The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170806

There is a complete sequence of proper prayers for the Divine Liturgy of the Transfiguration. These include: special Antiphons, a special Entrance Hymn, a Tropar and Kondak, a special Prokimen, Alleluia Verses, Hymn to the Mother of God, and Communion hymn. You will note that for all major feasts of Our Lord, these same parts are special. We do well to listen closely to the Tropar and Kondak since they give us the substance of the feast.

TROPAR
You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, revealing as much of Your glory to Your Disciples as they could behold. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, let Your everlasting light also shine upon us sinners. O Giver of Light, glory be to You.

KONDAK
You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, and Your Disciples beheld as much as they could of Your glory, so that when they would see You crucified, they would understand that You suffered willingly; and they would preach to the world that You are truly the reflection of the Father.

In both of these special prayers, we hear that the “Disciples beheld as much as they could” of Christ’s glory and that the experience was meant to help the disciples later preach the glory of Jesus, the Crucified One. This experience was meant to give the Disciples “insight” into the Person of Jesus.

What insight does our celebration of this major feast give to us? Obviously we have the luxury of the Church’s dogmas to help us focus our understanding. This feast, indeed, reveals that the life-force within each human is, in some mysterious way, a participation in the life-force of God Himself. By infusing His life into all created things, God brings and sustains all things in existence and, of course, tells us that human life IS ETERNAL.

This feast, if we properly observe it, also reveals something about us. It is by Divine Guidance that we bless fruit on this day because at the core of every kind of fruit is a SEED which allows the fruit to grow and mature. God’s LIFE SEED is planted in all living things.

Another thought comes to mind. The Kondak states that the experience of the Lord’s Transfiguration allowed the disciples to understand that Jesus willingly suffered – that Jesus embraced the challenges of His life with an openness to the lesson that each challenge presented. This definitely has a message for us. Life’s challenges are meant to help us spiritually grow – Jesus, the man, grew from His willingness to face His life’s challenges with hope and trust in God. I wonder if this makes any sense to you who are reading this article?

FROM OUR DEACON CANDIDATE — 20170806

TOPIC: Synoptic Gospels
By Len Mier
A Sermon

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST IN MATTHEW’s GOSPEL

Every year the Church celebrates this great feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, one of the twelve great feasts of Our 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 overlook 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 our 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 goes 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 writer of the creation narrative in the Book of Genesis. One 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 ius 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 were 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 mainstream Judaism of the day wanted. We see that Matthew now progresses full force toward 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 became 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 feasts gives us a 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 past 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 miracles 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 within 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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This weekend we are all called to think about the meaning that this great feast has for us. The feasts of our Church are meant to help us gain great insights into the meaning of our human lives. Although they may focus on Jesus or Mary, they are integrated into our religious life as a means of helping us gain greater insights into this earthly existence. We must always remember that Jesus, Mary and those who followed Jesus, reveal by their lives something very important about human life itself. So we should not get “stuck” in just thinking about the story of the feast but, rather, think about what it reveals to us about our own lives. Our religion is meant to help us live our present life in a manner that truly helps us to spiritually grow.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170806

Gregory asks: What if the difference between the Father and the Son, between the unbegotten and the begotten, “is outside the essence”? On a human level, for instance, I can be a father within certain relationships, but my fatherhood is not part of the essence of what it means to be a human being. If it were, as Gregory observes, I would end up being my father’s father, since I would be “the same with him in essence.” Gregory comments that in order to investigate the “nature of the essence of God” might leave issues concerning personality or individuality “absolutely unaffected.” We perhaps are on the right track here, particularly because if we describe God’s nature itself as begotten and unbegotten, we end up with “contradictory essences, which is impossible.

What, however, if the names “Father” and “Son” describe a relationship, a relationship existing eternally in the nature of God?

Father is not a name either of an essence or of an action…. But it is the name of the relation in which the Father stands to the Son, and the Son to the Father. For as with us these names make known a genuine and intimate relation, so in the case before us too they denote an identity of nature between him that is begotten and him that begets.

Both Father and Son share a common essence. They are the same substance homoousios (Gk.ὁμοούσιος). Simultaneously they are eternally distinct in the relationship of Father and Son, unbegotten and begotten. As Gregory puts it, “there never was a time when he was without the Word, or when he was not the Father, or when he was not true, or not wise, or not powerful, or devoid of life, or of splendor, or of goodness.”
As you can tell, the Church’s dogma of the Trinity, which was and is guided by God’s own Spirit, is a difficult idea to conceive and so people like Gregory spent a great deal of time trying to find ways to describe the idea of God. Of course this is why other religions like Islam and Judaism find it impossible to accept this Christian idea of God. This idea of God had to be formulated in order to see Jesus, a man by all appearances, as also God. When the Church decided that Jesus was both God and Man, she had to reformulate the existing idea of God. The existing idea was, of course, from Judaism. In Yahweh there, the Jewish idea of God, there is only ONE PERSON, the Creator.

