Sunday before Christmas

holy-ancestorsMeditation by the Very Rev. Dr. David Petras

As we move toward Christmas, the Sunday before the great feast of the Lord’s Incarnation is day when we read the gospel giving us the genealogy of Jesus.

The Gospel this Sunday presents us with an abundance of names, all those who were the ancestors of Christ. By this we see that on this feast, the Son and Word of God becomes a part of the human family and a part of human history. In this Gospel Jesus is also given a name, the final verse tells us that the child will be known as Jesus – Savior. In verse 22, though, he is given the name “Immanuel,” “God with us.” This gives us the theological meaning of the feast, the incarnation signifies our deification. We all have names, but for the ancients, names had meanings, they did not simply give us an identification tag, but told us something of who we were. In that sense, we do not name ourselves, but we are given a name, we are all “called by name” by God, and so we enter into the ancestry of Jesus. The names are the forefathers of Jesus, but also the foremothers are mentioned: Tamar, who bore a son by trickery of Judah; Ruth, the grandmother of David, who left her people to follow Naomi; the unnamed wife of David, Bathsheba, who David married by arranging for the death of Uriah. We see, then, that even trough questionable and evil actions, as well as by faithfulness, Jesus becomes “the son given to us.” The greatest of the woman in his genealogy is, of course, Mary, his mother, who by her obedience cancelled the curse of Eve, and united God with humanity in her womb. Today, we celebrate the Son of Abraham, according to the Law, and the Son of David, the everlasting King, to whom even David bowed, and even the Son of exile, for we are all citizens of the spiritual, not the earthly, Jerusalem. Today we must be named as a follower of Christ.

Sunday of the Forefathers

biblical-narrative-iconMeditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Pertras
Colossians 3:4: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

This first phrase from today’s Epistle as the Church begins it’s celebration of the birth of our Lord really tells us what Christmas is all about. This is the announcement of the feast. The Word of God, appearing in our world, is the glory of the believer. He appears in humble surroundings, but invites all to the feast! The gospel (Luke 14:16-24) tells us that those who are well off refuse the invitation, but it is “the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind,” who come, it is those in “the highways and hedges” who are “compelled to come.” Mary probably realized this when she prophesied, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” (Luke 1:52) The angels appear to the shepherds in the fields, and they are invited to the house of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is his humility, and our glory is our humility. For all that, everyone is invited to the banquet, and the wise and the rich from Persia come with expensive gifts, though they too are outsiders, and the epistle tells us “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11) Those who welcome Christ will put aside “anger, wrath, malice …. ” (Colossians 3:8) The first sticheron at Christmas chants, “let us proclaim the present mystery by which the partition has been broken and the flaming sword withheld. Now the Cherubim shall let us all come to the Tree of Life.” This is putting Christ back into Christmas!

29th Sunday after Pentecost

healing-10-lepersMeditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Petras
Colossians 3:12-16; Luke 17:12-19

The American culture joins together the Feast of Thanksgiving and Christmas. If we are materialistic, we might say it is the sell gifts. However, there is a spiritual meaning to the joining of these feasts, because Thanksgiving asks the question: “To whom do we give thanks?” The answer of a non-believer is to ourselves and another, for as rational human beings, it is up to us the give meaning to our existence and to produce the goods that we need or simply want. The gospel tells us that we must give thanks to God, who alone brought us into being and who alone can give us salvation. Jesus tells us today that this is difficult, because it requires humility and an open heart. Thus only one of the ten lepers gives thanks, and the least expected, the foreigner. It is on Christmas that God gives us his greatest gift, the gift of himself. This gift requires the greatest thanksgiving, the eucharist (Greek for “thanksgiving”) in which God gives himself to us in Holy Communion. That is why it is so important to make that effort to seek the Lord in his church. There is where we receive “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another … and over all these put on love. (Colossians 3:12-14)” There we can imitate the leper who returned gratitude to the Lord, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)” There the priest invites us, “Let us give thanks to the Lord.”

