In St Matthew’s gospel we read this statement from Jesus: “The eye is the lamp of the body (Mt 6: 22).” This is not a scientific statement — it will not be found in any textbook of anatomy or physiology. Our Lord continues his statement, “If your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light.” This is what is to be understood: vision directs the actions of the body to proper movement, work, and activity. In contrast, if one is blind, then the actions of the body are conducted in darkness. With blindness proper action, work, and activity are altered. In the ancient world’s realities, blindness generally led to impoverishment and want.
The Fathers of the Church made this connection: As the eye is to the body, so the mind is to the soul. Thus, if the mind is filled with the light of Christ there will be proper action, work, and activities that are pleasing to God. If the mind is darkened by sin and worldly understanding one will be governed by passion and such works will be displeasing to God.
Hence, the battle is in the mind. The Prayer of the Hours contains in its central portion this petition: “…sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, set aright our minds, cleanse our thoughts…” With a healthy eye there is a healthy body. With a holy mind there is a healthy and holy soul.
How will the purified, properly oriented mind lead to proper perceptions and actions in our lives regarding the needs of the body and money? In the verses that follow Mt 6:22 our Lord speaks of wealth, and the need for food and clothing. Christ declares this about the mind obsessed with wealth:
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mt 6: 24).
One may have wealth and serve God first if one has a healthy mind. Such a person can follow this directive of Christ: “Store up treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there also is your heart!” (Mt 6: 20 — 21). In contrast, if one clamors for wealth and relentlessly seeks it without any thought for God, one will have gained the whole world, yet will have lost one’s soul.
In following verses (Mt 6: 25 — 34) our Lord speaks of everyday needs and the anxieties that do arise from these cares,
Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, with what you will clothe yourself. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than these? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his statue? (Mt 6: 25 — 27)
Jesus continues this teaching:
Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat? or, “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the nations seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be given to you (Mt 6: 31 — 33, emphasis added).
In all honesty, though, such anxieties and worries can afflict the faithful. Such matters can weigh heavily on the mind. We find ourselves in the grip of runaway inflation caused by foolish and terrible monetary policies. This, in turn, has brought upon many very hard choices and understandable concern. Day to day choices are now made that may not have been necessary in recent years. These choices must be made not only for self-interest, but also for one’s neighbor. Many consumptive habits are to be altered, decreased, and even eliminated in some cases. Though such changes of habits have come about by ill conceived governmental policies and dictates, such lifestyle alterations may be of benefit to the soul.
However, I bristle at the mandated demands for change made by secular powers. It is my opinion that they are not for the good of humanity or the environment, but are mandates placed upon us for their own further empowerment and enrichment. I recall the cynical definition of the Golden Rule: “Those with the gold make the rules.” The wealthy, powerful elite make the rules only to strengthen their “hold on the gold.”
In the past two years I find it ironic that the power elite are calling on our sacrifices to protect — primarily — the environment. I am suspicious. If they are not “doing for the children” so much anymore, they are doing in “for the environment.” I am for the environment! I am for its protection and healing. I am for the welfare and well being of every human and every creature. We are to bless God’s creation, cultivate, and nurture it. We are never to exploit any creature or any part of the creation. But, I am suspicious of the true motives of the power elite of the West. A British commentator recently summed up their mindset quite clearly: “It’s not that they love the environment so much as it is that they hate humanity.” In all of this that is set before us in these days, we are not to think that such manipulation is new. St. James gives us his wise and holy perspective from the first century:
…Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable Name by which you are called? (James 2: 6b — 7)
Yet, we do not need to vilify them. We are to have eyes wide open. We are to be perceptive — very perceptive and alert. Ultimately, it is not the power elite that are our enemies. St. Paul clarifies,
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world ruler of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6: 12 — 13).
The battle is in the mind. We are to see with eyes of wisdom, peace, and holiness. With a healthy eye and a holy mind, we must come together to meet the common needs of each other when they arrive. Every sacrifice we may be forced to make — we are to make to the glory of God — not to appease those who hold oppressive power. In all these matters, though meant to work against us, we can redeem them in and by Christ to the good of all and all things. Every abasement that we may have to endure is to be seen for our salvation that Christ may be more fully formed in us. By the utilization of truth, righteousness, the Gospel, peace, faith, salvation, prayer, and perseverance we will stand in Christ with and for one another by a wise, peaceful, and holy vision (see Ephesians 6: 14 — 18). And being thus armored, when necessary, faithfully, and peacefully, resist our oppressors who do the bidding of dark powers.
Once more, as we find in the Prayer of the Hours, we are to ask God to “set aright our minds and cleanse our thoughts.” Thus, we will have a healthy mind and a sound spirit to face every challenge that will come our way to the glory of God!
Today the Orthodox Church commemorates St. Gregory Palamas on the Second Sunday of Lent. We read of the Good Shepherd in tenth chapter of St. John’s gospel which is the second assigned gospel for this Sunday. In this chapter Christ, the Good Shepherd, contrasts himself to the “hireling.” The hireling is not a shepherd. The sheep are not his own, and upon seeing the wolf he abandons the sheep and flees. The wolf attacks and scatters the sheep (John 10: 12). The cowardly action of the hireling allows the entrance of the enemy — and is like the action of the Serpent in the Garden. Our first Parents were thus attacked and were deceived. Their rebellion led to their own scattering, and they and all of creation were lost to death, darkness, sin, and alienation. Christ lays out who he is. He is the Good Shepherd who gathers together into life, light, and relationship all that was lost and scattered into death, darkness, sin, and alienation:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10: 10 -11, 14 – 15).
Christ continues to gather his sheep into his fold throughout the centuries into the Church. Here, he continues to provide for his flock and care for his sheep.
Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was a saint and a good shepherd to the flock of Christ. He began his priestly ministry in 1326 in Thessalonica. Then, in 1331 he returned to Mt. Athos and began to write theological works, thus continuing his pastoral care in this new manner.
