"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Thursday, 11 January 2018


Vatican Investigation Declares First Days of the Medjugorje Apparitions Real and Authentic

early days

It may be a coincidence that the Vatican finally has released the text of norms it designed for use in evaluating apparitions way back in 1978 at the same time that it's evaluating the most famous apparition since Fatima and one of the most visited religious places on earth: Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Hercegovina, which has been experiencing building boom after building boom, such that anyone who visited in the late 1980s or 1990s or even as recently as five years ago would hardly recognize it.

What was once a hamlet surrounded by vineyards is now a city -- one that, to our eyes, may be approaching the size of Fatima and Lourdes (if it has not already).

Though Americans no longer flock there as they did before the Yugoslavian civil war as well as terrorism threats and high airline prices, Poles, Irish, and particularly Italians have been flooding the site -- maxing out even the great expansion in bed-and-breakfast-hotel space.

Yet, this is not an approved apparition -- and no one, outside of perhaps the Pope, knows if it will ever be.

The norms released by Rome are "new" to the vast majority and fascinating because they are not only comprehensive but unambiguously dispel a notion -- widely and tirelessly circulated by opponents to the apparitions during the past dozen or so years -- that only a local bishop -- no one else -- can rule on such private revelations. (Although he may be softening a bit -- some think recent statements from him indicate a more positive Vatican view -- the local bishop has long and vehemently opposed the alleged miracles.)

The norms clearly spell out that "the Apostolic See can intervene if asked either by the Ordinary himself, by a qualified group of the faithful, or even directly by reason of the universal jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff (cf. infra, no. IV)," adding that it's up to the Sacred Congregation "to intervene motu proprio in graver cases, especially if the matter affects the larger part of the Church" -- which Medjugorje -- drawing pilgrims from around the globe (including dozens of cardinals, hundreds of bishops, and tens of thousands of priests) has for decades.

It is now spelt out clearly for this situation which since 1987 has been out of the local bishop's hands and since 2010 has been taken from a committee of several Bosnia-Hercegovinian prelates for handling directly by a special Vatican commission that has been assiduously researching the apparitions and interviewing seers.

What this commission will recommend -- and whether it will even be made public -- is anyone's guess. For months now the rumor has been that it will make recommendations  by the end of the year. The Pope will then do whatever the Pope wants to do with the recommendations.

Image result for cardinal ratzinger
Credible reports indicate that Benedict visited Medjugorje when he was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (he was seen there by eyewitnesses, and photographed another time in Linz, Austria, with a famous Medjugorje priest, right), and it makes sense in that his superior at the time, John Paul II, who beyond doubt favored the apparitions, encouraged his cardinals to visit there. As his right hand man -- in charge of the Congregation that oversee private revelations -- it only makes sense that Cardinal Ratzinger visited (incognito, as observers from Rome still visit).
Image result for medjugorje the pilgrims
Jacov speaks to pilgrims
While indications are that in the early days Cardinal Ratzinger was in the camp of believers, no one knows his current thinking; where John Paul II spoke to any number about Medjugorje, Benedict XVI has been tight-lipped with visiting bishops (or, bishops have been tight-lipped with anything that has been said). There was a rumor several years ago that when he was still cardinal the Pope had concerns about the way at least one seer was conducting life as a visionary and the norms include monetary gain as a negative though not sole determinant to consider when evaluating private revelations.

A key and perhaps the key norm in apparitions (one mentioned prominently in the norms) is whether there have been fruits, and at Medjugorje these have been legion -- countless healings, conversions by the hundreds of thousands (if not millions), deliverance, and priestly vocations. It can be argued that no apparition has had more fruits at the same point and perhaps none has had more in the same time span.

Still, the likeliest outcome from the commission is a statement to the effect that final proof of supernatural authenticity has not yet been definitively established but the faithful are allowed to continue attendance and devotions. Recently, as mentioned, Bishop Ratko Peric seemed to soften a trifle -- saying in a homily during Confirmation at Saint James Church that Medjugorje could be a "new Jerusalem" (or, if commercially consumed, a "Babylon"). That implied he saw what has occurred there as something that will remain and hinted that the commission will be less than condemnatory.

But that doesn't mean formal acceptance (it is rare for an ongoing apparition to be officially recognized, before alleged prophecies are at least partially fulfilled).

And there remains a significant chance that the apparitions will be rejected (in which case we, as a Catholic news site, will closely adhere to the ruling, as we will whatever is determined by the Pope).

While it is difficult to envision outright condemnation of an apparition that has been visited by tens of millions, has affected more people than anyone can count, and has greatly bolstered the Church in places where it is in severe crisis (particularly Ireland, Italy, and also many parts of North America), not to mention the economic and diplomatic repercussions (it has become highly important to Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, the pilgrims breaking records at the Mostar airport, one of several they use), anything is possible and the commission is at least somewhat weighted (and perhaps very substantially so) in the direction of  psychology. It also may be privy to information that we are not.

Reverberations of a rejection would be seismic -- but must be obeyed.

There are rumours in every direction.

Will the seers (who currently travel widely, and appear before tens of thousands, as in the case recently in Italy and Lebanon) be reined in? Will the Vatican allow them to maintain pilgrim homes (as does virtually everyone else in this former farming community)?

Stay tuned.

The release of the norms in various regular languages (beyond Latin) was expected years ago and thus has been long overdue and is now newsworthy; it will be interesting to see if there are similar delays in a statement on the apparitions.

The current status of Medjugorje is what they call non constat de supernaturalitate, more or less a preliminary statement saying that so far there has been no objective final proof. That view (which, despite the way some try to spin it, is not a negative verdict, nor even an actual judgment) was issued on April 10, 1991 and followed by two Vatican statements saying that Catholics (including priests) were allowed to go to Medjugorje as long as it is not an official parish pilgrimage. Detractors circulated this to be a prohibition, in the same way that they insisted that the local bishop's judgment was final in this matter. This status of non constat de supernaturalitate may be reiterated, with continued permission to visit the shrine.

"It is up to the Sacred Congregation to judge and approve the Ordinary’s way of proceeding or, in so far as it be possible and fitting, to initiate a new examination of the matter, distinct from that undertaken by the Ordinary and carried out either by the Sacred Congregation itself or by a special Commission," say the norms released this week, which were formulated under Cardinal Francis Šeper and in restrospect seemed to set the stage for the removal, in the 1980s, of the Mostar bishop's authority (and establishment of the current commission).

Whatever the final Church view of Medjugorje -- and at this point, it seems like a toss up -- the misunderstandings about the bishop having total and ultimate jurisdiction have now been definitively shown to be just that: an error, or misrepresentation.

BBC Documentary on Medjugorje

Archbishop reveals a surpise about Medjugorje
December 12th, 2017 - Vatican envoy nuances point of view on official pilgrimages to Medjugorje
Vatican envoy mgr. Hoser (emeritus when reaching 75 years of age on December 8): "The decree that forbade bishops to organize pilgrimages is no longer active ... If a bishop wants to organize a prayer pilgrimage to Medjugorje to pray to Our Lady, he can do it without problem. But if it is about organized pilgrimages to go there for the apparitions, we can not, there is no authorization to do it"

500,000 see the Blessed Virgin in Zetun, Cairo, Egypt
The one who impressed me the most was Ivan.  I have met him three times, once in Medjugorje, once when he stayed a night in my monastery at Belmont, and once in Peru.  He is shy, not the kind of person to like attention.


Many Orthodox Christians across the globe welcomed the news that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, Theodore, ordained five young women to the female diaconate in February of 2017.  Although overly due, this historic event gives many hope that the Church at large is heeding the pastoral needs of its people. Female deacons existed in the Orthodox Church, and has been kept in some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, as Dr. Petros Vassiliadis’ mentions regarding the revival of the female diaconate this past November.

