The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2017)

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Meditation on the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple.  So much of the imagery of the Feast and of the hymnology involves a mutual and mysterious indwelling between creation and Creator.  Humanity enters into the full presence of God, as God prepares to enter into humanity.

The Virgin Mary, who is to be the dwelling place of God, enters into the Temple, the place where God dwells.  There is a mystery of co-indwelling, God in God’s creation and God’s creation in God.

The Virgin comes to dwell in the temple to prepare herself for God to dwell in her.

The Theotokos enters the Temple to be in God’s presence, yet  God enters the Theotokos and becomes present in her.

In God we live, move and have our being.

In the world we find God’s Temple.

The Ark is in the Temple.

The Tablets/ God’s Word is in the Ark.

The Virgin is the Ark.

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God the Word is in the Theotokos

The Virgin is in the Temple

The Temple is in the world.

God is in the world.

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Advent and The Entrance of the Theotokos

“There is a strange silence about the Nativity in the first few days of Advent. While we begin to prepare for Christmas through fasting on November 15, the coming Nativity is first announced in the Church’s worship on November 21 (the Entry of the Mother of God) with the Katavasias of Christmas, chanted during the Matins service: Christ is born, give glory. Christ comes from heaven, go to meet Him. Christ is on earth, be exalted. Sing to the Lord, all the earth, and sing hymns in gladness, O people, for He has been glorified.”  

(Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth, Kindle Loc. 172-76)

Love of God

“Those aspiring to the state of virtue must strive to fulfill the commandments by sustaining this inward struggle, travail and meditation unceasingly night and day, whether praying or serving, eating or drinking, or doing anything else. In this way, if any good comes about it will be to God’s glory and not to their own. The fulfillment of the commandments presents no difficulty or trouble to us when it is facilitated by the love of God and when this love relieves it of all that is burdensome. As has been said, the whole effort of the enemy is directed towards distracting the intellect from remembrance, fear and love of God, and to turning it by means of earthly forms and seductions away from what is truly good towards what appears to be good.

Melchisedek, Priest of God

The patriarch Abraham, when he was receiving Melchisedec, the priest of God, made him an offering from the firstfruits of the earth and so obtained his blessing (cf. Gen. 14:19-20). Through this incident the Spirit indicates that the first and highest elements of our constitution – the intellect, the conscience, the loving power of the soul – must initially be offered to God as a holy sacrifice. The firstfruits and the highest of our true thoughts must be continually devoted to remembrance of him, engrossed in His love and in unutterable and boundless longing for Him. In this way we can grow and move forward day by day, assisted by divine grace. Then the burden of fulfilling the commandments will appear light to us, and we will carry them out faultlessly and irreproachably, helped by the Lord Himself on account of our faith in Him.”  (St. Makarios of Egypt, The Philokalia, Vol. 3, p. 290)

The Judgment of the Rich Fool

Then Jesus spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. ’And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

St. Gregory Palamas points out the rich man did not obtain his wealth through sinful means.  His sin was his self-centered, self-satisfaction which resulted in his heart being hardened against the needy.

“As for the greedy man who did not give to those in need when his land brought forth plentifully, but extended his barns, the Lord says to him in the Gospels, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:16-20). Then, lest anyone should suppose that this verdict applied to one particular individual, He adds, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:21). Yet that rich man did not grow wealthy by unjust means. What wrong did he commit if his land yielded him a good harvest?

However, because he did not make good use of the abundance he received from God, and was not rich towards him through being generous, he made himself deserving of death, and gained nothing from all his wealth.”   (The Homilies, p. 308)

 

Why Bother to Thank God?

“Let us now ask ourselves why God seeks men’s thanks. Why did He seek of Noah, Moses, Abraham and other of our forefathers that they offer Him sacrifices of thanksgiving (Genesis 8:20-21; 12:7-8; 35:1; Leviticus Ch. 3)?

Why did the Lord Jesus every day give an example to the world of how we must give thanks to God (Matthew 11:25; 14:19; 26:26-7)? Why did the apostles do the same (Acts 2:47; 27:35), commanding all the faithful to give thanks to God in and for all things (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17)?  Do we find great Isaiah’s words incomprehensible: “I will mention the lovingkindness of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness” (Isaiah 63:7)? Or what the gentle Psalmist advises his own soul: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 102/103:2)? Why, then, does God seek men’s thanks? It is out of His endless love for mankind that God seeks that men give Him thanks. The thanks of men will not make God greater, more powerful, more glorious, richer or more alive, but they will make men all of those things.

