Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils

In addition to the observance of the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, the Church remembers the Father of the First 6 Ecumenical Councils. Moreover, the Church also liturgically recalls the memory of the Great Holy Prince, and Equal to the Apostles, Saint Vladimir.

Today we celebrate the memory of the church teachers and pastors who in six councils held over three plus centuries (325-680) defined for us and for our faith who Jesus our Lord is. The central affirmation was in the Council of Chalcedon, whose fathers professed: “we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; of one essence with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same of one essence with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, the same born of Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity.” Even though the Oriental Orthodox Churches did not accept this council for political and semantic reasons, there is no doubt that they believe that our Lord is truly God and truly a human being, because this is essential for our faith. This feast reminds us that we are through faith truly united with God, who transforms us and restores the divine likeness. 

St. Maximus the Confessor especially emphasizes this in his theology, in many places, as in his Ambigua 4,8: “For there is nothing more unified than He, who is truly one, and apart from Him there is nothing [1045A] more completely unifying or preserving of what is properly His own. Thus, even when He suffered, He was truly God, and when He worked miracles the same one was truly man, for He was the true hypostasis of true natures united in an ineffable union. Acting in both of these natures in a manner suitable and consistent with each, He was shown forth as one truly preserving them unconfused, while, at the same time, preserving Himself without change, insofar as He remained impassible by nature and passible, immortal and mortal, visible to the eyes and known by the intellect, as God by nature and man by nature.” 

This is the real value of dogma, it tells us of the possibilities we have as human beings. It guides us to our full human nature, and perfection as commanded by Christ, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)” It is the height of pride to think that we can reach our full potential without God, who alone creates, redeems and perfects our human nature.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 14:14-22

At the end of the reading of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today, St. Paul says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” We are asked to look toward the Holy Cross as the center of our Christian life. In the section of 1 Corinthians immediately the Sunday reading, St. Paul says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 

The Christian faith is a paradox that finds strength in weakness, life in death and wisdom in foolishness. No wonder St. Paul observes today, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.” But what does the cross mean for our faith? Obviously, almost none of us will have to die as Christ did, nailed to a cross, though it is possible that some of us will have to surrender our lives for faith in Jesus. The gospel helps us to understand this. To carry the cross, we must put Jesus first in everything, as our Lord and Savior. It is he who feeds us with the bread of life in the desert of our lives. The multiplication of the loaves is a sign of the eucharist, of Christ giving himself to us, so that we might live in him and him alone. To accept the cross does not mean gratuitous suffering, but the will to live in Christ above all, to be so confirmed in faith that we would lay down our lives for him. 

The power of the cross, therefore, is not in human eloquence but in the reality of a soul alive in Christ, as St. Paul again proclaimed, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)” It means, as in today Gospel, imitating the Lord, who “saw the vast crowd, [and] his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.” We, too, must love and care for each other, if not healing one another in body, than in spirit.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Romans 15:1-7; Matthew 9:27-35

The Gospel for this Sunday can be summarized: Jesus went about doing good, healing the sick and revealing God’s love for all. St. Paul tells us the Jesus did this out of his goodness, not to please himself, not to glorify himself. From love for us, he took insults upon us upon himself. St. Paul concludes, “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). In this way, we can heal one another’s spirit. Today’s epistle and gospel, then, tell us what love for one another really is. There is a condition, though, we must be open to God’s love. What does Jesus ask the blind men? “Do you believe I can do this?” If they believed they could be healed, then they also believed they needed healing, unlike the hypocritical Pharisees, to whom Jesus says, ““If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains” (John 9:41). They, in bitterness and unfaithfulness, hurl the insult at Jesus, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34).

