Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170618

St. Sophia’s Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Kiev, Ukraine

Because our entire liturgical life is based on the ritual of the Byzantine Church, our theology, which flows from our liturgical practices, is Eastern. It truly differs from Western Roman Catholicism. We are Catholic because we are in union with Rome. This does not mean that we have the same theology, spirituality or understanding of the Good News that Western Catholics do. Our Western brothers, unfortunately, endured the Reformation, that is the establishment of Protestantism. We in the East, never experienced the same thing. We are as Catholic as the Roman Catholics yet we are different. But we have a different perspective on the Good News. I know that this, at times, is difficult for us and for Roman Catholics to understand. What does it mean to be Catholic? It doesn’t mean to think like Western Catholics whose Church endured things which we, as Eastern Catholics, did not endure. To be Catholic only means that we are in union with the Bishop of Rome. It does not mean that we embrace the theology of the Western Church. Our experience of the Church must be different. Our liturgical theology, from which our understanding of the Good News emerges, is much different from that of the Roman Church.

In the past our Church has tried to worship with in the Eastern tradition but embrace Western theology. It just doesn’t work. Our worship is based on a particular approach to an understanding of what God revealed through His Son Jesus. Just as the Scriptures are not the same and report the events in the life of Jesus in very different ways, so we must be open to the possibility that there are a number of different approaches to the Gospel message and that all are equally legitimate.

Most Roman Catholics believe that if you are Catholic you have to think like the Western Church, believe like the Western Church, and be like the Western Church. The fact of the matter is that when we became of part of the Catholic Communion of Churches in 1596, the Union of Brest-Litovsk, we agreed that we would be in union with the Roman Church BUT retain our own liturgical practices and theology. People seem to confuse this. To be CATHOLIC does not meant that we have to embrace the Western Catholic way of thinking about and accepting the Good News. We have a different approach which is equally and truly legitimate.

The Western Catholic world, however, doesn’t see it in this manner because of its experience with the REFORMATION. We are truly Catholic but we are different.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170618

As I ended this article in the last issue, in the 90’s, but drawing on an earlier tradition related to John, a disciple of John produced a Gospel somewhat different from the three synoptic gospels. On the one hand, in John there were preserved historical reminiscences lost or over-simplified in the earlier Gospels; on the other hand, there was a truly profound theologizing of the words and deeds of Jesus.

One might ask these real questions: Why were these four Gospels ultimately accepted by the Church? Why was not only one of them selected? Or at least, why was Mark not set aside, since most of its material is preserved in Matthew and Luke?

This is all the more curious when we realize that the idea of there being only one Gospel was the primitive concept and the individual written Gospels were looked on as variations of the one basic Gospel.

There is not the slightest indication that any one of the four Evangelists expected his audience to read other Gospels; his was the Gospel for this particular community. One might have expected that only the longest or most informative Gospel would have survived, after the principle of the survival of the fittest. Or at least, one might have expected the Gospels to have been harmonized into one – a logical solution attempted by Tatian around the year 170 CE, which for a time replaced the four Gospels in Syrian church usage.
However, the Church at large took the peculiar solution of preserving the Gospel records from four very different communities, doing nothing to attempt to harmonize their differences.

This problem is closely related to the problem of the other gospels that ultimately were not accepted as canonical. Some scholars have held that four Gospels were preserved, rather than the others, because these four came down from apostles and apostolic men. Therefore the Church did not feel free to change them by adding, subtracting, or combining. This may well have been the spirit of the later Church, even though Tatian apparently was not regarded audacious in his project. However, it was not the attitude of the 1st century Church, if we can judge from the liberty with which the Evangelists like Luke and the author of Matthew handled the pre-Gospel sources (which had the best claim to being apostolic) and Mark. In particular, Luke corrected Mark’s Greek, changed his sequence, and added material. It should be noted that Papias knew the written Gospel and he was still anxious to improve upon them with oral material of an eyewitness pedigree.

