St Andrew and the work of Christian Unity

It is a legend, but also a symbol, that St. Andrew evangelized the town of Byzantium before it would become a great city. The symbol, therefore, is that Rome, the West, and Constantinople (Byzantium), the East are united in the fraternity of the two apostles, Peter and Paul. In our broken world, the Church is hampered in preaching the gospel by internal divisions. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are heroically trying to re-unite to preach the one true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are hampered by narrow-minded people in both Churches, who cannot see Christ living in the eucharist of these Churches. There is only one Christ in Holy Communion, and we do not partake of one Christ, and the other another Christ. There is only one Christ born of Mary in Bethlehem, whose Body we cannot divide. Now is the proper time for the one Church to proclaim the one Lord and Savior in the one holy Gospel. We must pray for unity this Christmas that we are not too late.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Ephesians 6:10-17

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul tells us, “draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil ….take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The true weapon of the Christian is not the metal sword, but the sword of the word. Hebrews tells us, “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

Christians do not meet violence with violence, but when persecuted, follow the Lord’s teaching, “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute” (Luke 21:14-15). Jesus is the Word of God, and his word is powerful indeed, and so the true power Christians comes when we speak in the truth of our Lord. Our human words may not seem that powerful, but words spoken in Christ can transform our lives. This power does not come from us, but from God, therefore, as St. Paul again says, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20) and yesterday’s epistle says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). 

All this has meaning in this Christmas season. We give gifts to one another, and parents instruct their children, say “Thank you,” to those who give you gifts. The words “thank you” are more powerful than the material gifts, for they form bonds of love. As Christians, we, too, say words of “thanks” that bind us in love to God, “the giver of every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17, Ambon Prayer).

In this church, we utter words of thanksgiving, as we offer our Liturgy, a “sacrifice of praise.” That is why we call the Liturgy the Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” And on Christmas, we offer words to the new-born child, “Christ is born! Glorify him.” We must not only says words with our mouth, “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Entrance of the Theotokos

“Seeing the entrance of the pure one, angels marveled in wonder how the Virgin could enter the holy of holies.” (Refrain to Irmos 9, on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple)

“Entrances” are a big deal in our liturgical tradition, (e.g., the Small Entrance and Great Entrance at Divine Liturgy), surrounded by great solemnity. Why? Because they are “transitional” moments; that is to say, they signify the most crucial and challenging aspect of life in general, and life in Christ more specifically – transitions. We “enter” any given day, for example, transitioning from nighttime not instantly, but by going through our morning “ritual” (getting out of bed, washing up, praying, making coffee, getting dressed, exercising, etc.). We also “enter” into communion with Christ, again and again, not instantly, but step by step, preparing ourselves with the help of traditional prayers and customs.

The feast we’re celebrating today on the Older Calendar focuses on “entrance,” the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Similar to the entrances mentioned above, Her “entrance” into “the holy of holies” involves both preparation and transition. She is to be prepared, in the temple, for the pivotal moment in Salvation History, the descent upon Her of the Holy Spirit and conception, in Him, of God the Word. There is so much more to say on this topic, on how daunting and even potentially terrifying this “transition” was, for the three-year-old Mary from Nazareth, but this reflection is already too long.

So I’ll just say, let our Lady’s courageous “entrance” today be an inspiration and encouragement for all my entrances and other transitions. Let me not fear them but walk through them, by the protection and guidance of the Blessed among Women. Amen!

Meditation by Sr. Vassa Larin

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Blessing the Truly Blessed

“Blessed are the blameless in the Way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” (Ps 118/119: 1, Septuagint)

Is it pointless for us to “bless” and praise “the blameless” (οἱ ἄμωμοι, непорочнии), for example, the Theotokos, whose Entry into the Temple is celebrated today on the “New” Calendar; or the archangels and angels, whose feast is celebrated today on the Older Calendar,– if we ourselves are not “blameless”? No, of course not. Because by celebrating the “blameless” in the law of the Lord, we are reminded of the kind of “celebrity” that is truly praise-worthy in God’s eyes, and are inspired to desire it for ourselves. This is particularly counter-cultural in our day, when so much press is wasted on, and “lip-service” paid to, celebrities both famous and infamous.

Lord, let me not bless, nor desire to be like, those who have the dubious “blessing” of our press. Let me rather bless those who are blessed in Your “press,” in Holy Scripture: “Blessed is the man that has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the pestilent.” (Ps 1: 1)

(Happy Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos, NC-zillions! And Happy Feast of St. Michael & All the Bodiless Powers, OC-friends! Please NOTE, that you can get these reflections daily via EMAIL, simply by typing in your email-address here at our website: coffeewithsistervassa.com)

Meditation by Sister Vassa

Holy Prophet Obadiah

We know nothing certain about the life of the Prophet Obadiah. The Synaxarion identifies him with the servant of King Ahaz, who left to become a follower of Elijah, but that is not possible, since Obadiah’s prophecy was against Edom, pointing to a time after the exile. He is one of several prophets commemorated in the Phillip’s Fast, and verse 21 can be related to the coming of Jesus into the world: “And deliverers will ascend Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingship shall be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 21).

When our Lord was born, he was given the name “Jesus,” our Savior or “Deliverer.” The Greek text, however, is “men saved.” Certainly the wicked Herod thought him a king to rival him, and so persecuted the innocents of Bethlehem. Obadiah tells us that the Lord alone is our true king, who told Pilate at his trial, ““My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here” (John 18:36).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Ephesians 5:9-19; Luke 12:16-21

The key to understanding this Sunday’s Gospel is the final sentence, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21). That’s why worldly riches, or “eating, drinking and making merry,” or amassing and hoarding stuff for oneself don’t matter. What matters is God’s will for us. In a narcissistic, individualistic age, we often confuse our own goals and desires with the will of God. This Sunday’s Epistle reminds us that we really, really have to work to discover God’s will.

St. Paul tells us, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 510); “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15); “Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17). “Light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).

Lord, let your light shine upon us! In the Lucan cycle, which always begins on the second Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross, this Gospel will always be read on the Sunday from November 17-23. Since Thanksgiving always comes on November 22-28, this Gospel is a good reflection on Godly and worldly riches.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 10:25-37

This gospel must be read very carefully. Jesus tells a story to make a point. It is just a story, it didn’t happen. However, we get the point. The scholar of the law knew the basic message of faith. We must love God and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Then he asked a question to justify himself. He saw a loophole in Jesus’ teaching. Yes, love your neighbor, but who is your neighbor? That is the problem. Jesus then tells a story in which those you would expect naturally to give help to the beaten man, the priest and the levite (in early Christianity, another name for deacon, one who gives service) pass the poor man without a thought. Who gives help? It is the “other,” the heretics to the Jews, the hated Samaritan. He, the “other,” shows mercy. Whether this story happened or not is irrelevant. Jesus tells us that our neighbor may be someone we do not expect. Therefore, we cannot “justify ourselves” by prejudice and racism, by hating the other. This gospel preaches itself.

When I was a young priest, the “other” in our church were blacks and Jews. Today they are immigrants and Moslems. And we, like the “scholar of the law,” are still racists. Racism is the ugly face of our church today. It blocks us from being “true-believing Christians. The scholar got the point, but he couldn’t say the hated word, “Samaritan,” but only “the one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus responds “Go and do likewise,” that is, do not hate the other, but always show mercy and care for the other. God’s word is clear, but do we have eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear? Today, St. Paul tells us we are all one: “[strive] to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 

Read: Ephesians 2:14-22; Luke 8:41-56

Many people are squeamish at the sight of blood, some even faint away. This is because of fear – we know that loss of blood can lead to loss of life. The blood flowing in our veins is life. In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord encounters a woman who has had a hemorrhage for twelve years – life is slowly seeping away from her. But death cannot remain in the presence of Christ, and merely by secretly touching his garment, she is healed by his power.

Today’s Gospel contains this healing within a healing, a raising form the dead. Our Lord is on his way to raise the twelve-year old daughter of Jairus, where he redefines death as sleep, ““Do not weep any longer, for she is not dead, but sleeping” (Luke 8:52). See that for God, time is without meaning, for the woman with the hemorrhage, twelve years seems an eternity, but for the little girl, twelve years is much too short. For the Jews at the time of Jesus, blood signified life. When animals were sacrificed, the blood was poured out as a libation, for the life belongs to God. While our Lord stopped the flow of the blood for the woman, and gave life to the little girl, he instead shed his own blood for the life of the world and died on the Cross to bring us all resurrection. He invites us to share in his blood, “Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’” (Mark 14:23-24).

The healing of the woman with the hemorrhage connects with the epistle in yet another way. In the Jewish law, even someone who touched a woman shedding blood (menstruation or in giving birth) became unclean. Yet the woman “came up behind [Jesus] and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus then asked, ‘Who touched me?’” (Luke 11:44-45). Jesus was not angry at her, but instead said, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 11:48). Jesus, however, has broken the wall, as St. Paul reflects, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh …. for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:13-14.18).

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Read:
Ephesians 2:4-10
Luke 8:26-39

The Gospel for this Sunday: Luke 8:26-39, the story of the Gadarene Demoniac. Then Jesus asked him (the demon), “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. And they pleaded with him not to order them to depart to the abyss. A herd of many swine was feeding there on the hillside, and they pleaded with him to allow them to enter those swine; and he let them” (Luke 8:30-32).

It is said that this is one of the more difficult gospels to preach on, but it is rich in symbolism.

First, we see that evil cannot stand before Jesus. For God is one, as St. Paul said,
“There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:4-5).

Evil, however, is divided among itself, for there are many, Legion. And Jesus said, “If house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). So evil is already overcome, and Jesus says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John16:33).

Evil brings death, that is why the possessed man has to live in the tombs, and why, when the demons enter the swine, they immediately perish. Why should we fret, for Jesus “has overcome the world,” and we have the one Spirit, who is guiding the Church to the real truth of the one God who is mercy and compassion? St. Paul tells us today that faith in Christ is life, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins …. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1.4-6)”

Twenty-Third Saturday after Pentecost

“There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

Evil acts are performed in darkness, they are “covered up,” or we make lame excuses for them, or we simply lie about what we have done, because evil cannot exist in the presence of light. This theme is repeated many times in Scripture. John 3:19-20 describes it, “light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”

What is clear, though, is that a genuine faith in Christ drives out the darkness of sin, for “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Jesus is the “light of the world., (John 8:12) and to live a Christian life, we must try to live always in light, “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:11-14).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras