John 21:15-25 (Matins Gospel 11)
Luke 16:19-31 (Slavs), Luke 8:26-39 (Greeks)
John 21:15-25 (Matins Gospel 11)
Luke 16:19-31 (Slavs), Luke 8:26-39 (Greeks)
During the past week, Thursday the 14th of September, we celebrated the great feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This weekend we continue that celebration and venerate the Cross of Christ.
Our Epistle reading is taken from the letter of Paul to the Galatians. In it he has these words:
…knowing that a man is not justified by legal observance but by faith in Jesus Christ, we too have believed in him in order to be justified by faith…. I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God….
Indeed similar words should be on the lips and in the heart of each and every Christian. Paul indeed shows us how to think as a Christian and how to live.
Our second reading, taken from Mark’s Gospel, presents the doctrine of the Cross. Mark summarizes the doctrine of the Cross in this manner:
If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in my steps…. Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will preserve it.
The story of the Cross of Jesus is perhaps the greatest story every told since it tells us humans how to live life. It is a story of great faith in God and great personal strength. Jesus was a man who truly lived what He believed and He clearly showed us how to live. It is a story about what is possible for human beings if they hope and trust in God.
I know that many will immediately say that Jesus was able to endure His crucifixion because He was God. That is not what our faith tells us. He truly endured crucifixion because of the way that He embraced life and what He thought about the meaning and purpose of life. He did not endure the crucifixion the way that He did because He is God.
I know that this may be difficult for some to believe. Our human instinct is to deny that a human could go through what Jesus did only because of His faith. We don’t want to believe that He endured what He did simply as a human person. We don’t want to believe any differently because it would mean that we too could live like He did. Our faith tells us that He endured all as truly a human.
This weekend we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Our first reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians wherein he asserts that the Cross is the true boast of all true followers of Jesus Christ. In fact he states: “May I never boast of anything by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through it, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
Hopefully we, who call ourselves Christian might say the same thing as Paul. The Cross of Christ is truly the symbol of those who willingly embrace the real and true challenges of life in the same way that Jesus did.
While Christians embrace, as the ultimate symbol of the Christian life, the Resurrection of Christ, the resurrection is never seen out of the context of the Crucifixion. In the Crucifixion of Christ we see how we must approach life. We see that the challenges of life have a meaning. They are the means that life is providing us to grow in the likeness of God, as seen in the Person of Jesus.
Our second reading, which is taken from John’s Gospel, stresses the fact that the Crucifixion of Christ symbolizes a “way of living.” The Crucifixion of Christ presents us with a “way of living” which embraces all of the challenges of life as opportunities for spiritual growth. Jesus showed us that when we can finally see that the challenges of life present true and real opportunities for spiritual growth, we begin to see that the meaning and true purpose of life is to spiritually grow – to lean how to accept life as it is presented to us.
The Cross was the true opportunity of Jesus to tell us that if we embrace life’s challenges with an open mind and heart and refuse to allow the challenges of life to distract us from being people who TRUST IN GOD and who are willing to FORGIVE OTHERS, then we spiritually grow (these are the themes that have been presented to us during the past several weeks in our readings).
Again this requires that we begin to understand the true meaning and purpose of life. God created us and gave us a free will. The purpose of life is to grow in the likeness of Jesus, which will allow us to truly become children of God and allow us to understand why we were created.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians wherein he tells them and us: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith… In a word, be strong. Do everything with love.” He clearly states a way of living that is based on the teachings of Jesus. A Christian is ever watchful so that when life presents challenges he can respond to them in a manner similar to that way Jesus met the challenges in His life. If we base our response to the events of life in the manner that our faith tells us, then we will have peace and will grow in our likeness of Christ. It is our job as Christians to support and to encourage one another to live in the manner that Jesus did.
Our second reading, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, presents the parable of the “tenants”. It is one of Jesus’ parable of which we should all be aware. This parable also goes by the name of the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen.
Matthew has somewhat expanded this parable in order to make the point entirely clear, although the parable is not obscure in Mark. The description of the vineyard is given in words that closely echo Isaiah 5:2., where the vineyard symbolizes Israel. The parable of Jesus has allegorical features. The owner is an absentee landlord, and in the New Testament (NT) such disputes between landlords and tenants were not unknown. Matthew increases the number of the slaves so that their allegorical significance may be completely clear; the slaves represent the prophets. The allegorical significance of the son is not equally clear. No Old Testament figure can be intended and the death of John the Baptizer cannot be attributed to the Jews. If the son is an allegorical figure, he can represent no one but Jesus; and one would expect more to be made of this feature of the parable. As a suggestion that Jesus himself is the son who is killed, this passage is extremely delicate; that it is an ecclesiastical expansion inserted in the primitive Church seems unlikely because it is a part of the climactic structure of the parable.
So as we think about both of these readings we hear an exhortation to be aware that the message is that we must be on guard to maintain a way of responding to the challenges of life that is in accord with the Jesus way. The parable also tells us not to take advantage of any of the situations in life that we think might benefit us as the tenants did. To benefit at the expense of others is not the way.
