The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170514

Christian teaching asserts with courage the possibility of a “union” of man with God. In fact it asserts that humans were made in God’s image and have the infused “potential” to become more like Him. Of course we have to realize that God’s image is seen in Jesus Christ, the God-Man. We cannot become like our Triune God but we can become more like Jesus, the Christ. In fact, it is our belief that God intended, when He created humankind, that He would give us the power to grow in our likeness of Jesus.

What is the Christian meaning of “union” with God? In general terms, the Christian meaning of “union” with God does not mean that we assume His identity. He created us to have our own identity that is brought into and sustained in existence because His life-force animates us. This union means that we, albeit in a much more limited way, have the capability to develop the ways of thinking and living that were manifested in the person of Jesus. He truly revealed to us how children of God are called to live. He also revealed to us that if we live and think in the manner that He did, we will achieve a fullness of life that cannot be achieved in any other way. The fullness of life is when we come to see ourselves as “spiritual-physical” beings that find our completeness by knowing how to unconditionally love others.

As I shared recently in one of my sermons, when I live more like Jesus, something happens to me: I grow in my ability to unconditionally love others. The more I grow in this ability to unconditionally love, the more I become like Jesus – like God. For He unconditionally loves all of His creation. The way we bring honor and glory to Him is by growing in our ability to unconditionally love othersand thus become more like Him. Think about it. Fathers find praise from their children when they live in accord with the principles of life that they have found to be important. So too our Heavenly Father. All He desires, if we use human terms, is that we love as He loves. This, in effect, returns our love to Him.

The attainment of union with God is only by gradual spiritual growth and a real consciousness of this union. We must desire to be one with Jesus Christ. We must desire to actualize our potential to be like Jesus.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170514

Today, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants all accept the same canon of 27 New Testament (NT) books. The theory that these books were accepted from the first days of Christianity and that doubts arose only subsequently is untenable; once again it is related to the idea, no longer accepted, that the specific contents of the canon were know in the apostolic era. The early followers of Jesus had Scriptures that they considered sacred, but these were writings that had come down to them from their Jewish heritage. For about the first one hundred years of Christianity (CE 30-130), the term Old Testament (OT) is an anachronism. The collection of sacred writings of Jewish origin would not have been designated as “Old” until there was a “New” collection from which to distinguish it. It should be remembered that modern Judaism does not speak of the OT, since the Jews reject that NT, there is for them only one sacred collection. When did Christians begin writing their own compositions and why? How soon were these put on a part with the ancient Jewish Scriptures? What determined which Christians works were to be preserved and accepted? When did acceptance come? These are the important questions I would now like to address.

Christianity, much more than Judaism, is a religion with its origin in a person. What God has done for man is centered in Jesus, so that the early Christians could say that God was in Christ Jesus. The Jews would not have thought of Moses in these terms. Jesus commissioned apostles to preach to men the Kingdom of God, which had made its presence felt in Jesus’ ministry. The apostles therefore became the living link between the Christian believer and the Jesus in whom he believed, so that in the early days when Christians were close to the apostles – both geographically and chronologically – there was no pressing need for Christian writings. In fact, we have no clear proof of major Christian writings from the period CE 30-50. During this time the Christian faith was always communicated, preserved and nourished by word of mouth. Distance was probably the most influential fact in changing the situation.

With the decision at Jerusalem in CE 49 to permit the acceptance of Gentiles into the Jesus WAY without circumcision, the far-flung Gentile world, already invaded by Paul, became a wide-open missionary field. The founding of various Christian communities at great distances from one another and the continual traveling of the apostles made written communication a necessity. A church, whose confines were within traveling distance of Jerusalem, was a thing of the past and apostolic instruction now often had to come from afar. This need was first met with letters and epistles, and the Pauline letters are the earliest major Christian writings of which we know with certainty.

More to follow!

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170514

In the last issue of this article, I shared with my readers that the Divine Liturgy is THE Sacrament of the Kingdom. The kingdom of Christ is accepted by faith and is hidden “within us.” But for those who have believed in it and accepted it, the kingdom is already here and now, more obvious than any of the “realities” that surround us.

At first glance all of this might sound like some sort of pious platitudes. But reread what has just been said and compare it with the faith and “experience” of the vast majority of contemporary Christians, and you cannot but be convinced that there is a deep abyss between what we have said and the modern “experience.” It takes work to understand the ritual and prayers of the Divine Liturgy and to truly allow oneself to enter into the “experience” of the presence of the Lord in our midst. One can say without any exaggeration that the kingdom of God – the central concept in evangelical preaching – has ceased to be the central content and inner motivation of the Christian faith. Unlike the early Christians, those of later ages came, little by little, to lose the perception of the kingdom of God as being “at hand.” They came to understand it only as the kingdom to come – at the end and after the end, referring only to the “personal” death of individual believers. “This world” and “the kingdom,” which in the gospels are set side by side an in tension and struggle with one another, have come to be thought of in terms of a chronological sequence: now – only the world; then – only the kingdom. For the first Christians the all0-encomopassing joy, the truly startling novelty of their faith lay in the fact that the kingdom was at hand. It had appeared, and although it remained hidden and unseen for “this world,” it was already present, its light had already shone, it was already at work in the world. Then, as the kingdom was “removed” to the end of the world, to the mysterious and unfathomable reaches of time, Christians gradually lost their awareness of it as something hoped for, as the desired and joyous fulfillment of all hopes, of all desires, of life itself, of all that the early Church implied in the words “Thy Kingdom come.”

We must always remember that the first words that Jesus preached, which were also preached by John the Baptizer before Him, were: Change your hearts and minds for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It can only be seen and understood, however, by faith and belief that God has come into our world and has revealed to us, through the Person of Jesus, that NOW is the TIME for us to become true children of God by the way we think and live. The Jesus WAY of living is all about understanding that the Kingdom of God is here at the present moment. He affirms this by being present with us every time we engage in the “Breaking of the Bread”. It is critical, however, that we join with Jesus in the ritual of breaking of the bread for it is our worship of the Father.

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170514

I have been presenting some information in this article about PASCHA – EASTER since we will be celebrating it for 40 days. The early church rejoiced in the event of the Resurrection. The new and principal day of worship of the Christians was the first day of the Jewish week (i.e., the day in which the Lord was raised from the dead). This is also the reason that during the Paschal season Sundays become the first day of the week and not the last. After we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, Sundays become the LAST DAY of the week.

The early Christians assembled on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist, through which they proclaimed the Lord’s death and confessed his resurrection. Eventually they gave this day a Christian name, the Day of the Lord. It would be hard to imagine that the Christians of the first century would not have projected and connected in some new and significant way their weekly celebration of the sacred events of Christ’s death and resurrection with the annual observance of the Passover.

An interesting point in this connection is the emergence of the paschal fast and vigil. According to the earliest documents, Pascha is described as a nocturnal celebration with a long vigil, that was preceded by a fast. This suggests a very definite connection with the Jewish rites of the Passover, even though there is a distinct different of faith and rite between the Jewish and Christian observance. One such difference centers on the time of the celebration. The Jewish rite was an evening meal that ended at midnight while the Christian festival consisted of a long vigil that ended in the early dawn. It may well be that this delay was intentional, in order to distinguish the Christian night from the Jewish. Furthermore, the delay truly symbolized the fulfillment of the Passover by Christ, and thus signaled the transition from the old to the new Pascha. It has been suggested that this particular feature of the Paschal night prompted the persistent demand, which we encounter early on, that the Christian Pascha must come after the Jewish Passover. It always does on the Julian (Old) Calendar. This is not true with the Gregorian (New) Calendar. This is one reason why Orthodox Christians refuse to embrace the New Calendar for Easter.

According to the chronology of the Gospel of John, the Lord was crucified and buried on the day before the Passover and rose the day after. In the year we have come to number 33 C.E., the Passover fell on a Saturday. The crucifixion, therefore, occurred on Friday while the resurrection happened early Sunday morning. Eventually, the celebration of Pascha in the early Church would be predicted upon this chronology. In the beginning, the Christian Pascha was the occasion for the remembrance of the entire work of redemption, with a special reference to the Cross and the Resurrection. By the second century the churches of Asia Minor had come to observe Pascha on the 14 of Nisan.

