Christ is Ascended! From Earth into Heaven!
Friends, on this Holy Ascension Thursday, on the feast of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine and Helena, we greet you! Much ink has been spent on the figure of St. Constantine, his notoriety and controversy. There are many actions throughout the history of his life which are regrettable and in fact despicable. His life story is truly one of Redemption and metanoia, conversion, from a life of political power and its abuse, to being one of the strongest supporters for the growth of the Christian Apostolate. Likewise, Constantine’s mother, the blessed Helena is commemorated today with her son. This mother/son dual commemoration images in a striking way Sts. Augustine and Monica, where both sons lived darkened lives of transgression before finally, after youths poorly spent, turning to Christ. The Orthodox Archimandrite and regrettable defector from Catholicism, Lev Gilett “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” refers to the feasts between Easter and Pentecost as shedding “light on an idea rather than a person” (The Year of Grace of the Lord, pp. 202-203). This specifically refers to the Synaxarion for today’s feast which focus on Helena and Constantine’s actions: the finding of the Holy and True Cross, legalizing Christianity, transferring the capital to Constantinople, and convoking the first Holy and Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. Gilett’s opinion is that we know very little about the personal lives of these saints, as they never wrote any spiritual works (or at the very least none have survived), but, that ultimately their actions point us in the direction of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
This title is of particular importance, as it distinguishes saints for their particular service in building up the Church through their life and their Evangelization. This title is given to both Biblical saints such as St. Mary Magdalene and saints since the time of antiquity such as Sts. Volodymyr and Olga and Sts. Cyril and Methodius (see our recent article here). This title holds similar meaning to the general term “Apostle of X” that we find in the Latin Church, such as calling St. Faustyna the “Apostle” of Divine Mercy or calling St. Boniface “Apostle to the Germans.” Therefore this Western equivalent can sometimes be understood to align, essentially, with the Byzantine term Equal-to-the-Apostles, and in other instances it is quite different, especially when it centers around a particular devotion. The Byzantine terminology establishes an important distinction however, as it establishes that the 12 Apostles and “the Seventy” (sometimes referred to as disciples or Apostles) have a unique and special role in the Church’s history and story, because they had the opportunity to live with our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ during the time of His Earthly ministry.
Holy Days of Obligation and Quarantine
There are many jurisdictions that are now beginning to establish “re-opening” role outs for the Faithful to return to public celebration of Holy Masses and Divine Liturgies and reception of the Holy Mysteries, sometimes with certain restrictions. It remains to be seen whether the individual prelates will revoke the almost universal dispensation from the Sunday/Holy Day obligation. For our readers who may not be aware, strictly speaking, the requirement for Catholics to assist at a Sacred Liturgy on Sundays and specific feastdays as established by their competent canonical authorities is a matter of Church discipline. That means that these practices have developed over time and can legitimately differ between jurisdictions. For instance the number of Holy Days of Obligation differs between the Roman Catholic jurisdictions of the US and Canada. Byzantine Churches, sui iuris, also have a different list of Holy Days also called The Twelve Great Feasts on which attendance at Divine Liturgy (see image on the left), under normal circumstances is obligatory. Byzantine Churches also have a list of twenty three Lesser Feasts at which attendance by the Faithful at Divine Liturgy is highly encouraged (see image on the right).
Byzantine jurisdictions and can even differ on what dates Immovable Feasts are celebrated (for example the UGCC in the USA and Byzantine Church in America celebrate the Conception of St. Anna on December 8 rather than the 9th to be in conformity with the Roman Catholics on their National Praznyk). It is important to remember that your local bishop/eparch has the final say in these matters for your diocese/eparchy, and as long as his decree of dispensation is in effect you are not obliged under pain of sin to attend the Sacred Liturgy and receive the Holy Mysteries on Holy Days.
That being said, especially during these trying times, it can be very spiritually beneficial to commemorate Holy Days at home with your family. Here are a few suggestions as to how. 1. Making a Spiritual Act of Communion, a good Byzantine text is available here 2. Dedicating time to read through the Scripture readings, Tropars and Kondaks assigned by the Church, these are powerful tools for instructing us on the lessons of the day. 3. Watch a Live Stream Divine Liturgy. 4. Spend time in prayer and meditation in an intentional way.
The Byzantine Life
If you enjoyed this week’s article, you might also be interested in reading about celebrating Pentecost.
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