Ninth Day of the Advent Fast:
Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
Monday, November 23, 2020
Saturday, November 21, 2020
the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of God, comes into the
We know the story. We know of Joachim and Anna, of their barrenness, of God’s gift in answering their prayer for a child, of their promise to dedicate that child, be it male or female, to the service of God, and of their honoring that promise on this day by taking the Theotokos to the House of God. At the tender age of three, they set the child on the ground, and she runs to the temple, not regarding the leaving of her parents as a loss, but even at the age of three seeing living in the presence of God as a gain. If only more of us had the wisdom of this three year old!
In Vespers, when we sing the Aposticha in Tone 3, the Theotokion which ends the Aposticha says, “By the will of the Father, without seed, of the Holy Spirit, you conceived the Son of God! He was born of the Father before eternity without a mother. But now, for our sake, He came from you without a father! Do not cease entreating Him to deliver our souls from harm.” In the Feast’s hymnology we proclaim the Theotokos to be a tabernacle, a living Ark and temple, pointing to her as the Ark of the Covenant, the place which from ancient times was seen as the seat of God, that which on earth could ‘contain’ Him.
we ponder all these words, we come to see that the Mother of God is a focal
point for all time. It is she who
divides that which comes in the eternity of Christ before He took on our flesh
from that which comes after He did so.
And in His being truly God, and therefore truly immortal and without
time, the Second Person of the Trinity existed fully at the Creation, in heaven
and eternally with the Father and the Spirit.
God in Trinity created all things by His Word, and the Word, as
We are confused by these kinds of terms, when we speak of things accomplished which have not yet happened, or things that have happened as if they are in the present. But this is the realm of God, and this is His means of providing for our salvation.
God provides on this day a 3 year old child. He will keep her for three times three, nine years, so that at the age of twelve she will be sent to be betrothed to a man whom God already has chosen to be her caretaker. In nine short years this child whom we come to honor today will speak with the angels, be taught by them, and literally be fed by their hands – both physically and spiritually. She will witness things of which men cannot speak. She will come to be so comfortable with the mingling of the temporal, the earthly, with that which is eternal that when the Archangel Gabriel comes to her to pronounce the beginning of our salvation by her taking God within her pure and virginal flesh, she will not be frightened by the angel's coming, by his pronouncement of the miracle, or by the prospects of what might come as a result. His arrival will seem a normal, natural thing to her. In these nine years within the temple, the Theotokos will come to accept God’s will as her own will. She will see no reason for her life not to conform totally to His requests of her. She will have no fear of the things God asks her to do, for at the tender age of twelve, she will already understand that God’s will should be and must be done.
As Orthodox Christians, we come to understand “things” differently from others. We come to understand things inside the Church as “holy” – set aside for God’s purpose, not for the use of people in general. We would never place the chalice onto a dinner table to be used for a common drink at a meal. In fact, we come to view the chalice as something holy in and of itself, so much so in fact that the un-ordained do not even dare to touch it, with the exception of venerating it when offered at the time of Communion.
Is there something different about the metal used to fashion the Chalice? The metal itself is common. Sometimes we attempt to make it appear to us to be more precious by coating it in gold, or by adorning it with jewels. But the metal remains common. The gold or jewels make it desirable to thieves, but not to God. The metal remains common until it is sanctified, set aside for use in holding the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. It is the association with the physical touch of Christ that makes the common metal into something uncommon, even unearthly – heavenly.
If the Body and Blood of our Lord does this to a piece of common metal, what does it accomplish within our own bodies? He did not come to ‘save’ common metal. He came, he took on our flesh, He brought about today’s uncommon child to be brought into His temple so that she, like the metal of the chalice, could be sanctified, set apart from that which is common for an uncommon purpose.
He has already accomplished this with the Theotokos. But He came to receive flesh from her body so that He might save all of us from our sins, and from that which is present in this world that seeks to keep us nothing more than “common” people. Jesus comes and calls us ourselves to be uncommon, to be holy, to be set aside from worldly things, to be consecrated, sanctified to His purpose and His will, in our lives, and in this world.
Within her virginal womb, the Theotokos will literally set in place the Body and Blood of our Lord. They are created for Him through her. If our communion is truly His Body and precious Blood, then they are truly present within her from conception.
That which is Holy, when it contacts something common, makes the common itself Holy. We are here today to become yet more uncommon ourselves, more holy. Like the Mother of God, we have come to our own temple. We have ascended to the place where God dwells even today in our midst. He is here - as simple and austere, and “common” as this building might seem to others. He is here to give to us the gift of being able to make ourselves have less in common with the world, and having more in common with that which is Godly, more holy. It is for this purpose that our Savior has set aside today this three year old child, to bring Himself into this world, exactly for this purpose, to save us from our sins.
As we contemplate this pure child, who in joy ascends the steps to the sanctuary, a child whose purity desires nothing more than to be in the presence of her God, let us attempt to share in that purity, and then in that love of God above all else, so that we also share in her desire to be in His presence – forever!