Man’s gratitude will not add anything to God’s peace and contentment, but it will add greatly to man’s. Thanksgiving to God will in no way change God’s state and being, but it will change these in a grateful man. God has no need of our gratitude, nor are our prayers necessary to Him. But is this same Lord who said: “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:8) who at the same time recommended that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1). God may not feel the need of our prayers, but He nevertheless demands it of us – the thanksgiving that is nothing other than a form of prayer – a prayer of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving to God raises us mortals out of the corruption of mortality, releases us from that from which we must all at some time be released, whether we will or not, and binds us to God the living and immortal; if we are not bound to Him in this life, then we shall never be in His presence in eternity. Thanksgiving ennobles the thankful and nourishes good works. Thanksgiving inspires benevolence in the world and gives freshness to every virtue.” (St Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, p. 300)

Figure It Out Yourself

One of the multitude said to Jesus, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”   (Luke 12:13-15)

Christ the Wisdom of God

Wisdom is as an essential element of our Scriptures and Tradition as is any set of rules or rubrics that have been offered to the faithful.  And yet, Wisdom is often given a secondary place in the pedagogy of the Church as many in leadership roles prefer to lay down the law of God rather than to wrestle with Wisdom.  In the early Church they relied on the Book of Proverbs as a manual for instructing catechumens, to prepare them for baptism and living the life in Christ.  To this day the Orthodox continue to read Proverbs during Great Lent as a source for wisdom in living in a fallen world.

Besides the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, there also emerged in the early centuries of the Church’s history the Wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers – not lives of the saints but wise sayings designed to make us think about how to live the Gospel.  This wisdom literature is related to the parables that Jesus taught in which He did not give law, but rather offered  instruction for all believers to ponder.  The parables like the wisdom sayings often have a hidden, deeper meaning to them.

The following story from the desert fathers gives us a sense in which wisdom was understood to be different from the Law.  Law involves a more black and white thinking while wisdom considers how and when to apply the law or when it is correct to vary it.   For example, a stop sign is the law.  But that stop sign can never tell the driver when to go – to take that action requires wisdom.  In this story a monk wants to know what to do with an inheritance he has received.  Perhaps he was trying to avoid deciding himself what to do so he wouldn’t make the wrong choice.  He wants the monastery abbot to decide for him – not to give  him a word, but give him a rule.  Abba Poemen wants the monk to learn to live the Gospel himself.  Poemen offers an answer to the monk in terms of wisdom: he tells the monk what to do by not telling him what to do.

A brother asked Abba Poemen: “A legacy has been left to me; what shall I do with it?” The elder said to him: “Go away and come in three days then I will tell you.” He came as he had directed him and the elder said to him: “What am I to say to you, brother? If I say to you: ‘Give it to a church,’ they will have banquets there; if I say: ‘Give it to your relative,’ there is no reward for you; but if I tell you: ‘Give it to the poor,’ you will have no worries. Do whatever you like; this is not my business.” (Give me a Word, p. 233) 

Poemen shows the monk he has actually considered his request about the inheritance.  Giving the money to the church is a good thing, but he realizes it will cause the church community to celebrate and waste some of the money by benefiting no one but themselves.  He could simply give the money away to relatives and be free of it himself, a noble thing, but of no spiritual benefit to the monk.  Or, the monk could give the money to the poor and not worry about it any more, though humanly speaking people might fear the poor wouldn’t use the money wisely.  Any of the actions could be proper for a monk because the monk is freeing himself from the cares of wealth.  Each possibility could be good and each has a downside.  Poemen is telling the monk to free himself of the inheritance, but refuses to give the monk a rule about it.  The monk is going to have to decide for himself how to fulfill the Gospel commands.  There may not be just one right answer, only one choice pleasing to God.  Poemen, however, refuses to burden himself with the inheritance!

St. Cyprian’s Images of the Church

Finally, again in Cyprian, the Church is the virgin-bride who lives not for the pleasure of this world, but only for Christ. “The bride of Christ cannot be defiled; she is incorrupt and chaste. She knows but one home; in chaste modesty she guards the sanctity of one couch.”

Indeed, Cyprian piles image upon image in his search to impress the importance of unity on his readers. The Church, he says, is like the sun, whose rays are many but whose light is one.

It is like a tree with many branches but with a single strength surging through one root. 

It is like a source from which flow many streams, which nevertheless maintain a unity because of their unique beginning.

It may be compared to Christ’s seamless garment, which was not divided at his death; or to the house in which the Jews ate the paschal lamb, which was not permitted to be eaten outside; or to a dove, which keeps to one cote and which is faithful to its mate.

To the early Christians, therefore, the unity of the Church had to do with nothing less than the content of the faith itself, namely, with what had been derived from Scripture and what had been handed down by the apostles or by the fathers assembled in the synod. (Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, p. 99 & 100)

The Repentant Addict

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”  (Matthew 21:31)

Christos Yannaras writes:

In this sense the Church’s gospel “endorses” sin: it confirms that in the pursuit of true life the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the robbers – not those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9) – precede us, show us the way. It confirms that our precursors in freedom from nature are those who have really renounced any trust in nature, trust in their capabilities, the successes in exercising self-control, the psychological satisfactions of the ego. They are those who see theirself as so sinful that it does not allow them the slightest margin for placing any trust in it. All that remains for them is to surrender themselves to the relationship to abandon themselves to love. ( Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, p. 47)

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.    [Step 1 & 2 of The Twelve Steps]

In the desert fathers we encounter a story which shows the help of having a sponsor to talk to when one is being overwhelmed by one’s addiction.

