Category Archives: Sacramental and Liturgical Life

The Exhortation of Jesus Invigorating Spiritual Life

by V.K. McCarty

bread of life

Look not at the things which are seen, but at those which are not seen;
for the things which are seen may be timely, but the things
which are not seen are for eternity.
(Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 104)

Jesus offering the parable of the great feast awaiting us, as one step in our Orthodox Advent pilgrimage, calls to mind the recovery experience of coming back from the Pandemic, even with our fears about the virus now and in the future. It has been a sweet excitement and relief, even a celebration, beginning to go back to all the different events and places that were closed for so long. Each return—to the theater, to libraries, sports events, to shopping places—has been exhilarating, with a sense of community reunion to it. But we come back somewhat changed, don’t we? In some ways now, it’s easier to just talk about going back to events, rather than to actually get off the couch and go to them, even if safety is no longer the whole reason for isolating ourselves.

It is easy to hedge on actually doing much of anything. It is easy to stall on getting out there, even with things opening again. I hear myself saying: “I said I’d see you there today?” or “Goodness, does it say that zoom event is this afternoon?” I feel like a toddler who’s just learned to play “Don’t See Me.” My friends, it is going to take the grace of God to get our motivation and social disciplines back. The same thing can be said about motivating our spiritual lives. The Gospel is speaking to us today.

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Celebrating Archangel Light

by V.K. McCarty

Commanders of the heavenly hosts,
we who are unworthy beseech you,
by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,
and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:
Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!
(Troparion for the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers, Tone 4)

As the angels are gathering for the great Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels, those of us wary of believing in angels at all may question their very nature. Yet we are standing as close to a mighty explanation as Psalm 104:4, and to Psalm 103:20-21 for the powerful efficacy of their ministry revealed. God who “makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flaming fire,” as the Psalmist says, is both terrifying and gorgeous to behold. That the angels of God “excel in strength, do his commandments, hearken to the voice of his word…and do his pleasure,” identifies them as front-facing essential workers in the economy of Salvation and in our lives among the faithful.

“Take a close look at a branding iron,” Basil the Great teaches us, “and the nature of angels’ holiness will become plainer: Remember that fire is required to heat it; yet, we would not claim that the branding iron and the fire are the same substance. The angels are a similar case; they are essentially aerial spirits, composed of immaterial fire, as it is written, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire’ (Ps 104:4). Angels exist in space, and when they are seen by those who are worthy, they assume an appropriate physical form” (On the Holy Spirit, PG38.138A). For us then, in our deepest prayer and praise, we are able to see the divine illumination of angelic appearances in the same manner as viewing, perhaps, a rainbow, which can truly appear visually and radiantly upon occasion, and can powerfully signify God’s promise in Scripture, but has no physical body.

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Encountering the Mandylion Icon of Christ

by V.K. McCarty | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Icon of Christ

“The indescribable glory of His face was changing through grace”—Menaion for August.

Since the feast-day of the Mandylion Ikon of Christ, memories of encountering it have been galvanizing my prayer, recalling an extraordinary encounter meeting it on pilgrimage many years ago. The Mandylion Icon “Not Made by Hands” occupies a central place among Orthodox images of Christ, although its origins are shrouded in mystery. The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 gave attention to it, and to commemorate the triumph of the holy images, it is this icon of Christ which is venerated at the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The expression “not made by hands” derives its meaning from its Gospel context: “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made by hands” (Mark 14:58). The term acheiropoietos in the Greek and spas nerokotvornyi in the Russian describes icons carrying the heritage of being created not by the mere agency of icon-painters, but by the tradition of direct impression of Our Lord’s body; they claim to derive from the first example and thus be genuine and pleasing to God.

The Mandylion Icon of Christ is displayed in a prominent place in the church, censed during the Liturgy, and often carried in procession. It is traditionally seen over doorways and gateways; and it is also often present, symbolizing Christ’s invisible presence, when the penitent and priest stand together in the church for the Sacrament of Repentance. Witnessing this icon for the first time was a jolting experience for me, at once unsettling and yet startlingly infused with love. One evening, during a memorable Russian pilgrimage, as we made the rounds of several Vespers services, we were joined by a Russian Orthodox nun, Sr. Galina. Even with no shared language, we became fast friends because we are both red-headed. Trailing behind her, I learned to circumnavigate the church and venerate the icons.

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Venerating the Transfiguration Every Day

by V. K. McCarty | български | ქართული | ελληνικά  | РусскийСрпски

Transfiguration icon

You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God,
revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it. Let Your everlasting

Light also shine upon us sinners.
Through the prayers of the Theotokos,
O Giver of Light, glory to You!

(Troparion for Transfiguration—Tone 7)

During my Seminary days, walking into Chapel meant walking by, detouring around, the Icon of the Transfiguration. It was open on the back of a large Gothic Lesson lectern, standing in the wrought-iron entranceway to the quire in chapel, where we all sat to worship antiphonally. Day in and day out, greeting the icon and venerating it was part of my day, twice a day—even if, in my haste, I only saw Christ’s feet most of the time, as I bow with the Apostles. This simple gesture of faith was one of the ways we witnessed to our personal piety; and even, how we discovered other like-minded friends in each new class of students. I was actually there longer than most, because I worked on staff as a librarian for fifteen years and enjoyed the Divine Office, ordering my day with Scripture and praise through all of it. The sides of the icon were closed during the season of Lent; and seeing it reappear again in Easter Week, it was surprising how sweetly exhilarating it was to be bathed in its divine light again.

The light of the Transfiguration icon teaches us, as I kiss the feet of the Savior day after day, that Jesus Christ well-beloved by His Father in heaven, is always present, radiating glory into the complicated corners of our lives—not just on the feast-day, but every day. Indeed, the true astonishment about the Transfiguration scene with Jesus is that, in that moment, the Apostles are finally able to see the glory that Jesus always radiated; they are ready now in the progress of their faith to humbly receive it and participate in it.

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