Getting to know the New Testament!

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170618

Although all of you who are probably reading this Bulletin are aware that I have stressed that our Divine Liturgy is a worship of God the Father with the Son in the Holy Spirit, I don’t know how many truly understand this.

We, as human beings, are called to worship God. People have, in the past, accomplished this in many ways. We have typically taken those things that we have that are special and then offered them to God in worship, destroying them so that they might only belong to God.

We Christians, however, believe that Jesus showed us a new way of worshiping God, namely the same way He worshiped Him. Jesus showed us how to worship God.

What did He do? He worshiped God by offering Himself – His very life – back to God in thanksgiving for life. He helped us realize that the “LIFEFORCE” within us is actually a sharing in the LIFEFORCE of God Himself. Therefore we offer our lives back to God in praise and adoration for the gift of life itself. So when we gather to worship, we do what Jesus did before He suffered and died – we offer our lives back to God in unity with His Son and in His Spirit.

When we think about it, we know that Jesus actually offered His very life back to the Father in worship and praise. He surrendered His life out of adoration to the Father. He did not “fight” the events of life BUT, rather, embraced the life that presented itself to Him.

All this means that He did not see the betrayal and rejection by others as an obstacle to His praise and worship of the Father BUT as an opportunity to praise the Father. The challenges of His life provided Him an opportunity to thank God for His life.

Life presents multiple challenges. They are neither bad or good but, rather, opportunities to place our hope and trust in the Father – they are opportunities to truly understand that the meaning and purpose of life is to face challenges with the knowledge that we are loved by God and called to personally return His life by living as His children. This means, of course, that we seize each opportunity to offer Him praise and glory.
This particular approach to life truly answers the question about the meaning and purpose of life. We have been given this earthly existence to grow as Children of God. How are you approaching life? Do you understand that the life you have been given is to help you spiritually grow through the acceptance of life’s challenges?
Think about this!

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170618

TOPIC: SECOND SERMON
By Len Mier

TOPIC: Transfiguration of Christ as presented in St. Luke’s Gospel (9:28-36)

Transfiguration

Every year the Church celebrates this great feast of the transfiguration of Christ, one of the twelve great feasts of the Church. A feast that reveals to us something about our own salvation, we are presented on this day with the transfiguration account as told in St. Luke’s Gospel.

Luke’s gospel account of the transfiguration of Christ is not one we normally hear unless we attend Matins for this great feast. It is the account as given by St. Matthew that we normally hear during liturgy. At Matins Luke’s account is used in place of what is normally a gospel reading that depicts the resurrection of our Lord. I think it is appropriate that this reading is placed in the Matins service. The opening line in Luke’s telling of this miracle states “after eight days” the event takes place. What a powerful proclamation. The idea of the eight day is but one of the strong resurrection images in this gospel that makes it unique among the three transfiguration accounts. While all three of the synoptic gospels recount this event, Luke telling of the event is the most unique among them.

Luke was probably not Jewish, and tradition tells us he was most likely of Greek origin and a follower of the Apostle Paul. Luke’s audience was most likely of Gentile origin, probably the same communities that Paul evangelized. His perspective of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration was written to reaffirm the faith of those who were not deeply rooted in the Jewish mind set. Saint Luke set forth his reason for writing his gospel as to give an orderly account so you may be certain of the teachings you received.

Luke, after his opening revelation, points us to the fact that Christ took the three apostles with him to pray on the mountain. Unique with Luke, he presents this event and Jesus’ agony in the garden as the only time Jesus’ prayer is shared with his disciples, otherwise prayer was always done in private between Jesus and his Father. Just as in the garden we find the same three overcome with sleep only to be wakened as Jesus enters into His glory.