It’s a glorious Feast!
"And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what had come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how little by little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery— lest the creature should perish, and His Father's handiwork in men be spent for naught— He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours." (St. Athanasius, 8. The Word Visited the Earth, 2)
Friday, November 20, 2020
Sixth Day of the Advent Fast:
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Fifth Day of the Advent Fast:
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Fourth Day of the Advent Fast:
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Third Day of the Advent Fast:
Monday, November 16, 2020
First Day of the Advent Fast, 2020:
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Orthodoxy, if it is nothing else, is a faith whose foundation rests upon fasting. The number of days of fasting in any given year varies based on the changing duration of the Apostles’ Fast, which extends over a variable number of days beginning with the Feast of All Saints (after Pentecost) and ending with the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29th). Within this current calendar year of 2020, if we follow the Church’s calendar totally, we will have fasted for 185 days, or just OVER one half of the year.
As Orthodox we know in general WHY we fast. We know that our Lord Himself told us to fast. “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mat 6:16-18)
All of this covers the issue of fasting in general. But what of the season that we enter today? Why is it important that we as Orthodox Christians fast when the rest of the whole world is celebrating? After all, this is the season of Holiday Parties. There’s lots of food—and drink. Why do we have to say “No!” to such events? How does this benefit our salvation?
But one would assume that after posing the question, you would already know the answer!
Fasting is a discipline we impose on ourselves. The Church doesn’t impose it—we must do so! We fast to give us the impetus to focus on others rather than on self. We should spend our time not thinking about what, how much, or with whom we’ll feast and eat, but rather on the needs of others, and on our own spiritual needs, on prayer, on avoiding sin, on resisting temptation, on squelching anger and jealousy and covetousness, on taking control of a world that has been allowed to control us.
Speaking personally, every year when we come to this day, my own ponderings begin to focus on the Mother of God. Today, she is over 7 months into her carrying the Christ-child. She feels Him within her—feels God inside her womb. She is caring for herself to assure that He is cared for. Her love for Him as a Person has blossomed. It is a love that will extend beyond the Cross, the tomb, the Ascension, and her Dormition to have that same love for His Church, for the Church is His bride.
She is preparing as any mother to this day would prepare. But her preparations will be interrupted by a world not pleased with her Son’s coming. She’ll have to divert, to carry her Child in a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where she will bear Him. Not long thereafter, her home will be torn from her as angels guide her, her Son, and St. Joseph the betrothed to a distant land, to Egypt, where they will live until Herod’s death.
The Mother of God’s focus is on her Son. And as in so many cases, we can learn from her a great lesson on where our own focus must rest, on how we are to live in this also strange land.
The Theotokos showed her faith well before the Annunciation. She shows it at the Lord’s conception, at His Nativity, throughout His life and His ministry, and throughout the entire life of His Church.
Let us look to her for our example, on how we must embrace the Lord’s commandments and His example to us of how we are to live. Let us see in the Mother of God our example of living a silent life serving Him! Let us use this Advent fast to draw ourselves closer to her example.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ.
We don't like to hear stories about demons in the world in which we live. I was reading a sermon by Father Ted Bobach - he's of my favorite sources for online reading. It said that if you search all of Scripture, there are very few instances where the word demon or demonic can be found in the Old Testament. I think he said, if I remember correctly, maybe four or six instances. Regardless, it's a handful. There are also very few instances of the use of the word in the epistles. But the gospels are repleat with references or uses of the words demon or demonic.
Clearly the Lord is telling us something. Clearly there's something about this idea of demonic activity in the world that is important to our salvation. And if we look at today's Gospel account, we come to see a little bit of what that might mean to us in the world in which we live, in the people who surround us, and even inside of ourselves.
The first thing that we encounter is is the man who identifies himself as Legion.
And we find in his words two opposing perspectives on his encounter with Jesus. The first one is one of obstinence and contempt. "What do you want from me, Jesus, You Son of the Most High God?" Is this not exactly the perspective that we find in the world around us when we encounter people, when we try to talk with them about our faith? The world's perspective is that faith is meaningless. The world would ask, "Why would you believe such such nonsense, such stories? None of it can be proven." Remind me to come back to the issue of "proven" before we reach the end.
The second thing that the the demon possessed man says shows his recognition of his place as being subservient to and in fact one of worship towards Jesus. "I beg You, don't torment me." His clear meaning is a plea that Jesus would take from him the things that are causing him pain and suffering. Poor Legion doesn't say it in those words, but we can hear it in his voice.
And in fact, we know with some certainty that this is Legion's perspective, because when the Lord casts the demons out, what is the formerly demon possessed man's request? "I wish to be one of Your disciples. I want to follow You wherever You go." It is the demons that speak through his mouth before the Lord's miraculous healing. It is the right-minded and healed man who speaks the request to become a disciple!
