The gospel reading established for the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment (the final pre-Lenten Sunday in the Orthodox Church) is an amalgam of verses which come from chapter 21 of St. Luke’s gospel. The subject matter of these verses addresses the last days and Christ’s second coming. I break these verses into three sections and offer a commentary on them.
LUKE 21: 7 – 9
And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” And he said, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.
Our Lord states there will be false Christs that present themselves to the faithful to deceive and to gather to themselves followers to support their egos and pride. We are all aware of the “Moonies”, the Branch Davidians, and the now long dead “disciples” of Jim Jones. These and other frauds all met their ends, and any survivors may still cling to their lies. But, we are to know better. In many places within the Divine Liturgy, and even in greetings among Orthodox Christians, we say, “Christ is in our midst!” The reply to this is, “He is, and ever shall be!” By this declaration we inform ourselves that Christ is found among us in the Divine Liturgy, in the services of the Church, in the reading of the Scriptures, our prayers, and our hymns — and especially our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. We know that Christ is found in the Church until the day of his second and glorious coming!
LUKE 21: 25 – 27
“And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and its waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
These words of our Lord speak of political and social turmoil, and they prefigure the words from St. John’s Apocalypse. Signs in the sun, moon, and stars speak of the disruption of the standing of angelic Powers and Principalities of the heavens and the nations — there is a shift toward chaos and upheaval. The “sea and its waves” refer to masses of humanity reacting in distress, and even violence, to the political and social troubles of the day.
We have a tendency to see our days as the most pivotal and important — all else pales in comparison to our present experiences and circumstances. However important these times of the early twentieth century may be, we are not the only generation that has lived through calamity, evil and distress. Think of the Black Death that swept through so many places in Europe and Asia over so many centuries. One in three died from both bubonic and (the more lethal) pneumonic plagues. Death and despair were ever present, and this Plague brought and end to the european feudal system. Think of the horrors of World War I, the brutal chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution, the terrors brought about by Hitler and Stalin, and the global violence of World War II. Our days and their troubles may, or may not, lead to the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. In any case we are to heed Jesus’ words: “…Now when these things begin to happen, look up and raise your heads, because you deliverance is drawing near” (Luke 21: 28).
LUKE 21: 33 – 36
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be on your guard lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of everyday life, and the day come upon you suddenly as a snare; for it will come upon all who inhabit the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Given its place in the liturgical cycle of the Orthodox Church, we find ourselves on the threshold of Great Lent. We are about to reenter its disciplines, prayers, and actions. Yet, these disciplines are to have a place in every day of our lives (as are the joys of Pascha!). The troubles and trials of these days, when approached with faith, watchfulness, prayer, and thanksgiving, can be used to transform us if we encounter them in this manner. By so doing, no matter what these days bring to us, Christ will come to us and manifest his presence in us more fully and completely. Our relational union will be made more sound and whole, and Christ will be our destiny!
The following is a corresponding sermon:
Doxology comes from a Greek word: Doxa. It is generally translated as “glory”, or “splendor”. It can also be translated as “praise” or “honor”. The epistle reading set for the 35th Sunday after Pentecost comes from St. Paul’s first letter to his spiritual son, Timothy. The final verse puts forth a doxology (set forth in italics):
The saying is sure and worthy of all acceptance, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the foremost. However, it was for this I received mercy — in order that being the foremost, Christ Jesus might demonstrate all his patience for an example to those who are about to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the King of Ages, immortal, invisible, the only God be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1: 15 – 17).
Prior to these three verses, St. Paul lays out his condition to St. Timothy, “…though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim 1: 13). St. Paul describes not only himself, but every human being’s existence prior to coming to faith in Christ and receiving his mercy and forgiveness. He embraced Christ, “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1: 14).
St. Paul’s response to the grace and mercy given to him by Christ was to evangelize a great portion of Rome’s territory. He lived and proclaimed Christ everywhere he went. He also, in response to the grace and mercy he received, gave praise to Christ and to God the Father as we read in the above verses. We too are to be doxological in our lives’ responses to the mercy, forgiveness, light and life given to us in our salvation. This apostle, in his letter to the Ephesians, gives us his guidance:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5: 15 – 20).
In response to our salvation our lives are to correspond to the ways of Christ in both conduct and attitude — wise, holy living is to be coupled with joy, love and gratitude. A prayer from the First Hour can become a personal prayer: “Let my mouth be filled with your praise, O Lord, that I may sing of your glory and majesty all the day long.” Live doxologically!
The link is to a corresponding homily given 2/7/21:
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.
In this eighth week after Pentecost, we have as the Gospel reading St. Matthew’s account of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Mt 14: 14 -22). This miracle comes after the execution of St. John the Baptist. Upon hearing the news of his cousin’s death, Jesus, by boat, departs to a deserted place alone with his disciples. But his solitude did not last long — a large crowd followed him from the surrounding towns and villages. Looking at the crowd’s condition, Jesus has mercy on them and heals their illnesses.
