A Vibrant Parish Lives the Great Fast

A vibrant parish is one that truly lives the Great Fast because it sees the Fast as an opportunity to grow in the faith. Members of a vibrant Parish voluntarily embrace ascetical practices. The Great Fast begins in just eight days. It starts on Monday, March 3rd. Here are some thoughts for observing this special time.

Recommended Minimal Effort

  • Abstain from meat and dairy products on the first day of the Fast (March 3) and Good Friday (April 18)
  • Abstain from meat on All Fridays of Lent and Holy Saturday (April 19)
    In order to enter into the spirit of Lent this minimal effort is highly recommended.

A Strict Lenten Tradition

  • Abstain from meat and dairy products all the days of the Fast, even on weekends, from March 3 until after Easter services (April 20)
  • Meat eliminated beginning the day   after Meatfare (February 24)
  • Dairy Products eliminated the day after Cheesefare (March 2)

Modified Strict Lenten Tradition

A modified version of the strict tradition calls for us, in addition to the minimal effort suggested, to abstain from meat on all Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent and all the days of Great and Holy Week.

What is Really Important

 What is really important about the Great Fast is that we live it. The Church urges us to incorporate fasting into our efforts since she has found, over the centuries, that it can be an extremely helpful tool to help us focus our attention on our spiritual growth. What is more important, however, is that we voluntarily elect to engage in some definite activities that can support our spiritual growth and prepare us for the celebration of Easter. We should do whatever we think can encourage personal change! If fasting is not something that will help, then don’t fast BUT find something you can consistently do during the 40 days to help you grow in your awareness of God within you. You are encouraged to attend at least one Presanctified Liturgy. 

 

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140223

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, a question arose in the community. There had been deaths. Paul hadn’t been gone very long. It is speculated that those who died were probably martyrs rather than people dying of natural causes. The question raised was (4:13): What happens to those who have died before the second coming?

Paul writes in 4:13-18 that when the second coming happens, the dead in Christ and the living will all be reunited and be with the Lord forever. In short, Paul tells them not to worry about such things. God will take care of everything. Paul then takes time to describe the second coming when all Christians will be raised to meet the Lord in the air.

This is what rapture theology and most scenarios of an imminent second coming do. They maintain that all of this will happen someday. Some who believe this are willing to disagree about details. It should be noted that 4:13-18 does not refer to a seven-year period between meeting the Lord in the air and the final judgment which is maintained by many who embrace rapture theology. The notion of seven years has to be imported from elsewhere. And so many Christians see this as a second coming text that does not necessarily affirm the rapture.

It is important to know that rapture theology – the notion that true Christians will be taken up into heaven seven years before the second coming and final judgment – is neither ancient nor  traditional Christianity. It is thoroughly modern. It was conceived in the 1800s by John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish clergyman active in Britain and North America. He not only originated the rapture, but is also the theological ancestor of the widely known “Scofield Bible,” with its divisions of history into dispensations. Before him, no Christian had spoken of the rapture.

Seeing this text in its ancient historical context dissolves a foundation of rapture theology. Paul was not providing detailed information about a second coming that is still future from our point in time, whose details are to be correlated with other biblical texts about the last things – the second coming, last judgment and final state of affairs. Rather, using imagery from his time, he assured his community in Thessalonica of one thing – we shall all be together. Whether he meant any of the details in the text to be understood literally is impossible to know and seems unlikely.

It is clear, however, that the text in its historical context meant that Paul did think the second coming would be soon. He distinguished between those who have died and we who are alive, who are left when the Lord comes again. These words most naturally mean that Paul   expected the second coming to occur while some of those he was writing to were still alive, possibly himself.

Getting to Know Something About Our Eastern Catholic Faith – 20140223

Another term used for deification or divinization is Christification. This is based on the idea that there is a Christological structure to the human being and the destiny of humanity is to be found in Christ. Theosis is the mystery of human nature’s perfection in Christ, not its alteration or  destruction, because Theosis is the mystery of eternal life in communion with God in the divine Word (Christ). So in accord with God’s Divine Plan, humans were created to learn how to enter into a union with God through imitation of Jesus Christ and living in  accord with God’s Spirit. We humans were created for this end.

The theological background to the prominence of the idea of deification in Eastern soteriology (doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ) is the emphasis of the Eastern fathers on the incarnation and the role of the Holy Spirit who communicates the grace that deifies humans and makes them sharers of divine life. They believed that through the incarnation the mortal had been changed into immortal and the passable into impassible. The great Eastern teachers, Athanasius, both Gregorys and Cyril of Alexandria insisted that it was by the incarnation of the Word of God that humanity was anointed by the Holy Spirit. According to Cyril, Christ filled his whole body with the life-giving power of the Spirit…. It was not the flesh that gave like to the Spirit, but the power of the Spirit that gave life to the flesh.

