Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!

The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.

We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!

Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM

We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pascha at Saint Herman's!

Christ is Risen!

The following is a four-image synopsis of the events of Pascha at Saint Herman's.  If we missed you, I pray we might connect soon.

"For those who labor, and those who sing..."
At St. Herman's, that's EVERYONE!!!

The Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom

There are still baskets to be blessed.....

Finally!  Can we eat now? 
It's only 1:45AM.
The party lasted until about 3AM.

The faithful began to arrive for 1130 Nocturnes by 1050PM.....  Most knew that the Chapel would be filled to capacity.  Some brought extra chairs (which were a positive blessing!!!).

When Nocturnes began, there was a general hush inside the Chapel.  The solemn and beautiful hymnology of the Canon filled the room.  Candles were lit, but their warmth was overwhelmed by the prayers of those present!

When the Ninth Ode came about, all were singing, "Do not lament Me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, for I shall arise, and be glorified with eternal glory in that I am God...."  As the "I shall arise..." was sung, the Winding Sheet was lifted from the tomb.  The Body of Christ entered the altar, to be placed onto the altar table for 40 days.

Soon, all the candles and lights were extinguished.  Total blackout.  And even though the room was filled with faithful, there was not a sound.  Then, from within the darkness, seemingly as bright as the sun, a single candle is lit in the altar, accompanied by the clergy singing, "Come receive the light, from the unwaning light, even Christ our God, Who is risen from the dead."  The flame was passed from clergy to faithful, person to person, until the room was ablaze in flickering light, as the procession began.

Upon returning to the entrance of the Chapel, the cemetery (where the Chapel is located) was filled with a resounding, "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."  One could almost feel those surrounding us joining with us in song!

The Chapel was re-entered, filled with lights ablaze, brighter than bright, for the room is filled not only with man-made light, but with the Light of Christ!  More singing, the Canon of Pascal Matins, "This is the day of Resurrection, let us be illumined, O people, ....", followed by innumerable "Christ is Risen" refrains.

Liturgy begins, and the Eucharist, which we celebrated only 14 hours earlier, takes on a whole new dimension, for now the Body we eat, and the Blood we drink are of our Risen Lord, He who has conquered death, put death to death, overthrown the authority of hell, and freed all whom it has held captive from the time of Adam.

Liturgy ends, and the Chapel empties for a brief few minutes, so that those who had been keeping baskets of food in their cars could retrieve them (for there's just not enough room in the Chapel for worship and food at the same time....).

The floor overflows with bread, eggs, cheese, ham, kielbasa, all the things from which the faithful have faithfully abstained for nearly 8 weeks.  More, "Christ is Risen" refrains, and prayers over the food.  Then, fellowship - sharing foods we've missed, sharing hugs, greetings of "Christ is Risen" with one another, holy kisses, and sips of wine.

Finally, most can go no longer, and at about 3AM, the room holds only five or six, who regretfully say goodnight to one another, but not parting without yet another, "Christ is Risen!", for this is our JOY!  Yes, we've missed the food.  Yes, we've labored with fasting, and many long services.  But we've longed to greet each other in this way, for this is who we are as a people.  We are a people who live for our own resurrection through the Resurrection of Christ!

And, if you haven't heard, CHRIST IS RISEN!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pascha!

Let God arise!  Let His enemies be scattered!  Let those who hate Him flee from before His face!

Christ is Risen!

May the joy that comes from the knowledge that Christ has conquered death fill your homes and your hearts, on this day, and all days!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why the Trial of Jesus Was Illegal

We hear within the hymnology of the Church as we move to the services of Holy Friday phrases which convict the Jews of conducting the trial of our Lord unlawfully.  Specifically, consider the following, all from the service of the 12 Passion Gospels:

Antiphon 1:  The rulers of the people have assembled against the Lord and His Christ.  A lawless charge is hurled against Me, Lord, O Lord, forsake me not!

Antiphon 2:  Judas hastened to the lawless scribes and said, "What will you give me to betray Him to you?"  Yet while they conspired against You, You invisibly stood in their midst.

Antiphon 3:  For thirty pieces of silver and a treacherous kiss, O Lord, the Jews sought to kill You.

Antiphon 5:  The disciple agrees upon the price of the Master.  He sells the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.  With a treacherous kiss he betrays Him to death at the hand of lawless men.

Antiphon 10:  He was struck on the cheek by hands that He Himself had formed.  A people that transgressed the law nailed the Lord of Glory to the Cross.

