The Life-Giving Cross

“… let us venerate the wood of Your cross, O friend of men, because on it You have been nailed, Life of all. You opened heaven, O Savior, to the thief who had faith in You; he was worthy of bliss because he confessed to You: remember me, Lord… we have all sinned, for Your love compassion do not despise us.”

Today we sing, We bow to your Cross, O Lord, and we glorify your holy resurrection!!!

Image: Crucifixion scene from the post Byzantine era of the mid-15th century, at the church museum of Rossáno, Calabria.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 2 Corinthians 4:6-15; Matthew 22:35-46

“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

St. Paul today gives us a word of hope. Yes, he was speaking about persecution of the Body of Christ from outside forces. Perhaps, however, not all “outside forces,” for he acknowledges, “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels.” The Church is run by human beings, the “earthern vessels,” which we see can fail spectacularly, giving, of course, a justifiable reason for attacks from the outside. Today, we are “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down,” as much from the faults of our shepherds as from the outside. On the other hand, there is indeed hope. Hope that we will “clean up,” from the inside, and, in America, much has been done since the safe environment program beginning in 2002. In the meantime, sadly, many will lose the treasure of their faith. We are truly “perplexed” by what has happened. However, the Church remains always the vessel of Christ’s resurrection, “so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” The Church of Christ is firmly founded on the faith of Peter, even though Peter himself denied Christ, and had to be rebuked by Paul at Antioch for his hypocrisy. Christ’s power shines through, as St. Paul proclaims, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus, Lord and Savior, Son of the living God, is the treasure of the Church, and his life is manifested in us.

In the gospel, Jesus proclaims that he is the Lord, for he “said to them, ‘How, then, does David, inspired by the Spirit, call him “lord,” saying: ‘The Lord said to my lord,’“Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet’’? (Matthew 22:43-44). If we are “perplexed,” do not despair, but pray always, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

September 1: the New Year

We call this the “Church” New Year, but it was, of course, the civil New Year of the Byzanrine Emperor. The book, Mapping Time,  by E. G. Richards, says, “In AD 312 Constantine had instituted a 15-year cycle of indications (censuses of people’s ability to pay taxes). These started on 1 September …. The Byzantine year started on 1 September and this system was used by the supreme tribunal of the Holy Roman Empire until it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806.” 

The ancient Roman Empire began the year on January 1, and therefore September was the seventh month (from the Latin word for seven, “septem”). 

Of course, it is now the ninth month (!) Because of the interpolation of July (for Julius Caesar) and August (for August Caesar). Many seriously advocate making September 1 the New Year again, because, after all, this is the beginning of the school year and fall programs. It would also enable people to get home on dry roads rather than on snow and ice. In any case, the gospel today has the blessing of our Lord on the New Year, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4; Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus tells us, “Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). This parable is one that is easily misunderstood. Who are those that are invited? In the context of the whole gospel, the group that Jesus chastises the most are the scribes and the Pharisees, of whom he said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven (see v. 22:2) before human beings. You do not enter yourselves (see v. 22:3), nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter” (Matthew 23:13). These are the elite, those who expected first places in the kingdom, but they put their own interests first. (“Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business” v. 22:5.) 

God, however, will have his banquet, so he brings in everyone from the streets, both bad and good. In Matthew 13:47, Jesus teaches, “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.” However, at the end all are gathered, the good harvest along with the weeds. The angels collect the weeds and destroy them (Matthew 13:38-40). This explains the man who comes without a wedding garment, who is “cast out into the darkness outside. (v. 22:13)” This was not as arbitrary as it seems, for it was the Eastern custom for a rich man who gave a dinner to also give the proper clothing to his guests, so the man who refused to come in the wedding garment was someone who deliberately insulted his host, refusing and snubbing his gift. So, too, if we are to attend the wedding feast, we must put on Christ, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). Thus, we understand this Sunday’s parable. The banquet is real and today. Today, we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Today, we are made one in Christ at his wedding feast, uniting himself with his holy Church. Today, we must put on a new garment for our soul, so that we can live a Christian life.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24; Matthew 21:33-42

This Sunday’s Gospel continues the theme of all the Gospels: that our salvation, which is freedom from sin and life in God, is founded on our Lord Jesus Christ. The Letter to the Hebrews begins: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God has sent messengers to his vineyard, but they were killed by the vine-dressers, those who had control of the vineyard. Finally they did the same to the Son of God. Jesus, our Lord, was rejected by those in control of his people, the vineyard, who led him to crucifixion. The disciples expected retribution, but Jesus said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” St. Paul confirmed this: “you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Ephesisans 2:20).

