Holy Things for the Holy Ones!

The Holy Things are for the Holy Ones! 

One is holy, one is Lord: Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.  (from the Divine Liturgy)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

St. Nicholas Cavasilas commenting on the Divine Liturgy says:

On the point of approaching the Holy Table…partaking of the Mystery is not permitted to all …  

The holy [Mysteries] are for the holy!  

…  The faithful are called holy because of the Holy Mysteries of which they partake, because of him whose Body and Blood they receive.

Members of His Body – flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone – as long as we remain united to him and preserve our connection with him [i.e., live in communion with the altar – Ed.], we live by holiness, drawing to ourselves through the Holy Mysteries, the sanctity which comes from that Head and that Heart. But if we should cut ourselves off, if we should separate ourselves from the unity of this most holy Body, we would partake of the Holy Mysteries in vain, for life cannot flow into dead and amputated limbs. And what can cut off the members form this holy Body? It is your sins which have separated me from you, [Is. 59.2], says God. Does all sin then bring death to man? No, indeed, but deadly sin only; that is why it is called deadly. For according to St. John [1 Jn. 5.16,17] there are sins which are not deadly.

That is why Christians, if they have not committed such sins as would cut them off from Christ and and bring death, are in no way prevented from partaking of the Holy Mysteries and receiving sanctification…   (quoted in The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church, p. 107)

For St. Nicholas Cabasilas the words in the Liturgy – Holy things are for the holy! – is packed with meaning.  The “holy things” refer to the Holy Mysteries such as Holy Communion.  These Mysteries are given not for everyone, but to the Holy Ones of God, the saints.  In the Liturgy they are given to the Faithful.  The people of the parish are (and are to be!) the Holy Ones of God.  For him, it is obvious why there is a practice of “closed” Communion.  One has to desire to be among the faithful, among the Holy Ones to receive the Holy Mysteries.  They are gifts for those who seek the Lord – for those who choose and desire to live a holy life.  Holiness is not magic that can change someone into something they are not.  Holiness comes to those who choose to be united to the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ.  We maintain holiness by maintaining our unity with Christ whose Body is the Church.

Fr Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World leads us into the mystery:

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. “Holy” is the word, the song, the “reaction” of the Church as it enters into heaven, as it stands before the heavenly glory of God.   (Kindle Location 389-395)

For Fr Schmemann holiness is the goal of our spiritual sojourn.  When we receive the Holy Mysteries of God and become the Holy Ones of God, we have come to the very purpose of our existence.  In the Holy Mysteries we are united to the One who is Holy, Jesus Christ.

The Seed, The Sower and The Expectant Mother

The Lord spoke this parable:  “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”   (Luke 8:5-15)

Seeds are not magical dust that bring about some magical change in the soil itself. Rather, seeds are the potential life of any species that must interact with the conditions around them to produce life.  Seeds are thus relational things, just like us humans, and in fact like all things on earth.  The seeds are dependent on other forces to move them through the world to a place where they might germinate, grow and bear fruit.  Those forces can be things like animals or humans, or wind or water, but seeds have no ability to propel themselves.  They are dependent on these other forces.   And the seeds cannot germinate, grow and bear fruit unless they have proper soil conditions, sufficient water, nutrients, air and sunlight.  Seeds are very dependent on the conditions around them to succeed in their purpose.

So it is fascinating that our Lord Jesus  in explaining His parable says that “The seed is the word of God.”  For Christ is acknowledging that the Word of God needs something in this world to carry it out into the world, and needs the conditions of the world to germinate, grow and bear fruit.   The Word of God is not a physical seed but a spiritual one.  Still, it needs to be in relationship with other things in creation to accomplish its mission.  In fact, God has entrusted to the Christian people the mission of planting the Word of God in our own hearts as well as in the hearts of others.  We are responsible for transporting those seeds, and planting them and nurturing them so that the Word of God can bear fruit.   Just as God could not become human without Mary to be His mother, so too God’s Word will bring forth fruit in creation only if we are willing to be the good soil in which this can happen.

And according to Christ’s teaching, we don’t have to pray that God will give us more seeds.  It is not the lack of seed which is even a problem for us.  When it comes to the Word of God, it is not the quantity of seed which brings about the abundant harvest.

