Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170625

Our readings this weekend are again taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and St. Matthew’s Gospel. In Romans we hear these words of Paul: “Through him [Jesus] we have gained access by faith to the grace in which we now stand, and we boast of our hope for the glory of God.” He then reminds the Romans and us that “affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope.” Paul ends this section of his letter by sharing this thought: “hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”.

I’m sure that this message is not new to any who read this Bulletin. I have, over the course of a number of years, attempted to share with my readers that “life’s challenges” are meant to be opportunities for us to place our hope and trust in God. Life’s challenges have no real moral value. They are given by life to us to help us grow and it seems that life knows exactly how to challenge us so that we might spiritually grow.

Our second reading this weekend, taken from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, deals with the true riches of life. It encourages us not to worry about the things that are needed for everyday living but, rather, “seek first his [God’s] kingdom over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

St. Matthew strongly suggests that when we spend time “worrying” about how we will survive in life, we forget about the needs of our souls. Worry debilitates us. We are unable to enjoy life and unable to achieve the meaning and purpose of our lives, namely to become true children of God. If our life is centered around the things of this world, we can never truly come to know God. Also, if our life is filled with worries and anxieties, we cannot achieve interior peace and we surely cannot concentrate on our own spiritual growth.

What is interesting about this teaching is that it presents true insight into the psychology of humans. Think about it. If a person is filled with worries, they cannot even experience the love of others. People whose lives are filled with worries, are unable to experience the goodness and beauty of life and are in constant misery. And guess what? Worrying also never changes anything!

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170625

In the last issue I shared information about how the present four gospels that make up the New Testament (NT) was finally chosen. These four gospels ac-quired importance because of the names attached to them: John was an important figure among the Twelve and in the church; Mark’s Gospel was related to Peter; Luke’s Gospel was related to Paul in some vaguer way; and the First Gospel was quickly related to Matthew, one of the Twelve. Of course the importance of the communities with which the Gospels were associated may also have figured in their survival. Matthew was probably directed to a Syrian community in the Antioch area. Mark was composed at Rome. Sometimes scholars relate Luke to Rome, sometimes to Greece. John was composed at Ephesus or in Syria.

Alongside the four Gospels, oral and written material from the first century seems to have survived into the second century and even later. Some of this was incorporated into apocryphal gospels. In one interesting case, the story of the adulteress in John 7, an early narrative survived, ultimately to be incorporated into a canonical Gospel, at least 100 years after the Gospel was written.

The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, not included, contains sayings of Jesus that may well be authentic. How many of these apocryphal gospels existed in the second century we do not know, but in his first homily on Luke, Origen mentions that many had attempted to write gospels but had not been guided by the Spirit. He mentions five in particular. Origen, of course, wrote at a time when four and only four Gospels were accepted, but was it thus during the second century? Were some of the gospels now considered apocryphal used by certain communities as their gospels, even as the canonical Gospels were used by their respective communities? The traditional view is that throughout the second century, only the four canonical Gospels were accepted by the Church at large.

In the mid-2nd century, however, Papyrus Egerton combined sayings from the Synoptics, John and a noncanonical source – an indication that the author did not think exclusively of four Gospels. The presence of various endings in the manuscripts for Mark’s Gospel may also betray a feeling that the standard four Gospels did not contain all that was to be said. Evidently, too, there was considerable freedom in copying the text of the Gospels throughout the 2nd century, for we know that by CE 200, different textual traditions of the Gospels already existed. There is some evidence that the four Gospels did not gain an exclusive position until the second half of the 2nd century.

FROM OUR DEACON CANDIDATE — 20170625

TOPIC: CHRISTOLOGY
By Len Mier

TOPIC: The heresy of Arius and how this heresy was dealt with by the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicaea 325 CE)

There has been a struggle in Christianity from its very beginning as to who and what Jesus of Nazareth is. Even while Jesus was alive and with his disciples there seems to be a need to clarify the disciples’ belief. It is in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus himself asked this question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and then asks of His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This seems to leave more questions than it does answers. The Church struggled for over three hundred years trying to make sense of what the statement “Jesus is the Son of the living God”, means. It was only after the acceptance of the Christian faith, and the need for a unified statement of belief at the command of the first Christian emperor, did the whole Church tackle this issue.