Enter a hireling, a certain Barlaam of Calabria. He criticized many of the monastic practices of the day along with some established, orthodox teachings of the Church. He argued with St. Gregory about these matters and how we of Christian faith encounter and experience God. He turned the argument to the subject of light that emanated from Christ on Mt. Tabor: was that light truly from his own divinity, or was it a created intermediary (thus, reeking of Arianism). Barlaam argued that no human can experience anything of God, but only something secondary and not of God himself.
St. Gregory taught the truth of the Church. He stated that though humans cannot know of God’s essence, we can know God by his energies, which we directly are able to encounter and engage. To understand the difference between essence and energies, we have the analogy of the sun and its rays of light. We cannot touch the sun, but we can experience its life giving, warming and invigorating light. Thus, God’s energies are like the sun’s rays of light and energy. Then, accepting St. Gregory’s teaching in 1341, the Council of Constantinople gave this authoritative statement:
…God, unapproachable in his essence, reveals himself through his energies, which are directed toward the world and are able to be perceived, like the light of Tabor, but are neither material or created.
Today our world is filled with Barlaams (and even worse sorts). They are false teachers, false prophets, hirelings and wolves. Their voices, podcasts, videos, programmings, and writings are all around us. Their intent is to further puff up their egos by gathering together their own flocks of deceived sheep. But, ultimately, this results in attacks on, and the scattering of these abused flocks.
In St. John’s gospel we read Jesus’ words:
When he [the Good Shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10: 4 – 5).
Lex orandi, lex credendi — this is a Latin phrase meaning “what is prayed is what is believed.” We who abide in the Church hear and read the Scriptures. We encounter the words of the Divine Liturgy and the words of the services of Vespers, Matins, and the Hours. We know the Nicene Creed and recite it from memory. We know the hymns that teach us by their declarative words of praise and worship of God, and they also provide the teachings of the true faith. We read the teachings of the Fathers who teach the Orthodox faith. By these we know the truth of the Orthodox Church and know the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sensus Fidei, or the “the Sense of the Faithful” is of great value and is given to us by all the above sources of our faith. (We are to live out the truths of our faith in our daily lives.) We have this admonition from the epistle assigned for this Sunday coming from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews:
Therefore, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It is declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2: 1 – 4).
To encourage us further, we have this prayer from the First Hour as assigned during this season of Lent. It is also appropriate since next Sunday is the Sunday of the Cross. Christ’s holy cross also provides us with its protection:
Hasten to our aid, lest we be enslaved to the enemy which blasphemes You and threatens us, O Christ our God, and overcome by Your Cross those who war against us, that they may know the might of the Orthodox Faith; through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O You who alone loves mankind.
Thus, let us, in these confusing and troubling days, hold firm to the teachings of Christ as encounter in his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!
The following links is a sermon which corresponds to this posting:
December 26,2021 was the Sunday after Christmas. In the calendar of the Orthodox Church this Sunday is a day of importance. That December 26 fell on a Sunday was unusual — generally a few days separate Christmas Day from the Sunday after Christmas. This year, the joyful announcement of Christ’s birth was, in 2021, followed immediately by the sobering message of the Gospel reading set for this day:
Now when they [The Magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Matthew 2: 13 – 15)
They fled to Egypt because, out of Herod’s rage, those who were innocent — in this case every male child under the age of two years was to be murdered, slaughtered. (Annually, on December 29, their lives and deaths are commemorated and honored. This is the day of the 14,000 Holy Innocents.) There, in Egypt, the family would find the company of Jews who fled the fall of Jerusalem, yet never returned to Judea.
Some time passes. Herod the Great dies and the same angel again appears to Joseph in a dream. He is informed that, “…those who were seeking the life of the child have died” (Matthew 2:20). Joseph leads them back to Israel, but Joseph learns that the cruel despot Archelaus followed Herod to reign after his death (Caesar Augustus deposed and sent Archelaus into exile in 6 A.D.). Our Lord’s stepfather is troubled and the angel directs their next destination:
…and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled. “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2: 22, 23).
It is of note that those in Judea did not regard Galilee, and particularly Nazareth, very highly. The region would today be considered “fly over country” by the power elite of Jerusalem. But, in this town and region of no esteem, Jesus grows. Here he learns the Jewish faith in its synagogue. Here, by his stepfather, he and his stepbrothers learn their craft and trade. Here he would care for his mother after Joseph’s death. In lowly Nazareth of Galilee he grew into adulthood and would then enter into his ministry.
Let’s shift to the third decade of the twenty-first century. Today we have multiple Herods and others like Archelaus who despotically rule. They pose real and serious threats to the lives of those they tyrannically rule by decree — even to the lives of the faithful. Thus, it is fair to say that we of the Christian faith have on this planet no country, no state, and no capital city in which we have security, safety, and liberty. St. John Chrystostom properly informs us by his question: “Why do you pride yourself on your country when I am commanding you to be a stranger to the whole world?” We must remind ourselves that we are citizens of a Kingdom, and that no state or country can provide the guarantee of continued political security for us. In this decade we find ourselves in a form of totalitarianism where there can be no surety — all is a “nut and shell game”!
Totalitarianism. Lately, I have been reading The Power of the Powerless. It is a book — or better — a collection of thematic essays written by Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident of the years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia who would later become president of a free Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic. The work was published in 1978, and about a fourth of the way into it he introduces a character, the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper is typical of citizenry of the day — he went along with the Communist Party lies to “get along” and live untroubled by the state. But a day comes when he no longer buys into the collective lie. He wakes up and chooses to live within truth. The shopkeeper, then of course, pays the price: he is now troubled by the authorities who demand his compliance.
In this decade we have to ask ourselves a question. Will we cower like fearful mice to please Herod and Archelaus and submit to their whims that we might “get along nicely”?
On December 26, the Orthodox Church also commemorates Joseph the Betrothed (the stepfather of Jesus) and James the “[step]brother of our Lord.” James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem and his epistle is in the New Testament. James was not one to pull punches in his instructions to the faithful. We have these words:
Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4: 4).
