Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Some Thoughts on Christian Community

"I am the Vine and you are the branches..."

All who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ, and not only clothed: indeed, they have become members of Christ, members of His Body, the Church.  "One cannot have God for his Father without having the Church for his Mother" (St. Cyprian).  "Wherever two or more of you are gathered, there am I in the midst of them."  So we proclaim when we venerate the Cross at the end of Liturgy: "Christ is among us."  "He is and will be."  So He is in the midst of the Church, and so He is in the midst of two or more of the baptized who call upon His name; then we could say that each group of two or more, each Christian community, are a form of mini-Church, a micro-ecclesia, which is united to the remainder of the Church.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sod of the Heart
Icon by the hand of Antonios Fikos
"And in his sowing, some fell along the road: and the birds came and ate it...[To] all hearing the word of the kingdom and not understanding, the wicked one comes, and snatches what was sown in his heart: this is the one sowed along the road."--Mt 13:4,19

The sowing of the seed in our hearts is not of our doing: what we have control over is what soil we have prepared.  The sower sows freely, and without His sowing our preparation of the soil is ineffective: "How can one believe without hearing?  And how can one hear without a preacher?"  Therefore we must prepare the soil of our hearts well, not letting it become like a road.  Hear what St. Cyril of Alexandria says: "A wayside is almost always hard and unbroken, because it is trodden down by the feet of all those who pass that way, and seed is never sown there.  No sacred or divine word, therefore, will be able to enter those who have minds that are hard and unyielding, for it is by the aid of such words that the joyful fruits of virtue can grow."

Friday, July 11, 2014

God of Powers
 A mosaic of a Seraph in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

"Lord, God of the Powers, blessed is the man who hopes upon You."--Ps 83:13

"Holy, Holy, Holy are You, Lord Sabaoth": so we acclaim the Lord during the Triumphant Hymn, the Hymn of the Bodiless Hosts.  But what does that word "Sabaoth" mean?  It means that the Lord is powerful, He is great, and He is worthy to praised by all of creation, not just men.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Rewards of Godliness
"Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to ask for reward,
Save that of knowing that I am doing Your Will."
--St. Ignatius of Loyola, "Prayer for Generosity"

During the course of my schooling at a Jesuit school, I became well acquainted with the above prayer by St. Ignatius.  It is a prayer to dedicated to the Lord despite all the difficulties that come our way during this lifetime on earth.  "In the world you will have trouble," informed the Lord, and this is very true.  Christians will always experience friction with the aspects of the world that have not been fully enlightened by the light of Christ.  This is the basic theme of most of the prayer: Lord, teach me to serve You despite the difficulties the world will place on me.  One line has intrigued me, though: "To labor and not to ask for reward."

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Righteous Rahab

"By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, receiving the spies with peace."--Heb 11:31

"And in the same way was Rahab the harlot not by works justified, receiving the angels, and by a different way sending them out?"--Jas 2:25

Of the many men and women whose lives we read of in the Old Testament, we account many as models of righteous and early types of Christians.  The Letter to the Hebrews has a long list of them: "By faith a better sacrifice Abel rather than Cain brought to God...," and so it continues through so many figures.  It is easy to see the faith of Abel and Enoch, of Noah and Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, of Moses and Joshua, of the Judges, of David and Samuel, and so many others.  Yet many, I think, miss the harlot listed among the righteous: Rahab of Jericho.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Obedience to God's Appointed
Christ the Vine, showing the Apostles who were first appointed as guardians of the Church

"Obedience is always freer and more faithful when it proceeds from love rather than from fear."

The Lord did not leave each man to his own will and thoughts: He did not leave us orphans.  In addition to the Spirit that He grants to all, He also gave us the elders of the Church to lead us.  The pope, patriarchs, bishops, and priests are given the task of guiding the Lord's flock, and they will have to render an account for their guidance at the Judgment.  This burden of responsibility is heavy upon them, and heavy too can be our obedience to them, for their directives may not be according to our opinions.  Yet, "that obedience is salvific which is hard: and that which you like and is easy is of little value" (Elder Michael of Valaam).

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Rock and the Net

"We worthily exalt the all-praiseworthy Peter and Paul, the defender of the rock of the Church, and the net of the world."--Sessional Hymn I, Matins of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Glory to Jesus Christ!  The fast has ended, and the feast begun: we now celebrate the all-glorious Prime Apostles, Peter and Paul.  We can see this feast as the final feast in continuation of Pentecost, which in turn continues Pascha, and thus the Great Fast, and thus Theophany, and thus even Nativity.  For we can see a progression in time in many of our great feasts, beginning with the Nativity.  We celebrate Christ's birth, and then His Baptism and the manifestation of the Trinity to the world, the great Theophany.  Not long thereafter, we walk the way of the Cross during the Fast, remembering in part Christ's temptation in the desert falling His Baptism, and in part those days when He approached His death.  At the end of the Fast, we remember His glorious entrance into Jerusalem and the following events: the betrayal, the Mystical Supper, and then "the Cross, the nails, the spear, and death."  Yet death is not the end, of course: for then comes the greatest feast, the Feast of Feasts, all-glorious Pascha.  For forty days we celebrate Pascha, and then we wait in eager anticipation of Pentecost.  At Pentecost, the Spirit descended on the Theotokos and the Apostles and impelled them to preach the Gospel to all.  Yet we do not cease our remembrances there: for a few weeks after Pentecost, after fasting, we celebrate this feast, the feast of the Prime Apostles, who were inspired by the Spirit given at Pentecost.  Finally, we have in a month and a half the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  As the Church Year comes to a close, we remember her dormition; yet shortly after it opens (September 1), we remember her nativity (September 8), and from there the cycle begins again, with Philip's Fast and the celebration of the Lord's Nativity.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Spiritual Battle