As I have said, one of the most striking statements of Luke is that eight days have passed. The eight day is seen as the Lord’s Day, a day outside the normal cycle of time and events. We as Eastern Christians refer to the Great Feast of the Resurrection as the eighth day. This in my mind makes me question if Luke was telling his readers of a post-resurrection encounter not a pre-crucifixion event, since there is no admonition to his disciples not to tell anyone till he has risen from the dead. It is as if Jesus is allowing James, John and Peter to a share in his resurrection, but their lack of understanding prevents them sharing what they have seen.

Luke in his account also points to the fact that as Jesus prayed, He encountered God the Father. During this interaction with His Father Jesus’ face changed in appearance becoming dazzling bright. Unlike for us, Jesus in this change is not a change by coming in contact with the Divine but a revelation of the Divine in his person. For us to change, or our salvation, is made by us coming in contact and being made aware of the Divine in us.

It as if Luke is recalling for those not of the Jewish faith the story of the encounter of Moses, also seen in this vision, how upon encountering God in the burning bush became radiant. In that event Moses encounter with the divine changed him. This touching of the divine and mankind changes God’s creation in some physical and spiritual way, it causes salvation.

It is once this visible change in Jesus’ appearance takes place does Luke tell us that conversing with Jesus are two of the greatest teachers in salvation history. Moses the person whose appearance was changed and his vocation established by his contact with the divine goes on to bring the law that will bring God’s people closer to Him. Elijah, one the greatest prophets in the Old Testament also appears in this vision. His message to God’s people transformed Elijah and the people of God to a closer union of God to mankind. It is Elijah who returns to God in a flash of light.

Luke in his narrative also gives his readers and us insight on what the discussion among the three persons in this vision contained. While in this glory Jesus talks of “his exodus” that will take place in Jerusalem. To Luke’s non-Jewish reader whose community or nation was not shaped by the salvific act of bringing God’s people out of physical slavery the Old Testament exodus did not have the same gravity of meaning to those who Luke paints the image for this new community of believers that Jesus’ resurrection and glorification by the Father is the new exodus and community establishing event, delivering of this new community of believers from the slavery of our human nature.

The last thing I have to point out is Luke tells us that God the Father’s presence is also made manifest in this event. In the same imagery found elsewhere in scripture, and in many cultures encounter with the Divine, a cloud comes and shadows the people experiencing a vision of the Divine, a Divine affirmation of the event is given to the partakers.

What do Christians today need to take away from this event presented to us today? We need to wake from our slumber to the realization that if we truly believe that the glory of God dwells with in us, or reflected from us, we must be open to see and show forth that glory in some way. We need to take to heart the voice of the Divine so that we too can share in Jesus’ glory and shine forth and show it in our appearance as the light shone though Moses and Elijah.

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I would again encourage my readers to think about this and reflect upon what is being said!

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170618

I have been sharing with my readers the thoughts of St. Gregory of Nazianzus on the mystery and wonder of the Trinity. I would continue to share his thoughts with the hope that they stimulate my readers to actually reflect on how they see God, Who we believe is Three-In-One.

Gregory wonders, can God be in the universe? God must either be “in some part” of the universe or “in the whole.” If he inhabits only a part of the universe, however, God will end up “circumscribed by that part which is less than himself,” hardly a satisfactory state of affairs. Problems also accompany placing God within the universe as a whole. For instance, “Where was He before the universe was created”? If we describe God as being above the universe, what do we mean by “above” ? To describe God as above something seems to demand that we still think spatially concerning where God is, a position Gregory found untenable.

By this time, Gregory, you and I are tempted to scream. Our linguistic and spatial categories are proving incapable of adequately describing God, which turns out to be exactly Gregory’s point: “For my purpose in doing so was to make clear the point at which my argument has aimed from the first. And what was this? That the divine nature cannot be apprehended by human reason, and that we cannot even represent to ourselves all its greatness.” Human beings in their present state are simply unable to gaze directly upon God. As embodied creatures we naturally gravitate to picturing God through the analogies in the visible world around us. Gregory, however, is insistent that the vision of God is an “object of pure thought apart altogether from bodily objects.” Gregory states, “Thus our mind faints to transcend corporeal things, and to consort with the incorporeal, stripped of all clothing of corporeal ideas, as long as it has to look with its inherent weakness at things above its strength.