The one who is of faith would want to choose friendship with God over that of the world system. But we must confess that we are weak. What makes us weak? It is our entanglements with the world system and all the creature comforts offered by it. I am reminded of the parable of the Sower and the Seed which we find in the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. In this parable we learn of the soil which bears thorns into which grain seed is sown. The problem is that in this soil the thorns deprive the grain of nutrients and the grains’ fruit cannot mature. Later in this chapter, Jesus explains,
As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Matthew 13: 22).
It appears that this is the condition of many — and I include myself in this number. Our ease of life — that of consumerism — in which we comfortably rest may prove to be the cause of our fall. With mandates and the prospect of social passports, will we cave into the demands of the state so we can “get along nicely”? Thorns additionally deprive us of the freedom to let go. Yet, we can uproot the thorns with God’s help. Though
St. James is blunt, yet he can provide encouragement to us:
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind…Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you (James 4: 8, 10).
May it be so that we may become free of thorns, bear fruit, and be friends of God in these troubling days!
The following is a corresponding sermon given 12/26/21.
Vaclav Benda was a Czech Roman Catholic activist and intellectual. He wrote a number of essays during the time of communist rule of his homeland and after the establishment of a free Czech state. While a young man and university student, he refused to join the communist party, and this led him to counter-cultural involvement, among them the signing and advocacy of Charter 77 which was published January 1, 1977 in Prague. He was imprisoned as a dissident between 1979 and 1983 by the totalitarian communist regime. In this posting I quote from the text of Charter 77 and list Benda’s call to action in his essay The Parallel Polis.
Allow for a brief background to the writing and publishing Charter 77. Oddly, the motivation of Charter 77 came about after the arrest of a rock band called Plastic People of the Universe. Their performance was considered subversive and caused a disturbance of the peace. The band members were imprisoned for durations lasting up to 18 months for some of them. Opposition to their imprisonment arose from the communist government’s violation of human rights outlined by the Helsinki Accord which it signed prior to the arrest of the band. Though written in December of 1976, its grievances are strikingly relevant to the situations throughout the western world in 2021 as brought about by western governments’ institution of restrictions of freedoms as reactions to the Covid 19 pandemic (it is now endemic as is influenza).
The right to freedom of expression, for example, guaranteed by Article 19 of the first-mentioned covenant, is in our case purely illusory. Tens of thousands of our citizens are prevented from working in their own fields for the sole reason that they hold views differing from official ones, and are discriminated against and harassed in all kinds of ways by the authorities and public organizations. Deprived as they are of any means to defend themselves, they become victims of a virtual apartheid.
Hundreds of thousands of other citizens are denied that “freedom from fear” mentioned in the preamble to the first covenant, being condemned to the constant risk of unemployment or other penalties if they voice their own opinions.
In violation of Article 13 of the second-mentioned covenant, guaranteeing everyone the right to education, countless young people are prevented from studying because of their own views or even their parents’. Innumerable citizens live in fear of their own or their children’s right to education being withdrawn if they should ever speak up in accordance with their convictions…
…Freedom of public expression is inhibited by the centralized control of all the communication media and of publishing and cultural institutions. No philosophical, political or scientific view or artistic activity that departs ever so slightly from the narrow bounds of official ideology or aesthetics is allowed to be published; no open criticism can be made of abnormal social phenomena; no public defense is possible against false and insulting charges made in official propaganda.
Charter 77 continues,
Freedom of religious confession, emphatically guaranteed by Article 18 of the first covenant, is continually curtailed by arbitrary official action; by interference with the activity of churchmen, who are constantly threatened by the refusal of the state to permit them the exercise of their functions, or by the withdrawal of such permission; by financial or other transactions against those who express their religious faith in word or action; by constraints on religious training and so forth.
One instrument for the curtailment or in many cases complete elimination of many civic rights is the system by which all national institutions and organizations are in effect subject to political directives from the machinery of the ruling party and to decisions made by powerful individuals. The constitution of the republic, its laws and legal norms do not regulate the form or content, the issuing or application of such decisions; they are often only given out verbally, unknown to the public at large and beyond its powers to check; their originators are responsible to no one but themselves and their own hierarchy…
I remind you the words were written in response to the oppression encountered in communist Czechoslovakia of the mid-1970s. If one cannot see the frightening correspondence to current events in, e.g., the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Austria, Australia and New Zealand, one’s head is well buried in the proverbial sand.
Although the composition of Charter 77 was of importance, it did not yield sustained action. Benda writes in comment to the lack of action,
The moral attitude was postulated abstractly, without raising any concrete issues or aims. An abstract moral stance, however, is merely a gesture; it may be terribly effective at the time, but it cannot be sustained for more than a few weeks or months (from The Parallel Polis).
In response to the failure to bring continued action, Benda wrote his essay The Parallel Polis. In it he moves his readers from any hope of change brought about by protest to actions of creating parallel societal structures to create a free people living in these alternatives to the communist totalitarian realities. We have his words,
I suggest that we join forces in creating, slowly but surely, parallel structures that are capable, to a limited degree at least, of supplementing the generally beneficial and necessary functions that are missing in the existing structures, and where possible, to use those existing structures, to humanize them…
Even if such structures were only partially successful, they would bring pressure to bear on the official structures, which would either collapse…or regenerate themselves in a useful way.
In The Parallel Polis Benda then lays out specific parallel structures to be created by the Czechoslovaks:
1) Parallel structure of education, scientific, and scholarly life. I consider the organization of a parallel education system to be of utmost importance.
For contemporary Christians home schooling has existed for decades and, hopefully, will continue, especially in these days where, for example in Washington State, primary school students — children — are sexually “educated” to freely express and explore their sexuality as children. In any other decade prior to this day such “education” would be called what is really is — grooming. For the intact family home schooling or attendance of a private Christian school is a real possibility, but for the struggling family, the single parent family, churches and other independent institutions should open up such possibilities for those students who would otherwise be “thrown to the wolves” in these perverse public school districts.
2) A parallel information network. It is even more urgent for these groups to establish mutual connections and create autonomous information networks of their own…[Benda encouraged them to seek]…other means of reproduction besides the typewriter.
In our day alternative media platforms are being pursued and by now even created.But perhaps we should seek to rediscover non-digital/electronic forms of communication to secure our words from government / media censorship.
3) A Parallel Economy. At the moment, the tasks facing us in the parallel economy are unimaginable, but though our opportunities are limited, the need to exploit them is urgent.The regime treats the economy as a key means of arbitrarily manipulating citizens and, at the same time, it regulates it as strictly as possible…Our community ought to be based on a system of mutual guarantees that are both moral and material.
Today, parishes, friends, and neighbors can mutually band together cooperatively to set up for informal gardening, child care, lending practices, etc., that are “off the grid” if they are not already functioning.If we who refuse to submit to the “tyranny of the jab,” vaccine passports, and other totalitarian threats are forced to retreat from most traditional engagements in commerce must find ways to support basic sustenance.
4) Parallel Political Structures. This would include a wide range of activities, from raising people’s awareness of their civic responsibilities, to creating the proper conditions for political discussion and the formulations of theoretical points of view.It would also include support for concrete currents and groupings.
Sometimes quite seriously, and sometimes in jest, I would declare my political identity to be somewhere between a “pro-life Democrat and a green Republican.”The time for such sentiment is over.We have been betrayed by both parties in the past, and now because of the adverse influences of current political extremes, no moderation is possible, and any true populism and its promise of a new way has been smeared by the media which is entrenched in the power structures which have led to our present condition. In these times true freedom loving liberals and conservatives must see beyond the boundaries and definitions of the past and ignore and dismiss the shrill voices of extremists who only wish to destroy and not create.
The Parallel Polis or Society — it does not need to be invented or created de novo. It exists in the Church and has always existed and embodied by her since the day of Pentecost (please read my earlier posting, The Parallel Society) The Parallel Society has to be local. The Parallel Society will not reform Washington D.C., London, Dublin, Ottawa, Canberra, or Vienna. They are corrupted and cancerous. It needs to be local and intimate. This orientation will lead to strong parishes / congregations where mutual support is solid and we of faith can embody St. Paul’s words,
Do nothing from selfishness and conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others (Phil 2: 3 – 4).
In and by the Triune God and through his Parallel Society, the Church, let our light — the light of Christ — shine forth and welcome in all who seek this Community; by any and all adversity encountered grow more completely in the image of God.
“Gimme Shelter” is a Rolling Stones song found in their 1969 LP “Let It Bleed”. I’m not much of a Stones fan. Given the sorting question, “Beatles or Rolling Stones?” I ALWAYS would choose the Beatles — there is never a doubt. “Gimme Shelter” is not a “pleasant” Stones’ song as one could categorize, e.g., “She’s A Rainbow,” “I Am Waiting,” and “Ruby Tuesday.” The song can be called brooding and menacing. However, the song is powerful. It was written by Jagger and Richards, and there is a background to the song and its lyrics. Richards was sitting in a friend’s apartment with an acoustic guitar in hand, “…When suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter — this was the germ of the idea.” Jagger gives his account: “When it was recorded, early ’69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that’s reflected in the tune.”
I have been aware of the song for decades, but, while recently watching a YouTube performance of the song covered by U2, with Jagger on stage with them, the impact of the lyrics and the power of the song hit me. “Gimme Shelter” is not just about the turmoil of the late ‘60s, it profoundly resonates with the tensions, turmoil and threats of our times since late winter of 2020 throughout America, Canada, Australia, the UK, and much of Europe. Early last year I would say there were dark, menacing clouds on our horizon. Now the storm is upon us, and it is later than we think. One would have to have lived in the proverbial cave for the past 20 plus months not to see how its lyrics speak to today’s threatening climate. Hence, no commentary is needed as samples of the lyrics, though not in strict sequence,
Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today, if I don’t get some shelter, yeah, I’m gonna fade away!
Oh, see the fire is sweepin’ our very streets today. Burns like a red coat carpet — mad bull lost his way…
War, children, it’s just a shot away…rape, murder it’s just a shot away…
“Gimme Shelter” gives the vision of a complete breakdown of community and society. With such social stresses come many responses. There is worry, anxiety, and depression. There is anger and rage. There are responses of hoarding goods. There are responses of moving assets to various investment strategies deemed safer than the standard options. There are preparations meant to preserve life (even from violent attack), property, and even basic sustenance. All may be good and wise, but may tragically lack the insight of faith’s preparations which would provide hope, love, and peace
I now move to the Psalms for guidance. This book of both Jewish and Christian scriptures dates back thousands of years. Psalms’ words often come from ancient times of similar and worse troubles. To begin the examination of Psalms’ advice, let me paraphrase Psalm 145: 3 (LXX): “Put not your trust in precious metals, cryptocurrencies, non-perishable foods, firearms, and survival gear in which there is no salvation!” Thus, we are to look to God, not only to the limited provisions and protections offered by the world. I do not dismiss such worldly preparations, but we of faith must see far beyond them.
The Psalms teach us we are not alone in the course of human history. David addresses such stresses and fears about 3,000 years ago:
My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander afar, I would lodge in the wilderness, I would wait for him who saves me from the raging wind and tempest (LXX Psalm 54: 4 – 8).
Who offers us protection? Ultimately, it is not Glock, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, and 9mm rounds (along with two or three magazines ready to go in reserve) that will preserve us. It is God. For example, we find these words in LXX Psalm 53 (MT 54): 1 – 4, 7:
Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For insolent men have risen against me, ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before them. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life…For you have delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
Let me say once more that I do not dismiss wise preparations, but for us who are of faith there are other activities that prepare us for evil times — activities that will strengthen our resolve spiritually. To prepare for the possibility of being contemporary confessors we must worship God continually in spite of threat, and live the Christian life in everyday simplicity. LXX Psalm 99 (MT 100) gives this exhortation regarding worship:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name! For the Lord is good; his mercy endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Living the preparatory life spiritually extends from the corporate life to private life within home and greater community. LXX Psalm 100 (MT 101) vv 1 – 4 addresses such conduct:
I will sing of mercy and justice; to you O Lord, I will sing. I will give heed to the way that is blameless. Oh, when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is base. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. Perverseness of heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.
Furthermore, as we move with our Lord through these troubling days, we must also live in solidarity with each other and with those not of faith. We are to bless, to pray, and to give thanks. I shift from the Psalms to St. Paul:
…Be at peace among yourselves. Now we urge you brethren, to warn the idle, encourage the faint hearted, and to be patient with all. Do not repay evil for evil, but always pursue the good, both for one another and for all. Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks for all things for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do do not restrain the Spirit, do not despise prophecy; test all things and hold fast to the good. Avoid every appearance of evil. Now may the God of peace sanctify you wholly and keep your spirit, soul, and body sound and blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful and he will do this (1 Thessalonians 5: 13b – 24).
Let’s trust in God when we consider Mick and Keith’s lyric: “Mm, a flood is threatening my very life today. Gimme, gimme shelter, or I’m gonna fade away.”
Bees and hornets — they appear similar to many people, but they are very different insects. I’m no entomologist, yet, let me bore you with the taxonomical distinctions:
|Kingdom: animal||Kingdom: animal|
|Phylum: arthropoda (exoskeleton and jointed legs)||Phylum: arthropoda (exoskeleton and jointed legs)|
|Class: insecta (compound eyes, antennae, three part bodies)||Class: insecta (compound eyes, antennae, three part bodies)|
|Order: hymenoptera (membraned wings)||Order: hymenoptera (membraned wings)|
|Family: apidae||Family: vespidae|
|Genus: apis||Genus: vespa|
Bees and hornets split taxonomically at “family”. There are then other differences. Though bees and hornets (and wasps) are all social insects, they have a different diet. Bees are “vegans.” Their diet comes exclusively from pollen (which provides their source of protein and lipids), and nectar. Hornets are omnivores: they will eat fruits, but they are also hunters — eating other insects (including bees) and scavengers — eating flesh from a dead carcass.
Now, I will make distinctions from personal experience. Though bees will sting, I am not allergic to the venom of a bee. Hornets could kill me if I should receive enough venom from multiple stings. Thus, personally, I make the distinction that bees are “good” because there is no threat from them. However, hornets are “bad” because they could kill me. Based on this I could be justified to kill every hornet that comes within striking distance: “It’s you or me!” Or, to use the title of both a McCartney song and Bond movie in which it was heard: “Live and let die!”
When mowing the lawn, I will patiently wait for bees (of all varieties) to fly off the flowering weed they occupy before moving forward on the lawn tractor/mower. I wish them no harm, especially since their numbers are declining. I avoid hornets (often wishing them death). During a brief vacation in late August, 2021, while my wife and I stayed at a wonderful “B and B” in Lewiston, Idaho (Prospet Manor) which offered a swimming pool, there was a bee in the pool. I assumed it could not escape the water. I cupped my hands and lifted it out of the water and set it on the pool’s deck (above photo). Moments later I spotted a hornet in the water –sure death by drowning if not rescued from the water. Dare I also save it from sure death? I pondered the ethical dilemma. I observed again the friendly, good bee. It was grooming itself. I smiled at its behavior. I looked at the “evil” hornet. It would want life as did the bee. Why should I not rescue it? I cupped my hands around it and brought it out of the water onto the pool’s deck. I got out of the pool and sat near the good, safe bee, but a very safe distance from the bad, menacing hornet (which I did not photograph!). Within a few minutes, both flew away. I noted that my “irrational kindness” to the hornet was, evidently, no threat to my life.
So, I come to this day and time, and our perceived assessments of our fellow humans. We all have the tendency, or the temptation, to put people into convenient categories of “good” and “bad; “safe” and “unsafe.” We distinguish often by appearances. We now even judge on the basis a political slogan, of even if someone is masked or unmasked in these deranged days. This is contrary to the ways of God who does not judge on appearances, and is no respecter of status. St. Paul gives us this directive: “Let your gentleness (or forbearance) be made know to all men, for the Lord is near” (Phil 4: 5). And in her Divine Liturges we pray understanding that God is God of all and is able to transform us all:
Preserve the good in goodness, and make the evil be good by Thy goodness… Remember, O Lord our God, all those who entreat Thy great loving-kindness; those who love us and those who hate us…(from the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil)
Among us every day there are bees and hornets. In wisdom we should stay away from both bee hives and hornet nests unless properly protected and experienced. Humans aren’t as easily identified as these insects, though we are to act wisely, even prudently among our fellow citizens at times. However, in all honesty, we may make errors in our assessments based upon appearances — some we see as “bees” may be “hornets” in disguise, and the opposite being true as well. Be ready to assist and aid any one that can be helped. I again quote St. Paul “…always pursue the good, both for one another [the faithful] and for all [the rest of humanity]” (1 Thes 5: 15).
In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul informs us that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” St. Paul writes of the saints of the Old Testament, and those — perhaps even recently martyred by the Empire — of great faith in the early Church. This cloud of witnesses has expanded over the centuries of the Church. No matter in which country or era, the saints have one thing in common — a heroic faith in Christ that allowed them, by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, to deny themselves, and strive to have Christ formed in their lives as they grew in the Christian faith.
Their holiness didn’t come about by binge-watching a Netflix or BritBox serials ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The formation of Christ in their lives came with difficulty, great struggle, and many frustrations, as they moved to ultimate victory in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel we read this: “And someone said to him, ‘will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Struggle [agonizesthe] to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not able to enter.’” (Luke 13:23 – 24). The Greek verb found in the text, agonizesthai, can be translated “to struggle”, “to fight”, to “compete” (as an athlete). Think of great athletes and musicians who succeeded in accomplishing their goals. There were tears of anguish, setbacks, failures, aches and pains. But they continued in discipline and struggle that others wouldn’t (or couldn’t) attempt. Their rewards were their recognized victories.
As we move on in the gospel text, Jesus continues,
When the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us.” He will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!” There you will weep and gnash your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south and sit at table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13: 25 – 29).
Jesus speaks against those who presume — in this case many Jews of his day. But such deadly presumption is found elsewhere and among others today, perhaps even in ourselves. No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do, we cannot presume that all things will “be just be fine.”
Again we must struggle and fight — against such lazy presumption — to grow in faith, purity, and love. We must all struggle in accordance with the measure of faith given to us. Also, we must understand that while we compete in this struggle we will fall down and fail many times. When this happens we have the sacrament of Confession by which God lifts us up and cleanses us to continue on our way through the narrow door. We are also given the Liturgy’s movement to the Eucharist where, by the Body and Blood of Christ, we are, by faith, nourished spiritually, cleansed and forgiven, and we receive our Lord’s Light, Life, and Victory to continue on through the narrow door. We must know that, by faith, God empowers us by his presence within us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who is working in you to will and to work in behalf of his good pleasure” (Phil 2: 12 – 13).
Additionally, we are also struggling and competing together — not against one another — but for one another. We encourage and help each other by our prayers and presence while we struggle to enter through the narrow door to enter into the Kingdom of God.
In his letter to the Church in Galatia, St. Paul wrote these incredible words: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal 2: 20). This declaration comes after his arguments are made against the teachings made by certain Jews who came to faith in Christ. These Jews demanded that Gentile Christians take on circumcision and live according to the Law of Moses. St. Paul firmly states the opposite: salvation only comes through faith in Christ, not by adhering to the Law: “…a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Gal 2 16).
St. Paul, after the above statement, continues,
For I, through the Law, died to the Law, in order that I might live to God. I was crucified together with Christ: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith through the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal 2: 19 – 20).
“I was crucified together (sunestauromai) with Christ…” These words imply union. When Christ died by crucifixion on the cross St. Paul was also there in that moment. He too was suspended on that wood. And so are we who live today. His and our union with Christ’s crucifixion is brought about by the sacrament of Baptism. We read this in St. Paul’s letter to the ancient Roman church:
Therefore, we were buried together (sunetaphemen) with him through baptism (dia tou baptismos) [this phrase in the genitive case shows that baptism is the agent by which this union is brought about for us], in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
We can walk in newness of life because Christ is living in us through faith and by sacrament.
St. Paul is speaking of a true relational, ontological, union: We are in Christ; Christ is in us. This is an abiding relationship. It is the ultimate good for humanity and creation: we are to be in Christ! Yet, we cannot leave this as simply a theological truth. If left as such, this profound existence becomes a meaningless abstraction. Being in Christ must have a goal. This goal is to have Christ manifested to the world by our lives! This is a lofty goal; a tall order.
This expression cannot be brought about by vain human effort. Christ manifested by our lives can only come about by the fact that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit resides in us by faith and sacrament. By God working in us is this accomplished. We cannot be passive. We must cooperate with the God who dwells in us. We must do to become.
Let me give a physical illustration. I play the guitar. Simply buying a guitar did not make me a player of the instrument. I struggled (and still struggle to be better) to acquire the needed skills. New neuromuscular connections and pathways had to be created, and are still being created by practice. Whatever the goal, we must work and struggle. This leads to PRAXIS — what one does, because this is who you are.
St. Paul gives this command to us: “…with fear and trembling work out your salvation, for God is the one working (energon) in you both to will and to work (energein) in behalf of his good pleasure. The word in italics, work, implies the divine work of God himself in us — it is his energy. This is possible because the Triune God indwells, touches, and transforms us when we cooperate with this will and working of God.
To my Protestant brothers and sisters let me be clear: we Orthodox Christians do not teach that we merit the salvation given to humanity by all accomplished by Christ when he walked this earth. Salvation is a free gift from God. But, Christ’s salvation and life is to be worked into us that Christ might expand in us, live in us, and be recognized in us by what we do in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This day’s second gospel reading records two questions. The first was posed to Jesus by the Pharisees; the second was posed by Jesus to the Pharisees. Let’s examine the second question first. Jesus’ question to the Pharisees is this: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
The Pharisees give their answer: he is the son of David.
Jesus replies, “Then, why does David in the spirit call him Lord, saying, ‘the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I might place your enemies beneath your feet’. Therefore, if David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Our Lord’s reply asks for some clarification. David would NOT call any biological son or descendant LORD! As the King of Israel, in fact, he would not address any man as Lord. The Pharisees would not answer because they understood the significance of their answer: The Messiah is more than human, indeed he is God. Our Lord is not being too subtle here, he makes a bold declaration about himself.
There are other places in the gospels where Jesus declares himself to be God. We find this in example St. John’s gospel account of Jesus walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee. We find this in St. John 6: 19 – 20:
Therefore, after they had come twenty-five to thirty stadia, they observed Jesus walking upon the sea and coming near the boat, and they were afraid. But, Jesus says to them, “I am (ego eimi): do not fear.”
The Greek phrase ego eimi is to call the reader to another event in Exodus: God’s self-revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush. The Septuagint text of the Old Testament when translated reads, “And God said to Moses, ‘I am the One who Is’ (ego eimi ho on), and he said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, The One who Is has sent me [Moses] to you’” (Ex 3: 14). Additionally, Jesus also declares his deity to the Jews in St. John 8: 58, “…Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham existed, I am (ego eimi).
Though the Pharisees were unwilling to answer Jesus’ question, we can conclude that Jesus is God. He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and Creator. He is our Savior. With this information there are implications to be considered.
Let’s now turn to the first question. Jesus is asked by one of the lawyers in testing:
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered him,
You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second one is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets (Mt 22: 39).
