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(with heavy patristic "borrowings!)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
So, our choir director suddenly became ill yesterday. We need to remember him in our prayers. May the Lord grant Reader John a speedy recovery! Every so often it happens, and when it does, it reminds us that the job isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s a job that requires special skills, special knowledge, a love for God and dedication to the Church. I remember years ago hearing a story about one of our local Russian parishes that was looking for a new choir director. Their old choir director had been brilliant, but her secular job had taken her back to the East Coast. The parish was in a bad spot. Choir directors are very hard to come by. One day a certain man contacted the parish concerning the job. He met with the priest. The priest enquired about the man’s experience, what parishes he had served, his knowledge of the services, the typicon, the ustav. He asked about his philosophy of church music and church singing, etc., and etc. But to each question, the man had no real answers. He had studied music and voice with the Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts of the Moscow State University back in the nineties. He sang in some performances in Russia before moving to the US. Here, he was teaching music and voice at a local college, and performing in Russian cabarets at night to supplement his income. He didn’t have a regular parish, in fact, he wasn’t even sure he believed, but he told the priest that he faithfully attended church for Pascha and his Name Day. He had never been a choir director in a church, had never sung in a church choir, but had directed secular choral performers back in Russia. He assured the priest that he had a great baritone voice (which he did!) and that he could read and direct directly from the sheet music, even sight unseen.
As much as the priest appreciated the man’s musical training and talents, it just wasn’t a fit. It couldn’t be. Wrong person, wrong job. But there was one time in history, one defining moment in time, when only one person could fill one particular job that would mean the salvation of the world and everyone in it. And that was the role of Theotokos. Only Mary could fill that position. Only Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother. And today’s Feast is the celebration of the inauguration of this Mystery.
Today, brothers and sisters, the holy Church celebrates the joyous Entry of the three-year old child Mary into the temple in Jerusalem. She is met there by the high priest, who brings her, accompanied by young maidens, into the innermost precincts of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where the high priest himself enters but once a year. She whose womb would one day contain the uncontainable God, now enters the earthly building that foreshadows this wonder. She enters in order to be instructed and prepared by the invisible God, that she might become the Mother of His flesh.
How did this most blessed child spend her time in the temple? She learned the Hebrew language, (which nobody spoke in those days – they spoke Aramaic, the language of the Assyrians.) She had to study Hebrew in order to study the Scriptures. She spent much time in prayer, in divine contemplation, and learning handicrafts. Her love for God and her total immersion in the Scriptures was so great that she often forgot about food and drink, and an Archangel brought her heavenly food at God's request.
What an excellent example for Orthodox families: fathers, mothers, and children! As devout followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as dedicated servants of the Mother of God, the very icon of Spiritual Instruction, it is our duty, our obligation, to emulate her way of life. We should strive always to imitate her fervent love for God, her zeal for reading the word of God, for prayer, for divine contemplation, self-restraint, and love of labor! If we don’t want to be called false members of Christ's Church, then we should also have the same mindset as She has.
And since Mary was brought to the temple in order to be instructed in the Lord, it behooves us also to contemplate the importance of going to church for our own spiritual education and for our salvation. It is in the church where we are raised, educated, and instructed in the virtues, those passports to Paradise. It is in the Church where we receive the Holy Mysteries, which enable us to acquire those same virtues. As St. John of Kronstadt says:
“Who will show us what makes up our Christian calling and duty, of what spirit we must be, and how we should behave ourselves in various life situations? Who will give us the strength to live a holy life in the spirit of Christ? The Church gives us all this. We can receive these spiritual powers in the temple of God through the Sacraments. Here a heavenly, unearthly spirit hovers; here is the school of Jesus Christ, in which future heavenly citizens are educated. Here you will receive heavenly lessons from the Divine Teacher, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Here is heavenly food and heavenly drink, spiritual, heavenly garments, and spiritual weapons against the enemies of salvation. Here you will receive the peace that is a foretaste of heaven, so necessary to our spiritual activity and education, and strength for spiritual labors and struggle with sin. Here we partake of sweet conversation with our Heavenly Father and the Most Holy Queen and Mother of God, with the angels of the Lord and saints. Here we learn how to pray, and for what to pray. Here you will find examples of all the Christian virtues in the saints who are glorified each day by the Church. Here, gathered together in the house of God, as children of one Heavenly Father, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we learn how to love one another—member loving member, as members of Christ, as Christ Himself.
See how beneficial, how necessary it is for a Christian to visit God's church! It is a school of faith and piety founded by God, a sacred treasure. We must
love going to God's church, and while there, prepare a temple of your own selves for God. As St Peter says: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Let parents, teachers, and relatives take or send their children to church often, every Sunday and feast day without fail, and not to the theatre, where they will only learn what the young should never know. In church, they will hear the name of the Lord more frequently; they will learn the great truth of the creation of the world and mankind; they will come to know the Savior, the Mother of God, and the names of the saints. They will learn about the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the future life, and the eternal torments of sinners. They will learn from the Spirit of God to be good Christians; and that is more valuable than anything in the world. Amen.”