The Raising of Lazarus (2018)

Every year we Orthodox take the spiritual sojourn through Holy Week – back to the beginning of Christianity, back to the Resurrection of Christ.  Great Lent brings us to Pascha night  when we proclaim the Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  

To get to that beginning, we join our Lord Jesus Christ in His last week on earth – we walk with our Lord each day of Holy Week.  We think about the things Christ did and said – for us and for our salvation – during His final days before His crucifixion.  He did and said these things “to keep us from falling away” (John 16:1), that we would have His joy in us to the full (John 15:11), and that we might believe (John 14:29).   And these three expressed goals of Jesus are already found in the events we now commemorate on Lazarus Saturday.   Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14)

St. Basil the Great reminds us that in Christ raising His friend, Lazarus, from the dead, he was giving each of us faith and hope in the resurrection.  As much pain and grief as the death of a loved one causes us, Christ in dealing with the death of His friend tells us “don’t be without hope, for I have overcome death.”

“But as for the Lord weeping over Lazarus and the city, we say this: He also ate and drank, not because he needed to, but in proportion and limit, that you might renounce the natural sensations of the soul. He also wept, that those who are disposed to immoderate sorrow might regulate their lamentation and tears. For if our tears are to be in reasonable moderation, it is necessary to assess the circumstances: who, how, when, and in what manner they are fitting. Thus the Lord wept without excessive passion as an example for us, adding these words, Our friend Lazarus, has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him. Who among us bewails a sleeping friend, one he believes will shortly awaken? Lazarus, come out! And the dead man came to life, and the bound one walked forth. Wonder of wonders! The feet were bound with cloth wraps and yet unhindered from coming forward. The power was greater than the constriction.” (On Fasting and Feasts, p. 102)

With the dead being raised, we are on the road to the beginning of creation.

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Great Lent Posts in One PDF

40851218601_7af2ab919d_mAll of the 2018 posts related to Great Lent are now available in one document as a PDF, which you can find at Great Lent 2018 (PDF).

You can find PDF links for all of the blogs I posted for each of the past 10 years for Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

Giving Satan Opportunity

33268195933_661cfa9dcc_nAs we come to the end of Great Lent, we realize that it is easy to give Satan opportunity to enter into our lives and tempt us away from Christ.  It can happen so naturally and mundanely that it has occurred before we realize what we have done.  We turn against those around us because we have lost sight of Christ and we come to believe falsely that “my” will is the most important thing in the world, and I become willing to sacrifice everyone around me to defend and preserve my self will.   In doing this we come to the fact that when we no longer are willing to let all we do be done in love for others (1 Corinthians 16:14), we have lost Christ.   If we have lost Christ, we no longer have anything to say to other Christians.

Whenever we become obsessed by some past event in which we perceive that we have been wronged, we give the devil ample opportunity to lead us toward greater temptation. We forget that our warfare is not with each other! We are to engage in spiritual warfare against the Enemy of our salvation and his willing hosts, the demons. When we remember wrongs, we fall prey to the Father of Lies and engage in combat with our fellow brothers and sisters.   (Joseph David Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever, Kindle Loc. 924-27)

38195829935_4831a43b3b_nThe antidote for Christians to this sinful self-will is Christ Himself.   “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  In order for Christ to become human, He emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-7).  In order for  us to become fully human, we need also to empty ourselves and open our hearts to Christ abiding in us.   Here we realize that “the heart” of which the fathers speak isn’t the organ that pumps blood in our bodies, but refers to the spiritual reality that every person is capable of being a temple for God, or a dwelling place for Satan.  The choice is ours.

Understanding these things, enter within yourself by keeping watch over your thoughts, and scrutinize closely your intellect, captive and slave to sin as it is. Then discover, still more deeply within you than this, the serpent that nestles in the inner chambers of your soul and destroys you by attacking the most sensitive aspects of your soul. For truly the heart is an immeasurable abyss. If you have destroyed that serpent, have cleansed yourself of all inner lawlessness, and have expelled sin, you may boast in God of your purity; but if not, you should humble yourself because you are still a sinner and in need, and ask Christ to come to you on account of your secret sins.

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The whole Old and New Testament speaks of purity, and everyone, whether Jew or Greek, should long for purity even though not all can attain it. Purity of heart can be brought about only by Jesus; for He is authentic and absolute Truth, and without this Truth it is impossible to know the truth or to achieve salvation. (St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 33655-64)

This is why we prayed daily throughout Great Lent:  Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.