The role of women in the Church is, of course, broader than an ordained female diaconate.  Indeed, men and women across the Christian world have thought more seriously about the role of women in the church in recent decades. They understand the pastoral benefit conferred to the entire community when women are more integral in the life of the Church.

Contrary to what many may assume, active roles for women is the Church’s Tradition. Historically, women had a clear place in the life of the Church and had integral functions in its divine services; many were preachers, teachers, chanters, prophets, missionaries, assistants and even administers of the sacraments when needed according to the economy of the Church.[1]

Some of these roles have been maintained in some Eastern Churches, whereas others have dissipated. In the Syriac Church, for example, women chanters date back to the fourth-century, where they were first employed in divine liturgy by St. Ephraim the Syrian.[2] The Armenian Orthodox Church also has a long history of women chanters, and several instances of female choir directors. Today, Greek, Russian, Ethiopic, Antiochian and ROCOR Churches use women chanters, even if there is not a unanimous set of standards for them, and some local parishes of these jurisdictions are averse for such positions.[3] The Coptic Orthodox Church does not have any women choirs (with exception to one official group in the Western hemisphere),[4] and typically does not endorse them.

In addition to chanters and choirs, some Orthodox Churches employ women readers.  But like female singers, these roles too are not standardized across the Churches. In some Churches, this practice is adamantly prohibited. Women readers (mostly in the USA and other parts of the West) are today practiced in some Armenian,[5] Syriac, Greek, ROCOR, and Antiochian Churches.

Today, opposition to women’s sanctioned ecclesial roles is often expressed through a misused and abused interpretation of St. Paul’s instruction that women should ‘being silent in the churches’ (1 Corinthians 14:34). The mere fact women were not silent is evinced throughout Scriptures – most notably in the same letter by St. Paul where he speaks of female prophets  (1 Corinthians 11:5), but also in Acts (21:9); others preached and converted entire towns (John 4) and were commanded by the Lord to witness His Resurrection (which was inherently unconventional for a woman to witness to a man at that time – John 20:17-18); others still corrected false teachings (Acts 18:24-26), were deaconesses (διακονία) of St. Paul (Romans 16), and administered the gospel with him (Philippians 4:3 — αἵτινες ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ συνήθλησάν μοι μετὰ).  Thus, it is impossible to interpret St. Paul’s directive as an unambiguous condemnation of women’s voices in church if we know that Scripture repeatedly affirms such voices.

As Fr John Behr notes, Orthodox Christians should read the Scriptures with a ‘synchronic view’, that is, reading them as a whole. Thus, an Orthodox approach to Scriptures would not extract passages selectively to proof-text one’s argument as they seem fit, nor would it construct a dogmatic principle from any single biblical passage. But this is precisely what happens when opponents of female ministry construct a clichéd and untenable argument to prohibit women’s designated roles in the Church in light of 1 Corinthians 14:34.

Indeed, although many Orthodox Christians sharply criticize the Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura, some ironically employ this same methodology in their repudiation of women’s roles in the church.

In other words, using 1 Corinthians 14:34 to prohibit women’s active role in Church (whether a choir or reader) is not only an error of biblical interpretation, which fails to interpret the verse alongside the totality of scripture but also an error of tradition because it negates the living Tradition of the Church, which affirms that women were not silent throughout the history of the Church. In effect, this effort to silence women not only de-humanizes half of the Body of the Church, but it also debilitates the entire Church (when one member suffers, all suffer – 1 Corinthians 12:26) and diminishes the opportunity to administer in the Church of God.

For many who are unfamiliar with the Church’s actual history, the revival of women’s roles for the Church are sometimes perceived as ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’, ‘feministic’, or ‘open-minded’. But these roles are ultimately Traditional – part of our history, ecclesial practices, and living Tradition of the Church.

We must remember that in sanctioning (or re-sanctioning rather) women’s integral role in the liturgical life of the Church, we not only revive an ancient Tradition and practice, but we also embrace and acknowledge the pastoral needs of the laity. The Church is living and dynamic; it is not stagnant and a mere point of reference to the past. It must be relevant – while being Traditional, and this reality is achievable when we recognize women as essential to the liturgical and participatory functions of the Church at large.

[1]  As in the life of St. Sarah (also known as Martyria) for example as witnessed in the Coptic Synexarium on May 3rd (Baramouda 25) and December 9 (Hator 29). See here and here. Also see my article ‘Oikonomia and Salvation: the Life of the Brave Mother Saint Sarah, Martyria’, in Encountering Women of Faith: Volume 3, Kyriaki Fitzgerald (ed.), (Holy Cross Press, forthcoming 2018).

[2] See S.A. Harvey, ‘Revisiting the Daughters of the Covenant: Women’s Choirs and Sacred Song in Ancient Syriac Christianity’, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 8.2 (July 2005).

[3] My experience in a Greek Orthodox Seminary witnesses that many women in Eastern Orthodox parishes voiced their concerns that their local parishes rejected them to participate in chant at the bema.

[4] This choir has existed in recent years, yet during its inception, it was resisted by many and interpreted this group as ‘anti-Orthodox.’

[5] In the Armenian Tradition, the deaconess can be sanctioned to read the gospel during the divine liturgy. Her liturgical vestment traditionally contains the orarian and full-length stole like in the male deaconate. She also is permitted to hold the liturgical fan during the service.

Donna Rizk Asdourian, PhD in Theology, is a Research Fellow at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University and is currently working on ‘Women’s Liturgical Role Today in the Oriental Orthodox Churches.’ She comes from both Coptic and Armenian Traditions.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

As I am a little unwell and needed to borrow an article that is worth borrowing, that is relevant to both Catholics and Orthodox, and Public Orthodoxy is a good place to look. - Fr David

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


Pope Francis speaks during his annual pre-Christmas meeting with top officials of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State and with cardinals living in Rome in the Clementine Hall Dec. 21 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri pool via Reuters)

Clementine Hall
Thursday, 21 December 2017

Christmas is the feast of faith in the Son of God who became man in order to restore us to our filial dignity, lost through sin and disobedience. Christmas is the feast of faith in hearts that become a manger to receive him and souls that allow God to make a shoot of hope, charity and faith sprout from the stump of their poverty.

Today is once again a moment for exchanging Christmas greetings and for wishing a holy and joyful Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your co-workers, to the Papal Representatives, to all those persons who serve in the Curia, and to all your dear ones. May this Christmas open our eyes so that we can abandon what is superfluous, false, malicious and sham, and to see what is essential, true, good and authentic. My best wishes indeed!

Dear brothers and sisters,

I have already spoken of the Roman Curia ad intra. This year I would like to share with you some reflections on the Curia ad extra, that is, on its relationship with the nations, with the Particular Churches, with the Oriental Churches, with ecumenical dialogue, with Judaism, with Islam and other religions – in other words, with the outside world.

My reflections are based of course on the fundamental canonical principles of the Curia and on its own history, but also on the personal vision that I have sought to share with you in my addresses of recent years, within the context of the reform currently under way.

