If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave!
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
By Metropolitan JOSEPH
Many heretics of our time don’t believe in the cross, even if they may call themselves Christians. Some pop stars and actors wear the cross, but by the witness of their lives we can assume that they don’t put much value in the cross except as an empty symbol. There is nothing new under the sun and there have always been accusation against our Church. In the second century, Christians were accused of practicing incest, of being cannibals, of being ignorant and of being bad citizens. The most dangerous accusation was that the Christian teaching was unreasonable. This idea purported that the incarnation was nonsense; God would not lower Himself to become a tiny baby or to be crucified as a common thief.At the peak of these accusations was that Christians worshipped a crucified animal. In the excavation of the old city of Rome, a stone was discovered which pictured a crucified person, who had the head of a donkey. This picture was drawn to ridicule the Christians who worshipped someone who had been crucified.
In response to all these accusations, Christians pointed to the injustices. There were no secrets among Christians. Christians were good citizens and Christianity was a reasonable belief. The death of Christ was the supreme sacrifice! The cross is not just a symbol or piece of material in our life. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Without the Holy Cross of our Lord and deep understanding of our faith, we manifest the same accusations. Faith and knowledge must go together. Faith alone leads to superstition and knowledge alone is limited to facts. The process is called Transformation which means transfiguring ourselves to a better understanding of faith and a better life in light of the Holy Cross.
Our prominent St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (AD 115), struggled to disprove and refute two contemporaries of the Christian faith:
1. Orthodox Judaizers, who were relapsing to the Old Testament thinking that Jesus was merely a prophet who was above passion and crucifixion. They found the Old Testament a relaxing religion in which the cross did not exist.
2. The so-called Docetism, which asserted that Christ had not really come in the flesh and was not really crucified; He only appeared to be crucified.
These two heresies resisted Orthodoxy throughout the history of Christianity taking different forms. History reveals how foolish and scandalous the cross seemed to many religions; to Jews, Judaizers, Gentiles and Moslems.
These heretics still exist in our age because many are convinced that the prophets and the Son of God are above the punishment of crucifixion. To them, only condemned personas are affixed to the cross to await death. These tendencies were always disproved by the fact of Jesus’ birth in the flesh and Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross marked the end of the Law of the Old Testament (Gal 3:13).
Jesus was lifted up on the cross as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness. What is this serpent which was lifted up by Moses? What is the meaning of the typology? If we go back to the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, we will see that the people became impatient in the desert and that they spoke against God. Thus, the fiery serpent was sent among the people so that many of them died. These poisonous snakes were a kind of divine judgment on the people’s rebellion against God. So, Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Everyone who was bitten when they saw it would live. This could be seen as spiritual testing; persecution, difficulty, trial. This whole process is one of self-denying.
Jesus used the symbol of the healing snake as representing His crucifixion and resurrection which heals us from death and sin. The verb “lifted up” has a double meaning. It refers to the cross of Jesus and to His glorification in His resurrection and ascension.
From His analogy, the crowd understood that Jesus spoke about His death, but for the masses of people, Messiah and death were incompatible. When Jewish nationalism was on the rise, the expectation of a Messiah acquired political overtones. The people expected Jesus to be a national leader, a mighty king who would deliver the people from the Roman yoke and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel. The crowds and even the disciples that gladly listened to Jesus shared in the understanding of Messiah. They continued to hold these hopes until the very end. The people wanted Jesus to be a king who would not hesitate to use the sword for the realization of their nationalistic dreams.
Jesus predicted His death and He identified Himself with the suffering servant of Christ. When He predicted His death, Jesus pointed at the same time to His resurrection. The resurrection reveals what was achieved on the cross. St. Paul said: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
Christ’s death on the cross brought salvation (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:16) and hence, it was the basis for Christian hope. It is the sign of the supreme sacrifice and the resurrection; it signifies life rather than death.
Of course, we do not believe that the divinity of Jesus was crucified on the cross. Thus, we always make a distinction between the two questions “what?” and “who?” Who was crucified on the cross? The answer is Jesus Himself, the second person of the Trinity. What was crucified on the cross? Only the humanity of Jesus was crucified, not His divinity, because the divinity is above our reach. His divinity is unapproachable by human minds.
By His divinity He made the cross the sign of the new life. Our cross is through baptism and repentance. For this reason we become communicants of His cross by our baptism, life, struggle and suffering for the sake of Jesus. We cross ourselves all the time – before kissing an icon, when we pray, before we eat, to express the daily experience of the cross. It is the power of God! The cross to the unbelievers is foolishness, but to us believers it is the power of God. Every action of Christ, including all His working of miracles, was truly great and wonderful. But of all things the most wonderful is His honorable cross. For by nothing else, except by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, death has been brought low, death has been despoiled and resurrection bestowed. The power given us by the death of Christ, that is to say the cross has clothed us with the wisdom and power of God. This we have been given as a sign on our forehead, just as Israel was given circumcision. For by it, we faithful are set apart from the skeptics and we are recognized apart from unbelievers.
So that honorable and most truly venerable cross, upon which Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, is itself to be adored because it has been sanctified by contact with His sacred body and blood. We have splinters of this most honorable wood as a relic because it touched the humanity and the sacred divinity of our Lord.
We also adore the likeness of the honorable and life giving Cross, even though it is made of another material. We do not honor the material, but the likeness as a symbol of Christ. We preach Christ crucified. Therefore, the sign of Christ in the Cross is to be adored, for wherever the sign may be, there He will be too. If the form of the cross should happen to be destroyed however, the material from which the cross was composed is not to be adored, even if it was of gold or precious stones. We honor the material as a sign of Christ, for wherever the sign is, Christ is there. We also trace this sign upon our bodies and thereby bless ourselves. Thus we adore everything that has reference to God, although it is to Him that we direct the worship.
Deny yourself and carry your cross daily. To build a godly life you must understand the depth of carrying your cross daily. Read the Bible, but don’t read the Bible by itself. Communicate with the person of Jesus! This is your life! Read the Bible slowly and carefully. Read it and pray it at the same time. The experience of Church is in the Bible! The life of the Church is in reading, living and praying altogether. Christ remained silent when Pilot asked Him about the accusations against Him, because He presupposed that Pilot did not understand His theology. Silence has the greatest power to teach. It is the strongest defense. This kind of theology needs peace and silence. The Holy Theotokos kept silent. Protect your families by keeping silent. Carry your cross of poverty, sadness, agony, anxiety, despair or sickness. Carry your cross of the vices gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, negligence or pride. We must struggle and not give up. Give a work of encouragement. The same Grace is given to all in baptism and in communion. God can heal all. These crosses lead us to confusion, disillusion and pain, but His cross, the TRUE CROSS, leads us to joy and salvation.
This essay by His Grace, Bishop Joseph, originally appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of DIAKONIA, the newsletter of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America.
Meatfare Sunday marks the last time we as Orthodox Christians eat meat products, and the week following we dismiss dairy as well. Why is this? There are many and learned treatises on this topic far superior to what I will say here, but perhaps we can put some things into perspective.
Fasting is, according to St. John Chrysostom, the third most important element in our spiritual practices outside the worship of God in community. What are the other two? They are almsgiving, which indicates a mature spiritual Christian's willingness to help others, even at the expense of his or her own well-being, and prayer, which should be self-evident as the primary means by which we commune with God and He forms His will in us. However, what we normally hear about most at this time of the year is fasting, and in fact our Lenten season also bears the name of the Holy and Great Fast.
If St. John puts fasting in third place, why this emphasis? There are three reasons that come to mind, though there are of course many more. First of all, fasting is a primal marker of our return to God. As the services remind us, it was by food that our ancestors Adam and Eve were led to their ancient fall from the grace and glory of God to which they were called to participate, and the results of that choice have affected all of us ever since. Our stomachs are, as St. John Climacus calls them, "a clamorous mistress" that demand everything of us, leading us down wrong paths, and continually deceiving us into thinking that our bodily needs are far more than they really are. This translates into other desires as well—we pamper ourselves and continually seek to satisfy that most fickle of masters, the human will. Fasting helps to remind us that we are putting off the things that separate us from God in order to slowly climb back to the Paradise that we lost.
Secondly, fasting disrupts our normal routine and self-centered wills. As creatures of tremendous habit, and often bad habit at that, we need something to serve as a "circuit breaker" to interrupt this process of continuous self-regard. Fasting makes us think twice about the high favor we have for our persons by depriving us of those things that we take to ourselves too often and easily. This includes all facets of our lives as well as that of pure intake of food. We must be cognizant of our need to reach out of ourselves and help others, to dedicate an increased amount of time to spiritual reading and conversation, especially that involving the Holy Scriptures, and to make every effort to attend the extra services offered during this season as a sacrifice to God of prayer and praise. He doesn't need this, but we do, and those who neglect this are missing a great opportunity for a quick injection of spiritual growth.
Lastly, fasting is a way of practicing obedience. That's right! The one thing that we all talk about as being important in the spiritual life is probably the one thing that we hate most of all! Many complain about the lack of genuine spiritual leaders in the world today (a very old complaint by the way, going back centuries) saying that there is no one to whom they can place their trust and submit to in obedience. This argument is a canard, for obedience can be practiced anywhere and any place, if we would just to humble ourselves. Additionally, there is a wise a spiritual elder to whom we can all submit at any time. As Tito Colliander asks in his marvelous book The Way of the Ascetics, "since the time of the Apostles [the Church] has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live...Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting."
By being obedient to the rules of the Church rather than our own re-interpretation of them, we are practicing the purest form of spiritual and bodily obedience possible, and it's a fact of life that if we cannot do this then the instructions of the most saintly elder would prove impossible for us!
Yet the Fathers of the Church also encourage moderation in how we keep the fast. I have seen the strictest adherence prove to be most harmful to someone because of the poisonous disposition that resulted from it. I have also seen someone who hardly kept the fast at all because of illness or medical issues profit greatly because of sorrow at not being able to keep it more fervently, and even the little done was to them a mountain of great height.
Here are a few things to remember about fasting:
Father Steven Ritter is the priest at St. James Orthodox Mission in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and the author of That Your Joy May Be Full, Learning from the Authentic Orthodox Theology of the Spirit (Regina Press).
St. Simeon of the Prayer;
A Story from Holy Orthodox Tradition
by Fr. Michael J. Buben
from The Word, March 1960
According to the witness of Holy Scripture, the old Simeon was a man “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” (Luke 2, 25). From God, Simeon had been foretold about the coming of the True Messiah. Ancient historians teach us the following about Saint Simeon.
The great and divinely inspired work of translating the Old Testament Books from the Hebrew to the Greek language was begun by Ptolemy Philadelphus, King of Egypt (Seventy-two (sometimes referred to as 70) Hebrew elders from the twelve tribes of Israel were selected for the work of translation. Each Hebrew elder was a teacher of Mosaic Law, a Scriptural Scholar, and proficient in both the Greek and Hebrew languages. These divinely inspired men brought forth the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Among these scholars who translated the Books of the Old Testament into Greek on the island of Pharos, near the city of Alexandria was the elder Simeon.
While translating the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Simeon came to the words; “Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son” (Isaiah 7, 14). Reading them, he became confused, thinking that it was impossible for a Virgin without husband to give birth. Simeon took a knife and was ready to erase the word — Virgin — and substitute the word — wife. At this time an angel of God appeared, held Simeon’s hand and said: “Have faith in the written word, and you yourself will see its fulfillment. You will not die until you yourself see the one who is to be born of a pure Virgin — the Lord Christ.”
With a strong belief in the prophetical words of the angel, Simeon impatiently waited the coming to earth of the Anointed One. For many, many years he led a righteous and immaculate life, avoiding all temptation and evil. Daily he prayed at the Temple that God would grant peace and mercy on His earth and save mankind from the all-vain Devil. His eyes gazed upon many infants who were brought to the Temple Forty Days after birth according to the Law of Moses (Exodus 13, 2). With all the infirmities of old age, and perhaps even a wish for release, Simeon continued to believe, and hope, and pray.
Forty Days after Christmas, Saints Mary and Joseph carried the Infant Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present Him in thanksgiving at the Temple. When Simeon saw the Eternal Infant, he immediately recognized the predicted Messiah; and here at last stood she through whom the prophecy of Isaiah was accomplished. Seeing the Holy Family surrounded by a heavenly glow and crowned by a Godly light, Simeon with fear and joy came forth, received the God-Infant, and while carrying Him exclaimed: “Lord now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eves have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” (Luke 2, 29-32).
After this Simeon foretold the Passion of Christ, the Crucifixion, and the sorrow of the Theotokos seeing her Son on the Cross. (Luke 2, 34-35). He soon fell asleep in the Lord at an age likened to the patriarchs of the first biblical era. God had willed that he should live to the moment awaited for many ages — the birth of the Ageless Son from a Virgin to Whom be glory forever. Amen.
Let’s Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas
by Melissa K. Tsogranis
O Christ, what shall we offer You for Your coming on earth as a Man for our sake? Every creature that has its being from You give thanks to You: the angels offer hymns of praise, the heavens give a star: wise men present their gifts, and the shepherds, their wonder; the earth provides a cave and the desert a manger. As for us, we offer You a Mother, a Virgin Mother. O God who are from all eternity, have mercy on us!
–from the service of Great Vespers
The presents have been opened, the food has been eaten, and the Christmas tree is really starting to shed—yes, your house is showing the effects of Christmas Day. Now you begin to focus on putting your house and life back together from the hectic pace you have likely kept since Thanksgiving. But while the “holiday season” may be winding down—for Christians the Christmas season is just getting started. You’ve heard of the 12 days of Christmas, right? This is when they begin!
The 12 days of Christmas refer to the period between Christmas and the Eve of Theophany/Epiphany (January 5). This is a time of celebration—rejoicing in the birth of our Lord and Savior! As the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
The 40 day fasting period before Christmas is meant to be a preparation for the coming of Jesus! The messages on television and in magazines tell us generally to “rejoice” and “be merry” (which they usually equate with material gifts) but as Orthodox Christians we must remember the reason for the rejoicing and the merriment comes from the birth of God the Word—Jesus. Once the Christ child enters this world, then, we have something to celebrate!
So, how do we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas in our homes? We strive each and every day to remember the joyous gift we received on Christmas. As we read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In recognition of the Feast, the Church has designated no fasting during these days except for January 5th, the eve of Theophany, which is a strict fast day.
Holy Hierarch Nicholas
by Ginny Nieuwsma,
Antiochian.org staff member
“All who love Nicholas the holy,
All who serve Nicholas the holy,
They will Nicholas receive and give help in time of need,
Holy Father Nicholas!”
--Orthodox children’s song
St. Nicholas of Myra, along with St. Patrick of Ireland, has the rare distinction of being one of the only saints in our Orthodox Church to be recognized and honored in the West. Although he was once portrayed in popular culture as the venerable staff bearing Father Christmas, whose kindly visage bore a resemblance to the bishop of old, today his true image has all but been obliterated, thanks to Madison Avenue. Courtesy of the marketing folks at Coke who first dreamed up the current version, he is a vacuous, cherry-cheeked flying Santa who can be all over the world at once on Christmas Eve and whose sole purpose in life is to satisfy children’s materialistic cravings.
But to refresh our memories, who was the real St. Nicholas, and why has his story and life held such staying power? Nicholas of Myra was born at the end of the third century in Patara, on the south coast of Asia Minor, to godly parents who dedicated him to Christ from birth. From childhood, he evidenced a deep love for the Church and learning the services, daily reading the Holy Scriptures and praying. His uncle, the Bishop of Patara, recognized an unusual quality in his life and while he was still quite young, ordained him first as a reader, and then, a priest.
From the outset of his priesthood, he became known as a model of sacrificial giving and love. His parents were wealthy and when they had both reposed, he gave his inheritance money away one coin at a time, when there was need. While he was well known for his kindness and devotion to the liturgical life of the Church, his monetary gifts were given secretively and people didn’t know until later just how generous he truly was. In the famous example that birthed the delightful tradition of Orthodox children setting out their shoes to be filled with treats on the eve of his feast day, Father Nicholas heard of a family in great distress. A formerly wealthy businessman of Patara had fallen on hard times, and was planning on selling his three daughters into prostitution. In the dark of night, the concerned priest tossed a bag of gold into the window of the man’s home; subsequently, he gave him yet more coins, enough that the man could arrange honorable marriages and professions for his family.
Father Nicholas decided after several years in the priesthood to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a trip that in those days required great effort and the willingness to be in dangerous situations. Along the way, he predicted a storm would assail his ship; this came to pass, and through his holy prayers, disaster was averted, the ship was saved, and a man’s life spared after he had fallen overboard. Once he arrived in Jerusalem and the surrounding vicinity, as he was venerating Golgotha and other holy places his heart yearned for the solitary life of prayer and monasticism. With this intention he returned home; but God had other plans for him, and called him out, saying, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there.”
The fruit-bearing which the Lord spoke of came to pass with his election as the Bishop of Myra, which in turn happened through another unusual set of circumstances. Father Nicholas’ Archbishop, John, had died, and one of the bishops of the Council said that the new archbishop would be revealed to them by God rather than be chosen from among them by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision, wherein he was told that the new hierarch would be the one whom he would meet when he went to the church at night. Upon arriving there, the elderly bishop discovered Nicholas, who was always the first to be at church.
"What is your name, child?" he asked Nicholas..
"My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."
After his elevation to the bishopric, St. Nicholas increased in piety and service to his flock. Not only did he continue to be known for his simplicity and almsgiving, he also gained a reputation as a defender for the faith. One story tells of his slapping Arius himself at the First Ecumenical Council. He also destroyed temples and assailed heresies and paganism. During a time of great persecution under Diocletian and Maximian, he was arrested and tortured before being miraculously released.
Even while still alive, miracles followed in St. Nicholas’ wake. His prayers once saved Myra from a devastating famine. He also became known for helping sailors in distress, as in the one instance where he appeared at the helm of a ship during a deadly storm and brought it safely to port. Another time, a passenger fell overboard, cried, “Saint Nicholas, help me!” and at once found himself at home surrounded by his amazed family. People under his care knew that where he was, peace and faith followed, as it was said that his very countenance radiated the love and presence of God.
Why has St. Nicholas continued to be so loved and venerated?
*He’s a shared saint.
From the eastern end of Russia to the western shores of Ireland, Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike share a love and devotion to his memory. When Myra fell to the Saracens, his relics were moved to the south of Italy in Bari, where they continue to work miracles today. In some countries he is the patron saint for crop growers, in other places he’s special to sailors; in yet others, he is the advocate of children.
*He modeled servant leadership and resisted the temptations of wealth and power.
St. Nicholas considered neither his parents’ inheritance money, nor the positions granted him within the Church, reason to lord anything over anyone, but rather always chose the path of selfless service. In this, he worthily resembled Christ, who, while being God, “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2: 7, 8) This kind of leadership, of “accountability, rather than authority” in the words of Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA, draws people in and invites obedience through love, rather than by issuing edicts and demands.
*He was tender but he knew how to be tough when needed.
The same saint who couldn’t bear to see three daughters sold into shame, stormed pagan houses of worship and fearlessly stood up to the popular heretic, Arius. That model of fierce defense coupled with kindness, is always desperately needed in the Church, no more so than today.
Troparion - Tone 4
In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion - Tone 3
You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.
The Nativity Fast is one of the four Canonical Fasting Seasons in the Church year. This is a joyous fast in anticipation of the Nativity of Christ. That is the reason it is less strict than other fasting periods. The fast is divided into two periods. The 1st period is November 15th through December 19th when the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil) is observed. There is dispensation given for wine and oil on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Similarly, fish, wine, and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays. The 2nd period is December 20th through 24th when the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil) is observed. There is dispensation given for wine and oil only on Saturday and Sunday during this period.
The Purpose of Fasting
The purpose of fasting is to focus on the things that are above, the Kingdom of God. It is a means of putting on virtue in reality, here and now. Through it we are freed from dependence on worldly things. We fast faithfully and in secret, not judging others, and not holding ourselves up as an example.