CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170611

It is probably evident that the “call” I have been writing about in this article, is a “call” to FOLLOW JESUS. How do we accomplish this? We attempt to change the way that we think and behave, realizing that the thinking of most people is driven by their unconscious thoughts and experiences and that our thinking drives our behaviors. Also, humans, like all animals, have instincts, genetically hard-wired behaviors that enhance our ability to cope with vital environmental contingencies – fight or flight. There is a natural instruct to defend ourselves from perceived dangers. Other basic instincts include denial, revenge, tribal loyalty, greed and the urge to procreate.

Jesus calls us to thoughtful reflection on how we think and act and then work to bring our thinking and behaviors into line with His way of thinking and behaving. His way is a thoughtful human way which has a firm “spiritual” foundation – that is to allow God’s Spirit within us to direct our thinking and behaving so that we grow in our likeness to Jesus. This requires that we believe that the “meaning and purpose of life” is to grow in our likeness of Jesus Who is truly God’s revelation of what humans were created to be like. When God created humans, He gave us a free will and an ability to grow in our understanding of who we are in His creation. He loves us so very much, that He granted us freedom to be our own persons. Why, because He sees us as His children and we are created in His image. He did this so that there would be a possibility for us to “freely return His love”. To make that possible, He risked being rejected by us. To truly be His children we need to be free.

Any good parent, I believe, understands this. They only want their children to freely return their love. The goal is to freely return God’s love by freely choosing to think and live like Jesus.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170611

As I shared in the last issue of this article, the Pauline letter were written before the Gospels. It is difficult to be certain when the earliest pre-Gospel traditions were written down. It seems reasonable to place in the 50’s some of the works that modern scholars suppose to have antedated the Gospels (e.g., “Q”, proto-Mark, the earliest written tradition behind John). In antiquity Papias knew of a collection of the sayings of the Lord in Hebrew or Aramaic complied by Matthew and Irenaeus states that this material antedated Mark. By the time that Luke was writing (in the 80’s?), many others had undertaken to compile a narrative of all the things that had been accomplished by Jesus. Such pre-Gospel written sources, now lost by theoretically reconstructed by scholars, must have already shown considerable development over the words and acts of Jesus. They would have constituted a trustworthy record of the memories of Jesus as preserved in the Christian communities of the 50’s, but scarcely a verbatim report of what had been said and done in the 20’s.

The canonical Gospels were written in the period 60-100 CE, with probably only Mark to be dated in the 60’s. In them, the pre-Gospel written tradition was systematized along both chronological and theological lines. In Mark, the material to be narrated was fitted into a simplified sequence of the public ministry of Jesus (baptism, ministry in Galilee, ministry outside Galilee, journey to Jerusalem, passion, death and resurrection), with the Evangelist inserting incidents where they seemed logically to fit – not necessarily on the basis of a correct historical chronology. The choice of the material to be incorporated and the orientation given to it were determined by the Evangelist’s theological outlook and by the needs of the community for which the Gospel was being written.
In the 70’s, or more likely in the 80’s, an unknown Christian wrote the Gospel that has come down to us as the Gospel according to Matthew, perhaps because the Evangelist was a disciple of Matthew, or drew on the earlier collection of sayings written by Matthew. Probably, also in the 80’s, Luke undertook a more elaborate project that produced not only a Gospel which had more formal historical pretensions but also a history of the origin and spread of Christianity in the post-resurrectional period (i.e., ACTS). The theological orientation is far more pronounced in Matthew and Luke than it is in Mark. In the 90’s, but drawing on an earlier tradition related to John son of Zebedee, a disciple of John produced a Gospel somewhat different from the others.
More to follow!

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170611

Gregory admits that if God does not possess a body, then God must be “incorporeal.” The term incorporeal “does not yet set before us – or contain within itself – his essence.” Neither do other terms such as unbegotten, unoriginate, unchanging, incorruptible or “any other predicate which is used concerning God or in reference to him. For what effect is produced upon his being or substance by his having no beginning and being incapable of change of limitation?” Other human predicates we sometimes employ, such as “corporeal, begotten, or mortal,” fall short unless one “clearly and adequately” describes the subject to which they apply. All, for example, could equally apply to “a man, or a cow, or a horse.”