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”  (Luke 13:18-19)

For even if we accept but one grain of seed and keep it in our hearts, it will bear fruit for God – both spiritual and physical.  For God cares not just about our souls but always also about our bodies and the world we live in.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.”   (Isaiah 55:10-13)

What God’s seed needs is good soil, and it is in that good soil that the seed will come to fruition and bring about an abundant harvest.  But again it is not the quantity of seed which is important, for even one seed of God’s Word if it takes root in our hearts will yield an abundance of the fruits of the earth.

Christ’s explanation of the parable of the sower ends (vs 15) with Him comparing the good soil to “a noble and good heart” or a heart which is filled with beauty.  That kind of heart keeps the Word of God and then bears fruit “with patience.”   We have to cultivate our hearts to be good, beautiful, worthy, fine, noble.  And we have to cultivate in ourselves the patience of the good farmer or the successful gardener.

In Christ’s parable, it is not even the case that the good soil gets the most seed, for Christ has it that some seed fell on the good soil and some on the path and some on the rocky soil and some among the weeds.  The sower is generous is freely distributing the seed to all types of soil.  He does not withhold the good seed from the unproductive soil.  God gives rain and sunshine even to the wicked (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35-36).

Note also it is not the sower who gives growth to the seed.  The sower’s job is simply to spread the seed broadly over all the soil types.   The ability for the seed to come to fruition and bring an abundant harvest lies, at least in Christ’s parable, in the soil.  And as Christ explains, the different soil types represent us, the people.  It is the intimate relationship between the seed and the soil which is critical.  God has marvelously adjusted the seed and the soil which receives the seed to work together to bring forth the abundant harvest.  Without the seed, the soil cannot spontaneously produce crops, but also without the proper soil, the seed will fail to germinate and produce a viable plant.   God has created a marvelous world in which His Word and we who receive it work together to bring forth a wonderful harvest for God.

And the seed itself when it produces a plant produces more seed.  In effect God’s Word multiplies in us so that we have seed to give to others.  That seed is our deeds, our stewardship, our generosity, all the ways in which we give to the Church and to others.  As we heard last week in the Epistle:

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-12)

The divine seed, the Word of God, grows in us and allows us to bear fruit – to ourselves create seeds which we then can distribute.  God wants us to be so fruitful, and our faithfulness in the parish community, our giving in Church in part of the fruit which we bear for God.

Or sometimes the seed remains dormant in us prepared for growth, despite our choices and behavior.  This gives each of us and the entire world great hope.  No matter how bad the soil of our heart, or no matter how bad another person appears to us, as long as we are alive or as long as that other person lives, there is in him or her or in us that seed and hope of salvation.  The parable of the sower is a parable of hope for ourselves and for the entire world.  Even poor soil can be amended to become bring forth a crop.  Maybe not as rich a crop as other soil, but it can produce a blessing.

Knowing that the divine seed, the Word of God, is implanted in our hearts, minds and souls, is good reason for us to meditate on what it will take for that seed to gestate in us and produce fruit.  A good mother when she is pregnant takes precious care of that fertilized seed that is implanted in her womb.  She often organizes her life around and in relationship to the seed she bears within her, even though this seed is just a tiny part of her life.  So all of us can learn from the pregnant mother how to care for the seed of God in each of us.

Motherhood is more than something we remember on Mother’s Day.  And the sanctity of human life is more than something we call to mind when we hear Roe V Wade.  Both motherhood and the unborn child are good images for us to understand our relationship to the Word of God.

Sometimes we think that the Church is completely patriarchal, but the image given to us about the Word of God as divine seed being implanted in us means we are to love like a mom so that we can bring forth the good fruit of God.  We each must be a loving pregnant woman, nurturing God’s seed implanted in our lives, in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls, in our homes, in our families.   Indeed, in this sense, Mary, the Mother of God, becomes the very image of what each of us must be to fulfill the good promises of Christ’s Gospel commandments.  In this sense every mom becomes for us an image of what we are to be as Christians, living in God’s world, receiving God’s Word in our hearts.  Here is a case where only the image of a pregnant woman can help us understand the Gospel.

The Sower of Good Works

The Lord Jesus told this parable:  “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.