The beauty of the Christian idea of God is that it connects humankind to God, through Jesus, in an unique and intimate manner. The Christian concept of God bears greater witness to the idea that humans are made in God’s image and unto His likeness.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170806

The epistle of James was known by Origen’s time, but we do not know when it began to receive canonical status. It is not in the Muratorian list, and Eusebius places it among the disputed books. The Lat Claromontanus list includes it, but the African Canon of 360 does not. In the later part of the 4th century it won acceptance in the West through Jerome, Augustine and the councils of Hippo and Carthage. In the Greek church of the same period it found a place in the canons of Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius and Gregory Nazianzen. This makes it evident that various Fathers of the Church were the first to list the books that they felt were truly inspired and therefore to be contained within the Canon of the New Testament.

The evidence for the early knowledge of Jude is better than for James. Jude was known by the author of 2 Peter, by Polycarp, and by Clement of Alexandria. It appears in the Muratorian Fragment. However, Origen was aware that there were doubts about it, and Eusebius placed it among the disputed books. Its acceptance in the latter part of the 4th century followed a pattern similar to that of James. But Jude did not receive final acceptance by the Syrian church, and one of the canonical lists adopted by Trullo II (692) indicates uncertainty about its status.

The two shorter Johannine epistles were not cited frequently by Christian writers, probably because of their relatively insignificant contents. Toward the end of the 2nd century, Irenaeus cites 2 John, but there is no evidence for the circulation of 3 John in the 2nd century. The Muratorian Fragment lists two Johannine letters (1 and 2). Origen accepted a short epistle by John and said that perhaps John left two more epistles, although their true authenticity was denied by some and that all together they totaled no more than 100 lines. A century later, Eusebius listed 2-3 John among the disputed books, and a continuing dispute about these epistles is witnessed in the North African Canon of 360. Ultimately, like the other disputed catholic epistles, they were accepted in the Latin and Greek churches in the late 4th century, but not fully in the Syrian church.

Of all the catholic epistles, 2 Peter has the poorest record of acceptance. There is no clear reference to the epistle before the time of Origen who says that Peter left “one acknowledged epistle and possibly two, although this is doubtful.” Disputes about 2 Peter are recorded by Eusebius and are implicit in the North African Canon of 360. Jerome accepted it, although he knew there were doubts. It was accepted at the same time as were the other disputed catholic epistles.

The history of our Sacred Literature,
I believe, is truly fascinating.

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170806

ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

The teaching that man must be holy and perfect like God Himself through the accomplishment of the will of God is the central teaching of the Eastern Church. This teaching has been stated in many different ways in the Eastern Church’s spiritual tradition. St. Maximus the Confessor said it this way: “Man is called to become by divine grace all that God Himself is by nature.” This means very simply that God wills and helps His creatures to be like He is, and that is the purpose of life. As God is holy, perfect, pure, merciful, patient, kind, free, self-determining, ever-existing, and always, for eternity, the absolute superabundant realization of everything good in inexhaustible fullness and richness… so man must be this way as well, ever growing and developing in divine perfection and virtue for all eternity by the will and power of God Himself. The perfection of man is his growth in the unending perfection of God.

If you read Maximus’ words closely, you realize that God does not expect us to become like Him in just this life-time. Rather, humans will be engaged in the process of becoming like God for all eternity. God has granted us eternal life so that we might continuously have the opportunities needed to grow in His likeness, something needed since we have been created in His image.

Christian spirituality is centered in Christ. Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who was born as a man of the Virgin Mary in order to give man eternal like in communion with God, His Father.

In Jesus Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” In Him is the “fullness:” of “grace and truth” and “all the fullness of God.” When one sees and knows Jesus, one sees and knows God the Father. When one is in communion with Jesus, one is in abiding union with God.

These various ideas are found in St. Paul’s Letters to the Colossians, Romans and Ephesians and in St. John’s Gospel. The goal of human life is to be continually “in Christ.”
THINK ABOUT THIS!

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170730

The first assigned reading for this weekend comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. We have completed our readings from his letter to the Romans. In this reading, Paul addresses the issue of dissention in the Church in Corinth. He admonishes members to “agree in what you say. Let there be no factions; rather, be united in mind and judgment”.

