Bright Monday 2016

The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian Gospel.  In Orthodoxy, these earthly events are given an eternal significance by the fact that it is the incarnate God the Word who lived and died for us.  The crucifixion in itself is not the significant event. Many righteous men and women were put to death by various means through history.  Their deaths did not ontologically change creation, for they died as all mortals die.

It is Who is crucified that makes all the difference in the world (and in heaven too!).  It is not just any man who dies on the cross for us – rather it is the God-man.  It is God the Son, incarnate in Jesus Christ who dies on the cross for our sins who is resurrected from the dead for our salvation.  In Christ, God and creation, heaven and earth, the spiritual world and the physical world, are united, and so are the dead and the living.  All things become united in Christ, restored to their God-given natural beauty.

In this entire week after Pascha, known as Bright Week we celebrate each day as if it were the same day, the day of resurrection, the Eighth Day, the Pascha of the Lord.

“The key point here is that faith is not a form of interpretation, one perspective among others, but a seeing of what there is to see, and hence a form of knowing. Recall the opening words of the First Epistle of John: ‘We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seem with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…’ First John states the primal truth that Christian faith rests on witness to what has happened in history, hence the honored place of the martyrs (witnesses) in Christian memory. Yet the witness to what was ‘seen’ is never a testimony simply of what has happened in the past. In his Commentary on 1 John, St. Augustine noted a curious feature of its opening words. John does not simply say that he is bearing witness to what he has seen and touched; he says that he is bearing witness to the ‘Word of Life’. It does not escape Augustine that the phrase ‘Word of Life’ does not refer to the body of Christ which could be seen and handled. ‘The life itself has been manifested in flesh – that what can be seen by the heart along might be seen also by the eyes for the healing of hearts. Only by the heart is the Word seen; flesh is seen by bodily eyes. We had the means of seeing the flesh, but not of seeing the Word: the Word was made flesh which we could see, that the heart, by which we should see the Word, might be healed.’” (Robert L. Wilken, Remembering the Christian Past, pp 56-57)

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Paschal Greetings (2016)

Christ is risen!

Indeed He is risen!

A great many things happen over the course of a year; our lives are touched by so many things, and often changed by them.  The impermanence of everything becomes obvious to us – even we change, age, mature, as time passes.

In the Church, however, we also experience some things that never change.  The Gospel – year after year, no matter how history changes or alters us – remains the same.  Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death.  That truth is unaltered by time.  Each Pascha we experience the eternal element which has entered into human existence.  Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The Scriptures present in various ways that the godly life is a sojourn, but a special sojourn in which the destination is not always known, but sometimes is a mystery.  So Abram is called by God to journey to the country to which God would show him.  The Jews leave Egypt on a journey (40 year journey!) to the promised land.  In both cases they were guided by God but did not know their journey’s end.  They weren’t returning to a familiar place, but to some new and mysterious land. The Book of Hebrews tells us that all of these chosen people did not attain their hope because they were waiting for us to join them! (Hebrews 11:39-40)

 

So too we Christians are on just such a sojourn.  God calls us and leads us to His Kingdom.  It is a place of mystery to us, we haven’t been there yet, and the journey seems long and arduous.  Great Lent each year helps us to focus on that sojourn – it reminds us about the great adventure on which we have embarked.  Pascha reminds us of the glories that await us.  Feel the call to God’s Kingdom!  Strive to enter into that eternal rest.  Much happens in our lives that can be puzzling, distracting, discouraging and distressing.  We are to keep our eyes on Christ.  Pascha give us this proper focus on Christ and thus helps us survive and thrive each day of our life on earth.  May Christ be that beacon shining in your heart, beckoning you to continue toward the Kingdom of God.  May the joy and the hope and the glory of the Resurrection of Christ guide you every day of your life!

 

Fr. Ted

Pascha 2016

May the blessings of the Risen Christ be with you this Pascha.

“The true message of Easter is most eloquently expressed in the icon of the Descent of Christ into Hell, or Sheol, the abode of the departed. In Western traditions, the Resurrection of our Lord is depicted as a victorious rising from the tomb. In Orthodoxy, the Resurrection is proclaimed by the image of the glorified Christ descending into the abyss. ‘In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul as God….’ Without surrendering His divine nature, the eternal Son of God assumes all the conditions of human existence. In an act of total self-abnegation, in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, He accepts the ‘kenotic’, or self-emptying, movement that leads from the Virgin’s womb to the humiliating agony of the Cross.

