Bright Friday (2019)

Bright Friday

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:3-11)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem comments on being baptized into Christ:

O strange and incredible thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised; our imitation was in an image, but our salvation was real. Christ was truly crucified, and buried and raised up, and all these things he graciously gave to us, so that by imitation of his passion we might gain participation in salvation in reality. O surpassing love of humanity! Christ received the nails in his pure hands and suffered, and to me grants salvation without my suffering and pain, through sharing [his suffering]. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 101)

Baptisms in the early church were done on Lazarus Saturday or Holy Saturday, having used Lent as a time of preparation for baptism – studying God’s Word and through fasting and prayer opening the heart of the candidates to God’s saving action in the world. Baptism was called illumination, and all the candidates were given candles to hold as symbols of their new life in Christ.  St Macarius the Great writes:

“As many torches and burning lamps are lit from a fire, though the lamps and torches are lit and shine from one nature, so too is it that Christians are enkindled and shine from one nature; the divine fire, the Son of God, and they have their lamps burning in their hearts, and they shine before him while they live on earth, just as he did. This is what it means when it says: ‘So God has anointed you with the oil of gladness’” (Ps 45.7). (Illumined in the Spirit, p. 86)

Christ is risen!  Truly, He is risen!

Bright Thursday (2019)

Bright Thursday

Great Lent was traditionally used as a time to prepare catechumens for baptism.  At the end of Great Lent – for Lazarus Saturday or on Holy Saturday – the catechumens were illumined in baptism.  This is reflected in the fact that we still sing “As many as have been baptized into Christ…” during these festal Liturgies in place of singing “Holy God...”  In the week after Pascha, after the catechumens had been newly baptized, there was continued catechetical work in the early Church to help those newly initiated into Christ to understand what they had experienced.    St. John Chrysostom, addresses words to the newly baptized Christians:

You shall be called “newly-illuminated,” because your light is always new, if you wish it that way, and it is never extinguished. Whether we shall have it so or not, night follows the light of this world; but the darkness knows not the shining of this new light. The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not. Certainly, the world is not as bright when the sun rises as is the soul which is illumined and becomes brighter from the grace it has received from the Spirit.

Consider more closely the nature of these things. When night falls and it is dark, many a time a man sees a rope and thinks it is a snake; and when a friend approaches him, he flees from him as if he were a foe; when he hears a noise, he is frightened. Nothing like this would happen in the light of day; everything is seen then just as it really is.

This same thing happens in the case of our soul. Whenever grace comes and drives out the darkness from our mind, we learn the exact nature of things; what frightened us before, now becomes contemptible in our eyes. We no longer are afraid of death after we have learned carefully from this holy initiation that death is not death but a sleep and repose which lasts for but a time. Nor are we afraid of poverty or disease or any such misfortune, because we know that we are on our way to a better life, which is impervious to death and destruction and is free from all such inequality.

Let us, then, no longer stay gaping after the good things of this life, such as luxurious foods and expensive clothing. For you have the greatest of garments, you have a spiritual banquet, you have the glory which comes from on high; Christ has become all things for you: table, clothing, house, head, and root. For all you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. See how He has become your clothing.

Your shining robe now arouses admiration in the eyes of all who behold you, and the radiance of your garments proves that your souls are free from every blemish. For the future, all of you, both you who have just deserved the gift and all who have already reaped for yourselves the benefit of His munificence, must make the excellence of your conduct visible to all and, after the fashion of a torch, you must illumine those who look upon you. For if we should be willing to guard the brightness of this spiritual robe, as time goes on it will send forth a more brilliant luster and an abundance of gleaming light, a thing which cannot happen in the case of material garments.

For even if we multiply the care we take of our bodily clothes ten thousand times, the passing years leave them threadbare, and by the time they have gotten old they are worn away to nothing. If we keep them stored away, the moths get at them or they are ruined by the many other things which destroy material garments. If, however, we are eager to do our fair share, the garment of virtue will not become soiled nor feel the onslaught of age, but as time passes, so much the more does it reveal the fresh sheen of its beauty and its radiant light.

(Baptismal Instructions, pp. 175-176, 114)

Great and Holy Tuesday (2019)

Holy Tuesday: The Procession of the Wise Virgins

30917710458_8ae1f75175_nThe second wedding parable from the Gospel is that of the Wise Virgins ( Matthew 25:1-13). Here the emphasis is not put on the laying aside of bad dispositions, but rather on the positive preparation for coming to the marriage-feast. Applied to the sacraments, the parable points out the dispositions necessary to take part in the Eucharistic banquet; and liturgically, the procession of virgins going to meet the Bridegroom with their lighted lamps reminds us of the procession during the paschal night in which the newly-baptized, carrying their lighted candles in their hands, were led from the baptistry to the church where they were to take part in the Eucharistic banquet. This double aspect is recalled by St. Cyril, when, at the beginning of the Procatechesis, he presents the process of initiation as a whole: “You carry in your hands the lamps of the wedding procession, these lamps which are the desire of heavenly blessings, the firm resolution and the hope which accompanies it” (XXXIII, 333). The eschatalogical waiting signified by the lamps of the wise virgins is applied to the waiting for baptism initiation which is an anticipation of the Parousia and a meeting of the soul with Christ the Bridegroom.

12228541873_b6afd22a40_nThis connection between the procession of the paschal night and of the wedding parable is made explicitly by Gregory Nazianzen: “The station that you will make, just after Baptism, before the great throne, is the prefiguring of future glory. The chant of the Psalms with which you will be received is the prelude to the Psalmody of heaven. The lamps that you will light are the sacrament (mysterion) of the resplendent procession of heaven with which we will go before the Bridegroom, souls virginal and resplendent, with the burning lamps of faith. Let us not allow ourselves by negligence to become drowsy, so as to let Him for Whom we are waiting go by us when He comes unexpectedly, and let us not remain without sustenance and without oil, for fear of being excluded from the bridal chamber. There is no room there for the man who is proud and negligent, nor for him who is clad in a stained garment and not in the wedding-robe” (XXXVI, 426 B-C).

This passage shows us that the baptismal procession is a figure of the procession of the elect at the time of the Parousia. Or, better still, this procession is the sacrament, the visible sign of the heavenly liturgy. (Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pp. 218-219)

While Holy Week makes us think about events on earth, what is being opened to us is Paradise, Heaven, the Kingdom of God!  The Liturgical services are endeavoring to help us experience what we sing at Pascha: “For from death to life and from earth to Heaven has Christ our God led us as we sing the song of victory: Christ is risen from the dead!

Baptism: Being Born of Christ

“As the name of the Trinity is invoked, the candidate is immersed three times in the water and then three times rises up from the water once more: and immediately he enters into possession of all that he seeks. He is born and created; he receives the good seal; he is granted all the happiness that he desires; darkness before, he now becomes light; non-existent before, he now receives existence. God claims him for his own and adopts him as a son. From prison and utter enslavement he is led to a royal throne.

The water of baptism destroys one life and reveals another: it drowns the old man raises up the new.

To be baptized is to be born according to Christ; it is to receive existence, to come into being out of nothing.”

(St Nicholas Cabasilas, from The Time of the Spirit, p. 89)

The Many Graces of Baptism

“When you come to the sacred initiation, the eyes of the flesh see water; the eyes of faith behold the Spirit. Those eyes see the body being baptized; these see the old man being buried. The eyes of the flesh see the flesh being washed, the eyes of the spirit see the soul being cleansed. The eyes of the body see the body emerging from the water; the eyes of faith see the new man come forth brightly shining from that new purification. Our bodily eyes see the priest as, from above, he lays his right hand on the head and touches (him who is being baptized) our spiritual eyes see the great High Priest (Jesus) as He stretches forth His invisible hand to touch his head. For, at that moment, the one who baptizes is not a man, but the only-begotten Son of God.

For this reason, when the priest is baptizing he does not say, “I baptize so-and-so,” but, “So-and-so is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In this way he shows that it is not he who baptizes but those whose names have been invoked, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  (St. John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, pp. 120)

Ancestral Sin, Great Lent and Hope

“Because the coming redemption of men and women is the defining feature of the Lenten season, the elaboration of the sin of Adam and Eve is never meant to lead to despair. Quite the opposite; it underscores the audacious mercy shown toward mankind. In light of Christ, the sin of Adam leads to exaltation, not condemnation. Another key concept to bear in mind is that crucifixion is not a one-time event limited to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth; in the liturgy of Easter, it is continually reappropriated in the life of the Church.

Paul says that baptism is our participation in the glory of the cross, gloria crucis – ‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism unto death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead…so we too might walk in newness of life’ (Rom. 6:3-4).” (Gary A. Anderson, In Dominico Eloquio – In Lordly Eloquence, pp. 29-30)

Baptized into Christ

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And baptism into Christ means incorporated into the diverse community of fellow baptized, co-crucified, co-resurrected, justified inhabitants of Christ”  (Gal 3:28).