And another brother also was engaged in a war against fornication, and he rose up by night, and came to one of the old men and told him his mind, and the old man persuaded him to endure, and he was helped, and went back to his cell. And again he came unto the old man, and again he helped him, and the brother went back to his cell; and the war came upon him the third time, and again he went back by night to the old man, and the old man did not cause him pain but spoke with him for his benefit, and said to him, “Give it no opportunity, but come here whenever the devil vexes you, and you will expose him, and when he has been exposed he will take to flight. For nothing goads the devil of fornication so much as that a man should hide his thoughts and not reveal them.”

Now that brother came to the old man eleven times and made accusations against his thoughts, for he wished to be helped; and when the old man spoke unto him that devil took to flight, but when he came back to his cell the war came upon him. At length the brother said unto the old man, “Do an act of grace, father, and tell me a word whereby I may live.” The old man said unto him, “Be of good courage, my son, and if God permits my thought it shall come to you, and you shall bear it no longer, but you shall depart being innocent.” He said this, and God did away the war of that temptation. (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 2237-47)

The Good Samaritan in a Dangerous World

[Sermon notes.  12 November 2017.  Annual Parish Meeting.]

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.   (Ephesians 2:4-10)

“even when we were dead in trespasses” –  This refers to us in the Church, not those outside the Church!  WE were dead in our sins.  We parishioners have experienced both death in our sins and resurrection in our Christ.   God’s love comes to us while we are still sinners (Romans 5:8).   We wouldn’t need God’s love, favor, grace, forgiveness if we were sinless.   We can only be raised with Christ if we are dead.  There would be no need for a resurrection if we hadn’t died first.

“made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” –  sitting together in church, we are in the heavenly place.  The parish church is that heavenly place where we sit together in Christ Jesus

“we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” –  that is another image of the parish.  We are God’s craftmanship, built to do good works.  That is why we need an active, functioning parish community so that we an work together for the good.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Our parish – we give from our budget $1700/month to charity.  This is above and beyond all the charity projects we take on each month.  Because we are a true commuter parish, we don’t have a strong sense of a location identity.  Very few of us live in the locality of the church, so our charity work is not so locally focused, but is outreach to other peoples, areas, projects.

We as parish must never cease to be the good neighbor, the good Samaritan to everyone whose path  bring them to our community.  Or whose paths we cross in our sojourning.   Christ makes it clear that being the good neighbor is something He values in us and expects from us.

Christ does not use the parable to talk about how the government should have done more to protect the man walking down to Jericho.  He doesn’t use the parable to say more police or a bigger army is needed, nor does Jesus advocate self defense, carrying weapons, pre-emptive strikes.   His point in the parable is be neighborly, be charitable.

Ethics thought puzzle – what if the Good Samaritan had arrived just a little bit earlier on the scene, in time to prevent the crime from happening, would Christ have blessed his use of force (even lethal force) to prevent the crime?  Or are Christians only to step in to offer comfort once the crime/suffering has been inflicted?  Jesus doesn’t say.  Whatever we might think in answer to those questions, we still must be neighborly.

Today, beause of the events of mass shootings in churches, many people feel unsafe, and feel the parish needs to consider safety and security for its members.  The shepherds of old took action to protect their flocks, including attacking the attackers.  Doesn’t the church have an obligation to protects its members and make the parish a safe and secure place for its members?

We are obliged to behave as neighbors, no matter what other security or safety measures we think are necessary.

Satan’s victory comes not in killing us but in converting us to his way of thinking and behaving.  If we abandon our principles, our discipleship in order to follow the logic of he world, then we have lost the battle with evil.   We are after all disciples of the Crucified One, who rose from the dead.  Killing  us does not cut us off from Christ and rather works to the contrary in keeping us united to the Son of God.   Our being killed by others is not the greatest thing we have to fear.  Jesus said:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:4 )

We Christians may be threatened by other people.  Yet, our warfare is not against those who do us bodily harm.  We may have to take steps too ensure the safety of our congregations, but we also have to remember that in Scripture we are told how to arm and defend ourselves.  As St. Paul exhorts us:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints  …  (Ephesians 6:10)

Who Can Be a Christian?

What does it take to be a Christian?  Follow the law of Love, says St. Nicholas Cabasilas:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

“The ‘law of Love’ is the basis of his spirituality as [Cabasilas] writes in the sixth book of The Life in Christ.

‘This law demands no arduous nor afflicting work, nor loss of money; it does not involve shame, nor any dishonour, nor anything worse; it puts no obstacle in the pursuit of any art or profession.

The general keeps the power to command,

the labourer can work the ground,

the artisan can carry on with his occupation. There is no reason to retire into solitude, to eat unusual food, to be inadequately clothed, or endanger one’s health, or to resort to any other special endeavour;

it suffices to give oneself wholly to meditation and to remain always within oneself without depriving the world of one’s talents.'”  (Boris Bobrinskoy, The Life in Christ, p. 290)