Our first reading this weekend is again taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In the passage we hear, he again reminds the Corinthians and us that he has preached the Lord crucified and risen from the dead. He also states that he himself saw the resurrected Christ. He then states this: “by God’s favor I am what I am. This favor of His to me has not proved fruitless”.
I believe that this has a very important and poignant message for us. We must be able to look at ourselves in a mirror and say exactly what Paul said – I am what I am by God’s favor.
I is critical, I have found, that we have a true appreciation for who we are. Why? Because it is by the grace of God that we are who we are. In some mysterious way, God chose us to be who we are in order that His creation could be complete. We must have a true respect for this fact and feel in our heart of hearts that we are His creation and that what He created He found good. I would remind my readers that if we find that we cannot love ourselves, we cannot love others.
Our second reading, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, relates what Jesus said to the man who asked Jesus this question: “what good must I do to possess everlasting life?” After Jesus states several of the commandments and the young man says: “I have kept all these; what do I need to do further?” Jesus then says, “If you seek perfection, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. You will then have treasure in heaven”.
The clear message is that the things of this world can become true obstacles to spiritual growth since they seem to have the power to seduce people into becoming attached to them. When we become too attached to things of this world, we see to forget the things of the Kingdom. It seems that “things” have a natural impact on many people and it is easy to become true “slaves” to the things that we own.
Often attachment to the things of this world bespeak of a person desire to control life since they realize, at some level, that life is unpredictable and, of course, uncontrollable. We quickly forget that we can’t take the things of this world with us when we die.
During this coming week, Tuesday, August 29th, our Church celebrates the “Beheading of John the Baptizer.” Why does the Church give such veneration to St John the Baptist, even fixing a strict fast day in his honor? Some reasons.
Our Lord Himself said that St John was the greatest prophet ‘among those born of women’. Some hearing these words are surprised. They ask: Surely, Christ Himself is the greatest man born of women? However, Christ was not born of a married woman, he was born of a Virgin. Therefore, in obedience to our Lord’s words that St John is the greatest born of women, the Church duly honors him. In fact, there are no fewer than six feasts of St John in the Church Year. The first is his Conception on 23 September. Then comes his commemoration on 7 January, the day after the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. The third is the Second Finding of his head on 24 February. His next feast is the Third Finding of his head on 25 May. The fifth is his Birth, or Nativity, on 24 June, and finally today’s feast, the last in the Church Year, his Beheading on 29 August.
The parents of St John were great and holy people in their own right and their child was a gift in answer to prayer made to them in their pious old age. His father was St Zachariah, Prophet, Priest and Martyr. His mother, St Elizabeth, was the sister of St Anna, that is the sister of the mother of the Mother of God. This relationship between the Mother of God and her kinsman, St John, is expressed in the icon which typically hangs over the holy doors in Eastern Christian churches. This shows Christ in the center, the Mother of God on His right and St John on His left. This icon is called the Deisis, and signifies how our salvation is related not only to Our Savior, but also to His Holy Mother and St John.
St John has the special title of the ‘Forerunner’, in Greek ‘Prodromos’, which in is a common Greek Christian name. St John alone can claim to be the Forerunner of Christ, therefore the pioneer of our Faith. How can we fail therefore to give him special honor?
The Holy Foreunner is also given the title of ‘Prophet’. In fact it can be said that he was the last Prophet of the Old Testament.
Because St John is so important in our Christian history,
I will continue to share more in the coming Bulletins.
The Divine Liturgy – the continual ascent, the lifting up of the Church to heaven, to the throne of glory, to the unfading light and joy of the kingdom of God – should be the focus of our experience. As one author has put it: “Standing in the temple of God’s glory” we are called to think and imagine that we are in heaven. In fact the area defined by icons representing Christ and Mary is considered, in our Church, to be a symbol of the Kingdom of God. These words are not just pious rhetoric, for they express the very essence, the very purpose both of the Church and of her worship as above all precisely a liturgy, an action in which the essence of what is taking place is simultaneously revealed and fulfilled.
But in what is this essence, in what is the ultimate meaning of the Divine Liturgy if not in the manifestation and the granting to us of this divine good? From where, if not from our “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” comes its simultaneously otherworldly, heavenly and cosmic beauty, that wholeness , in which all – words, sounds, colors, time, space, movement, and the growth of all of them – is revealed, realized as the renewal of creation, as ours, as the ascent of the entire world on high, to where Christ has raised and is eternally raising us?
I wonder if this makes any sense to my readers? What I am trying to express is that if we truly enter into the essence of our worship – Divine Liturgy – we are called to be transported out of time and space and glimpse the world to come. In our Divine Liturgy we actually address our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and, for the short time that we pray, we can, if we allow ourselves to think about what we are really doing, encounter Him.
We are asked in the Divine Liturgy to “lay aside all earthly cares” so that we can truly allow ourselves to be focused on the kingdom of God. We say in the very beginning of the Liturgy, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. We desire a glimpse of God’s Kingdom and we have to allow ourselves to imagine being in God’s Kingdom where all “earthly cares” are put aside.