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite

"For not for us is the battle against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the worldrulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."--Eph 6:12

There has always been need for the faithful to do battle.  I do not mean physical battle, which God only commanded for a time, but spiritual battle.  Even in the Garden, Adam was called to fight against the serpent and failed, as one tradition views it.  So Satan and his demons have since then been lurking on the earth, "prowling like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  Yet God has not abandoned us to the maw of the dragon: He gives us the grace to defeat the wicked one.  Christ trampled death by death, and He also trampled Satan and his power.  He Who cast out demons while on earth continues to cast them out when we call upon Him.  In the spiritual life, then, we are always combating demons, but with the help of the Lord we can overcome the foe, by participating in the victory Christ already won for us, even to the point of shooing the demons away with a feather duster, as St. Antony did.  So in reading the below excerpts regarding our spiritual battle, let us always be firm in the fight, always running the race to gain the crown, remembering the sobering declaration of Evagrius: "Prayer is warfare to the last breath."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Seventy Presbyters
Moses Elects the Council of Seventy Elders (1737) by Jacob de Wit (1695-1754)

"And spoke the Lord to Moses: 'Gather to me seventy men from the presbyters of Israel, whom you know, that they are presbyters of the people and scribes of them.'"--Num 11:16

Those God chooses to lead His people are never alone in their task.  The Lord does not wish it to be so.  Instead, the Lord calls others to support them in their ministry.  Take the example of Moses.  Not only did he have his brother Aaron at his right hand, but he had elders, presbyters (as the Greek has it), who assisted him.  At the exhortation of his father-in-law, Jethro, he called righteous men from the tribes of Israel to be rulers over the people and to assist him in judging.  These were not his only assistance, though, for the Lord ordered Moses to bring seventy presbyters of Israel to be before Him on the holy mountain.  These are the ones who "were seen in the place of God and ate and drank."  Truly God wished these men to assist His servant Moses, for He allowed them to be before His Face and yet live.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Family Annals 
The Root of Jesse, or, Christ's Family Tree

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."--Rom 8:14

The Holy Spirit that indwells in us is the Spirit of sonship by which God adopts us, by which He makes us members of His family.  If we are all sons of God, then we are all brothers and sisters of each other.  Whether we are Jew or Gentile by blood, by grace we have all become the brethren of the Jews.  For those not of direct bloodline to the Jews are a wild olive tree, and yet they have been grafted on to the cultivated olive tree, the tree of the Israelites.  So all who receive the Spirit are joined to the olive tree the Lord has cultivated since the Garden: all become of one family.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Levites' Portion 
Holy Prophet Aaron the High Priest

"Then the Lord said to Aaron, 'And behold, I have given you whatever is kept of the offerings made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel; I have given them to you as a portion, and to your sons as a perpetual due."--Num 18:8

Out of the twelve tribes of the Israel, the descendants of the sons of Jacob, the Lord chose one to be His own.  For He said, "The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord" (Num 3:44).  Levi was not among the msot beloved sons of Israel, for of him and his brother Simeon his father said, "Weapons of violence are their swords.  O my soul, come not into their council; O my spirit, be not joined to their company; for in their anger they slay men...I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel" (Gen 49:5-7).  Yet despite the violent nature of Levi, his descendants were not always so.  While Moses may have been a man of anger at times, Aaron was the servant of God who knew how to speak well, as his brother declared, and to him and his sons the Lord bestowed a great blessing.  For to them were entrusted the holy things.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Burden of Not Being Clairvoyant
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths."--Prov 3:5-6

Sadly, men are not omniscient as God is.  He is the only One Who not only knows the past perfectly, the present in its fullness, and the future in all of its unexpected turns.  Our history is quite partial, our knowledge of now is incredibly limited, and our predictions from the future are sometimes little more than a shot in the dark.  We can never know what will happen even today, a lesson that I experienced firsthand with one of my family members this past fall.  On Monday she was fine, in Tuesday she was hospitalized, and by Friday she had fallen asleep.  I cannot know when I will cease drawing breath: these could be my final words.  Of course, we can make "educated guesses," using what knowledge we have to make reasonable predictions.  Thus, my health is good right now, so I do not expect to encounter any great medical difficulties today.  For a prediction to be most reasonable, though, we must recognize that it is only a prediction and not inerrant foresight.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Glory to God for All Things
Metropolitan Tryphon (1861-1934)

