Pentecost

Pentecost is the fiftieth day, “the last and greatest day of the feast.” In the New Testament, this story is told only in the Acts of the Holy Apostles (Acts 2:1-12). On this day, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in the form, “as of fire” and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:3) From this event, some observations can be made:

-This fulfills the promise made by the risen Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, “And[behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

-This was in the upper room, where the risen Lord came to the disciples through locked doors.

-There were twelve apostles, Matthias having been elected to replace the traitor Judas, as “a witness to [Jesus’] resurrection (Acts 1:22).”

-There were about one-hundred and twenty people present. Perhaps this was a symbolic number, for ten people were needed for a prayer group, hence, twelve apostles plus ten people for each apostle. The Spirit comes upon this gathering of communities.

-“As of fire,” the fire indicates the light of faith and the warmth of love.

-By the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles are transformed from frightened followers to fearless witnesses. To be a Christian means to be a witness to life, to the Resurrection, this can be done only by the grace of God.

-Bystanders from every nation heard the apostles in their own language. The scripture does not tell us that the apostles spoke simultaneously in a variety of languages, but that the listeners heard them in their own language. What we appropriate, then, is the witness of the apostles to the resurrection and faith in Jesus. This is the wellspring of our faith, which we profess always in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

-Can we accept this witness in our lives without fear.

-Today is seen as the birth of the Church, and the East sees it also as the beginning of ordination.

-Mary, the Mother of the Church, is present.

“We have seen the true light, we have found the true faith, and we worship the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

On the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension

The Resurrection and the Ascension are two separate concepts. This was known by the Gospel writers, particularly St. Luke. St. John also distinguishes the two, when Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Lord. Jesus says to her, “Stop holding [traditional: “do not cling to me”] on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). The Resurrection is the restoration to life of his human body, the Ascension is the glorification of Jesus, both God and man, at the right hand of the Father: “… the angels marveled at the sight of a human being more exalted than themselves. Today, the Father receives again in his bosom the one who was in him from eternity” (First sticheron at Psalm 140, Feast of Ascension).

The Ascension is the completion of the Paschal Mystery, the descent in humility, the exaltation again into glory. This serves as the model for every human life. It was necessary that in Christ the full glorification of the human nature be already fulfilled. Jesus did not continue to live among us in a historical sense, for our sanctification lies in accepting the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection in faith, as our Lord told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. (John 20:29)” This, again, is the divine oikonomia. [Paraclete comes]. Jesus is already “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14, 19:16), and reigns at the right hand of the Father.

St. Athanasius gives the fundamental Christian interpretation of the Ascension, “Since, then, the Word was an image of God and was immortal, he assumed the form of a slave and underwent death in our behalf as a man in his own flesh, so that through this death he might, on our account, bring himself home to the Father. For this reason he is also said as a man to have been exalted on our account, and for our sake, so that, just as by his death we have all died in Christ, so conversely in Christ we may be exalted, roused from the dead and going up to the heavens, ‘where Christ entered as our forerunner’ (Hebrews 6:20); Against the Arians 1:37-43 in ACD (Ancient Christian Doctrine) 3, 163).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” (John 17:11).

This Sunday commemorates the first ecumenical council (council of the whole Church), held in the city of Nicea, near Constantinople, in the year 325. The Gospel read on this Sunday is the final part of Jesus’ last teaching discourse to his disciples, just before he was arrested, as recorded by John. This gospel tells us about the whole divine plan for our glory and salvation.

Jesus first tells his disciples that he must leave them. Leaving them, however, does not mean abandoning them. Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. (John 14:18-19)” First, Jesus is going because he is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6). Second, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3). Jesus tells us, “It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Why? Because “when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).

The climax of everything is that we will become like God, one in the Holy Trinity, “now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” (John 17:11).

This is the glory of God, to bring all together in unity, for God is one. This does not mean that we will all be the same, for God has created us in a wonderous diversity, but we will all be united because there is only one truth, and we must live in the one truth. This is why the Council formulated the one truth about the one God, in the Holy Trinity. Each and every one of us must glorify God in the one truth, in “one mind and one heart” (Anaphora).

Ascension of the Lord

The ascension of our Lord into glory is the seal on his resurrection. Jesus taught Nicodemus, “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13). St. Paul further explains that the ascension is the sign of his victory over the Hades, the kingdom of death, “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended into the lower regions of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:9-10).

As God, the Lord does not change, for he reigns with his Father in glory forever. But in the ascension, Jesus in his human nature, one person as the Word of God and Son of God and incarnate man, lifts up our human nature to the right hand of the Father in the hope of life and deification. St. John tells us of this hope, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2-3).

The liturgy of the Church teaches us the same mystery, “Ascending in glory today from the Mount of Olives, through your great love, you lifted up our fallen nature and enthroned it with the father on high” (Vespers). This was done out of love for us, “Having so loved human nature, you granted that it may be enthroned with you. In your compassion you united it with yourself, in union with it you have suffered, and by your passion you glorified it, O God, beyond all suffering” (Vespers).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Ascension Thursday

“…He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.”
 
Tomorrow, May 10th, is Ascension Thursday, a holy day of obligation. The Divine Liturgy will be offered at 9:00 a.m. (in Ukrainian) and at 7:00 p.m. (in English).
 
“It is no exaggeration to say that the feasts of Annunciation and Christmas have their exact counterpart and, indeed, their fulfillment in the Ascension. Christ united himself to our nature in order to raise us up to God. The Word became flesh and made his home among men, but through the Ascension, “the head of our human race is at home, where only God is at home.” And he ascended, not to abandon the earth—much less his flesh—but to fill all things with himself” (Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)).

