St. John the Baptist: Friend and Lover of God


“The man who loves himself seeks his own glory, whereas he who loves God loves the glory of his Creator. It is characteristic of the soul which consciously senses the love of God always to seek God’s glory in every commandment it performs, and to be happy in its low estate. For glory befits God because of His majesty, while lowliness befits man because it unites us with God. If we realize this, rejoicing in the glory of the Lord, we too, like St John the Baptist, will begin to say unceasingly, ‘He must increase, but we must decrease’ (cf. John 3:30).”

(St Diadochos of Photiki , The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 7610-18)


The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (2014)

Like all Feasts of the Orthodox calendar year, the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (which commemorates the events detailed in Luke 2:22-40) offers us a great deal of theology to contemplate.  Here, we can look at a few hymns from the matins of the Feast to taste of the theological banquet set before us.

Orthodox festal hymns assume that the the encounters with God the Israelite saints had, as described in the Old Testament, were in reality encounters with the pre-Incarnate Christ.  So in this Feast when Simeon the Righteous Elder looks upon Christ, he is seeing directly what Moses saw only in darkness and shadow.


All of the Old Testament Saints and Prophets, at least in traditional Orthodox thinking, encountered Christ.   Christ spoke to the Israelites through Torah and through the Prophets.  His voice was heard in the prophets and it is His words which the prophets spoke.

The Prophets for their part are not only speaking about future and the Messiah who is to come.  They also are speaking what they have seen in Christ and heard from Him.  They are making the Word of God present in a pre-incarnational form.   So when we read them, if we only look for insight into the past or try to hear a voice from the past, we will fail to hear the voice of Christ or to see His revelation.   If we read them only to peer into the past, we will fail to see they were forward looking, seeing even into the Kingdom of God which is yet to come.

Christ both speaks through the Law and in the Law and can be heard in the Law.  The scriptures are a written recording of the Word of God, but their task is to reveal the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, to us.  We read the scriptures not just to hear rules and regulations, but to encounter the Word made flesh.  The Word becomes flesh for our salvation.


The reason to read the Old Testament, the Torah, the Prophets, the Wisdom and the Psalms is to hear Christ’s voice and to have Christ revealed to us.   All the saints of the Old Testament were speaking and writing about Him.  He was speaking to us through them.  For us Christians today, the study of the Old Testament is not so much to learn history (and certainly not to learn science) but to see Christ.  Obviously in the New Testament we have even a more clear vision of Him.  He was however being revealed all along to God’s people.


So the Feast teaches us what the significance of the Old Testament is and how to read it.  Christ has come, and we can now also see Him in the Old Testament lessons and hear His voice and recognize the love, wisdom, word and power of God.

Finally, in this Feast we also encounter a beautiful image of the complete synergy between God and humanity.  A synergy God intended from the beginning but which was broken through sin.  For in the Virgin Theotokos, Mary, God’s Word is fully revealed, and Mary offers back to God the Father in holiness what she has received from Him.


Mary makes the offering in the Jerusalem Temple of her son, Christ the Lord.  Finally God receives from humanity a pure offering, holy and divine, a sacrifice of thanksgiving acceptable to Him.  God receives creation fully in communion with Him.

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, says the human was to be “… the ‘bond’ and ‘bridge’ of God’s creation.  Uniting earth and heaven, making earth heavenly and heaven earthly, we reveal the spirit-bearing potentialities of all material things, and we disclose and render manifest the divine presence at the heart of all creation.” (TOWARD AN ECOLOGY OF TRANSFIGURATION, p 98).    This is what the Virgin Theotokos does in receiving the incarnate Word of God into her womb.  The image of the Theotokos as bridge and bond is most obvious when in the Temple she lifts the Son of God up as an offering to the God the Father.

St. Symeon the New Theologian on the Last Judgment

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In the blog series St. Simeon’s Interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46, we encountered St. Simeon’s effort to reread the Parable of the Last Judgment so that it applied directly to the lives of monks.  Below is another comment of St. Simeon on the same Parable and we get another sense of how he applied his interpretation to the parable.   In St. Symeon’s comments below Christ is “the light” who is speaking.