I will continue to present information on the establishment of Pascha

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170514

Universal Call to Holiness

I am sure that if you have been following this article in the Bulletin you have come to see that the “call to holiness” is, in reality, a true call to authentic living, that is living in the way that God intended humans to live when He created humanity. He had a vision of how humans should live in order to achieve the goal that He established for humanity, namely deeper union with Him. It is His desire, if I can attribute to Him a human feeling, that His children might freely return His love and come to realize the joy of relationship with Him. In order to freely return His love, however, we have to learn how to love. The only way we can learn how to truly love is by developing the ability to unconditionally love other humans. It is simple. If I can’t unconditionally love other humans whom I can see and interact with, how can I love God.

The fact of the matter is that anytime I harbor hate for other humans, I diminish MY ABILITY TO LOVE. The true ability to love does not depend upon the response of the person to whom I am directing my love. To be able to love does not require the return of love. It only requires me to do all in my power to love.

The problem is that we humans tend to make our love of others “conditional.” I will love you only if you return my love. This approach does not allow us to develop the ability to truly love. If I love you only because you return my love, what does that say about my ability to love?

One of the impediments to learning how to truly love others is the approach to life that we assume. If I give moral value (i.e., good or bad) to the challenges of life, I diminish my ability to freely learn how to love. The various challenges of life that all humans must face are but the opportunities that life give to us to place our hope and trust in God. When we see life as a series of opportunities to become a person who is open to growth and change, can we truly learn how to love.

Why do I say this? Because looking at the challenges of life in this manner frees me to not judge but just accept the events of life and to be master of my own life.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170514

Athanasius the Great

Athanasius’ defense of the Son’s essential deity can be summed up in this manner:

Point 1:

The Son’s entire being belongs to and shares in the substance of the Father, “as radiance from light, and stream from source. For the Father is in the Son as the sun is in its radiance, the thought in the word, the source in the stream. The Son, then, is both in the Father substantially and derives his being from the Father. Both John 10:10, “the Father and I are one,” and John 14:10, “I am in the father and the Father is in me,” point to “the identity of the godhead and the unity of the substance.”

Point 2:

If the relationship between the Father and Son is not carefully articulated and nuanced, a number of errors can occur. For example, we can think that God possesses parts, the Father being one part and the Son another. No, Athanasius teaches, they are “one thing.” God does not have parts, as though God were a composite being constructed out of building blocks.

The moment we insist on the essential unity of the Father and Son, however, we risk thinking that no true or essential distinctions exist between Father and Son. “Father” and “Son” simply become “two names” with no essential distinctions behind them, “one thing with two names, the Son is at one time Father, at another time his own Son.” The names “Father” and “Son” become merely masks God wears as God plays out certain roles. Here, Athanasius reminds us, we encounter the heresy of Sabellius. No, “they are two, in that the Father is father and not also son; the Son is son and not also father, but the nature is one.” The true doctrine holds to essential unity and essential distinctions.

If we conceptualize the distinction between Father and Son at the expense of their substantial unity, we quickly end up with – counting the Holy Spirit – three separate gods, the heresy of tritheism. “The Son is not another God, for he was not devised from outside the Father; for then there might surely be many gods, if we assume a godhead besides the Father.”

The deity of the Son, that is, finds its source or fount in the deity of the Father. As the “offspring” of the Father, Athanasius writes, the Son is indeed distinct. But we must not allow this fundamental distinction to blur “the identity of the one godhead.”

For the radiance also is light, not a second light besides the sun, nor a different light, nor a light by participation in the sun, but a whole proper offspring of it. No one would say that there are two lights, but that the sun and its radiance are two, while the light from the sun, which illuminates things everywhere, is one. In the same way the godhead of the Son is the Father’s.

I would exhort you to take time and reflect on these arguments that Athanasius makes. They are truly quite profound.

