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).

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

lazarusMeditation by the Very Rev. Dr. David M. Petras
Ephesians 2:4-10; Luke 16:19-31

In today’s epistle, St. Paul tells us of the inexpressible mercy of God: “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, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)” The rich man in the gospel, however, does not share in this rich mercy. He is blind and deaf to the needs of his neighbor, and so he died and was buried in Hades. The gospel is quite matter of fact about this and Abraham simply tells him, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. (Luke 16:25)” This fulfills the prophecy of Jesus, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours … Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:20.24)” Even Jesus’ mother prophesizes, “The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.(Luke 1:53)” Then the rich man in Hades begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers, “‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them … If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:28.30) So we come to the point of this parable. Jesus indeed raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), but the elders of the people did not believe and decided instead that Jesus must die. God is indeed infinite in his mercy, but we must be ready to hear his voice and open ourselves to faith in him. If we close our eyes and ears and hearts, we shut God out. The lesson of last week’s gospel, the parable of the sower, still reverberates in our ears, “hear the word, and embrace it with a generous and good heart … whoever has ears to hear ought to hear. (Luke 8:15.8)” We have not only Moses and the Prophets, but Jesus, the Son of God and his apostles and the apostolic faith. If we hear the gospel and act upon it, we will have immeasurable spiritual riches.

7th Ecumenical Council

7th-ecumenical-councilMeditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Petras

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.

More on the subject can be found here.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

parable-of-the-sowerMeditation by the Very Rev. Dr. David M. Petras
Galatians 6:11-18
Luke 8:5-15

Today our Lord explains by way of a parable how we are to accept the word of God in our hearts. The seed is the word of God, and three types of people fail to receive the word: those on the path, eaten by the birds; those on rocky soil; and those among thorns. The story seems complicated, but it is actually quite simple: the people who fail to hear the gospel are those who cannot put Christ first. They put the devil, the evil one, first, and he takes the good news from their hearts; they put themselves first, and fall away at the first hint of personal hardship; they put their possessions and status first, and leave no room for Christ. It is of this third group that we sing in every Liturgy, “Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now set aside all earthly cares (quoting here Luke 8:14), that we may receive (in Communion) the King of all.” We can hear the good news and let it take root in us if we put Christ first in our lives, “with a generous and good heart (Luke 8:15).” This commitment must be absolute and uncompromising. Therefore, St. Paul gives us the example, “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world – a new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)”