The next thing that we find associated with the demonic activity that that leads us to an open discussion of why demons are present in the Gospels for our edification and education lies with the people of Gadara. First of all, they are not Jews. They are Gentiles. This is known clearly because they raise pigs for their own use. The pig was a ritually unclean animal to the Jews.
The people of Gadara are witnesses to a miraculous healing of one who had been a thorn in their side. Saint Luke records that they had tried to subdue this man. They chained him. They set guards around him. They did everything they could to try and keep him from harming them, so fierce was his demonic possession. Now when the harm is taken from them by Christ, their perspective changes totally. "We can't tolerate this kind of thing, this 'healing' in our presence. Leave us. God, please leave us!" Can you imagine saying that? Can you imagine having a heart that would feel this way?
Saint John Chrisostom defines the people of Gadara as being more possessed than Legion, exactly because of this perspective. "We don't want to lose our possessions. You've stolen our possessions from us by curing this man. Yes, you cured him, but at the cost of our our livelihood - our pigs are gone! We've lost money. We've lost things. And those are more important to us than Legion. Yes, he was a problem to us but he didn't harm our livelihood."
This idea of wanting to serve God that Legion shows is something that I think we all too often skim over when we read this Gospel account. We recognize our need to be servants of God. We recognize that He has given us talents, and with these skills and abilities there are things that we should do, ways in which we should put God's given gifts to use - to His glory, efforts that are consistent with His will for us in our lives. But how often do we honestly consider what it means to truly serve Him?
These these candles that are here in front of me. What is their purpose? They give light, and in so doing they give glory to God. And they completely consume themselves in the one thing that they were created to do. They have one talent. To throw light. And they do it without complaint and until all of their capacity to give that light is gone.
The censer behind me has a piece of charcoal in it. What is the coal's purpose? It's purpose is to ignite and throw out heat so that it can cause the incense to burn and provide smoke that gives blessings. It has one purpose, to bring about the possibility of giving blessings. And it serves its purpose to God, it consumes itself entirely until it's gone, serving that purpose.
So, what of us? What did God create us to do, create us to be? He has given us more than one talent, more than one capability. Are we using the talents He has bestowed on us, or are we using them to serve only ourselves? Do we work to His glory, or are we satisfying ourselves?
The world around us would attempt to convince us that self-serving is the only logical choice, for there is no God. They would hope to convince us that our faith is in vain. They would tell us that we worship fantasies.
You'll say, "But Father, there are people out there who might espouse some of those things, but they also do good things." I would reply, "Yes, they do." But the Holy Fathers teach us that works are not indicative of faith. Faith manifests itself in works, but works don't bring about faith. A person can do a good thing without recognizing that God is among us. In short, they can do a good work without seeking to bring glory to God in the process.
I asked you near the beginning of today's homily to remember the issue of proof. There's an expression. For those who do not believe, no proof is adequate. For those who do believe, no proof is required.
Let us not require God to prove Himself to us. Let us serve the purposes for which He has given us talents. Let us serve, and in serving let us consume ourselves in doing His will, all things to His glory, trying to live a life that is consistent with His divine will, and not ours.
Glory to Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
When we encounter parables like the one in this Gospel, I think we too often enter a state of “intellectual gridlock” as we let our minds interpret the words we hear. When we hear the parable, we are led to think, “Rich man bad—poor man good,” and we go no further. In so doing, we ascribe the concept of “evil” to the one, and “angelic” to the other, not allowing ourselves to probe more deeply.
If we take the time to ponder the parable further we may begin to question whether the rich man was without virtue, or whether Lazarus was without fault. But this is the beauty of teaching via parable—the conditions are of a “story” that uplifts the virtue and exposes the failings.
Think of Lazarus as being you or me, driven to the point of desperation such that we lay with open wounds at the gate of one who has the means to give us some degree of comfort, even if only “crumbs”. What thoughts would go thru our minds?
It doesn’t take long to conclude that we would fall into sin, giving into the temptations associated with our condition. We would curse the dogs who come to feed upon our sores. We would lay in judgment of the rich man who refuses to look upon us as he enters his gates.
But these are not conditions we find inside the Lord’s description of poor Lazarus. He lay in hope of mercy—only! He takes nothing for granted, he sees the opulence within the gates, but does not covet what lay there, desiring it for his own. He knows himself to be a beggar. And as such, he will receive with thanksgiving anything that might come to him from a benefactor. And we might expect that if nothing comes his way, he would be content
What does this say to us as a people? Can we not see that we too are beggars? We may not live with open sores all over our bodies. We may not have to beat off the animals who desire to consume our flesh once we succumb to ills that are consuming us. But every good thing we have in this life is given us by our Benefactor. The talents to work at a profession—those are God-given. The holding of a job that provides an income, so that we might have a roof over our heads, enough to buy food and clothes, and to provide for our basic needs, those too are God-given.
