Second Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Romans 2:10-16; Matthew 4:18-23

My favorite poet is a Jesuit priest who lived in the 19th century, and wrote about our faith. His name is Gerard Manley Hopkins, and though he was unknown in his lifetime, he changed English poetry. He wrote of our life in Christ:

In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

This is what happens in today’s Gospel. Jesus calls Peter and Andrew and John and James, ordinary fishermen, and they IMMEDIATELY follow him. They become “immortal diamond,” oh —after one weakness when they run away at Jesus’ arrest, but then finally “in a flash” by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul witnesses: “Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

Today, though, especially because of mass media, the greatest fear we have is of being “ordinary.” We are unsure of ourselves, and we do not want to ever admit that we are or ever have been “ordinary.” Our problem is lack of faith. We want to become “immortal diamond” on our own terms, not from God’s calling. This is the sin of Adam and Eve, we want to “do it our way.” We have no humility, we do not trust in God’s plan.

Today’s gospel tells us differently —we don’t get the fifteen minutes of false glory that the world gives, but immortal life in Christ. Today we are Simon and Andrew and James and John, hearing the voice of Jesus, “Come, follow me.” Today we hear the Lord calling us calling us to a life like his of caring for others and proclaiming the gospel, if not by words, by our actions and lives. We cannot ignore this call. And St. Paul promises in the epistle “There will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greek. There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:15-16).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

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All Saints Sunday

The Greek Church celebrates the great company of saints today. The Latin Church celebrates All Saints on November 1.

“The Church of Christ honors even after their death those who have lived a truly godly life. Every day of the year it commemorates the saints who departed hence on that day, leaving this mortal life. It sets the life of each of them before us for our benefit, and also shows us how each died, whether they fell asleep in peace or ended their lives in martyrdom. On this day, however, the Church gathers them all together and sends up a common hymn in their honor.”

(By St. Gregory Palamas – 1296-1358)

Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council: The Gospel of Unity

“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)”

After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his followers for forty days. He did not live with them on a day to day basis, as he did before his crucifixion and death, but he rose now into glory, giving us also the hope of resurrection to eternal life. His appearances had a particular goal, as he explained later in the Gospel of John, but in the same discourse we have heard today, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. (John 17:18): The Gospel today begins, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him” (John 17:1-2). In the Gospel of St. Matthew, as Jesus leaves his followers, he give them this commission, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19). After his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus is glorified, he has all power and authority, and he passes on his mission to us by giving us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Some of the Fathers of the Church have asked the question: “Why didn’t our Lord stay with us in his risen glory and give us clear guidance in the building up of his kingdom? Why did he leave us and return to the Father, where as God he reigns with the Father eternally, and now sits at his right now also in the human nature that he took for our salvation?” We might muse – it certainly would make it easier for us if Jesus stayed visibly with us and would be the power of our faith in the world. He left us, though because of God’s wisdom. If he stayed with us, we might perceive him as a tyrant, but his whole earthly mission was exactly NOT to establish an earthly political kingdom, but to establish the Kingdom of God, which can exist only in an atmosphere of complete human freedom. In other words, it is now up to us, by loving God and our neighbor freely, by freely doing the will of God to build up this kingdom. At the same time, God did not leave us entirely on our own. He promised, I tell you the truth, 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)” We have received the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, in our baptisms. The priest has anointed us with chrism, saying, “The gift of the Holy Spirit.” Again, St. John teaches, “As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27). We cannot build up God’s kingdom by our own human strength, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

For Byzantine Catholics, Sunday Feb. 10 is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, which is the first of then “pre-Lenten Sundays.”

The journey of the feast of lights was a journey to specific holy places. It is a journey which we now make in spirit, in order to find the light of Christ. Soon after this journey, we begin another journey, going with our Lord to Jerusalem, as he foretold in the Gospel of St. Luke: “When the days for his being taken up (which John calls his glorification) were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” During the Great Fast, then, we make another journey that ends in the holy city of Jerusalem, as Jesus said, “Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). But his death is his glorification, “by death he tramples death,” and it is the way to resurrection, to a resurrection promised to all. Our journey likewise ends in life (resurrection) and in light, as the Gospel of Paschal Sunday, the Day of Resurrection says, “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The journey to light in the Christmas – Theophany – Encounter cycle ends in the temple, where the incarnate temple of God enters into the holy Temple, and there is proclaimed to the world by Simeon and Anna, who witness to his glory. The journey of the Great Fast then begins in the Temple, and two men go there to pray. One witnesses to pride and self-righteousness, the other to humility and repentance. The whole of the Great Fast is for us to make our choice on which to imitate. To be a Christian means to hear our Lord’s warning, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever exalts himself will be exalted.” This is the central meaning of the Great Fast, as our Lord invites us, “Come and see.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Thirty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Timothy 1:15-17; Luke 18:35-43 (Readings of the 31st Sunday after Pentecost)

We must learn how to read Scripture. It is not lessons of the past, but the reality of God’s presence among us today, in the here and now. One of the most frequent ways that Jesus steps into our lives is by his works of healing.

In Matthew 11:5 Jesus tells us, “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Today we hear this good news, today the blind see. Jesus often gave sight to the blind, telling them, “Your faith has saved you.” This is what he says to the blind man of Jericho. He cannot see who Jesus is, but when those around him say, “Jesus is passing by,” he immediately shouts as loud as he can, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” For Jesus, though he is the Word of God, has become one of us, of the family of David.

We might think that the gospel is about physical sight, but it is more than that, it is why faith is necessary. All of us, whether physically blind or spiritually blind, need Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world.” This is why we call baptism “enlightenment.” This is why we must confess that Jesus came to save sinners, “of whom we are the first.” We can say this sincerely, because we know the power of sin in our own hearts, and not in the hearts of others.

We will say this today here in this church as we approach Holy Communion, as we approach the light and life of the world today: you are Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.” We say this not to crush ourselves down, but as St. Paul tells us to today’s Epistle, but that we might be “mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” Only in faith, then, do we see the true “light and life.”

Image: Jesus Healing the Blind Man of Jericho (Codex of Egberti)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit

The feast of Theophany is not only about baptism in water, but about the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Kontakion declares, “You have revealed yourself to the world today; and your light, O Lord, has set its seal on us.” When we enter into the life of the Trinity, we receive the gift of the Spirit as the priest anoints us with the words, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We find this phrase in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, “In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory” (1:13-14). Today in the Church, there is a movement called the “charismatic movement.” It wants to re-emphasize that all who have been baptized into Christ have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This manifests itself in different ways according to our individual talents. On the Sunday after Theophany, St. Paul says, “And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

The Spirit is given so that Christ may live in us according to fullness. When Communion is distributed, the Body and Blood of Christ are united in the cup with the words, “The fullness of the Holy Spirit.” Why are these charisms, these spiritual gifts, not more evident today? Perhaps it is because we are not as open to hearing the Spirit within us, there is too much individualism and pride. The Spirit is given that we might support one another in community, the Spirit does not support our own ideologies, but the truth of God. The words of the gospel and the teaching of the Church cannot contradict the Spirit, but we sometimes give them our own interpretations. The Spirit truly guides us to truth, as Jesus promised, “when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13). However, we must not hear what we “want to hear,” nor the echo of our own thoughts, but only the working of the Holy Spirit, leading us to the Father through Christ.

The Sunday after Christmas

On this Sunday, we commemorate three men who had a relationship with Jesus: David, his forefather; Joseph, his foster father; and James, his brother through Joseph. Each of these man were shown mercy by God. David committed a great sin, to win the wife of Uriah, he had Uriah put into the front lines of battle, so that he was killed. The prophet Nathan brought this sin to light and David did repentance and lost his son. Joseph found Mary pregnant and decided to divorce her, but an angel told him to take her as his wife. James was among Jesus’ relatives who did not accept him as a prophet, but after the resurrection, he repented and became the leader of the church at Jerusalem.

We might remember also three women who were among Jesus’ foremothers. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, who loved her more than Leah. However, when Jacob worked for seven years for Laban to win Rachel’s hand, Laban insisted he marry his eldest daughter Leah. Jacob then worked another seven years for Rachel. However, Rachel was barren until finally she gave birth to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son. Jacob took his family and fled Laban, and Rachel stole Laban’s family icons. When Laban caught up with Jacob, Jacob cursed the thief of his icons, not knowing that it was his beloved wife Rachel. The curse was fulfilled when Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel is mentioned in today’s Gospel as weeping when the children of Bethlehem are massacred by King Herod, but the gospel says, “no comfort for her, for they are no more.”

We might also mention Ruth, who was a foreigner – like the Magi. She married a Hebrew man from Bethlehem who died, and Ruth followed her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, and there tricked Boaz into marriage, becoming the great-grandmother of David and ancestor of our Lord. We might also mention Tamar, who lost her husband, whose brother refused to have children by her. She disguised herself as a prostitute and became pregnant with her father-in-law, Judah, who wanted to have her executed for prostitution until he was shown to be the father. So she, too, became an ancestor of Jesus through trickery. Does not today’s feast remind us that we all have a relationship now with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and we are all in need of his mercy.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

The Three Holy Children

The Byzantine liturgical calendar of the Ukrainian Church has given us today the feast of The Three Holy Children. The feast day commemorates a most fascinating event (experience) of people of faith in the face of evil.

“You did not worship the image circumscribed by hands (χειρόγραφον εἰκόνα), / O thrice-blessed ones, / but armed with the uncircumscribed Essence (ἀγράφῳ οὐσίᾳ), / you were glorified in a trial by fire. / From the midst of unbearable flames you called on God, crying: / Hasten, O compassionate One! / Speedily come to our aid, / for You are merciful and able to do as You will.” (Sunday of the Forefathers, Kontakion-Hymn)

The “thrice-blessed ones” are the Three Holy Children, Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego, kinsmen of the Prophet Daniel in the tribe of Judah, led away together with him and other Jews into Babylonian Captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar had the three youths thrown into a fiery furnace, (in which they famously remained unharmed), after they refused to worship a golden image of Nebuchadnezzar, which he had constructed and ordered the people to worship (Dan. 3).

Why does this story receive so much “press” in our Church’s liturgical tradition, and especially in the weeks preceding Christmas? Because it signifies the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, on several levels. First, it reflects Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2: 31-35), in which a statue made of expensive metals was destroyed by “a rock hewn from a mountain, not by human hands.” The Church understands this “Rock” to signify Jesus Christ, called in our Church’s hymnography the “Rock Hewn Not-by-Hands” (λίθος ἀχειρότμητος / камень нерукосечный), from the “Mountain“ that signifies the Holy Virgin. The power of His coming to us in the flesh destroys the “power” of false deities, “circumscribed by hands.” The faith of the Three Youths, in the True God, overcomes the “power” and fiery flames of Nebuchadnezzar’s falsehood, prefiguring the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, our death-trampling Lord. And second, the fiery furnace, in which the Three Children remain unharmed, signifies the Virgin Birth, because the Theotokos’s virginity remained intact, and she –unharmed, even though she received, and gave birth to, the “consuming fire” Who is God Himself (Deut. 4: 24).

As we continue to head toward Bethlehem, on this journey of the Nativity Fast, I say Thank You, Lord. I thank You for coming to us, as a Child amongst Your children; entering the “fiery furnace” of our world, and making it safe and even salvific for us. “Speedily come to our aid, for You are merciful and able to do as You will.”