Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
You don’t need to spend any long amount of time listening to radio broadcasts, TV news stories, or even conversations on the street or in the office to hear some variation on the word “offended”.
“That offends me.” “I take offense to that!” “Your position is offensive.”
As we so often do, let’s go to the dictionary. What does it say?
Definition: offensive – adjective; 1) causing anger, displeasure or resentment; 2) disagreeable to the senses; 3) making a physical or military attack.
So let’s “pretend” that I’ve just said something to someone and they have responded in this way. “That offends me.”
What should we conclude from this verbal transaction?
A better way to couch that question is, “Because someone found a statement offensive, does that make it wrong?”
Ahhh…. Now we get to the crux of the matter. You see, being offended or not is NOT founded on right or wrong. It is founded on relativism. What offends you may not offend your brother, or your neighbor, or your boss, or even your spouse. In short, the word “offended”, like so many other fallacious constructs of our time, is based on FEELING, and NOT on truth.
Let me give you an example. You go to see a doctor because you’ve been feeling weak. The doctor runs tests. He determines that you have cancer, and so he gives you the diagnosis. Being told that you have cancer is a very offensive thing. Based on the previous definition, it causes anger, displeasure AND resentment. But it’s the truth. His words are offensive to you, but they’re true. If he attempts to speak so as NOT to offend, he signs your death warrant.
But you are likely to say, “But Father, that’s not being offensive – that’s being a doctor, he HAS to diagnose.”
OK. Let’s look at a parallel situation, one in the Church. I speak out against abortion at every opportunity. Some people find my position offensive. Some people find this position so offensive that they would attempt to shut down my ability to speak against abortion, if they could. But given the teachings of the Holy Church, I must so speak out - I must speak the truth.
Don’t like that example either? Let’s go to Scripture. In Matthew Chapter 15, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees yet again. “Why don’t Your disciples follow the rules? Why don’t they wash their hands before they eat? Jesus responds to their treachery. “Why do you establish traditions counter to God’s commandments?” Jesus tells them clearly that Commandment #5 says that you are to honor father and mother. And yet the ‘tradition’ of the Pharisees was to ignore their own father or mother’s need, denying their requests for help by saying that whatever portion of the child’s income they might need has already been promised to God. Therefore, the child has no obligation to care for the parent! Jesus identifies these evil men’s sin saying, “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” He follows this by calling them hypocrites!
In response to all of this, and after the encounter, the Lord’s disciples come to Him and say, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard Your indictment of them?”
Again, it is truth, not offensive speech, that brings us to this point.
The Greek word for ‘offend’ is skandalizo, clearly the source of our word “scandalize”, but from the Greek, it carries the meaning of establishing a stumbling block, a trap. Those who take offense are trapped by their anger, their displeasure, their resentment, and all too often, refuse to see the truth.
In Luke 7:23, the Lord says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” He says, “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
Let us seek in all instances not to offend. But in so doing, let us never fail to speak the truth.
Monday, September 26, 2022
In today’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) we are presented with an account that is described in all three of the synoptic Gospels, that of our Lord teaching, and then the “great catch of fish”.
Blessed Theophylact writes that our Lord entered Peter’s boat so that He could face the crowd and have all present in front of Him. And so the Master politely “borrowed” what belonged to Peter and his partner fishermen.
But after receiving this gift willingly from them, our Lord chose to repay their kindness, and He blessed them in two ways. First, He gave to them such an enormous catch of fish that they and their partners in a second boat could not deal with the bounty. Second, Jesus made them disciples! The lesser blessing came before the greater, but they could not comprehend the true magnitude of either fully.
Isn’t it astounding how our Lord sends blessings to His servants in manners consistent with their ability to grasp His actions? On this day, with Peter, Andrew, James and John, all of whom were fishermen, He gains their attention with what else– fish! He opens the discussions with the Samaritan woman at the well with what else—a request for water! He gains the attention of the Magi with what tool that they would recognize—the Star! He finds Saul of Tarsus persecuting those who are struggling to establish His fledgling Church, a man who in his Pharisaical ‘sight’ judges Christians to be worthy of death, and He gains his attention how—through sending blindness upon him!
Do we begin to see the wondrous ways of God working among His people?
And how has He attempted to work on me? And I ask that you now ask this same question of yourself. What skills, talents or abilities has He bestowed upon me, and when and where did He reach out through those gifts to get my attention, to have me notice that He was calling to me, to give me direction, perhaps healing, perhaps sustenance, spiritual or physical? And if I can be blessed to think upon such things with remembrance that perhaps they did occur, what was my response? Did I, like Saint Peter, feel a repentance that would have me calling to Him, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’? Or did I (as most people would), notice, but then say, “That was weird”?