. . . justification is an experience of both death and resurrection, and both must be stressed. But the resurrection to new life it incorporates is a resurrection to an ongoing state of crucifixion: I “have been” crucified means I “still am” crucified. Therefore, justification by faith must be understood first and foremost as a participatory crucifixion that is, paradoxically, life-giving (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-15). The one who exercises faith, and is there by crucified with Christ, is systauroo in Gal 2:19 – as in Rom 6:6), because he or she is animated by the resurrected Christ, who always remains for Paul (and the New Testament more generally) the crucified Christ (e.g., 1 Cor 2:2; cf. John 20:20, 27; Rev. 5:6). As Miroslav Volf says in commenting on this text, the self “is both ‘de-centered’ and ‘re-centered’ by one and the same process, by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through faith and baptism…” Volf continutes:

By being ‘crucified with Christ,’ the self has received a new center – the Christ who lives in it and with whom it lives…The center of the self – a center that is both inside and outside – is the story of Jesus Christ, who has become the story of the self. More precisely, the center is Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected who has become part and parcel of the very structure of the self.

This understanding of faith as crucifixion is reinforced by Paul’s insistence that the believer’s experience (narrated representatively by Paul in first-person texts) is not only a death with Christ but also a death to the Law (Gal 2:19), to the world (Gal 6:14), and of the flesh (Gal 5:24). The mention of death of the flesh and to the world also demonstrates that Gal 2:15-21 should not be read only as a Jewish experience of liberation from the Law. Rather, every believer begins and continues his or her existence in Christ by co-crucifixion. Gal 2:19-21 suggests that co-crucifixion is both the way in and the way to stay in the convent.

Once again, we must stress that it is the resurrected crucified Christ with whom believers are initially and continually crucified. This is important, both christologically and soteriologically, in two ways. First, as an experience of the risen or resurrected Christ, co-crucifixion is not merely a metaphor but an apt description of an encounter with a living person whose presence transforms and animates believers: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me by giving himself for me.” As Douglas Campbell says, this is no mere imitatio Christi! For “God is not asking [believers]…to imitate Christ – perhaps an impossible task – so much as to inhabit or to indwell him,” such that “the Spirit of God is actively reshaping the Christian into the likeness of Christ.”

(Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, pp. 70-71)

Christ Ascending and Descending

The Sunday after Theophany

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.    (Ephesians 4:7-13)

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Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  (Matthew 4:12-17)

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Our Epistle today, Ephesians 4:7-13, quoting from Psalm 68:18, mentions Christ  ascending and descending.  He ascended to God’s throne above the heavens after His resurrection, and also descended into Hades upon His death on the cross.   This Ephesians reading for the Sunday after Theophany is tying together for us several ideas that the Church wishes to emphasize in its proclamation of the Good News.   Of course there is that cosmic picture of Christ who is God the Word descending to earth to be born in a cave and laid in an animal manger  – an event we celebrate as the Nativity of Christ.  But Christ continued His descent, dying on the cross, being buried and descending into Hades to free all the dead from imprisonment and slavery to Satan.  Christ ascended from Hades to appear on earth to show us all His resurrection.  He then continued His ascent all the way to the throne of God’s Kingdom above the heavens.

And this cosmic picture of Christ ascending from Hades to the height of heaven which is also our salvation is foreshadowed in the events of Christ’s descending at his baptism down into the Jordan River and then ascending out of the River to be proclaimed God’s own son.  Baptism as we all should know is exactly an image of being buried beneath the waters and then raised from the dead to new life.   Christ foreshadows his death and resurrection with His dying and rising at his baptism in the River Jordan.

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Additionally, at the baptism of Christ, the feast we call Theophany, the Holy Trinity is revealed to us as well as to the entire world.  This is the great Light which has dawned for us that is mentioned today’s Gospel lesson.

The connection between Theophany and Christ’s descent into Hades was made at one point in Orthodox history when numerous Orthodox churches took to painting on the back (west) wall of the Church, two icon frescos, one on top of the other.  The upper panel/fresco had the Baptism of Christ from Theophany in which the Trinity is revealed to us.  Beneath that icon was the icon of Christ’s Descent into Hades with those saved souls looking up to the icon of the Baptism of Christ.  They understood the Baptism of Christ was the prefiguring of His descent into Hades.  In those churches with the large fresco icons one on top of the other, the door to the church was located in Hades as well.  On Holy Saturday, the congregation in the church would watch as the newly baptized were brought into the church literally passing through their own death and sojourn to Hades where they were united to and saved by Christ.  All of that is still remembered in our Church on Holy Friday when we enter the church after our procession and all pass beneath the winding sheet and we have the ideas that we are passing into the tomb of Christ as into Hades itself where we proclaim and celebrate the resurrection!

