Reflections on the Gospel of John 1:1-17
On the eve of Pascha, we gather in church just before midnight, and after the midnight office is concluded, every light, candle, and lampada is extinguished. At that moment in the church, the darkness is absolute. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face. Somewhere in the altar, a flame is kindled. The priest emerges with this light inviting us to “come receive the light.” Candles in hand, flame touching flame, within moments the church, once pitch dark, is filled with the soft glow of candlelight. We reenact the coming of the true light into the world. We were blind in the darkness of sin and ignorance, but the crucified, buried, and resurrected Christ has pierced the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
We need to realize that without God, we live in total darkness. To make matters worse, this darkness gradually blinds us. During the weekdays of Lent, we read the Old Testament. We join the catechumens in anticipating the coming of the Messiah through the prophecies of Isaiah and the typology of Genesis. We symbolically return to the time when all humanity lived in expectation of the coming of Christ. Only when we really recognize him, only when his light is most perfectly revealed through his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection does it all make sense. Only then do we know what love is. Only then is there meaning for the entire creation. Only then is the absurdity of our existence transformed into deepest meaning when we realize that our life is really Christ’s. All at once, when this light begins to enter our hearts, it all makes sense.
This moment, when we stand in the light and it all makes sense, is the gift of belief. This belief is dynamic and requires action on our part. Over and over in the Gospel of John, we are called to believe. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29) Are we being asked to sit down, think really hard, and believe that Jesus is Lord by sheer force of brain waves? No. Then what are we being asked to do? I find no explicit answer to this question, but this gospel passage hints at what we are asked to do through the person of John the Baptist. “[John the Baptist] came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” (John 1:7) How did John testify to the light? First, he recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God and pointed him out to those around him. Second, he called everyone to repent because the Kingdom of God was at hand. The whole life message of John the Baptist could be summed up in one word: “Repent!” We come to believe only as we repent of our sins and let go of evil. We have journeyed with the Church across the stormy sea of Lent. We have lightened the ship of all the sin that weighs us down, and thus have arrived at the safe harbor of Pascha. The storm is past, the light of the dancing sun shines on us, God has blessed our labors, and, having seen the light, we believe.
In spring 2012, our abbot at the time, Fr. Meletios, asked Fr. Cosmas to see whether there were any Gagauz-speaking monasteries in Gagauzia (pronounced ga-ga-ú-zia). (Quick update for those readers new to this saga: The Gagauz people converted from paganism to Orthodox Christianity in the 13th century. Their language closely resembles the Turkish spoken in Turkey. Fr. Cosmas had been given a blessing to learn their language, to contact them, and to try to establish ties of friendship with them.) He did not find any men’s monasteries in that area, but one women’s monastery in the village of Çadir-Lunga. He later learned about a women’s monastery near Aleksandrovka in the Ukraine where the abbess and about a third of the nuns are Gagauz. Our monastery sent the two monasteries some of our CDs, honey, candles, and a few other things, along with a cover letter.
Recently Fr. Cosmas had the opportunity to join a project to produce a new version of the Gospels and Psalms in this language, directed by the Institute for Bible Translation, headquartered in St. Andrew’s Monastery in Moscow. In February he went to Moscow for training and then to Gagauzia to meet the local bishop, priests, and laypeople. He also visited the two monasteries to which our monastery sent those packages and letters two years ago.
Two wonderful things happened in the visit to the monastery in the Ukraine. In the initial meeting with Abbess Ermogena, she exclaimed, “Oh! You are the one who sent the beautiful candles!” She explained that they made candles, too, but they didn’t turn out as nice as ours. So she and Fr. Cosmas made a visit to their candle factory, and the nun in charge of candles described their process in detail. When he returned to Manton, Fr. Cosmas sent Abbess Ermogena photos of our operation along with suggestions for improvements they could make.
At another point one of the nuns approached Fr. Cosmas to say how much she wanted the Psalms in her own language. She chanted them every day, after all. In her monastery, you see, the nuns chant the Psalter continuously twenty-four hours a day, with different nuns taking turns. Since Fr. Cosmas had already transcribed the book of Psalter from an old edition done by a Gagauz Orthodox priest in the 1930s, he gave that to her to use until the new edition is published.
What a wonderful opportunity God provided to strengthen the bonds of friendship between our monastery and those two monasteries on the other side of the world!
In March of this year, a men’s group from St. Stephen Antiochian Orthodox Church in Campbell, California made a retreat to our monastery. The retreat was organized by parishioner Gary. He requested a work project for the retreatants as well as some spiritual talks. Since it was springtime and the garden had been freshly roto-tilled, a planting project seemed appropriate. The team dug the beds, spread fertilizer, built trellises, and planted peas, beets, turnips, and mustard seed. After the work, we gathered in the Holy Trinity room and discussed the meaning of the mustard seed. The seeds are tiny but they are in fact alive, and they grow, as our Savior taught us, into the “greatest of shrubs.” We discussed about how, as long as we have even a little faith, and such a faith that is alive, we can be sure that it will grow into something great.
Later in March, we received a visit from the parish Sunday School of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church in Palo Alto, California. We were pleased to receive so many young people, accompanied by their parents. It is inspiring to see pilgrims make the 200 mile drive and then get up so early to be on time for the morning liturgy on Saturday. Pilgrimage is podvig!
On Saturday, there was a tour of the chapel, the candle factory, and the hen house. Later that day, the adults assisted with candle making and the children got to go for a walk and play with the dogs. On Sunday afternoon, after the Divine Liturgy and breakfast, everyone got a live tour of a beehive. Despite the rainy weather, all had a memorable time. We hope to receive more visits from the parishioners of Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church in the near future.
|Feast Day Schedule|
|Vigil for St. John||7:00 PM - 10:30 PM|
|Hours, Hierarchical Divine Liturgy||9:00 AM|
|Festal Trapeza meal following service||12:00 Noon|
On Wednesday, July 2nd we celebrate our patronal feast day. His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, will be with us for the occasion. See the service schedule on the right. Hierodeacon Innocent is scheduled to be ordained to the Holy Priesthood during the liturgy. All are welcome to attend. Space in our guesthouse is limited; please contact us and let us know if you plan to come. Tel. 530-474-5964
September 19-21, 2014
Speaker: Hieromonk Innocent
Theme: Applying Monastic Principles to Everyday Living
12-Step Recovery Retreat
October 3-5, 2014
Speaker: Monk Cosmas
Housing and all meals are provided. Cost is $125 per person or $200 for couples. Check our website for more scheduled retreats throughout the year.
|First Session||June 28th - July 13th|
|Second Session||July 26th - August 10th|
|Third Session||August 16th - 31st|
We are now accepting applications for our summer novice program. Come experience a different way of life.
Applicants must be Orthodox Christian men, in good health, 18+ years old, provide proof of medical insurance and a letter of recommendation from your parish priest. Please contact our Superior, Father Innocent, if you are interested.