The telling answer to these questions is in the response. When Peter, Andrew, James and John were confronted with the immense catch of fish, they did not ignore the Lord’s authority over nature. And when He told them, ‘From now on, you will catch men,’ they did as St. Luke records, ‘The forsook all and followed Him.’ St. Photini, the woman at the well, dropped her water vessels and went to evangelize the men of Sychar. The Magi left their homelands and travelled to a place following the star, not knowing where it would lead. Saul waited in Damascus for three days for the Lord to appoint Ananias to heal him, only to become the great Apostle!
Our Lord deals with His people in mysterious ways, calling us to live our lives for Him, if we are willing to accept His invitation and calling. Let us serve this loving God with our whole heart.
Monday, September 19, 2022
Many often opine that understanding Holy Scripture is mostly straightforward. But all too often that perspective can be shown to be flawed. Take today’s Gospel reading from the Sunday After the Elevation of the Cross (Mark 8:34-9:1).
Within today’s text we find our Lord teaching, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” The Greek word used for “desires” here is thelo, which goes beyond ‘desire’ to a meaning of ‘delighting in’ something. Thus our Lord speaks to those who delight in being near to Him.
But let’s move to the operative stumbling word—deny. This Greek word is aparneomai, and it means utter rejection, to the point of disowning.
How is it that we are to understand this concept and relate it to ourselves? Is our Lord saying that we are to give zero consideration to self and self-needs?
St. Theophan the Recluse teaches this about denial.
The Lord demands decisive self-denial of those who want to follow Him. ‘Let him deny himself,’ He says. It could be expressed like this: Cast aside your interests and pursue only the interests of the Lord. You will be fulfilling this when you always do what is pleasing to Him. How can one do this? Mind carefully what is in you, and what is around you on the outside, and discern strictly in one or another situation, be it internal or external, how to act in the way that is most pleasing to God—then, not pitying yourself and not inserting your own calculations, act accordingly, with complete self-denial. You say, “It is hard to determine this.” No, it is not hard. We have been given clear and fixed commandments—they express what we can do to be pleasing to the Lord. All that remains is to apply them to the given situation, and this does not present any great problem. Having common sense is enough. If you cannot figure something out, ask your spiritual father, or someone else whose words you respect, and act according to their directions. But it is always better to sharpen your discernment through reading of the word of God and writings of the fathers, so that you will always have a decision-maker with you.”
St. Theophan is not suggesting that we turn our self-will over to the cemented decision of another. Rather, his words indicate that we are to train ourselves up in the faith. His admonishments to read (and therefore to KNOW) Holy Scripture, and to study (and therefore to LEAN UPON) the wisdom of the Holy Fathers is paramount to our then self-willed and heartfelt desire to follow where our Lord will lead us. In giving full deference to His will in our lives, we have already moved to that point of denying ourselves! It’s really rather simple—His will, not mine!
There is an account of a Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Catholic priest, who during WWII knew that the Germans were approaching, so he instructed others in his monastery to leave. He remained with a few monks, and they sheltered over 2000 Jews for a time. Ultimately he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. There, Fr. Max would take food last to assure others had enough. He would give of what he’d been given to those in the greatest need. The Nazi’s had a practice of murdering 10 random prisoners whenever one would escape the camp. One day a prisoner from Fr. Max’s baracks escaped, and 10 were selected for execution in ‘the starvation hole’. One poor man began to cry out, ‘My poor wife! My children!’ At his cries, Fr. Max broke ranks with the other prisoners and boldly went to the commandant—”I am a priest. I would like to take the place of this man.” Surprisingly, the commandant agreed. The 10 men including Fr. Max were led to the starvation bunker, where they remained without food or water until all were dead. The man whose place he took lived to be 95 years old, and he never forgot Fr. Max’s selfless love.
Our Lord goes on in today’s Gospel to say, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”
Fr. Max showed self-denial. And without doubt he has found his place in the eternal embrace of His (and our) Master!
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Today we find ourselves at the Sunday Before the Elevation of the Cross. As such, we encounter an additional Gospel reading, from the Gospel of St. John, 3:13-17. The reading is very short in number of words. The reading is very deep in meaning to us as followers of Christ!
The verse immediately before today’s Gospel reading (verse 12) speaks volumes to us about how we should look at our “knowledge” or “understanding” of things relating to the Kingdom. Jesus says, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
Jesus is speaking here with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who, unlike the other Pharisees, does not wish to immediately condemn Jesus for things not clearly understood about Him or His teachings. He comes (like last Sunday’s young man) with a pure heart, sincerely wanting to embrace the truth, and through the truth to find the way to Heaven.