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The Epistle mentions Christ leading the captives out and bestowing on them gifts.   We understand this as our being led out of imprisonment in Hades, slaves to death.  The gifts given to us are those Christ bestows on His church as mentioned in today’s epistle.

Christ creates the Church and all the offices of the Church and gives spiritual gifts for all the personnel He needs to carry on His ministry.  He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can accomplish His will on earth.   For Christ passes on to us that we as members of the parish and as members of the Body of Christ are to be the light of the world:

46718055141_fe4d57b0f9_n“You are the light of the world.  . .  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)

The Great light which has dawned and which people see is not Christ alone, but us as the Body of Christ.  All of us united to Christ as His Body, the Church, for as St. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16

 – You (plural) are God’s temple.  You (people) have God’s Spirit living in us.

The Church is not a building, but the people of God.  The Church is you and I doing God’s will on earth.

When people come and see the Orthodox Church, they might come and look at the beautiful, interesting and ancient icons on the walls of the building, but they should come to see the living temple, the living icons – namely you!

It is not the building that makes us Orthodox.  It is not the building that makes the Orthodox Church.  It is you people, the parishioners, the members of this parish!

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We extend an invitation to others to come and see the Orthodox Church, we should also be inviting them to see

How we live

How we love God and neighbor

How we worship God.

How we love one another.

How we are like Christ.

People need to come here not only to see icons or to see the Liturgy and Orthodox worship but to see us –

To see:

24765159445_b73aee26d1_nLove               Faith

Hope              Joy

Beauty           Light

Truth             Peace

In us!

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 –

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  . . .  For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.

God entrusts us to make His Holiness present on earth and available to all who wish to enter into Communion with Him.  God wants us to be witnesses to the Light, but also to be that Light to the world.

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The Forerunner John and Knowing One’s Limits

“Yet as John is baptizing, Jesus approaches, perhaps also to sanctify the baptizer, and certainly to bury all the old Adam in the water, but before these things and for the sake of these things to sanctify the Jordan. As indeed he was spirit and flesh, so he initiates by the Spirit and the water. The baptizer does not accept it; Jesus debates [with him]. ‘I need to be baptized by you,‘ the lamp says to the sun, the voice to the Word, the friend to the bridegroom, the one above all born of women to the firstborn of all creation, the one who leaped in the womb to the one worshiped in the womb, the one who was and will be the Forerunner to the one who was and will be manifest.

I need to be baptized by you...’”

(Gregory Nazianzus, Festal Orations, pp. 91-92)

Many Patristic writers were particularly taken by the dialogue between Jesus and John the Forerunner when Christ came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  It is a dialogue only St. Matthew reports in Matthew 3:13-17 –

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Patristic writers saw in John great humility as he recognizes his Lord and Master.  They saw John as the creature being awed and fearful at the presence of his Creator.  They saw John marveling at how the sinless One desires to be baptized for the remission of sins.  John recognizes his own need for salvation and God’s grace, but submits to God’s will even if he can’t fathom its depth, meaning or purpose.  They saw John’s hand trembling as he but a servant places his hand on the head of the Master to submerge the Creator under the waters of His own creation.  They saw John worried about whether this was the right thing to do but knowing he as servant needed to obey what Christ the Lord said.

Everything Jesus Does Is a Sacrament

“…each thing that Jesus accomplished, no matter how apparently insignificant, had salvific effects.

‘Everything that Jesus does,’ writes Jerome in his explanation of why the Gospel of Mark found it necessary to record the detail that Jesus rode on an ass when he entered Jerusalem, ‘is a sacrament. He is our salvation For if the Apostle tells us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever else you do, do all things in the name of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 10:31], are not these much more our sacraments, when the Savior walks or eats or sleeps?’ As the Gospels themselves indicate, the dynamism or radiant energy possessed by Christ extended also to his clothing, which Hilary comments on apropos of the story of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood in Matthew 9:20-22: “The power abiding in his body added a health-giving quality to perishable things, and a divine efficacy even when as far as the fringes of his garments. For God was not divisible and able to be contained, as if he could be shut up in a body.”

A striking instance of the energy that radiated from Christ, finally, is associated with his baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus’ mere physical contact with the Jordan was enough to cleanse it and, along with it, all the waters of the earth, so as to make them suitable in turn for cleaning those who would be baptized. We find this idea as early as the beginning of the second century in Ignatius of Antioch and frequently thereafter.

(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, pp. 83-84)