A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140427

Before the Great and Holy Week, I was sharing my thoughts and those of the Scripture scholar Marcus Borg about the Letters of St. Paul which were written much before the four Gospels and, it is believed, probably influenced the writers and compilers of the Gospels. The focus of the thoughts shared were about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

As I shared, the first part of the letter dealt with the complaints that Paul received from the community about some of the things that were happening. In part it dealt with the fact that       the community was becoming fractionalized because of some of the distinctions that were being made between the more affluent members and the poorer members.

Portions of the rest of the letter responds to specific questions that the community directed to Paul.

The beginning of chapter 7 (it is suggested that as you read this you also open your New Testament to his first letter to the Corinthians), refers explicitly to this: Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. The verse then continues: It is well for a man not to touch a woman. Is this what Paul thought? No. That sentence is from a letter to Paul from the community in Corinth. Some were advocating total abstinence, and others wanted to know Paul’s teaching on the matter. The sentence functions as a section heading for Paul’s comments on marriage, conjugal relations and divorce which occupy the rest of the chapter (It is interesting that they ask a man who was not married about these things).

In the next chapter, Paul addresses the question of whether food sacrificed to idols, especially meat, can be eaten by Christians. In the urban Gentile world, most meat was from animals that had been sacrificed to various deities – idols from a Jewish and Christian point of view. So could Christ-followers eat it? Paul’s answer: yes.

It must be remembered that Paul was writing to Gentiles and Jews who were followers of Jesus and living in the Roman Empire. Roman religious ritual would sacrifice various animals and then offer the meat for sale to citizens. The Roman temples were what we would now call the community butcher shop. Paul answers yes because he reasoned that eating the meat did not imply worshipping a Roman god.

This was not an uncommon practice. Even Judaism at that time offered animal sacrifice to Yahweh. Some of the meat was eaten by worshippers while, on other occasions the animal was totally burned.

This approach to worship probably seems foreign to most modern people since our worship of God has become so abstract and symbolic. The reality is that we offer food in worship of God, which is symbolic of life, and consume it. Think about it.                      Krisztus feltámadt!

Getting to Know Something About Our Greek Catholic Faith — 20140427

The state of mind, the forms of worship, the spirituality and theology of the Eastern Church are not merely a matter of rite: they imply a specific vision of life and eternity, uniting Easterners of many different backgrounds: Melkites, Ukrainians, Ruthenians and other Slavs in one Church, under one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Eastern Church was highly influenced, originally, by the thinking and philosophy of Greeks, Syrians, Semites and even Egyptians.

The Eastern Church and its culture are not truly Eastern, although born and developed in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. The words East and Eastern are historical and geographical terms designating a rather nebulous    reality with uncertain contours. They encompass nations and cultures from the Bosphorus to the Far East, passing through Asia, China and Japan, and from the Ural Mountains in Russia to the peninsula of Kamtchatka on the Pacific Ocean.

For Americans, these words are so confusing that when applied to the Byzantine Church, they may submerge its identity in a shadow of unreality, since in our language these terms are generally applied to Far Eastern countries and not to the Near-East, or Levant to which this Church belongs.

It is the Near-Eastern nations, or Levantines, which Hellenic civilization penetrated, without dispossessing them completely of their original ethnic characteristics. Both Syria and Palestine, which occupied very special places and positions in the formation of the Byzantine Church, used the Syriac language, which was later replaced by Arabic. Georgia and Armenia spoke the Armenian language. Near-Eastern nations, with their particular cultures, were in some way united by a common element, the Greek language, without becoming Greek themselves. In later   history, they all converged on Byzantium to contribute to its formation and development without making it Eastern. The definitive history of Byzantine science and philosophy, literature and theology has yet to be written, but the main lines stand out in sufficient details to reveal their attractive beauty and diversity in their harmonious unity.

It should be noted that each of the ethnic groups that have become encompassed by the Byzantine Church have, especially in terms of spirituality, added to the original Byzantine approach. The temperament of each   ethnic group has added to the expression of the faith as originally received from Byzantium.

Χριστός Ανέστη!  

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20140427

Before the Great and Holy Week, I began to share the thoughts of one of our Father among the saints, Theophan, as a means of sharing some insights into Eastern spirituality as it is experienced by Slavic peoples. He was Slavic.

In his writings he has much to say about the state of a sinner. It is very important that we hear what he has to say.

Theophan writes that the sinner who is to be renewed through repentance is often described in the Word of God as being submerged in a deep sleep. The distinctive feature of such persons is not necessarily their manifest depravity. It is rather the absence of an active, heart-felt, and selfless desire for pleasing God, together with a resolute aversion for everything that is sinful. Piety is not the primary object of their concern and labor. They are concerned about many other things, but are absolutely indifferent to the matter of their own salvation and are not aware of the danger they are in. They are neglectful of a good and righteous life and lead a life that is cold to faith, although this life may sometimes be outwardly irreproachable.

In many ways this gets at the heart of what Eastern spirituality sees as sin. Sin is a state of being unaware of the work that must be done during this lifetime – namely the work of making sure that our thinking, attitudes and behaviors are congruent with the teachings of Jesus. Many people fail to think about their attitudes which, most frequently, are formed by our society and not by the Gospel.

This is one reason why the Slavic Byzantine Church always talks about our voluntary and involuntary sins. Our sinful nature is not defined by the things we do but rather by our attitudes, thinking and lack of awareness about our spiritual life. Example: God doesn’t care that we lie 30 times. He cares that there is something within us that seems to require that we lie about things.                    Χριστός Ανέστη!

Called To Holiness — 20140427

As I have shared with you, I believe that when members of a Christian community truly understand that they are Called to Holiness, the community becomes vibrant.  One might ask: What makes a parish or community vibrant? People who truly believe in the Good News given to us by God through Jesus Christ and who demonstrate this belief by their involvement in the parish community and their willingness to pray. When God calls us to Holiness, He typically calls us to be a part of a community, that is a group of people who share the same vision of life and see the value and necessity of being a part of the Body of Christ extended in time, a part of the Church.  

While it is true that you don’t have to belong to a Church in order to pray to God or to be a good person, for some reason God chose to establish a Church. An essential part of our spiritual growth is directly connected to our involvement in a spiritual community. There is value to communal prayer. A spiritual community – the Church – is a place where we can learn how to unconditionally love others. We need to be a part of the Church. Why? Because God shared this reality with us through His Son. His Son Jesus brought people together and got them to see the importance of authentic relationships and living in community. God obviously had a reason for allowing the Church to develop through Jesus’ efforts.

Learning to live peacefully in community with others and develop a common vision of life, is the way that God planned humans should live.

I say this because that is what Jesus did. The problem often is that people chose to join a community and not be active or fail to learn the lesson of how to live in community. For example, we know that there will always be disagreements when people live in community. The challenge is to learn how to work out the disagreements and not damage the community by walking away.

When we profess to be a member of a Christian community, it is essential that we understand that we have a responsibility to take our membership as seriously as possible and, to the best of our ability, support the community in any way that we can and be convinced that our spiritual growth can only be achieved within the context of the spiritual community.

Jesus chose to live and work in a community. A vibrant community supports its members in their efforts to live a Christian life.                          Χριστός Ανέστη!

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers — 20140427

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.

Again the Church, in Her understanding of Who Jesus is, had to come to a new understanding of Who God is. The result of the Church’s belief that Jesus is both Divine and human was the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – a doctrine that says that God, while He is one God, is comprised of Three distinct Persons.

The 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. This doctrine could not have been truly formulated without the help of Greek Philosophy.

For the Greeks, the perfection of knowledge consisted of theology, that is the knowledge that results from the study of God. For the Greeks, the aim of theology is knowledge of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the opinion of Gregory Nazianzen the grace of the kingdom of heaven consists in the Holy Trinity uniting itself wholly to the whole soul.

