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.
I named a palm tree (Big Leaf), and have spoken to it on more than one occasion. Wait! Please, wait! Don’t send for the “nice men” quite yet! Please, read this posting before you make the call.
This “insanity” all happened one Wednesday morning while on vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico’s Emerald Bay resort. I had finished an abbreviated Matins (Orthos) on the balcony overlooking a gorgeous infinity pool and the Pacific Ocean. I then began reading Psalm 84 (LXX 83). There was a steady breeze off the ocean which moved a broad, tough leaf of a palm tree between the spokes of the balcony’s railing. The large leaf was moved to the left, to the right, but always paused in a middle position in front of me before the back and forth motion resumed. I read this, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God (Ps 84: 3)” I thought of God’s care and love for all of his creation, and that as Christians we are to care for, and bring dignity and blessing to every creature.
Christian salvation is far more than a juridical proclamation of innocence: it is relational. Our salvation is an ontological union with the Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. This union with Christ imparts to us our destiny in Christ. St. Paul writes of our union in Christ:
Therefore, if you were raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Think of the things above, not upon the things on earth. For you died [together with Christ] and your life has been hidden together with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, who is your life, might be revealed, then also you will be revealed together with him in glory (Col 3: 1 – 4).
Our lives are to correspond to this reality, and we are to “Put to death, therefore, the ‘earthly’ aspects of your life: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). This list is not limited to these sins — St. Paul expects us to get the idea.
We are to have an additional response which requires positive action. As we are to eliminate corrupting habits, we also are to acquire new habits, new virtues:
Therefore, clothe yourselves, as the elect of God holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfection. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you were called in one body. And become thankful (Col 3: 12 – 15).
In his epistle (letter) to the Church in Galatians, St. Paul writes,
But knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we believed in Christ Jesus, in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law, because by works of the Law no flesh is justified (Gal 2: 16).
Here, St. Paul writes of the Mosaic Law — the Law given to Moses by God in the Sinai wilderness. This Law helped define the Jewish people, and set them apart from their Gentile counterparts. However, through much of his ministry St. Paul battled the Judaizers. These were Jews who came to faith in Christ, but insisted Gentile converts to Christ become subject to the Mosaic Law, chiefly circumcision. In brief, St. Paul countered their argument by stating, “if you Jews cannot keep the Law, why do you want to impose it upon Gentiles?”
“Oh! Who can be ever tired of Bath?”, writes Jane Austen. I think I get it. The highlight of a recent vacation in August, 2017 to the UK and Ireland was hands down Bath, England. Bath is some distance west and a bit to the south from London. Prior to my time in this city, I knew Bath for its famous Roman Baths, its cathedral, the lovely Avon River, and of course, Jane Austen (and, yes, there is a Jane Austen museum). I had seen photos and videos of all the above, its Georgian architecture, and surrounding countryside, but nothing compared to the actual experience of three days in the city.
This Sunday’s gospel reading comes from St. Matthew 4: 18 – 23. Here, Jesus calls his first disciples: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John. All four men were by occupation fishermen. Our Lord calls them as we read in Mt 4: 19 – 22:
And he says to them [Peter and Andrew], “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother in the boat with their father Zebedee repairing their nets, and he called them. And they immediately left their boat and father and followed him.
These and the other Apostles, and the whole cohort of Jesus’ first disciples, became fishers of men. Their apostolic ministry gathered Jews and Gentiles alike to Christ, that all may be in Christ, and all may exist in the Ship, the Nave, which is the Church. And it is in this Ship that we are transformed into the image of Christ. (It is interesting to note that though we are likened to fish, yet we are to become like the Fish — the Ixthus — the Greek word for fish which became an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”)
Fishing can be a wonderful past-time. It can also be frustrating. Though getting “skunked” presents its disappointment, nothing is more frustrating than the inexplicable, insoluble, and massive knot that can come off the bail. There is no time to undo the undoable. You cut, retie as quickly as possible, and cast again. Fortunately, God has patience with such messes.
The Fall produced its own insoluble knot. Pride, deceit, disobedience, cowardice, and capitulation destroyed the simplicity and clarity of the Garden. The “No!” shouted out by our first parents drew all of humanity and all of creation into the massive tangle of the knot of sin, death, darkness, and alienation. All of human history existed in this tangle of misery. However, we weren’t left in this twisted prison: “But when the fulness of time came, God sent his Son, born from woman…” (Gal 4: 4).
I am told I come from Irish and Welsh ancestry. These ancestors likely fled to America to escape famine and poverty. Thus, with the last name of Williams, I have no reason to doubt the claim. I do recall two very ancient great aunts who were from Ireland visiting my father’s and uncles when I was a small child. They spoke an unintelligible form of English, and they scared me quite a bit. Yet, I never thought that much of my Irish/Welsh heritage until much later in life — not until my theological conversion from evangelicalism to all things catholic, and then becoming an Orthodox Christian and priest — was any importance realized. This posting is not much more than a sharing of my photos, experiences, and thoughts of too short a time in that lovely country.
During late August, 2017, my wife (Janice), my cousin (Charlie), his wife (Renee), and their daughter (Charlene), and I were in our final days of a wonderful vacation to England, Wales, and Ireland. Our first experience of Ireland was in the wonderful city of Dublin. I was coming down with a head cold whose grip began to be felt while flying from Glasgow to Dublin — some of my energies were spent concocting the perfect “cocktail” of prednisone, decongestants, and antihistamines (no worries…I am also a pharmacist!). However, the remaining energies were devoted to our Irish experience.
St. Gregory was born in Constantinople in the year 1296. He was born to an aristocratic family. His father was in service to Emperor Andronicus II Paleologos. His father died while Gregory was relatively young, and is then raised by the Emperor. His intelligence and abilities were recognized, and he received the finest education available to him. Though the Emperor hoped Gregory would serve his government, the young man desired to serve Christ instead. His monastic life began when he was about 20 years old on Mt. Athos at the monastery of Vatopedi.
His monastic disciplines grew at various monasteries under a variety of teachers, as did his spirit in Christ. Then, in 1326, he and other brothers escaped Turkish invasion and fled to Thessalonica where he was ordained a priest. After some time, he gathered together a small community near the city. In 1331 he returned to Mt Athos and began to write theological works (he was in his mid-thirties). During this decade all changed for Gregory.
October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses against the contemporary expression of the Roman Catholic Church. Granted, many of his objections were justified, but Luther could not maintain control of the forces of the Reformation. Because of other radical personalities of the day, the consequences of his actions — ultimately — led not to a reformation, but a deformation of the Christian faith.
The resulting theological assumptions of the Reformation include, among others, Sola Fide (meaning justification/salvation by faith alone). In this posting I will only discuss “by faith alone.”
The Tower of London. It has quite a name. It is quite a place. From it you see the London Bridge and the Thames and a great deal of modern, bustling London. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourist destination. However, its name for most denotes imprisonment, pain, and death. That was not its initial purpose. It was built to show the wealth and power of William the Conquerer. In actuality, few met their deaths within its walls, but it did serve as a prison and a very dark place for many. Among those imprisoned and tortured in the Tower was St. Henry Walpole.