Antiphon 11:  In exchange for the good things that You had done for them, a transgressing people condemned You to be crucified, O Christ, and gave You gall and vinegar to drink.

There is more, but you can see the clear indication in the hymnology of the Church that assigns to the Sanhedrin, and through them to the people of Israel, the charge of lawlessness.  On what basis are these words founded?

The fact is (and these data come from BibleStudy.org) that the arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing, and execution of our Lord were each without legal precedent following the manner of Jewish jurisprudence and the law of Moses.

First, in order to bring someone to trial, one had to have some person formally accuse another of committing a crime.  This did not happen.  The soldiers came to Gethsamane and arrested the Lord through the betrayal of Judas without anyone having prior to that incident filed a claim of crime before the Sanhedrin.  "And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes.....  Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none." (Mark 14:53, 55)  Based on the law, there had to be at least two or three people charging a particular person with breaking the law.  "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15)  Conclusion:  The process of arresting and accusing Jesus was against the Law of Moses.


Next, it was Judas, one of Jesus' disciples, who lived with and accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry, who led the authorities to arrest Him.  "And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders."  (Mark 14:43,44)  If Jesus was believed to have broken the Law, then the twelve disciples (including Judas) were considered 'accomplices' in His illegal activities.  The Law forbade use of an accomplice to bring about the arrest or conviction of a person. (W. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus, Vol. 1, pgs 228-229)

Next, there was no investigation of the merits of any accusations against Jesus, nor any provision for His defense.  "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry..." (Deut 19:16-18)  There was no 'inquiry' in defending Jesus.  The 'judges' in His case served as defenders, and witnesses, and prosecutors.  Again, from W. Chandler, "The judges always leaned to the side of the defendant and gave him the advantage of every possible doubt."(ibid, pgs 153-154)

Then, the arrest and trial were held by night.  "And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot.... Having received the bread, he (Judas) then went out immediately.  And it was night." (John 13:26, 30)  The Sanhedrin did this to conceal their illegal acts from the view of the people.  When Judas brought the soldiers to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, the Lord said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I was daily with you in the temple preaching, and you did not seize Me..." (Mark 14-48-49)  Jewish law permitted proceedings to take place only during daylight hours.  "Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night." (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:1)

Further, Jewish law forbade a trial to occur on the day before a major feast or a Sabbath.  "They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath nor on that of any festival." (ibid)  Since the Passover began on the day after Jesus was arrested, His trial was unlawful.

In addition, "A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began.  But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day." (ibid)   In other words, if a man is to be condemned to death, a trial must last for at least two days.  The trial of Jesus was completed in less than the span of five hours, by biblical accounts.

Next, the judges in a criminal case were required to recuse themselves if they had a predetermined opinion on the accused.  "Now it happened on another Sabbath that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, to see if He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him." (Luke 6:6-7)  The 'judges' were people already seeking ways to destroy Jesus.  "Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him." (Mat 26:3-5)  Ergo, this was hardly an 'impartial' gathering.   "Nor must there be on the judicial bench either a relation or a particular friend, or an enemy of either the accused or of the accuser." (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 108)  Those who would have possibly voted against condemning or punishing Jesus, and especially against sentencing Him to death, were not at His trial.  This would have included Joseph of Arimathea.  We know this because, "Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man.  He had not consented to their decision and deed.  He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God." (Luke 23:50-51)  Luke records that Joseph had not been at the council that condemned the Lord!  Nicodemus was like unto him.  "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.'" (John 3:1-2)  But the Gospels also record that the decision of the Sanhedrin was unanimous.  "And they all condemned Him of being deserving of death." (Mark 14:64)  Ergo, neither of these men, who were on the council, had been informed of the meeting - forming a "kangaroo court".

Saint Matthew records, "Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none.  Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none."  The Sanhedrin had gathered anyone who would offer testimony against Jesus to speak.  But it was required that at least two agree on a charge, and none were in agreement!  But rather than suspend based on lack of evidence, they continued to seek testimony, with that already given clearly indicated as false by the lack of such agreement.  "There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren." (Prov 6:16-19) "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you." (Deut 19:16-19)

In addition, Jesus did not defend Himself against the charges from these false witnesses.  The high priest, frustrated at the Lord's not responding in His own defense, says, "'Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?' But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, 'I put You under oath by the Living God: tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!'  Jesus said to him, 'It is as you said...'  Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, 'He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses?....'" (Mat 26:62-65)  The point here is that, according to Jewish law, a person could not be condemned based on his own testimony.

