The Gospel Narrative and Us

The Epistle reading for the Sunday of All Saints is Hebrews 11:32-12:2.  In it we are being given a narrative in which to understand the heroic accomplishments as well as the suffering and martyrdoms of God’s chosen people.  The author of Hebrews is telling us that the Old Testament story is not complete – at least not apart from us!  Their story continues beyond their time and flows into our time and incorporates us into the narrative.


Here is the text of the Epistle for All Saints:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.    


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The text is presenting these men and women of Hebrew history in a very particular light – creating a narrative about them, their heroics, their hope and vision even in the face of suffering. AND by saying they were not made perfect apart from us, invites us to join that narrative, and make it our own and carry it forward.  We are woven into their story, and they become a living part of our lives.  This is of course important in helping us continue to be faithful in our day; for like these our spiritual ancestors we find that we too are looking forward to a future fulfillment of God’s plan.  The saints of the Old Testament were looking forward to the day of Christ’s coming, and we are awaiting the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, so we continue to look to an eschaton not yet realized.

The Saints of the Old Testament are part of a narrative that stretches from their day right through our current century.  Their story makes no sense apart from our own.  Our current story is part of a narrative that stretches back to the beginning of humanity and reaches into the Kingdom of God which is to come.  Thus what we experience in a life time is but a portion of the much longer narrative of God’s creation.  Our experience is a glimpse of the narrative, but not the entire picture.  We always have to keep that in mind when we struggle with life in a given moment, on a given day, or through a lifetime.  As long as our life might be (even if we live to a Methuselahian age – nearly a millennium!), our life is but a small portion of the narrative of creation – a paragraph in a chapter in a book in a library.

There are always many narratives running through our our minds and hearts.  These narratives exist on different levels, with varying degrees of influence, which enter our thinking at different periods of our lives.  Some are meta-narratives, involving many people – being American for example is such a narrative which teaches us certain hopes and dreams and a way to interpret the world.   Some narratives are given to us through family or genetic identity – being Slavic-American or Latino, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Other narratives are quite personal – I’m lovable, talented, or unwanted. Narratives may in fact not represent a true vision of reality, but they do shape our experience of reality and of how we constitute reality. We may come to believe along the way that “nobody likes me” – that may be far from reality, but it colors our experience of reality and does then come to effect how we constitute reality. Such narratives may be true or false, real or imagined, good or bad – and we are not always aware of them, nor of how they influence us.   It is possible to become aware of them (takes great mindfulness!) and we can reject some of them and replace them with other narratives – thus conversion, repentance, forgiveness are all possible. We can change the narratives guiding the way we see the world – the way we constitute reality.

While there are always several narratives running through our minds and hearts, we can also choose to embrace a meta-narrative which can come to override or interpret our many internal narratives. Or sometimes the competing narratives in our brains run into conflict and cause cognitive dissonance – which sometimes we choose to live with, and sometimes becomes so uncomfortable that we change narratives.

Sometimes we cannot find a meta-narrative which makes sense of all the other narratives or of a particular narrative. That can cause us to seek out that meta-narrative, to seek for some truth to help us deal with all else that we think, feel, believe, experience. The seeking itself can become the meta-narrative which guides us. We realize there is mystery, that searching and seeking may not find answers, but only help us frame questions.


Some meta-narratives help us gain insight into ourselves, and into reality itself.  How we understand ourselves as humans or as Christians are really meta-narratives which help us cope with life and constitute reality.

For me, the Orthodox Christian meta-narrative is very attractive, but I realize that it is sometimes in competition with other powerful narratives – the American meta-narrative for example which gives us certain myths about America which can be powerfully attractive and wonderful but which are in direct opposition to the Gospel narrative.  Some people even blend these competing narratives, blurring the distinctions and assuming they are the same narrative.

Meta-narratives in the world are always changing, but sometimes they change faster and we become more aware of the narratives or the changes that are occurring in them.  Right now in the world several meta-narratives are in the process of change.  Islam actually is constituted by several competing narratives that are literally at war with each other and the rest of the world.    America’s meta-narrative is in the process of changing as the world itself changes.  Brexit, terrorism, nationalism, exceptionalism, China, etc, are all changing the world’s narratives.  Some find these changes terrifying and they want to go back to a time when they felt safer – so they try to grasp onto a world that is passing away.  They are not really grasping reality, but just the meta-narrative they embraced as true or which comforted them and made sense of the world.  Politicians try to feed the meta-narratives they believe are most alluring to people.  Like the narratives themselves, what the politicians say may not be reality, but they resonate with the voice already at work in people’s minds.


The Apotheosis of George Washington

For us as Christians, we have a meta-narrative that is always focused to the eschaton – drawing us forward to the Kingdom of God.  The world’s meta-narratives are ever changing, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  This Gospel meta-narrative is supposed to simultaneously strengthen us, comfort us, inspire us, challenge us, give us hope and make sense of the world around us.

For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. (1 Corinthians 7:31-32)

Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.  (1 John 2:8)


Celebrating the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul

Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Glorious Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29 is an ancient practice of the Church.  It was already celebrated in the Pre-Constantinian Church.  As such it actually predates some of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Church.

“This feast was instituted by Sixtus II (Pope from 257 to 258) on 29 June of 258, when the relics of these two great apostles were translated to the catacomb of St. Sebastian in Rome. The Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the day is Matt. 16:13-19: St. Peter’s confession of Christ at Caesarea Philippi.” (footnote, Saint Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p 584)


In the modern world, some scholars who reinterpret Christian history in order to discredit some of the theological claims of the Church, try to portray some of the theology of St. Paul as late developments in Christian thinking.  They discredit St. Paul, claiming he invented a Christianity that didn’t exist prior to his teaching, and that it was Paul and his followers who turn Jesus from a messianic rabbi into the incarnate God.  NEW YORK TIMES columnist Ross Douthat points out that history itself does not support this revisionist version of understanding Christianity.

“In other words, the popular revisionist conceit that the early Christians initially meditated on Jesus’ sayings and only gradually mythologized their way toward the idea of his divinity finds no support whatsoever in the oldest surviving stratum of Christian writing. As Adam Gopnik, no believer himself, put it in a New Yorker essay: ‘If one thing seems clear from all the scholarship … it’s that Paul’s divine Christ came first, and Jesus the wise rabbi came later. This fixed, steady twoness at the heart of the Christian story can’t be wished away by liberal hope…Its intractability is part of the intoxication of belief.’” ( Bad Religion, p 165)

St. Paul doesn’t invent Christianity or distort it as some Muslims claim, as do some modern liberal biblical scholars.  St. Paul received a tradition and proclaimed it to the world, while the other Apostles were still alive.  There was opportunity for them to quash his teachings, but instead the Church embraced Paul and recognized him as one of the glorious leaders of the Apostles.  Paul didn’t change the theology or the message, he just proclaimed it more loudly and to new people.

The Goodness Which God Sees

‘And God saw that it was good.’ [Genesis 1]

It is not to the eyes of God that things made by Him afford pleasure, nor is His approbation of beautiful objects such as it is with us; but, beauty is that which is brought to perfection according to the principle of art and which contributes to the usefulness of its end. He, therefore, who proposed to Himself a clear aim for His works, having recourse to His own artistic principles, approved them individually as fulfilling His aim.” (St Basil, The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 53)


According to St. Basil, the goodness or beauty of anything is determined by its original purpose in God’s creation or plan.  The more perfectly something fulfills God’s original intention for it determines whether God sees it as good/beautiful.    God, not being a creature like  us, does not have physical eyes, so God does not “see” things as we do.  God “sees” things in terms of their fulfilling the aim He originally  had for the object.   This is why God sees even our spiritual struggles as good and beautiful – as even if we struggle, we are moving toward being human as God intended us to be.

St. Basil says God is an artist following the artistic principle that values creating things which serve a purpose.  Beauty is thus related to purpose, to truth.  It is not purely subjective, but can be measured.  Everything which God created is purposeful, even if we do not know the purpose.

In this thinking, we can come to understand how scientists in revealing the purpose of anything in the universe are helping us to interpret and see the true beauty of God’s creation!

And, as the purpose of each created thing is understood, as each mystery is fathomed, we also are learning about the Creator.  God is being made known through His creation.  One thing which continues to amaze is the depth and mystery of God as Creator.

Women AND Men in Christ

 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Commenting on Psalm 1, St. Basil the Great notes the psalm speaks in the singular about “man” yet he says we should never doubt that it refers to both men and women.  Men and women share the same nature and the same blessings from God.

“Why, you say, does the prophet single out only man and proclaim him happy? Does he not exclude women happiness? By no means.  For, the virtue of man and woman is the same, since creation is equally honored in both; therefore, there is the same reward for both. Listen to Genesis. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.’ They whose nature is alike have the same reward. Why, then, when Scripture had made mention of man, did it leave woman unnoticed? Because it believed that it was sufficient, since their nature is alike, to indicate the whole through the more authoritative part. ‘Blessed, therefore, is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.’” (St Basil, The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, pp 155-156)

Sunday of All Saints (2016)

In the collection of the homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, there is a footnote explaining a little about the history of celebrating All Saints day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

“With the Sunday of All Saints, the first Sunday after Pentecost, the cycle of moveable feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church draws to a close. This cycle began with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee . . . and had its epicenter the Sunday of Pascha (Easter), the Feast of Feasts. Originally dedicated to the Triumphant Martyrs . . . this feast was later expanded (probably during the reign of Leo VI the Wise, Emperor from 886-912) to include all the saints, both known and unknown, throughout the ages. As such, it is also the feast to which every Christian looks with earnest expectation, for it sets before us, in a concrete and graphic manner, the very purpose of our existence: to become ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17) . . .