On the cross, Jesus was abandoned by all, by the leaders of his people, by the mob that chose Barabbas (“The son of the father!”), and even by his own disciples, who betrayed him, denied him, and ran away in fear. Again, St. Paul tells us, “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 …. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:18.25). It is through weakness in worldly power that the true strength of God is manifested, for “by death he trampled upon death.” We must not fear our weakness, but abandon ourselves completely to our Lord, “loving God with all our heart and mind and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves.” 

On August 10, we remembered the holy martyr Lawrence. When the pagan emperor demanded he turn over the treasure of the church, he brought him the blind, the lame, and all sorts of sick people, saying, “Here are the eternal treasures of the church.” Jesus also told the parable of the banquet, in which the servants are to bring in “the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Truly, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Matthew 19:16-26

The Word of God: “it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” We must not soften this saying in any way. We must ask: what does it mean to be rich? Wealth is relative. The poorest person in a first world country today has access to more gadgets and health care than the very richest at the time of Jesus. We see the problem of riches in the reaction of the young man. He cannot put faith in the Son of God, he cannot respond to the presence of God, because his heart is in his many possessions. (v. 22) Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). But the rich in spirit cannot love God more than themselves, and it is a simple reality that if they cannot love God, they cannot love their neighbors, created by God. Mary therefore declares, “The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53) And Abraham tells the rich man in hell, “you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. (Luke 16:25) And James admonishes his flock, who honored a rich man, “Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:6-7).

Make no mistake: riches are a scandal and an obstacle to our communion with God. Yet, in the end, Jesus always gives hope. The one who multiplied the loaves, the one who walked on water, the one who cured the boy the disciples could not cure, the one who forgave the servant who owed an impossible sum of money, the same can even do the greatest miracle and save a rich man, as the gospel today ends, “for God all things are impossible.” But it is much, much better for us if we hears the words of the Lord transfigured into glory on Mt. Tabor and who is risen from the dead. In him alone is all glory, life and love for all creation.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

The Transfiguration

“Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!” The Lord answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “Lord,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. (Exodus 33:18-19)”

“But the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:12-13)”

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ (Matthew 17:1-2.5)”

In the Creed we profess at every Liturgy, we proclaim, “I believe … in one Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, the only-begotten, born of the Father before all ages. Light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence with the Father.” In the gospels there is no clearer revelation of Jesus as Son of God than in his transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Moses who was unable to see the face of God on Mt. Sinai and Elijah, who was in God’s presence as “a light silent sound” today see the face of God in Jesus, His only-begotten Son. Of course, the truth was that we did not see the divine nature, but we beheld the glory of God “as much as we could bear,” (Kontakion of Transfiguration). Even in death we cannot comprehend the essence of God as he is in himself, for to do that we would have to be God. Yet today we see that we can be united in God, just as God has taken on himself the human nature. This is revealed in 2 Peter 1:3-4 and 17-18: His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire …. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” This is our hope of deification, as we sing, “Showing the change that mortals will undergo, O Lord, when they enter your glory at your second and awesome coming, you were transfigured on Mount Tabor. (Session Hymn 1, Transfiguration Matins)”

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16; Matthew 17:14-23

This Sunday’s Gospel is the story of a boy possessed by a demon. Jesus’ followers cannot heal him, so Jesus himself casts out the demon. This story is repeated twice during the Church year: the first time during the Great Fast, on the Fourth Sunday, according to St. Mark. The second time is this Tenth Sunday. The Gospel of St. Matthew adds a saying not found in St. Mark: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,” and it would be moved.” Both gospels are about faith that is beyond human power. We cannot be Christians without faith in our Lord, but we cannot attain this faith only by our own powers. We ask, “Why can we not cast out the evils in our life?”

Faith is a gift of God, not obtainable by human power. That is why, even if our gift of faith is very small, it can do the impossible, for if we are touched even a little by God’s power, we can be saved and transformed. This gospel, then, continues the theme of last Sunday, it is Jesus coming to us that lifts us above our natural calling. We must be open to the gift of faith.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 3:9-17; Matthew 14:22-34

Today Jesus walks on water to come to the salvation of his followers. As bread in last Sunday’s gospel symbolized the Body of the Lord, so the waters symbolize the waters of baptism. Baptism, indeed, is dangerous, it brings death to the sin which resides in us. St. Paul teaches us: “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

The water in today’s gospel remind us how dangerous water can be, it can drown us and extinguish our lives. The waters of baptism, however, destroy sin. Jesus is the one who comes to us over the water. We see that through him the waters of baptism brings life. Though Peter loses his confidence, Jesus pulls him up from destruction. The Lord thereby shows us the path to a higher calling. Just as walking upon water is above human power, so too the grace of God lifts us above our natural calling that we might become one with God in the new calling of deification.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras