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

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