(I) Whom Do You Seek?

I seek not what is yours but you”

(2 Corinthians 12:14)

Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” (J0hn 18:4-5)

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” (J0hn 6:26-27)

“For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar. It seems to be analogous, but in fact, there is an essential difference between the early Christians and us. For them, everything is in knowing Christ, loving Him. For us, everything is in the desire to be enlightened. The early Christians came to Communion to follow Christ, whereas now Christ is not the unique reason for partaking of Communion.” (Fr. Alexander Schmemman, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemman, p. 31)

It is possible that we are far more interested in the gifts that we will personally receive than we are in the Giver of the gifts.  We come to church for what we can get out of it.  We lose interest in Christ, but want miracles in our lives.  We crave contact with the divine but don’t want there to be a Lord over  us.

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)

Mary Magdalene turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (John 20:14-16)

Next:  (II)  Whom Do You Seek?

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Blessed is the Kingdom

“The first exclamation of the Divine Liturgy reveals the key to the entire celebration:

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

With these words the celebrant announces the source and the goal of the divine service of the People of God, the very context and contents of the entire liturgical action. It is the Kingdom of God brought to the world by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and mystically reigning already in the faithful disciples of Christ by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom of God is eternal life in communion with God in loving obedience to his divine will. It is life in union with the Blessed Trinity; life lived toward the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the life which Christ has given to men by his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification. It is the life to be lived already in this world by the People of God. To bless the Kingdom of God means to love it as one’s most precious possession. The response of the people to the proclamation of blessing by the priest is with the word Amen, which means so be it. This is the solemn affirmation that indeed the blessing of God’s Kingdom is fitting and proper. It is the official confirmation that this Kingdom is indeed the ‘pearl of great price’ for the faithful, which once having found it, they will love it and serve it and desire to have it forever (Lk 13.14).” (Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith: Worship, Vol. 2, pp 152-153)

In All Circumstances Giving Thanks

The Gospel lesson of Luke 17:12-19 –

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.

As God’s own children, we are to “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Yet, we often need to be reminded to thank family, friends, co-workers, those who serve us and those who love us.  “Thank you” does not automatically flow from the hearts of many Christians even when others are kind to them.  And, God who constantly showers us with gifts of life, love, the world, is often taken for granted and we do not have the constant thankful and grateful hearts which we should have for our Creator.

 “Parents always want their children to be happy, content, and thankful to them for all their work and sacrifice. So when they see their children in a bad mood and unthankful, they’re saddened. It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. He has given us everything, but we are unsatisfied and gloomy. Instead of thanksgiving and praising God for everything, we only express our thankfulness with our lips, and our hearts remain cold. Joy is thankfulness, and when we are joyful, that is the best expression of thanks we can offer the Lord, Who delivers us from sorrow and sin.” (Ana Smiljanic in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, p 97)

Every Divine Liturgy is a Eucharistic Liturgy – our thanksgiving to God.  Every Sunday we gather together exactly to give thanks to God for all things.  We should come to the Liturgy with joy and rejoice throughout the Liturgy, for this is our communal thanksgiving to the Holy Trinity for creating us, sustaining us, and redeeming us.   The Divine Liturgy is not the time for our personal petitions to God, it is rather the time for us to join our fellow Christians in giving thanks to God.

Going to Church on Sunday

Why do we “go to church” on Sunday?

There are many reasons which can be given.  Alternatively, one could say the question is all wrong, since as the New Testament tells us, we don’t go to church, we are the Church – wherever we Christians go, there is the Church.  Being the Church is something which is a natural result of being Christian.  The building we go to is not “the Church” but the sacred place where we assemble in order to experience the kingdom of God in the Church which is the Body of Christ, namely, the assembly of believers.

That being said, still we do assemble together for the purpose of doing God’s work on earth.  We assemble to incarnate the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst.  Demetrios S. Katos offers another thought about why we assemble as Christians to constitute the Church:

“This is why the Church assembles weekly in the Eucharist, not merely to offer petitions, but to remind us that communion with God requires sacrifice. Each Sunday we remember all that the Lord has done for us – ‘the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming’ – and we are moved to eagerly offer everything we have in return, proclaiming, ‘Thine own of thine own we offer unto you.’” (Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pp 64-65)

 

The Liturgy itself is an offering to God – of our hearts, of our lives, of our thanksgiving.  The Liturgy is Eucharistic which means it is is our thanksgiving to God.  Sts Barsanuphius & John instruct us in what we need in order to be Christian, to be the Church:

“Labor to acquire thanksgiving toward God for everything and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and then you will find peace.” (Guidance Toward Spiritual Life, p 94)

Transformed by the Liturgy

“We must always remember that the Liturgy is an infinite creation. Every Liturgy is unique and is performed by Christ Himself. It is an act of revelation surpassing description, embracing the whole creation: heaven and earth, Angels and men, the living and the departed. Christ offered Himself once for all in the eternal power of the Holy Spirit and His Holy Sacrifice remains unto eternity to sanctify all who partake of it, for it is sealed in His divine blood which He shed for the life of the world. The Divine Liturgy is an eternal expression of Christ’s ‘greater love’. It is a workshop of love, a heart of love, man’s union and communion with the Savior and the other members of the Body. Man thus becomes an active member of the communion of Divine love, hearing the word of God, invoking His holy Name and partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, pp 213-214)

earth

Holy Thursday (2015)

Christianity is a religion of both anticipation and fulfillment. The Old Testament anticipates the New. Our life in the Church anticipates our life in the Kingdom of God which is to come.

“When the disciples asked Christ where they should prepare the Passover meal, they were of course talking about the Jewish Passover. And that was what they prepared. ‘Whereas our Passover, the Christian Passover, has been prepared by Christ. And He has not only prepared it, but He Himself has become the Passover.’ At the Last Supper, Christ celebrated both the Jewish and the Christian Passover, ‘both the Passover that was the type and the Passover that was the reality. Christ was doing exactly what an artist does when on the same canvas he first draws an outline and puts in the shading, and then adds the actual colors. At the very same table, He both sketched out the Passover that was a type and added in the true Passover.’ (St. John Chrysostom)”   (Hiermonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE FATHERS, p 3)

God had placed the first humans He created in a garden filled with luscious fruits to be eaten at will. Food was thus given as a way for us to commune with our Creator. At the last supper, we see fruit – the grape – now crushed into wine – being transfigured into the Blood of Christ.   The world crushes the grape to make wine; Christ uses the wine to restore us to health.   Food becomes communion with God again.

“Before Christ was crucified, He celebrated the Divine Liturgy (c.f. Luke 22:19-20) – the remembrance of His Passion on the Cross. And He commanded us to celebrate it in the same way: to recall those things that seem ‘to betoken weakness, namely the Cross, the Passion and death’.   Why, we may ask, when Christ said, ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’, did He not add ‘…which raised the dead, which healed lepers’, but only ‘…which is broken for you, which is poured out for your sake’? Why does He not recall His miracles, but rather His Passion? ‘Because the Passion was more necessary than the miracles… His Passion is the very cause of our salvation…. Whereas the miracles took place in order that it might be believed that the Lord is truly the Savior.’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas) Miracles are a confirmation of Christ’s divinity; the holy Passion offers us salvation and Christ the Savior.” (Hiermonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE FATHERS, p 72)

Salvation gives not just sanity to our minds, or eternity to our souls, it brings healing to our bodies as well. And not only to our bodies, but all of creation is transformed by the death and resurrection of Christ through whom the world was created and redeemed.

The Eucharistic Fast

The fast of Great Lent is a form of abstinence practiced over an extended period of time in which certain foods are abstained from during the Lenten season and/or also food is abstained from for designated periods during the day –  for example, in the morning or until after Vespers.   Besides the periods of fasting of the various lenten seasons and the usual weekly fasting days in the Orthodox Church there is also a fast done in preparation for receiving Holy Communion.  Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas comments:

“In the beginning the Eucharist was celebrated within the context of an evening community meal, referred to as the agape or love feast. By the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, the celebration of the Eucharist was separated from the community meal and transposed to the early morning hours. From that time forward, every Eucharistic celebration is preceded by a fast, called the Eucharistic fast. The Eucharist is Christ himself. It is his sacrificed, risen, and glorified body, which is given to the faithful ‘for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.’ As such, it is the most precious of gifts, through which the life of God continually becomes the life of those who believe in him, receive him in faith, and abide in him. That is why the Eucharistic fast has become a fixed prerequisite for Holy Communion. It is meant to place the faithful in a state of readiness, vigilance, expectation, and anticipation for an encounter with the living God who calls his people to communion and holiness.

Participation in the Divine Liturgy, therefore, requires prayerful preparation, for we stand on holy ground in the presence of the Triune God (Ex. 3:4-7). Hence, in preparation for this profound experience, we are called to quietness, abstinence, and forebearance, to a quickening of body and soul that we may receive the King of all. Fasted from the night before, as a sign of spiritual vigilance and awareness, we approach the Holy Table ‘with the fear of God, with faith, and with love,’ to receive the Holy Gifts as the first meal of the day and as the essential food of life.”  (Essays in Theology and Liturgy, pp 166-167)