The hour grows late, and the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd that they might buy food in the surrounding villages. But, Jesus has something different in mind. He offers a surprising and perplexing suggestion to them: “You give them something to eat!” Only five loaves of bread and two fish were in in the disciples’ possession. This limited supply did not hinder our Lord’s next action: in that grassy area he commanded the crown to sit down. Jesus not only healed their illness, but intended to feed them to their satisfaction. He served them not only the simple staples of bread and fish, but gave of himself (in typological fashion) to those reclining to be filled and sustained. The five loaves of bread point to him because Jesus the Bread of Life. Additionally, the two fish also refer to him: the Greek word ichthus (fish) was understood by the early Church to serve as this acronym, Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.
With what is laid out at this point, I ask one to think of the Last Supper (which serves as the institution of the Eucharist). Jesus’ actions are similar in this miraculous feeding. He takes the gifts offered to him, and after he looks up to heaven, he blessed them, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute to those awaiting a meal. I find in agreement with this understand of this miracle in the words an apostle who was with Christ that day. St. John, in the sixth chapter of his gospel, sees this parallel and alters Jesus’ actions in the Feeding of the 5,000 to correspond directly to his actions in the Last Supper. If one examines St. Mark’s account of the Last Supper, one will note that St. John has Jesus’ words and actions to correspond to his actions and words found in St. Mark’s recording of the Last Supper (refer to another posting of mine which details this subject in detail Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part One: The Feeding of the 5,000 (6: 1 – 15)). With the above in mind, we can imagine Jesus saying quietly to himself: “Take, eat, this is my Body which will soon be broken…”
The Eucharist offers its own similarities: the actions of bishops and priests are the same with the Bread which has become his Body for our holy consumption. We have this from the Divine Liturgy in the part of the Anaphora knowns the Fractioning: “Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God: broken yet not divided; ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof.”
There are other parallels. As that crowd assembled from differing places to be before Christ, so do we assemble before Christ from differing places. We assemble together to come before Christ as the Body of Christ. Here, in and as the Church, the assembled ONE Body of Christ will receive by faith the ONE Body and Blood of Christ. We assemble together before Christ: young, old; male, female; tall, short; working, retired; of varied races, ethnicities, and life experiences. We share the Peace of Christ together as ONE Body to receive his ONE Body and Blood.
Let’s examine St. Paul’s epistle which was read and heard today (1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18). In this reading we learn that in ancient Corinth there were divisions stemming from the question, who was baptized by whom? The faithful in that city were missing the big picture: no matter who baptized them, they were all baptized into Christ. St. Paul calls them out on their divisions as he would call us out on today’s cultural, societal, economic, and WORSE — political divisions. Such divisions, especially political divisions, have no place here, and will ultimately be of no importance when we stand before Christ enthroned!
Recently at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church two of our deacons’ sermons have addressed divisions, opinions, and the need to uphold and support one another in our common life together in Christ. We are all in Christ, and make up his one Body, the Church. So, whether assembled together for the Eucharist, or scattered back to homes and work places, we are to uphold one another in spite of differences. This is our calling, that we, the ONE Body of Christ can, in love, peace, and strength, always come together to receive in love and peace the ONE Body and Blood of Christ who is our Lord, God, and Savior.
The following is a link to the corresponding sermon:
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).
Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Four: The Poetic Parallelism of St. John 6: 50 – 51Posted: March 29, 2020
Ancient authors wrote differently than modern authors of poetry, prose and narrative. The ancient authors wrote using fixed forms that aided in imparting meaning and emphasis. These forms were also employed to aid in memorization of their works. These fixed forms abound in the Christian Scriptures — both Old and New Testaments. One such literary form is parallelism. Parallelism is found throughout the poetry of the Old Testament, and then especially in the Psalms. These poetic structures can also be found in the New Testament, and one such example can be found in St. John 6: 50 – 51. Before examining this text, let’s first consider the three basic types of parallelism found in the Scriptures: synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic/stair-step (although scholars can define other types in addition to these three). I quote from Psalms — Reading and Studying the Book of Praises by W. H. Bellinger, Jr. (Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 13.
Synonymous parallelism. The second line enhances the thought of the first by way of closely related statement:
What is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him? (Ps 8:4)…
Antithetical parallelism. The second line may complete a thought by presenting a contrast to the first line:
For the wicked shall be cut off;
but those who wait for the Lord shall possess the land. (Ps 37:9)…
[Synthetic] Stair-step parallelism. The second line may continue the thought of the first and take it a step further:
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods. (Ps 95:3)
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).