Speaking of reform, I think of the amusing yet pointed remark of Archbishop Frédéric-François-Xavier de Mérode: “Making reforms in Rome is like cleaning the Sphinx with a toothbrush”.[1] His mot points to the patience, tenacity and sensitivity needed to attain that goal. For the Curia is an ancient, complex and venerable institution made up of people of different cultures, languages and mindsets, and bound, intrinsically and from the outset, to the primatial office of the Bishop of Rome in the Church, that is, to the “sacred” office willed by Christ the Lord for the good of the entire Church (ad bonum totius corporis).[2]

The universal nature of the Curia’s service thus wells up and flows out from the catholicity of the Petrine ministry. A Curia closed in on itself would betray its own raison d’être and plunge into self-referentiality and ultimately destroy itself. The Church, is by her very nature projected ad extra, and only to the extent that she remains linked to the Petrine ministry, the service of God’s word and the preaching of the Gospel. That Good News is that God is Emmanuel, who is born among us and becomes one of us in order to show to all his visceral closeness, his limitless love and his divine desire that all men and women be saved and come to enjoy the blessings of heaven (cf. 1 Tim 2:4). He is the God who makes his sun rise on the good and evil alike (cf. Mt 5:45); the God who came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mt 20:28); the God who establishes the Church to be in the world but not of the world, and to be an instrument of salvation and service.

Recently, in greeting the Fathers and Heads of the Oriental Catholic Churches,[3] and reflecting on this ministerial, petrine and curial finality of service, I used the expression “diaconal primacy”, which immediately calls to mind the image of the Servus servorum Dei, so beloved of Saint Gregory the Great. This definition, in its Christological dimension, is above all the expression of a firm desire to imitate Christ, who took on the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7). Benedict XVI, in this regard, has said that on the lips of Gregory this phrase was “no mere pious formula, but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. Gregory was deeply moved by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant, who washed and continues to wash our dirty feet”.[4]

A similar diaconal attitude should characterize all those who in various ways work in the context of the Roman Curia. For the Curia, as the Code of Canon Law also states, “performs its function”, in the name and with the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, “for the good and service of the Churches” (can. 360; cf. CCEO, can. 46).

A diaconal primacy “with regard to the Pope”,[5] and consequently diaconal as well, is the work which is carried out within the Roman Curia ad intra and outside of it, ad extra. This theme of a ministerial and curial diaconia reminds me of a phrase in the ancient Didascalia Apostolorum, which states that “the deacon must be the ear and the mouth of the Bishop, his heart and his soul”.[6] For this agreement between the two is linked to communion, harmony and peace in the Church, inasmuch as “the deacon is the guardian of service in the Church”.[7] I do not believe that it is by chance that the ear is the organ of hearing but also of balance; and that the mouth is the organ of both taste and speech.

Another ancient text adds that deacons are called to be, as it were, the eyes of the Bishop.[8] The eye sees in order to transmit images to the mind, helping it to take decisions and to give direction for the good of the whole body.

The relationship that these images suggest is that of communion in filial obedience for the service of God’s holy people. There can be no doubt, then, that such must be also the relationship that exists between all those who work in the Roman Curia. From the Dicastery heads and superiors to the officials and all others. Communion with Peter reinforces and reinvigorates communion between all the members.

Seen in this light, my appeal to the senses of the human body helps us have a sense of extroversion, of attention to what is outside. In the human body, the senses are our first connection to the world ad extra; they are like a bridge towards that world; they enable us to relate to it. The senses help us to grasp reality and at the same time to situate ourselves in reality. Not by chance did Saint Ignatius appeal to the senses for the contemplation of the mysteries of Christ and truth.[9]

This is very important for rising above that unbalanced and debased mindset of plots and small cliques that in fact represent – for all their self-justification and good intentions – a cancer leading to a self-centredness that also seeps into ecclesiastical bodies, and in particular those working in them. When this happens, we lose the joy of the Gospel, the joy of sharing Christ and of fellowship with him; we lose the generous spirit of our consecration (cf. Acts 20:35 and 2 Cor 9:7).

Here let me allude to another danger: those who betray the trust put in them and profiteer from the Church’s motherhood. I am speaking of persons carefully selected to give a greater vigour to the body and to the reform, but – failing to understand the lofty nature of their responsibility – let themselves be corrupted by ambition or vainglory. Then, when they are quietly sidelined, they wrongly declare themselves martyrs of the system, of a “Pope kept in the dark”, of the “old guard”…, rather than reciting a mea culpa. Alongside these, there are others who are still working there, to whom all the time in the world is given to get back on the right track, in the hope that they find in the Church’s patience an opportunity for conversion and not for personal advantage. Of course, this is in no way to overlook the vast majority of faithful persons working there with praiseworthy commitment, fidelity, competence, dedication and great sanctity.

To return to the image of the body, it is fitting to note that these “institutional senses”, to which we can in some way compare the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, must operate in a way befitting their nature and purpose: in the name and with the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, and always for the good and the service of the Churches.[10] Within the Church, they are called to be like faithful, sensitive antennae: sending and receiving.

Antennae that “send”, inasmuch as they are capable of faithfully transmitting the will of the Pope and the Superiors. For those working in the Holy See, the word “fidelity”[11] is particularly important, “since they spend so much of their energy, their time and their daily ministry in the service of the Successor of Peter. This entails a serious responsibility but also a special gift, which as time goes by should lead to a relationship of closeness to the Pope, a closeness marked by interior trust, a natural idem sentire, which is expressed precisely by the word ‘faithfulness’”.[12]

Antennae too that “receive”. This involves grasping the aspirations, the questions, the pleas, the joys and the sorrows of the Churches and the world, and transmitting them to the Bishop of Rome in order to enable him to carry out more effectively his task and his mission as “the lasting and visible source and foundation of unity both of faith and of communion”.[13] By this receptivity, which is more important than their preceptive role, the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia enter generously into that process of hearing and synodality of which I have previously spoken.[14]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have used the expression “diaconal primacy” and the images of the body, the senses and antennae to make clear that, in order to reach the places where the Spirit speaks to the Churches (history, that is) and to achieve the aim of our work (salus animarum), it is necessary, indeed indispensable, to practice discernment of the signs of the times,[15] communion in service, charity in truth, docility to the Holy Spirit and trusting obedience to Superiors.

Here perhaps it is helpful to mention that the names of the different Dicasteries and Offices of the Roman Curia indicate the very realities that they are called to promote. Their work, if we think about it, is of fundamental importance for the entire Church and, I would say, for the whole world.

Since the work of the Curia is quite extensive, I would limit myself this time to speaking in general of the Curia ad extra, that is, of certain basic, select aspects from which it will not be difficult, in the near future, to set forth and examine more deeply the Curia’s other areas of activity.

The Curia and its relations with the nations:

In this area, a fundamental role is played by Vatican diplomacy, as the sincere and constant effort to make the Holy See a builder of bridges, peace and dialogue between nations. As it is a diplomacy at the service of humanity and the human person, of outstretched hand and open door, it seeks to listen, to understand, to help, to support and to intervene quickly and respectfully in any situation, for the sake of narrowing distances and building trust. Its only interest is to remain free of all worldly or material self-interest.

The Holy See is thus present on the world scene to cooperate with all peoples and nations of good will. It strives to reaffirm the importance of protecting “our common home” from all destructive forms of selfishness, to state that wars lead only to death and destruction, to draw from the past the lessons needed to help us live better in the present, and to build a solid and secure future for future generations.

Meetings with Heads of State and with various Delegations, together with the Apostolic Journeys, are its means and its goal.

For this reason, the Third Section of the Secretariat of State has been established. It is meant to show the concern and closeness of the Pope and of the Superiors of the Secretariat of State for diplomatic personnel and for the men and women religious and lay people serving in the Nunciatures. The Third Section will deal with issues involving persons working in the diplomatic service of the Holy See or preparing for this service, in close cooperation with the Section for General Affairs and the Section for Relations with States.[16]

This particular concern is based on the two-fold dimension of the service carried out by diplomatic personnel: as pastors and diplomats, in the service of the particular Churches and of the nations where they work.

