Sunday of the Prodigal Son

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.

images-29As 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!

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Mary’s Christmas Offering

nativity-iconIn the Orthodox Church Christmas is also known the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Rightly, we focus on our Lord’s birth. Rightly, we celebrate the birth of God in human flesh. The other person of note is Christ’s mother, Mary. In the Church’s theology she is called Theotokos, meaning Bearer of God. She gave birth to God because God took flesh from her.
St. Luke gives us the birth narrative:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled…And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she bore her firstborn son, and she clothed him and laid him to bed in a feeding trough (Luke 2: 1, 3, 4, 6 – 7).

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Sacrifice, Priesthood, and Solidarity

The Holy EucharistA 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!

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Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ

sunday-of-forefathersWhen 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.

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Temple and Seed

head_of_christ_1999-190x250The 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).

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“Now is the Day of Salvation”

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).

jesus-raises-the-widow-of-nains-son-iconI 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.

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“If I Am Lifted Up…”

images-28September 14 marks the commemoration of the rediscovery of the Cross of Christ in Jerusalem in the fourth century. This feast day is known as the Elevation of the Precious and Life Giving Cross in the Orthodox Church. For the Christian, the Cross of Christ is always and every day to be understood as precious and life giving. As it was elevated in Jerusalem by the city’s patriarch, St. Marcarius, so today’s 21st century Christian is to elevate the Cross in his or her consciousness. Further, the Cross is not to comfort, but to challenge, to alarm, and even offend — even more, to bring about death. St. Paul writes of this: “The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1: 18).

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That We Might See

0defff05af2f743376fb33a4097ff866The 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.

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The Longest Day of the Year

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Foxglove

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).

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The Myrrh Bearing Women

myrrh_bearing_women_500The third Sunday of Pascha commemorates the women who came to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his corpse. These are the Myrrh Bearing Women. While wondering who would role away the stone from the door of the tomb for them, they witness an astounding site: the stone has been removed, a “young man” clothed in a white robe sits and addresses them: “Do not marvel! You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16: 6). Expecting the ordinary in a tomb, they encounter the extraordinary.

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Lazarus, Come Out!

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Raising of Lazarus by Andrea Fordice

In the Orthodox Church, Lazarus Saturday marks the end of Lent. This day commemorates the resurrection of Jesus’ friend from the dead by Jesus’ command to the corpse, “Lazarus, come out!” The resurrection of Lazarus occurs a week before Jesus’ own death and resurrection. This miracle prefigures our Lord’s resurrection, and vividly demonstrates Jesus’ deity and authority — here authority over death itself.

The account of Lazarus’ resurrection takes up the majority of the eleventh chapter of St. John’s gospel (Jn 11: 1 — 44). There is a detail in St. John’s account of Lazarus’ resurrection that has always stuck out for me. Jesus comes to Lazarus’ tomb. Its entrance is secured by a large stone (Jn 11: 38).

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Three Tabernacles Of God

+  MARY AS TABERNACLE  +

March 25 of every year marks and commemorates the Annunciation.

Icon of the Annunciation

Icon of the Annunciation

This is the day in which the Archangel Gabriel informs Mary of God’s plan and purpose for her:  that she will conceive and bear the Son of God.  With her response of obedience to Gabriel’s words, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38a), Mary ushers in the salvation of humanity and creation:  God the Son — her Creator — enters into creation as a creature to be its Savior:

And in answering, the angel said to her, ‘The Spirit of God will come upon [epeleusetai] you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow [episkiasei] you, therefore the One begotten is holy and shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35).

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Life on Mars? (Part Two)

mars2“Is there life on Mars?”, asks the late David Bowie. Bowie’s question isn’t about the prospects of extraterrestrial life on the fourth planet from the sun. Bowie’s question can be rephrased in this way: “Is there rational, meaningful life on Earth?” Many of Bowie’s songs were about those who were misfits, the disaffected, and the lonely, wandering outcasts of the greater, “normal” society around them. We have this before us in the first verse of “Life on Mars?”,  Read the rest of this entry »


Life on Mars? (Part One)

In honor of his passing, the title of this posting comes from David Bowie’s song, “Life on Mars?”  Lyrically, the song is both meaningful and quirky, and the refrain of the song furthers the question, “Is there life on Mars?”  But, Bowie’s song has nothing to do with this first of two postings with the same title.

“Is there life on Mars?”  The origin of the question of this first part of posting comes from another source: the mid-late nineteenth century telescopic observation of Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli.  He observed canali on the Martian surface, yet never proposed any cause for his observation.  Others also observed the same phenomenon, or so they thought.  The appearance of canals was proven decades later to be an optical illusion when better telescopes were developed in the early twentieth century.  However, in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, speculation of a civilization on Mars emerged in more popular articles.  Such a fiction persisted until proven impossible when the harsh physical conditions on the Red Planet were discovered in the early twentieth century.   Read the rest of this entry »


Eucharistic Lessons from “To Sir, With Love”

My wife and I are self-confessed Anglophiles and “Celtophiles.”  If it’s British, etc., generally, we’re hooked.  BBC rules in our household media choices.  Additionally, even though just a child in the Sixties, I love the music of the British Invasion, thus, I am constantly listening to the Beatles, the Kinks, and other groups and performers of the era.  A few years ago I purchased the movie, To Sir, With Love (1967 trailer).  “Blimey, I ‘ad to!”  It was set in the mid-sixties!  In London!   Read the rest of this entry »


Interior Landscaping

Rare is the person who cannot appreciate the beauty of nature, especially in its wild, untouched forms and settings.  It is blindness when the beauty of a creature cannot be appreciated.  Such beauty exists in the flower il-flower, the forest, the mountain, the stream, and the animal.  There is the harsh beauty of the desert, and, I suppose, of the arctic as well.  Nature’s gifts of beauty are to be found in all climates, temperate and tropical.  Just step outside, open your eyes and marvel at the creation around you!

There is also a “natural” beauty that is created by human endeavor.  An idea or vision can transform the natural landscape of creation into works of art.   Here, we have the cultivation of something previously barren, or wild, into something habitable and enjoyable, and equally pleasing to the senses.

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“It’s Just Human Nature…”

In the attempt to excuse any and all sorts of bad behavior, the phrase, “it’s just human nature,” is invoked.  We all have heard it after the dust has settled from an outburst of anger, mischievous behavior, or perhaps something far worse.  It’s an excuse used to make us feel better about ourselves.  We don’t want to be seen as a monster.  Rather, we just succumbed to “human nature.” Read the rest of this entry »


The Feast of Theophany: God Sanctifies Creation

TheophanyEach year, January 6 commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by St. John, the Forerunner, Prophet and Baptist.  The Gospel text from St. Matthew reads,

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  And John tried to prevent Him, saying “I need to be baptized by You, and You are coming to me?”  But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he allowed Him.  When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Mt 3: 13 – 17)

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Prepare the Way of the Lord!

This Sunday, January 3, 2016 is the Sunday before Theophany.  This Sunday sets the stage for Theophany, the baptism of Christ by The Baptist.

It is interesting to note how the Gospel writers begin their works.  St. John begins with the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the second Person of the Trinity.  Read the rest of this entry »


What is a New Year?

The elderly woman was happy throughout our conversation, but her gaze went out to a point somewhere behind me when, in concluding the appointment, she added, “I sure hope the new year will be better than this one!” She exhaled and left my office with her daughter. It is a common comment and sentiment in December, and I gave it no thought until recently. Read the rest of this entry »