On Sunday, 25th February 2018, 7 pm, at the Greek Orthodox Parish of St. Nicholas Marrickville, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, presided at the Inter-Orthodox Vespers of Orthodoxy, assisted by His Grace Bishop  Siluan (Serbian Orthodox Church), His Grace Bishop Seraphim of Apollonia, Priests of other Orthodox jurisdictions and with the participation of all our Clergy in Sydney . At the end of the Service, a Procession of the Holy Icons took place inside the Church, after which “The Synodikon” of the 7th Ecumenical Council was read out in various languages.

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This gospel is read on the Sunday before the Great Lent, called Cheese Fare Sunday or Forgiveness Sunday and it is the last of the preparatory Sundays. Also, this Sunday is called the Sunday of the Lost Paradise since we remember the expulsion of Adam and Eve from it. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden. That is the direct consequence of committed sin, that being the negative use of free will given from God, and of man's breaking the commandment about lent (Genesis 2:16). Everything God created and placed in Eden is perfect including the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. God forbids Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of knowledge simply because they were not mature enough. If they became ready God would allow eating from the Tree because humans are created and invited to become gods (John 10:34). However, that is supposed to happen through the process of deification in communion with God, not by force or by separation from God like Adam and Eve tried to do. The Great Lent is actually the bridge to connect humankind with the lost Paradise. Through the Great lent we are trying to correct the error committed by the first people. We are trying to become children of our heavenly Father through Christ, obeying everything God commanded, and looking up to Christ – not to Adam as an example. Jesus Christ is the new Adam who is in everything obedient to His Father. Lent is not only about abstaining from animal products and being a vegan for a while. It is more about complete change of mind (metanoia) and turning to God the Father through Jesus while practicing Christian virtues. Through lent we are trying to make good our fallen human nature that became selfish and self-centered through separation from God. Being descendants of Adam and Eve we also became heirs of death and corruption. However, by trying to do exactly the opposite of what Adam and Eve were doing, that is, practicing virtues they lacked, we are getting closer to the only source of true and everlasting life – God. Every virtue expels sin and death from a man, and takes him closer to Paradise. From the Sunday of the lost Paradise, by fasting and doing Christian virtues we live Christ - like life, until through Palm Sunday and Great Friday, we finally reach and recover lost Paradise on Easter. Humankind regains immortality and eternity through Resurrection of Christ.

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This Gospel is read on the second Sunday before the Great Lent, also called Meat Fare Sunday or Sunday of the Last Judgement. That is the Sunday when we stop eating meat, and remind ourselves that God who immensly loves people has also to come as the Judge. During His first arrival He came as a servant. His second arrival is going to be completely different. This time He is arriving in His glory, with all the holy angels with Him, and He will sit on the throne of His glory. «All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.» As we can see here, the whole of humanity is going to be judged and divided into two groups. «And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.» Sheep were always regarded as a symbol of obedience and meekness. They always loyaly follow their shepherd and they are easily kept together as a flock. The sheep represent righteous people who follow Christ as their own Shepherd. In the Gospel according to St. John Christ reveals his role as «sheep shepherd». He says: «the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.» (John 10:3-4). «His voice» was heard and followed by righteous people who spoke the words spoken by Christ – The Holy Gospel. On Judgement Day it will be not difficult for Him to separate those who followed Him from those who didn't. Jesus perfectly knows every single man: «I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by My own» John 10:14. An especially important statement for our understanding of this Gospel is the following claim: «There will be one flock and one shepherd.» This refers to Christ as the head of the church. «And He is the head of the body, the church..» (Colossians 1:18). The Church is the community of faithful people who follow Christ and His Gospel. Symbolically, «sheep» who follow the «shepherd and his voice».

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                                     THE PRODIGAL SON (LUKE 15:11-32)

                       Restoring our sense of belonging through repentance

This Gospel is read on the third Sunday before the beginning of the Great Lent called the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. In a very simple way, God reveals His love, patience and forgiveness towards every single human being. It is very clear that “a certain man” in this parable represents God the Father. The older son represents all righteous people, and the younger son represents all sinners. The younger son asks for his portion of the inheritance and wants to go his own way separating himself from his father and his brother. He was not stealing or taking anything that was not rightfully his and already coming his way. Christ does not explain why this young man goes to “a far country” and “wastes his possessions in prodigal living”. Even Greek philosophers, thousands of years ago were writing about how young people lacked patience, respect and had difficulty waiting for good things. Little has changed today.

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In order to understand this Bible story properly, we should remind ourselves what the roles of Publicans and Pharisees were in Judean society at the time of Christ’s ministry. The Pharisees belonged to a Jewish sect, known for its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and the coming of a Messiah. They belonged to the middle-class of society, and also believed in an afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. They regarded themselves as righteous people, and their relationship with God was purely legalistic. By certain historical records, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem A.D. 70, there were around six thousand of them. Publicans were actually tax collectors employed by Romans – occupiers of Judea at the time. They were obliged to pay an agreed amount to the Romans, and whatever was left over they were permitted to keep for themselves. They grossly overcharged people extorting money from them. This was the primary reason they were despised and hated by their own people.

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On Saturday, January 27th, the Saint Sava temple in the capital of New Zeland ceremoniously celebrated its patronate saint. The ceremony began with the Holy Liturgy, which was lead by the fr.Meletius from the sacred archangel monastery in Levin, with Fr.Predrag. After the Divine Liturgy and Litija around the temple, the Slavic cake was prepared, which was prepared by the hosts of the  Basic family.

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In restoring eyesight to the blind man called Bartimaeus, Our Lord does another miracle in Jericho. This time He is opens the spiritual eyes of a tax collector named Zacchaeus, thus enabling him to accept the Gospel, to perceive his inner self and his sins, to repent, and to drastically change his life. Opening the spiritual eyes of a spiritually blind man, is just as great a miracle as restoring the eyesight of a man blind from birth. Zacchaues was a chief tax collector, and in that capacity an employee of the Roman government.  By way of contract with the Romans, he was obliged to give a certain agreed amount to them, and whatever was left over he could keep for himself. He could freely overcharge people.

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