Hence, Gregory believes those who would speak well of God must reverently and humbly move beyond a merely negative or apophatic theology. To describe God only in negative terms would be much like a mathematician “who, when asked how many twice five make, should answer, “not two, nor three, nor four, nor five, nor twenty, nor thirty, not in short any number below ten, nor any multiple of ten, but refused to answer, “ten.” A better path to follow, both in mathematics and in theology, is to broaden our knowledge “both by the elimination of negatives and the assertion of positives to arrive at a comprehension of the truth.” The best theologians, then, will know both when to speak and when to remain silent.

On the basis of this methodology, Gregory begins to add to and arrange his fundamental building blocks concerning God. Having concluded that God is incorporeal, Gregory explores the relationship of God to space. Is God “nowhere or somewhere”? If God is nowhere, is it reasonable or coherent to speak of God as existing at all? Gregory thinks not. “For if the nonexistent is nowhere, then that which is nowhere is also perhaps nonexistent.” On the other hand, if God is somewhere, where is he? The only two options seem to be a spatial location within the universe or existence “above the universe.”

Hopefully my readers can see the great efforts that Fathers of the Church, like Gregory, put into coming up with the understanding of God that we say is true. I know that some may feel that all of this is quite pedantic and useless. I share this only because I feel that each of us has to really answer the question: What do I really believe God is like? Why? In order to have a relationship with Him.

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170611

I have shared the thought, in another article in the last Bulletin, that PRAYER must be an ENCOUNTER with God – must be an experience of the existence of the God. This experience, however, can only take place when we are willing to enter into a relationship with God.

All relationships require, however, that we recognize the other person as they are and not as we desire them to be. We experience this in our relationships with other humans. If we expect others to be who we want them to be and refuse to accept them as they are, we never establish a real relationship with them. (One of the reasons why there are so many divorces in our country is that people go into marriage wanting the other person to be who they want them to be and they really don’t know the real person with whom they enter into marriage). The same is true with God. If we expect Him to be who we want Him to be, we can never have a genuine relationship with Him – we can never come to know Him as He is. He is our fantasy God.

I find that one of the major mistakes in our modern religious world is that people try to make God “in their image and likeness” and don’t strive to become someone in His image and likeness. Think about it. Most Christians expect God to have the same values that they do. They refuse to accept the fact that God doesn’t act like us humans. Many Christians want to believe that they know exactly how God thinks and behaves. They want Him to hate the people they hate and judge the people they judge and, of course, punish the people they want punished. This only proves that the God they think they know is not real.

We are called to discover the God Who really is and Who is sharing Himself intimately with His creation. I always say, don’t try to put God in a box and dictate how He should be and act. Think about this!

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170604

Our readings for this great feast of Pentecost are again taken from the Acts of the Apostles and from John’s Gospel. The reading from Acts recounts the actual occasion of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the impact of that event. The reading from John’s Gospel relates two episodes of Jesus teaching during the days of the Feast of Booths (Sukkot).

Sukkot was one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals which Israelites were commanded to make to the Jerusalem Temple. One of the meanings of Sukkot has religious significance since it commemorates Israel’s Exodus from bondage and its dependence on the will of God.
There is significance in relating this event on Pentecost since it summarizes what God’s incarnation means to humanity. Jesus has led us out of bondage to Death and has revealed a way of living that is in accord with God’s Spirit.

The two important Jesus quotes that John shares in his Gospel are:
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me; let him drink who believes in me. Scripture has it: ‘From within him rivers of living water shall flow.’ and
I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life.’

As you think about the first quote, you will recall that Jesus said these very same words to the Samaritan Woman at the well. These words were particularly poignant to people who lived in a desert environment. Water is absolutely essential for life. In saying this, Jesus shared how absolutely essential for the fullness of life His words are. I suspect that we who have an abundance of accessible water, don’t think about how life-giving the teachings of Jesus truly are. The more that we realize how essential His words are for the fullness of life, the more we will strive to live by them.

Indeed His teachings are filled with God’s Spirit – they can help us understand the meaning and purpose of this earthly life. This earthly life is give to us to help us grow in our likeness of Jesus – to become true children of our Heavenly Father. Life is given to us to help us transform ourselves in such a manner that we might be able to experience the fullness of life.
Do you truly believe that the purpose of
life is to grow in the likeness of Jesus?

