“Do good, and with a simple heart share the fruits of your labor which God gives to you with all those who are poor, not wondering to whom you should give and to whom you should not give. Give to all, for God wishes that you give to all from His gifts to you.”
“As for Ephraem’s own attitude to the scriptures and their interpretation, there is a passage in the commentary on the Diatessaron which, even if it may not have come from his pen, is nevertheless an apt expression of his point of view. The text says,
Many are the perspectives of his word, just as many are the perspectives of those who study it. [God] has fashioned his word with many beautiful forms, so that each one who studies it may consider what he likes. He has hidden in his word all kinds of treasures so that each one of us, wherever we meditate, may be enriched by it. His utterance is a tree of life, which offers you blessed fruit from every side. It is like that rock which burst forth in the desert, becoming spiritual drink to everyone from all places. [They ate] spiritual food and drank spiritual drink. (1 Cor. 10:3-4)
Therefore, whoever encounters one of its riches must not think that that alone which he has found is all that is in it, but [rather] that it is this alone that he is capable of finding from the many things in it. Enriched by it, let him not think that he has impoverished it. But rather let him give thanks for its greatness, he that is unequal to it. Rejoice that you have been satiated, and do not be upset that it is richer than you…Give thanks for what you have taken away, and do not murmur over what remains and is in excess. That which you have taken and gone away with is your portion and that which is left over is also your heritage.”
(Sidney H. Griffith, ‘Faith Adoring the Mystery’ Reading the Bible with St. Ephraem the Syrian, pp. 16-17)
As we honor the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, we have to consider how they struggled so much with finding a vocabulary to express the revelation of God. They were trying to put into human words the divine: God’s self-revelation. This issue of finding a vocabulary to adequately express what God reveals exists in the Scriptures as well. Scholar Terence E. Fetheim notes:
Thus, for example, one needs to ask what speaking of God’s eyes and ears (2 Kings 19:16) adds to the understanding of the relationship of God to the world that living, seeing, and hearing do not. Such language makes the idea that God receives the world into himself vivid and concrete. God’s experience of the world is not superficial; God takes it in, in as real a way as people do who use their eyes and ears. At the same time, in ways that people do not, God takes it all in (Jer. 32:19), and not with fleshly eyes (Job 10:4).
Nevertheless, while examining each metaphor in its specificity is important, the general conclusions drawn continue to be significant. In addition to revealing God as living and personal, they testify to the intimate relationship between God and the world. ( The Suffering of God, p. 9)
The vocabulary we use in speaking about God is born from our experience of of God. God’s revelation is received by us, we encounter this revelation who is Christ and we are changed by it. The revelation is not ideas about God nor words about God, but rather the experience of God the Word.
The Christian doctrine of Trinity, in Gregory’s estimate, is therefore not an exercise in speculative metaphysical language, but an exposition of how the Church has experienced God within salvation history and, as such, how it prays. (John A. McGuckin, Seeing the Glory, p. 188)
On the 7th Sunday of Pascha we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. [2018 Sermon notes]
Note: it is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, not of the decisions of the Fathers or the decisions of the Council. The focus is on the people involved in the Council . Christ did not come to reveal dogma, but to unite all of us humans to God. The Fathers of the Council wrestled with finding a vocabulary with which to express this truth, but what is even more important is they were writing about what they experienced in Christ.
Love – the main teaching of Christ is about people. Our goal as Christians is to be united to Christ, not just follow some rubrics or rules or regulations.
Tone 4 Troparion (Ascension)
You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, granting joy to Your Disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing, they were assured, that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world!
Christ’s brings joy to His disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. The disciples benefit from the blessing. Christ is oriented toward those who love Him, toward those who follow Him, to the people of God, the Church. His focus is not doctrine or buildings but people, the people He wishes to unite to the Holy Trinity – to us!
Tone 8 Troparion (Fathers)
You are most glorious, O Christ our God! You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth. Through them You have guided us to the true Faith. O greatly compassionate One, glory to You!
Christ establishes the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth – not their doctrines. It is the Fathers that guide us to the true faith, not their decisions. Very people focused.
In the Epistle, St. Paul is worried about “the flock” – the people of God – and he warns the leadership about impending problems that require them to deal with and protect the people, the Body of believers. He is warning them about the destructive false teachings, but his concern is the believers themselves.
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Paul said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock – pay attention to people. The elders are overseers and shepherds of the flock – the people. We are not to make rubrics or rules more important than the flock. Doesn’t mean that rubrics or doctrines are unimportant, but that the focus has to be the membership, the people. The troubles that will arise are also from the members! We need to pay attention to the members.