And what of the excess? What of the things God still gives beyond what we “need”? Do we keep those things behind our own locked gates, never to be shared with another who may also be in need? St. John Chrysostom writes, “The ship of the rich man was laden with merchandise, and sailed with a fair wind.” In short, God had sent him many earthly blessings, too many to be required to serve his own needs. “But do not marvel, for it was borne on to shipwreck, since he was not willing to bestow its burden wisely.”
St. John goes on to reference Amos 6:3, “Woe to those who are approaching the evil day, who draw near and hold false sabbaths.” The reference is pointed toward making offerings to ourselves, and not to God. With respect to the same passage, St. Basil writes, “It is shameful to spend our time running about searching for anything not demanded by real necessity, but calculated to provide a wretched delight and ruinous vainglory.”
This is the legacy of the rich man, a man described in less than 200 words in only this one place in all of Holy Scripture. From these few words we reconstruct a life spent in self-serving, giving no thought to the ability to serve the need of another, even just one other!
Earlier we put on the mantle of Lazarus. Now, do so as the rich man. For we have all of his earthly blessings.
Will we find our path to conforming our hearts to God’s will before He calls us to take that last breath? Or will we find ourselves in that eternal torment? Sooner or later, we are all beggars. Better sooner!
Monday, October 19, 2020
In a world filled with secular humanism, there’s a whole lot of “self” and not very much “other”. Certainly our Lord instructed us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mark 12:31). And so in loving ourselves, we take a lesson in how it is that we are to love our neighbor. This bars us from any kind of narcissistic love, but causes the love of which we speak to be that which is good for our salvation first. And if we are concerned with our own salvation as a first priority (in our love for ourselves), then our love for our neighbor will also be love for them to seek THEIR salvation, as well.
The commandment given us by our Lord is not the first instance in Holy Scripture of this commandment. Its first occurrence is in Leviticus Chapter 19. There, in verses 17 and 18, are instructions on this love of neighbor. And the contents may surprise you, if you’re not familiar with the words:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” This seems an easy commandment on the surface, but it is not so easy in implementation, is it? Look at the world around you. In the division that separates the country that we all love, I see countless signs in yards that say, “Hatred has no home here.” But the signs are immediately placed beside other signs which speak to allegiance with organizations which espouse anarchy, and the non-peaceful overthrow of not just our government, but our very society. One can only conclude that one or the other of the signs placed is specious.
“You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.” Bearing sin can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we are not to bear anger (hatred) which would be sin to us. On the other hand, we cannot let unrighteous actions of our neighbor sway us into following them into unrighteousness.
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people.” We know that vengeance belongs to God alone, if He will extract it. It is not up to our will. Thus, if we hold no anger, we will not be tempted toward vengeance.
“But you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We’ve already focused on these words, and their meaning does not change from the time that Leviticus was penned until nearly 700 years later when our Lord, the Word of God, Who gave the words originally, called on them again.
As Christians, we CAN make productive use of the emotion founded in hatred. We can hate the pandemic. We can hate cancer. We can hate those who persecute the Church. We can hate the wanton use of abortion, throughout the world certainly, but especially in our own country where 60 million babies have been martyred since abortion was legalized. We can hate these unhealthy and unrighteous elements of our lives while NOT hating those who recklessly spread disease, or NOT hating those who seemingly without conscience commit murder of the unborn. Their ACTIONS are anti-Church, and it shows that they “have not heard” the message of the Church.
Is that their fault, or is it ours?
Whichever the case, it is time for us to act like the people who carry the name of Christ. It is time to stand up for what is right. We will only be heard if we speak out. But let our words speak the Love that is Christ!
Monday, October 12, 2020
In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ!
We're familiar by now with this Gospel reading. We know that in our Lord's ministry the Gospels record three accounts of Jesus restoring life to someone. The first of these is today's account, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. The second is the account of Jesus restoring life to the daughter of Jairus. The third and final account is the raising of Lazarus, whom the church refers to as 'the four days dead'. We'll get to today's account soon, but first we're going to go back in time.
We're traveling back to the time of Elijah. We don't often preach from the Old Testament, but we're going to today. Why? Because there are also three accounts of life being restored in the Old Testament. The first of these is an account from the life of the prophet Elijah.
This account comes from the first book of Kings, Chapter 17. The reading describes a time when God has sent a drought on the land. And he promises Elijah that there will be no dew nor rain. As the drought comes upon the land, God speaks to Elijah and tells him go to the Brooke of Cherith.
God promised Elijah that when he got there, He would send ravens to bring food to Elijah, and he could drink from the brook to cover his thirst. And indeed the scripture records that when Elijah got to the brook, birds brought meat and bread to feed him, and he drank from the flow of water in the brook. We don't know how long this went on, but after a while the brook dried up. When this happened, God spoke to Elijah one more time and told him to go to Zeraphath. God tells Elijah that He has commanded a widow there to provide for him. Imagine being Elijah, and placing all your trust in God's word revealed to you such that you are willing to travel and depend on a widow for your food and well being! But we know the faith of Elijah, and as we read this portion of Holy Scripture, we find incredible faith in the widow as well.