"Oh, how many ideas and works had perished in that building--a whole lost culture?  Oh, soot, soot, from the Lubyanka chimneys!"--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In one of his most famous works, The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian author and Nobel Laureate in Literature Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn laments all the great works of human thought and culture that were destroyed by Soviet authorities.  The interrogators would burn many of the papers they found on the persons of their prisoners.   That was the fate of the Solzhenitsyn's own War Diary.  He mentions other such destructions: one man had formulated an alphabet and vocabulary for the Yeniseian languages, and with his work's annihilation came the removal of an entire nationality's written language for decades.  Another man was a great engineer, and his papers were taken from his wife and eradicated as well.  Solzhenitsyn's lament over the destruction of so much culture.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Manifold Perfections of Divinity 

"The divinity is jointly a sole perfection, and many perfections diverse, one in simplicity, and many in valor and eminence."--Fray Luis de León, The Perfect Wife §I

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!"  So declares the Shema of Deuteronomy, and so declares the Church: and yet we also declare that God is Three.  Not only does the Divinity have three Persons, but God manifests Himself to us in a multitude of ways.  These three Persons show themselves to us in many, many ways.  (They are not themselves merely manifestations of the Divinity, for this was the ancient heresy of Modalism.)  One tradition speaks of the different "books" by which one encounters God: first is the book of Scripture, of course, but there is also the book of nature, and the book of experience, among others.  We learn of God through prayer, through the liturgy, through contemplation, through study.  Yet it is always the one God we learn of, the One Who Is, the One above being, above all that we can know of Him, even beyond our conception of God: as Dionysius said, He is "hyper-God" (ὑπέρθεος).

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ecology of the Growing Church
Apse Mosaic in San Clemente, Rome

"As therefore the body is one, and has many members, all of the members then of the one body, being many, one body it is: and so Christ....And therefore the body is not one member, but many."--1 Cor 12:12,14

The Church is a body made of many members, the Mystical Body of Christ, as Ven. Pope Pius XII liked to say, and so she is an organism, living and growing.  As each organism has within itself some form of ecosystem, on a small scale, so too does the Church: the many types of members of the Church (apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, etc. according to St. Paul; we might more think of popes, patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, priests, deacons, monastics, laity, etc.) all interact in various ways, just as do the different members of a body or the different organisms in a system.  The description of the Church as an ecosystem is more apt because an ecosystem is composed of entire organisms, not just parts of a larger organism; of course, the greater unity of the members of a single body is reflected in the Church as well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Guide Me in the Way Everlasting"
 A Hodigitria Icon, an icon of She Who Guides, from the National Museum of Art in Bucharest, Romania

"And see if a lawless way is in me, and guide me in the way everlasting."--Ps 138:24

The way of the Lord is an everlasting way, for He is everlasting, and if we hope in Him, we too shall become everlasting, for we shall have no end to joy.  If we trust in the Lord, an eternal Heaven awaits us, the eternal liturgy where men of all tribes and tongues and races and nations will praise the Lord unceasingly.  The way to this eternal liturgical rest is what we ask from the Lord in this psalm.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Prayers of Bursting
 St. Nil Sorsky and the Miracle-Workers of White Lake

There are times that we set aside for prayer, when we follow a prayer rule, or set aside time to sit in the Lord's presence, or take part in the Church's Liturgy.  Yet we are called to pray unceasingly, and few of us can spend all of our time in prayer rules.  So we have other ways to pray: short prayers we can say when God spontaneously comes to mind, or when our hearts are filled to bursting to pray to Him.  These prayers are many and varied, and they stretch across many traditions.  The Roman Church used to call them "ejaculation" or "aspirations," while the Copts have a common one they call "the Arrow Prayer."  What matters is that they are short prayers we can offer to God at any time, when our souls are filled to bursting with love of Him or with a desire to plead to Him.  "It is possible to pray sitting, walking, sleeping, working, alone and in company. Everywhere, at all times, in all our activities, eating and drinking, in devout conversation, we are able to raise our minds and hearts to God, to present our needs with faith and humility and ask Him pardon saying: Lord, have mercy upon me" (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk).  When our hearts are running over with the river of living water, it bursts forth from us like a fountain in the form of these prayers: they are like a geyser erupting forth our prayers to the Lord.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dejection and the Ascension
The Ascension from the Rabula Gospels (6th century)

"And you leave, holy Pastor,
your flock in this valley deep, dark,
with solitude and crying..."