Our Lord’s statement about His telling us earthly things and our inability therefore to grasp heavenly things is reminiscent of the Feast of Transfiguration, where the Apostles Three were shown His glory as far as they could bear it.
As if it were necessary to somehow “seal” our inability to understand the heavenly while being earthly, Jesus presents another phrase that is beyond our understanding. No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
Let’s break down this phrase. He has not yet arisen, therefore He has not ascended, but He says that He has. In order to ascend, the Holy Fathers (many) say that descending precedes ascending. But the hard spot is that Jesus says He is IN heaven.
Do we need further proof that our human understanding should be focused not on the “things of heaven”, but rather on the things that can lead us to heaven. Focus on that which leads from earth to heaven! About the above phrase from John 3:13, St Hilary of Poitiers says:
By what perception of human understanding can we comprehend that He ascended where He was before, and He descended Who remained in heaven? The Lord says, ‘What if you should behold the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?’ Can sense apprehend this? The Son of Man—Who is in heaven—descends from heaven. Can reason cope with this? The Word was made flesh– can words express this? The Word becomes flesh, that is, God becomes man. The man is in heaven; the God is from heaven. He ascends Who descended, but He descends and yet does not descend. He is as He ever was, yet He was not ever what He is…. If we understand Christ even in this way, we shall know Him. If we seek to understand Him further, we shall not know Him at all. (On the Trinity, 10.54)
This is preparatory material for our coming to the very foot of the Cross of Christ in this coming week. For how are we to comprehend the Life of all succumbing to human death, and yet living?
We must confine our thoughts to that which is revealed by God as within our ability to grasp. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (1Cor 15:3) Simple. Easily grasped by any with faith. And like it, this. Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast. (Ps 131:1-2)
Let us take the example of the Apostle Philip, who desired to know more, but knew that there were limits, Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us. (John 14:8) In this request he showed an all-too human lack of understanding. The Lord responded in love to Philip, as He will respond to us in our humanly constrained understanding. And He will show us all we need to know—as far as we can bear it—to give us the tools that lead to Theosis.
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
The young man in the Gospel for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Mat 19:16-26) is rightly preoccupied with attaining entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. The desire of the heart is to be encouraged and applauded. It is, after all, the entire reason for our existence—finding our way to attaining Theosis, ‘clawing’ our way as necessary to achieve our desired homeland.
The place where the applause and the encouragement must cease is in the young man’s focus what appears to be some ill-conceived idea that some thing can be done to gain entry, that God grants entry to those who have some kind of mystical ‘key’, or a secret handshake that permits such entry.
As the man asks our Lord for guidance (again, a totally well-placed request for a righteous desire of the heart), Jesus replies with what the man already knows. Our Lord speaks the Commandments back to him. These are clearly the ‘rules’ with which the young man is familiar. His statement, All these things I have kept from my youth, while again being an ill-conceived response, is nevertheless a representation of the man’s commitment to the goal. His heart truly desires eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven! He wants with all his mind to find the path to be near to God.
But that’s the point. For this young man, the pursuit is an intellectual one, not a spiritual one. In order for the pursuit to become spiritual, it needs to move to another dimension.
The Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 10:21) adds a wonderful dimension to this interplay between Jesus and the young man. St. Mark records, Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him… Our Lord never does anything except from a perspective of love. And so the prescription that follows is wed to the Lord’s love for one so earnestly desiring salvation!
It is for this reason that our Lord gives him “the prescription” that He dispenses—sell all you have and give to the poor. Jesus says, If you want to be perfect. The word used for perfect is the Greek telios, which means “complete” - finished, the final product, the real deal in contemporary terms. In the expression of the Holy Orthodox Church, we’d say that such a one achieving this ‘perfection’ has reached Theosis!
Unfortunately, it is the man’s intellect, the same one that drives him to seek salvation, which now holds him back from achieving the goal. The mind sees the wealth and won’t release it, even for the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven! The man’s spirit has lost, perhaps IS lost from this time forth. His “things” own him—spiritually! The possessions prevent the Lord from entering where His love wishes to go.
Is this not the case with me? Perhaps it’s not possessions. Perhaps it’s food, or judgmentalism, or a general lack of love for neighbor. There are so many “things” to which I can point that would have ME “going away sorrowful” because I’m too intellectually (humanly) tied to them.
The reference to “camel” is one over which many have stumbled . This author won’t attest to having the answer. But one perspective is that the original word was “gamala”. The word “gamal” or “gimel” is the word for the animal. “Gamala” is a word for a heavy rope. Ergo the Lord’s example is to point to the difficulty in threading a heavy rope into a needle.
I am that heavy, coarse rope. Before it’s too late, may our Lord grant me the grace to find a way through His needle’s eye.
And from there, into His kingdom!