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170507

At the beginning of this fourth Paschal Week, that of the Paralytic Man, our readings are again taken from the Acts of the Apostles and St. John’s Gospel. Interestingly enough, both readings report cures of paralysis. In Acts, Peter cures a paralyzed man and in John Jesus cures a paralyzed man. Of course the big difference between the two miracle stories is that Peter cures the man in the NAME OF JESUS. Peter declares, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you! Get up and make your bed.”

With both readings conveying a story about the cure of paralysis, it is easy to get distracted and think that the cure of this malady has some real symbolic meaning. While I believe that this can be one possible interpretation, especially since our Eastern Church calls this the week of the paralytic man, I also think that other meanings can be discerned from these readings.

Consider this. In the story that John presents, Jesus cures the paralytic man on the Sabbath. This is the reason that precipitates controversy with the Jewish leaders. A specific rabbinical law prohibited the carrying of one’s bed on the Sabbath. The complaint of the Jewish leaders is not yet against Jesus, but against the action of the man who had been cured. His justification is implicit in his reply: If Jesus could perform this cure, surely it was proper to obey his command in this matter.

In this section of his Gospel, John uses several visits of Jesus to Jerusalem on the great Jewish feasts as the occasion to show that in Him the aspirations of Judaism, symbolized by these feasts, found a greater significance. This account is but one of a series of “signs” presented by John that manifest Jesus’ role as life-giver.

In Acts Jesus’ role as life-giver is again emphasized with Peter calling upon Jesus’ name to cure the man. There is great power in the very name of Jesus. He is the physical manifestation of God Himself.

One of the messages, therefore, that I derived from these readings is a reiteration of a message I have thought about before, namely that the way of living that Jesus calls us to is truly life-giving and transforming. To live with unconditional love for others, changes your life. To make Jesus’ way of living your personal way of living brings peace, contentment and understanding.

When you embrace the Jesus way of living, which is not based on how others act or respond to up, you experience true freedom – you become your own person. Why? Because you chose how you live, think and act! You don’t allow others to control your life! You don’t allow the events of life to change who you are! That, in my estimation, is true freedom. Jesus showed us how to truly become the persons God intended when He created us.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170507

After having shared thoughts about the Gospel of St. Mark, I’ve decided that I would share just some general thoughts about the NEW TESTAMENT (NT) which is our Sacred Book. The book known as the NT is a collection of twenty-seven writings differing in style and content. While some of them adopt the historical narrative form (Gospels and Acts of the Apostles), others are letters or epistles, and the last one (the Book of Revelation) utilizes the prophetic style. Within the epistles differing styles and contents can be distinguished: some respond to very concrete problems (e.g., 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians), Romans is made up of practically an entire treatise and Hebrews, a sermon, while James has more of the aspects of a sapiential work.

This collection makes up the CANON of the writings of the NT. The word “canon” in Greek means “rule,” “norm” or “standard.”. We find ourselves before a group of writings that the Christian Church has considered to be normative or authoritative for knowing the new relation of man and mankind with God, which was inaugurated with Jesus Christ and which we can the NT in contrast with the Old.

In the NT, Sacred Scripture is frequently cited or alluded to by referring to the Old Testament (OT) (Mk 12,24). Often it is designated by the titles of the two great collections that constitute it – “Law” and “Prophets:” (Mt 5:17;11:13); the collection of Psalms is also mentioned three times (Lk 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20).

However, the canon of the OT was not yet defined in all its details at the beginning of Christianity. Only at the end of the 1st century was the Hebrew canon fixed at 39 writings; the Greek-speaking Jews accepted into their canon other works composed in their language, and it was this canon that Christians adopted. In spite of all this, the canon was not fully determined, as is shown by the fact that in the NT some works are cited as Scriptures which were afterward not made part of the definitive canon (James 4:5; Jude 14:15).

In adopting the ancient Scriptures, Christians recognized their authority by their relation to the Lord Jesus and to the Spirit. Indeed, there was no thought of a new canon of writings; the word of the Lord Jesus in his earthly life or in his risen life was cited in the same way as the old Scriptures. Living authority was also owed to the guidance of the Spirit and, in virtue of it, St. Paul could characterize as illegitimate every Gospel that differed from his own.

The writings of the apostles or disciples – even the most occasional ones – circulated and were read as a whole in Christian assemblies, as is shown by the concluding formulas of the liturgy. In this way their authority was increasing, even though they were not yet regarded as Scripture on a part with the OT. I shall continue information about the canon.

It is important, I think, that all should understand how the NT was formed.

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170507

The call to holiness, as I have attempted to convey in this article, is a call to become an authentic “child of God” – that is a human being who thinks and acts (i.e., lives) like Jesus, a model of what humans were created to be like. God, however, out of His great love for us, made this a personal choice. He made it a personal choice so that those who embraced the Jesus way of living might freely and voluntarily return His love. Jesus is a prime example of a person who freely returned God’s love. He did this as a human being.

The thing that stops most people from freely changing and embracing the Jesus way of living is their fear of change. Most people don’t easily embrace change.

What is funny about humans is that they only seem to embrace change when the pain of continuing to live as they have always lived is so great that they cannot stand it any longer. As a therapist I repeated encountered this phenomenon. People seemed to only come into therapy when they were at their wits end and even then they would resist changing how they lived. The fear of what life might be like if they changed the way they thought and lived, slowed the process of “getting well.” The most interesting thing about life is that change is necessary in order for it to be dynamic instead of static. I would always say to a client, “If the way that you are living brings you pain, then why keep living the same way? If how you are living is ineffective, why keep living the same way?” The fact of the matter is that growth only comes with change. You cannot grow spiritually, physically or psychologically without change.

So the call to holiness, in my estimation, is also a call to change and to embrace change as a way of living. If we let God and life to guide our change, then the only result can be greater contentment and peace. The opening of one’s mind and heart to life and change will, believe me, only bring a deeper understanding of life.

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170507

Mystical Supper

Building on what I shared in the last issue of this article, I would emphatically state that the kingdom of God is the content of the Christian faith – the goal, the meaning and the content of the Christian life. According to the unanimous witness of all scripture and tradition, it is truly the knowledge of God, love for him, unity with him and life in him. The kingdom of God is unity with God, the source of all life, indeed life itself. It is life eternal: “And this is eternal life, that they know you (John 17:3). It is for this true and eternal life in the fullness of love, unity and knowledge that man was created. So in a real way, the Eucharist provides us with a clear expression of the meaning and the purpose of life. It helps us to understand life as God understands it.

The prophets of the Old Testament (OT) hungered for this kingdom, prayed for it, foretold it. It was the very goal and fulfillment of the entire sacred history of the OT, a history holy not with human sanctity (for it was utterly filled with falls and betrayals) but with the holiness of its being God’s preparation for the coming of his kingdom.

And now, “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). The only-begotten Son of God became the Son of man, in order to proclaim and to give to man new life. By his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead Jesus has come into his kingdom: God “made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, for above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things” (Ephesians 1:20-22). Christ reigns, and everyone who believes in him and is born again of water and the Spirit belongs to his kingdom and has him within himself. “Christ is the Lord” – this is the most ancient Christian confession of faith, and for three centuries the world, in the form of the Roman empire persecuted those who spoke these words for their refusal to recognize anyone on earth as lord except the one Lord and one King.

The kingdom of Christ is accepted by faith and is hidden “within us.” The King himself came in the form of a servant and reigned only through the cross. There are no external signs of this kingdom on earth. It is the spiritual kingdom extended into time. And for those who have believed in it and accepted it, the kingdom is already here and now, more obvious than any of the “realities” surrounding us. “The Lord has come, the Lord is coming, the Lord will come again.” This triune meaning of the Aramaic expression maranatha! contains the whole of Christianity’s victorious faith, against which all persecutions have proven impotent.

This can only be true by faith and faith in the presence of God’s Kingdom calls believers to live in a certain way, which is summarized by unconditional love for others. What is your faith? What does this mean to you?