The Curia and the particular Churches:

The relationship between the Curia and Dioceses and Eparchies is of paramount importance. In the Roman Curia these find whatever help and support they may need. This relationship is grounded in cooperation and trust, and never on superiority or conflict. The basis of this relationship is set forth in the conciliar Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, which explains at length that the work of the Curia is carried out “for the good of the Churches and in service of the sacred pastors”.[17]

The Roman Curia thus has as its point of reference not only the Bishop of Rome, from whom it receives its authority, but also the particular Churches and their Pastors throughout the world, for whose good it functions and acts.

In the first of these yearly encounters, I spoke of this characteristic of “service to the Pope and to the Bishops, to the universal Church, to the particular Churches and to the entire world”. I pointed out that: “in the Roman Curia, one learns – in a special way, “one breathes in” – this twofold aspect of the Church, this interplay of the universal and the particular”. And I went on to say: “I think that this is one of the finest experiences of those who live and work in Rome”.[18]

The Visits ad Limina Apostolorum, in this sense, represent a great opportunity for encounter, dialogue and mutual enrichment. I have preferred, when meeting with Bishops, to have an open and sincere conversation that remains private and goes beyond the formalities of protocol and the customary exchange of speeches and recommendations. Dialogue between the bishops and the various Dicasteries is also important. In the course of the Visits ad Limina that resumed this year after the Jubilee year, the Bishops told me that they were received well and listened to by all the Dicasteries. This makes me very happy., and I thank the Dicastery heads present.

Here allow me, at this particular moment of the Church’s life, to draw our attention to the forthcoming Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which has as its theme Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. To call upon the Curia, the bishops and the entire Church to give particular attention to young people does not mean considering them alone. It also means focusing on a critical theme for a combination of relationships and pressing issues, such as intergenerational relationships, the family, pastoral work, social life, and so forth. The Preparatory Document makes this clear in its Introduction: “The Church has decided to examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love, and to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today. By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. As in the days of Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 3:1-21) and Jeremiah (cf. Jer 1:4-10), young people know how to discern the signs of our times, indicated by the Spirit. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow”.[19]

The Curia and the Oriental Churches:

The unity and the communion that prevail in the relationship of the Church of Rome and the Oriental Churches present a concrete example of richness in diversity for the whole Church. In fidelity to their own bi-millennial traditions and in ecclesiastica communio, they experience and realize the priestly prayer of Jesus (cf. Jn 17).[20]

In this regard, at my last meeting with the Patriarchs and Heads of the Oriental Churches, I spoke of the “diaconal primacy” and likewise stressed the importance of further study and review of the sensitive question of the election of new Bishops and Eparchs. This must correspond, on the one hand, to the autonomy of the Oriental Churches and, at the same time, to their spirit of evangelical responsibility and desire to strengthen constantly their unity with the Catholic Church. “Everything should be done with the thorough application of that authentic synodal praxis which distinguishes the Oriental Churches”.[21] The election of each bishop must reflect and strengthen unity and communion between the Successor of Peter and the entire College of Bishops.[22]

The relationship between Rome and the East is one of mutual spiritual and liturgical enrichment. Indeed, the Church of Rome would not be truly catholic without the priceless riches of the Oriental Churches and lacking the heroic testimony of so many of our Oriental brothers and sisters who purify the Church by accepting martyrdom and offering their lives so as not to deny Christ.[23]

The Curia and ecumenical dialogue

There are also areas to which the Catholic Church, especially after the Second Vatican Council, is particularly committed. Among these is Christian unity, which is “an essential requirement of our faith, a requirement that flows from the depth of our being believers in Jesus Christ”.[24] It involves a “journey”, yet, as was also stated by my predecessors, it is an irreversible journey and not a going back. “Unity is made by walking, in order to recall that when we walk together, that is, when we meet as brothers, we pray together, we collaborate together in the proclamation of the Gospel, and in the service to the least, we are already united. All the theological and ecclesiological differences that still divide Christians will only be surmounted along this path, although today we do not know how and when [it will happen], but that it will happen according to what the Holy Spirit will suggest for the good of the Church”.[25]

The work of the Curia in this area is aimed at fostering encounter with our brothers and sisters, untying the knots of misunderstanding and hostility, and counteracting prejudices and the fear of the other, all of which have prevented us from seeing the richness in diversity and the depth of the Mystery of Christ and of the Church. For that mystery is always greater than any human words can express.

The meetings between Popes, Patriarchs and Heads of the different Churches and Communities have always filled me with joy and gratitude.

The Curia, Judaism, Islam and other religions:

The relationship of the Roman Curia to other religions is based on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the need for dialogue. “For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict”.[26] Dialogue is grounded in three fundamental lines of approach: “The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions. The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation”.[27]

My meetings with religious leaders during the various Apostolic Visits and here in the Vatican, are a concrete proof of this.

These are only some aspects, important but not comprehensive, of the work of the Curia ad extra. Today I chose these aspects, linked to the theme of “diaconal primacy”, “institutional senses”, and of “faithful antennae that transmit and receive”.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I began our meeting by speaking of Christmas as the Feast of Faith. I would like to conclude, though, by pointing out that Christmas reminds us that a faith that does not trouble us is a troubled faith. A faith that does not make us grow is a faith that needs to grow. A faith that does not raise questions is a faith that has to be questioned. A faith that does not rouse us is a faith that needs to be roused. A faith that does not shake us is a faith that needs to be shaken. Indeed, a faith which is only intellectual or lukewarm is only a notion of faith. It can become real once it touches our heart, our soul, our spirit and our whole being. Once it allows God to be born and reborn in the manger of our heart. Once we let the star of Bethlehem guide us to the place where the Son of God lies, not among Kings and riches, but among the poor and humble.

As Angelus Silesius wrote in The Cherubinic Wanderer: “It depends solely on you. Ah, if only your heart could become a manger, then God would once again become a child on this earth”.[28]

With these reflections, I renew my personal best wishes for Christmas for you and your dear ones. Thank you!

As a Christmas gift, I would like to leave you this Italian version of the work of Blessed Father Marie-Eugène de l’Enfant Jésus, Je veux voir Dieu (“I want to see God”). It is a work of spiritual theology, and it will do us all some good. Maybe not by reading it completely, but by looking in the index for the thing that most interests us, or we think we most need. I hope it will benefit all of us.

Then too, Cardinal Piacenza has been very generous; with the work of the Apostolic Penitentiary, and also Monsignor Nykiel, he has given us this book: La festa del perdono (“The Feast of Forgiveness”) as a fruit of the Jubilee of Mercy. He even wanted to give it to us for free. Thank you, Cardinal Piacenza and the Apostolic Penitentiary. This book will be given to you as you leave. Thank you!


And, please, pray for me

[1]Cf. GIUSEPPE DALLA TORRE, Sopra una storia della Gendarmeria Pontificia, 19 October 2017.

[2] “In order to ensure that the people of God would have pastors and would enjoy continual growth, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices whose aim is the good of the whole body” (SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 18).

[3] Cf. Greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops, 9 October 2017.

[4] Catechesis, General Audience of 4 June 2008.

[5] Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Plenary Meeting of the Sacred College of Cardinals, 21 November 1985, 4.

[6] 2, 44: Funk, 138-166. Cf. W. RORDORF, Liturgie et eschatologie, in Augustinianum 18 (1978), 153-161; ID., Que savons-nous des lieux de culte chrétiens de l’époque pré-constantinienne?, in L’Orient Syrien 9 (1964), 39-60.

[7] Cf. Meeting with Priests and Consecrated Men and Women, Milan Cathedral, 25 March 2017.

[8] “As for the Church’s deacons, let them serve as the eyes of the bishop, looking all around and investigating the actions of each in the Church, in case anyone is about to sin. In this way, admonished beforehand by the presider, perhaps that person will not commit [his or her sin]” (Letter of Clement to James, 12: Rehm 14-15, in I Ministeri nella Chiesa Antica. Testi patristici dei primi tre secoli a cura di Enrico Cattaneo, Edizione Paolina, 1997, 696).

[9] Cf. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, No. 121: “The fifth contemplation will be to apply the five senses the first and the second contemplation”.

[10] In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Saint Jerome makes a curious comparison between the five bodily senses and the virgins of the Gospel parable, who become foolish when they no longer act in accordance with their assigned purpose (Comm. in Mt XXV: PL 26, 184).

[11] The concept of fidelity is quite demanding and eloquent, since it also brings out time involved in living out the commitment assumed; it refers to a virtue which, as Benedict XVI noted, “expresses the unique bond existing between the Pope and his direct collaborators, both in the Roman Curia and in the Papal Representations”. Address to the Community of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, 11 June 2012.

[12] Ibid.

[13] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 18.

[14] “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that ‘listening is more than simply hearing’. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other and listening to the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what “he says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7). Address for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015.

[15] Cf. Lk 12:54-59; Mt 16:1-4; SECOND VATICAN ECUCMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 11: “The people of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord who fills the whole world. Impelled by that faith, they try to discern the true signs of God’s presence and purpose in the events, the needs and the desires that it shares with the rest of humanity today. For faith casts a new light on everything and makes known the full ideal which God has set for humanity, thus guiding the mind towards solutions that are fully human”.

[16] Cf. Papal Letter, 18 October 2017; Communiqué of the Secretariat of State, 21 November 2017.

[17] Christus Dominus, 9.

[18] Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2013; cf. PAUL VI, Homily for his Eightieth Birthday, 16 October 1977: “I have loved Rome, and have constantly sought to reflect on and understand its transcendent mystery, certainly without being able to penetrate it and experience it fully. Yet I have always been, and still am, passionately concerned to understand how and why ‘Christ is Roman’ (DANTE ALIGHIERI, Divine Comedy, Purg. XXXII, 201)… Whether the “sense of being Roman” comes from being a native citizen of this fateful City, or from long residence here, or an experience of its hospitality, that sense, that “Roman consciousness”, has the power to grant those capable of imbibing it a sense of universal humanism” (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, XV [1977], 1957).

[19] SYNOD OF BISHOPS, FIFTEENTH ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, Introduction.

[20] On the one hand, the unity that responds to the gift of the Spirit finds natural and full expression in “indefectible union with the Bishop of Rome” (BENEDICT XVI, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 40). On the other hand, being inserted in the communion of the entire Body of Christ makes us conscious of the duty to strengthen union and solidarity within the various Patriarchal Synods themselves, and to “recognize the need to consult one another in matters of great importance for the Church prior to taking a unified collegial action” (ibid.).

[21] Meeting with the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Oriental Catholic Churches, 21 November 2013.

[22] Together with the Heads and Fathers, and the Oriental Archbishops and Bishops, in communion with the Pope, with the Curia and among themselves, all of us are called “always to seek righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness (cf. 1 Tim 6:11), and to adopt a modest manner of life in imitation of Christ, who became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)… [to] transparency in the administration of temporal goods, and [to] understanding in every weakness and need”. Meeting with the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Oriental Catholic Churches, 21 November 2013.

[23] “We see great numbers of our Christian brothers and sisters of the Oriental Churches experiencing dramatic persecutions and an ever more troubling diaspora” (Homily for the Centenary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches and of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Basilica of Saint Mary Major, 12 October 2017. “No one can turn a blind eye to this situation” (Message for the Centenary of the Foundation of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, 12 October 2017).

[24] Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, 10 November 2016

[25] Ibid.

[26] Address to Participants at the International Peace Conference, Al-Azhar Conference Centre, Cairo, 28 April 2017.

[27] Ibid.


n his address to the Roman Curia, the Holy Father returned, as during the previous two year’s addresses, to the theme of Curial reform, laying out the framework, guiding principles, and what is yet to come.

He said, “Since the Curia is not an immobile bureaucratic apparatus, reform is first and foremost a sign of life, of a Church that advances on her pilgrim way, of a Church that is living and for this reason semper reformanda, in need of reform because she is alive.”

The Pope said reform must “conform to the Good News which must be proclaimed joyously and courageously to all, especially to the poor, the least and the outcast” and that it “must be guided by ecclesiology and directed in bonum et in servitium, as is the service of the Bishop of Rome”.

He said the aim of reform is not aesthetic, like a facelift, for “it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but blemishes!”

Pope Francis said curial reform will only work if the men and women who work in the Curia are renewed and not simply replaced.

“Permanent formation is not enough; what we need also and above all is permanent conversion and purification. Without a change of mentality, efforts at practical improvement will be in vain.”

He said resistance to the process of reform is healthy, provided it does not come from ill intentions.

Describing three types of resistance, the Pope said open resistance is “born of goodwill and sincere dialogue” and hidden resistance comes from “hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of a complacent spiritual reform”, while malicious resistance springs up “in misguided minds and comes to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions… [which] hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation”.

Pope Francis then laid out the guiding principles of the reform, which are:

- Individual responsibility (personal conversion)
- Pastoral concern (pastoral conversion)
- Missionary spirit (Christocentrism)
- Clear organization
- Improved functioning
- Modernization (updating)
- Sobriety
- Subsidiarity
- Synodality
- Catholicity
- Professionalism
- Gradualism (discernment)

In conclusion, the Holy Father reiterated that Christmas is the feast of God’s loving humility and repeated a prayer of Fr. Matta el Meskin, addressing the Lord Jesus born in Bethlehem.

“Grant us to become small like you so that we can draw near to you and receive from you abundant humility and meekness. Do not deprive us of your revelation, the epiphany of your infancy in our hearts, so that with it we can heal all our pride and all our arrogance. We greatly need… for you to reveal to us your simplicity, by drawing us, and indeed the Church and the whole world, to yourself.”

Holy Mass for the Epiphany
with English commentary

Friday, 5 January 2018


The Christmas season is a wonderful example of unity in diversity.   One year I had the joy of celebrating Christmas twice, once at Belmont on December 25th, and then with the Ukrainians in Gloucester on January 7th which is December 25th in the Julian Calendar.  This year, we celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th or 7th, while most Eastern churches are celebrating Christmas.  Yet it is the same  mystery of the Incarnation'

Although the Baptism of Our Lord is a major theme of the Epiphany, I shall postpone any detailed treatment of it until the Orthodox Epiphany where it is the dominant theme.

"Epiphany" means "manifestation", and the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the flesh.  It is also called in the East "Theophany" and it included, all in one, the Birth of Christ, the Adoration by the Magi which symbolised Incarnation as God's supreme revelation to all humankind, the Baptism of Christ in which the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity were made manifest, and, last of all,  there was the Marriage Feast of Cana which showed Christ's divine power over nature.  Originally, there was only one feast that encompassed all these themes, as it is practised up to the present day by the Armenian Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox) in which an all-inclusive Christmas Day is celebrated on January 6th.
(Շնորհավոր Ամանոր և Սուրբ Ծնունդ)
The Armenian Christmas
Feast of the Theophany
Armenians with others at Christmas
Christmas Eve Mass (Armenian) Jan. 5th 2018

Introit and Gradual
sung by the monks of Solesmes

my source: Christ in the Desert

GOSPEL     Matthew 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:  And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”  Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”  After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

My sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,

God has sent us His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Son is given for all of us, not just for a chosen group—for all of us.  So we chant in the Christmas Season:  Christ is born for us!  At the time of Epiphany:  Christ has appeared to us.  Christ is for all even as Christ is also for me personally.  The challenge is to see God in the many ways in which God appears and to reflect God in all that I do.

