Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170813

The first reading this weekend is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (4:9-16). In this passage Paul contrasts, with biting irony, the humiliations and sufferings of the apostles with the smugness of the Corinthians who, in forming factions, make pretense of a spiritual superiority over their fellow Christians.

Every supernatural and natural quality by which they may be distinguished is God’s gift. The Corinthians have lost the sense of their own indigence and spiritual poverty that is the basic disposition of the true Christian. They behave as though they have already reached the summit of perfection and are reigning in the Kingdom of Heaven. The apostles, on the contrary, have been made a spectacle of all the universe, like the basest of men, criminals condemned to die in the games of the arena.

From biting sarcasm Paul turns to tender pleading. He spoke sharply to bring about the amendment of the faction-split community. A father has a duty to correct his children and Paul has a relationship to the Corinthians not shared by any other preacher. He has begotten them in Christ.

Our second reading, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, retells the story of Christ curing a possessed boy whom His apostles were unable to cure. It is important to note that the boy’s father first brought the child to the Lord’s Apostles, believing that they had the power to cure the boy.

After the Lord cures the boy, the apostles ask Him why they could not cure the boy. Jesus’ response was: “Because you have so little trust…. I assure you, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed…. Nothing would be impossible for you.”

Trust is the most important sentiment we must develop if we are to have a true relationship with God. We must trust that He will never do anything to hurt us or punish us and that He will always be there to help us go through the struggles of life.

How do I learn how to trust God? By refusing to think of Him as a God who is without compassion for me in my struggles – by refusing to believe that His love is conditional. Our God unconditionally loves us and there is nothing we can do that will change His unconditional love.

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170813

As I think about the two great feasts that our Church celebrates in August, I am reminded that the call to holiness is a call to embrace a belief in (1) the fact that human life is a sharing in the life of God Himself, and (2) human life is eternal. The Fathers of the Church based their belief in the Jesus message because of His wondrous Resurrection from the dead. Why? Because it helped them wipe out one of humankind’s greatest fears, the fear of death.

So the call to holiness is a call to not fear death but, rather, to truly see it as a means of experiencing eternal life and growing in our union with our Creator. People only fear death because they don’t know what comes after earthly life. We know, through faith, that there is life after death and so, if we believe, we do not fear it as people do who have no faith.

People ask me how I can believe in life-after-death when I have no proof. If I had proof, I wouldn’t need to believe. I have something greater, FAITH IN A LOVING GOD.

The Spirituality of the Christian East –2070813

Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He speaks the words of God. He does the work of God. The person who obeys Christ and follows His way and does what He does, loves God and accomplishes His will. To do this is the essence of spiritual life. Jesus has come that we may be like Him and do in our own lives, by His grace, what He Himself has done.

A person can abide in Christ, accomplish His commandments and be in communion with God the Father only by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in his life. Spiritual life is life in and by the Holy Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world through Christ so that human persons can fulfill God’s will in their lives and be like Christ. The spiritual fathers of the Eastern Church say that the Holy Spirit makes people to be “Christ’s,” that is, the “anointed” children of God. This also is the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament writings:

But you have been anointed by the Holy One and you know all things… and the unction [charisma] you have received from Him abides in you…His anointing teaches you about everything and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abided in Him…. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us…. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His own Spirit (1 John).

The teaching of St. John is, of course, the same teaching as that of St. Paul. It is the classical teaching of the Eastern Church, make popular in recent times by St. Seraphim, that the very essence of Christian life, is the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit there is no life.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170813

Although I realize that this article might seem to be very dense for many, what I do hope happens, if you read this, that you may gain a deeper appreciation of what has gone into the formulation of our religion through the efforts of many great persons. The dogmas that we believe in are truly complex. They are, however, beliefs that connect us directly to God and express our connection to Him in a very unique and marvelous way.

As you might guess, other questions arise when we seriously think about those things we believe in, especially that God as Three-In-One.

How are we to make sense of those biblical texts that seem to picture the Son as inferior to the Father? The Son sleeps, hungers, struggles in Gethsemane and dies on the cross. At times Jesus’ knowledge seems limited. For instance, in speaking of the last day and hour, Jesus comments that, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If the Son’s knowledge is less than the Father’s, how can he share a common nature with Him? Is the possibility of a trinitarian model undercut by texts such as these?