With regard to Theosis, the two patristic texts most often cited are from Irenaeus and Athanasius. Irenaeus: The word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ… did through His transcendent Love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.   Athanasius: He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. Still another early text from Origen is a favored one: according to him, when we transcend the material realm the contemplation of God is brought to its proper fulfillment, which fulfillment is the spirit to be deified by that which it contemplates. Many other examples from the Eastern fathers could be added, for example, from Gregory of Nyssa who said, God united Himself to our nature in order that our nature might be made divine through union with God. Another Gregory, of Nazianzus, echoes this by saying that as God became incarnate, man became divinized, and that to the extent that Christ became a real man, so we become real gods. For Athanasius, the emphasis on deification comes also from his opposition to the Arian heresy, which was also a theory of deification, although in the judgment of the mainstream Christian theology a false one. Arianism considered Christ the first creature who was deified in a very special way, though still like us. Athanasius responded to that by saying that what in itself proves the full divinity of the Word is that we are deified through and in him.

The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140223

Nothing equals prayer, wrote John Chrysostom. It makes possible what is impossible, easy what is difficult. It is not possible for the person who prays to fall into sin.

Theophane the Recluse explained why the fathers wrote so many treatises on prayer: Prayer is everything, it is the summary of faith, life according to the faith and salvation. For prayer is the expression of the life of the Holy Spirit within us, the breath of the spirit, the barometer of the spiritual life. The entire Church breathes through prayer. The monks of old called prayer the divine philosophy, the science of sciences.

According to the ancient liturgical rule, prayer is addressed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Origen believed that one ought to prayer not to Christ but through Christ. Only later would the direct invocations to the intermediaries become more frequent.

During prayer, the soul is guided by the Spirit of God. It prays in the Spirit. It is therefore a sort of inspiration, because the Spirit prays in us. Only in this way do we know what to ask and does our voice reach God. Our prayer is, furthermore, a participation in the prayer of the Word who, in Origen’s expression, is not alone in his prayer. In the modern idiom we would say that we participate in the prayer of the mystical Christ. Here is how one author expresses the ecclesial character of prayer:

No one can rely on his private prayer. Anyone who prays asks for the intercession
of the entire Church. Let the angels pray for us, the apostles, the martyrs, the patriarchs
and the one who is greatest of all, the Mother of our Savior. This holy union constitutes
the true life of the Church

Before proposing their own definitions of prayer, the medieval theologians collected those inherited from the Fathers. Most frequently these have no claim to being definitions in the true sense of the word. I shall explore these in the issues to come.

The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140216

The Christians of the first centuries were aware that Christ had outstanding imitators and that it was especially because of them that the Church had become a light to the nations.

It should come as no real surprise, then, that our ,the Christian tradition, has always considered the reading of the lives of the saints as useful to the soul. Many of its early documents originated in a desire to present models that could be followed. All of the saints that have been written about seem to proffer the same message: There is nothing on earth that gives so much pleasure as the knowledge of God.

If we are to model our lives after those of the saints, we must then make every effort to come to know God – that is to strive to have an experience of God.  When Christ revealed the identity of the Father and of God, he placed this revelation within another, still more inaccessible, mystery, that of the Trinity. God is Father because he has a Son who is God, Jesus Christ. The basic principle of divine fatherhood was thereby transposed to a level which surpasses merely human thought.

image340The divine Trinity is the fundamental mystery of the Christian faith. It is the one starting-point from which the other elements of the Christian faith can be understood. Knowledge of God, therefore, must be knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the opinion of Father Gregory Nazianzen, the grace of the kingdom of heaven consists in the Holy Trinity     uniting itself wholly to the whole soul.

Two different concepts are found in the exposition of Trinitarian faith, though it would not be right to exaggerate their difference: the Alexandrian-Latin view and the so-called Greek view.

As Greek-Catholics, I believe that it is essential that we make every effort to come to a better understanding of these two views since, in some way, we encounter both views as we live out our existence as Greek Catholics. Remember: one is not right and the other wrong.

Getting to Know Something About Our Eastern Catholic Faith – 20140216

Where we left off in the history of the Great Schism was the death of Ignatius (877) and Photius again becoming the Patriarch of Constantinople. Photius was recognized by Rome and ecclesiastically master of Bulgaria.