Further, the indictment used to justify the death penalty as illegal because the judges themselves originated the charges.  Based on Mosaic Law, a charge against someone must be brought to the council by at least two or three reliable witnesses of the crime.  The Sanhedrin itself could not ever originate charges.  Its only purpose was to investigate charges brought before it!

If the charge then became 'blasphemy', the condemnation to death was illegal because the charge was not true.  Jesus IS the Son of God.  But the council took no steps to attempt to prove or disprove the claim of Jesus, which was their function!

The previously mentioned unanimity of the court was also illegal.  It meant that there was not even one who was assigned the purpose of being a defender.  It was illegal in Jewish law to unanimously condemn a person to death if there was no one who was a witness for the defense.  "If none of the judges defend the culprit, i.e. all pronounce him guilty, having no defender in the court, the verdict of guilty was invalid and the sentence of death could not be executed." (Jesus the Christ: A study of the Messiah and His mission, James E. Talmage, pg 647, quote from Rabbi Wise, Martyrdom of Jesus , p. 74)

In addition, sentencing of a person had to be proclaimed only in the Sanhedrin's appointed place, a chamber in the temple known as the chamber of hewn stones.  The sentencing of Jesus took place at the home of the high priest, Caiaphas.

Finally, those on this court changed the charge against Jesus not once, but twice!  And this, too,  was unlawful.  It went from asking Jesus what the men who said that they heard Him say He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (the first 'accusation'), to blasphemy (for acknowledging that He is the Son of God), and then to "making Himself a King," the charge that this same group finally brought before Pilate.  The Sanhedrin "conveniently" switched the charge against Jesus from blasphemy (about which the Romans would not have cared at all) to treason.  Having levied this charge against the Lord before Pilate, the Sanhedrin presented no corroborating evidence - only the charge.  Pilate ultimately concludes (after far more investigation than the Sanhedrin gave) that the charges were unfounded.  The accusation that Jesus was murdered under was that which Pilate had affixed to His Cross, "The King of the Jews." 

"The pages of human history present no stronger case of judicial murder than the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, for the simple reason that all forms of law were outraged and trampled under foot in the proceedings instituted against Him." (Walter M. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer's Standpoint, p. 216)

"The assembly of the Jews demanded of Pilate that You, O Lord, be crucified; and finding no cause against You, they released the prisoner, Barabbas, and condemned You, the Righteous One, incurring for themselves the accusation of blood-guiltiness.  Render to them, O Lord, according to their works; for they plotted against You in vain." (13th Antiphon, Holy Thursday Evening)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wisdom from Saint Gregory Nazianzus

He was baptized as a man, but He remitted sins as God.
He was tempted as a man, but He conquered as God.
He hungered, but fed thousands.
He thirsted, but promised that fountains would flow from those who believe.
He was wearied, but gives rest to those who are heavy laden.
He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over the sea.
He weeps, but He causes tears to cease.
He asks where Lazarus is laid, but raises him from death.
He is sold for a pittance, but redeems the whole world at great price.
As a sheep, He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Good Shepherd of the world.
As a lamb, He is silent, and yet He is the Word of God.
Nailed to the tree, he brings to us the Tree of Life to restore us.
He is given sour wine mixed with gall to drink, He Who turned water into fine wine.
He lays down His life, but has power to take it again.
In death, He gives life.
By His death, He destroys death.
He is buried, but rises again.
Going down into hell, He brings up the souls.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gospel for Lazarus Saturday

As we read from the Gospel of Saint John this morning, I was struck with several things.

First - while it was Mary that was praised for caring for having "chosen the better part" when Martha complained to our Lord that she had been left to serve alone (from the Gospel of Saint Luke, 10:41-42), it is now Martha who first goes out to meet the Lord as He comes to Bethany.  And in that encounter, we find an example perhaps of our own faith.  Martha shows a firm foundation in faith as she says to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."  Her words show a firm grasp that our Lord has done such great things for others, and therefore He would have been able to do them again, if only He had been there.  But her follow-up statement shows that even such great faith needs refinement and growth, as she says to Jesus, "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."  She recognizes a "limited power" in our Lord.  She does not yet recognize Him AS God, as One of the Holy Trinity.

Next, it is striking that Mary then comes to Jesus with identical words.  "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."  The one who chose to remain with Jesus from the Gospel of Saint Luke has no 'greater' faith for her desire than her sister, who was, in our Lord's own words, "worried and troubled about many things." 

The next thing of note the impact of this event on our Lord.  We are told in the first instance that "He groaned in Spirit and was troubled."  In the next instance, Saint John records, "Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb."  The word translated as "groaning" from the Greek is originally ἐμβριμάομαι, which means "to snort with anger."  It is a response that we can relate to if we have children.  When they are contrary, we become upset and angered that they did not follow our instructions or advice, and because of that, they fall into trouble.  We can picture our Lord standing and looking into the tomb of Lazarus, seeing his body in decay, and recognizing that His creation, we as a people, have not followed His instruction, and in our sins, we have fallen into such trouble that only He can extricate us.

But perhaps the most striking thing about this Gospel account is that famous, shortest sentence in the Bible:  "Jesus wept."  It is not so much a surprise that a person would weep at the passing of a friend, or even more so at the loss of a loved one.  But this is God the Son - God who put on our flesh.  God is standing and crying over the fallen state of His creation!  We are created in the image of God, and God is standing here at the tomb and weeping!  God is mourning along with us, because all that bear this flesh must pass that same portal through death.

The people who are present recognize that Lazarus has now been in the tomb for four days.  They know of the state of his decay, for the odor, the stench of death is noticeable at the stone before the tomb.  And when the Lord commands that the stone be removed, those there seek to avoid this because of this state of decay.  What must the people have thought when "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth!'"?  We can picture the people there thinking, "He's crazy - we KNOW Lazarus is dead.  How could He possible expect....."  And then, they see the form of a man struggling to walk in the strips of graveclothes, obeying the command of God the Son, God in the flesh.  Lazarus had to come forth.  The Creator commanded it!

Within the blink of an eye, rotting flesh was restored fully.  Within less than a heartbeat, a heart that had become solidified with the rigor of the flesh began beating.  In that same blink of an eye, the blood that had coagulated and dried became vital and filled with life.  All of this with those three commanding words, "Lazarus, come forth!" 

The people then believed.  This is not possible unless this is the will of God.  This Man must be God!  We cannot understand that, but what other explanation is there?

At the same time, the Jews of the Sanhedrin are thinking, "The whole world has gone after Him.  We are losing our grip over the spiritual life of this people.  We are losing our authority.  This Man must be stopped."

In an instant, the whole world changed.  In that instant, hell was informed, "You have no authority over My creation!"  In that instant, hell concluded, "If I am to hold fast to my power over mankind, I must destroy this Man who exercises such authority over those whom I hold captive."

In an instant, nothing was like it was before.  Jesus proclaims eight days before His own Resurrection His power over the tomb.  It was a message to His Apostles, who also did not fully understand at the time.

And it is a message to us to this very day.  Death is not the end.  In John Chapter 5 Jesus speaks of what has just occurred by saying, "Truly I say to you, the hour is coming , and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live."


Even though we may be dead in sin, let us live to hear this voice calling to us, so that we might live with Him - forever!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Fast Is Over - Let the Fasting Begin....

Today, Friday before Lazarus Saturday, marks the end of the Great Fast.  The 40 days are now complete.  Within the hymnology of the Church, we hear, "We have completed the forty days that profit our souls.  Let us now beseech the Lover of mankind to enable us to be witnesses of His Holy Passion, that we may glorify His mighty work, His wonderful plan for our salvation.  Let us sing with one heart and one voice, 'Lord, glory to You!'"


Tomorrow, on Lazarus Saturday, we move toward the Great Feast of the Lord's Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem.  And while the Great Fast is over, the more weighty fast of our Lord's Passion Week now begins in earnest.