“For this reason the light speaks as follows: ‘Wicked servant, from your own mouth I will judge you because, as you say, I came and dwelt in you Who am unapproachable to the orders of angels. You, knowing this, allowed Me to lie buried by the darkness of your evils, just as you yourself say. And, while I was patient for so many years, expecting your repentance and awaiting in addition the doing of My commandments, you did not, even to the end, choose somehow to see Me out, nor did you pity Me Who was choked and cramped within you, nor did you allow Me to find the drachmas which I had lost – I mean you – because I was not allowed to take flame and see you and be seen by you, but was perpetually concealed by the passions which are in you. Therefore, you worker of iniquity, depart from me to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; because I hungered for your repentance and conversion, and you gave Me no food; I thirsted for your salvation, and you gave Me no drink; I was naked of your deeds of virtue, and you did not clothe Me with them; I existed in the narrow and filthy and dark prison of your heart, and you did not wish to come visit Me and lead Me out to the light; you know Me to be lying in the infirmity of your laziness and inactivity, yet you did not minister to Me by your good works and deeds. So, go away from Me!” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, pgs. 162-163)

Joshua and Jesus

“And afterward Joshua read all the words of the law, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.”  (Joshua 8:34-35)

Jean Danielou in his book FROM SHADOWS TO REALITY: STUDIES IN THE BIBLICAL TYPOLOGY OF THE FATHERS notes that for Origen (The most prolific biblical commentator and theologian of the 3rd Century –  some of his teachings were condemned in later centuries by the Church as heresy) there is a typology in the Joshua 8:34-35 passage.   This typology if very obvious in the Septuagint which refers to Joshua as Jesus, using the same name that is applied to the Christ:

“Joshua reading the law is the type of Jesus explaining the Law and the Prophets to his disciples at Emmaus, and it brings home to us that we understand the Law only when Jesus himself explains it and we find him in it: ‘I think that when Moses is read to us, the veil of the letter is lifted by the grace of the Lord and we begin to understand that the Law is spiritual…’” (p 282).

Origen understands Joshua’s “reading” not as simply reading aloud but as explaining the meaning of the text for the people to enable them to actually keep Torah.   Reading Torah – explaining its meaning and offering help for keeping Torah – was the didactic purpose of rabbis.  The conflict of Jesus as rabbi with the other rabbis comes over Christ’s interpretation of Torah.  [Jesus asks the teachers of Torah:  “have you not read…?  (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 22:31).   He is not asking them about reading aloud, but rather is asking ‘how do you understand and what do you teach about the text….?”].   Christ is ‘reading’ to His disciples Torah whenever He teaches them.   Origen accepts the typology  already common in his day which sees Joshua being a type of Christ:

Jesus and Moses

“Jesus it is who reads the Law, when he reveals the secrets of the Law.  We, who belong to the Catholic Church, do not reject the Law of Moses, but receive it if and when it is Jesus who reads it to us. For it is only if Jesus reads the Law in such wise that through his reading we grasp its spiritual significance, that we  correctly understand the law.  Do not think they have grasped the meaning who could say: ‘Was not our heart burning within us when he opened to us the Scriptures, and, beginning at Moses and the Prophets and expounding them all show that they wrote of him.’ … By linking Joshua’s reading of the Law with Jesus’ reading to the disciples of Emmaus, Origen … emphasizes the profound continuity of the Old Testament, the Gospel and of the interior Christ who instructs each disciple.”

It is Jesus who reveals to us the meaning of the Old Testament texts.  We cannot understand the Old Testament apart from Christ.  To be faithful disciples of Jesus we must read His Gospel teachings Christologically and Christocentrically.    Those denominations and scholars who advocate reading literally the Old Testament without any reference to Christ are in fact emptying the Old Testament Scriptures of their full power.  We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and should use it!

St. Paul with Old Testament Teachers of the Law

Scripture and the Word of God

When any of the authors of the New Testament mention the Scriptures, they are referring to what Christians today think of as “the Old Testament.”  That was the only Scripture for the Christians of the New Testament times.  The New Testament as a collection of writings did not exist during the time of the apostles

The early Christians saw their Scriptures because they revealed Christ to the world.   The centrality of the Torah and the Temple had been replaced by the Incarnate Messiah as the sign of God’s presence with His people.   God’s Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and this incarnation of God revealed the purpose of the Scriptures.

“When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh.’ The letter to the Hebrews speaks glowingly of God speaking through scripture in time past, but insists that now, at last, God has spoken through his own son (1:1–2). Since these are themselves ‘scriptural’ statements, that means that scripture itself points—authoritatively, if it does indeed possess authority!—away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, according to John 8:39–40, who speaks the truth which he has heard from God.”   (N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, Kindle Loc. 407-12)

It is the person of Jesus Christ, not a book, who speaks the truth from God.  The book – the bible – bears witness to Him.  As Jesus Himself said to His fellow Jews:

“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)

Christ Himself said that Moses, who is credited with writing Torah, wrote about Christ.  The purpose of the Scriptures is to lead us to Christ.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”  (John 5:46-47)

In Jesus’ own reading of the Old Testament,  He interprets the text of the Torah, including the Genesis creation story which Moses wrote, not mostly to be history but even more so a witness to Christ, a prophecy of  Christ, and a testimony about Christ.  This is how we should read these Old Testament Scriptures as well.