We are in that time of the first novena, between the glories of the Ascension and the great breath of Pentecost.  During these days, we remember how the Apostles spent them, reconstituting their number after the fall of Judas, praying and praising God, both in the synagogue and in the Upper Room, together with the All-Holy Theotokos.  They had that hopeful message from the angels: "The one taken up from you into heaven, the same will come in the way you saw him going into heaven."  Jesus would return in glory, riding on the clouds, seated on the throne of judgment and righteousness, and we pray that, on that day, we will be among those taken up into the clouds to be with Him.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"I Exorcise You, Spirit Unclean"
"I call upon You, God, Pantokrator, Lord Jesus Christ, Heavenly King:
I call upon You, the maker of heaven and earth.
I exorcise you, spirit unclean, according to the word of God, the maker of heaven and earth.
Be put to flight by the one who wraps himself in light as a cloak:
the one who alone has immortality and light unapprochable:
to Whom be glory and power unto the ages.
--St. Epiphanius of Salamis

What St. Epiphanius' short prayer was written to do is something which the world has needed since the Garden: the exorcism of demons.  While sin is, of course, the choice of man, the demons play their part in trying to bend us toward sin, to constantly bombard us with temptation (think of C.S. Lewis' fictionalized account of this in The Screwtape Letters).  But God does not leave us to their whims: we are not abandoned into the hands of the "worldrulers," as St. Paul calls them.  Indeed, He gives us the power of His Spirit to drive them away from us.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Catholicity of the Saints
A Hagiologion (calendar of all the saints by feast day) from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai (13th century)

"Resplendent with the brightness of beauty, and shining as unerring stars, you have made the Church of Christ a star-filled heaven on earth by the diversity of your lives."--Canon of the Sunday of All Saints, Ode 3

The many mansions in the Father's house welcome countless men and women from every land and tongue, every tribe and nation, every race and people.  Until we, God willing, are also there, we can never know the sheer number of those who have fallen asleep marked with the sign of faith, the multitude of those who are praising the Lord for eternity.  For though there are thousands and thousands of the Lord's servants that we know are in Heaven, there are innumerably more as well whom we shall not know in this life.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rest in Capernaum
 Root of Jesse icon by Michael Damaskinos (1530/5-1592/3), showing Christ and His forefathers and earthly brethren

"After this He went down unto Capernaum, He and the mother His, and the brothers His, and the disciples His: and there they stay not many days."--Jn 2:12

Between the Lord's first sign at Cana in Galilee and His cleansing of the Temple during His first Pascha during His public ministry, John the Theologian recounts this simple trip to Capernaum.  No more details are given except who went and that they did not stay long.  What can we learn from this short passage?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Apostles of the Cross

"We though preach Christ crucified, to the Jews indeed a scandal, but to the Greeks folly..."--1 Cor 1:23

Christ is risen!  He Who was crucified for our sins has trampled death and risen again, and yet still the Cross is His sign.  By His Resurrection great power was given to the Cross, and it is for this that Constantine heard: "By this sign you will conquer."  And today we celebrate St. Constantine and his mother Helena, apostles of the Cross.

Monday, May 19, 2014

We Are Men, Not Gods

Cornelius Falls to His Knees before St. Peter and Worships Him  (1582) by Philips Galle (1537-1612)

"Arise: I myself am a man."--Acts 10:26

Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, the Author of Life, is both God and man, two natures united without division or confusion or admixture.  Christians, though, even when divinized, are still men.  Holiness can lead to confusion on this matter, as it did when Cornelius fell on his feet and reverenced the Holy Apostle Peter, who had to remind him, "I myself am a man."  Even worse happened to Barnabas and Paul, when the priest of Dios almost led the crowd to offer bulls and wreaths to them in sacrifice, and they had to tear their cloaks and cry out, "Men, what things do you do?  For we are men of like passions to you."

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Christian's Task

Holy Prophet Micah

"He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?"--Mic 6:8

A Christian's task is simple: to love God with his entirety, and to love his neighbor as himself.  All other duties and tasks in the Christian life derive from these two.  As the Lord Himself said, "On these two commandments all the law and the prophets are suspended."  We must always return to these two commandments as we navigate our way through the stormy seas of earthly life.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Exodus and Entering
The Portaitissa

"The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore."--Ps 120:8

The blessings of the Lord are manifold, manifest and hidden, in an infinite myriad of places, times, and circumstances.  We are called to bless the Lord at all times, for He is the One Who first blesses us at all times, in all of our doings.  The Lover of Mankind loves us so much that He loves us in every time, and He wishes our good.  When we ask Him to bless us in all our doings, even with the simple prayer, "Lord, give Your blessing," we are merely asking Him to act on the love He already has for us; we are pleading the loving Father to continually love us as He already does.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Cross, Icon of Christ's Love
 "When you see the cross, know and believe that you are seeing Christ enthroned on it; when you pray before the cross, believe that you are doing so concerning Christ our God and not with inanimate matter. For it is Christ Who receives the veneration you offer before the cross; and it is He Who hears the supplications of your mouth and fulfills the desires of your heart, which you ask with faith. Whoever does not honor the cross, or insults it, insults Christ Himself."--St. Nerses Shnorhali