Still, God has planted reason within us, “reason that proceeds from God, that is implanted in all from the beginning and is the first law in us, and is bound up in all,” the reason that “leads us up to God through visible things.” Yet, our knowledge of God for the present will remain fragmentary at best.

So this is why God became incarnate – became a human being – so that we might have a concrete example of how we are created in His image and have the potential to grow in His likeness.

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170618

The “call to holiness” is, I must confess, a call-ing that requires us to make a real effort to understand the real meaning and purpose of life. First and foremost. the “call to holiness” requires us to come to a reasonable, sensible, intelligent understanding of Who God Is. Over the years I have found that people have a variety of real impressions of Who God Is. These impressions are not always positive. we humans seem to have a tendency to lay a “lot of trips” on God, blaming Him for a wide variety of things, especially those life events that we judge to be negative.

I don’t seem to find, however, the same tendency in humans to see God as the “Giver of All Good Things and Benefits”. So many presume that the good things that happen to them are the result of their own efforts. The bad things are a result of God responding to something that He doesn’t like about in the way we chose to live. This tendency, I truly believe, is absolutely incorrect and unreasonable. It is, however, a tendency which,

I have found, is difficult to change in people. What is very typical of humans is that we always need to find someone to blame when life doesn’t turn out the way we think it should. We always find a scapegoat. The “call to holiness” is a call to genuine and truthful living, not blaming God for the challenges that we encounter in our lives.

The “call to holiness” is also a call to recognize that God is with us in all of our human struggles and challenges. He has revealed to us, through Jesus and the Church, that He has created us to be the Temples of His Holy Spirit. Therefore He is with us in all of the challenges of life. Although this cannot be proven with concrete data, it is something that we are called to believe. This belief will sustain us and help us as we meet the challenges of life.

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170611

On this weekend of ALL SAINTS, our readings are taken from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews and Matthew’s Gospel. The opening sentence of the eleventh chapter of Paul’s letter states this: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not see.” A truly powerful statement on which we do well to reflect. Then in chapter 12 he provides us with this exhortation: “let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith”.
In the last section of the Gospel reading, which is taken from chapter 19, Jesus is quoted as saying to Peter: “everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life.”

If you have ever wondered what makes a person a saint, I believe that these quotes give you truly a clear idea. A saint is a person who, first and foremost, believes and has faith in the Lord Jesus as the true revelation of God about how to be a human in the manner that God intended when He created humankind. Second, a saint is a person who first seeks the Kingdom of God and then deals with the responsibilities that life presents. And last, a saint is a person who clearly sees that the primary task in life is to “put God first” in all he does. If you make anyone or anything more im-portant than God, then you fail to live up to how God intended you to live this earthly life.

This, I know, may be difficult for some to understand. We tend to put those we love first in our lives. I truly believe that if we put God first in our lives, we will not fail to support those we love and care about. Why do I say this? I say this because when I place God first in my life, I clearly bear witness to others, especially those I love, how to live and achieve the fullness of life. I also say this because when God is first in my life, I will automatically treat all others with unconditional love, kindness and acceptance.

We are all called to be saints – that is people who live in accord with God’s Spirit which He has poured into us in the process of sharing His divine life with us. You will never hurt the people you love and others when God is at the center of your life.

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170611

The eighth weekend after Pascha, that is the first weekend after Pentecost, is call the Weekend of ALL SAINTS. This feast completes the cycle of moveable feasts. On this day the Eastern Church pays particular veneration to all those who are the fruit of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, I believe, also highlights God’s plan for all Christians. We all have been called to be saints. I know that many will immediately think that this is truly an impossible task. It is not! I requires us, however, to embrace the WAY OF JESUS.

I think that one of the reasons why many people think that becoming a saint is impossible for them is that they think that they have to be perfect and feel that they can’t achieve this state. Sainthood does not involve perfection. It involves, rather, a desire to grow in the likeness of Jesus. It also requires that we have a true intention to live in a manner that we believe God has called us to live.

The veneration of the saints began with the death of the first martyrs of the Christian era. The cult of the Martyrs in later centuries incorporated also the cult of the apostles, bishops, ascetics and religious of both sexes.

Before long, the cult of the New Testament (NT) saints was extended to include that of the Old Testament (OT) saints. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his fifth Mystagogical Catechesis attests that during the Divine Liturgy after the Anamnensis “we commemorate those who have fallen asleep before us and who have believed in God: the forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics and for every just spirit”, so that through their prayers and their intercession, God may receive our petitions. Our Church clearly believes that (1) those who have gone before us into the next dimension (1) are alive; (2) can have a positive relationship with us; and (3) care about us. There is an unbroken connection between all humans who believe in the reality of a God Who loves His creation and who desires humans only to grow in the likeness of His Son, Jesus, so that they might understand that they are His children, the heirs of His kingdom.

We humans have been created with “free will,” that is the ability to make choices about what we believe and how we act. This means we can choose either to believe in a God Who truly cares about us or we can reject the notion of a loving and caring Creator-God.

What is truly interesting in my estimation is that our human experience tells us that anyone who creates anything, takes pride in and cares about his creation. Why would this not be true about the creator of humankind?

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170611

As I shared in the last issue of this article, the Eucharistic service in the early Church was often connected with and followed baptisms and also catechetical assemblies. Justin, a Father of the Church (148-155 CE) provides us with this description:

Thus, after baptizing him that professes his faith and assents to our doctrine, we lead him into the assembly of those called the brethren to say earnest prayers in common for ourselves, for the newly baptized, and for all others all over the world so that we who have come to the knowledge of the truth may also by the grace of God be found worthy to live a good life by deed and to observe the commandments by which we may gain eternal life. After finishing the prayers, we greet each other with a kiss. Then bread and a cup of wine are brought to the one presiding over the brethren. When he takes it, he gives praise and glory to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy spirit, and gives thanks at length because he considered us worthy of these gifts.

Justin also provides us with a similar description of the Eucharist being celebrated after a catechetical assembly.

The celebration of the Eucharist liturgy, as reconstructed from various writers of the next two centuries and a half, contain all the salient features described by Justin. What preceded the Eucharistic portion of the liturgy need not concern us, only that at which the initiated alone could participate: (1) Common, Intercessory Prayers of the Faithful; (2) the Kiss of Peace; (3) the Presentation of Bread and Wine or the Offertory; (4) the Eucharistic Prayer; (5) Fraction – the breaking apart of the Bread; (6) Communion; and (7) Ablutions and Dismissal.

We need to consider each of these elements to understand the structure of the Eucharistic Service. The first is the common, intercessory prayers that were said by “the brethren.” Authors tell us that these prayers were offered while the brethren stood with uplifted hands. Their content must have been similar to the petitions included in Clement of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians: for the sick and weak, for those in need, for the erring, the faint-hearted, for peace, for princes, governors and all civil authority. As summarized by Tertullian, there were petitions for “all emperors, that they may have a long life, loyal people, a quiet territory and whatever else may be desired by men and by Caesar.”
More to follow!

FROM OUR DEACON CANDIDATE — 20170611

TOPIC: FIRST SERMON Synoptic Gospels
By Len Mier

Transfiguration

TOPIC: Transfiguration of Christ as presented in St. Matthew’s Gospel (17:1-3)

Every year the Church celebrates this great feast of the transfiguration of Christ, one of the twelve great feasts of the Church. A feast that reveals to us something about our own salvation, we are presented with the transfiguration account as told in St. Matthew’s gospel.

I find it not to be overlooked that Matthew begins with the phrase, “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John, his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. What happened six days prior?” Matthew seems to want us to be aware of a specific frame of time. Numbers played a role in Jewish understanding of the cosmos. Why is it important that Matthew tells us six days passed? What does this miraculous event mean for us in our lives?

