitate Christ when suffering comes to us.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?


Year 2 - Week 11 (November 14 - 20)

Day 1 (Monday)

Genesis 11:1-10, 26

Last week we saw how Noah’s son Ham took a turn toward evil, taking advantage of his father’s weakness to try to seize power and dominion in the world for himself and his descendants. The next chapter in Genesis (chapter 10) gives the initial genealogy from Noah, listing the 70 nations that were known to the Israelites and where they came from. This genealogy gives the general background for how the different peoples of the world came to be. What follows explains why they went their separate ways, instead of all living together as a single people. There is an icon included here that shows the scene at the Tower of Babel, and a couple links below that explain more about this for those who are interested.

image from www.imparaklitou.gr

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole earth had one language and few words. 2 And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Descendants of Shem

10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood.

…Arpachshad fathered Shelah, who fathered Eber, who fathered Peleg (in whose days the earth was divided at Babel - Genesis 10:25), who fathered Reu, who fathered Serug, who fathered Nahor, who fathered Terah…

26 When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

For more information on questions of God's Divine Council, and the Mountain of Assembly discussed below, and what is happening at the Tower of Babel, please see the following links.

Genesis and "the Fall"

God’s Divine Council

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader needs to explain two things. First, the reason they were building the tower was that they were trying to make an artificial “Mountain of Assembly,” the place where the Most High God ruled; their goal was to control God as though He were one of the pagan gods, who could be bribed with temples and sacrifices. It is in response to this sinful action that God divides them into many nations, confusing their languages. Second, what is less obvious here, but is seen elsewhere in Scripture, as the one above, is that God gave each “new nation” into the authority and care of one of the angels, to teach them and care for them and lead them back to true and right worship of Himself. We can see these angels going with each new nation in the icon. But these angels did not do this; instead, they fell as well, and accepted human worship, and became the gods of the pagan world, the demons that Christ came to deliver humankind from.

It is from this point that God begins to prepare His people Israel, which is why the genealogy brings us up to Abram, which starts the process that ends with the Church on the day of Pentecost, when the confusion of the languages is resolved by the Holy Spirit and all the nations of the world are called back together into the Church. In the Church, we have been called back to true worship of God, invited to ascend the mountain of the Lord to meet God face to face. As an aside, this is why the Altar is elevated above the rest of the Church.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Doxastikon for the Aposticha of the Vespers of Pentecost

On Day 1 we read about the separation of the nations from one another at the Tower of Babel. Today we will read a short hymn from the Feast of Pentecost (which happens every year in the early summer, 50 days after Easter), and then will read a brief explanation about what the Tower of Babel has to do with Pentecost.

Doxastikon for the Aposticha of the Vespers of Pentecost

Tongues were once made useless, because human beings dared to build the Tower of Babel. Tongues now become skilled, for the glory of the knowledge of God. Then, God condemned the people who committed sacrilege, because of their sin; here, by the Spirit, Christ enlightened the fishermen. Then, speechlessness was imposed as a punishment; now harmony is restored, for the salvation of our souls.

Explanation:

This hymn is connecting the Tower of Babel and the Day of Pentecost as two ends of the same story. Human beings at Babel tried to control God, and as a result, God confused their languages and divided them into many nations. These nations came to worship many different gods as the angels to whom God entrusted them accepted worship and fell into darkness, becoming the demon-gods who enslaved them.

God doesn’t abandon humanity, though. Beginning with Abraham, and working through the entire Old Testament, God prepares Israel as a priestly people for Himself. Jesus Christ renews and perfects this priestly people in the Church, and on the Day of Pentecost, through the Holy Spirit, He calls all the nations back to Himself. On this day, all the different languages which had divided them at Babel are used by the Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, not to divide the nations, but instead to call them back together to unity with one another in right and perfect communion with the Most High God.

image from www.imparaklitou.gr

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out that the sin at Babel is trying to control God, to make Him do what we want, rather than submitting our lives to Him and and following Him. God can’t do anything for us when we try to control Him, except to leave us to our own desires, and their consequences. But when we submit ourselves to Him, then the Holy Spirit comes to us, and brings us into communion with Himself, and begins to heal all that is broken in us).

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

Mark 4:21-34

Last time Jesus preached the parable of the sower, and we discussed the different types of soil, and what needed to be done to make them good soil, and how it is our responsibility to care for the soil of our heart, to prepare it to receive the seed that is the Word of God, so that it can bear fruit in our lives. This time, we will see how Jesus continued from that parable to tell more parables about the Kingdom of God, and how He works in the world, and what our part is in that work. We should remember that the last words of the Parable of the Sower are about how the good seed bore fruit, as much as a hundred times what was sown.

A Lamp under a Bushel Basket

21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

The Use of Parables

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that, while all these parables are connected with the idea of the Parable of the Sower, and the seed of the Word of God growing in the world, they have gone in a different direction, to talk about how that seed actually grows, and what that looks like. The main point seems to be that the Kingdom of God doesn’t grow in the way we expect Kingdoms to grow, with plans and strategies and quarterly reports and such. It happens in secret, in the depths of the human heart, but the fruit of it is and must be evident in our lives, as with the lamp on the lamp stand. God’s work in this world begins in humble places, in humble people, acting in humble ways, but when it comes to its fullness, it topples empires and transforms everything, not by a conquest from outside, but by a complete transformation from within.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?