“The Only Living Boy in New York” is my favorite song by Simon and Garfunkel. It was one of their final songs as a duo being recorded in late 1969. Its origin comes from Art Garfunkel’s departure from New York to Mexico to film “Catch 22” (“Tom, get your plane ride on time / I know your part’ll go fine / Fly down to Mexico…”). It is a great acoustic guitar song, with wonderful melody and lush vocals. The song’s bridge in its final presentation is fantastic fun to play, but it’s the lyrics of the bridge that win my attention:
“Half of the time we’re gone / But we don’t know where / And we don’t know where.”
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.
Within the salvific model of Christus Victor there is the wonderful concept, or better, aspect of recapitulation. Since this posting is part three of a primer of Christus Victor, let me move immediately to the New Testament, specifically St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians:
Having declared to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he intended for him [Christ], for the purpose of the fulness of time: to gather together all things [anakephalaiosasthai ta panta] in Christ, those things in the heavens, and those things on earth (Eph 1: 9 – 10).
A REVERSAL OF MISFORTUNES (STEP BY STEP)
STEP ONE: We must have a different spiritual being who approaches the woman — one who is holy and truthful. The following New Testament passages come from St. Luke’s Gospel:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee by the name of Nazareth towards a virgin having been betrothed to a man by the name of Joseph from the House of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary. And upon approaching her he said, “Greetings, one-having-been-graced, the Lord is with you (Luke 1: 26 – 28).
Gabriel, unlike the serpent of old, does not deceive. He clearly declares his message:
And the angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, for you shall conceive, and the Son born of you will name Jesus. He shall be great and be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David. And he shall rule over the House of David forever and his Kingdom shall not end (Luke 1: 30 – 33).
Cur Deus Homo? , or, “why did God become man?” This is the historic question asked by Anselm of Canterbury. In answering this question, he set forth the typical western, and has arguably become the dominant Protestant, view of salvation. By extension, his answer puts forward the typical (again dominant Protestant) view of salvation — substitutionary atonement. Here, God the Son became human to satisfy the Father’s just demand for satisfaction for humanity’s rebellion against his will. God the Father pours out his wrath against humanity on his Son — Jesus dies a horrid death and the Father is satisfied. From this humanity’s sin debt is paid by Christ, and we are in a legal right standing with God the Father — we have peace with God. To the Eastern Church, this is foreign, and somewhat repugnant. As a historic, and ancient, alternative the Eastern Church puts forth the model of salvation known as Christus Victor. A primer is set forth in the following postings.
The Sixth Sunday of Pascha gives to the Church the account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. In this Sunday’s gospel reading (John 9: 1 – 38), Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned that he was born blind. Was it the parents or the man? Jesus answers, “Neither this one nor his parents sinned.” Our Lord gives the ultimate answer: “[He was born blind] in order that the works of God might be manifested in him” (John 9: 3). This is an astounding answer, and it should speak volumes to us as we move through the difficulties of our lives.
We have asked this question, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?” We have heard others ask the question as well. The common, unthinking — usually unspoken — answer is “I don’t know.” But, it reveals more of the person when an addendum is added to the question: “Why didn’t this happen to someone else?” To this question the answer is, “To whom would you have this happen? To whom would you wish your misfortune?” No one wants difficulties, hardships, misfortunes, or suffering. But, though unwanted, they come our way and mess up our happy lives. Thus, when the question is asked, “Why me?”, let our answer be, “In order that the work of God might be manifested in me!” When we give this answer, we answer in faith. Further, we bring to life St. Paul’s teaching: “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5: 16 – 18). With this answer and purpose in mind, I wish to offer this understanding of this day’s gospel.
Prior to today’s theme, we have read of the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection: the apostle St. Thomas, and then the myrrh bearing women. These two Sundays’ themes declare to us the fact of the resurrection. Today’s theme is quite different: we are asked to confront the weaknesses and sins which remain in our lives in light of our Lord’s resurrection. This day, we return to a lenten-like consciousness to bring our lives in line with Christ’s light and life.
The gospel reading comes from John 5: 1 – 15. We have a description of the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem, and we are informed the pool was surrounded by the ill, the blind, the paralyzed, and the crippled. They all waited for the pool’s water to be “disturbed” by an angel: the first one in upon the disturbance was cured. Among those near the pool was a paralytic who “was ill for 38 years.” Jesus approaches the man (whose name is not given) and asks him: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5: 6). This man then explains his dilemma: “I have no man that could cast me into the pool when the water is disturbed. While I am going another descends into the pool before me” (John 5: 7). Jesus then acts to heal him apart from the pool’s water. “Jesus says to him, ‘arise, take up you mat and walk.’ And immediately the man became healed and took up his mat and walked” (John 5: 8 – 9).
The Agape Vespers, which close the first day of the Feast of Feasts, put forward the Gospel reading of John 20: 19 – 25. In this passage, Jesus appears to the disciples in his glorified body. He commissions them as his apostles, exhales the Holy Spirit to them, and then is gone. Thomas was absent. Upon his return the others declare to him their experience, and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. But, Thomas doubts: “Unless I cast my finger into the nail wholes in his hands, and cast my hand into his side [wound from the roman’s spear], I shall not believe” (John 20: 25). His doubts will last only another week:
And after eight days his disciples were inside and Thomas was with them. While the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you.” Then he says to Thomas, “Place your finger here and behold my hands and cast you hand into my side, and do not be faithless, but faithful!” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 26 – 28).
Joy, gratitude (or thankfulness), and trust are attitudes of faith. These are not optional, but are essential. By the exercise of these attitudes, they are strengthened within our lives and become attributes. By such exercise, faith is increased in our lives. The exercise of these attitudes also leads to deeper prayer, charity, and discipline, and other virtues of our faith. Psalm 15, according to the Septuagint accounting of the Psalms, Psalm 16 by the Masoretic accounting (common in western traditions), is an inspired declaration of joy, gratitude and trust.
When the Church comes to Forgiveness Sunday, she is at the very threshold of Lent. Lent begins the next day, and we then walk in its themes, hymns, and preparations for the coming glorious day of Pascha. During the weeks of Lent, we are not to be grumbling about its disciplines. Even more, we are not to be gloomy and downcast. No, we are to engage Lent with a joyful, thankful energy. Why? Because we are to engage these weeks working with the Holy Spirit that we might be revived spiritually.
The Sunday of the Prodigal Son is the second pre-Lenten Sunday. The gospel reading for the day, is of course, from St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ parable. This parable is well known — even among those who embrace secularism and have never heard from, or read from, the Scriptures.
As we all know, a father’s youngest, selfish, and ungrateful son shockingly asks his father for his portion of his inheritance while his father is still alive. The father agrees and gives it to this son. The son of course leaves for a distant country where he squanders his wealth in immoral living. He comes to poverty, and a famine hits this land. He is forced to the despicable role of tending swine. He awakens to his condition and repents. He plans to return to his father, family, and home, but as a hireling — he is no longer worthy of sonship. His rehearsed confession before his father is composed, “I have sinned before heaven, and before you!” He journeys home in shame. However, his father graciously embraces his repentant son. The son is clothed, welcomed, and feasted back into the company of the family — as a son! All is forgiven, and all is restored!
A passage from St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews regarding Jesus Christ as our High Priest reads,
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself (Heb 7: 26 — 27).
The phrase in the above text of interest is “once for all” coming from the Greek word ephapax. This word has brought about a good deal of argument from Protestants. Let me make it clear: it is not the Eastern Orthodox position, nor Roman Catholic position, that the bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy (or the Latin Mass) is a re-offering of Christ. In other words Christ is NOT sacrificed again, as far too many ill-informed Protestants teach about our understanding of this sacrament. No, the sacrifice of Christ was done once, and done for all! It is very clear in the Orthodox Church’s prayers found in the anaphora and elsewhere in the Eucharistic prayers, that the offering of the Eucharist is a thanksgiving offering, reasonable, and bloodless. The prayers of the Eucharist make this very clear — Christ’s once for all sacrifice is RE-presented to us by the Eucharist!
When Christmas is about two weeks away the Church commemorates the ancestors of Christ. On this Sunday Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and many other men and women are remembered and honored. All were flawed, but all proved, in the end, to be faithful. One by one their lives of faith in the flesh led to the birth of Christ who took flesh from their daughter, Mary. Here in their numbers we find a family. This lineage begins with Abraham and Sarah, expands into multitudes, and then is compressed to one young virgin from whom the One prophesied about takes flesh. From him we have another expansion into the multitudes of all who have faith in Jesus Christ. In our numbers we, too, are incorporated by adoption into this family of faith.
The scriptural readings for the 17th day after Pentecost are 2 Corinthians 6: 16 – 7:1, and the St. Luke 8: 5 -15, or the epistle and gospel respectively. From the epistle we read St. Paul’s words which he, in part, takes from both the Law and Prophets:
For you are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I shall indwell and walk among them, I shall be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6: 16).
Thus, the Triune God desires relationship with humanity. The Creator desires communion with his creatures. St. Paul is in agreement with St. John’s recording of Jesus’ words found in his High Priestly Prayer: “in order that all might be one, just as you, Father are in me and I in you, in order that even they might be in us…” (John 17: 21). Our salvation is not simply a juridical reality — a legal absolving of guilt. Christian salvation is a relational union with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, Jesus speaks of this union with himself by the Eucharist: “The one who is eating my flesh and drinking my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6: 56).
The Old Testament Scriptures speak of an acceptable hour. St. Paul also uses this phrase to declare the importance — even urgency — of reconciliation to God. He writes this quoting the prophet Isaiah: “‘In the acceptable time I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6: 2).
I had the privilege of serving The Divine Liturgy at St. Katherine’s Church in Pullman, Washington on October 9, 2016. The above passage came from the epistle reading of the day (2 Cor 6: 1—10). The epistle preceded the Gospel reading which relays the account of Jesus’ raising to life the only son of the widow of the city of Nain (Luke 7: 11 — 16). In this gospel pericope there are two very contrasting gatherings and processions. Here we have the description of the first gathering: “And it happened in the next day while he was going to the city of Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd were going with him (Luke 7: 11).” This gathering is assembled around Jesus. This gathering is assembled around his Life and Light. The other gathering has assembled for a quite different purpose. “Now as he drew near the city gate, there was a burial procession of mother’s dead only son, and she was a widow, and a great crowd was together with her” (Luke 7: 12). This assembly gathered around death and grief.
The lectionary for seventh Sunday after Pentecost gives us the Gospel account of the healing of two blind men. The duo follow Jesus and cry out to him, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Upon entering a house these two men approach Jesus. Jesus says to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They reply, “Yes, Lord.” Then “[Jesus] touched their eyes saying, ‘According to your faith let this be for you.’ “And their eyes were opened” (Mt 9: 27 — 30). For these two men the first object they see is their Healer, their Savior — the One who is God Incarnate. How blessed were those four eyes!
Others of us were born sighted. The first object we laid eyes on (however imperfectly as newborns) was likely the face of our mother, itself also a blessing. As sighted infants and then children we took in the creation around us with frequent awe and wonder. We saw creation through eyes of innocence. As a child I had eyes that took no account of the size of my friends’ houses, the cars their parents drove, and took no care of the occupation of father or mother.
The patients of the anticoagulation and diabetes clinic in which I work often make statements which prompt some reflection. “Well,” he said, “today is the longest day of the year.” He referred to the summer solstice. This day holds out the longest period of daylight of the year. This day is not longer than any other day — it lasts only 24 hours. However, this particular day holds some degree of dread for me. With the very next day those wonderful, lingering, warm daylight hours begin to gradually shrink. They shrink to the dim, gloom, and dark of late autumn and winter (I live in western Washington).