We have to look back to the previous chapter of Matthew’s gospel to find out why this mention of six days is important to the telling of the transfiguration account, and why it is important to our own understanding about Jesus. Let us look back in the gospel of Matthew to hear Jesus asking the twelve a question that Christians still ask themselves today: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” We need to remind ourselves that Matthew was writing to an audience that was primarily of Jewish origin. For them the term “Son of Man” had messianic overtones. For them the messiah was to be a person who restored the earthly kingdom of the people of Israel. The answers varied from the twelve. So Jesus probes his disciples further. Having lived with them and taught them in word and deed, Jesus does on to ask them more specifically: “But who do you say that I am?” to which Peter gives his confession “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

As if starting a timer Matthew starts counting. Where else do we encounter this time frame? It is the same time frame as the writing of the creation narrative in the Book of Genesis. On the first day of creation we hear the revelation that God makes His presence known to this world He is creating, by showing his presence with that of light, “Let there be light, and there was light.” This idea of six days of creation I think spoke to the mind of the early Jewish followers of Christ. A great revelation of light is God’s presence made manifest. We see the creation narrative moving in time through to the sixth day. The last day of creation is the summit of all that God wanted to create. This first creation ends with“ Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.”

Peter saying, “You are the Messiah” about Jesus is as great a revelation to the other disciples who are probably expecting the messiah to be the warrior king, giving Divine order and displacing the chaos of their world, just as the creative revelation of God’s divine light displaced the darkness of chaos. They start to realize at this moment that Jesus was not the warrior political kingdom restorer Messiah main stream Judaism of the day wanted. We see that Matthew now progresses full force forward this event of the transfiguration. All the gospel accounts take Peter, who made the profound confession, along with James and his brother John, to this event. It is here on the height of creation that this miraculous event takes place.

Matthew tells us Jesus was transfigured before them and that appearing with him are Moses, the first law giver, and Elisha, the greatest of Israel’s prophets. The evangelist tells us Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes because white as light, and we hear the voice of the Father reaffirming Peter’s confession to the three, “This is my beloved Son.” Our icon of this great feast gives us glimpse of what this event looks like to the believer. If we compare it to the icon of the Lord’s resurrection we can see that the transfigured Jesus is depicted with the same glorious mandorla, the uncreated eternal light of the resurrected Christ.

Is Matthew trying to tell us that this transfiguration happening six days post proclamation by Peter that Jesus is the messiah, the culmination of a new creation in Christ? Yes, I think Matthew is revealing to us a completion of the new creation, the fact that Jesus is the perfection of creation, and that the resurrected Jesus will be the first born of this new creation.

Now comes the difficulty with reading about this miraculous event, what does this miraculous event mean for us in our lives?

In order for this passage of scripture to be relevant to a modern Eastern Christian we have to go beyond basking in the glow of light from the miracle of the manifestation of Jesus on the mountain. I think that we must take away from the account of the transfiguration, that in baptism we too have become a new creation, if we truly take on Christ. His presence with Moses, the first law giver, he is also a new law giver. Giving us the law, “Love one another as I have loved you.” His presence with Elijah, he is also the new and greatest of prophets, in that he shows to us truly what God’s will is. In accepting this new creation for ourselves we need to see that the spark of Divine light is within us. We need to nurture and grow this Divine light dwelling with in us, until it busts forth from us We need to make manifest this Divine light for not only those close to us to see but make it shine for the whole world to see in us.

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As you think about the transfiguration of Our Lord,
which you have heard about many different times, what message does it have for you? The events in the life of Christ are all meant to reveal something to us that can help us live our present lives. The icon of the transfiguration is the icon that the Eastern Church uses to convey a message to us about the meaning and purpose of our lives. What is that message, as you understand it? Go back and reread Matthew’s account of this event and reflect on the message it has for you!