We are to preach nothing except Christ Crucified, following the example of Paul: on the Cross Christ bore our iniquities.  He was lashed, stripped, beaten, plucked, mocked, and finally forced to carry His death-wood to the Place of the Skull, where men of hubris dared to kill the Almighty Author of Life.  Yet He did this willingly!  It is this which changes the Crucifixion from merely a horrific deed of men into an infinitely loving act of God.  For it was God Who deigned to make Himself one of us, like us in all ways but sin, to be our great High Priest, yet a High Priest Who sacrifices Himself for those whom He shepherds.  And He sacrificed Himself in the most painful way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Holiness of the Name

"When the priests and the people which stood in the Temple Court heard the Expressed Name come forth from the mouth of the High Priest, they used to kneel and bow themselves and fall down on their faces and say, 'Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever!'"--Yoma 6:2

For many cultures throughout the world, a name is a powerful thing.  It was no different for our forefathers in faith, the sons of Israel, for to them had been revealed the Holy Name of God.  His Name was seen to be so powerful that only the high priest could pronounce it, and that only once a year.  The Name was so great and so holy that Jews to this day do not pronounce it when reading the Scriptures, instead only saying "Adonai" (Lord).  For the holiness of God is an immense flood that soaks everything relating to Him, so that from the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy Name, all is imbued with His sanctity.  And this sanctity is of such a power that the one who is unprepared and unworthy is destroyed by it, as was Uzziah when he tried to touch the ark.  (Just so the Eucharist is Holy, and he who partakes of it unworthily eats and drinks condemnation on himself.)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Myrrh Is Fitting For the Dead

 "Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself not subject to corruption..."
--Troparion of the Myrrh-Bearers

Christ is risen!  He is risen from the dead, He is risen from the tomb!  The rock which once held His Body is now rolled away, and He walks once more among the living, eating with them, speaking with them, proclaiming the Gospel to them.  To so many does He appear: to Peter and John and the rest of the Eleven, to the 500 disciples, to the men on the road to Emmaus...yet He first appears to the myrrh-bearers.  They who were at His side for His burial He honors with the first revelation of His Resurrection.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Marian Hymn from An Unlikely Source
 The Protection of the Theotokos

Hymns of petition to the Theotokos are of no recent invention in the Church: indeed, the oldest hymn to her, known in Latin as the "Sub tuum praesidium," dates back to a Coptic text in the 3rd century.  Further hymns have not been infrequent in the intervening centuries, and Christians around the world pray constantly for her intercession.  She is also not tardy in responding to these requests: do we not have an entire feast recalling her protection of Constantinople?  The miracles wrought through her intercession, through the means of icons, springs, statutes, or merely prayers, are countless, and so she has inspired many to proclaim the greatness that the Lord has bestowed upon her, the greatness she prophesied in her canticle: "From now will all generations bless me."  Her greatness has inspired saints (such as St. Romanos the Melodist and St. Bernard of Clairvaux) and those whose fate is not known for certain, such as great musicians (think of Franz Schubert's Ave Maria) and artists (as one example, Jean Augustine Dominique Ingre's The Virgin of the Host),  Yet sometimes she inspires those whom one might not think of as at all inclined towards the Lord or His Mother.  The following is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, entitled "Hymn," which first appeared in his short story "Morella," and then appeared as a stand-alone poem.  I do not know if there was any deep-seated love of the Theotokos in Poe's heart, but the poem still speaks of Marian devotion, regardless of the author's overall mindset.  May it remind us of how we can find hints of truth in even the most unlikely places.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Innumerable Facets of Scripture
The Holy Prophet Jeremiah

 "'Is not My Word like...a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?' (Jer 23:29).  As the hammer splits the rock into many splinters, so will a scriptural verse yield many meanings."--Sanhedrin 34A

These words of the Jewish Midrash reveal an essential truth: the Light within the Scriptures is unfathomable.  Yet how much more incomprehensible is the fullness of the Lord!

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Believing Thomas
 The Incredulity of St. Thomas (1601) by Caravaggio (1571-1610)

"Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed."--Jn 20:29

Yesterday we heard the episode related by John the Theologian of that octave of Pascha, the week after Christ's Resurrection.  When He rose, He appeared to many: to Mary Magdalane, to the other myrrhbearing women, to His apostles in the closed room, to His disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  Yet to one in particular He did not appear in that first week: Thomas, called Twin (Didymos).  Why Thomas was not with the rest of the Eleven in the upper room is unknown.  All we know is the fact that he was not there.  Because he was not there, He did not see the Lord's theophany that morning, and it was such a glorious happening that Thomas could not believe the news of it.  Maybe he was a pessimist who was reluctant to believe such news; perhaps he was, as he is often presented now, a man who needed evidence.  Regardless of his underlying thought, we know his declaration: "If not I see in His hands the place of the nail, and place my finger into the place of the nail, and place my hand into His side, not will I believe."  It is such a direct statement that he even wished to touch the rib of Christ, if one translates it such, for it is the same word for that of which Eve was made.  Thomas wanted to touch the rib of Him through Whom all things came to be, the rib revealed by Longinus' lance.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mary, Tier and Untier of Knots

"Rejoice, Binder of the faithful to the Lord!"
--The Akathist of St. Romanos the Melodist

Since the election of Pope Francis, the originally German devotion to the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary as the "Untier of Knots" as become quite popular.  And it is popular for its truth, for she is the one "who gave birth to the Captives' release," the one who "ripped the Athenians' meshes," the one through whom "we have been liberated from terror."  She can truly free us from so many ills through the grace that fills her: thus in our ails we pray to her, and we have confidence in her help, whether it is with cancer (the Pantanassa) or addictions (the Inexhaustible Cup) or any other ill.  She can truly undo knots, whether those of the devil or merely our own fallen nature.  She is, through Christ, "the freedom from our chains," and thus, "in her hands there is no knot that cannot be undone."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Death During Bright Week
Icon found in Benaki Museum in Athens

"The last enemy to be rendered powerless is death."--1 Cor 15:26

On Great and Good Friday, the mother of our parish's founder fell asleep in the Lord, and her funeral was today.  Yet a funeral during Bright Week is less a time of mourning than a triumphal celebration.  It is a common saying that a Christian who falls asleep or else his funeral during Bright Week is taken immediately to Heaven, for it is during that week that all of creation is aglow, radiating the triumphal light of the Resurrection.  Thus the typical hymns of sorrow are replaced with those of victory: "Christ is risen from the dead! Shine in splendor, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon you!"  Indeed, the entire Paschal Canon prayed on the Paschal morn is again prayed at a funeral.  Death is barely acknowledged, for all know that Christ has made him powerless.  He has been crushed and trampled and conquered, with his own gates pressing into his back while his captives enter into Heaven in his very sight.  All this occurred at what he thought was the time of his final triumph, when God Himself had entered his grasp: yet the Christ was not subject to corruption, and the bait Death swallowed was his own undoing, as so many of the Fathers painted the image.  "He sought the bait of the flesh, but was hooked by the divinity" (St. Gregory the Dialogist).  Truly did St. Ephraim speak: "Death knelt before Him in Sheol, / and Life worshipped Him at His Resurrection."

Monday, April 21, 2014

"Jesus met them, saying, 'Rejoice!'"

"Thus then they went to announce to His disciples, and behold!, Jesus met them, saying, 'Rejoice!'"--Mt 28:9

What Paschal message could be more fitting than Christ's own: "Rejoice!" He told the myrrhbearers.  "Rejoice, for I am risen!  Rejoice, for salvation has come!  Rejoice, for death has been trampled!  Rejoice, for the long-suffering just are freed from Hades!  Rejoice, for his grip on you is broken!  Rejoice, for Heaven is open for you!  Rejoice, for the earth rejoices!  Rejoice, for the heavenly rejoice with the earthly!  Rejoice, for all creation exclaims the most joyous and glorious hymn: 'Christ is risen from the dead, by death He trampled death, and to those in the tombs He granted life!'"  What more is there to say today, as we celebrate Pascha anew.  What Gabriel said truthfully and Judas twisted in his betrayal as been brought aright again by Christ, as He brings alright all that is fallen and straightens all that is twisted.  That great Gospel message now resounds in all its fullness: "Rejoice!"  Recalling the words of Ilias the Presbyter, "He who does not rejoice lacks hope," let us exhort one another as did St. Barsanuphius his brethren, "Rejoice in the Lord, my brother!"  For now is the greatest time to rejoice, for Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed, and yet He has been gloriously raised.  I can say nothing more of this glorious time than that one single word: "Rejoice!"  And let us rejoice for all the days of Pascha, the joyful counterpart to the Fast, being instructed by Yovhan Mandakuni as he contrasts the Fast to the Feast:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pascha: The Blessed Renewal
"From on high He came down as Lord,
from within the womb He came forth as a servant;
Death knelt before Him in Sheol,
and Life worshipped Him at His resurrection.
Blessed is His victory!"
--St. Ephraim the Syrian

Christ is risen!  Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!  Christos voskrese!  Today the whole earth rings out its joy, echoing the Paschal hymn, for death is vanquished and our Light has returned from the three-day night.  So all shall praise the all-glorious and life-giving Resurrection of Christ!  One voice, St. Proclus of Constantinople, here echoes from Heaven to proclaim the meaning of this Feast of Feasts.  Christ is risen!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jesus, the Slayer of Death

Today we remember Christ, the conqueror of Hades.  For death could not restrain Him, but He broke the bounds of death to bring the faithful departed to eternal life.  While His Body lay in the tomb, His soul was liberating the just.  Let us praise the Lord's mighty work this day, and let the following words of the great Aphrahat the Syrian (270-345) help us recall Jesus' glorious victory:

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Rejoice, Rabbi"
 "And immediately approaching Jesus [Judas] said, 'Rejoice, rabbi': and he kissed Him."--Mt 26:49

The apostate who ran to the high priests with the Bread of Heaven still in his mouth betrayed our Lord with a kiss.  What is a symbol of filial love, the kiss (φιληματος), Judas turned into a symbol of betrayal.  He who was one of the twelve chosen by Christ to follow Him gave full rein to his greed and allowed Satan entrance into his heart.  Since he betrayed with an act of love the Lover of Mankind, it is fitting that Jesus said, "It would be better for this man if he were never born."  And if the betrayal by an act of love were not horrific enough, ponder the words Judas spoke: "Rejoice, rabbi."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Upon Moses' Chair

A replica of the Chair of Moses found at the Synagogue in Chorazin

"Upon Moses' chair sit the scribes and the Pharisees: all things whatsoever they tell you to keep, keep and do: but their works do not do, for they speak and do not do."--Mt 23:2-3

How great was Moses' authority, that even his chair continues to be reverenced millennia after his falling asleep!  God ordained him to be the lawgiver of the Israelites and to guide them in the commandments of the Lord, and his authority succeeded him throughout the ages.  First it passed to Joshua, the prototype of Christ in name, then to the many judges the Lord raised, then to the kings of Israel and Judah through the mediation of Samuel, and then to the elders and the teachers after the Exile.  Jesus Himself affirmed this succession of authority, for He affirmed that even the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees had an authority to be heeded.  If even they, successors of the prophet and lawgiver Moses, were to be heeded, how much more the successors of the honorable and glorious apostles?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Fruits of Repentance

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree (1684) by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib

"O faithful let us fear the punishment of the fig tree which was dried up for not having borne any fruit; let us offer worthy fruits of repentance to Christ, who grant us His great mercy."
--From the Aposticha of Bridegroom Matins on Great and Holy Monday

When Christ hungered and approached the fig tree, He expected it to be bearing fruit; when it was not, He cursed it.  Just so, the foolish virgins not possessing oil were barred from the feast.  It is as if Christ said to them as He said to the high priests and the presbyters of the people, "For this I say to you that will be taken from you the kingdom of God, and it will be given to a nation producing the fruits of it."  This too will occur to us if we are not watchful, if we are not prepared in a wedding garment when the Lord comes to invite us into His bridal chamber engulfed in light.  Let us beg Him, "Fill the garment of my soul with light," and let us work to enkindle that light in ourselves.  Without an overflowing union with He Who is Light, "we are soulless wood, fruitless and withered, matter which is fit for the unquenchable fire" (St. Symeon the New Theologian).

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Woman of Valor
A lithograph of the Eishet Chayil in Hebrew by Shuki Freiman

" A woman of valor who can find?  More honorable than costly stones is such a one."--Prv 31:10

As we complete our reading of the Proverbs of Solomon for this Lent, we come across that great praise of the Godly woman that ends this book.  It is a well-loved passage among the Jews, who call it by the Hebrew name Eishes Chayil (or Eishet Chayil), which means "Woman of Valor."  It is the Jewish tradition to recite the passage before the Friday meal every Sabbath to praise the women of the house or all the women of Israel; thus the man recites it to his wife or to any woman there, and if there are only women in the household, they recite to praise all the women of Israel.  The passage describes the characteristics of a wonderful wife or "the perfect wife," as Fray Luis de León calls it in his commentary of the same title (La perfecta casada).  Such a woman works to beautify her home and to support her family; she weaves scarlet clothes for them and never has idle hands in providing for her household.  Her virtue is such that all the other men of the town will praise her and congratulate her husband for having such a worthy life.  Above all, she is devoted to the Lord, and it is this which truly makes her surpass all other women.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Fast of Intercession
"Not such a fast I have chosen, says the Lord, but loose all bonds of iniquity, separate knots of violent covenants, send forth the shattered in release and all wicked contracts tear asunder."--Is 58:6

When we fast, we are not to merely refrain from food, though it is praiseworthy to do so to control our passions and offer our sacrifices to God; we are also to do good to our neighbor, as the Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah.  We are to fast from wickedness and fast for good, for the more exact fast, the true fast, is to abstain from sin, as St. John Chrysostom remind us, and while we abstain from sin we should also actively do good; thus the Lord directs us to do good for our neighbor during our fasts, expanding the normal definition of almsgiving, calling us to all of the corporal works of mercy.  Yet, are there not other ways we can assist our neighbor during the Fast, in addition to the physical assistance?  If we do not have a brother bound in wicked contract, if we do not keep men bound by iniquity, and thus we cannot release them, what can this verse mean to us?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Continual Fire
Aaron and the Tabernacle, from the Synagogue at Dura-Europos, Syria (c. 245-256)

"And fire through all will be kindled upon the altar, it will not be quenched."--Lev 6:6 (LXX)

Among the many regulations the Lord gave to His servants the Israelites, and particularly to the priestly Levites, we can see two key meanings, among others: a meaning for them in their literal worship in the Temple, and a meaning for us in our interior worship in the temple of our hearts.  When Leviticus thus speaks of the fire upon the altar, to draw forth spiritual meaning from the text, we should interpret the altar as the one within our hearts.  Just as the Levites were called to offer burnt offerings upon the physical altar, so are we called to immolate our wills for the Lord.  We are to destroy our souls to save them, to sacrifice all we have for He Who saves us.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Illuminating Our Baptism