Yet even on the cross His descent is not complete. The tormented cry, ‘My God, my God, why…?’ is not the final word, nor is the surrender of His spirit the final act of self-emptying. He must still descend into the far reaches of the Abyss, the realm of death, in order there to break the bonds of death. He, the Second Adam and perfect Man, must reach out to touch, renew, and raise into His glory the First Adam, humankind fallen from life, who dwells in the land of shadows.” (John Breck, God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith, p 176)

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Holy Saturday (2016)

So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26)

Thus ends the book of Genesis.  What started with such divine hope and great promise – the creation of the world, the very good existence of human beings in the Garden of Eden, ends far removed from the glory of the beginning – in a coffin in Egypt.  The last chapter of the Torah contains similar content – the friend of God, Moses the God-seer, dies and is buried in a foreign land in an unmarked grave which no one on earth even knows where that grave is.

Death plays a significant role throughout the Scriptures.  Death is the last enemy for God to destroy (1 Corinthians 15:26).  And so on Holy Saturday, we come once again face to face with death.  Christ Jesus, our Lord, God and Savior, lies silently in the tomb embraced by death.  But as Egypt was not the final resting place of either Israel or Joseph, and death is not the final word on Moses life and legacy, so too death is not triumphant over Christ Jesus.

“Moreover, Death fell down to the feet of Christ, and Christ carried him away, and the Devil who had been a rebel became a captive. Christ made Amente to quake and the power of the Devil he turned backwards [Note: Amente is the place of the dead in Egyptian mythology]. Death heard the voice of the Lord as he cried unto all souls: ‘Come forth, O ye who are bound in fetters, O ye who sit in the darkness and shadow of death, on you hath the light risen. I preach unto you life, for I am Christ, the Son of God.’ Then he set free the souls of the saints, and he raised them up with Him.” (Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell , p 55)

The road to the Kingdom of God travels right through the place of the dead, through Hades itself.  Christ accepts the cross in order to join the dead in Hades, not to remain there but to free all of those held captive by Death.  So we will sing on Pascha night that we pass from death to life and from earth to heaven, led by Christ our God.

“When Jesus, the slayer of Death, came and put on a body … from the seed of Adam, and was crucified in the body and tasted death; and as soon as Death perceived that he descended to him, he quivered in his place and became agitated at the sight of Jesus. He shut up the doors and did not want to receive Him. However, he shattered the doors and entered to him [Death] and began to rob him of his possessions. As the dead saw light shining in darkness, they raised up their heads from the bondage of death and looked forth and saw the brightness of Christ, the King. Then the powers of darkness sat lamenting, for Death was destroyed and stripped of his authority. And Death has tasted deadly poison … and his hands slackened and he realized that the dead will revive and escape his tyranny.

As he [Christ] conquered Death by spoiling him of his possessions, Death cried out and wept bitterly and said: ‘Go out of my place and do not come back. Who is that who dared to enter my home alive?’ And then Death cried out, as he saw darkness starting to disperse and some among the righteous ones who were lying down there, rose up to ascend with him [Christ]. And he said [to Death] that he will return at the end of time, and will release all captives from his authority, and will draw them to himself, so that they could see the light. Thus, as Christ had completed his ministry … among the dead, Death let him escape out of his region, for he could not endure his presence there. For it was not sweet for him to swallow Christ up as [it was with] the rest of the dead. And Death did not prevail over the Holy One and he was not subjected to corruption.” (Aphrahat in Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev pp 69-70)

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Holy Friday 2016

On Great and Holy Friday, we encounter Christ our Lord,  as our servant, bearing our abuses, carrying out all the work needed for our salvation.  He humbles Himself to serve us and save us.  On Holy Friday we stand in awe of the God of humility and suffering, whose love knows no bounds.  Poet Scott Cairns expresses our understanding so well:

“Bearing our curse, becoming sin,

You loose us from both the burden

of the law and from our lawlessness.

 

You bruise the serpent’s head,

and snatch us from its grip. You open

the way to resurrection, shattering

the gates of hell, You slay the one

who held death’s power, give comfort

to those who honor You. You give the holy cross

by which our enemy is slain, by which

our life returns to us abundantly.”

(Scott Cairns,  Love’s Immensity, pp 31-32)

We should feel unsettled by the Cross – it is the price God pays to have us be with Him.  It represents a depth of love which is hard to imagine.  It reveals God to us in the most mysterious way.  The cross of Christ reminds us of this truth, expressed by St. Theophan the Recluse :

“There is but one road to the kingdom of God – a cross, voluntary or involuntary.” (in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p 231)

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Holy Thursday 2016

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

“In all of these savings deeds, God stoops down to His people. All that the Scriptures say about God’s walking, descending, bending down, being with, helping, bringing to birth, carrying, and so on, are simply different ways of describing God’s gracious condescension. Because man will not bow down to God, God, in His infinite humility, bows down to man. On the night He was betrayed, Christ set aside his garments, and stooped down to wash the feet of a man who would deny him three times (Jn. 13. 4-6). That’s how God was with the people of Israel. That’s how He is with everyone.”  (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra , The Way of the Spirit,  p 301)