Sunday of the Man Born Blind, Sixth Sunday of Easter

The story of the Man Born Blind is the third Sunday Gospel in Pascha about the mystery of baptism. This gospel is very clear, “Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his the blind man’s) eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see” (John 9:6-7). The clay represents the anointing we receive at baptism, making us “Anointed Ones,” (Christs, or Christians) and the washing represents the washing in the water of baptism. The blind man can then see, he is “enlightened,” the name the Church gives to baptism. Two observations: to be truly enlightened, we need humility. 

We need to know that only God can give us the vision we need. To do that, we cannot rely on our own “opinions,” we must hear his Word in the gospel, we must worship him with his people, we must be attentive to the voice of his shepherds in the teaching of the Church. If we believe only in ourselves, we risk condemnation, as Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains” (John 9:41). True knowledge comes only from the Holy Spirit, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (1 John 2:20). The second observation is that in these three weeks, our Lord calls to baptism the most unlikely people: a friendless man lying lame by a pool, a shameless woman with serial husbands, and a blind man about whom the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Jesus responds, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:3). Thus separating the wrath of God from the judgment of sin. God truly hates evil, which brings death and failure, but he loves the sinner with infinite divine love. If we suffer because of our sins, it is because that is the “wages” of sin (Romans 6:23). We see in these three Sundays that God is merciful and wishes the salvation of all. He calls us all to enlightenment in baptism, so that we can live in the Holy Spirit.”

The Samaritan Woman

The theme of baptism continues in this Sunday’s Gospel, re-affirming that Pascha is a feast of resurrection and of baptism, being born into eternal life. The center of Jesus’ conversation with this unnamed woman (the Church later gave her the name Photine, the “enlightened woman”) is about water. They met at Jacob’s well, a place of great tradition, a sign and a promise of God’s love and mercy for his people. Jacob’s well provided the riches of water to a desert place, the sign that God would always provide for and bless his people. However, the encounter with the woman reveals something more: Jesus is the Messiah to come, he is greater than the Patriarch Jacob. The water of Jacob’s well is only for this world, Jesus would give “the water that would become a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). This clearly refers to our baptisms, as it comes immediately after the comparison of Jesus with John the Baptist, and the baptisms done by Jesus’ disciples. We renew our baptism every time we receive Communion, and they are for life, for eternal life, from God, the giver of life.

A couple of observations: as for Nathaniel, Jesus signs his ministry with intimate knowledge of the people he meets. He sees Nathaniel under the fig tree, and he tells the woman about her five husbands. In both cases, they become his disciple because of his knowledge of him. This is a theme of John’s Gospel, the shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him. Second, it should be to our wonder that Jesus always comes to the most underprivileged. To whom does he reveal the mystery of eternal life in baptism: to the paralytic who had no friends, to the woman who had led a shameful life, and came to the well at noon who no one else would be there, and to the blind man suspected of sin because of his blindness. And the disciples marvel that Jesus speaks to a woman! Not just any woman, but a heretical, decadent Samaritan woman! Are we humble enough to accept Jesus as our Messiah?

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday of the Paralytic Man

There are six Sundays in the forty day celebration of the Resurrection (corresponding to the forty days until the Ascension as recorded in the Gospel of Luke). The first three Sundays have a gospel of the Resurrection and the second three a gospel with a baptismal theme. Sadly, in our day the baptismal theme of the Feast of Pascha has sometimes been eclipsed, But Paul’s Letter to the Romans makes that connection: “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)” This Sunday, we see this is the story of the Paralytic Man. He was without friends, paralyzed for thirty-eight years and unable to get into the pool when the angel touched the waters. However, he finds a friend in our Lord, who asks, “Do you want to be well?” This gospel affirms the sacramental mystery of baptism: it is not the water touched by an angel that cures the man, but the ultimate power of healing comes from the Lord, in the waters of baptism touched by the Holy Spirit sent by the Lord.

The Gospel of John is truly a proclamation of the Son of God who sends the Spirit. It also affirms the meaning of baptism, which is the rejection of evil and the commitment to Christ. “Do you want to be well?” Jesus asks, and then the healed man proclaims Jesus as his Healer. Some of the liturgical meaning is lost in some modern Bibles who relegate verse 4 about the angel touching the water to a footnote, as a passage not found in the earliest versions.

“O Christ, cure my soul as you once cured the paralytic man, for it is under the influence of evil and sin. Guide me that I may walk in your paths.” (Ode 5, Matins)

“From time to time an angel of the Lord came to stir up the waters of the pool of the Sheepgate. One man recovered his health, but now an infinite number are saved by Christ through baptism.” (Ode 4, Matins)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Third Sunday of Pascha – The Myrrh-Bearers

This Sunday presents us with the proclamation of the resurrection according to St. Mark.

We are first confronted with the death of our Lord. Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to reclaim the body. Pilate wonders that he died so quickly, while Joseph entombs his body with great care and love. As Christians we must confront the reality that Jesus died as a sign of his love. His glory was the Cross, making the Christian faith unique –love is found in sacrifice, life is found in death, power is found in service. And St. Paul’s words are read on Good Friday: “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 it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Believing in the Resurrection, we are confronted with the Christian paradox that the world cannot understand.

The women go to the tomb on the third day, but Jesus is not there. The young man announces to them: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women are told to announce the resurrection, but they fail to do so, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). This too is a challenge to our faith. Where do we seek the Christ? Can we today complete the mission the women were entrusted with, can we proclaim the resurrection? Do we understand the gospel and commit ourselves to the Lord, “who trampled upon death by death.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras