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

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24; Matthew 21:33-42

This Sunday’s Gospel continues the theme of all the Gospels: that our salvation, which is freedom from sin and life in God, is founded on our Lord Jesus Christ. The Letter to the Hebrews begins: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God has sent messengers to his vineyard, but they were killed by the vine-dressers, those who had control of the vineyard. Finally they did the same to the Son of God. Jesus, our Lord, was rejected by those in control of his people, the vineyard, who led him to crucifixion. The disciples expected retribution, but Jesus said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” St. Paul confirmed this: “you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Ephesisans 2:20).

On the cross, Jesus was abandoned by all, by the leaders of his people, by the mob that chose Barabbas (“The son of the father!”), and even by his own disciples, who betrayed him, denied him, and ran away in fear. Again, St. Paul tells us, “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 the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:18.25). It is through weakness in worldly power that the true strength of God is manifested, for “by death he trampled upon death.” We must not fear our weakness, but abandon ourselves completely to our Lord, “loving God with all our heart and mind and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves.” 

On August 10, we remembered the holy martyr Lawrence. When the pagan emperor demanded he turn over the treasure of the church, he brought him the blind, the lame, and all sorts of sick people, saying, “Here are the eternal treasures of the church.” Jesus also told the parable of the banquet, in which the servants are to bring in “the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Truly, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Matthew 19:16-26

The Word of God: “it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” We must not soften this saying in any way. We must ask: what does it mean to be rich? Wealth is relative. The poorest person in a first world country today has access to more gadgets and health care than the very richest at the time of Jesus. We see the problem of riches in the reaction of the young man. He cannot put faith in the Son of God, he cannot respond to the presence of God, because his heart is in his many possessions. (v. 22) Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). But the rich in spirit cannot love God more than themselves, and it is a simple reality that if they cannot love God, they cannot love their neighbors, created by God. Mary therefore declares, “The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53) And Abraham tells the rich man in hell, “you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. (Luke 16:25) And James admonishes his flock, who honored a rich man, “Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:6-7).

Make no mistake: riches are a scandal and an obstacle to our communion with God. Yet, in the end, Jesus always gives hope. The one who multiplied the loaves, the one who walked on water, the one who cured the boy the disciples could not cure, the one who forgave the servant who owed an impossible sum of money, the same can even do the greatest miracle and save a rich man, as the gospel today ends, “for God all things are impossible.” But it is much, much better for us if we hears the words of the Lord transfigured into glory on Mt. Tabor and who is risen from the dead. In him alone is all glory, life and love for all creation.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

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