Let us offer as encouragement to all the fact that the time has grown short indeed.  The time of our Lord's Resurrection draws near.  Inside the next eight days, we will walk with Him to Bethany.  We will be witnesses of Lazarus exiting the stinking tomb which held him for four days.  We will wonder at the cleansing of the Temple, of the withering of the fig tree, of the woman who washes His feet with her tears.  We will be astonished at the treachery of one who for so long was so near to Him.  We will be present at His institution of the Holy Eucharist, and we will literally take that bread and wine directly from His hand.  We will witness the treacherous hand dipping in the bowl with Him.  We will be given the example of His washing our feet.  We will go with Him to Gethsemane, and see His Holy Blood flow as sweat from His brow.  We will see Him carried away by soldiers of the Temple.  We will stand with Peter and John as they listen for what is happening at the unholy council of the Sanhedrin.  We will be called to watch in horror as the soldiers force thorns into His brow, and strip Him naked for lashing and scourging.  We'll see Him laid upon the beam, nails driven into His Holy and all-Pure Body.  We'll listen to Him pray for His persecutors, asking the Father to forgive them, and we'll wonder how God can do this!  We'll hear Him quote Scripture as He pours out His life for us.  We'll hear His agonized cry, as He takes His last breath.  We'll see His Mother and beloved Apostle weeping.  We'll feel the earth tremble, and see the sun darkened, and hear of the temple veil torn.  We'll stand watching as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus lovingly prepare His lifeless Body and place it in the tomb.  And we, like the soldiers assigned at the request of the treacherous Sanhedrin, and watch at His tomb, waiting for what we will pray to happen again in our sight, and that is to find that carved cavern filled with light and empty and discarded graveclothes.

And these are the reasons that we, especially in THIS week, having declared the Fast to have ended, begin to Fast anew, with even greater intensity.  For unlike the Apostles, we know where our Lord is going, and what He will endure, and we wish to stand in faith and love with Him to bear witness again of all these things, freed from all earthly encumbrances.  There is nothing that must tie us to the "here and now".  There is only what our Lord is doing, and what it means to our salvation.

May we all have such a blessed Passion Week, and be granted His blessing to be witnesses at that empty Tomb!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lazarus Saturday

This coming Saturday, we commemorate the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  The Gospel account is only found in the Gospel of Saint John, Chapter 11.

It is an important account for us in this world, for it tells us much about the God we serve, about His heart and His love for us.  In the Gospel of Saint John, the Evangelist records that this was "Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha."  Why is Saint John careful to reference Lazarus to these two women?

We find the answer not in the Gospel of Saint John, but in the Gospel of Saint Luke.  There, in Chapter 10 we find the account of Jesus going to the home of these sisters.  Saint Luke records, "He entered a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word."  It was characteristic in that time for the men to gather for teaching, but the women would be left to serve.  It is for this reason that Martha complained to the Lord.  "She approached Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore, tell her to help me.'"  We can understand the plea!  And yet Jesus, in what had to be a surprising statement for the time, rebuked Martha, saying, "You are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." 

One thing is needful!  Only one thing!!  And that is attaining salvation.  In the Orthodox sense, it is called Theosis, becoming like God, emulating Him so that we approach Him in as many ways as we can while we dwell upon this earth.  Mary has chosen that part of 'serving' - serving the needs of her soul first.  And Jesus refuses to take from her (or from anyone with such a heart) the answer to their prayer of hearing His voice, listening to His words, and following His commandments.

Saint John records, "It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair."  This statement is often used to confuse this Mary with one of the other women who also did this service to our Lord.  Saint John Chrysostom teaches that this is NOT the harlot mentioned in Matthew 26:7.  We know this because of the testimony of Saint Matthew, who is careful to note where and how that anointing happened, as he writes, "When Jesus was in Bethany, at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table."  The house of Simon the leper, not that of Martha or Mary.  And the oil was placed on the Lord's head, not His feet.   The other similar account happens in Luke Chapter 37.  But there we also have careful evidence from Saint Luke to show this to be yet a different woman, as he records, "And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil."  This is the account we remember at the Bridegroom Matins service of Holy Wednesday (celebrated on Tuesday evening) in the "Hymn of Cassia", the woman who "had fallen into many sins."

Saint John Chrysostom contends that Mary here is "grave and earnest," not full of "many vices," but filled with love for the Lord.

And so we find that the sisters love Jesus, and He in turn loves not only them, but also their brother, Lazarus.

God loved them!  Why, then, did He allow Lazarus to die?

The Gospels show us plainly that Jesus knows what is happening to Lazarus.  Saint John records in Chapter 11, "When He heard that he (Lazarus) was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was."  Saint John records that Mary and Martha had sent messages to Jesus to ask Him to come and help.  But He did not yet come.  Jesus finally says to His Apostles, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up."  And the Apostles did not understand.  It took our Lord's becoming brutally frank with them to awaken them from their spiritual slumber as He said to them, "Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe." 

Jesus allows Lazarus to die.  Not only to die, but to be dead for four days - longer than even He will spend in the tomb.  Lazarus' body is already decaying, because the stench of death overwhelms the entry to the tomb where they have placed him to such an extent that the people warn Jesus not to go near it.

