The Four Evangelists portray the religious leaders of Israel as being people not of sound moral character, but rather, duplicitous, driven by concern for how others judge them. Several times the religious leaders allow appearance and peer pressure to govern their behavior.
Elections and political campaigns in America seem to rouse many sinful passions in Americans, even in Christians. Some may feel it is good to be passionate about one’s convictions. Yet passions can ruin prayer as they often make our will more important than God’s.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not lightening strikes destroying the weeds (those who are evil). Not even precision or surgical lightening strikes which hit only the weeds are envisioned. In God’s time, separation takes place, and only in God’s Kingdom will all be revealed.
We depend on God and God gets us through the desert by being with us. The small inconveniences we experience as Lent, the hunger, the want, the need, all become transformed into our experience of God. We learn to hunger and thirst for God, we learn how to say no to sin and sinful desire.
Many are bored with hearing the Word of God and only want to hear the word of the world. They read and listen to their political extremist talk show hosts and web pages. They have filled their heads and hearts with demonic thoughts – “the word of the world” – and that is why they behave like the violent and destructive demons of the Gospel.
Though the Israelites witnessed what God was doing, they didn’t fully comprehend it. They saw the events but didn’t understand the significance of the events. They saw things happening but didn’t fully realize it was God’s own hand bringing things about. They didn’t see God in the events.
They rejected the success of imperial Rome and the “Roman Peace” based in worldly power and might. They understood the ways of the world could be more efficient but they believed the means must be consistent with the end rather than that the ends justified the means.
For those of us who like to revel that we live in the richest country in the world and the richest country in the history of the world, Moses would say to us, better to choose affliction and suffering “with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”
So, now retell the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee. Who is the Publican in your life? Who is the kind of person you really despise? Now tell the parable:Two people went to our church to pray. I was one, and the other was . . . (name the worst sinner you can imagine – whether by name or by sin they commit). . .
Wisdom is as an essential element of our Scriptures and Tradition as is any set of rules or rubrics that have been offered to the faithful. And yet, Wisdom is often given a secondary place in the pedagogy of the Church as many in leadership roles prefer to lay down the law of God rather than to wrestle with Wisdom.
St. Paul uses several different images of the Church—the Body of Christ. In them it is always clear that to be a Christian is to be integrated into something greater than oneself—a body, a temple. We cannot be Christians without being part of this greater whole, which is the Church. As the early Christians noted, “One Christian is no Christian.”
Living in the literary culture of the 21st Century, and being shaped by the literary tradition of recent centuries, it is hard to imagine that at one time Christians, like Photius, thought the pictured icon to be “truer” than the written text – a more certain witness to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures and Orthodox theology are clear that God is not just a super human being – God is not merely an omnipotent and omniscient human writ large. God is totally other, and whatever words we might apply to us humans – being, nature, person, existing – cannot then rightfully be applied to God.
The myrrhbearing women come to the tomb of Christ in the early morning of the Sunday following his crucifixion and burial. According to Mark’s Gospel after being told by a young man (whose clothes apparently caught their attention as they describe them with some detail) that Jesus was risen from the dead, they say nothing to anyone “for they were afraid.” But afraid of what or who? And why?
Certainly if one studies the layout of Herod’s Jerusalem temple, we get the visible, physical sense that there was a wall (several!) separating the Gentiles from God. St. Paul says, and the hymn certainly picks up this theme, that any “wall” which had separated us from God is abolished.
Looking at one of the liturgical hymns from the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, we see themes that are obvious throughout the Christmas cycle of services. The hymns from the Orthodox services for the Nativity are heavily theological focusing on the lessons the Ecumenical Councils derived from the Scriptures and God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
Whereas Protestant Christians treat their Bibles as The Word of God, the history and Tradition of Orthodoxy Christianity shows the Church as celebrating Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God, to whom the written texts of the Scriptures bear witness.
I am now bringing the quotes together to explore the relationship between the Word of God and the Scriptures. Obviously if Jesus is literally the Word of God, then the Scriptures are the Word of God in some other way. They are the written record of God’s revelation, but Jesus is the full revelation of God. The Scriptures bear witness to Him. It is of Jesus that all the Scriptures speak.
The Fathers of the Church recognize that the written Scriptures require interpretation. The written texts occasionally are self- evident in their meaning and can be read at face value, but often they contain within them the prophecies and revelations of God hidden in familiar images, events, and in the language of the text.
Though it may be hard to do, work on rejoicing in the night, especially a sleepless night, as verse 63:6 says. It helps to remember the words of St. Paul: Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Always and in all circumstances includes the middle of the night when sleep frustratingly eludes you.
The recent Holy And Great Orthodox Council in Crete inspired me to read about another Orthodox council, The Moscow Council (1917-1918) from a book written by Hyacinthe Destivelle. This Council was held in the midst of most interesting and tumultuous times as Russia was in the spasms of its revolution which would overthrow the dominant social order of their empire. The Church leaders and membership at times resisted the changes, at times prompted the changes and at times was pushed and carried along by the changes.