We encounter the same idea in Luke’s Gospel in the account of how on the day of Christ’s resurrection, two of His disciples are walking to Emmaus troubled by the execution of Jesus on the cross and mystified by reports from the women that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They don’t know what to believe.  As they are walking, Jesus joins them, yet for unknown reasons they don’t recognize their Master.   Jesus listens to their sad tale of woe and then,

“… beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”  (Luke 24:27)

Jesus explains to them what Moses and the other prophets wrote about the Christ.  So, too, when we read the Old Testament we should be reading with a mind toward recognizing Christ.  If we read Genesis mostly to learn about creation science, we miss the most important aspect of Moses’ writing, namely that he was writing about Jesus!  The Torah is most significant to us not as a scientific text, nor even as a historical text, but because it bears witness to Christ and we too can come to Him through these Scriptures.  Moses didn’t write to confound modern science, he wrote to bear witness to Christ.  And how did the disciples react to these revelations about Moses and the Jewish Scriptures?

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32)

Their hearts were opened to the truth about Scriptures and to Jesus as well.  The Scriptures of the Jews and of the first Christians, that part of our Bible which we now call the Old Testament, contains laws, history, poetry, narrative, theology, wisdom, prophecy and inspiration.  Christ sees its importance not at all in its literal reading, but in how it bears witness to Him.   Again, following His resurrection Jesus said to His disciples:

“’These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”  (Luke 24:44-48)

We need Christ to open our minds to the understanding of the scriptures, to discover in them what Moses, the prophets and Psalms had to say about Christ.  This is what Christ wanted His disciples, including us, to understand from Torah and the entire Old Testament.

“… the Bible itself declares that all authority belongs to the one true God and that this is now embodied in Jesus himself. The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ This ought to tell us, precisely if we are taking the Bible itself as seriously as we should, that we need to think carefully what it might mean to think that the authority of Jesus is somehow exercised through the Bible.”  (N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today,  Kindle Loc. 78-82)

Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God, not the Scriptures.  The Scriptures bear witness to Christ.  The Bible alone cannot give us the full revelation of God.  Only Christ can do that, and only He fully and rightfully interprets the Scriptures and reveals to us their meaning as well.  The Evangelist John tells us that Jesus did many other things not written in the Gospel (John 20:30, 21:35).   The Scriptures alone are not the full revelation and do not tell us everything that can be known about Christ Jesus the Son of God.  The Scriptures however bear witness to Christ, and if we believe in Him, listen to Him and follow Him as disciples, He will reveal their full meaning to us.   The significance of the Scriptures for us, as it was for those disciples on the road to Emmaus is that in them we find Christ and our way to recognize Him.  Those original disciples have not advantage over us.  Even walking with Christ didn’t help them recognize Him – He was revealed to them through the correct interpretation of the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread.

A Christian Is Being A Member in the One Body of Christ

“Life ‘in Christ’ is clearly not just a one-to-one relationship, but one that binds individual believers together into a single community. Christians have been made members of a single family by their baptism in Christ. Because they are all ‘sons of God’, Paul tells the Galatians, ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:26-8).   Elsewhere, he likens this community of believers to a body, whose welfare depends on the contribution made by individual members (Rom. 12:3-13; 1 Cor. 12:4-31).

He also refers to the Christian community as a temple, and since the temple was regarded as God’s earthly dwelling, the image is an apt one: they are God’s temple because God’s Spirit lives within them, and if God’s Spirit lives in them, they must be holy (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 6:16-18). All these images – family, body, temple – imply life, fellowship and growth, rather than an organized structure.” (Morna D. Hooker, Paul: A Beginners Guide, pgs.  132-133)

Sermon 31 October 1993

Sermon Notes from 31 October 1993

Luke 9:43-50

And they were all amazed at (overwhelmed by) the majesty of God (the might God showed in this deed). But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, “Let these words sink down into your ears (pay close attention), for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men (handed over to human power).” But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.

Then a dispute arose among them (Instead, they began to discuss) as to which of them would be greatest.

And Jesus, perceiving the thought of (the calculation of) their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.”

Did anyone notice anything unusual about this morning’s Gospel reading?

Since we are preparing for our Annual Parish Meeting and today is Vocation’s Sunday in the OCA, I wanted us to look at a text that speaks to issues of leadership and vocation.

This Gospel lesson shows some sharp contrasts between what our Lord wanted His disciples to focus on and what they wanted to talk about. This is an important lesson for us to remember at our Annual parish meeting.

The story opened with everyone being amazed at the majesty of God because of the miracles Jesus was doing. And while everyone is being so amazed at Jesus’ divine power, the Lord speaks to them about his imminent death on the cross.

While the disciples are all starry eyed looking at Jesus, he tells them almost sternly, “Let these words sink into your ears…”   While their hearts are bubbly and excited, Jesus wants them to get a grip on themselves and to PAY ATTENTION! Let my words penetrate into your hearts & not remain out in the air somewhere. The lesson he offered them is the same He offers us – “Yes I am revealing the majesty, glory and power of God to you, and I am going to continue to do so by being nailed to a cross and killed by the Romans.”