These are significant questions regarding the incarnate Son that must not be sidestepped, yet Gregory dares to answers them in one sentence. “What is lofty you are to apply to the Godhead, and to that nature in him which is superior to sufferings and incorporeal; but all that is lowly to the composite condition of him who for your sakes made himself of no reputation and was incarnate – yes, for it is no worse things to say – was made man, and afterwards was also exalted.” The key to these difficult biblical texts is learning “to know which passages refer to his [divine] nature, and which to his assumed human mature.

Of course, the Son was not always incarnate. “He who is now man was once the uncompounded. What he was he continued to be; what he was not he took to himself.” In his saving descent into our world, human nature is “united to God, and became one [person].” In a series of vibrant shining contrasts Gregory highlights the dual nature of Christ’s person and actions.

Remember, the Church believes that Christ is truly and fully God and truly and fully Man and that one of His natures does not rule the other.

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170813

On Tuesday of this coming week, our Church celebrates the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God – Her Falling Asleep. Tradition tells us that when the apostles opened the grave for St. Thomas to pay his respects (You will recall that he was absent when Jesus first appeared to the apostles after His death), her body was not there, only the funeral clothes in which the body had been wrapped. The Apostles realized then that Mary had been taken up body and soul into heaven.

From the beginning of the sixth century, it was believed by many that the tomb of the Mother of God was to be found in the Church of the Dormition in Gethsemane, while the Church on Mt. Sion was regarded as the site of her dormition. However, historians, to this day, cannot prove anything certain concerning the place of her death and burial. Some believe that she died in Jerusalem, others claim that she died in Ephesus where St. John was believed to have taken her after Jesus’ death. Even today a house in Ephesus is pointed out as the one where the Mother of God allegedly lived. (If you take a tour of the ruins of Ephesus, guides will always point out a house where they believe she lived with John).

The liturgical cult of the Mother of God began with the Council of Ephesus (431), which defined the dogma of her Divine Motherhood. In the words of the holy Fathers prior to the fourth century, no mention is made about the Dormition. It is not until after the fourth century that, on the basis of tradition, church writers began to write about the final moments of the life of Mary. Among those Fathers of the East that wrote about her are Andrew of Crete (+712) and John Damascene (+749).

Toward the end of the seventh century, and at the beginning of the eighth century, church writers began to direct their attention not only to Mary’s wonderful Dormition but also to her ascension into heaven body and soul. John Damascene clearly believed in the assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God body and soul into heaven.

This feast is one of the oldest of Marian feasts. It began in Jerusalem shortly after the Council of Ephesus. In the sixth century this feast received its present title. Originally, Theodosius prescribed that the Dormition be kept on January 6th and the Assumption on August 9th. Emperor Mauricius commanded it be celebrated on August 15th and extended it throughout the empire for on that day he gained a brilliant victory over the Persians.

Flowers are blessed on this feast!

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 2018081

During this coming week our Church will celebrate one of the 12 major feasts of our Church, namely the “Dormition of the Mother of God.” We will also celebrate it, since it is within the octave of the feast, next weekend as a community.

As you may or may not know, while the six major feasts in honor of the Mother of God have special prayers, especially the Hymn to the Mother of God, they do not have special Antiphons but only the other moveable prayers.
The Hymn to the Mother of God, which is prayed during the Anaphora, is most beautiful. It reads:

Seeing the dormition of the Most Pure one, the Angels were filled with awe at how the Virgin went from earth to heaven. In you, O Pure Virgin, the laws of nature were overcome: in giving birth you remained a virgin and in you death heralded life. You remained a virgin after giving birth and remained alive after death, always saving your descendants, O Mother of God.

I would call upon you to reflect upon what we pray on this feast. First, we claim again our belief that her body did not suffer decay but, rather, that she was taken body and soul into the next life after her death. Second, her life-long virginity is again declared, which is one of our solemn beliefs. And last, that physical death is only a proclamation that life is eternal and without end.
The Tropar and Kondak for this feast also is filled with what we believe about life.

TROPAR
O Mother of God, in giving birth You still preserved virginity; and in your falling-asleep you did not forsake the world. You are the Mother of Life and heaven transferred to life, and through your prayers have delivered our souls from death.
KONDAK
The grave and death did not detain the Mother of God. She prays perpetually and is our unfailing hope of intercession; for He Who dwelt in the womb of the Ever-virgin, transferred to life the Mother of Life.

Hopefully my readers can see how our liturgical worship also presents again and again the basic “dogmas” of our religion. We pray what we believe, or at least what we are called to believe by our Church. When we do celebrate this feast next weekend, ask yourself what you truly believe!

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170813

realize that this article becomes, at times, very technical. What I am trying to present is the idea that the books we now see as a part of the New Testament (NT) were only gradually chosen from a number of writings that were extant in the early Church. We have seen that by 200 CE the Gospels, the Pauline epistles, Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John had come into general acceptance; and that by the end of the 4th century in the Latin and Greek Churches there was general acceptance of the 27-book canon of the NT. However, this development cloaks some difficulties that should be understood.

Although in the 2nd century the Pauline epistles and then the Gospels came into acceptance, just when did this acceptance mean that Christian writings were being put on a par with the Jewish Scriptures? Why did the concept of the NT emerge? In 2 Peter 3:16, we find writings of Paul put on a par with “the other Scriptures,” but we are not certain that this indicates total equality with the Old Testament (OT). (You will recall the that the OT was considered to be the inspired word of God). By the mid-2nd century, Justin witnesses to the fact that the Gospels and the writings of the apostles were being read in conjunction with the OT at Christian liturgical services. About the same time Clement cites Isaiah and then Matthew as “another Scripture.” Probably, however, it was Marcion, with his rejection of the OT in favor of a truncated collection of 10 Pauline epistles and Luke, who brought to the fore the belief that the Christian writings form a unity with the OT. In listing the Jewish Scriptures, Melito of Sardis speaks of them as the books of the OT, seeming to imply the idea of the NT. Tertullian, ca 200, is the first one to use the actual phrase “New Testament.” This coincides with the appearance of lists of NT books and Origen’s list – a sign that the concept of a collection of Christian Scriptures has taken hold.

Remember, the early Church saw itself mainly as “reformed” Judaism, since Judaism was called into existence by God Himself. The original intent was not to build a “new religion,” but, rather to reform the “old religion” that they felt was the “true religion.” Remember also that Jesus was seen as the fulfillment of Judaism!

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170806

This year the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord falls on the ninth weekend after Pentecost. Because it is one of the major feasts of Our Lord, our proper prayers are taken totally from the feast. Our first reading is taken from St. Peter’s second letter. Peter includes this very powerful statement in his letter:

It was not by way of cleverly concocted myths that we taught you about the coming in power of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we were eyewitnesses of his sovereign majesty. He received glory and praise from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him out of the majestic splendor: ‘This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests’. We ourselves heard this said from heaven while we were in his company on the holy mountain.

Now we must not mistakenly think that when Peter uses the word Father in reference to God that he understood that God was Three-In-One. Rather, he realized that Jesus had referred to God as Father. When we hear this we immediately think that the Apostles understood God as we do, namely that He Is Triune.

Our second reading is Matthew’s account (17:1-8) of the Transfiguration. Matthew has condensed Mark (9:2-8) in some parts of this narrative and expanded it in others. (Account also appears in Luke 9:28-36. compare these accounts?) Matthew has added a glow to the countenance of Jesus where Mark speaks of the whiteness of his garments, but he has omitted Mark’s allusion to the fuller. Matthew has also omitted Mark’s reference to Peter’s ignorance and the fear of the disciples. He does, however, add, in 17:6-7, a deeper note of fear and reverence and presents Jesus himself as arousing the disciples. The effect of these modifications is to heighten the majesty and the mystery of the experience and to remove, as he often does, suggestions that the disciples did not really understand what was happening.

The transfiguration has no parallel in the Synoptic Gospels except the Baptism narrative, and for this reason some scholars have suggested that it is a post-resurrection narrative transferred to this point. This opinion is not widely accepted.

The external features of the narrative are derived from the Exodus narratives rather than from the resurrection narratives. The course of events in the Gospels compels us to suppose that the fullness of perception into the reality of Jesus until after His resurrection.
I’m sure that the experience of the disciples caused them to wonder about Who Jesus Was and also about human life itself. What do you think about when you hear this story repeated again?

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170806

The call to holiness is a call to utilize the power of our intelligence to come to a deeper understanding of the meaning and the purpose of our life. The call to holiness is a call to believe that we have not been created for no reason and are only an accident.

Once we begin to truly understand the meaning and purpose of our life, we begin to realize our own value and worth in the eyes of God. This way of thinking helps us to realize that God loves us so much that He took the chance from all eternity to grant humans, the greatest of all His creation, the ability to voluntarily return His love or to reject His love.

Just think about what you just read. Our God, Who is almighty, loves us so very much that He gave us free will with the belief that if we knew how much He loves us, we would freely return His love. This is partially due to the fact that He realizes the power of love, true love. True love is creative. True love requires the one loving to extend love to others.

It is our conception of God as Three-In-One, requires this understanding of love. The very life of the Trinity is love, the Father loving the Son completely, therefore giving life to the Spirit. Much like a child ordinarily is the expression of the love between the father and mother, so too the love between Father and Son is expressed in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Of course while all Three Divine Persons have existed from all eternity, it is the power of LOVE that calls them all into existence. The Trinity is the model of the love that must exist between humans. If true love exists, then it is creative, bringing families and communities into existence. A family or a community (church) that does not have love between its members, is truly not a family or a church. “Let us truly love one another so that we can profess belief in Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” a prayer from our very Liturgy.

Given this, we see that all of God’s interactions with us are dictated by LOVE. Somewhere along the way, the human element of the Church has distorted this. The bottom line is that GOD UNCONDITIONALLY LOVES US!

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 2017086

The observance of this feast goes back to the fourth century. At that time, St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, built a church on Mt. Tabor in honor of the Lord’s Transfiguration. At the end of the eleventh century, the Crusaders found several churches and monasteries on Mt. Tabor. In the thirteenth century, however, the Mohammedans came and destroyed them. Cyril II, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, built a new church over the ruins of the ancient church in 1860. In 1923, a magnificent basilica in honor of the Transfiguration of our Lord was built on Mt. Tabor.

This feast began to be solemnly observed in the Eastern Church under the title “The Lord’s Transfiguration” from the sixth century. In Western Syria, in the eighth century, it was call “The Feast of Tabor.”

Originally, the feast was observed in February. However, since this joyful feast fell during the time of the Great Fast, its celebration was not in keeping with the spirit of fasting and penance. Therefore, it was transferred to the 6th of August. Why this day? The historian Eusebius and St. John Damascene are of the opinion that the Lord’s Transfiguration took place forty days before the death of Christ. Thus holy Church, in keeping with this opinion, transferred this feast from the month of February to the 6th of August, because forty days later, September 14th, is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – the commemoration of the passion and death of Christ.

From the East, the feast of the Transfiguration reached the West somewhere around the seventh or eight century. Here it came into practice slowly; it was observed at different times and even in the twelfth century was not universally kept. In 1457, Pope Callistus III extended this feast throughout the Western Church and commanded that it be observed on the 6th of August in memory of a victory over the Turks near Bilhorod. This victory took place on the 22nd of July, 1456, but news of the victory did not reach Rome until the 6th of August. The Armenians observe the Lord’s Transfiguration on the 7th Sunday after the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The feast of the Transfiguration is one of the twelve principal feasts of our Church, having a one day pre-feast and a seven day post-feast. It falls during that time when the fruits of the earth reach maturity. From the earliest times in the Eastern Church, on this day fruit is blessed in thanksgiving to God for the first-fruits of the earth. This custom was adopted by the Christian Church from the Old Testament which prescribed that fruit be brought to the Temple of the Lord. In the book of Exodus we read: “You shall carry the first-fruits of the corn of your ground to the house of the Lord your God.” In the Book of Leviticus we read: “When you shall have entered the land which I shall give you, and shall reap your corn, you shall bring sheaves of ears, the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest.
We bless fruit as is our tradition!