The second assigned reading is St. Matthew’s account of the “multiplication of the loaves.” Some form of this story appears in all of the gospels, albeit the story is different in each of the Gospels. Matthew connects this incident with the killing of John the Baptizer and the withdrawal of Jesus from Galilee. Mark associates it with the return of the Twelve from their mission and a withdrawal into solitude for rest. The scene is not clear in any of the three synoptic gospels.

It is highly unlikely that very many of the crowd would leave home for a day’s journey without carrying some food. The modern Palestinian peasant would not be so improvident.

The ceremonial with which Jesus blesses and distributes the food anticipates the Last Supper. The Twelve hand out the food and collect the fragments, one basket for each. Matthew heightens the number of the people: uncounted women and children besides 5,000 men. The number is very probably exaggerated, and it is not the result of a head count in any case. Oral tradition tends to raise such figures.

The usual note of wonder that follows miracles is not mentioned here. The incident is related less for the element of the miraculous than as a symbol and an anticipation of the Eucharist and of the Messianic banquet. We must remember that this story was written down after the Resurrection of Christ. The association with the Eucharist is more explicit in John’s gospel, where the multiplication of the loaves is followed by John’s Eucharistic discourse (John: 6). It is a Messianic sign and symbol that will find its fulfillment in the true Messianic banquet, which is the Eucharist.

St. Matthew has abbreviated this story less sharply than others; but his abbreviations, achieved by the omission of some details and dialogue, have the effect of heightening the symbolic significance of this incident.

As I think about these two readings I gleaned this message: When we partake of Holy Communion, we must be aware that we should be “AT PEACE” with all others. Communion is the ultimate sign of union with God and our fellowmen. If I approach the CUP with hatred for anyone in my life, I truly don’t worthily receive Christ’s presence in my life. So, I should make sure that I ask Christ into my life with love for my fellowmen.

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170730

If a person researches the topic of “Spiritual Formation of Laity” that is contained in the second session of the Patriarchal Council of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which was held in 1998, you will find something that was written by the Kyivan Grand Prince Volodymyr in the 11th-12th century. He shared with his people that Christian living must draw upon a person’s personal commitment to become like Jesus. His writing can inspire us today.

As we recognize the difficult history of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, we have to recognize her holiness and the absolute courageousness of her members during many difficult years. They are prime examples for us to imitate.

When the Kyivan Church entered into communion with Rome her spiritual heritage and her saints entered the communion with her. We can take pride and learn so very much from our Church’s past and also her experience in the catacombs of modern times.

We have to understand that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is of the Kyivan and Byzantine tradition and has its own Eastern theology and spirituality as well as worship practices. It is different from Western Catholicism. This difference, however, does not make us any less Catholic.
This, of course, raises the question: What does it mean to be Catholic? Does it mean that we have to have the very same theology and spirituality? Does it mean that we have to adopt all the liturgical practices and devotions of the Western Church?

To be Catholic means that we belong to a “communion of Churches” and recognize that, in accord with Sacred Tradition, we recognize the Patriarch of the West, the Bishop of Rome, as the first among equals who, like Peter, is called by God to keep unity among all the Churches. When you look at the history of the Church, you realize that Peter did not dictate to the other Apostles what to believe and how to worship God. (This is one reason why we have so many different forms of worship within the Catholic Communion). Each Apostle seems to have developed with the people he evangelized, a unique way to worship that had common elements.
What Peter also did was to make sure that all Apostles agreed upon some very basic beliefs. This was done by working to achieve “consensus” among the Apostles. The early Church governed itself through a Synodal approach – a gathering of all Church leaders and arguing and debating dogmas of faith and then eventually coming to a common consensus.

We know that after 1054 CE this was no longer possible and still is impossible. This will never be true again until Churches achieve “unity” and, of course, “communion.”
This is why our Church still maintains its own internal discipline, theology and spirituality. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. The way is directly connected to our history and traditions. Let us take pride in our own Tradition.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170730

I would continue sharing the thoughts of St. Gregory about the mystery and wonder of the Trinity. He posed this further question: IF the Father as unbegotten and the Son as begotten are indeed distinct from one another, they are obviously not the same. How can they both be the same God? Gregory poses the question as follows: “For if to be unbegotten is the essence of God, to be begotten is not that essence; if the opposite is the case, the unbegotten is excluded. What logical argument can contradict this?”