Elijah arrives as God commands, and the entire region is parched, nothing but dry land, for as God indicated, there has been no water.
Elijah finds the woman and approaches, asking for a drink. But he's also hungry, so he asks her for a morsel of bread as well. She tells the prophet her own tale of woe, that she has almost nothing. Her words reveal that she has only a handful of flower a bin, and a little oil in a jar.
As this discussion is happening, Elijah notes that the woman is gathering sticks. As she describes her state of despair to the prophet, she tells him that the sticks she's gathering she'll take to her son, so that together, they might eat their last meal and die.
Elijah shows his faith first. He instructs the woman to go and make a small cake for him from the flour and oil she has left. The prophet's words indicate that she should feed him first. And then he tells her to also make from what remains something for her and her son to eat. Elijah promises her that neither the flower nor the oil will disappear. In scriptural terms, "they will not fail" until that day when the Lord sends rain.
And the prophecy records that the three of them ate. And apparently they ate for many days, just as Elijah had promised.
After the drought ends, the widow's child becomes ill and he dies. And she blames Elijah for his death.
Elijah goes to the boy, and he stretches his own body out on the young man three times. The prophet cries in prayer to God asking Him to permit the boy's soul to return. And by the prophets works and words of prayer, the boy revives. The woman responds with these words. She says, "Now by this, I know that you are a man of God, that the word of the Lord is in your mouth, and that it is truth."
In the Old Testament timeline, the second scripture describing restoration of life comes from Second Kings Chapter 4. We're going to skip that reading for just a moment.
We're going to Second Kings Chapter 13, where we find a very short account - only two verses. It records an event in the memory of the people who lived in the region where Elisha died and was buried. In this place, on a particular day, people are taking a dead man's body out of the city for burial. Those who are bearing the body see on the horizon a raiding band of Moabites coming to attack their city. This causes them to rush their task, and so rather than bury the body in its own burial place, they know where the body of Elisha was laid, and in haste, they open that tomb and they put the man into the tomb of Elisha. When the man's body was let down, the dead man touched the bones of Elisha. When this happened, he revived and stood on his feet. So we find that the faith of Elisha, even being dead and buried, carried God's blessing sufficient to restore life to this man.
The middle account was left here until last for a specific reason. This account comes from Second King's Chapter four. And most of us will be more familiar with it than the other two accounts because it's a reading that we in fact read in the church every Holy Saturday.
Elisha travels frequently. In many of his travels, he goes back and forth along what is known as the coastal highway. It was a road that extended from the Mediterranean coast of Egypt around the sea through Israel and up and the coast into Damascus. It was a trade route, and it was traveled heavily by many, some carrying goods back and forth from city to city in trade.
But it was used by other people as well and Elisha was one who would travel that route. Along the path then was the city of Shunam. This is where the Shunamite woman lived. Shunem was only a couple of miles off of this beaten path. It lay on the lower slopes of Mount Moreh, a mile or two from this international coastal highway. Elisha's home was at Mount Carmel, about 20 miles north of Shunem. When the prophet would travel to Galilee or other regions, he would travel this road, and Shunem was a convenient stopping point.
On one of his trips Elisha goes into this town, whereon the woman gives him some food and they establish a relationship. She suggests to her husband that they build a room for Elisha so that when he comes by he can have a place to stay. And they do so, and he in in loving honor for what they have done for him asks, "What can I do for you?" He knows that the couple is childless, and so he tells the woman that at this season next year, you will bear a son. The woman is older and she says, "Don't tell me false tales, don't make up lies to me." But indeed, she bears a son. And the boy grows. As the scrpiture then records, the boy is out in the field with his father one day and he cries, "Oh my head." The father sends him with servants back to the house, where he sits on his mother's lap. The scripture records that the child dies as she holds him at about the noon hour. She immediately calls servants. "Get me an animal - we're going to find the holy man." She goes off to find Elisha. She doesn't even tell her husband why. He asks, "Why are you going to the holy man on this day. It's it's not a Sabbath, it's not a new moon, why are you going there now?"
All she tells him is, "It will be well." And in that expression there's an undertow of faith that Elisha can solve her problem. Now she leaves after the noon hour. While Mount Carmel may have been only 10 or 20 miles from Shunem, such a trip on a donkey - even one being "urged on" as the account says, would take hours. Because of this, some scholars reckon that she would not have arrived to the place where Elisha was until late in the afternoon or early evening. The chances are that they didn't travel at night going back to Shunem, so this boy would probably have been dead for the for about 24 hours by the time they arrived.