 A Maronite icon of the Theophany, when Christ sanctified the waters for our Baptism

"Going forth therefore make into disciples all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you."--Mt 28:19-20a

Baptism is the door through which we enter the Church, the first Mystery every Christian experiences.  It is what marks one as a Christian.  To understand it, then, is key to understanding the Christian life in truth.  In Baptism, we are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection so that we die with Him and rise with Him so that we may life and rule with Him.  The effects are myriad, but the basic fact is this: "The power of Baptism is to be understood as a covenant with God for a second life and a purer lifestyle."  We enter into the Lord's New Covenant through our Baptism, and in this covenant He gives us innumerable graces and we give Him our lives, our souls and minds and bodies, our heart and strength, in their entirety.  We must always, then, keep in mind the fundamental importance of our Baptism and all the graces it was the doorway for, and so I hope these words for St. Gregory the Theologian will inspire us all to a deeper understanding of our Baptism, our Illumination.  "This is also an illumination, to know the power of the mystery."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Answer of the Tongue
Holy Prophet King Solomon, traditional author of Proverbs

"To man are the preparations of the heart:
from the Lord is the answer of the tongue."
--Prv 16:1

The Lord holds sway over all: with Him is all power, and for this we call Him Pantokrator, All-Mighty.  Heaven and earth and all their inhabitants are under His command, for "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein," and "He stretches forth the heavens like a tent," a tent which He can set up and take down at will.  If He wills, He could wipe out man from the face of the earth, as in the time of Noah, yet instead He wills that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling in this world.  Though He does not use His power in its most sweeping way, He still has all power over all created things, down to the smallest speck, and He watches over all and cares for all, as He even numbers each hair on our heads.  Thus He has rule even over the answers of our tongues.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Least in the House of God
Ven. Solanus Casey (1870-1957)

 "I chose to be cast down in the house of my God rather than to live myself in the tents of sinners."--Ps 83:11b

The great temptation against us is this: will we choose to enjoy the delights of the wicked or the reproach of the righteous?  "You cannot serve both God and mammon," as Christ declared.  We must serve the Lord despite all obstacles, despite all pains, rather than delight in the riches of the wicked.  For the riches of the wicked are not true riches: they are rather fool's gold that will not outlast death; they are the treasures which moth will eat, rust will corrupt, thief will steal.  In the end, all such riches will be stripped from us, and we will stand before God with only His riches.  What are His riches?  The riches of righteousness, the riches of holiness, the riches of the Truth.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Christ Is Greater Than Ourselves
The Parable of the Precious Pearl or the Pearl of Great Price by Domenico Fetti (1589-1623)

We are never as great as we often think ourselves to be: this is the message of humility, the message of the Publican who we remember so often throughout Lent.  We are to strive for what is greater than ourselves, Christ, that He may lead us to be greater than ourselves.  By seeing how little we are in ourselves, we see how much we have to gain in the Lord.  For this we pray, "O Lord and King, grant me the grace to see my own sins."  Whenever we call out to the Lord for help, we are recognizing that we need help, that we are not enough in ourselves, and that He can help us.  We must remember always that He is the greater one; He is the summit of what we search for, the pearl of great price, and knowledge of Him is the greatest knowledge, and fear of Him is the beginning of wisdom.  Thus the following poem, "Christ and Our Selves" by Francis Quarles, can hopefully assist us in calling to mind all of these things:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gabriel, the Joyful Evangelist

"I am Gabriel the one who stands before God: and I have been sent to speak to you, and to evangelize to you these things."

Gabriel, the head messenger (as Archangel means), we celebrate today as we take leave of the great Feast of the Annunciation and resume our walk towards Golgotha.  He is the greatest messenger of all the archangels, for he bore glad tidings of two great births, the Forerunner and the Savior.  His mission is stated simply in his opening words to Zacharias: "I have been evangelize to you."  For this is what Gabriel truly does: he comes to announce the Good News, the Gospel.  He comes to evangelize (εὐαγγελίσασθαί).  Such a description fits even more with his message to she who would become the Theotokos:

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Prelude of the Incarnation
 Coptic Icon of the Annunciation (1995) by Bedour Latif and Yousef Nassief

"Today is the prelude of joy for the whole world.  Let us then anticipate the feast and celebrate with glee: for behold, Gabriel is on his way with glad tidings for the Virgin."
--Troparion of the Forefeast of the Annunciation

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Hope of the Remnant

"And there will be the remnant of Jacob before God the Mighty.  And even if the people of Israel became like the sand of the sea, the remnant of them will be saved."--Is 10:21-22

The man of faith will not be afraid of the remnant, for he trusts in the Lord, God the Mighty, Who can bring forth fountains from waterless land.  The remnant is a sign of hope from the Lord, for He could have destroyed all of mankind in the Flood, but He chose to save the righteous Noah and his family.  He could have let all of Israel be destroyed by the hands of mighty strangers, but He kept two tribes alive in exile.  With the power of the Lord, the remnant is a sign of hope, not of sorrow.