It seems that two different ideas are found in the theology – the knowledge that has developed about the Trinity. There is the “Alexandrian-Latin” view and the so-called “Greek” view. The teaching of the Western Church goes back to Augustine and Boethius who assert that in God everything is one to the extent that there is no opposition of relations. Therefore, God is the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. By contrast the Greek Fathers of the Church seem to remain more faithful to the terminology of the New Testament. The Father Almighty is the creator of heaven and earth, and hence the principle of cosmic unity in the extra-divine universe. This Father, however, is also the source of intra-divine unity. The Son and the Spirit are one in the Father. And since the function of the divine Persons corresponds to the place each occupies in the bosom of the Trinity, the salvific value of the mystery of the Trinity is manifested. It is the Father who is the ground of human divinization.

Trying to put words to this Mystery, seems to boggle human thinking. One of the important ideas that emerged in the struggle to understand God is the fact that the Son is the Word of God – that Person Who gives expression to the Father’s thoughts.       Christ IS Risen!

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion — 20140427

As we think about the Divine Liturgy, we must ask: What was the Divine Liturgy like at the time of John Chrysostom? We know that he attempted to simplify the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great and the other Fathers that formulated Anaphoras.

John Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed, won his reputation as a preacher during his years as a priest at Antioch, 386-98. In the latter years he was chosen, we might say unwillingly, to be the Bishop of Constantinople. For six years he presided over the church in the capital, attempting to reform its life and morals. The hostility of the Empress Eudoxia and Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria caused him to be deposed in 404.

Theophilus of Alexandria had little tolerance for anything that was not   Christian. After he became Patriarch of Alexandria in 385, he ordered the destruction of all pagan temples in North Africa and used the stones to build churches. He supported Origen until questioned by a group of monks about the immateriality of God. Having pondered the issue for a few years, he condemned Origen c. 400 and began to persecute monks who followed him. When four Origenistic monks appealed to John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople, he began to attack John and attended the Council of Oak that deposed John. Some believe that Theophilus acted as much out of jealousy over the primacy of Constantinople as from the love of Christian doctrine. When Theophilus died in 412, his nephew Cyril succeeded him as patriarch. Theophilus’ tract against Chrysostom is extant.

Interesting enough is the fact that Theophilus is declared a saint as well as John Chrysostom.

John Chrysostom was, in his own day, linked with liturgical reform. His name became linked with the Divine Liturgy that we typically use throughout the year.

From his sermons preached in the capital we can form some impression of the Eucharist there in his time, while scattered literary references and the results of archaeological investigations enable us to place the Liturgy in its architectural setting.

Many people do not think about the fact that the formation of the Divine Liturgy was also closely connected with the shape and architecture of the church building in which it was celebrated. The worship ritual that has been passed down to us and that we use, was influenced by many different things which, hopefully, I can address during the next several weeks. The space that we worship in, whether we are aware of it or not, does influence our sense of worship and our feeling of worship.       Kristus vstal zmŕtvych!

From the Pastor’s Desk — Sunday April 27, 2014

A BIG THANK YOU

Another BIG THANK YOU is truly in order after last week’s celebration. It was absolutely glorious! I loved every minute of it. We had absolutely great singing and I felt the regular members brought the spirit of the day to all of our visitors. Bob Boyko, Stephen Pipta, Len Mier really helped make it special as well as all those who sang. I truly love your spirit and willingness to truly celebrate the Good News given by Jesus Christ!

Christ IS Risen! Indeed He Is Risen!

O day of Resurrection.
Let us beam with festive joy!
O Pasch; O Pasch of the Lord.
For from death to life, from earth to heaven Christ our God has led us who sing the hymn of victory

Ode 1

 

My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

resurrection_iconChrist IS Risen! Indeed He Is Risen!  

Хрїстóсъ воскрéсе! Воистину воскресе! (Old Slavonic)
Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese (Transliteration)

 Христос воскрес! Воістину воскрес! (Ukrainian)
Chrystos voskres! Voistynu voskres! (Transliteration)

 Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ανέστη! (Greek)
Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti! (Transliteration)

By the grace of God we again, as believers in Jesus, celebrate a most wondrous revelation: human life is immortal. Our God, according to our belief, has, through the Person of Jesus, affirmed that the life we experience is none other than a sharing in His own life. Therefore the Resurrection of Jesus affirms our own resurrection after death. This is why, according to our tradition, we declare this the Great Day – Velikden!