Upon arriving, Elisha goes and prays over the child. The scripture records that the prophet put his hands on the boy's hands, his eyes on his eyes, his lips on his lips, and the boy's body became warm. Elisha got up and walked around the house, prayed more, and repeated the action of placing himself on the boy. At this, the boy sneezed seven times and awoke. And so, Elisha gives the boy to his mother.
Now why put this story last, and why do we bring these stories up today on this Sunday when we're talking about the widow of Nain?
At the time of today's Gospel reading, it's now literally 800 years since the account of the Shunamite woman. By this time, Shunam as a city is gone, it's not there any longer. What is there is a new town. Nain has sprung up a mile or two away from where Shunam used to be. And so the people of Nain hold as their own ethnic heritage this account of Elisha raising the child from the dead as part of their urban folklore. It's part of who they are as a people. They know this story in implicitly. Totally. And here we find Christ on this day showing up in this city where they remember Elisha so vividly, even after 800 years.
And Jesus restores life to the child of a widow.
The reason for raising all of these issues is to call our attention to what the people's response is to our Lord's act of mercy, what their reaction is to the miracle that we see today.
And that reaction is, "A great profit is risen among us!" This is their response? A great profit? Why do they use these words? They do so because they know Elisha. Elisha was a great profit. Let's go back and remember the account of Elijah being taken up into heaven, and Elisha is with him. In that scriptural account the two are traveling, and everywhere they go people are telling Elisha, "You know, your master is being taken from you today." Everybody seems to know that Elijah is departing this earth, including Elisha. And so they get to the place where Elijah is is ready to be taken up. Recall the account of the chariot of fire. Elijah says to Elisha, "Ask me for something that I can give to you before I leave." And Elisha's request is, "I would that you give me a double portion of your grace."
A double portion of what Elijah had as gifts from God! Elijah's response was, "This is a difficult thing. But if you see me departing then it will be granted. If you're not able to see me depart it won't." After this Elijah is taken up, and we find Elisha calling out to Elijah, seeing him lifted into the wheels. So indeed, Elisha witnesses Elijah's departure, and he is therefore given this double portion of grace as he requested. The people of Nain knew the story. They recognized the greatness of the prophet Elisha.
But Elisha raised the Shunamite woman's child from the dead only by great effort and great prayer. It didn't happen at his word. Today our Lord shows up at Nain, and simply says, "I say to you child, arise!" At the Lord's word alone, the boy gets up and speaks!
There comes a time when we have to be able to recognize things that are beyond our experience. It's beyond the experience of the people of Nain to see that the Man Who stands before them is both God and man. They view Jesus from the perspective of their urban accounts, their own regional tales of Elisha, and in so doing, they see only a profit, not God.
At some point in time we need to be able to make a leap beyond what we "know", so that when God sends us things that are beyond our understanding, we won't rely on memories of the past to explain what God is showing us now.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the time is coming in this world when the Lord's return will be upon us. If we are blessed to be present at that hour, we won't be able to rely on our experiences, because there's no experience like the one that is coming. What is coming is beyond our ability to understand.
May God, give us the grace required to understand the things that He sends our way, and to wait patiently for his Word to direct our lives. May He bless us with the ability to remain vigilant, like the wise virgins, ever awaiting His coming!
Glory to Jesus Christ.
Thursday, October 1, 2020
From the Prologue from Ochrid:
From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated
the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian
people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God's mercy for us sinners.
The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times,
to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in
densely populated cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates
today confirms the Theotokos' consistent protection of Christian people. On
October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an
All-night Vigil in the
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
In the name of the Father.Of the Son of the Holy Spirit glory to Jesus Christ.
This is a particularly bad day to be in an Orthodox Church if you are one of the people who subscribe to the Gospel of Prosperity, because both Saint Paul and Saint Luke are teaching us that such is not the way that it is. Listen to the words that were just read from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the people in Corinth.
"We are enduring great afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, and hunger. They are treated as impostors, as unknown, as dying, as punished and sorrowful. They have nothing and yet possess everything."
Inside of those words, we come to understand what it means to follow Christ. We come to the recognition that those who are God's favorites are not among the people who are the most successful in the eyes of the world.
It just doesn't happen.
Which brings us to today's Gospel reading. It's interesting, I think, that we don't know what Christ was preaching to the crowds. Saint Luke records that Jesus got into Peter's boat and asked him to put out from the shore a little bit. The Holy Father's talk about this and they say that that this is Christ being who He is - being God, showing no favoritism.
If Jesus stands on the shore, people will surround Him. There would be people in front of Him, people behind Him, and and it could appear to be showing favoritism for some who are nearest to Him. So He uses the surrounds to assure that all are before Him. Nobody can be can be to His rear, so none can be offended by position.