The first reading today is taken from the Prophet Isaiah.  This Prophet tells us:  “Upon you, the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.  Nations shall walk by your light…”  These words are written about Israel but apply to every nation and group of people because the Lord loves us all.  Even this great Prophet Isaiah could not convince everyone that God would act and that God would be present.  The challenge for us is personal belief and also belief as a Church and a community.  If we believe, that our lives begin to reflect that light of His glory and gives witness to the loving presence of our God.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians.  Saint Paul, a devout Jew, tells us how he became aware that God’s love was for even the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people.  God’s love is for everyone.  The challenge for us today is to recognize that God’s love is for all peoples, and especially for those peoples and nations and persons who seem most impossible to accept.  God wants us all and God is working in all, even when we cannot see it.  Once we begin to accept that God is present in all, we will find that speaking of the Lord is not so difficult after all.  Instead, we might find that we naturally speak of God to others and that our own love and faithfulness could draw others to God and to our Lord Jesus.

The Gospel today is the story of the Magi from the East, the story of the Three Kings of the Orient, the story of the star drawing and guiding wise men to the Lord.  We don’t have a lot of details about how this happened, but our Gospels tell us that God Himself chooses to reveal Himself to all peoples and that God Himself uses various ways to do that.  Yes, our witness is important, but so also are the unexplained ways in which God makes Himself known.

For many, the challenge is to believe that God is calling all of us to the Catholic Church.  We live in a time when many think that all religion is the same.  Yet revelation keeps telling us that not everything is the same, that there are roads that lead to destruction, that there are ways that do not lead to light.

What is implied is that in each of us is a drawing to God, an attraction to the Lord, which will eventually bring us to Him.  If we are to see Him, our hearts must be open to Him.  If we are to live in Him, our hearts must be able to embrace Him.

God is revealing Himself to you and to me right now.  Let us open our eyes to His light and open our hearts to His love.

Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Philip

Reges Tharsis: Offertory
monks of Monserrat

The Mystery of God
Who is God
Bishop R. Barron

The Epiphany feast explained by Dom Gueranger

The great liturgist, Dom Prosper Gueranger, gives some thoughts about the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany for the Christian soul.

The Feast of the Epiphany is the continuation of the mystery of Christmas, but it appears on the Calendar of the Church with its own special character. Its very name, which signifies Manifestation, implies that it celebrates the apparition of God to His creatures.

For several centuries the Nativity of Our Lord was kept on this day; and when, in the year 376 the decree of the Holy See obliged all Christians to keep the Nativity on the 25th of December, as Rome did, the 6th of January was not robbed of all its ancient glory. It was still to be called the Epiphany, and the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ was also commemorated on this same Feast, which Tradition had marked as the day on which that Baptism took place.

The Greek Church gives this Feast the venerable and mysterious name of Theophania, which is of such frequent reference in the early Fathers, as signifying a divine Apparition. We find this name applied to this Feast by Eusebius, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Isidore of Pelusium. In the liturgical books of the Melchite Church the Feast goes under no other name.

The Orientals call this solemnity also the Holy Lights, on account of its being the day on which Baptism was administered; for, as we have just mentioned, Our Lord was baptized on this same day. Baptism is called by the holy Fathers "Illumination", and they who received it Illuminated.

Lastly, this Feast is called in many countries the King's Feast; it is, of course, an allusion to the Magi, whose journey to Bethlehem is so continually mentioned in the Divine Office.

The Epiphany shares with the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost the honour of being called, in the Canon of the Mass, a Day most holy. It is also one of the cardinal feasts, that is, one of those on which the arrangement of the Liturgical Year is based; for, as we have Sundays after Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost, so also we count as many as six Sundays after Epiphany.

The Epiphany is indeed a great Feast, and the joy caused us by the Birth of Our Lord Jesus must be renewed on it, for as though it were a second Christmas Day, it shows us our Incarnate God in a new light. It leaves us all the sweetness of the dear Babe of Bethlehem, who hath appeared to us already in love; but to this, it adds its own grand manifestation of the divinity of our Jesus. At Christmas it was a few Shepherds that were invited by the Angels to go and recognize the Word Made Flesh; but now, at the Epiphany, the voice of God Himself calls the whole world to adore this Jesus, and hear Him.

The mystery of the Epiphany brings upon us three magnificent rays of the Sun of Justice, our Savior. In the calendar of pagan Rome, this 6th day of January was devoted to the celebration of a triple triumph of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire; but when Jesus, our Prince of Peace, Whose empire knows no limits, had secured victory to His Church by the blood of the Martyrs, then did this His Church decree that a triple triumph of the Immortal King should be substituted, in the Christian Calendar, for those other three triumphs which had been won by the adopted son of Caesar.

The 6th of January, therefore, restored the celebration of Our Lord's Birth to the 25th of December; but in return, there were united in the one same Epiphany three manifestations of Jesus' glory: the mystery of the Magi coming from the East, under the guidance of a star, and adoring the Infant of Bethlehem as the Divine King; the mystery of the Baptism of Christ, Who, whilst standing in the waters of the Jordan, was proclaimed by the Eternal Father as Son of God; and thirdly, the mystery of the divine power of this same Jesus, when He changed the water into wine at the marriage-feast of Cana.

But did these three Mysteries really take place on this day? Is the 6th of January the real anniversary of these events? We think it enough to state that Baronius, Suarez, Raynaldus, Pope Benedict XIV, and an almost endless list of other writers, assert that the Adoration of the Magi happened on this very day. That the Baptism of Our Lord also happened on the 6th of January is admitted by the severest critics. The precise day of the miracle at the marriage-feast of Cana is far from being as certain as the other two mysteries, though it is impossible to prove that the 6th of January was not the day. For us the children of the Church, it is sufficient that our Holy Mother has assigned the commemoration of these three manifestations for this Feast; we need nothing more to make us rejoice in the triple triumph of the Son of Mary.

If we now come to consider these three mysteries of our Feast separately, we shall find that the Church of Rome, in Her Office and Mass of today, is more intent on the Adoration of the Magi than on the other two. That the mystery of the Vocation of the Gentiles should be made thus prominent by the Church of Rome is not to be wondered at; for, by that heavenly vocation which, in the Magi, called all nations to the admirable light of Faith, Rome, which till then had been the head of the Gentile world, was made the head of the Christian Church and of the whole human race.

The Greek Church makes no special mention, in her Office of today, of the Adoration of the Magi, for she unites it with the mystery of our Savior's Birth in her celebration of Christmas Day. The Baptism of Christ absorbs all her thoughts and praises on the solemnity of the Epiphany.

In the Latin Church, this second mystery of our Feast is celebrated, together with the other two, on the 6th of January, and mention is made of it several times in the Office. But as the coming of the Magi to the crib of our new-born King absorbs the attention of the Roman Church this day, the mystery of the sanctification of the waters was to be commemorated on a day apart – the Octave Day, January 13th.