Furthermore, the liturgical sequence of the feast of the Pentecostarion (a liturgical book containing the services from Easter Sunday to the Sunday of All Saints) is significant, as it points to the pattern of the manifestation of God the Holy Trinity in the divine economy, namely, that it is the Son and Word of God who in and through His saving work, culminating in the Sunday of Pascha, reveals God the Father to the world, that it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the full and perfect divinity of the Son (Sunday of Pentecost), and that it is the communion of the saints, that is the Church, who together affirms the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son (Sunday of All Saints).” ( footnote in Saint Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp 580-581)

The fruit of Pascha and Pentecost are the Holy Ones of God, the Saints.  The Resurrection of Christ opens Paradise to all the chosen of God, while the coming of the Holy Spirit enables us to live the holy life on earth.  The existence of the saints is a witness to God’s plan of salvation for all humankind.

The Fire Which is the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is Light and Life,

a living Fountain of spiritual gifts,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

all-knowing, upright and good–

He leads us and washes away our sins.

He is God, and He makes us gods;

He is Fire proceeding from Fire,

speaking and acting and distributing gifts.

Through Him all the Prophets, Martyrs and Apostles of God are crowned.

Strange account, strange and wonderful sight:

fire is divided for distributing gifts.

(Pentecost Hymn)

Same Spirit, New Dispensation

On the Thursday after Pentecost, the Matins hymns offer us insight into what the Feast of Pentecost means for believers and how we experience the new dispensation of God’s salvation.

The Holy Spirit, the giver of grace has come down upon earth,

Not as in the days of old:

Through the shadow of the law or the dawn of the prophets.

Rather, now He is given to us in person,

Through the mediation of Christ.

Let us cleanse our hearts by the practice of virtue,

That we may receive his illumination,

For He enlightens us in a Holy Mystery.

In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came down upon some of God’s people, such as the prophets, and they spoke the Word of the Lord to God’s people.  At Pentecost, we celebrate that no longer do we receive the Holy Spirit only through the inspired Scriptures:  now we receive from God our Father His Holy Spirit, as gift.  The person of the Holy Spirit is revealed to us and given to us.  The Holy Spirit abides in us – not just the gifts of the spirit, or the Spirit’s power or effects, but the Spirit Himself comes upon  us and lives in us!  We, God’s people, are to live that changed life which allows God’s Holy Spirit to abide in us.

Moses said … “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them!”  (Numbers 11:29)

Not only are the prophecies fulfilled, but the Holy Spirit abides in all of us who are baptized into Christ.  Prophecy is changed into reality and we enter into the hoped for time of the Lord.

Behold, the oracles of the prophets are fulfilled!

He who discloses Himself dimly to them

Now plainly reveals Himself as God the Paraclete!

He is fully poured out upon the apostles.

Through them the faithful have come to worship the uncreated Trinity!

The Spirit of God which inspired the prophets, now comes to inspire all of us who listen to their words, coming to abide in us so that we might be with Christ forever.

Being Light Upon Earth


“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)


One of the Matins hymns from the Week of Pentecost describes how believers become light dawning on the world.

Savior, You have filled Your apostles with the light of the Spirit!

He has made them as the sun at dawn,

For they have burned the fog of error from the face of the earth!


They have illumined the souls of the faithful,

Teaching them to adore Your Father and the most-Holy Spirit,

Who sanctifies those who worship You!


We Christians are not to be just a candle lit in the face of overwhelming darkness.  Rather we are illumined to be like the sun which overwhelms the darkness, bringing light to every nook and cranny in the world as well as in our hearts!

Post-Paschal Blogs as a PDF

I have collected together into one document all of the 2016 blogs I posted after Pascha related to the themes of the Post-Paschal Sundays.  This document is available for viewing at 2016 Post-Paschal Sunday Themes.


You can find links for all of the PDFs I have made through the years for the blogs I gathered into document for each year from 200802016  Post-Paschal Sunday theme, for Pascha and Bright Week, for Holy Week and for Great Lent at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

The Thrill of Victory

As I was growing up, one television phrase that defined sports was, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”   Having grown up near Cleveland as a sports fan of their teams, through the years, I was heavy into the agony of defeat, but the thrill of victory was pretty scant after 1964 (I am old enough to have actually seen Jimmy Brown play in Cleveland’s last glory days).  And, that agony of defeat perhaps is redemptive suffering if it occurs in championship games where one’s team is close to claiming the championship but just falls short at the end of the game.  As a Cleveland fan, that thrill of an almost championship was not even there, for usually it was just years of agonizing suffering.  Not only did Cleveland not win any championships, their teams participated in precious few championship games.  The Indians did have a couple of runs at the World Series in the mid -90’s but those also ended in agonizing defeat.

And even though now I’m a jaded fair-weather fan, I did relish the Cleveland Cavalier’s championship victory.  Down 3-1, it looked like yet another year of suffering agony, but then the Cavs bested the best, taking the final game in the final minute – truly the thrill of victory defines sport again.

Cavalier Champs 16

Congratulations to the Cavaliers for being champions and to LeBron James for being the MVP.  And thanks for bringing the thrill of victory back into Cleveland sports.