Easter declares that Death has no hold on us. Death is but a means of making a transition from this present life to the next. This truth is further affirmed by the fact that history records that Jesus not only raised Lazarus from the dead but also others. Through Jesus’ actions God has revealed the truth about human life.

This truth gives us cause to rejoice! Our celebration today is not about a past event that only happened to one person, Jesus. It is a celebration about life. Just like Jesus, we shall be raised from the dead despite any challenges, struggles or sufferings we may have had to endure during life. This present existence is meant to help us learn how to be spiritual beings and to hope and trust in our God. Death and the challenges of life are not meant to harm us but, rather, to help us to become the   persons that God intended when He created us.

It is my sincerest priestly prayer that the joy of this day may truly touch your hearts and lives and that you may sing with me the hymn of victory: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling Death by death and to those in the graves bestowing life.

With all my love,
Father Wayne

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers – 20140420

As all, I am sure, are probably aware, the early Christians were criticized for their belief in the Resurrection. It was one of the primary subjects of the earliest apologetic works of the Church Fathers. Some of the Fathers wrote on the subject in the context of their own suffering, even martyrdom.

Clement of Rome wrote:

Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day again departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits of the earth, how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bright forth fruit. Having then this hope, let our souls be bound to Him who is faithful in His promises, and just in His judgments. He who has commanded us not to lie, shall much more Himself not lie. The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both of these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went forth proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand.

Clement, looking around at creation and seeing how God has planned it and accepting the word of the apostles and others who knew the Lord,  declares that it is totally reasonable to believe in the Resurrection of our Lord.

Our Father among the Saints, Irenaeus, wrote:

For as the Lord went away in the midst of the shadow of death, where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up into heaven, it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God. For no disciples is above the Master, but every one that is perfect shall be as his Master. As our Master, therefore, did not at once depart, taking flight to heaven, but awaited the time of His resurrection prescribed by the Father, which had been also shown forth through Jonas, and rising again after three days was taken up to heaven; so ought we also to await the time of our resurrection prescribed by God and foretold by the prophets, and so, rising, be taken up, as many as the Lord shall account worthy of this privilege.

 

Christ IS Risen!

The Resurection in The Gospels — 20140420

All four Gospels of the New Testament indicate that the Resurrection of the Lord took place on the first day of the week and that Mary of Magdala was one of the first persons to find the tomb empty. Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that adds some additional details to the story. Matthew’s Gospel states:

Mary Magdalene came with the other May to inspect the tomb. Suddenly there was a mighty earthquake, as the angel of the Lord descended from heaven. He came to the stone, rolled it back and sat on it. In appearance he resembled a flash of lightning while his garments were as dazzling as snow.

In the other three accounts, Mary comes to the tomb, whether with companions or not, to find it empty. Why the difference in these accounts? One would think that there would be identical records of the event.

The reality of the matter is that no one actually saw the resurrection (one of the reasons why the traditional Byzantine icon of Easter does not depict Christ coming out of the tomb). This apparent inconsistency in the Gospels was of no concern to the early Christians since the Gospels also record that many people actually experienced Jesus after the Resurrection. What the Gospels truly present are accounts of people actually experiencing Jesus as alive after His   burial.

Another aside, I think, is interesting. The original version of the Creed, the one that we use, does not include the word, died, that the Western Church inserted. We declared that Christ was crucified, suffered and was buried, thus eliminating reference to death even in the Creed.

The Resurrection of Christ is a matter of belief. We have the eye-witness accounts of people who saw Jesus after His Resurrection. Although there are differences in the accounts, there are no reasons not to believe in this truth!

 

1 Cor.

Mark

Matthew

Luke

John

Day

Third day after the Crucifixion

The first day of the week

The first day of the week

The first day of the week

The first day of the week

Time  

Very early, just after sunrise

Dawn

Very early in the morning

Early, while it was still dark

Mentioned at the tomb

 

Mary           Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome

Mary           Magdalene and the other Mary

Mary       Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them

Mary Magdalene