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.