During this period of Holy and Great Lent, the struggle (prayer and fasting) against evil for Orthodox Christians is particularly intense. At Great Compline we pray: "Lord ... redeem us from all turmoil and cowardice of the one who is approached by the devil" (Prayer of St. Basil the Great). Or we can look at the conclusion of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy: "provide and bless the good, crush the heads of the invisible dragons" (The last Prayer in front of the Icon of Christ). From these prayers alone it is obvious that Satan, the oldest enemy of mankind, is quite real. He is not only powerful, but also very devious. He uses every possible tactic to try and deceive or manipulate us. He hides his movements (like soldiers using camouflage in war), often acting through other people, so that the evil one himself can avoid blame. The devil encourages selfish and proud thoughts in a person, which may outwardly seem beneficial. The pursuit of wealth, fame, and power are then embraced and justified (often speaking in terms of “rights”). These “benefits” are gained using any means necessary, including deception, injustice, thievery, and sinful pleasures. The ancient enemy will then argue that “everyone is doing it,” portraying the Gospel as unrealistic and disconnected from “real life.”

In this time of Great Lent, we can see a common theme throughout the Holy Services (Great Compline, the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, and the Divine Liturgy), as well as the Gospel lessons (including today’s). It is asking for God’s protection from the attacks of the evil one. The Lord Himself left us a prayer (“the Lord’s Prayer”) in which we are called to ask our Heavenly Father to deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We are in dire need of this protection, because we are unable to face him alone.

The Holy Cross holds a unique place, both in the Christian faith and in the worship of the Orthodox Church. It is the symbol of love and sacrifice, as well as foreshadowing the Resurrection. It has influenced Christian art, architecture, painting, poetry, and music, more than anything else.

From an early age, majestic churches were built in the shape of a cross, with a cross erected at the top of each one. The iconostasis and everything used in common worship are decorated with the cross. Ornate crosses of blessing are placed on the Holy Table (the Altar), for the celebrant Bishop or Priest to bless the people. The cross is worn by newly baptized Christians to protect them (from visible and invisible threats) and strengthen them in the spiritual struggle. It is used to bless the waters. Behind the Holy Table, which represents the Empty Tomb of the Risen Lord, the Holy Cross stands as a symbol of His crucifixion, His sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

The healing of the sick holds a central place not only in the Divine Liturgy, but also in the communal spiritual life of the faithful. After the recitation of the Lords Prayer (Our Father …”), and before the sanctification of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, the celebrant Priest offers this prayer: “Oh Master … heal the sick, You, the physician of our souls and bodies.” There is also a repeated petition, prayed for all Christians: For … (their) health and for (their) salvation …” In addition to these brief petitions, which we hear throughout the holy Services (in particular the Supplication Service for the Sick”), there is also the Sacrament of Holy Unction, which the Church reserves for serious situations. St James, the Brother of the Lord, gives us encouragement: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:14-15). This does happen! The Lord brought healing to those who came to Him with faith (like the paralytic in todays Gospel reading), and continues to do so today through Holy Unction. It has been confirmed by the countless cases of sick people who received healing through the Sacrament. I can also personally testify to this, as I too was saved with Holy Unction.

In the Divine Liturgy (as well as all other Holy Services), prayers for Orthodox Christians are repeatedly offered.    This Sunday is also called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. What is Orthodoxy, and what does it mean to be Orthodox?

Our Church is known as “the Orthodox Church,” but its official title, as written in the Creed, is: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  The word “Orthodox” is nowhere to be found, so where did this new title come from?


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