But God the Son, God the Word, He who created us goes to reclaim what is His.  He shows clearly that death has no power over His authority.  He does this on this day, one week prior to His own sojourn in the tomb, so that those who love Him will have faith to hold until He too arises from the tomb!

How can we not enter this week with fear and trembling at the power of our God!  How can the heart remain hard, or the eye without a tear over our state of fallenness?  Even our God, when He comes to the tomb of Lazarus, weeps for what He beholds as the fallen state of His creation!

As we come to this weekend, to the tomb of Lazarus, to the cheering crowds in the streets of Jerusalem who shout, "Hosanna!", which means, "Save now!", let us open our hearts to walk with Him, to remain with Him, to watch with Him, to stand at the Cross near Him, to be with Joseph and Nicodemus as they carry His lifeless body and lovingly entomb It, so that we may also be found worthy to be amongst those loving and faithful myrrhbearers who will be the first to hear the joyous words of the angel, "He is not here.  He is risen!"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Works of the Lord

"I will remember the works of the Lord, surely I will remember Your wonders of old." (Psalm 77:11)
"For You, O Lord, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands." (Psalm 92:4)
"Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion, Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (Psalm 103:22)
"May the glory of the Lord endure forever!  May the Lord rejoice in His works!" (Psalm 104:31)
"O that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107:8)

Why this focus on "works"?  What good is the remembrance of the works of the Lord to we who live in 2011?

The works of the Lord are not static.  They did not happen once for all time, and then vanished.  The works of the Lord are dynamic.  They continue to this very day.  Those who study science in our day confirm that the sun is changing, the planets are changing, the galaxies are changing.  In several billion years, the Milky Way galaxy will "collide" with the Andromeda galaxy, creating a merged set of stars orbiting around a new galactic center.  And so even science confirms that the works of creation (which they do NOT believe in) continue to occur and will continue until man is likely to be long gone from this planet.

But God's works are not only for the heavenly bodies.  His works are for us, as well.  God came to this earth that He created, and He took on our flesh.  While dwelling here, He gave us commandments of life, ways in which we could follow His example, which leads to eternal life.  He left us with commandments that show us heaven here on earth even before we depart for that eternal life with Him.  Where God is, there is love.  Where we bring love to this, God's earth, we bring heaven to humanity, and we show that heaven is our homeland, with this being only a land in which we sojourn for a short while.

In the life of Saint Anthony the Great, there is an account of a military officer named Martinian came to Anthony's cell for help.  Martinian had a daughter who was afflicted with an evil spirit, and he knew that Saint Anthony could heal her, if only he (Martinian) could persuade him (Anthony) to help.  Martinian stood at the door to Anthony's cell, pounding upon it for a long while, with the blessed Anthony ignoring him.  Finally, Saint Anthony, still not opening the door, but peaking out through a space above it, and showing that he knew the reason for his presence, said to him, "Man, why do you call on me?  I am a man, just like you.  But if you believe in Christ, Whom I serve, then go - leave me.  According to your belief, pray to God, and your petition will come to pass." 

Hearing this, Martinian left, and in his belief, he called upon the Lord, and when he returned, he found his daughter healed of her evil spirit.

Now, Martinian was certainly helped by the prayers of the blessed Saint!  But the message that Saint Anthony gave to him is no less powerful today than it was then, and the promise of 'regeneration' - of blessed healing, or of forgiveness, or of bringing peace, or of anything that is good for our salvation - that promise is still alive today, waiting for us to call upon the Lord in faith, so that His works can be shown to be dynamic even in this very day!

As we come near to the end of the Great Fast, let us seek His will in all things.  Let us pray for the peace of the world, especially in the Middle East where trouble seems to be everywhere, and in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, and Iran, and Israel.  Let us pray for the sick and the suffering of Japan, and for the speedy resolution to their nuclear waste problems, and for an end to the post-quake/post-tsunami suffering.  But let us not forget to pray for ourselves, that the Lord will send His peace upon us, so that we might be admittedly imperfect reflections of the Holy Fathers, such as Anthony, but nonetheless be supports and guides to those around us who need desperately to hear that the Lord loves them, that He desires their hearts to be cleansed and at peace, and that He seeks all to seek Him, and thereby entry to the Kingdom.  We are His servants, but Jesus also described His Apostles as "His friends", those who knew Him, those to whom He had revealed His true nature as God.  As belonging to Him, we can hear the words of the Psalmist,

"Do not forsake the works of Your hands." (Psalm 138:8)