The third mystery of the Epiphany is also somewhat kept in the shade by the prominence given to the first (though allusion is several times made to it in the Office of the Feast), a special day has been appointed for its due celebration, and that day is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

The great Day, which now brings us to the crib of our Prince of Peace in company with the Three Kings, has been marked by two great events of the first ages of the Church. It was on the 6th of January in the year 361, that Julian, who in heart was already an apostate, happened to be at Vienne in Gaul. He was soon to ascend the imperial throne, which would be left vacant by the death of Constantius, and he felt the need he had of the support of the Christian Church, in which it is said he had received the order of Lector, and which, nevertheless, he was preparing to attack with all the cunning and cruelty of a tiger. Like Herod, he too would fain go on this Feast of the Epiphany and adore the new-born King. His panegyrist Ammianus tells us that this crowned philosopher, who had been seen just before coming out of the pagan temple, where he had been consulting the soothsayers, made his way through the porticoes of the church, and standing in the midst of the faithful people, offered to the God of the Christians his sacrilegious homage.

Eleven years later, in the year 372, another Emperor found his way into the church, on the same Feast of the Epiphany. It was Valens; a Christian, like Julian, by baptism; but a persecutor, in the name of Arianism, of that same Church which Julian persecuted in the name of his vain philosophy and still vainer false gods. As Julian felt necessitated by motives of worldly policy to bow down, on this day, before the divinity of the Galilean; so on this same day, the holy courage of a saintly Bishop made Valens prostrate himself at the feet of Jesus.

St. Basil had just then had his famous interview with the Prefect Modestus, in which his episcopal intrepidity had defeated all the might of earthly power. Valens had come to Caesarea, and with his soul defiled with the Arian heresy, he entered the Basilica, when the Bishop was celebrating, with his people, the glorious Theophany. Let us listen to St. Gregory Nazianzen, thus describing the scene with his usual eloquence: "The Emperor entered the church. The chanting of the psalms echoed through the holy place like the rumbling of thunder. The people, like a waving sea, filled the house of God. Such was the order and pomp in and about the sanctuary, that it looked more like Heaven than earth. Basil himself stood erect before the people, as the Scripture describes Samuel – his body and eyes and soul motionless, as though nothing strange had taken place, and, if I may say so, his whole being was fastened to his God and the Holy Altar.

"The sacred ministers, who surrounded the Pontiff, were in deep recollection and reverence. The Emperor heard and saw all this. He had never before witnessed a spectacle so imposing. He was overpowered. His head grew dizzy, and darkness veiled his eyes."

Jesus, the King of ages, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, had conquered. Valens was disarmed; his resolution of using violence against the holy Bishop was gone; and if heresy kept him from at once adoring the Word consubstantial with the Father, he at least united his exterior worship with that which Basil's flock was paying to the Incarnate God. When the Offertory came, he advanced towards the Sanctuary and presented his gifts to Christ in the person of his holy priest. The fear lest Basil might refuse to accept them took such possession of the Emperor, that had not the sacred ministers supported him, he would have fallen at the foot of the Altar.

Thus has the Kingship of our new-born Savior been acknowledged by the great ones of this world. The Royal Psalmist had sung this prophecy – the kings of the earth shall serve Him, and His enemies shall lick the ground under His feet (Ps. 71: 9, 11).

The race of the Emperors like Julian and Valens was to be followed by Monarchs who would bend their knee before this Babe of Bethlehem, and offer Him the homage of true faith and devoted hearts. Theodosius, St. Karl the Great, Alfred the Great, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Stephen of Hungary, the Emperor St. Heinrich II, St. Ferdinand of Castille, St. Louis IX of France are examples of kings who had a special devotion to the Feast of the Epiphany. Their ambition was to go in company with the Magi to the feet of the Divine Infant and offer Him their gifts. At the English Court, the custom was long retained that the reigning sovereign offered an ingot of gold as a tribute of homage to Jesus the King of kings.

But this custom of imitating the Three Kings in their mystic gifts was not confined to Courts. In the Middle Ages, the faithful used to present on the Epiphany gold, frankincense and myrrh to be blessed by the priest. These tokens of their devotedness to Jesus were kept as pledges of God's blessing upon their houses and families. The practice is still observed in Germany and other parts of the Christian world.

There was another custom which originated in the Ages of Faith, which is still observed in some countries. In honour of the Three Kings, who came from the East to adore the Babe of Bethlehem, each family chose one of its members to be king. The choice was thus made: the family kept a feast, which was an allusion to the third of the Epiphany Mysteries – the Feast of Cana in Galilee – a cake was served, and he who took the piece which had a certain secret mark (inside or underneath) was proclaimed the king of the day. Two portions of the cake were reserved for the poor, in whom honour was thus paid to the Infant Jesus and His Blessed Mother; for on this Day of the triumph of Him, Who though King, was humble and poor, it was fitting that the poor should have a share in the general joy. The happiness of home was there, as in so many other instances, blended with the sacredness of Religion. This custom of the King's Feast brought relations and friends together, and encouraged feelings of kindness and charity. Human weakness would sometimes, perhaps, show itself during these hours of holiday-making; but the idea and sentiment and spirit of the whole feast was profoundly Catholic, and that was sufficient to guarantee its innocence.

For the last several centuries, a puritanical zeal has decried these simple customs, wherein the seriousness of Religion and the home enjoyments of certain Festivals were blended together. The traditions of Christian family rejoicing have been blamed under pretexts of abuse; as though a recreation, in which Religion had no share and no influence, were less open to intemperance and sin! Others have pretended (though with little or no foundation) that such Epiphany customs are mere imitations of the ancient pagan Saturnalia. Even if this were true (which it is not), we would answer that many of the old pagan customs have undergone a Christian transformation, and no reasonable person thinks of refusing to accept them thus purified. All this mistaken zeal has produced the sad effect of divorcing the Church from family life and customs, or excluding every religious manifestation from our traditions, and of bringing about what is so pompously called (though the word is expressive enough) the secularization of society.

But let us return to the triumph of our sweet Savior and King. His magnificence is manifested to us so brightly on this Feast! Our Mother, the Church, is going to initiate us into the mysteries we are to celebrate. Let us imitate the faith and obedience of the Magi; let us adore, with the Holy Baptist, the Divine Lamb, over Whom the Heavens are open; let us take our place at the mystic feast of Cana, where our dear King is present, thrice manifested, thrice glorified. In the last two mysteries, let us not lose sight of the Babe of Bethlehem; and in the Babe of Bethlehem let us cease not to recognize the Great God, in Whom the Father was well pleased, and the Supreme Ruler and Creator of all things.


The Significance of Christmas
 By Fr. Michael Baroudy

my source: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese

The Christian world is about to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord, a celebration in which we all indulge every year. People celebrate this memorable day in various ways, depending upon their own concept of the significance of the day. We have to admit that even here in Christian America, many celebrate the day in a manner that is foreign and even contradictory to the spirit of Christmas. It is becoming increasingly horrifying to any person who does any thinking at all that we are commercializing and paganizing the great Holy Day and have changed it to a holiday. Read, if you will, the paper the “day after Christmas and discover the number of drunkards and those who were hailed to court because the occasion was to them a period for dissipation and indulgence.

I want us to meditate upon the Christmas spirit and the significance of the day. Were we to reflect seriously upon the underlying purpose of Christmas, we would be awed to know that it involves some tremendous facts of world shaking significance. Let us concern ourselves with the facts surrounding the birth of the Savior so that we might become more appreciative and reverent.

Reverting to the Bible to discover the basis for the proper approach to a right understanding of the day’s significance, we find this statement in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians 4: 4-6 with which the Epistle for this day begins, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

When we analyze this statement, we discover that it sets forth three basic truths dealing with this most significant subject. Incarnation, Redemption, Adoption. Taking them in their respective order, we have first of all the birth of the Savior from the blessed Virgin Mary, which is called the “Incarnation”, that is, Jesus taking upon Him our form. This is one of the most staggering mysteries of all time—Jesus, the Son of God, assuming our form and our nature. “When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son, make of a woman.” Is not that a pauser for all of us to reflect upon? Have you ever actually tried to think how great, deep, and immeasurable God’s love must have been, to consent to dwell in human flesh?