Until recently it was thought that there was a second Photian schism, but Dr. Dvornik has proved with devastating   conclusiveness that this second schism is a myth: in Photius’ later period of office (877-86) communion between     Constantinople and the Papacy remained unbroken. The Pope at this time, John VIII (872-82), was no friend to the Franks and did not press the question of the Filioque nor did he attempt to enforce the Papal claims in the east. Perhaps he recognized how seriously the policy of Nicolas had endangered the unity of Christendom.

Thus the schism was outwardly healed, but no real solution had been reached concerning the two great points of difference which the dispute between Nicolas and Photius had forced into the open. Matters had been patched up and that was all.

Photius, always honored in the east as a saint, a leader of the Church, and a theologian, has in the past been regarded by the west with less enthusiasm, as the author of a schism and little else. His good qualities are now more widely appreciated. If I am right in my conclusions, so Dr. Dvornik ends his monumental study, we shall be free once more to recognize in Photius a great Churchman, a learned humanist, and a genuine Christian, generous enough to forgive his enemies, and to take the first step towards reconciliation.

At the beginning of the eleventh century there was fresh trouble over the Filioque. The Papacy at last adopted the addition: at the coronation of Emperor Henry II at Rome in 1014, the Creed was sung in its interpolated form. Five years earlier, in 1009, the newly-elected Pope Sergius IV sent a letter to Constantinople which may have contained the Filioque, although this is not certain. Whatever the reason, the Patriarch of Constantinople, also called Sergius, did not include the new Pope’s name in the Diptychs: these are lists, kept by each Patriarch, which contain the names of the other Patriarchs, living and departed, whom one recognizes as orthodox. The Diptychs are a visible sign of the unity of the Church and deliberately to omit a person’s name from them is tantamount to a declaration that one is not in communion with him. The Pope’s name did not appear after 1009.

Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140216

I have been sharing with you the hints that a priest at Gonzaga University has come up with in order to pray with the Scriptures. I would quickly review these to help you remember: (1) Passage, (2) Place, (3) Posture and (4) Presence. He came up with a fifth “P”, Praying the Passage. When our mind begins to wander, or we seem not to be   experiencing the presence of God, we simply need to pick up the passage and pray it.

To pray the passage is to imagine God saying the words to you. You are not reading the passage to Him. He knows it. He wants to speak the words to your heart. So, simply read the passage slowly out loud and let the words sink deeply into your being. Let Him speak them over and over to you, until you really hear them, until you really believe them. Then your heart can respond. That is what is meant by praying with scripture.

Once you have slowly read the passage over and over again and feel that you are coming to a point of understanding the passage, notice the effect that the verses and words have on you. Usually a deep and powerful quietness will surround you and the words of the passage will fall upon your mind like healing medicine.

CaptureLet the word of God dwell in you richly, writes St. Paul. We read in the Book of Revelation that the prophet ate the scroll containing the Word of God. At first it was sweet, then the scroll turned bitter, signifying that the word of God is sweet to the taste but when it gets to the stomach to be digested, it becomes bitter.  Why? Because there it encounters old habits that need to be expelled. But once digested, it produces the sweetness of a holy life.

But, you say, you do read the word of God but you do not remember it. Nonetheless, the word of God has a cleansing effect on us. A story is told of an old woman who was asked if she remembered what the sermon was about. She replied that she did not. When asked why she continued going to church she said: I have two wicker baskets. Each day I pour a gallon of water into one. At the end of the week the basket that I pour water into is clean but the other is not. The water does not remain but it cleanses. Need anything more be said about the     cleansing effect of the word of God on the human soul? It cleanses our souls and bodies. So whether or not we remember the passage, read it. It cleanses!

Sunday February 16, 2014

prodigalsonOne of Jesus’ most profound parables is that of the Prodigal Son. It truly sets forth a different image of God, who is represented by the father in the parable. The imaged father is one who is ever-ready to forgive because of His absolute and unconditional love. He does not need the son to confess his faults. He only wants the son to know that he loves him.

This image of the God stands in stark contrast to the image that seems to have emerged over the course of many years. Think about it. The image of God that has become popular in our modern world is much closer to that of the punisher – the one who necessarily disciplines the child who has been disobedient. This image of God emerged after humankind began to think of itself as intrinsically flawed because of the sin of Adam. This image of God came into existence when the Church began to feel that the only way to keep humans from living in accord with their more base instincts was to threaten them with the punishment of hell. This image of God came into existence when humans began making God in their own image and likeness. When humans began to believe that it was only fair that God should punish people who broke His laws that the image of an unconditionally loving God disappeared.