It is a hard lesson for us all. While we all like the lessons which promise us prosperity, peace, love, eternal life and God’s unending favor and Kingdom, Jesus tells us that being nailed to the cross is also part of the plan of salvation. There is no other way to the Kingdom then through the cross. We who make decisions at the Parish Meeting must keep this in mind. The way of Christ Jesus is the way of the Cross. A heart breaking love and self-sacrifice are God’s way.

We can note the reaction of the disciples to these words. The disciples immediately get into a dispute as to who is the greatest. They are unwilling to discuss their Lord’s sufferings, but eager to debate their rank. My friends let us in this community learn the lesson that the apostles could not grasp at this point of their ministry.

Our power, our greatness, is not something that derives from our own goodness nor from our good intentions nor even from the good things God has given us. Our power, our opportunity to be great comes from understanding and embracing the mission on which Christ Jesus has sent us. Namely to bring the Gospel to all people, to teach all that the Lord Jesus has taught us, and to baptize all nations. That mission we must always remember, for in that mission is your and my salvation.

As the Lord taught, greatness comes from receiving God’s commission, from doing the will of God, not from any rank or recognition the world or even the church bestows upon us.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is oft quoted as saying, “The Lord did not call us to be successful but to be faithful.” She has grasped the Lord’s intent, as we should also.

We should not be threatened by the success of others, nor by the fact that others seem to have power we don’t, nor by the fact that others outside of the church may do great and godly deeds, nor by the fact that the world may praise others outside the church for doing good works more then they praise us.

If we remain faithful to the Great Commission that the Lord has given us, we will be doing well, no matter how others succeed or fail, no matter how the world may judge us.

So, Let us hear the word of God and graciously and thankfully do it.

Then let us depart in peace into the world to accomplish God’s will.

Fellow Workers with God

St. Paul Preaching at Corinth

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.     (1 Corinthians 3:9-17)

All Christians are called to love one another, which often translates into being called into ministry and service.  Being a Christian is not a spectator’s sport.  We are in the arena, working with and for God.  We are supposed to be constantly in the process of building up the church (note the words edification and edifice are related!).  We are to come to the Liturgy prepared to work, to do all of the things commanded of us in the Liturgy – to pray, to pay attention, to lift up our hearts, to give thanks to the Lord, to love one another, to listen to the Gospel, to take and eat the Body of Christ, to give praise, to bless the Lord, etc.  St. John Chrysostom put it bluntly: 

St. Paul Inspiring St. John Chrysostom

“‘We hear that some of you,’ St Paul goes on, ‘are living in idleness, not doing any work.’  Even if they were passing the time in prayer and fasting, they would not be doing the manual work of which the Apostle is speaking.

He concludes: ‘Such persons we command and exhort in the name of the Lord Jesus to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.’

Paul does not say: ‘If they are idler, let the community keep them.’ On the contrary, he demands two things: that they keep quiet, and that they work! “ (St.John Chrysostom On the Second Letter to the Thessalonians in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain – A Patristic Breviary, pg. 279)

Christ did not come into the world to be served, but rather to serve.  Neither should we show up at the Liturgy expecting to be served – we are there to imitate Christ, which means we are there to serve others.

Christ the Physician

As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him,    beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”  And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.   (Matthew 8:5-13)

“The Lord’s reaction must have surprised those who witnessed the scene. He declares that He has not found such great faith in Israel; those chosen to be the children of the kingdom would be cast out and replaced by others. Finally, He tells the centurion to go his way and that his servant is healed. St.Ambrose sees the healing by the Lord’s word alone as proof of His equality with the Father: ‘…as the Father spoke the Son made, so, too, the Father works and the Son speaks’. And St.Basil the Great emphasizes that it was the Savior’s word and not His presence that healed the sick man.

The centurion is a striking figure. He enters the narrative as a man already possessed of a deep faith in Jesus’ power to heal, even by a word. He asks nothing for himself but only for his servant, his social and military inferior. His status notwithstanding, he feels profoundly his own unworthiness.” (Archbishop Dmitri, The Miracles of Christ, pg. 15)

The Conversion of St. Paul

“When God summoned Moses to liberate Israel from Egypt, his goal was to establish a covenant people based on the gift of Mosaic law. When Christ commissioned Paul on the Damascus road, he charged him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, calling them to join the one body of Christ, the Church. Divine revelation neither occurs in a vacuum nor is primarily addressed to individuals. God’s word establishes and nurtures community. It is through community that God seeks to fulfill his purposes in history.”  (Theodore G. Stylianopoulos in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology edited by Mary B. Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff, pgs. 24-25)

Greetings to all on the Feast of the Glorious and Triumphant

Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul!