Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 12.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 December 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 12

Introduction

As we are slowly but steadily progressing through the service of the Divine Liturgy, I hope that we can keep one thing in sharp focus: the Liturgy is not an ancient memorial to people and events long gone, it is not an archeological artifact, and it is not a magical rite or a compilation of formulae designed to produce specific results when done properly.  Rather, the Liturgy is one of the most intimate expressions of our relationship with God.  And like any human relationship, our relationship with God requires that not only He shows us His love, but also that we respond in kind.  Therefore, one of the most dangerous things in Christianity is to become a spectator who observes all, but is not willing to participate.  Deacon Andrei Kuraev once likened such people to those who are terminally ill and know which medicine can save them; they know where to get it, they read studies and reports about its benefits, they know all there is to know about this medicine, but they do not take it themselves.  It is easy to see that knowing and partaking are two very different things and lead to two very different outcomes. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 11.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 December 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 11

The Small Entry, continued

The Holy Table

When the royal doors are opened for the Small Entry, the faithful are able to see into the altar.[1] The most prominent item in the altar is the holy table[2].  The modern holy table has much stylized beauty about it—glittery vestments, ornate crosses and Gospels, etc.—but its original simple purpose and meaning are still preserved in the Liturgy.  The holy table is just that—a table.  If we recall an icon of the Last Supper, we will remember that Jesus and His disciples are sitting or reclining at a table.  The earliest Christian catacomb frescoes also depict Christians sitting or reclining around a table during the Eucharist.[3] Thus, the modern holy table is the heir of that ancient table in the Upper Room[4] or a Roman Catacomb which bore the Food of Life, the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist.  In the course of the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Gifts are placed onto the holy table, consecrated, and then distributed to the faithful in Holy Communion.  Often, the Eucharist of the Early Church was served on the sarcophagi containing the relics of Christian martyrs, or at their burial sites.  Today, we also serve our Liturgy on the relics of Christian martyrs—they are placed inside the holy table or sewn into a cloth called the antimins[5] which is then placed onto the holy table. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 10.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 28 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 10

Introduction

Whereas during the singing of the first two antiphons the clergy and faithful just stand, the third antiphon is different both in its content and in the sacramental act that takes place during it.  Because the clergy begin to do something during the third antiphon—walk in and out of the altar, but the faithful typically remain standing just as they do for the first two, there is a possibility of a disconnect between the actions of the clergy and the participation of the lay people, or lack thereof.  In this lesson, we will learn about the content of the third antiphon, its place in the Liturgy, and the meaning of the clergy’s movements. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 9.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 9

Introduction

The first three sacramental prayers that we discussed in the previous lesson showed us some very important things.  First, their “secret” is the truth about God that we as Christians are supposed to proclaim from rooftops.[1] Second, we as Christians need to know this truth for our own spiritual benefit and in order that we may proclaim it.  What good is a lamp if it is hidden under a bushel?[2] And again, “there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.”[3] In this lesson, we will continue our discussion of the first part of the Liturgy—the Liturgy of the Catechumens. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 8.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 8

Introduction

According to the current practice, while the deacon proclaims the petitions of various litanies during the Liturgy, the priest “secretly” recites other prayers.  These prayers are even called the secret prayers.[1] This, however, may be a misunderstanding.  In the early Church, Christians indeed hid from persecution and often participated in the sacraments—such as the Eucharist—in secret.  However, this was not in secret from each other, but in secret from those who were not Christian.  Additionally, some of the Christian knowledge, especially with respect to the praxis of the Eucharist, but also to some of the core Christian beliefs—as the latter are inseparable from the former[2]—comprised what was known as the disciplina arcani and was not revealed even to the catechumens until they were fully initiated into Church.  As we mentioned in the previous lesson, the catechumens had to leave the church before the Eucharist began, and as a symbol of the exclusivity of some of the Christian praxis, the deacon calls on the faithful to guard the doors—both of the temple and of our tongue—before the faithful join together in the recitation of the sacred wisdom—the Creed of the Orthodox Faith: “The doors!  The doors!  In wisdom let us attend!” (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 7.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 7

Introduction

In the previous lesson, we began our discussion of the Divine Liturgy with its very first words—the blessing given by the priest and the response of the faithful.  In this lesson, we will continue our discussion of the structure of the Liturgy and the fundamentals of the Orthodox faith revealed to us through this service.

The Liturgy consists of two parts: the Liturgy of the catechumens and Liturgy of the faithful.[1] The first part of the Divine Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the catechumens because in ancient times the catechumens attended this part of the service, but had to leave the church when the part called the Liturgy of the faithful began.  Catechumens are people who have decided to become Christian and are preparing for baptism.  In ancient times, this preparation consisted both of instruction in the form of classes, lessons, and lectures, but also of praxis, such as prayer and fasting.  The length of this preparation varied by century, location, and circumstance.  The Apostolic Constitutions, a document which was compiled at the end of the fourth century but is based on much earlier documents, contains the following rule: “Let him who is to be a catechumen be a catechumen for three years.  However, if anyone is diligent and has a good-will to his earnestness, let him be admitted [to baptism].  For it is not the length of time that is to be judged, but the course of life.”[2] (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 6.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 6

Introduction

The most common Liturgy used in the Russian Church is the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (349-407).  But other Liturgies also exist, and some are used more or less frequently.  One of the most ancient Liturgies in use today is the Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James († 62).  The Russian Church also uses the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great of Caesarea in Cappadocia (330-379) and the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts attributed to Saint Gregory Dialogus (ca. 540-604).[1]

Most Churches that experienced Byzantine influence in their liturgical worship, and this includes the Russian Church, celebrate the Liturgy of Saint Basil ten times a year: on the five Sundays of Great Lent, on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, on the Eves or the Feasts of the Nativity and Theophany—depending on the days of the week on which these feasts fall, and on the feast day of Saint Basil— 1 January according to the Church calendar.[2] The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is commonly celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent.[3] And the Liturgy of Saint James is celebrated on the feast day of the saint, but practically never in parish churches.

Many volumes of detailed studies have been written on the origins and histories of each Liturgy, but it suffices to say that it is more likely than not that none of the discussed Liturgies was actually “written” by any of the saints to whom it is ascribed.[4] Almost certainly, when we say “The Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James” or “The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom” what we actually mean is “The Liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem” and “The Liturgy of the Church of Constantinople.”  In the case of the Liturgy of Saint James, it was likely recorded in writing after the repose of the Apostle based on the unwritten liturgical tradition established by him.  Moreover, “the words, probably, in the most important parts [of the Liturgy of Saint James, and] the general tenor in all portions … [descended to us] unchanged from the apostolic author.”[5]

The liturgical traditions of the Churches in Caesarea and Constantinople[6] already existed by the time that Saint Basil and Saint John were born and were based on the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem.[7] Both saints—Basil and John—are credited with, perhaps, unifying, somewhat modifying,[8] and strengthening existing traditions through writing them down, but certainly not with composing their own Liturgies “from scratch.”  Thus, it is most appropriate to think of the Liturgy as a living tradition of the Church, which nourishes the entire community and is preserved, supported, and maintained by the entire community, including the Apostles and the Fathers who expressed the very foundations of the apostolic faith through the sacred words of the Liturgy.  In this course, we will focus mostly on the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom as the most common in the Russian Church, and refer to some parts of the Liturgy of Saint Basil where appropriate. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 5.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 9 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 5

Introduction

Having prepared ourselves, we are now ready to enter into God’s temple.  But let us now pay attention—there should be nothing mechanical in our actions, everything we do must be deliberate and intentional, filled with reason and meaning.  Let us return to the beginning: we are now ready to enter into God’s temple.  First, it is God’s.  We have been invited by the Creator of all—not just the Earth, and the stars, and the galaxies, but of the very space, and matter, and time, and amazing things of whose existence we cannot even guess—to enter into His innermost Holy of Holies, to enter into communion with Him, and to quite literally enter into His Body even as He enters into our bodies.  Second, it is a temple.  It is a space and time sanctified, set aside, for the service of God—and only and exclusively for this purpose.[1] (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 4.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 2 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 4

Introduction

Beginning with the next lesson, we will examine the structure of the Divine Liturgy.  We will not, however, concentrate on all of the actions of the clergy, the way a seminary student would learn how to serve when he is ordained a deacon or a priest.  Rather, we will focus our attention on the meaning of the various parts of the Liturgy, that is to say, the fundamentals of our faith contained in the Liturgy, and on the way that the faithful participate in the service.

In this lesson, we will briefly discuss how one must prepare for participation in the Divine Liturgy.  We will come up, as it were, to the very door of the temple, without entering in until next Sunday.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (Mark 1:3)

Every good deed begins with preparation, and so does the Liturgy.  The daily cycle of services in the Orthodox Church does not begin with the Liturgy—it culminates with it; it finds its highest point in the Holy Eucharist.  In this course, however, we will not study the services that precede the Liturgy—a topic which we hope to cover next year.  This year, we will fast-forward directly to the service of prothesis,[1] also known by another Greek word—proskomedia, or “an offering.”  But first, let us discuss what is necessary to begin the Divine Liturgy. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 3.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 18 September 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 3

Introduction

In the previous lesson, we undertook the difficult task of defining some key terms for our discussion of the Eucharist.  As tedious as this task was, it allows us to come closer to the main topic of this course and begin our study of the Eucharist.  As we discussed earlier, the Eucharist is a sacrament or even The Sacrament—it is the covenant between God and His people, the means by which Christ enters into us and we enter into His Body—and the two shall be one flesh.  Thus, we uncover one more meaning of the word sacramenta covenant.

In our discussion of sacraments we noted that there seem to be many sacraments of which Christians partake, but really there is only one—the sacrament of our salvation.  We can now apply the same paradigm to covenant.  God has established many covenants with the human race: the covenant with Adam, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with the patriarchs, the covenant with Moses, and many others.  But if we examine all of these covenants, we will realize that they are not separate covenants, but instead the same covenant between God and man, which was confirmed and reassured at different times and in different ways.  Let us now try to place the Eucharist in the context of only three sacred covenants: the covenant of Adam, the covenant of Moses, and the covenant of Christ. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 2.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 September 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 2

Introduction

Before we begin our study of the Liturgy and the foundations of our faith expressed through this service, we must define a few key terms that will help us in our discussion: sin, Eucharist, sacrament, baptism, and repentance.  Because this course is designed for people who are not theologians by training and is not intended to produce professionally trained theologians, our definitions and discussions will necessarily be incomplete.  We will try to examine only a few of the key ideas in ways that are easy to understand, but I urge all students to note things that seem interesting, ask questions, refer to the works of the authors whose names are mentioned in the lessons, and study the source texts directly. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 1.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 September 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 1

Introduction

When we visit different places, if we pay attention, we can usually tell to what purpose a certain place is dedicated, and what different people find most important or interesting.  At a library, we see shelves with books and comfortable chairs with lamps—this place is designed for storing books and allowing people to enjoy reading them.  At a university, we see large rooms with many seats and a lectern in front of them—this place is designed for allowing professors to lecture students.  At a concert hall, we also see many seats and a stage in front of them—this place is designed for allowing musicians to perform for spectators.  And at a friend’s house, we may see posters of a famous actor on every wall—this tells us that our friend likes this actor, finds him interesting, and spends time reading about him and watching his films.  It is much the same with Orthodox Christians: by observing how we build our churches, how we decorate them, and what we do, we can learn a lot about what we see as most important to us, what we are most interested in.  It does not at all mean that we are not interested in anything else—quite the opposite: we enjoy good books, good music, and good films.  But our relationship with our God is more important than all other things put together, and we express our understanding of this relationship in church. (more…)

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