God, in time past, before the coming of Christ, revealed Himself to holy men by inspiring their thoughts to record something of this greatness. Righteousness, mercy, justice and redemption were some of the beautiful attributes of God. Some of the prophets had a foregleam of the birth of the Savior. Micah, the Prophet, predicted the place — Bethlehem. Isaiah predicted that a Virgin would be the recipient of the high honor, bearing this wonderful Child. Inspired men throughout history had foregleams of some great revelations of God relative to His advent to humanity in a way we would understand, a way which we could not misunderstand. So “when the fullness of time was come,” when God’s clock struck the hour, He reached down to man, by being born as the rest of us, having human nature and flesh. As St. John the Divine aptly put it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Looking back upon what transpired at Christ’s birth, how many of the people living then knew the great significance of the Babe’s birth? How many knew that history will be divided in two, changed from before Christ to after Christ? How many knew that millions of people around the world would chant music and sing joyous hymns to commemorate the great event?

Usually people don’t take stock in realizing the potentialities invested in a child. Whoever thought that the events transpiring on that “Holy Night” would be enshrined in music and art, and that millions of cards would be used by people as a means to wish one another a “Merry Christmas” on His birth and that ministers, the world over, would preach and reach the story of the Holy birth, and choirs would sing his praises?

What is the purpose of His coming into the world? Well, the purpose is two-fold: Redemption and Adoption. Christ’s coming into the world was not accidental but rather purposeful. To the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angel said. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” He Himself said of His own mission upon one occasion, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” God’s redeeming love was at the very heart, and the main reason for His coming. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for its redemption.” This is the reason we call the story of Christ’s life the gospel, that is, good news. God’s tenderest love revealed itself in such a marvelous way to save humanity. Before Christ’s coming to human life, the world of human beings knew God as a terrible Judge, One on the receiving end to be appeased with gifts, a just God, who would exact from men the very last debit owed Him. They had then some foregleams of Him as a Redeemer, one who would show pity on men, but never as a God whose love knew no limitations to redeem fallen humanity.

Then, there was another reason—Adoption, to adopt believers into the family of God, making them sons and daughters of His. All human beings who would be willing to appropriate and appreciate the gift of God, and by faith receive Him into their lives, would become, by virtue of that fact, members of God’s family, having special attachments and privileges, inducted into the society of the Blessed, belonging to one Eternal Father, becoming one with the Elder Brother, and one with all believers of all colors, races and nationalities the world over.

“To as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God,” was the way the Evangelist put it. As redeemed sons and daughters of God, who are empowered to live as becomes God’s children, may we seriously reflect upon God’s matchless gift to us, and be concerned to declare by our lives, no less than by our lips, the redeeming love of God to all men, of all colors and creeds. May this hour be one of new vision and dedication to a life of service and newness, of hope, faith and love.

Christmas is unique among all the holidays, holy days, and birthdays that we observe. The story of the first Christmas is so simple that a little three-year-old caught its spirit when she said, “I know what Baby Jesus wants for his birthday—a cradle.” In love, she wanted to give him what he did not have when he was born. Yet the Christmas story is so profound that it can be fully expressed only in the deep thoughts of the prologue of John’s Gospel.

The unique truth of Christmas is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The unique outcome was that this marked the beginning of a new creation, a possible rebirth of humanity. God, through His Son, entered into our human life that we, believing in Him, might receive power to become “sons of God.” The Baby who had no cradle but a manger became the one Lord and Savior of mankind! Christianity is not a creed to be recited but a new life to be lived in Christ.

"Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath given rise to the light of knowledge in the world: for they that worshipped the stars did learn therefrom to worship thee, O Sun of justice, and to know that from the east of the Highest thou didst come O Lord, glory to thee.”
Patriarch Kirill serves the Celebration of Christmas,
 the night of January 6th 
Счастливого рождества

Orthodox Christmas Mass in Lebanon
عيد ميلاد مجيد

Syrian Orthodox Christmas Mass

Coptic Christmas Mass in Cairo

To Father Panteleimon and Father Manuil and to all my friends in Ukraine

Христос Рождається' Khrystos Rozhdayetsia

Que el buen Dios les bendiga abundantemente
en la gran fiesta de la Epifania,
la Pascua del Invierno (en el Peru Verano!!).
Un fuerte abrazo, con el amor del Dios Encarnado,
P Pablo y la Comunidad de Belmont

Sister Vassa: The Forefeast

Byzantine Christmas
The Magi

Sister Vassa, Jan 6th, 2018



Epiphany 2018

            “It was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery.” So Paul describes the gift of faith to the Ephesians. In Matthew’s Gospel that same gift of faith is explained like this: “We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.” That is what the Wise Men say to Herod, when they come to Jerusalem looking for the infant king. Isaiah spoke of the gift of faith in these terms, “Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.” The Magi followed a star, whereas Isaiah had foretold that the Lord himself would rise and shine, bringing light to his people and to all those who “lift up their eyes and see.” “It means” writes Paul, “that the pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body.”

            “The sight of the star filled them with delight.” The journey of the Magi is really the Exodus of the Gentiles, an exodus from the darkness of separation, ignorance, idolatry and paganism to the light of revelation and the knowledge of God. The gift of faith demands a journey, a pilgrimage: from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan, from Egypt to the Promised Land, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from distant lands to Jerusalem. This physical journey accompanies a spiritual journey of grace and conversion, a difficult journey from the worship of self to the worship of God. “Falling to their knees they did him homage.” The Wise Men could have come all the way to Jerusalem only to listen to Herod and follow his example. The shepherds could have stayed in the fields with their sheep. Mary and Joseph could have said, “No,” to the bidding of the angel. Paul could have rejected that revelation on the road to Damascus. It was only the experience of Easter that ultimately convinced the disciples that Jesus was the Christ, thus opening their hearts to receive the Holy Spirit.

            The Epiphany, traditionally known as Easter in Winter, celebrates the Paschal Mystery. The star above the manger is a light that shines in the darkness, pointing to a greater light, Christ himself, the Light of the World. The wood of the manger will become the wood of the cross and the cave at Bethlehem, an empty tomb. The title given to Jesus by the Magi, “King of the Jews,” will be nailed to the cross by Pontius Pilate. The star leading the Wise Men will give way to the dawning light of Easter and their question, “Where is he who is born?” echoed by that of Mary Magdalene, “Where have you put him?” Just as the Magi kneel down and do homage, so Thomas, falling to his knees before the Risen Christ, will say, “My Lord and my God.”

            Today we celebrate the threefold revelation of the Mystery of Salvation. The Kings present their prophetic gifts to the Christ-child; Jesus is baptised by John in the waters of the Jordan and, at the Wedding Feast of Cana, water is transformed into wine. When St Leo the Great preached on this day over 1,500 years’ ago, he said. “The gifts the Magi first brought to Bethlehem are still being offered by all who come to Christ in faith. When we acclaim Christ as King of the universe, we bring him gold from the treasury of our hearts; when we believe that the only-begotten Son of God has become one with our human nature, we are offering myrrh for his embalming; and when we declare him to be equal in majesty to the Father, we are burning the incense of our worship before him.”

Our prayer today is that we listen to Jesus and do what he tells us, that the water of our humanity be changed into the wine of his divinity, that we see God, not lying in a manger, but face to face in the glory of the Kingdom, for that is where the star is leading us.

On behalf of the monastic community, I wish you all a happy Epiphany.

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