Think about the parable. By the very name that we give it places the emphasis is on the prodigal son and not on the loving father who forgives. This, I believe, is a tragic distortion of the parable and only speaks to our limited, human way of thinking.

God, according to Jesus, is not petty and vindictive. God does not want to scare people into believing in and loving Him. How could a God, Who spared nothing in order to let us know that He loves us, be the type of person who only wants to catch us being bad so that He can punish us.

I encourage my readers to ask: What are my thoughts about this parable? Do I think about the prodigal son OR do I think about the loving father? Am I fearful like the son that the father will not forgive me? OR, perhaps, am I like the older son who wishes that the father would punish the younger son?

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers – 201400216

You will recall from the last issue of this article that it was stated that the perfect God-man, Jesus, was the only qualified person to sum up in his own life the corruptibility and distortion of the image and bring about a recapitulation of the whole human race and creation.

Eastern Christian theology is based on the teaching and witness of the church fathers. Even though theologizing in the Eastern wing of the Christian church is currently as vivid as it has ever been, its task is not to construct new doctrines but creatively, in light of what the Spirit is teaching, to reinterpret and help reappropriate the ancient teachings of the fathers. The doctrine of deification is a grand example of this living tradition; the basic orientation of Eastern theology was fashioned during the post-biblical and patristic period. This doctrine is key to understanding Eastern spirituality and, it must be remembered, is as valid and true as the spirituality of the Western Church. It is an approach which appeals to many who live in the Western world. It is truly different from the Western approach to spirituality.

One author has argues that one of the reasons for the separation of the Eastern and Western traditions since the early patristic period is their epistemological difference

(Epistomology: Study of the origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge. Some historically important issues in epistemology are: (1) whether knowledge of any kind is possible, and if so what kind; (2) whether some human knowledge is innate [i.e., present at birth] or whether all significant knowledge is acquired through experience).

Generally speaking, the Eastern Church has been principally concerned with those realities that are beyond history, while the West has been principally concerned with all those realities that add to the knowledge that man can acquire by natural reason. These differences bear upon the doctrines concerned with the nature of humankind and thoughts about an afterlife.

Theosis, many believe, is “echoed by the fathers and the theologians of every age.” This statement, while it might be an overstatement, does reflect the general mindset of the fathers. The understanding of the fathers about salvation was shaped by the idea of participating in the very essence of God. The patristic doctrine can be briefly formulated as follows:

Divine life has manifested itself in Christ. In the church as the body of Christ, man has a share in this life. Man partakes thereby of “the divine nature”. This “nature,” or divine life, permeates the being of man like a leaven in order to restore it to its original condition as the image of God.

The doctrine of Theosis is a part of our Christian Heritage! It behooves us to pursue an understanding of it.

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140216

As I indicated in the last issue of this article, the definition of the Holy Spirit being the third Person of the Trinity directly influenced the Eastern Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. If the epiclesis (i.e., invocation of the Holy Spirit to transform the gifts of bread and wine) in Cyril’s prayer reflects a new theology of consecration, the intercession truly expresses a new       understanding of the very purpose of consecration. The Spirit is invoked to change bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood so that in the presence of the divine victim the church may          intercede for herself and the world, the living and the dead. It is significant that Cyril can speak of the sacrifice as accomplished as soon as the epiclesis has been uttered and Communion is no longer essential to the rite of sacrifice. The intercession had previously followed the Ministry of the Word. There may have been a certain element of petition in the earlier eucharistic prayer, as there was in the Jewish blessing. But a comprehensive intercession was certainly a new departure in the fourth century and owed its inclusion in the prayer to the new emphasis that was placed on propitiation. It must be noted how in this view of the Eucharist the theology of the New Testament is reversed. St. Paul speaks for the whole of the New Testament in affirming that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. But in Cyril’s teaching it is not we who are reconciled with God, but God who is propitiated by the sacrifice of Christ which we offer, and is so inclined to hear our supplications. It is significant that from the fourth century the eucharistic prayer is called in the East the anaphora, the prayer which offers the sacrifice. The West called its prayer the canon: short for canon gratiarum actionis, the fixed way of   giving thanks. But in neither East nor West was thanksgiving the dominant note it had been in the second and third centuries.

The new development in the understanding of consecration found expression in the people’s devotional use of the sacrament. In the next issue I shall present Cyril’s description ofCommunion.

It is important for us to know that our understanding of the Eucharist and Communion was not fully understood by the Apostles when Christ instituted it at the Last Supper but, rather, developed over the centuries. There is no way that the Apostles could have fully understood what Jesus did. All they really knew was that, in some way, Jesus assured them He would be with them always.