Personal love for God is not an intellectual exercise, or abstraction. It is manifested not only by acts of devotion and the praise of God through worship. Our love for God is perfected by our love for others — by what we do and say to one another. The converse of this is equally true: if we hate our neighbor, then we declare hatred of God.
Our present condition is more than challenging. We live in divided, polarizing times. Here is this most obvious example of our present day. We attack one another based upon opposing political opinions. We have witnessed vicious attacks, not just in the secular media, but also in settings that are somewhat more personal. In this latter context he outlet is usually, almost exclusively, observed in the supposed anonymity and false safety of the latrine of social media. Conservatives are ravaged by liberals, and visa versa. In a word, all of this is pathetic. On Facebook and other sites everyone must have the last word and show oneself to be more intelligent and have greater insight than the one who is taken on as adversary.
However, in our context of our common faith and life in Christ, we should embrace the words of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…grant that I should seek not so much to be consoled, as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love…”
There is no truth or salvation found in politics. Every Christian is to understand that we are all citizens of a Kingdom. The primary sign of such citizenship is love — love for one another, love for all our neighbors, and love for the entirety of creation.
Finally, there is this to be considered. In the Orthodox Church, icons are everywhere, and everywhere venerated. We pass honor to the one portrayed by the icon whether it is Christ or a saint. An Orthodox Christian would never dishonor or defile an icon. Let me add this: humans are also icons! We all, all, bear the image of God! Hence, we are to honor one another and our neighbors. We are to love our image bearing neighbors as ourselves. If you dishonor an icon, you dishonor, the Maker of the icon! So, since Christ our Lord is God, let’s love our brothers, sisters, and all our neighbors as ourselves. By this we demonstrate true love for our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
The following is a sermon that corresponds with this posting:
Today is the sixth Sunday of Pascha, and we read from St. John 9: 1- 38, and learn of Jesus’ healing of a man born blind. This restoration of sight is the sixth sign that is reported in St. John’s Gospel. This miraculous sign occurs “that the works of God might be manifested in him.”
His healing takes place in a sacramental manner: Jesus “anoints (chrismates)” him from clay made by the mixing of Jesus’ saliva (the saliva of God) with clay on the ground (we have the union of divine and material). Jesus then instructs him to have his eyes “baptized” by washing off the anointed clay from his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. “He went and washed and came back seeing” (9: 7). With his new vision he encounters Christ:
Jesus heard that they cast him out [of the Synagogue], and when he finds him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And he answered and said, “And who is he, Lord, that I might believe in him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And he said, “I believe, Lord!” and he worshipped him (9: 35 – 38).
The Sunday after Pascha (Easter) is known as Antipascha Sunday, or also as Thomas Sunday. The day’s gospel reading gives the account of the coming of St. Thomas to faith in Jesus. Thomas doubted the word of the Apostles who saw Jesus when he commission them and he demanded proof.
“Unless I should see the impression of the nails, and put my finger into the impression of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I shall never believe. “And after eight days the disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. And while the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you.” Then he was saying to Thomas, “Bring you finger here and see my hands and bring your hand and place it into my side, and stop being faithless but faithful.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God.’”Jesus was saying to him, “Because you have seen me you believed? Blessed are who do not see and believe!” (John 20: 25 – 29).
Thomas had to see and touch. It was this irrefutable encounter that brought Thomas to faith and his own declaration of his faith in Christ, “My Lord and my God!”
In just over 30 days Jesus would be taken back into the heavens, and his glorified physical body would very, very rarely be seen again by human eyes. Thus, all who have placed their faith in Christ over the centuries have done so without seeing physical proof of Christ’s resurrected body.
Yet we believe. But, in all honesty, sometimes we must acknowledge that faith can be fragile — especially in this age of skepticism. In this generation faith is mocked, and it is called delusional. When terrible things happen in the world the faithless ridicule and ask, “Where is this God?” Yet when great good happens, God is never acknowledged as an Actor in the good.
Miracles still happen, and lives are changed by God’s grace (his energies) at work in our lives, yet…the faithful doubt at times. And the faithful can even come to a point of crisis where faith can be abandoned and they join the ranks of the secularists which abound these days. On occasion — via confession or a conversation — such doubts and questions are brought to my attention by someone (and all the clergy of this parish). What is my answer? I give an axiom: “To prove God is to live God; to live God is to prove God.” In other words, actively engage your faith in your surroundings — among those around you, in the quiet of your home, and among all of God’s creatures and creation.
I can give ordinary examples from my life regarding this psychology. if I feel tired and drained after a day of work, I find that if I exercise that fatigue is overcome and I feel strengthened and renewed. If I am feeling depressed, the depression is overcome by an act of self-giving for the good of another, however small — my good mood is then restored.
Now I offer faith’s parallel. With what ever amount of faith we possess, ACT in a manner contrary to doubt and the corruption that still abides in us. ACT in a manner contrary to the doubt of fallen human nature. CHOOSE to ACT in a manner that imitates Christ and his saints. I put forward another axiom: “We must do to become.” Think of the musician or athlete — that which is practiced is formed within the musician and athlete. The parallel of faith is this: if we practice Christ, Christ is formed and made alive in us. He is “PROVEN”! And we move from faithlessness’ death to faith’s life.
We also have this saying: “The saints prove the faith.” For my own benefit the ultimate “saint-proof” is manifested by those saints who are INCORRUPT. This is the miracle where nature’s decay following death is overcome by the divinizing energies of God which worked in them by their acts of faith. We read this from St. Paul: “Work out your own faith with fear and trembling, for God is the one energon (working) in you, and to will and to energein (to work) in behalf of his good pleasure” (Phil 2: 12, 13). It is in this verse that we learn of the “energies” of God (his grace) that God works into us for our salvation. Hence, it is by faith’s chosen actions that the reality of God is encountered and touched.
Thus, without seeing do, and by doing become, and by becoming prove Christ to yourself and to the faithless world that surrounds us.
Christ is risen!
The following is a corresponding sermon:
This is a Pascha (Easter) unlike any other. No Orthodox Christian living in the western world has a memory of a Holy Week, Holy Saturday, or Pascha such as we have experienced this year. We are in isolation, and unable to gather together to worship our Lord. The services of Holy Week and Pascha were faithfully and truly celebrated by the mandated few. Yet, this year there was no communal experience of the victorious declaration of his resurrection with the illumination of the darkened nave as the lighting of candles dispersed the night’s gloom. There was no communal joyous Paschal Matins. There was no communal hearing of the Paschal Gospel (St. John 1: 1 – 18), no communal exchange of the peace, no common movement toward Communion of his Body and Blood, no singing of the Paschal Troparion together as the assembled faithful — his Body.
I must confess to occasional pouting and sulking like a preteen this past week through yesterday. But, our risen Lord is constant even in inconstant times (even when I pout). He is truly “risen from the dead trampling down death by death…” He is constant and faithful even in this isolation caused by an unseen viral enemy. He is working in our lives in spite of absences and disruptions which are put upon us for the common good of all. He is working his Light and Life into us even in these strange days.
So, let our faith and joy “go viral!” Keep this hymn in our hearts and hold it as our prayer during this Pascha day and its season:
Thy resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angles in heaven sing! Enable us on earth to glorify thee in purity of heart.
Christ is risen!
Well over a decade ago I encountered a man who was rejecting the Church (though he was not a parishioner of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church which I serve as an assisting priest). He quoted a verse from St. Luke’s gospel to justify his departure from the Church. The verse that was shoved in my face comes from St. Luke 17:21, “…The Kingdom of God is within you.” Knowing Greek I tried to offer a correction to his misapplied verse. It did not work. Justifying himself he left the life of the Church and will not return. His conviction was that since the Kingdom of God was within him he needed no one to instruct him, and had no need to follow the ways of Christ within the context of the sacramental life and teachings of the Church. He wanted spiritual autonomy simply because he wanted to continue in an adulterous affair.
This verse from St. Luke’s gospel has been and is misused by many to justify many things — none of them come to any good. With this posting I offer a much better translation and interpretation of St. Luke 17:21. Let’s begin with the context. Jesus has gathered around him both Pharisees and his disciples: he is in the midst of this gathering. Given this setting we read this,
Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, He answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ Behold the Kingdom of God is in your midst (he basileia tou theou entos humon estin).
In the fifth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, we learn about the calling of St. Peter (along with Sts. James and John) in Luke 5: 1 – 11. Upon witnessing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter falls at Jesus knees and states, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid; from now on you’ll be catching men.” Then Peter, James, and John leave everything and begin to follow Christ.
Thus, St. Peter and all the Apostles were to gather together a scattered, lost humanity into the “boat” (nave) which is the Church. This is a picture of Recapitulation: all and all things are gathered into union with Christ (Eph 1: 9 – 10). Christ founded a Church built upon St. Peter and his confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt: 16: 15 – 20). It is in the Church that we hear the Scriptures, move through the liturgies of the Church, worship God, and participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Here we are cleansed and nourished by the Eucharist. By all this, by faith, Christ is formed in us.
Now comes a change of imagery. I will shift from the catching of schools of fish to the gathering together of charms of finches, murders of crows, and the gathering together of chickadees, nuthatches, pine siskins, and humming birds to name a few. Several years ago I began feeding birds. First I began feeding crows peanuts, then humming birds, and finally finches, and other birds that will gather at feeders. There are a number of bird feeders and bird baths around the back patio of our house. The birds are nourished, and many nesting groups are prospering in this environment (this is especially important today with the loss of habitat for many avian species). We now hear a fantastic array of voices, and observe their amusing behaviors.
But, unfortunately, there have been a small number of casualties when a bird slams into a window. A few days ago in mid-September, a gold finch was rescued. The finch slammed into the window, and I witnessed it dropping to the concrete. I immediately went outside to assess the situation. The finch was still alive, but clearly stunned by the impact. I picked up this member of my “flock” and cupped it in my hands to keep it warm. Prayers were said, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on your creature.” Its sides were gently stroked to stimulate it. Prayer and warming continued for some time. Then, I took the finch into the house. The alien surroundings aroused the bird to full consciousness. I took it back outside, and within a few moments the finch flew away from my hands to the branches of a walnut tree to rejoin its charm.
This finch happened to be rescued by a priest, and this experience soon began to be seen as an image of pastoral care. For, we too can become injured and stunned by our collisions with the events of life in this world. Upon such injuries we have two options: remain isolated, or enter into the care of the Church for spiritual revival. In the Church the injured come into the care of bishops and priests who stand as Christ for the flock — a bishop or a priest is alter Christus (“another Christ”). By such faithful and loving ministry, it is ultimately Christ who administers the needed healing within the Church which he founded.
Hence, when so injured and stunned do not isolate yourself. Come to the Church and be ministered to by its life and Sacraments. Thus, you will receive the healing care of Christ the Great Physician. You will be restored and return to flight!
The following link offers a corresponding homily:
The birth of Mary is celebrated every year on September 8. A hymn from the Liturgy of the day reads,
By your nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna [Mary’s parents] are freed from barrenness; Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, you people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: the barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life!
Given the words of that hymn, the world, and many of our Christian brethren must think us fools and mad! But, we Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth of Mary, the mother of our God, without apology and with confidence. We honor her, we do not worship her. We acknowledge her as the New Eve: her obedience in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel releases the knot of Eve’s disobedience. By Mary’s obedience, God the Son (who is the New Adam) can rescue, release, and save all of humanity. By Mary’s “YES”, God becomes fully human — a creature — and by his Incarnation gathers all of humanity and all of creation in himself in a relational union (Eph 1: 10)!
Psalm 84:1 – 3 (LXX 83: 1 – 4) reads,
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars.”
Regarding the sparrow and the swallow, the Psalmist’s observation may be taken as a side observation, taken at a glance and to be dismissed by those with the more serious mind of faith. This would prove to be an error. This “off hand” verse comes from the eye of informed, mature, and loving faith.