Finally, we have the Gospel lesson in which it is clear that Jesus is also concerned about His followers, His disciples, about all of us in the Church.
Gospel: John 17:1-13
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
Christ’s concern is that we might know God. For Him, knowing God means experiencing eternal life. Any concern about right doctrine is a concern about our really experiencing God as God reveals Himself to us. It is ultimately a concern about us, that we might fully experience what God is offering to us. And Christ wished that we might experience the oneness, the unity, the love that is shared by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The concern about Church unity and Church doctrine is focused on us, our salvation, our experience of the blessed Trinity. It is all about God’s love for us.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
O wonder! The Lord bade me stay my mind in hell and not despair. So close is He to us: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” and “I will deliver thee; and thou shalt glorify me.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 431)
In this way we live in God. We remove our life from this visible world to that world which is not seen by exchanging, not the place, but the very life itself and its mode. It was not we ourselves who were moved towards God, nor did we ascend to him; but it was He who came and descended to us. It was not we who sought, but we were the object of His seeking. The sheep did not seek for the shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the master of the house; He it was who came to the earth and retrieved His own image, and He came to the place where the sheep was straying and lifted it up and stopped it from straying.
He did not remove us from here but He made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but by bending heaven to us and bringing it down. As the prophet says, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down” (Ps. 18:10).
The exalted Jesus participates in God’s unique sovereignty over all things.
At a very early stage, which is presupposed and reflected in all the New Testament writings, early Christians understood Jesus to have been exalted after his death to the throne of God in the highest heaven. There, seated with God on God’s throne, Jesus exercises or participates in God’s unique sovereignty over the whole cosmos. This decisive step of understanding a human being to be participating now in the unique divine sovereignty over the cosmos was unprecedented. The principal angels and exalted patriarchs of Second Temple.
Jewish literature provide no precedent. It is this radical novelty which leads to all the other exalted christological claims of the New Testament texts. But, although a novelty, its meaning depends upon the Jewish monotheistic conceptual context in which the early Christians believed it. Because the unique sovereignty of God over all things was precisely one of the two major features which characterized the unique identity of God in distinction from all other reality, this confession of Jesus reigning on the divine throne was precisely a recognition of his inclusion in the unique divine identity, himself decisively distinguished, as God himself is, from any exalted heavenly servant of God.
(Richard J. Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Kindle Location 302-309)
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
When time began its motion, darkness engulfed the earth.
God poetically spoke His animating Verse.
Mindfully Light dawned
Before the sun ruled the day or the stars the night.
Before creating eyes to see, even Darwin would agree,
There was light.
The Voice made both the light good and the good light
To illumine all things, before there was sight
Or a sun to shine.
The first eyes could see but childishly not comprehend.
The clever serpent promised they would be opened
She would see what she now believed God had hid.
Right then darkly the eyes of her heart closed
Could Eve still see the fruit was good?
Sightless eyes delighted in the Garden Tree.
Then, Adam and Eve hid what God gloriously clothed
Hoping to blind the Omniscient’s eyes.
He played along. “Where are you?”
Like young children covering their eyes,
With certainty to watchful parents mirthfully proclaim:
“You can’t see me” and truly believe the lie.
So Adam, so Eve hid among the trees
Covering themselves with the leaves
Convinced the Creator could not see them or their deed.
Gospel truth: In this sunlit world a man born
Without his ancestors’ eyes to see.
Eve faithlessly believed her eyes were closed, was deaf to the Light.
The sightless man listened to the Word
As only the blind can do with heightened sense he hears.
His eyes opened. He listened to Whom Eve would not.
The Invisible God can be seen?
With the eyes of faith
The Blind Man saw the Word
He had obeyed.
In time, Paradise was also opened
By the Light of the World.
If we take the Gospel lesson of the Blind man (John 9:1-39) in its context within the entirety of John’s Gospel, we note that in the verses right before John 9:1 from John 8, Christ is in the temple and the Jews get angry with Christ and want to stone him, but Christ is hidden from them (John 8:59), or hides himself .
So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple. (John 8:59)
The Greek word “hid” is the same as the word used in Genesis 3:8-10 when Adam and Eve hearing God walking in Paradise hide themselves from God after eating the forbidden fruit.
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:8-10)
There are interesting connections between Genesis 3 and John 8, one in the temple and one in Paradise. We know there is a relationship between the Temple and Paradise – they are interrelated realities.
In Genesis Adam and Eve are like young children covering their eyes and saying to God: “You can’t see me.” And God even seems to play along with them in Genesis 3:9 – But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
In Genesis 3 it is clear that though they still hear God after their sin, there is no mention of Adam and Eve seeing Him walking in the Garden. They think they are hiding from God but it is they who can no longer see God. The awareness of their own nakedness is directly the result of losing sight of God. – they are exposed despite their trying to hide.
In the temple in John 8 – the people are hearing God in Christ who is speaking to them and they don’t like what they hear. They angrily want to stone Him but they can’t see Him for He is hid from their eyes. Christ is God incarnate, standing in the temple – and the temple was to be the place where one could see God’s face (see my Jesus Christ Seen in the Temple), but the people can’t see Him because they don’t want to hear Him. Eve and Adam were not happy when they heard God walking in the garden after they sinned, but though they still hear Him, they don’t see Him but they childishly think He can’t see them. We can think about the blind man confronting the temple leaders in John 9:27:
He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?”
The blind man comes to the point: the people knowingly and willfully refuse to listen to Christ. That is why they cannot see Him for who He is.
As we move from John 8 to John 9 we read this:
So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple. As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. (John 8:59-9:1)
The text moves smoothly and quickly from a group of people in the temple who cannot see Him to the man born blind from birth. He too can’t see Christ, but he too does hear Him. The temple is the sign of God’s presence and the place to see God’s presence, but they can’t see Christ in the temple. They all are blind but not from birth but by choice – blinded by their refusal to hear. But there is hope – the man born blind can come to see God – he will not only hear God in Christ, at the end of the lesson he sees Christ and so sees God. If one is born blind not by any choice or because of anything they have done, and yet can be given sight, then those who choose to be blind should also be able to give up their blindness and to see God.
It is in the midst of the people being blind to Christ, that today’s Gospel lesson happens.
Is the Gospel suggesting that this man’s blindness is different than that of the people in the temple? This man had no choice in the matter, he was born blind – an incomplete creation but not his fault nor the fault of his parents. Rather, we see that physical blindness is not the obstacle to knowing God that spiritual blindness is. Spiritual blindness is a choice. Being physically blind is not an obstacle to seeing the invisible God!
The people in the temple cannot see Christ because of their own choices. They refuse to believe Him and so he disappears from view. The man born blind on the other hand is willing not only to listen to Christ but to obey Him. And once the blind man obeys Christ, he is able not only to see but to see God! His eyes are opened as are the eyes of his heart, and so he sees God incarnate. He is willing to give up his blindness and doesn’t choose to remain blind. Thus God is able to work in him.
We all need to take note – we can stubbornly hold to our own ideas and remain blind to what God is doing in the world, in the Church, in the Scriptures. We can angrily reject things Christ says to us because we disagree with them or don’t want to do them, or don’t want to change.
OR, like the blind man we can humbly give up our opinions and choose to obey Christ.
We can take hope that even if we are suffering from some illness, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, that we have not in fact been abandoned by God but that God will work in us to His glory. AND we can learn compassion for others who are suffering from various illnesses, even if we believe the illness is a result of their own stupid sinfulness – from lust, gluttony, greed or drunkenness – and pray for them that God will work His power in them to God’s own glory. This Gospel lesson is totally one of hope for those suffering physical ailment, mental illness or spiritual blindness.
We come to understand that Christ works for the glory of God – in having the blind man wash in the pool, we have an image of baptism and we come to understand that we are not baptized only because we are sinners. We don’t baptize children because they are guilty of sin. We baptize in order to manifest the work of God in the person. We baptize infants that they might in fact experience the glory of God and be opened to their own spiritual nature. Baptism is not God’s reaction to human sin, but God offering to work His glory in each of us.
And note, that the man born blind did not have to know everything before washing in the pool to be freed of his blindness. Neither do we need to know everything before being baptized – that is why we believe the baptism of infants is essential to their spiritual lives. In the text we see all kinds of things the man doesn’t know:
He doesn’t know where Jesus is
He doesn’t know whether Jesus is a sinner or sinless.
He doesn’t know who Jesus is, even when Jesus is speaking to him.
So too we baptize children so that God’s glory can be manifested in them. Baptism is a spiritual birthing, we grow into it. We baptize not just because there is sin in the world, but because each of us born in this world through natural birth have the means to be born again in a spiritual birth.
As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:48-50)
Today’s Gospel lesson helps us understand the purpose of baptism which is not a reaction to past sin but a door into the future kingdom. Baptism makes it possible for us to move beyond being merely flesh and blood, beyond being genetic beings or evolutionary beings, beyond the limits of self and society into the divine life, into eternal love, to being fully united to God.
The obstacle to our seeing and knowing Christ is not physical ailment, but spiritual blindness. It is an obstacle that can be overcome in Christ.