God is humble, and humbly serves us.  God the Son became a servant in order to serve and to save us.  He washes His disciples feet as an act of humble service before offering His life – His body and blood- for the salvation of the world.  He serves  us His Body in the Liturgy, the institution of which we celebrate on Holy Thursday evening.  St. Ignatius of Antioch says:

“I have no desire for corruptible food or for the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God that is the flesh of Jesus Christ, of David’s seed, and I want his blood as my drink that is love incorruptible.”  (Ignatius Of Antioch & Polycarp Of Smyrna: A New Translation and Theological Commentary, Kindle Loc. 2202-3)

Christ offers Himself up to become the Bread of Life.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. . . .  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”  (J0hn 6:51-56)

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Holy Wednesday 2016

The Tree of Life was given as a gift to us by God to be our means to attain eternal life.  What is so incredible is that the Tree of Life is the Cross of Christ.  The Tree of Life means the death of Christ!  But it also means eternal life to us all.  The Cross is not a punishment for sin, but a healing tree (Revelation 22:2).

 

“The last hymn about the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 52—53 is important because it is so controversial. Why is it that the death of Jesus on the Cross saves us? How is it that, through this act, everything is made right and we are allowed, by faith in Christ crucified, to become ourselves the righteousness of God? We will never, perhaps, be able to explain it fully. This text is often interpreted to mean that God Almighty is angry at the human race and that He has to punish them because of their sin, that the Law has been broken and the only way things can be restored and reconciled and redeemed is when a sufficient punishment is made.

Therefore, many people think God is punishing His Son Jesus on the Cross, in our place. I believe this is completely incorrect. There is another way of understanding this that has nothing to do with punishment. The very word punishment is never even found in the writings of the New Testament. I do not find it in the Holy Week services; I do not find it in the writing of the early Church Fathers. It is just not there.”   (Thomas Hopko, The Names of Jesus: Discovering the Person of Christ through Scripture, Kindle Location 2440-2448)

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Holy Tuesday 2016

There were two spiritually significant trees mentioned in Genesis 2 standing in the middle of the Garden of Eden – the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of Life was not off limits to Adam and Eve, yet they did not eat the fruit of that Tree, but rather grasped the forbidden fruit.  Thus they rejected life and the Giver of Life – they rejected what was rightfully theirs, grasping instead after something not given to them.  By following their own self wills, they rejected what God willed for them.  The tree of life reemerges, at least in Orthodox Holy Week Hymns, in the Tree of the Cross upon which Christ is crucified.  The Tree of the Cross seemingly brings about death, but turns out to be life-giving.

“If animals have no consciousness of death, they experience life. In this light, the tree of life in the Garden of Eden is the universal experience of life. The tree of life, after being introduced at Genesis 2:9, almost vanishes from the Paradise account, and the tree of knowledge occupies center stage. God refers again to the tree of life at the end of the Paradise account, implying that the fruit of the tree of life grants eternal life (Gen. 3:22). For this reason, some Fathers, such as Ephrem the Syrian, attach considerable importance to the tree of life, since it imparts the acquisition of an essential divine quality, immortality, for which Adam and Eve were unprepared.”    (Paul Ladouceur in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 57: Number 2, p 165)

The Tree of Life – the Tree of the Cross – is the giver of immortality.

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Great Lent and Holy Week as PDFs

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Fr. Ted has collected all of the blogs he posted this year related to the theme of Great Lent into one PDF at Great Lent 2016 PDF.

You can find links to all the posts from each year for Great Lent, each year collected in a separate PDF at  Fr. Ted’s Blog Series.

Links for the blogs collected into one PDF document from each year for Holy Week and Pascha are also found at the same web address.

Holy Monday 2016

Liturgically we make the events of Christ’s last week on earth part of our own spiritual sojourn.  We walk with the Lord.  We welcome Christ into our lives, recognizing that He comes to correct all of the troubles that have plagued humanity since Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree.

Eating that fruit caused us to go astray, to miss the mark of what it is to be human.  St. Ephrem the Syrian connects the eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve to the entirety of the Christian spiritual life.  Eating of that forbidden fruit opens our eyes to see what it is like to live apart from God.  We live in a world which can never satisfy our needs, but this is to create a longing in our heart for God.  This is the purpose of Great Lent and Holy Week as well – to help us understand how life on earth is an exile from God, but we can also experience God on earth if we seek God with our heart, soul and mind.

“Who is there who can expound concerning that Tree which caused those who sought it to go astray?

It is an invisible target, hidden from the eyes, which wearies those who shoot at it.

It is both the Tree of Knowledge, and of ignorance:

it is the cause of knowledge, for by it a person knows

what is the gift that was lost, and the punishment that took place.

Blessed is that Fruit which has mingled a knowledge

of the Tree of Life into mortals.”

(Select Poems edited by Sebastian Brock, p 101)

Lent reminds us of the exile we live in on earth.  It reminds us that this life is not the totality of existence, but rather there is a greater reality awaits all those who seek union with the Living God.

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