All depends, Gregory argues, on what we mean when we say that the unbegotten and the begotten are not the same. He then certainly agrees, “the unoriginate and the created are not of the same nature.” Is such the case with the Father and the Son? “But if you say that he that begot and that which was begotten are not the same, the statement is in accurate. For it is in fact a necessary truth that they are the same. For the relation of father to child is this: that the offspring is of the same nature with the parent.” Think, Gregory coaches, of Adam. “Was he not alone the direct creature of God,” created in a unique manner by God?” Does this mean that Adam was the only human being? Hardly. Other humans “begotten” by normal procreative means are clearly also human. What is Gregory’s point? Just so neither is he who is unbegotten alone God, through he along is Father.

If so, how are terms such as unbegotten and begotten to be understood in terms of the unity of God? What are the possibilities? Well, “if the Son is the same as the Father in respect of essence,:” perhaps the Son is unbegotten. Such might be true, but only “if the essence of God consists in being unbegotten.” Scratch one possibility off the list of possible models.

I am sure if you have read the above closely, you, like me, are overwhelmed and confused. The arguments that went into the finding of sufficient words and ideas to express what we mean by God were and are highly complex. The Trinity, like the God-Man Jesus, are, of course, mysteries in which we can only place our faith and belief. The ideas of God being Three-In-One, connects us to God in a very intimate and deep way.
More to come!

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170730

When you seriously explore our Divine Liturgy, you find that we consistently pray to the Holy Trinity. Although we remember during the Divine Liturgy what Jesus did, we realize that it is our means of worshipping God Who is Three-In-One – Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So the Divine Liturgy is not worship of Jesus but, rather, the worship of God together with Jesus Who taught us HOW TO PRAY. He not only gave us the words of the Our Father, He also gave us a ritual which indeed is a worship of our Triune God.

It seems that in the Western world, a good number of people believe that we worship Jesus, especially since we include in the Liturgy the actions He performed at the Last Supper. We use the actions of Jesus to worship God, knowing that the Second Person is Christ, the Jesus Who is also God.

I know that this might seem to be confusing to some. It takes a lot of thought. Here I’m trying to make the distinction that we worship Jesus as God while using the actions of Jesus as Man. I would also hasten to remind my readers that it is our belief that while only one person, Hypostasis, informed both the Divine and Human natures of the Man Jesus, they were separate and equal – a great mystery which only an infinite God could accomplish.

Does this understanding make a difference? I believe that it does.

The next time you attend the Divine Liturgy, I would ask you to pay particular attention to the “person” that the prayers are directed. As I see it, there is only several prayers in the entire Liturgy that are directed to Jesus alone. All the rest are directed mainly to GOD, each ending with glorification to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This, I think, makes our worship of God much different than Western Christian denominations. I find it absolutely important. Jesus, I believe, set us the Eucharist for two very important reasons: (1) that He might have a way to always be with His followers; and (2) that He might show us how to worship God, offering our very lives to Him in Thanksgiving for the Gift of Life and for joining us to God.

When a person begins to attend the Divine Liturgy with these thoughts in mind, worship changes. Think about it. I have to be thankful for my life, with all of its successes, struggles, joys, sorrows, challenges and relationships.

Are you thankful for your life? When you worship do you also believe that it is important that you are at peace with all of your fellowmen – you are in co communion with them?

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170730

I have tried to stress in this article that our call from God, through life, is to become a person who clearly sees the meaning and purpose of life. Have you ever thought about why you are alive and why you are the person that you are? I am firmly convinced that we have to deal with the issue of why we are the persons that we are. I am firmly also convinced that God needs us to be who we are so that, at this moment, His creation is complete. We exit this world when we no longer are needed to complete God’s creation.

Of course this all requires that we think in a certain manner. Do you really believe that God has a plan for His creation, which includes us? Do you really feel, know and believe that God, from all eternity, conceived of you as you are and that He, through life, knows that the right combination of strengths and weakness which are yours, is the exact combination needed to help you grow in your likeness of God as seen in the Person of Jesus?

I truly believe that FAITH requires us to think in this fashion. If we believe in God and believe that He is loving, we must believe that He didn’t just have us come into existence without some sort of idea/plan

of how to give us the opportunities we need to fulfill the purpose of life. We also believe, however, that while He has a plan in mind for us, He doesn’t force His plan on us. Why? Because He gave us free will and He wants us to freely choose the way we want to respond to the meaning and purpose of life. This is how a loving Father behaves. A true Father never forces His will on us but, rather, only calls us to respond to His loving offerings to transform our lives.

The call to holiness, therefore, is God’s call, through life, to make sense out of this earthly experience and to choose how we want to live it. He has told us of His love through Jesus and only hopes, for our sakes, that we choose a path that will lead us to greater union with Him.

Salvation is an interactive process between God and us. He honors and respects our free-will actions. Why? Because He gave us free will and only desires our voluntary return of His love, like any good father.