The Liturgy encourages us to also “stand aright” and to “stand in awe” before our God. If we sincerely pray the prayers of the Liturgy, it is easy to be transported psychologically and spiritually into His presence. This is what we must allow ourselves to do when we celebrate the Liturgy – to be transported into His presence where He can praise Him and ask Him for help to live our lives.
By Len Mier
In this first essay I will be discussing the ways in which we can know God as summarized from Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ Lectures in Christian Dogmatics. The goal is to address the understanding of knowledge of God and that of knowing God.
To start, what is knowledge, or how do we know? What we are talking about is how we have knowledge about something. A simple example is when we see an object we have never seen before, we identify, through our senses, that it has a specific shape and physical characteristics. We start a process of matching it to images of things familiar to us, so that through a process of saying what the object is or is not, we reach a conclusion saying that we have knowledge of what that physical object is.
This is fairly easy to do for objects that are perceivable or inanimate, and is easy to gain knowledge through use of our senses. But is this the same as saying we know these things? The problem comes when an object we want to know or gain knowledge of does not have a physical manifestation. How can we have knowledge of these things or can we know them?
When we talk about knowledge of God we talking about the ability to ascribe to Him relatable, identifiable attributes. Or through a process of negation, saying what He is not. We can say God is all good, all powerful, and all loving. But is this the same as saying we know God? Identifying attributes can describe Him, but do we know Him in the same way we know an object or another person? Is knowing and recognizing what a chair is the same as knowing God?
Many theologians go into great depth on how we know God. The primary idea in knowing God is that it is done freely. We are free to know or reject God. God does not force this knowledge on us. This freedom is based in love and in the community of believers. As Metropolitan Zizioulas tells us, this love is the communion, or relationship, created by the community of the Church and its members. This love is not the emotion that is so popularly talked about in modern society, but is that mutual relationship or bond between members of a community. Knowing someone is also identifying with that person, if we lose our identification with that person we lose knowing them.
How can we identify with something we have not seen? We can say that although we have only seen Christ in the eyes of our faith we can still use Him to gain knowledge of God. Maximos the Confessor tells us that Christ is the Logos of God, and that it is through this Logos we can come to know God.
It is the personal relationship of love, the Father has with His son, which we can start to have knowledge of God. Only in this most intimate relationship, of the Son identifying himself with the Father, can we then start to know God. It is this loving relationship that makes the Father truly known to us. The Gospel of Matthew gives some insight to this relationship:
All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)
It is in this relationship of the Father and Son that the knowing of God is revealed to us. Knowing God cannot be gained in isolation but only through engagement with the Son. Knowing the Son cannot be done in isolation but only in engaging our neighbor. It is in this experience of engaging the Son do we gain knowledge. How does the Son reveal this to us? He revealed it by charging us to follow his example, do unto others as I have done for you.
For knowing to be real, it has to be based on our experience. Knowing becomes real when we freely start to imitate that person we want to know. We have to identify, or take on, Jesus’ identity. In taking on this identity, God and his Son should become real to us. Jesus freely revealed the personal relationship of
God as our Father. Jesus imitated the Father by doing his will. When we imitate Jesus in word and action we place ourselves in a relationship with Him and by extension in a relationship with the Father.
In summary we can say we have gone beyond having knowledge of God to knowing God when the following happens in our lives. We freely accept God’s love. We build up this bond of love with Him through imitating the actions of Jesus – His love being expressed in the community of believers and society. This knowing of God becomes truly real by our actions becoming the same as actions of Jesus. The revelation of the Father’s love for us, manifested in our actions and interactions, makes real for us God and thereby we can truly know Him.
As many can tell if they have regularly read this article, this comes as a “stream of conscious” article. The call, in my estimation, is diverse and multidimensional. I really don’t think that this call to holiness can be simplified into just one approach.
I do think that the call is a call to becoming an authentic human being – a human being that is focused on becoming all that God has created him to be. This is, in my estimation, the “goal” of life – to become all that God has created us to be. When we strive to become all that God has created us to be, we find the true meaning and purpose of our life.
We are here to complete God’s creation. We need to be who we are in order for God’s creation to be complete. When we are no longer needed to fulfill this need, we pass on to the next realm of existence.
Since life is eternal, this life on earth is only a part of an eternal progression that is designed to help us grow in a greater likeness of Jesus, the Christ.
I truly do think that one of the unfortunate things that has arisen in Western Christianity is the thought and idea, as I see it played out in Western Theology, that this life on earth is all that there is to life and that we either make it or break it during this lifetime. There seems to be an attitude that the way you live during this brief period on earth either results in reward or punishment. This, in my estimation, eliminates the possibility of an eternity of possible growth as human beings. The reason this thinking has come into existence, I firmly believe, is that if people have the thought that they have other lifetimes to grow in their likeness of Christ, they will make no efforts during this life time to become more like Christ. I reject this estimation of humankind. I refuse to sell humans short.