Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Ephesians 6:10-17

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul tells us, “draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil ….take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The true weapon of the Christian is not the metal sword, but the sword of the word. Hebrews tells us, “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

Christians do not meet violence with violence, but when persecuted, follow the Lord’s teaching, “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute” (Luke 21:14-15). Jesus is the Word of God, and his word is powerful indeed, and so the true power Christians comes when we speak in the truth of our Lord. Our human words may not seem that powerful, but words spoken in Christ can transform our lives. This power does not come from us, but from God, therefore, as St. Paul again says, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20) and yesterday’s epistle says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). 

All this has meaning in this Christmas season. We give gifts to one another, and parents instruct their children, say “Thank you,” to those who give you gifts. The words “thank you” are more powerful than the material gifts, for they form bonds of love. As Christians, we, too, say words of “thanks” that bind us in love to God, “the giver of every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17, Ambon Prayer).

In this church, we utter words of thanksgiving, as we offer our Liturgy, a “sacrifice of praise.” That is why we call the Liturgy the Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” And on Christmas, we offer words to the new-born child, “Christ is born! Glorify him.” We must not only says words with our mouth, “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: Ephesians 5:9-19; Luke 12:16-21

The key to understanding this Sunday’s Gospel is the final sentence, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21). That’s why worldly riches, or “eating, drinking and making merry,” or amassing and hoarding stuff for oneself don’t matter. What matters is God’s will for us. In a narcissistic, individualistic age, we often confuse our own goals and desires with the will of God. This Sunday’s Epistle reminds us that we really, really have to work to discover God’s will.

St. Paul tells us, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 510); “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15); “Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17). “Light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).

Lord, let your light shine upon us! In the Lucan cycle, which always begins on the second Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross, this Gospel will always be read on the Sunday from November 17-23. Since Thanksgiving always comes on November 22-28, this Gospel is a good reflection on Godly and worldly riches.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 

Read: Ephesians 2:14-22; Luke 8:41-56

Many people are squeamish at the sight of blood, some even faint away. This is because of fear – we know that loss of blood can lead to loss of life. The blood flowing in our veins is life. In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord encounters a woman who has had a hemorrhage for twelve years – life is slowly seeping away from her. But death cannot remain in the presence of Christ, and merely by secretly touching his garment, she is healed by his power.

Today’s Gospel contains this healing within a healing, a raising form the dead. Our Lord is on his way to raise the twelve-year old daughter of Jairus, where he redefines death as sleep, ““Do not weep any longer, for she is not dead, but sleeping” (Luke 8:52). See that for God, time is without meaning, for the woman with the hemorrhage, twelve years seems an eternity, but for the little girl, twelve years is much too short. For the Jews at the time of Jesus, blood signified life. When animals were sacrificed, the blood was poured out as a libation, for the life belongs to God. While our Lord stopped the flow of the blood for the woman, and gave life to the little girl, he instead shed his own blood for the life of the world and died on the Cross to bring us all resurrection. He invites us to share in his blood, “Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’” (Mark 14:23-24).

The healing of the woman with the hemorrhage connects with the epistle in yet another way. In the Jewish law, even someone who touched a woman shedding blood (menstruation or in giving birth) became unclean. Yet the woman “came up behind [Jesus] and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus then asked, ‘Who touched me?’” (Luke 11:44-45). Jesus was not angry at her, but instead said, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 11:48). Jesus, however, has broken the wall, as St. Paul reflects, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh …. for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:13-14.18).

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 2:4-10
Luke 8:26-39

The Gospel for this Sunday: Luke 8:26-39, the story of the Gadarene Demoniac. Then Jesus asked him (the demon), “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. And they pleaded with him not to order them to depart to the abyss. A herd of many swine was feeding there on the hillside, and they pleaded with him to allow them to enter those swine; and he let them” (Luke 8:30-32).

It is said that this is one of the more difficult gospels to preach on, but it is rich in symbolism.

First, we see that evil cannot stand before Jesus. For God is one, as St. Paul said,
“There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:4-5).

Evil, however, is divided among itself, for there are many, Legion. And Jesus said, “If house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). So evil is already overcome, and Jesus says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John16:33).

Evil brings death, that is why the possessed man has to live in the tombs, and why, when the demons enter the swine, they immediately perish. Why should we fret, for Jesus “has overcome the world,” and we have the one Spirit, who is guiding the Church to the real truth of the one God who is mercy and compassion? St. Paul tells us today that faith in Christ is life, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins …. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1.4-6)”

Twenty-Third Saturday after Pentecost

“There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

Evil acts are performed in darkness, they are “covered up,” or we make lame excuses for them, or we simply lie about what we have done, because evil cannot exist in the presence of light. This theme is repeated many times in Scripture. John 3:19-20 describes it, “light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”

What is clear, though, is that a genuine faith in Christ drives out the darkness of sin, for “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Jesus is the “light of the world., (John 8:12) and to live a Christian life, we must try to live always in light, “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:11-14).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

On this Sunday, we also remember the Nicea II Council in 787, which defined that we can make images (icons) of our Lord and the saints, and venerate them. This council was held in the midst of the iconoclastic (the “image breaking”) controversy, the first phase from 726-787, and the second phase from 814-842. It draws attention to how important images are for us. I know of few homes that do not have a picture, today usually a photograph but sometimes a portrait or drawing, of those we love. If we love Christ first with our whole heart and mind and soul, the image helps us to focus that love.

We know these images are only paper or wood and ink or paint, but through the eyes of our body they make the person present in spirit. Yet some people hate images. There is a danger of idolatry, and the council did dialogue with those people who had that fear of idol-worship, and so defined clearly how images are to be venerated: “For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented.” This is the Christian faith.

We cannot make images of the divine nature, but the mystery of the incarnation, in which the Word of God became truly a human being, the two natures united in one person, allows us to make images of Jesus, who was like us in every way except sin. This leads us to a deeper mystery, that we are created in the image of God, and that “all of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And the glory and the wisdom of the Lord is his emptying, his love, his cross and his resurrection.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

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.