We read of a wealthy ruler’s encounter with Christ in St. Luke’s gospel. He begins a conversation with him by his question, “What shall I do that I might inherit eternal like?” By their dialogue we learn that he kept all the rules. However, Jesus moves deeper: “Yet, there is one thing you still lack. Sell everything you have, and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me” (18:22)
This wealthy man had to give. But, he had to give from the core of his being. His whole identity was in his wealth. He was defined by his wealth. His wealth sheltered him, clothed him well, fed him well. By it he was able to move through life with status, privilege, ease, and comfort. But the cost was too dear.
We are asked to give — usually not to the same extent — but we are to give. We can write a check, contribute on-line, or drop some cash in a box. Quite easy, and we don’t break a sweat. But, as was the wealthy ruler, we are sometimes asked to give from a deeper place, a costlier place. What might this mean? Let’s look to Jesus for the answer. He gave himself, he emptied himself — all done that he could receive us to himself in relational union with him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
What prevents us from giving in this manner? Self preservation. I refer to Jesus’ words found earlier in St. Luke’s gospel: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (St. Luke 9: 24). It seems then, that ultimately we must give from that place we keep locked up tight and secure for our self preservation. It is from this vault that we need to reach into when called upon from time to time.
Again remember our Lord: he was self-giving, and other-receiving. This transaction of self is eucharistic. In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself anew to us via the bread which becomes his Body and the wine which becomes his Blood. In the Eucharist we have Christ welcoming us to himself as we move to his Banquet Table. We, by consuming his Body and Blood, have Christ entering into our being, and we are joined more fully to Christ. Thus, when we give of ourselves to and for others, and we receive others to ourselves, we extend to Eucharist to all and all things. Ultimately by this type of giving we receive Christ more fully into our lives.
I am reminded of the words of St. Francis: “It is in giving that we receive…” The wealthy man, had he given, would have received far more in return than that which he had to give up. He would have received Christ in return. Let us give eucharistically that we may gain Christ more fully.
St. Luke’s gospel gives us the account of Jesus’ healing of ten lepers (17: 11 – 19). They stood at a distance as he passed by — they were unclean, excised from society by their disease from all relationships and cultural participation. They were exiles in their own land. Yet, by faith, they boldly call out for God’s mercy to come upon them. And Jesus responds to their plea: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” St. Luke comments, “And as they went they were cleansed.” Their bodies were restored, and their stigma was washed away. They were restored to family, community, and communal worship.
All obeyed. They did precisely as they were told. Let me be clear, obedience to God’s command and will is always good! But, we should be honest with ourselves: sometimes it is minimal and superficial. It can be as a child’s response, “If I have to!”
As the text moves on we read,
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan (17: 15 – 16).
The tenth, now healed, leper awakens to his salvation, and he responds to his healing with praise, worship, and thanks. This foreign leper responded to Jesus eucharisticallly. Jesus observes the contrast and remarks,
…Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? And he said to him, Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well (17:17 – 19).
Let’s consider obedience and duty in the context, first, of the worship of God in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. We have responded to the call to worship when we assemble within the walls of the church. This is good — neither did we sleep in on a Sunday morning, nor stay home to relax, or watch the game. This is good. But as stated above, sometimes our obedient assembly can be minimal and superficial. We need to be mindful that by our presence in the Divine Liturgy we’ve assembled to worship and praise the Triune God, and to give thanks to our God. We read this dialogue between priest and the faithful from the beginning of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy:
Priest: Let us lift up our hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord.
People: It is proper and right.
The priest then continues,
It is proper and right to hymn You, to bless You, to give thanks to You, and to worship You in every place of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us Your kingdom which is to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that you have bestowed upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands…
From this we learn that we are to give thanks to God not only during our assembly for worship, but also “…in every place of your dominion.” Now, in this second context, we are to give thanks to God everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances in which we find ourselves. St. Paul instructs us from his first letter to the faithful in first century Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all things; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thes 5: 16 – 18). By this attitude and these actions we extend our worship of God from the context of the Divine Liturgy to the context of our every day lives. We are to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to God in every situation: the pleasant and the uncomfortable; the exciting and the mundane; the happy and the sad; in ease and in frustration.
By living doing so we live eucharistically. By doing so we are transformed more fully into the image of God — Christ is form fully formed in us. By doing so we manifest Christ into the circumstance and transform it. By doing so we live as the thankful tenth leper.
Annually in the Orthodox Church there are commemorations of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. There were seven of them. This Sunday, July 14, 2019, I served as a substitute priest at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Bellingham, Washington for Fr. Michael Tervo. The Greek Orthodox Church focused on the Fourth Council — the Council of Chalcedon — and its Definition of Chalcedon, as penned by Pope Leo the Great. The key statement of this Council involved the hypostatic union — that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. These two natures (divine and human) exist in the one Person of Jesus Christ in an indissoluble union. These two natures, while in union, are, at the same time, never in confusion. This definition is in response to the false teaching of Nestorius. This heretical bishop essentially made Jesus into two separate persons: one divine and one human. There could be no union of the two natures in his mind. Nestorius tried to give the Church a Christ with a multiple personality disorder. His view was rightly rejected and judged as heresy. Jesus is NOT an “either-or,” he is a “both-this-and-that.”