At the time when the Orthodox Gospel lectionary was being formed, a story of Christ exorcising demons must have been very popular. Since we have a lectionary that repeats every year, it is interesting that they thought this miracle important enough to proclaim twice during the church year in which there are only 52 Sundays, and we actually hear only 1/7 of the Gospels if we attend only on Sundays.
Psalm 137 above, a favorite of Christians for expressing lament and exile as we sojourn through this world, also contains verses of such vile violence that some will not read them. Even knowing that the literal interpretation was not the most common reading among ancient church luminaries, doesn’t always make it easy for the modern reader to apprehend how to pray some of these verses.
The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church came to an end causing little notice in the world at large. The Council’s goal seemed to be to have an assembly of bishops which changed nothing, and any event that changes nothing is not very news worthy.
Various reports are indicating the that the Holy & Great Council of the heads of the various Orthodox Churches which is supposed to start its meeting this week, may be post-poned. Dissension has arisen and some of the heads of the churches have decided not to participate while others are calling for a postponement of the event.
As we hear the Gospel proclaimed, we are to think not just about past history, but about who am I in this Gospel lesson? Am I the paralytic before the encounter with Christ, full of self-pity and always wanting someone else to help me? Or am I the healed person capable of coming back and helping others? Am I the invisible helper who works quietly and silently behind the scenes for thirty eight years, helping even one someone else to survive?
The first Sunday after Pascha is dedicated to the memory of the Apostle Thomas and his particular reaction to the Gospel of the resurrection of Christ. It is a continuation of the Gospel lesson which was read at the Vespers of Pascha Sunday: John 20:19-31. The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is simply continuing a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ by dealing with the very real reactions of Christ’s own disciples to the Good News.
One aspect of Jewish religious life that our Lord Jesus criticized was hypocrisy, which can mean that people diligently adhere to keeping Torah in strict and minute detail, according to a particular interpretation of the Law, but their hearts are not united to the Lord.
While there is a popular notion about the unchanging nature of Orthodox liturgical practices, any study of history shows that Orthodox liturgical practice has undergone numerous and significant changes over history. One area where we can note significant change is the themes assigned to the Sundays of Great Lent.
In the world today, especially in American Christianity, there are divisive debates opposing biblical literalists with those who do not think every scriptural verse was or is meant to be read only literally. Similar debates occurred from the beginnings of Christianity.
The Gospel reading of Matthew 15:21-21 presents a hard lesson both because Jesus appears to treat the woman harshly and because we are challenged to think about people like this woman who might appeal to the parish for help but whom for various reasons we feel justified in just wanting to be rid of them.
Today the Orthodox Church in America recognizes the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I want to mention of a quote from President Obama’s 11 January 2016 State of the Union speech. It’s not easy to find something from him to quote for this Sunday, but he said something which caught my ears...
Impossible to recount is Christ’s descent according to His divinity, but His ancestry according to His human nature can be traced, since He who deigned to become Son of man in order to save mankind was the offspring of men. And it is this genealogy of His that two of the evangelists, Matthew and Luke, recorded. But although Matthew, in the passage from his Gospel read today, begins with those born first, he makes no mention of anyone before Abraham.
People who are marginalized by the state or oppressed by the state or whose consciences are troubled by the deeds of the state, have no where to turn to seek solace and refuge when the church is in complete sync with the state. And often the church ends up submitting to the state on many issues.
In Luke 12:16-21, we are presented the story of a man to whom God spoke directly. Unfortunately, God’s words to the man were “You fool!” It certainly would be a rude awakening for any of us believers if when God finally spoke to us, first words were to call us a fool!
The mass migration has put many European countries to the test, and have challenged the moral values of Christians throughout the world. How should Christians respond to these aliens and strangers who come knocking at our borders? How do we treat migrants who themselves are related to people who have inflicted oppression and suffering on Christians?
Parables present us with a special way of coming to the truth. For parables or stories show the words themselves are not enough – one has to interpret the story to come to the truth. Interpretation requires wisdom and knowledge. Interpretation is key to the Gospel message.
One of the most blessed features of our God is that God, unlike some of our family members, friends and neighbors, does not keep His anger forever. God is love, and God does not constantly chastise us or punish us. God forgives, God is merciful, God uses every means for our salvation.
Salvation is so much richer than the mere payment of a debt. Salvation restores our humanity to us be reuniting humanity to divinity. Christ’s desire was to bring us to Paradise, not just cancel a debt, but to save us, restore our humanity and unite us to the divine life.
All we who are baptized are called to the King’s table, but God alone knows whom He has chosen. Woe to those of us to whom the Most High, the King, shall say before all the angels and saints: ‘Friend, how can you come not having a wedding garment?’
“The entire month of December had taken on the character of a forefeast for Christmas. In this context, the theme of the original preparatory Sunday, the ‘Sunday of the Holy Fathers’ […], commemorating the ancestors of Christ ‘according to the flesh’ […], especially the patriarch Abraham, to whom the promise was first given (Gen. 12:3, 22:18), is fundamental to the whole period.