Psalm 94: Let us Rejoice in the Lord

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior; 2 Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms. 3 For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;

4 For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;

5 For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us; 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you hear His voice, 8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the Rebellion, During the day of testing in the desert, 9 Where your fathers tempted Me; They tested Me, and saw My works. 10 For forty years I was treated with contempt by that generation, And I said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they do not know My ways’; 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

(Psalm 94)

Be An Example in Virtue

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”  (John 13:15)

Many in religious leadership positions think they lead by giving direction and commandments to others.  But the desert fathers noted that the Christian way is to lead by example, which is so much more difficult.  We are to be models of virtue so that others can follow our example.   “… set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

An old man asked Abba Poemen, saying, “Some brethren dwell with me; does thou wish me to give them commandments?” And he said unto him, “No, but thou thyself must first do work, and if they wish to live, they will observe it and do it.” The old man said unto him, “Ought they also to wish me to govern them?” And Abba Poemen said unto him, “No, be unto them an example, and not a lawgiver.” (E. Wallis Budge, The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, p. 108)

The Struggle to Keep the Fast

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom offers us some thoughts about how we can be a Christian even if we are imperfect.  His thinking applies to anything we do as Christians such as prayer and fasting.  We fail if we hold to a black and white, all or nothing thinking.  We can see Christ and still fall short of what we are to be – yet we can persist in following Him.  We are to thirst for righteousness even if our desire is not slaked.  

And so, there is a tension between the absoluteness of the vision–the perfect and only true Man, Christ–and the imperfect creatures that we are. In what way then can we say that we relate to Christ? I think we relate to Christ if we are open to his action; we relate to Christ if we long for him; we relate to Christ if we are in motion towards him.

And this is a very important thing. There is a passage in the writings of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, who says, we do not reach the Kingdom of God from victory to victory; more often from defeat to defeat. But, he says, it is those people–who after each defeat, instead of sitting down to bewail their misery, stand up and walk–that arrive.

And this a tension in which we all find ourselves. Unless we have a vision of the absolute, we cannot tend towards it. At the same time we must not despair of what we are, because we cannot judge our own condition; we can judge only one thing: the degree to which we long for fulfillment, the degree to which we long to be worthy of God, worthy of love, worthy of compassion–and worthy not because of any achievement of ours, but because of the longing, the hunger, and the trust that we can give to the Lord.”   (Churchianity vs. Christianity, p. 41, 43)

To Be Human is to Love Others

We humans were created in the image of God.  One of the main implications of this for Christians is that we are created in the image of a Trinitarian God, a God who is three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and the three share a communal love for each other.   We humans were created as communal or relational beings, to live in love and harmony with each other, to share the common human life.  To live in relationship to God, creation and one another is the Paradise God made for us.  We were never created to be isolated, alienated individuals.  We share a common nature, we share the same planet, we all have the same Creator.

But that Paradise was shattered because people did not value love and community, but wanted to assert their individual life as more important than anything else including more important than one’s relationship with others.  In Gen 3:6  we get a glimpse into Eve’s mind –  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  From her  individual point of view, Eve could see nothing wrong with eating of the forbidden fruit.  What she ignored was that her life was lived in relationship with God and Adam and creation.  Her sin shattered the relationships which existed leading us to the broken, fallen world in which we find ourselves.

We humans were created by God to share in the divine love shared by the Father, and the son and the Holy Spirit.  We were created to participate in the Divine Life and Love, but we humans chose to rather assert our individualism over and against all else that exists.  And that is why the world we live in is not Paradise.  By sin we break the mutual bonds of love which were meant to bind us together in life.

But the God who is Love shows us in the event of the Annunciation that Divine Love is still available to us, for God’s love is not only relational and communal – a love and life to be shared by all – but it is also incarnational.  God became human, entering the human condition in Mary’s womb, revealing to us that we humans still have the capacity for loving as God loves.

Christianity is that putting on ourselves the divine love and life.  Christianity is not something like clothes which we can put on and take off, but rather Christianity is about our human nature, who and what we are.  It is about our participating in the divine life.

The Virgin Mary at the Annunciation is a human person who becomes infused with  and inseparable from the Holiness of God.   She is the model human person.  And so she says to God:  Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

Mary says to God, “not my will, but your will be done”.  Mary is not interested in asserting her individualism, but rather is willing to embrace the divine love for humanity and do what is good and necessary for all the people of the world, indeed for all creation.

The Feast of the Annunciation – in which the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary tells us that sacred people or sacred places are a sign that holiness – that God Himself – can be experienced in life.  We receive not only what is God’s, but we receive God into our own lives.

Icons, the Holy Communion, saints, the church building are the signs of God’s mysterious presence in our world and in our life.  We are striving to make God’s presence personal to ourselves.    Mary and all the saints tell us that we can share in the life of the Holy Trinity.

But to do so, we need to be willing to deny ourselves in order to love as God loves us.

The Annunciation (2018)

St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople  gave a sermon in the late 9th Century on the Feast of the Annunciation which celebrates the events described in Luke 1:24-38.  He reveals in his words the theological and cosmic importance of the Feast.

“Gay is today’s festival, and splendid is the joy it conveys to the ends of the earth. The joy it yields banishes the cures of the world, inaugurates the raising of him who fell long ago, and pledges salvation to all of us. An angel converses with a virgin, and the whispering of the serpent is made idle, and the impact of his plot is averted. An angel converses with a virgin and Eve’s deceit fails, and convicted nature, seen to rise about condemnation, as it had been before condemnation is enriched with the possession of paradise as its portion. He speaks to the Virgin, and Adam receives a pledge of liberty, and the serpent, instigator of evil, is deprived of his tyranny over our kind, and is dispossessed of his authority, and learns now that he had armed himself in vain against Creation. His devices against us weaken, as an incorporeal being brings the message of the invincible trophy against sin: for Christ’s cross and willing suffering are death and sin swallowed up in victory, and such also is His suffering through the Incarnation.

The angel is now bearing the good tidings of the Incarnation, in which tidings we are rejoicing today, and whose festival we are celebrating. An angel is being sent to the Virgin, and human nature is renewed; for, having quaffed the tidings like a remedy of salvation, it spits out all the poison of the serpent, and is cleansed from the spots of its disease. An angel is being sent to the Virgin, and the bond of sin is being torn up, and the penalty for the disobedience is abolished, and the universal recall is pledged in advance. Today the tidings of joy have arrived, since the archangel is exchanging words with the virgin maiden, the commander of the invisible host is conversing with Mary, espoused to Joseph but designated and preserved for Jesus. (The Homilies of Photius Patriarch of Constantinople, p. 112-113)

An historical note about March 25 and the Annunciation:

…the origin of the solemnity on the fifth Saturday of Great Lent is linked to a shift in the feast of Annunciation. We know that, in the spirit of Canon 51 of the Council of Laodicea (c. 365), it was not appropriate to celebrate feasts during Great Lent, and such celebrations consequently had to be shifted to the following Saturday or Sunday. It was only the Council in Trullo (692) that decided to celebrate Annunciation on the very day (March 25).”   (Archimandrite Job Getcha, The Typikon Decoded, p. 200)

God’s Kingdom Springs Forth from the Theotokos

“My Lady Mary–

What knowledge bedecks you, what chastity crowns you!

Just as sin once brought the Kingdom of Death to power,

So your grace makes the Kingdom of Justice spring forth.

Just as the Sunrise dispels the shadows of the dawn,

So too the light of faith in your Son dispels the darkness of sin.

Blessed is he who seeks after your love,

Whose footsteps tread the threshold of your house at break of day;

Such a man will be satisfied with your blessings, filled to abundance.

(Enzira Sebhat, Harp of Glory: An alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, p. 52)

Sin is a Wound. Confession the Remedy.

“Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame  and repentance possesses the courage. I beg of you, pay careful attention to me, so you may not confuse the order and lose the benefit. There is a wound and there is a medicine, sin and repentance. Sin is the wound; repentance is the medicine. In the wound there is rottenness; the medicine cleanses the decay. The putrefaction, reproach, and mocking are caused by sin. However, courage, freedom, and the cleansing of sin accompany repentance. Pay attention carefully. After the sin comes the shame; courage follows repentance. Did you pay attention to what I said? Satan upsets the order; he gives the courage to sin and the shame to repentance. . . .  There exist a wound and a medicine. The wound has the rottenness; the medicine can cleans the decay. Could the decay be derived from the medicine, the cure from the wound? Do these things not have their own order and those things theirs? Is it possible for this to pass over to that, or that to this? Never!

Let us now come to the sins of the soul. Sin has the shame, sin has the contempt and the infamy as its lot. Repentance has courage, repentance has fasting. Repentance procures righteousness. ‘First tell your transgression, so you may be justified’ and, ‘A righteous man accuses himself at the beginning of his speech.’”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom On Repentance and Almsgiving, p. 115)