So we find Jesus speaking directly to everyone who's in front of Him. I wish we knew what it was that He had said because clearly there was something in that message that's moved the heart of Peter. Why do you say that Father? Well, we know Peter to be somewhat of.... Let's just use the words that come to mind. Peter could be a bit of a hot head, right? And so when Jesus finishes His preaching to the people, He turns and says to Peter, "Set sail and go out for a catch." We can imagine Peter just being completely and totally flabbergasted by this. But to his credit, Peter withholds what is probably his own human nature, perhaps because of what he just heard Jesus say to the crowd, and he says, "Well, we've we've done this all night long. But since it is You, Lord, Who issues the invitation go out, well then let's go out and set for that catch." But Peter adds his own invitation. "If You'll come with us and You'll tell us when to let down the nets, then we'll go."
And so they go. And we know the rest of the story. There are so many fish that Peter, Andrew, James and John are amazed. They've never seen a catch like this before. Peter knows the Sea of Galilee, Lake Gennesaret. He's been a fisherman for years. He's been taught by other good fishermen. They and he know exactly what to expect out on those waters. But what they see on this day is completely and totally beyond expectation, so much so that Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and says, "Leave me, Lord. I'm too sinful to be around a Person like You."
Inside of that confession is already the confession that Peter will offer when Christ asks, "Who do you say that that I am?" Peter's later response, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" is buried in today's words that Peter offers at seeing today's catch, where paraphrasing he says, "I'm sinful - You're not!" Peter already knows that the purity and the holiness of God is unable to occupy the same place, the same space as one who is so filled us with sin as I am, as Peter sees himself to be. This recognition in its fullness is inside of Peter.
Now you would think that with what Peter, Andrew, James and John have just encountered, that they would be beyond rejoicing. They're rich now, at least for a little while. Such a great catch brings the success that we were talking about in the opening line of today's sermon. Isn't this the Gospel of Prosperity?
But what is the response of these Apostles?
Jesus calls them out of this world when He says, "From now on you will catch people," in the translation that we just read from. Most of us know it better as, "I will make you fishers of men." That's Christ's next invitation, to come and follow Me, to be with Me from now on - permanently. We can imagine that with the success that Christ has just given them as a gift, they might say, "Well, first let me go and negotiate sale of the catch. Then we can have the money then to put into the mission, to help Your ministry."
Is Christ worried about that? Does He show any concern over the wealth that He has just created for these four men? Not at all!
We can hear them also plead, "Well, let us first go and negotiate the sale of our boats, so that other people might, You know, provide again additional income so that we can take that with us and have something to to hold in reserve."
That doesn't happen either. What does the gospel record?
The translation that we just read said they left everything. The Greek word used is ἀφίημι, which translates to abandon. They abandoned everything. The boats, the fish. None of it meant anything. In fact, James and John abandoned not just the fish and their boats, but they also left their father. The four left everything they'd amassed in this world, just walked away from it, to go and follow Christ.
This is what it means to accept faith as strongly as we hold to Holy Orthodoxy. When the call comes for action, all the things that are attached to the world need to mean nothing. That's not to say that we don't live and do what is important for the day. Peter and and Andrew were quite fine doing what they were doing up until this very moment in time - up until the moment when Christ issued the invitation, not the commandment, "I will make you fishers of men. Come. Follow Me."
But at that moment, there's there's no flipping the coin to decide. In fact, note as well that it's not possible for said coin to land on an edge in our faith. It's either yes or no. Heads or tails. Positive or negative! There is no maybe.
The Lord's invitation is (in today's jargon) binary. "You can stay with your boats. You can stay with your father. You can stay with the fish. Or you can follow Me. I leave the choice to you."
We know what they did. And we know that in what follows, two additional things are certain.
One of the certainties is that these four will follow in the path of their Master. They'll do it imperfectly, but they'll strive for meeting His expectations of them. And in so doing, they'll be subjected to all of the things that He had to endure - the hardships, the beatings, the rejection. We know this because many of them died by death on the cross. Some died by being pierced through with spears. Some died by beheading. Only Saint John managed to not succumb to a martyr's death.
The second certainty is that all of these things that would be endured here in this world would become their path to eternal life with Christ. In the final view of their lives, they're next to Christ in the kingdom of heaven. They're with Him. They were with Him when they left the boats, they were with Him during His ministry. He never left them even when he was in the tomb. He never left them after the Ascension. He was always there. He is always there. He's here today for those of us who believe as they believed, for we are taught from what they've left to us, to hold fast in our own lives to the traditions they've handed down to us. And so to a very real extent, these same words should be echoing in our own ears - "Follow Me!"
You see, we too are witnesses to the miracles of our Lord. And we are beneficiaries of those acts by our Lord. And so in a very real way, the Lord's invitation is to us as well. "Follow Me."
Lord, give us the strength and the wisdom to do Your will at all times, for You are holy always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Friday, September 25, 2020
This week in the Church we leave the Gospel of St. Matthew for the season (except for a few special Feast days), and we move to reading Sunday Gospels from the Gospel according to St. Luke. In “Church lingo,” this is “the Lukan jump,” and it occurs every year in concert with the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Forerunner, which happens on 23Sep, this past Wednesday.