St Andrew and Church unity

sts-andrew-and-peterToday is the feast day of St Andrew.

It is a legend, but also a symbol, that St. Andrew evangelized the town of Byzantium before it would become a great city. The symbol, therefore, is that Rome, the West, and Constantinople (Byzantium), the East are united in the fraternity of the two apostles, Peter and Paul. In our broken world, the Church is hampered in preaching the gospel by internal divisions. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are heroically trying to re-unite to preach the one true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are hampered by narrow-minded people in both Churches, who cannot see Christ living in the eucharist of these Churches. There is only one Christ in Holy Communion, and we do not partake of one Christ, and the other another Christ. There is only one Christ born of Mary in Bethlehem, whose Body we cannot divide. Now is the proper time for the one Church to proclaim the one Lord and Savior in the one holy Gospel. We must pray for unity this Christmas that we are not too late.

Very Rev. Dr. David Petras

28th Sunday after Pentecost

christ-among-the-angelsMeditation by Very Rev. David Petras Colossians 1:12-18

The epistle this Sunday tells us who Jesus truly is. He is the very center of our being. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, …. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” St. John tells us the same thing, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. (John 1:3-4)” We have the saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas,” but we must take this a step further, “We must put Christ into everything that we are, and in all creation.” Our whole lives must be oriented to Christ, “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)” This worship is not complete until we imitate the Lord in his love for all who have come to be in his loving-kindness.

Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple

feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos“The most pure Temple of the Savior; / the precious Chamber and Virgin; / the sacred Treasure of the glory of God, / is led today into the house of the Lord. / She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, / therefore, the angels of God praise her: / ‘Truly this woman is the abode of heaven.’” (Kontakion-Hymn of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple)

Today we have two great feasts celebrated in our churches: According to the so-called New Calendar, it is the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, and on the Older Calendar it is the feast of the Archangel Michael and All the Bodiless Powers.

So let me reflect on both. Let me reflect on the visible “temple” of the Lord, the Mother of God, entering another visible temple, in Jerusalem, as “the angels of God praise Her.” Both She, and all visible “temples” of today, like us, and our church-buildings, have received the capacity to unite the visible and invisible created worlds, in the Coming of Her heretofore invisible Son in the flesh. We unite with the invisible creation in praise, as we “mystically represent” or “mystically become icons of” (μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες) the cherubim at every Divine Liturgy.

But amazingly, we also receive an honor that exceeds theirs, by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ as they do not. So today let me be humbled by the unique honor I am given in God’s one, created world, with the help of His invisible and visible servants. And let me follow His Most-Pure Mother into the Holy of Holies, into a Communion that even the angels are not given.

Sister Vassa Larin

27th Sunday after Pentecost

gathering-the-harvest-bortoloniMeditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Petras
Ephesians 6:10-17; Luke 12:16-21

“But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God. (Luke 12:20-21)” This is a message of “good news” that Jesus, our Lord and God, shares with us often. In the gospel of St. Matthew, he tells us, “But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)” And: “Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.(Matthew 6:28)” This is certainly a timely message for this Thanksgiving week, when we express gratitude to God for all the blessings we have received. Sometimes we think only of the material goods we own. I always remember one of my parishioners in the day I was active in a parish, he always gleefully said, “Here comes Turkey Day,” forgetting that it is the day of returning gratitude to God. We should also give thanks for our family, our friends and our neighbors, without whom we would have no human life. But even more than this, we give thanks for God’s gifts, for the “heavenly bread” of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the gifts of the Spirit, many of which are mentioned in today’s Epistle: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the gift of the Spirit himself. Yes, we give thanks in the midst of “the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12)” But it is God who will bring us to salvation, and for this is our eucharistia, our thanksgiving.

26th Sunday after Pentecost

good-samaritanMeditation by the Very Rev. Dr. David M. Petras
Ephesians 5:9-19; Luke 10:25-37

This gospel must be read very carefully. Jesus tells a story to make a point. It is just a story, it didn’t happen. However, we get the point. The scholar of the law knew the basic message of faith. We must love God and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Then he asked a question to justify himself. He saw a loophole in Jesus’ teaching. Yes, love your neighbor, but who is your neighbor? That is the problem. Jesus then tells a story in which those you would expect naturally to give help to the beaten man, the priest and the levite (in early Christianity, another name for deacon, one who gives service) pass the poor man without a thought. Who gives help? It is the “other,” the heretics to the Jews, the hated Samaritan. He, the “other,” shows mercy. Whether this story happened or not is irrelevant. Jesus tells us that our neighbor may be someone we do not expect. Therefore, we cannot “justify ourselves” by prejudice and racism, by hating the other. This gospel preaches itself. When I was a young priest, the “other” in our church were blacks and Jews. Today they are immigrants and Moslems. And we, like the “scholar of the law,” are still racists. Racism is the ugly face of our church today. It blocks us from being “true-believing Christians.” The scholar got the point, but he still couldn’t say the hated word, “Samaritan,” but only “the one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus responds “Go and do likewise,” that is, do not hate the other, but always show mercy and care for the other. God’s word is clear, but do we have eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear? “Awake, O sleeper and rise from the dead (the death of the sin of racism), and Christ will give you light. (Ephesians 5:14)”

25th Sunday after Pentecost

jairus-daughterMeditation by the Very Rev. Dr. David M. Petras
Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 8:41-56

The Gospel of St. John tells us: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. (John 5:21)” As we read the Gospel of St. Luke in the Sundays after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we witness this again and again. Jesus brings the son of the widow of Nain back to life. In the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, we are reminded of the Resurrection of Lazarus, in the story of the man possessed by a legion of demons, Jesus brings him back into life from living among the tombs. Death cannot remain in the presence of Jesus, our Lord and our God, and so each Sunday we celebrate his resurrection from the dead. Today we tell another resurrection story: Jesus raises to life the daughter of Jairus, an official of the synagogue, and he heals the woman with the hemorrhage just by a touch, because death cannot exist in the presence of the Lord. The ancients identified death with the loss of blood, the life-fluid, so Jesus returns life to within her. We worship then Jesus and Lord and we pray to him, for no matter who we are, Jesus will give us life, and the fullness of life. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, also read today teaches us that life in unity in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” If, indeed, we find life in Christ, we are alive in the one God, one in the Holy Trinity, “one God and Father of all,” so that life means “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love. (Ephesians 4:1-2)” Lord, make us one, make us alive!

24th Sunday after Pentecost

jesus-releases-sinMeditation by the Very Rev. Dr. David M. Petras
Luke 8:26-39

The idea this gospel is addressing is fear. Jesus comes to the land of the Gerasenes and casts out a legion of demons from a possessed man. The gospel of Luke is succinct on this point and only notes that he lived among the tombs (that is, among the dead). In the gospel of Matthew, we read the detail that “they were so savage that no one could travel by that road” (Matthew 8:28). Jesus’ cure is like a resurrection to life, making him free from the tombs. The demons are sent into unclean animals, the pigs, and this evil is promptly destroyed. The townspeople come out to see what had happened, and rather than welcoming Jesus as a healer and the conqueror of evil, the gospel says “they were seized with fear,” and St. Luke repeats, they “asked Jesus to leave them because they were seized with great fear” (Luke 8:35.37). Of what were they afraid, that their commodity (the pigs) had been destroyed, or that the demoniac man was still possessed by demons? We often “demonize” and “dehumanize” what we fear. We, too, are God-fearing, when we approach Holy Communion the deacon warns, “Approach with the fear of God and with faith.” The townspeople were afraid and asked Jesus to leave, but a true “fear of God,” which is expressed in faith and love, draws us nearer to God in Communion. The Lord can free us from evil, so approach and receive him who told us, “Take courage, for I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).