Sts Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church
3056 Reeves Avenue, Lorain, Ohio
Destroyer of Royalty and Servant of the King
The Church honors the Holy and Great Martyr Irene on May 5th. She lived in the fourth century in the city of Magedon, Persia. Her royal parents named her Penelope, and her father Licinius decided to protect her from the evil world. When she was six, he installed her in a small castle with every comfort and a staff of servants. The wise tutor Apellianus instructed her, from behind a curtain. Licinius placed statues of pagan gods as guardians throughout the castle. Here she was to live till her parents betrothed her to a worthy young man.
Penelope begged her father not to shut her away from the sound of bird songs and the sight of the changing light of day. But the king was determined, so she stayed where she was. What Licinius apparently did not know was that the old tutor Apellianus was a Christian, and was instilling the teachings of Jesus Christ in his young daughter.
One day Penelope had a disturbing vision. She saw a window suddenly open in the castle wall. A dove flew in with an olive branch in its beak, and dropped it on a table. Then an eagle swooped in with a wreath of flowers, which it also placed on the table. Finally a raven flew in carrying a wriggling snake, and dropped it on the table.
Penelope turned to her tutor to explain these things. Apellianus, in awed wonder, told her the that they were signs of her becoming perfect in faith and serving God well, but also enduring sufferings sent by Satan. Apellianus said it was clear that she was meant to belong to Jesus Christ. Realizing this was also what she wanted, Penelope was baptized, taking the name Irene.
When Irene refused every suitor her father offered her, he couldn't understand such disobedience in his carefully-raised daughter. And why, he thundered, had she dared to change her name? But when he tried to punish her by having horses trample her, the animals charged him instead and killed him. Irene prayed fervently, and raised her father from the dead. Seeing the miracle, he and his wife, plus many onlookers, became followers of Christ. After that, Irene served the Lord by converting and healing great numbers of people.
But she would also have more encounters with pagan rulers. One of these, the Persian king Sapor, called her a "destroyer of royalty" because she had turned her father from the Persian gods and had defeated or converted other royal pagans, after enduring humiliating tortures.
God revealed to Irene the time when her life was about to end. She found a new tomb and asked followers to close it with a large stone after she had gone inside. When they came again several days later, they found it empty.
On this day we read Acts 10: 21-33, in which the apostle Peter "shakes up" the community by unlawfully meeting with a non-Jew, Cornelius. The great martyr Saint Irene also shook things up and was accused of "destroying royalty." Their "unlawful" actions were for the same reason: they were servants of the King.
Yes, Great Lent will soon be here.
The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, January 28, 2018, is the first Sunday of a three-week period prior to the commencement of Great Lent. It marks the beginning of a time of preparation for the spiritual journey of Lent, a time for Orthodox Christians to draw closer to God through worship, prayer, fasting, and acts of charity. It is also on this day that the Triodion is introduced, a liturgical book that contains the services from this Sunday, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), to Great and Holy Saturday.
The Gospel reading is from Luke18:10-24. This Gospel tells the story of the Publican and the Pharisee and shows us how conceit and pride in one's virtues do not count in God's eyes. A sinner, if he is humble and owns up to his faults and repents, is nearer God's love than the person who prides himself on his outward good works and despises his fellowmen. The hyms and canon of the Week of the Publican and Pharisee speak to us of humility.
The day is named after one of Jesus’ Parables as told in the Gospel of Luke. This week is followed by that of the Prodigal Son, then by Meatfast and then Cheesefast (Forgiveness Sunday)and then Great Lent begins on February 19.
Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector [or Publican]. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(From: Luke 18:9-14)
The week that follows the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee is designated by the Church as a non-fasting week. All foods are allowed on everyday of the week, including Wednesday and Friday. This dispensation from fasting is offered as a way of indicating that Great Lent and a more intense fasting period is approaching.
O Lord, You condemned the Pharisee who justified himself by boasting of his works, and You justified the Publican who humbled himself and with cries of sorrow begged for mercy. For You reject proud-minded thoughts, O Lord, but do not despise a contrite heart. Therefore in abasement we fall down before You Who have suffered for our sake: Grant us forgiveness and great mercy.
Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry to the Saviour: Be merciful to us, for You alone are ready to forgive.
To move our hears to penitence, special penitent prayers to Jesus Christ and His Mother are sung:
'Open Thou the gates of repententance to me, O Lifegiver, for my soul longs for thy holy Temple, though its own bodily temple is wholly defiled. But Thou, in Thy bounty, cleanse it according to Thy loving kindness.'
'O Mother of God, lead me into the path of salvation, for I have hardened by soul by shameful sins, and have spent all my life in laziness. Save me, by Thy prayers, from all imputiry.'