But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.  (Luke 8:5-15)

St. John of Kronstadt comments:

Why is that one evil word, one word of calumny, produces the most disagreeable impression upon us, agitates us to the depths of our souls, whilst on the contrary, sometimes thousands of good words, for instance, concerning God and His works in the world, do not reach our hearts at all, and are lost in the air? The Devil comes and catches away the word, sown in the hearts of men. It is also he, on the other side, who sows and grows in our hearts the seeds of evil, and does not miss the slightest opportunity of implanting enmity and envy for our neighbor in our hearts.

One glance of our neighbor at us, often quite innocent, but appearing suspicious to us, is sufficient to give rise to a feeling of enmity in us towards him. And, therefore, do not let us take to heart any evil occasioned to us, intentionally or unintentionally, by our neighbor, for we know the author if it, and that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (St. John 5:19), from its beginning, but let us bear every affront offered us serenely, praying for those who offend us, as for our benefactors, for even in their affronts we may often hear words of good-will towards us, although not proceeding from a good heart. May the Lord teach them, and not impute their behavior unto us as sin to them, and let us be more careful, so as not to give place to the Devil.    (My Life in Christ, p. 64)

Orthodoxy, Autocephaly and America

Archbishop Job of TelmessosThe Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches, Archbishop Job of Telmessos, in an interview  with the Greek newspaper “Ethnos of Sunday”  said the following about the current dispute  between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarch over the autocephaly of  the Orthodox Church in Ukraine:

Autocephaly transcends ethnophylism and regionalism by ensuring the unity of the Church within the local Church as well as between the local Churches. It does not preclude serving the pastoral needs of Russian-speaking, Romanian-speaking, Greek-speaking, English-speaking or any other believers living in Ukraine, and allows for the communion with Constantinople, Moscow and all other local Orthodox Churches.   We must not forget that the Orthodox Church is one, because it is the Body of Christ. Therefore, it is not possible to divide the body of Christ. The Church belongs to Christ and not to Constantinople, Moscow, Kiev or anyone else. For me, it is a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev but under the jurisdiction of Moscow…

OCAFor me this is an interesting comment which I hope the Ecumenical Patriarch actually believes when it comes to Orthodoxy in America.  Archbishop Job thinks it a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev.  Isn’t it equally strange that these same bishops imagine that Orthodox in America should be under these foreign jurisdictions?   Many of us Orthodox in America don’t want to be under Moscow or Constantinople but want to have exactly what Archbishop Job says – a local church administered by bishops in America.  He sees autocepahly as the glue which holds together in unity the local church and the very thing which then unites that local church to all the other Orthodox Churches.  Certainly that is what autocephaly can and should be in America.  I hope these words words and this wisdom will be used to recognize just such an autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.

Jesus Opens Heaven to Us

The way by which the man Jesus ascended – from earth to heaven, from humanity to Divinity – is opened up to everyone after his resurrection. Deification is perceived dynamically, as an ascent of the human being, together with the whole created world, to divine glory, holiness and light.

(Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, p. 57)

Where There is No Struggle, There is No Virtue

Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really and faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.      (John of Kronstadt, A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, p. 391)

The Foundation of Love

Spiritual progress has no other test in the end, nor any better expression, than our ability to love. It has to be unselfish love founded on respect, a service, a disinterested affection that does not ask to be paid in return, a ‘sympathy’, indeed an ‘empathy’ that takes us out of ourselves enabling us to ‘feel with’ the other person and indeed to ‘feel in’ him or her. It gives us the ability to discover in the other person an inward nature as mysterious and deep as our own, but different and willed to be so by God.

In this fallen world the unity of human beings has been broken, everything is a ‘rat race’, and I try to free myself from the anguish that torments me by projecting it onto another, the scapegoat of my tragic finiteness. The other person is always my enemy and I need him to be so. In Christ, however, death has been defeated, my inner hell transformed into the Church, I no longer need to have enemies no one is separated from anyone. The criterion of the depth of one’s spiritual growth is therefore love for one’s enemies, in accordance with the paradoxical commandment of the Gospel that takes its meaning solely from the cross – Christ’s cross and ours – and from the resurrection – again Christ’s and our own.

(Oliver Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pp. 270-271)

Looking Death in the Face, Seeing Christ

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

10238211376_9db0d15a94

Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”    (Luke 7:11-16)

In any given week any of us might hear about a tragedy which has struck someone we know.  Someone is diagnosed with cancer, a young couple suffers a miscarriage, mental illness interrupts a family’s plans, a father loses his job, a wife is told her husband plans to divorce her.  A death occurs and we must attend a funeral.

4564405060_9e3004d071

Many of us have experienced such news, and perhaps we felt totally sick deep inside because of what was going on.

In today’s Gospel, we see our Lord Jesus moved to compassion for a woman when he learns that she is already a widow and now her only son has died.  Jesus was deeply moved by the grief he observed in others.  Thirteen times in the New Testament we read about Jesus being moved to compassion when he encounters the suffering of others.  And we might note the word compassion is used in the New Testament only of Jesus.  No one else in the New Testament is said to be compassionate except Jesus.

When Jesus encountered this widow, the text of the Gospel says Jesus felt the loss in a gut wrenching way.  His stomach tightened.  His throat constricted and he swallowed hard.  His body was moved by the pain he saw in another.

And yet, he was not defeated by death, as Isaiah the Prophet had said of God:

He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.   (Isaiah 25:8)

3782654449_254321ce0c

And we who are united to Christ are to bring the compassion of the Savior to all of those who weep and grieve, to all of those who cause us to be moved to compassion. We can pray:

O Lord, be merciful to each person who is suffering pain or loss.  Bless those who mourn.  Comfort those who grieve.  Give us the gift of compassion so that we too might care for those who are sick or grieving or suffering.  Give us courage not to look away from them or their need, but to approach them and offer them our hand in fellowship, to help us care for them with co-suffering love, so they may know that they are not alone in their sorrow.  Grant us to be your servants, caring for your people.

Jesus  who wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, tells this sorrowful widow not to weep.  He knows the pain of loss and separation.  He is not telling her it is wrong to weep for He Himself wept.  He comes to take on Himself our pains and sorrows and to heal our broken hearts.  He wants her to hear His words of hope.  As Jesus proclaimed:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  . . .   So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  (John 16:20, 22)

27299672599_2a40e03ac1

Jesus says to all His disciples including us that we will weep and lament  in life.  He says we will experience sorrow – He does not promise constant prosperity.  He does not promise that we will be spared the  trials of life or the sorrows of this world.  However, He says He has overcome the world, and Christ promises that we will have a joy which will not be taken away from us.  His promise is echoed in the words of St. John:

and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:3-4)

8187086762_8a60fefbf8

Every year at Pascha we go with the Myrrhbearing women to the tomb of Christ.  And we hear the same words that Mary Magdalene was told by Jesus:  Go tell my brothers what you’ve seen and heard.  That is our task.  To look into the face of death and see the Risen Christ, and then to find the way to share that  vision with friend and neighbor, family or enemy so that they in turn might believe that Jesus is Lord.

5512468091_dae339cdf4

We cannot lock ourselves up in the safety of our private worlds.  We cannot protect our faith by running away from life’s trials and tribulations.  For if we know Christ, we know that suffering and the trials of life are part of His existence.  We are able to stand with all those who suffer in the world if we are in Christ.  We can offer the hope of Christ to all those who suffer.  We have been with Mary at Christ’s tomb, and realize that tomb is empty because Christ is risen.  The grave is not the end of life.

Being Stewards of God’s Blessings

God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses..”

Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, He says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.” To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others. By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal. For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it. If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty.

This is why God has allowed you to have more: not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need. Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends in stead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his need requires, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belong to his fellow servants.

(John Chrysostom, Daily Readings from the Writings of John Chrysostom, p. 44)

We Americans love the bounty with which God has blessed our country.  God has blessed us with this bounty so that we can generously share the blessings with others.  The bounty belongs to the Lord, we are but stewards of the abundance with which God blesses us.

A Thorn in the Flesh

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  (2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9)

St. Silouan writes:

The love of God gives strength to continue in prayer the whole night through, but pain in my head wears me out and I am obliged to give up and rest. These headaches have been given me because I insisted on having my own way, and left my task as steward to go into the ‘desert’ to have great freedom for prayer; but the Lord wanted me to spend my life in the Monastery as steward. Twice they would have made me prior, and once senior steward, but each time I refused, and for that God punished me. It was only later that I understood that everyone is needed in the place where he is, and we may all be saved whatever our office. (St. Silouan the Athonite, pgs. 465-466)