The gospel reading put forward by the Greek Archdiocese comes from Mt 5:14 – 19. Verse 14 grabbed my attention which quotes Jesus: “You are the light of the world…” Elsewhere, in St. John’s gospel, Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8: 12). Both statements from the Scriptures are true. It is not an either-or proposition, it is “both-this-and-that.”
The third Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of the Cross. Its gospel reading comes from Mark 8:34 – 9:1. Mark 8:34 reads, “And after receiving the crowd together with his disciples he said to them, ‘If someone wills to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’”
We do not do this alone, our Lord always leads us in the way. A few verses earlier he states, “…it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer much, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and to be killed and after three days to rise again (8:31).” Following Jesus’ words, Peter rebukes him, then Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me Satan…” Peter had the way of world in mind: SELF PRESERVATION.
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).
St. Peter had a life changing encounter with Christ one day along the Sea of Gennesaret. Christ was teaching the crowd a short distance off the shore in St. Peter’s boat. After he concludes his teaching, he instructs St. Peter to put out in the water and drop his nets. St. Peter reluctantly agrees. The result was an incredible, miraculous catch of fish. His response to Jesus was an emphatic: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8). Jesus does not leave. He remains in the sinner’s presence and says to him, “Fear not! From now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5: 10).
St. Peter’s response should be the response of all of us. We are to acknowledge our sinfulness in the understanding of the holiness of God Incarnate — Jesus of Nazareth. Sin cannot exist in the presence of an all holy God. Darkness can have no fellowship with light. Psalm 5 informs us of this truth. Its words speak to St. Peter’s self understanding at the moment he encountered the presence of holiness, “For you are not a god who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with you” (Psalm 5: 4). But, we have Jesus’ words: “Fear not!” For Christ did not come into the world to judge it, but to save it. We find this famous verse in St. John’s gospel: “For thus God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John3: 16).
This third part of my commentary on St. John chapter six may seem out of sequence — I should be writing about Christ’s “Bread of Life Discourse” which begins with St. John 6:25. However, I have put things in this order to counter an objection made by evangelicals and others who employ a single verse in their attempt to negate Christ’s own teaching about the Eucharist — that his Body and Blood are real food and drink to be consumed for eternal life and union that is to exist with him and the believer. The verse which they employ is St. John 6: 63, “It is the Spirit which brings life, the flesh counts for nothing: the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” This verse is used by evangelicals, and other Protestants, to state that Jesus did not mean what he said, he was just speaking symbolically, and we do not really consume his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is a very weak argument, but much confidence is falsely placed in its usage. Examination of the context of this verse with the whole of St. John’s gospel reveals the exact opposite: those who reject this teaching have only carnal understanding and cannot understand the ways of the spiritual life of faith in Christ.
This year, per the calendar, the seventh Sunday after Pentecost was quite full in terms of its readings. The Church commemorated the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils, and the Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev, Equal to the Apostles. Great Vespers put forth six Old Testament readings. There were three epistle and three gospel readings set for the Divine Liturgy. I did not count all the scriptural verses read, but St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans chapter nine, verses 1 – 7 held my attention, especially Romans 9: 7, “Welcome one another, just as Christ welcomed you unto the glory of God.” This verse is eucharistic at its core.
This Sunday’s gospel reading, the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, comes from St. Matthew who records the healing of a paralytic. The paralytic was brought by friends before Christ on his pallet to be healed. Their faith brought them to Jesus: “And Jesus, observing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mt 9: 2).
The gospel text two weeks prior to this Sunday put forward the the account of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s paralyzed and suffering servant (Mt 8: 5 – 13). In this reading, Jesus observed the remarkable faith of the gentile centurion. In both cases Jesus observed faith, and his observation led to his healing action.
There are often obstacles to the exercise of faith. The centurion had no obstacle placed before him. His access was immediate. The paralytic and his companions had a different situation. Jesus statement, “your sins are forgiven”, is met with the Jewish scribes objection: “This is blasphemy!” The scribes of the Law tried to shut things down by their supposed authority. However, it is Jesus who has true authority! He then speaks to the scribes: “In order that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, “Get up! Take up your pallet and go to your own home” (Mt 9: 6).
The paralytic and his companions had faith. By that faith which Christ observed, he acted to bring healing without any regard to the scribes’ powerless barrier which they put up to stop our Lord.
We too have our own infirmities and paralyses which are primarily spiritual. We approach Christ with our faith no matter how weak or feeble our faith may seem to us.