Prior to the First Ecumenical Council, the understanding of who this person Jesus is ran a wide spectrum of understanding. In the Pre-Nicaean church the spectrum of understanding went from those who said Jesus is a created Being adopted by God the Father in some special way, for example made holy by being inhabited within his flesh by an angel. It is by this adoption He was the Son of God. At the opposite end of this spectrum are those who said that God, being pure unchanging spirit, came into this world and cast what humans see as human form and appearance but was not like us in the flesh. Eventually orthodoxy tried to reach a correct understanding of who Jesus is. The concept of the Logos or as found in St. John’s Gospel the Word Made Flesh was seen as a frame-work for this understanding. Although this middle ground made clearer our understanding, it still lacked an explanation of Jesus and His relationship to the Father and within the Trinity.

It is in the fourth century that one of the strongest and most continuing heresies in the Church emerges and takes shape. Its primary center of teaching was the Church of Alexandria in Egypt. From there it spread east to Palestine and Syria eventually throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. This heresy is called Arianism, which is named after one of its strongest supporters, Arius, a priest in Alexandria. It was Arius’ expulsion from the city of Alexandria that aided in the spread of this heresy. It was not that Arius denied that Jesus was the Son of God, he did seem to believe in that teaching. His teaching is more of an error in thinking on the nature of the Trinity and Godhead and how Jesus related to God the Father and his equality with the Father.

I would submit for your consideration that, while Arianism is an error in thinking, it has negative consequences as to the nature and salvific vocation/work of Jesus Christ. This heresy jeopardizes the union of the human with the Trinitarian God.

The key to Arius is the idea of “the unbegotten” and unequal to God the Father. God is the only thing that is unbegotten, uncreated and eternal. Scripture, Arianism says, Eludes that the Logos, being begotten from the Father, cannot be true God. The argument Arius puts forth is that the Logos was a creature the “first creation” of the Father and a perfect creation participating in the Godhead, but a creation none the less not being equal to the Father. Some scripture quoted by Arius and his followers to support his argument are John 14:28 “The Father is greater than I” and St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:15 “the first-born of all creation” and from the Old Testament book of Proverbs 89:22 “The Lord created me a beginning of his ways”. The theology when placed within the philosophical climate of the period makes Jesus appear to be a demi-god in adaption of Hellenistic philosophy and pagan thinking. Open conflict between bishops and individual churches began to cause divisions within the Church. This did not go unnoticed by Constantine. The emperor wanted a unified church and peace established within his empire. To settle this argument Constantine called the Bishops to gather in an Ecumenical council to take place in Nicaea, a city near the capital. He guaranteed safe passage to all those who would participate, hoping to encourage maximum participation of all the bishops of the Church.

The question that was to be debated, what is the nature of the Son of God and his relation to God the Father? The hope was for a statement of belief on the issue and the ability to come to an acceptable understanding of the question.

Because scripture is deficient for a full explanation of this question, the Fathers turned to the use of a philosophical understanding of God to settle this question. One of the main philosophical concepts that was brought for discussion was the idea of essence, in Greek ouisios. The term substance being used in the West giving rise to the Latin term consubstantial, the words essence and substance as I am using them have the same meaning. It can be understood as the expression “being made up of the same kind of stuff”. The philosophy of the time said there were two distinct essences. The first essence, that essence or substance which is not created, is not subject to change and is eternal. This is what we call God. The second essence that of the world or Cosmos, is changing and is created.

The debate hinged on two words in the understanding of Jesus and His relation to God the Father. Was Jesus of the same essence (homoousios) or was Jesus made of similar essence (homoiousios). The argument was eventually decided on the side of homoousios. The Fathers believed that Jesus was begotten of the Father in all eternity and not created in any way. They also stated that the essence of the person of Jesus was, in fact, the same essence as that of God the Father. This belief gives rise to the symbol of faith that orthodox Christians recite in the liturgy. The Nicaean Creed states our belief.

To be continued.

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170625

While we worship God in union with Jesus, our worship is now a stylized ritual that remembers how and what Jesus did to worship God. Our Liturgy is, first and foremost, a ritualized way for us to offer “THANKSGIVING” to God for the gift of life which He is sharing with us at the present moment. Added to the ritual offering of gifts which represent life, that is bread and wine (i.e., food), our ritual also imitates the ritual of the Byzantine Empire court, since we see God as the head of His Spiritual Kingdom. It also symbolizes many other things.

Consider the two processions that are integrated into our Liturgy. The first, the Small Entrance with the Gospel Book, symbolizes God coming from His Heaven in the WORD, Jesus, to lead us back to heaven. The Gospel book now rests on the Throne (altar) and is carried through the community to lead it back to the Throne. Of course like all symbols, originally this ritual action was meant to bring the Gospel Book from the place it was stored to the place of worship. As tradition developed and the Gospel Book was placed on the Throne, the entrance took on a new, symbolic meaning. While not all communities practice carrying the Gospel Book through the entire Church, we do it in order to help us understand that God came in His Word to lead us back to Him.

The same is true of the Great Entrance during which the gifts are brought to the Throne. The gifts come from the Preparation Table which is not within the Altar Area. Again this symbolizes that LIFE comes from God and as these symbols of life are carried through the community, we know that this reminds us of the fact that Human Life comes from God and is joined to God through the Person of Jesus.

As we experience these two very important “processions” through our midst as the People of God, we should remind ourselves of their meaning. When we think about these things, our worship of God – our Divine Liturgy – takes on even greater meaning for us. As I have repeatedly stated, we must think about what we do and say during the Liturgy so that it truly become OUR WORSHIP of God.

Even our worship space is meant to symbolically represent something: the vestibule, the world without faith; the, nave (the world of faith); and the Altar Area (i.e., sanctuary in the West), heaven. Why? So that the actions of the Liturgy can remind us that all things come from God in order to lead us back to Him.

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170625

I am sure that it has become quite obvious to all those who have consistently read my Bulletin and also this particular article, the “call to holiness” is a call to understand human life and why life is the way that it is. In fact the discovery of the meaning and the purpose of life is the particular goal for our present life on earth. Human life, as God created it, is first and foremost meant to be a time of learning about our relationship with God and the rest of creation. We can be sure that God had a “REASON” for creating us and the universe. We believe that all of creation came into existence in accordance with a Divine Plan. Creation did not come into existence by chance! There is too much order and design built into creation for it to have come into existence just by chance.

So the “call to holiness” is a call to believe in a Supreme Being that had and has a reason for bringing all things into existence and that also sustaining all things into existence. It would seem contrary to any real understanding

of creation to also think that the Creator brings things into existence and then lets them fade into non-existence, especially beings that are made in His image and given the real potential to grow in His likeness. If there is not eternal life for humans, what would be the real purpose of creating humans. It would be an useless exercise for God. Just like an true artist would not spend time creating a work of art only to destroy it once he finished it.

Our understanding of God is that He is an intelligent, loving being that only acts in a thoughtful and reasonable manner. To create something without a purpose an meaning would go against any real understanding of Who He Is. If He were different, we could not have a relationship with Him.

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170625

Our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches that are in communion with Rome. Christianity was established among the Ukrainians in 988 by St. Volodymyr and follows the Christianity established by missionaries from Constantinople. It embraces rituals of the Byzantine Church. It also followed Constantinople in the Great Schism of 1054. Temporary reunion with Rome was effected in the mid-15th century. A definitive union was achieved at Brest-Litovsk in 1596, when Metropolitan Michael Ragoza of Kiev and the bishops of Vladimir, Lutsk, Polotsk, Pinsk, and Kholm agreed to join the Roman communion. The treaty guaranteed that the traditional rites be preserved intact. Orthodox Christians did not accept the union peaceably and the bishops of Lviv, Przemysl and the Orthodox Zaporozhian Cossacks actively opposed the Catholics. In 1633 the metropolitanate of Kiev returned to Orthodoxy while Lviv joined the union in 1677, followed by Przemyśl in 1692.

The partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century brought all Ukrainians, except those in the province of Galicia, under Russian control. By 1839 the tsarist government had forcibly returned the Ukrainian Catholics to Orthodoxy. Galicia meanwhile came under the domination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in 1807 it was organized into the metropolitanate of Lviv. With the occupation of Galicia by Soviet armies in in 1939, all church activity was suppressed, and the hierarchy was interned. In 1944 the Soviet authorities began to put pressure on the Ukrainian bishops to dissolve the Union of Brest-Litovsk. On their refusal, they were arrested and imprisoned or deported. A spurious synod in 1946 broke the union with Rome and united the Ukrainian Catholics with the Russian Orthodox. Not until December 1989, during the general liberalization of Soviet life, was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church again made legal.

A great number of Ukrainian Catholics emigrated to the Americas and western Europe between 1880 and 1914 and again after World War II. They are organized into the metropolitanate of Canada, with the sees of Winnipeg (metropolitan see), Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Toronto, and the metropolitanate of the United States with the Metropolitan see of Philadelphia and the eparchies of Stamford, Connecticut, and St. Nicholas of Chicago. There are Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church structures in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, England and Germany.

(To be continued)

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170625

The notion that human kind was created according to the image of God found an enormous resonance in the hearts and minds of the Fathers of the Church, especially the Eastern Fathers. There seem to be several converging reasons for this. The first reason is the importance of the doctrine of creation. We are what we are, because God created us. He created us out of nothing; everything that we are is from God. Then, as many of the Fathers remark, there seems to be something special about the creation of humankind: for the rest of creation, God simply said, let something happen – ‘Let there be light,’ and so on – but in the case of humankind, God seems to consider: ‘Let us make humankind’ and ‘God made humankind.’ There seems some special act of deliberation about the creation of humankind. Not only that, the human is made ‘according to [God’s] image, according to [his] likeness’: being in God’s image and likeness is at the heart of what it is to be human – the human is ‘according to his image’, he is like God in some way, he reflects in who he is something of what God is.

The Greek Fathers read Genesis in Greek and the Greek, to an educated ear, makes two further suggestions. First, ’according to the image’, kat’ eikona; kata is quite a strong preposition; it would suggest the question, ‘According to what image?’ The English ’in the image’ just suggests that man was created as the image of God; the Greek raises the possibility of something more complex: man created according to the image of God. Who is? The New Testament suggests Christ, the image of God, the one who images forth God in his incarnate state. So maybe there is here, for the Christian Greek ear, the idea that humankind was created like Christ, Who is the image of the Father. Think about this. I believe it is important!

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170625

Why, Gregory speculates, is our knowledge of God for the present fragmentary at best? His answered was that in this life we simply are too weak to view God’s nature and essence directly. Gregory held the hope that such will not always be the case. He refers to Paul’s words in first Corinthians that in the future “I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Hence, because the inherent limitations of human nature, at least in its present state, there is nothing more difficult than coming to know and speak of God well. As Gregory puts it, “the truth, then – and the whole word – is full of difficulty and obscurity; and as it were, with a small instrument we are undertaking a great work, when with merely human wisdom we pursue the knowledge of the self-existent.

Having warned both his audience and himself as to the pitfalls surrounding the practice of theological reflection, a thinking and speaking focused on the mystery and wonder of God, Gregory moves to an analysis of the Godhead in his third theological oration.
Gregory begins his third oration by describing God in Trinitarian terms. God is a “monarchy” and a “unity”, a unity grounded in an “equality of nature, and a union of mind, and an identity of motion and a convergence of its elements to unity.”

Fine, we respond to Gregory, but to speak frankly, we have no idea what you are talking about. “Fair enough,” Gregory might respond. Trinitarian language is inherently difficult, precisely because we have no genuine correspondences in creation to the reality of God’s nature. Motion is the created order, for example, means something different from motion within the Godhead. Why, then does Gregory use the word motion? It manages to convey, at least partially, the eternal movement of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Gregory’s expression, “The Father is the begetter and the emitter; without passion, of course, and without reference to time, and not in a corporeal manner. The Son is the begotten and the Holy Spirit the emission. Gregory declared that he knew not how this could be expressed in terms altogether excluding visible things. The Father begets the Son, but not in a human manner and not in time. The Son is begotten, but has always been begotten. The Holy Spirit has always been also.

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170618

On this second weekend after Pentecost, our readings are taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans and Matthew’s Gospel. With Pentecost the Church ends taking our readings from the Acts of the Apostles and John’s Gospel.

Christians in Rome were predominantly Gentile, with a Judaeo-Christian minority, which the majority of scholars see reflected in the letter. The principal theme of the letter is the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.

The passage that we hear from Romans sets forth the Christian idea that humans have an “interior law” written in their hearts which supersedes any written law. That law, of course, is God’s own Spirit and which we now think of as our “conscience.” Most humans realize when they act in a way which is not loving or noble. It is God’s Spirit attempting to help us live as God’s children.

The passage we hear from Matthew’s Gospel relates the call of the first disciples – the call of Simon, Andrew, James and John. In the three synoptic Gospels the calling of the first disciples is very similar. These accounts differ from that found in John’s Gospel (John 1:35-51). In John’s Gospel, it is the revelation made by John the Baptizer about Jesus that encourages Andrew to follow Jesus. In the synoptic, Jesus directly “calls” Peter, Andrew, James and John.

Regardless of how the disciples were called, in all of the accounts it was Jesus’ charisma That seems to have attracted His followers who, once they heard what He taught, gave themselves completely and totally to following Him. They sensed the true difference in His message from that of their original faith. They sensed that His message was filled with hope and, importantly, a very reasonable approach to life. I believe this is the underlying basis for calling the teaching of Jesus the GOOD NEWS.

God calls us through the Church, the assembly of those who believe in Jesus Christ as God incarnate, to embrace a way of living that is not regulated by rules and laws but is driven by a belief that how Jesus lived is the right way of living – driven by God’s Spirit.

How did Jesus live? His entire life was dedicated to worshiping God by being kind and loving to His fellowmen. He made love of neighbor and forgiveness of those who hated Him, the sole criteria by which He lived. He believed that it is necessary for spiritual growth to treat others as you want to be treated, regardless of how they respond to you. The Jesus way “transforms” you and makes you a child of God.

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170618

Absolutely critical to our understanding of Eastern spirituality is our acceptance of how the Fathers conceived the nature of humanity. This follows upon the thoughts I shared in the last issue of this article. The Eastern Fathers of the Church clearly set forth the notion that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. This doctrine is central not only to their understanding of human nature, but also to their theology as a whole. A modern theologian has remarked:

Now this theme of the image is, in the theology of the Fathers, above all the Greek Fathers, truly central: there one sees at the same time the meeting of Christology and Trinitarian theology, of anthropology and psychology, of the theology of creation and that of grace, of the problem of nature and the supernatural, the mystery of divinization, the theology of the spiritual life, the laws of its development and of its progress.

The foundation of the doctrine of the image is found, as I am sure all of my readers are aware, in the creation narrative of Genesis (Genesis 1:26-28a). However, in the rest of the Bible little is made of this doctrine. In chapter 5 of Genesis, the events of the creation of man are summarized: “In the day that God made Adam, he made him in the image of God; male and female he made them, and he blessed them”. In the New Testament we are told that Man (not woman) is ‘the image and glory of God’, but it is Christ, too, who is said to be the image of God. Language of the image is used of our relationship to Christ: we are to be ‘conformed to the image of his Son’.

So our Eastern spirituality calls us to seek out a true understanding of Who Christ is so that we might work to grow in our likeness of Him. This re-quires, however, that we re-frain trying to make God and Christ respond to life like we do but, rather, to discover how to respond to life as God does.