We are blind to the image of God in the other when we “demonize” them, and in reality, makes ourselves into demons. We should, instead, heal one another and not condemn.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Matthew 9:1-8

The greatest human tragedy is sin, because “the wages of sin is death.” Sin is what robs us of life and of love. Sometimes we do not know what sin really is and we identify it with our human weaknesses and failings. But the true core of sin is pride, which fills us with self-righteousness (we don’t need God) and hatred for others (God’s creatures). Therefore, the paralytic man comes before Jesus and Jesus tells him, “Courage !! Your sins are forgiven.” 

The paralytic man was seeking a physical cure, but was unaware that a greater healing was needed, and that both physical and spiritual healing comes not from our own strength, but from God. Yet there is even a greater mystery here: the mystery of the Incarnation. By taking on human nature, the Word of God has brought the divine authority of forgiveness into the human race. Hear what the people exclaim, “the crowds were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings.” We continue to receive healing and forgiveness through the body of Christ, which is his Church (Ephesians 1:22-23). We must allow this forgiveness to change our lives and to walk in the path of faith, hope and love. 

This same story is also told in the gospel of Mark (2:1-12), which is read on the Second Sunday of the Great Fast, a season of forgiveness, and which supplies additional details about the cure.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Fourth Saturday after Pentecost

Read Romans 6:11-17; Matthew 8:14-23

“When it was evening, they brought [Jesus] many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick” (Matthew 8:16).

Our Lord came into this world to confront sin and evil directly, and to release us from slavery to sin that we might live in the freedom of faith. This is the promise of Jesus, “ ‘If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32). We have a misconception of freedom, we think it means the ability to do whatever you want, but it actually the power to become a child of God and to live in his love. There is a cost, it means commitment to Jesus, it means setting aside what we think are our needs, as the Lord challenges someone not yet willing to make that complete commitment, “Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’But Jesus answered him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead’” (Matthew 8:21-22). 

St. Paul explains that this is a choice we must freely make, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)” The reality, however, is that it is the choice of life or death, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Christ is life, and life is freedom.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Will you go to the desert?

In the spiritual life, the desert is the place where we are stripped of all that normally nourishes, boosts and supports us. Our body, mind, and soul are exposed. We become vulnerable to being overwhelmed by chaos and temptations of every kind. But precisely, because we are so stripped of what we normally rely on, this is a privileged time for God’s visitation. Why? Because all the defense mechanisms, support systems and distractions that we normally surround ourselves with, keep much of God’s grace at bay. Why are we so resistant to desert time?

The desert embraces us and makes us open. It is a time apart from noise, fragmentation, useless talk and worry. It provides a space of silence, meditation, prayerful reading of Scripture, where there are no unnecessary computers, phones or iPods to check on the latest news, the latest Facebook, latest Tweet. All this is more entertaining than going inward for surely we will be confronted at some point with our baggage and shadow stuff lurking just beneath our ordinary consciousness. (Cf. NS)

Third Sunday after Pentecost: The Meaning of Mercy

Read: Romans 5:1-10. What does mercy really mean. God reveals himself as mercy. When Moses asks to see God, God responds: “The Lord came down in a cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name, “Lord.” So the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity.”

Read Exodus 34:5-6. Of course, one might point out (in verse 7) that he also punishes the wicked. Yet the overwhelming image of God is that found in Psalm 102: “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry forever. He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.” Yet people sometimes don’t want free grace. Mercy, they say, is okay, but only to those who show repentance. And so atonement becomes a condition for mercy. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the way St. Paul describes it in this Sunday’s Epistle. He says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we are to be imitators of God (Matthew 5:47), mercy and repentance must be for us two different realities. Our vocation is simply to show mercy, as Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).  Mercy is without conditions. Mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness are how Christians live. 

The need for repentance is on the part of the ones who are shown mercy. They can either accept it or refuse it, and mercy cannot achieve its fulfillment unless the one receiving it is willing to accept it. This is not for us to decide, but we are in the number of those who receive God’s mercy, and we receive it only when we do not harden our hearts, but love the other as God has loved us.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

All Saints of America

The feast of All Saints of Russia was first celebrated in the sixteenth century, but it soon fell into disuse, except by the Old Believers. It was revived at the Council of 1917-1918. Perhaps we would feel that this is a feast of “nationalistic pride,” for indeed, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints last Sunday, and all Christians, in all times and places, are called to holiness, to live in the grace of the Spirit, to work to bring all into union with God. However, perhaps it is also good to remind ourselves that people can be holy in all eras and cultures, and that there are so many saints walking among us in our own nation and times. In recent decades, many feast of the saints of a particular place or culture have been established – All Saints of Mt. Athos, All Saints of England, All Saints of Greece, All Saints of Carpatho-Russia, and so forth.

These feasts have all been established in the Orthodox Church and they commemorate only saints of the Orthodox Communion. However, it has been proposed that one step towards unity would be for us to recognize each other’s saints, to recognize that the Holy Spirit is at work in both our Churches, that the light of Christ in his holy ones shines upon us all, and that we can find God in all places and times.

Today, let us remember all Orthodox and Catholic Saints, and, indeed, any human person who has found God and in whom his saving grace resides.

Orthodox:

Alexander Hotovitzky, hieromartyr, Missionary of America
Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Missionary (left the Catholic Church to return to Orthodoxy)
Herman of Alaska, first missionary to Alaska
Innocent of Alaska, missionary bishop to Alaska
Jacob Netsvetov, native of the Aleutian Islands who became a priest
John Kochurov, first hieromartyr in 1917
John Maximovitch, ROCOR bishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, wonderworker
Juvenaly of Alaska, Protomartyr of America
Nikolaj Velimirović, influential theological writer and a highly gifted orator, rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary
Peter the Aleut, protomartyr of America
Raphael of Brooklyn, founder of the Antiochian Orthodox Mission in America
Tikhon of Moscow, was bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, missionary, then Patriarch of Moscow
Varnava Nastić, the New Confessor, born in Gary, Indiana
Mardarije Uskoković, Serbian bishop of North America; founder of St. Sava’s Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois
Sebastian Dabović, first American-born Orthodox priest

Second Sunday after Pentecost

What does it mean to be a saint? Our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”  (John 14:6). To be a saint, then, means to follow Jesus the Way, the true path to union with God and holiness. To be a saint is not a luxury for the few, but the necessity for all of us who want to know the truth, to live in Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew and John and James, and they IMMEDIATELY follow him. This call is given to us all. We have been meditating on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate – Rejoice and Exalt! 

Today we begin the proclamation of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which we read until the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. This period begins by summoning us to always “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Today we are Simon and Andrew and James and John, hearing the voice of Jesus, “Come, follow me.” Today we hear the Lord calling us calling us to a life like his of caring for others and proclaiming the gospel, if not by words, by our actions and lives. We cannot ignore this call.

Commemoration of our Holy Father John of the Ladder

Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast: Commemoration of our Holy Father John of the Ladder

We know little about the life of John, the Hegumen [abbot] of the Monastery of Mt. Sinai, but he has left us one of the greatest spiritual testimonies of the Christian faith, his work called the “Ladder of Virtues.” It was written, certainly, in a monastic environment, which has always been the home for the seeking of perfection as commanded by Christ: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)” His book, then, was read in Eastern monasteries during the Great Fast. Though his work was for monks, each of us has a vocation common with monks to seek perfection in Christ, and so we can all profit from his work. He reminds us that sanctification is not instant, but it is a lifetime project, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)” This is what our Father John teaches us: “The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word and deed, as far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity.” (Step 1, Section 4)

“Having heard the Gospel of the Lord, O venerable Father John, you left this world, counting as nothing the riches and glory that it offered. Then you cried out to everyone: Love the Lord and you shall find eternal favor, for nothing is preferable to his love. And when he shall come in glory, you will find repose with all the saints. Through their prayers, O Christ, grant mercy to our souls.” (Doxasticheron at Psalm 140, Vespers of the Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras