of Sts. Theodore Orthodox Church
A Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
96 Los Robles St., Williamsville NY 14221 (716) 634-6712
Very Rev. Dr. Peter Jackson , Rector
Rev. Deacon Andrew Hammond
Vol. XIV, No. 8
Saturday Vigil 5:00pm
Sunday Divine Liturgy 9:30am
Sunday Bible Study: after coffee hour
Wednesday Akathist 6:00pm
Confessions are heard at all evening services.
Name Days This Month
Why a Fast for Dormition?
by Daniel Manzuk
It would be a gross understatement to say that much has been written about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Yet very little has been written about the fast that precedes it.
Every Orthodox Christian is aware and generally knows the reason behind the fasts for Pascha and Christmas. But while they may know of the Dormition Fast, few follow it, and more than a few question why it is there, neither knowing its purpose. First, given the pervasive misunderstanding of the purpose of fasting itself, a refresher on its purpose is always a good idea. There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us "suffer" gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set, and do not merely diet) that please Him. We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us. The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who in the famous passage was "anxious and troubled about many things." Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of "the one thing needful." It is to help us put God first and our own desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God’s will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord’s fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God. In essence it helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.
So why do we fast before Dormition? In a close-knit family, word that its matriarch is on her deathbed brings normal life to a halt. Otherwise important things (parties, TV, luxuries, personal desires) become unimportant; life comes to revolve around the dying matriarch. It is the same with the Orthodox family; word that our matriarch is on her deathbed, could not (or at least should not) have any different effect than the one just mentioned. The Church, through the Paraklesis Service, gives us the opportunity to come to that deathbed and eulogize and entreat the woman who bore God, the vessel of our salvation and our chief advocate at His divine throne. And as, in the earthly family, daily routines and the indulgence in personal wants should come to a halt. Fasting, in its full sense (abstaining from food and desires) accomplishes this. Less time in leisure or other pursuits leaves more time for prayer and reflection on she who gave us Christ, and became the first and greatest Christian. In reflecting on her and her incomparable life, we see a model Christian life, embodying Christ’s retort to the woman who stated that Mary was blessed because she bore Him: blessed rather are those who hear His word and keep it. Mary did this better than anyone. As Fr. Thomas Hopko has stated, she heard the word of God and kept it so well, that she of all women in history was chosen not only to hear His Word but give birth to it (Him). So while we fast in contemplation of her life, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves to live a life in imitation of her. That is the purpose of the Dormition Fast.
When the assumption of thine undefiled body was being prepared, the Apostles gazed on thy bed, viewing thee with trembling. Some contemplated thy body and were dazzled, but Peter cried out to thee in tears, saying, I see thee clearly, O Virgin, stretched out, O life of all, and I am astonished. O thou undefiled one, in whom the bliss of future life dwelt, beseech thy Son and God to preserve thy people unimpaired.
(Sticheron after the Gospel, Orthros)
Daniel Manzuk is a reader at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Alsip, IL.
Update on the Jacksons’ Move to Guatemala
Matushka and I would like to thank everyone for their prayers of late, and especially during our recent trip to the headquarters of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center. We have now been officially accepted as missionary candidates for Guatemala.
My ministry will be twofold: First, I will be teaching at the Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Seminary that is being opened in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. There are currently only eight Guatemalan priests serving over 300 parishes, so the Orthodox Church there urgently needs more clergy. We will be teaching seminarians who are straight out of high school, as well as "retraining" the clergy they already have so that they are well-versed in Orthodox theology and tradition.
Secondly, I will be in charge of overseeing the translation of texts such as the Divine Liturgy, prayer books, and catechetical materials into the various Maya languages spoken by the Orthodox faithful in Guatemala. Most of the Orthodox there are Maya Indians whose first language is not Spanish. There are at least seven different indigenous languages spoken among the Orthodox there. These languages are not related to Spanish. They predate the arrival of the Spanish, just as North American Indian languages like Cherokee or Navajo predate the arrival of the British and have no relation to English. These Maya tongues are full-fledged languages, capable of communicating anything that any other language can. Each of these seven or so languages has a number of subdialects which can differ greatly from each other. For example, the Mam language has over 400,000 speakers. This is the language spoken in the area where the seminary is located, and many of the Orthodox speak it as their mother tongue. However, Mam has at least fifteen subdialects which vary from one town to another. For example, in one Mam area, "Christ is risen" is "Cristo ma jatz itzˈjxin!", but in another Mam area they will say, "Crist ma jaw anqˈintl!" So is Mam just one language or fifteen? This can give you an idea of how complicated the language situation can be.
So I will be training and supervising translation teams from each language community. I will advise them on exegesis and theology, consult with them on what kinds of texts are the most needed for their particular community, and check their work for accuracy. Of course, that will require me to learn the languages well enough to do this checking. The Q’eq’chi-speaking Orthodox are already clamoring to have the Divine Liturgy translated into their language. Spanish is a foreign language to them.
The site of the seminary is a quite isolated. The town of Huehuetenango is a six-hour drive from Guatemala’s only international airport. And the seminary is located several miles outside of town up a steep, one-lane, winding dirt road with no guardrails or shoulder. The seminary does not yet have a vehicle. There is no "address" there. They are trying to dig a well, but they have not yet hit water. Water has to be trucked in. The Guatemalan Church has agreed to build us a house (we have to pay for the materials), but work on this has not yet begun. Cell phone access is spotty, and so internet access is, too.
We are looking for folks to partner with us in this historic opportunity. There are 150,000 new Orthodox Christians who urgently and desperately need our help. They are not asking for money, but they do need us to come teach them, and for this we need regular, pledged support. No one will be paying us. Matushka and I are now planning to stay at Sts. Theodore through next Pascha. This will give me time to train your new priest, as well as time to raise the financial support we will need. We cannot move until we have enough funds pledged. To find ministry partners, we will need to travel around North America and visit parishes. This will usually be on Sundays, because that is the best time – and usually the only time – to get folks together to hear about our work. So we thank you all in advance for your patience and understanding for those times when we will have to be away on some weekends. As soon as Reader John Boddecker is ordained to the priesthood, he will be able to serve when I am out of town. I will do all I can to make this transition a smooth one.
Again, thank you for your continued prayers. Please visit our profile page at ocmc.org/TheJacksonFamily for more information and our Facebook page "Jacksons’ Orthodox Mission to Guatemala" for regular updates.