Why does this minor Feast change the Gospel?
To learn about this, it’s helpful for us to look at which Gospels are read in which seasons and for which reasons.
The Gospel of St. Matthew is read from the Monday after Pentecost (Spirit Day) until the ‘jump’ to St. Luke. As you can envision, from year to year this duration varies, and so there are seventeen weeks allocated to the Gospel of St. Matthew, but in some years we read fewer (because Pascha comes late), and in other years we read more (because Pascha comes early). This past year, we read through the 15th Sunday of Matthew, for instance.
The Gospel of St. Luke is divided over nineteen weeks, beginning on the Monday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.
The Gospel of St. Mark is read during the Great Fast on Saturdays and Sundays, with the exception of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, on which we read the Gospel from St. John.
The Gospel of St. John is read in the Church from the day of Pascha until Pentecost Sunday.
So each of the four Gospels has its place in the yearly cycle of worship in the Church.
But back to the original question. Why is this “jump” related to the Feast of the Conception of the Forerunner?
In the early Church, it was this Feast that marked the beginning of the new Ecclesiastical Year in the Church (now celebrated on 01Sep every year).
The reading of the Gospel of St. Luke is therefore related to the history of our Lord’s working salvation for the human race, for the conception of the Forerunner marks God’s “first step” towards the New Testament, the new covenant in Christ, as is contained in the hymnology from Matins for the Feast of the Conception of the Forerunner,
The sacred Forerunner has been born: the dove that loves the wilderness. He preaches repentance and shows the incarnate Christ! He is the intercessor for all sinners, ever helping all who are tossed by storms! By his prayers, save Your world, O Christ!
As we see, from his conception, without uttering a voiced word, the Forerunner is already proclaiming the salvation to be wrought by Christ.
“OK, Father, but you still haven’t tied the conception to St. Luke.”
Search the Gospels. St. Luke is the only one of the four to mention the conception of St. John (Luke 1:5-24), where in that 24th verse we hear, “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived.”
As you already knew, there is always a reason for everything in the Church.
Now you can carry the story to others. Go ahead, be an evangelist!!!!
Human beings tend to look at each day as being a struggle. I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m going to be tired all day. The boss is waiting for a report from me, and I haven’t started it yet because he’s given me three other things to do that are more important. The car needs tires. The yard needs cut or raked. The house needs cleaned. What’ll I cook for dinner?
Isn’t that where most of us live on a daily basis? Maybe you’d say that such thoughts are not “complaints” so much as they are observations of how today’s just going to be that same struggle that I’ve come to expect from every other day.
Where is your Cross in all of this turmoil? What is it that the Lord is calling you (and me) to “take up” so that we can be His followers? And why these specific words—”take up”??
The idea of “taking up” implies lifting, elevating, placing at the fore of things to be considered, making it literally in front of our eyes and therefore primary in our view. In other words, don’t bear your (our) cross by pulling it behind us. Things treated in this way weigh us down and impede our ability to get things done.
That’s not what the Cross is to us.
For us, the Cross is our source of strength. It is our light in times of darkness, our strength in times of weakness, our health in times of illness, our calm in times of turmoil, that which provides for us the peace that our Lord promised to us. We refer to the Cross as our “invincible trophy, our weapon of peace” in our hymnology for this Feast.
As Orthodox Christians, many (I dare say most) of us wear a Cross about our necks. Why do we do this? People on the streets see it as a fashion statement. There have been countless times when out in public dressed in clerics someone will look at me and say, “I really like your Cross.” What should one say to such a comment? One reply that perhaps won’t offend is, “Thank you, but it’s not worn to generate compliments.”
When a priest puts his pectoral cross on, he offers the words of the title of this piece as a prayer. He makes the sign of the Cross over his Cross, and says, “You must take up your Cross and follow Me.” He then kisses the Cross before putting it over his neck. It’s an appropriate prayer and practice for any Orthodox Christian to follow in wearing their own Cross.
All those things that are happening today that will attempt to distract me, to weigh me down, to conquer my spirit—all of them will be seen in a different light if I first “take up my Cross,” if I elevate it in my field of view, if I call upon it to be that weapon of peace. For there is no denying it’s power.
St. Theophan the Recluse taught this: Remember that each of us has his own cross. The Golgotha of this cross is our heart. It is being lifted or implanted through a zealous determination to live according to the Spirit of God. Just as salvation of the world is by the Cross of Christ, so our salvation is by our crucifixion on our own cross.
To take up and to carry is to allow the Cross to conquer all those things that tie us to today and to trouble. To elevate our Lord’s Cross in our lives is to live recognizing His already won victory over this world, the salvation He is waiting to grant to you and to me—if only we find it in our ability to take us the small cross He has left for us.