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170604

In the last issue of this article, I introduced that the idea of the “works” of Paul” were the first to make up what is now called the New Testament (NT). There are, however, a number of difficulties about the formation of a Pauline collection. The letters were written to handle particular problems in particular churches. Only Romans and Ephesians consciously reveal a larger scope. Why were such temporal documents preserved for later times? In Colossians 4:16 Paul recommends the exchange and circulation of his letters among neighboring churches. What prompted a wider circulation so that by the end of the 1st century Pauline letters were being read in churches far distant from the original destination? Perhaps their enduring value was quickly perceived! One wonders whether Paul himself ever expected that his correspondence would be read years after his death as a guide to universal Christian faith.

Some of the Pauline letters did not escape the doom that their temporal character might have brought to all. There was a letter to the Laodiceans and probably two lost letters to the Corinthians that never made it into the NT collection and were lost.

How then were the Pauline letters gathered together? Did a community take its letter from Paul and add to it the letters addressed to neighboring churches? Such a process would have produced several different collections. This is the theory of one biblical scholar and he uses it to account for the lack of agreement in the order of the Pauline writings that is evidenced in the Muratoruian Fragment and in Tertullian and Origen. Other scholars think that the attempt to collect Paul’s writings produced only one collection. One scholar proposes that at first there was a lack of interest in the Pauline letters and that only after 90 CE, with the publication of ACTS, was the importance of Paul’s contribution to Christianity realized. This realization led to a systematic attempt to collect his writings, some of which had already perished. According to other authors, a disciple of Paul, like Onesimus, began to collect the writings soon after Paul’s death.

When were the Pauline letters gathered into a collection? Obviously the questions of authorship and dating affect this problem. One scholar insists that the collection took place shortly after the writing of ACTS, for if the author of ACTS had known the Pauline writings, he would have cited them. Scholars agree that ACTS was written around 125 CE. There were references to some of Paul’s letters by early writers like Clement of Rome (96 CE) and Ignatius (110 CE).

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170604

The Apostles and the first Christians retained from the Old Testament (OT) the feast of Passover as well as the feast of Pentecost. They also preserved the name, Pentecost, because it was the fiftieth day after Pascha in the New Testament (NT) and also the fiftieth day after Passover in the OT.

The principal motive for celebrating Pentecost in the NT was the event known as the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. As you will recall that Jesus is quoted as telling His disciples that He would send God’s Spirit on them after He ascended back to His Heavenly Father. I am sure that the Apostles did not have the same understanding of this as we do. They had yet to conceive of God as Three-In-One (Trinity). What they did experience, however, was a renewed fervor about the message of Jesus and also the courage to go out and do what Jesus did, namely preach as Jesus did: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. They found the strength to tell people about the Jesus they knew and loved and about how He told them to live. They shared the GOOD NEWS.

This feast became universally known in the third century. While the feast itself commemorates the event of the descent of the Spirit, the day after, Monday, our Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Spirit. This feast is dedicated to paying special worship to the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity. We know that the Council of Nicaea put in place the beginning of our understanding that Godas three distinct Persons in one Godhead since it references Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

St. Basil the Great says this of the Holy Spirit, “Through the Holy Spirit, our return to paradise is achieved, we are elevated to the heavenly kingdom and become the children of God.” He further states, “Through the Spirit, we are able to call God Father; we are able to become partakers of the grace of Jesus Christ and to be called children of light, and to share in everlasting glory.”

As the Church understands what the Holy Spirit shares with us – that is His gifts – it is the power to be charitable, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, good, modest and the ability restrain ourselves. In effect, the Spirit gives us the ability to live the Way of Jesus. Since we are called to become more like Jesus, God also gives us the ability to accomplish this task. All we have to do is to believe that we can live in the manner. All ways of God take belief. God would not call us to change our way of thinking and behaving if He didn’t give us the power to accomplish this task. Do you believe?

FROM OUR DEACON CANDIDATE — 20170604

TOPIC: SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
By Len Mier
QUESTION: Who are the “strangers” that the trial of Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of Luke, challenges me to accept?
ESSAY 3
I think Luke is trying to challenge me to move beyond my own comfort level in every day interactions with people. The strangers that Luke seems to present are all those individuals and groups that I would view as different than myself. Living in a community that was at one time primarily a Christian community the population dynamics have moved to where the Christian in the community is now the minority. I am now like Luke’s stronger.

The stranger idea gives me a new meaning of the Gospel message. I need to bring out the core message of the gospel in the way I live the message. The Good News is not just words but actions and attitudes. Luke’s Jesus went to those on the fringe of society or different and brought them into the kingdom. As a stranger in the community, outside of that which wields social power, this should not diminish my drive to evangelize in the way I act.

The challenge is to bring the core message of the gospel into a community that sees this message as foreign and not their own, just as Jesus brought the message to those who are the strangers in Luke’s Gospel. Bringing the message to others by my interactions with them forces me to accept more the Gospel message of love which is more than a mere human principle of tolerance, but is the Divine principle of loving ones neighbor as ones self..

***************
All the gospels record that the Jewish Sanhedrin called people to witness to the fact that Jesus said that they could destroy the temple in three days and He would rebuild it. Of course Jesus was not talking about the Jerusalem Temple building but His enemies did make this interpretation.
Who were the people, in your mind, that came forward to testify against Jesus? Where they the people who had listened to His teaching and witnessed the cures that He had performed? Or were they people who had only heard about Him and, at the instigation of the religious leaders, agreed to testify against Him.
What are your thoughts on this topic? How would you respond to this question?
There are no right or wrong answers to this question. It is not a matter of analysis of a Gospel passage. It is all a matter of how you relate to what the Gospels present to us.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170604

Gregory insists that there must be true theological boundaries when we think about God and these must include inherent limitations of human thought and speech about God. Any real discussion of the Trinity must begin with the humble acknowledgement of true human reason’s inability to conceive and describe God’s nature adequately: “It is difficult to conceive God, but to define him in words is an impossibility” he says. In his opinion, it is impossible to express Who God is and even more impossible to conceive Him. All we can really say is Who God IS not, indicating that He is without limitations or any sort of inabilities. St. Gregory writes:

For that which may be conceived may perhaps be made clear by language, if not fairly well, at any rate imperfectly, to anyone who is not quite deprived of his hearing, or lazy in understanding. But to comprehend the whole of so great a subject as this is quite impossible and impracticable, not merely to the utterly careless and ignorant, but even to those who are highly exalted, and who love God.

These limitations apply to “every created nature; seeing that the darkness of this world and the thick covering of the flesh is an obstacle to the full understanding.” Gregory is not denying the existence of God, but he insists that the knowledge of God’s essence, the nature of God, is sharply limited because God’s nature is by definition “incomprehensible and illimitable.”

If so, what can be said? Are we left entirely in a wordless vacuum? No. Gregory insists. Both “our very eyes and the law of nature” clearly communicate to us the reality of God’s existence and “that he is the efficient and maintaining cause of all things.” As we gaze upon “visible objects,” we see their “beautiful stability and progress, immovably moving and revolving if I may so say.” Natural law in term manifests itself.

The difficulty that knowledge of God poses, Gregory states, is that the “approximations” of reason will always fall short of the glory of the subject it is trying to encompass, understand and explain. Yet there are certain things we can know about God, even if our knowledge is largely a series of negations. For example, Gregory comments, we can know that God does not have a body. If God did, how could God possible be “infinite and limitless, formless, intangible and invisible”.
Think about this!

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170604

In the last issue of this article I raised the issue of unconditional love of others. After I did that I realized that it is important for us to also realize that this admonition by Christ presupposes that we also “unconditional love ourselves.” As I thought about this subject I realized that we can consider this exhortation of Jesus as beyond our ability IF we don’t also unconditionally love ourselves.

Think about what Jesus said. He said, love your neighbor as yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you can never love your neighbor. Of course we never really consider this point. There is always a presumption that we love ourselves. This, of course, is not always true. We cannot truly love ourselves if we feel that we are not worthy of being loved.

I find that many people really don’t love themselves. They have this feeling that they are not good enough or per-fect enough and, therefore, cannot love themselves.

I also find, however, that people love themselves and only want to indulge themselves, believing that they are deserving of all things in this world. It is a false love of self and usually covers up a deep sense of true unworthiness. Love of self means that I understand myself and see myself as God sees me. True love of self means I have a realistic understanding of who I am in the sight of God. It means recognizing my strengths and my weaknesses. All of us have certain weaknesses. We are not perfect nor does God expect us to be perfect. BUT, we have to be able to recognize ourselves as we are. That is true self love.

It seems to be a truth that if I cannot find the strength to love myself unconditionally, I can never love others unconditionally. Love others as your self. When I cannot truly love others, it usually means that I truly do not love myself. Think about this!