The Holy Apostle James, Son of Alphaeus

The Byzantine Church discerns three apostles named James: James the Greater, the son of Zebedee; James, the Brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem; and James, the son of Alphaeus. We celebrate the feast of the latter today. He is the James about which we know the least. The only mention of him was in the lists of the Twelve Apostles. Some speculate that he was the James mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,” but commentators even doubt that was this James, also called “James the Lesser.” However, it does point to the mission of the apostles, which was to proclaim the risen Lord, a message which has resounded throughout the ages to this very day.

For in today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about his apostles, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). The apostles, who ran when Jesus was led to crucifixion, nevertheless were courageous in preaching his gospel, and paid a great price, “God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10).

St. Paul said we must imitate the apostles, for we, too, must be willing to become “fools” for the sake of the resurrection, but the promise is great, as Jesus said, ““I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will” (Luke 10:21).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Lord is the Life-giver. The gospels record Jesus’ presence at baptisms and weddings, but never at a funeral, for death cannot remain in the presence of the Giver of Life. Today Jesus comes upon a funeral in the village of Nain, it seems almost accidently and by chance, though nothing ever happens totally by chance. Jesus stops the funeral and raises up the young man, the only son of a grieving widow.

The Gospel continues the theme of last Sunday, “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful, for today Jesus raises the young man, “When the Lord saw (the widow), he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’” (Luke 7:13-14). Here Jesus has compassion on the love of a mother for her child. Today is a prayer for a mother’s love, especially for mothers pregnant with unborn children, that they may bring them to life. Today shows us also the God’s giving of life is not only for the future world but begins here and now.

As we receive Communion, the priest says, “The servant of God receives the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and life everlasting.” We are in the presence of the Lord, therefore in the presence of life. Jesus teaches, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly  (John 10:10).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9; Luke 6:31-36

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus commands us, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47). In Luke’s Gospel, he commands, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Mercy, therefore, is perfection. How, indeed, can we, weak and finite human beings achieve “perfection.” How can we keep God’s command.

St. Gregory of Nyssa pondered that problem and asked that question. His response was, that perhaps consists in this: constant growth in the good. It might seem that God is asking the impossible of us today, “love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back.” This goes against every human instinct, yet this is what God demands, for this is how God is merciful. That God is merciful appears on every page of the Scripture, and we pray constantly, “Lord, have mercy.” We cannot ask God’s mercy unless we are merciful. Perhaps the answer to this problem is the same as perfection: we must constantly grow in mercy. If we do not, then we grow in hate. In we seek revenge and retribution, then pain and hate simply grow and grow in a circle of mutual destruction. God’s command is ultimately the only logic of a God who has created all things and loves all.

Today, we must do the impossible, today we must become a Christian, through God’s help. St. Paul tells us that we need God’s grace: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11; Luke 5:1-11

Today begins the reading of the Gospel of St. Luke on Sunday (Second Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross). As in the case with the reading of St. Matthew after Pentecost (Matthew 4:18-23, Second Sunday after Pentecost), it begins with our Lord’s mission to his apostles, “Do be afraid, from now on you will be catching men (Luke 15:10). “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

In the Gospel today, the pre-eminent apostle Peter speaks of his relationship with God. If one reads any of the writings or sayings of the saints, the most holy of people, one always sees a great humility, a sense of our own sinfulness. God is infinite and all-holy, we are finite and weak beyond measure. And so we confess before receiving Communion, “O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the first” (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus works a miracle and gives St. Peter and gives him a super-abundant catch of fish. The first thing Peter does is say, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

St. Paul in his Epistle, confirms that God is the giver of super-abundance. If this is so that we, also, in our humility must be generous, “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work …. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8.10). These greatest saints, then, profess humility. Humility is not groveling before God, but simply the acute awareness of our relationship with God. It does not mean we disesteem ourselves, but that we find our true glory only in God, and not in our own strengths, and that we are destined to be more than our natural selves. It is sad that in these days of self-promotion and narcissism, humility has become the forgotten virtue, because it is at that point that the love of God fills and transforms our lives.

Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Read: Galatians 2:16-20; Mark 8:34-9:1

The first sticheron of the Feast of the Holy Cross tells us, “By this Cross …. In his mercy (Christ) clothed us with beauty and made us worthy of heaven.” This is confirmed in the Hymn of Light from Matins: “The Cross is the beauty of the Church.” How can this be? For the Cross is ugly torture, and the Prophet Isaiah foretells of the Messiah:

“See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him— so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals his appearance, beyond that of human beings. He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem” (Isaiah 52:13-14; 53:2-3).

One is reminded of St. Paul, “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). We might re-phrase: “In his ugliness, we have all been made beautiful.”

Where is the beauty of the Cross? It is in the holiness of Jesus, who died that the Kingdom of God – life, love, mercy, wisdom – might be established in the world. We are called to “take up the cross,” which means uniting ourselves with Christ in love that the truth and wisdom and the glory of God might shine forth. Today, therefore, St. Paul writes, “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).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

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