The Blessing of Fruit

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Many Orthodox have the practice of blessing grapes or fruit at the Feast of the Transfiguration.   We find mention of the Christian blessing of fruit already in the early 3rd Century in THE APOSTOLIC TRADITION of St. Hippolytus of Rome.   He offers no explanation as to why some things may be blessed but doesn’t allow certain things to be brought for a blessing, even though all food is to be received with thanksgiving.

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Hippolytus doesn’t connect this blessing to a particular feast but writes:

Fruits indeed are blessed, this is grapes, the fig, the pomegranate, the olive, the pear, the apple, the mulberry, the peach, the cherry, the almond, the plum; but not the pumpkin or the melon, or cucumber or the onion, or garlic or any other vegetable.

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But sometimes flowers also are offered.  Let the rose and the lily be offered, but not others.

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And for all things which are eaten they shall give thanks to God, eating them to His glory.”  (pp 54-55)

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Deification: Becoming God’s Children

Patristic tradition usually sees a man’s potential for deification in the fact that man is created by God in his own image. Because of this natural affinity, the fathers spoke of a man as potentially a son of God. The process of deification involves the realization of the status of son of God through the process of hyiothesia (“adoption of sons”).The idea is present already in the New Testament. Christ gave power to those who receive him “to become the sons of God” (Jn. 1:12), that the faithful might “receive the adoption as Sons” (Gal 4:5; cf Rom 8:15). This adoption of sons was accomplished through Christ’s incarnation. Athanasius represents one set of ideas when he asserts that “Christ made us the sons of the Father and deified man by becoming himself a man.”

His thought hinges upon the idea of the incarnation: humanity is deified in a natural (physikos) manner, being assumed by God in the incarnation. Due to this understanding – our becoming God’s children as a natural consequence of God the Son becoming man – he uses the concept of hyiothesia as synonymous with “deification”: to be a son or daughter of God is to be deified. Another set of ideas is presented by Basil, who speaks of our adoption not so much through natural deification at the incarnation as through its subsequent effects: the descending and indwelling in man of the Holy Spirit.”   (Nicholas V. Sakharov, I Love Therefore I am, pp. 144-145)

Freedom and Suffering

St. John the Forerunner

Dostoevsky shows that suffering lies in the very nature of man as a free and morally responsible being, that nothing can eliminate it as long as man remains what he is, and that the purpose of human evolution is not to abolish suffering, but to explain its meaning, for only those who are not afraid of pain are matured and truly free people.”  (Nicholas Zernov, Three Russian Prophets, p. 93)

Christian Marriage: A Sign of Christ’s Presence

“It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that is is a road to happiness, as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life. “You haven’t suffered? Then you haven’t love,” says a certain poet. Only those who suffer can really love. And that’s why sadness is a necessary feature of marriage. “Marriage,” in the words of an ancient philosopher, “is a world made beautiful by hope and strengthened by misfortune.” Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. When you see your marriage from a distance, everything seems wonderful. But when you get closer, you’ll see just how many difficult moments it has.

We often speak of seven “mysteries,” or sacraments. In this regard, a “mystery” is the sign of the mystical presence of some true person or event. An icon, for instance is a mystery. When we venerate it, we are not venerating wood or paint but Christ, or the Theotokos, or the saint who is mystically depicted. The Holy Cross is a symbol of Christ, containing his mystical presence. Marriage, too, is a mystery, a mystical presence not unlike these. Christ says, “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.”   (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Church at Prayer, pp. 95-96, 98)

Being of One Mind: Satisfaction Guaranteed

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 30 July 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ….

St. Paul frequently in his Epistles calls the Christians to  prevent divisions within the community and to be of one heart and mind, something we pray for at the Liturgy [“Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.”  AND  “And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and praise Your all-honorable and majestic Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”]

When we install a new Parish Council, they take an oath of office that among other things says they promise to work to preserve the unity of the community.  Unity is not given to us automatically by God at our baptisms.  We have to work for , and the leadership of the parish is especially entrusted with this task.

We know it is hard to have a community of people agree on everything, and Christian history shows us how often Christians have failed to maintain the unity of the faith – not only on the local level but sometimes at the level of the entire Church.  Divisions have plagued us Christians, and it is incumbent on each of us to work hard to preserve unity within the Church.  I say this, not because we have any pressing division we are facing, but we all know there are countless issues that we disagree on, some very minor, but still it is a task, and no easy one to maintain unity.

Jesus prayed:  “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will* believe in Me through their word;“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:“I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  (John 17:20-23)

Paul’s wish that we be of one mind, without disunity, is telling us to fulfill Christ’s prayer for us.

In an unusual way, the oneness of heart and mind has a segue with today’s Gospel lesson.

Gospel: Matthew 14:14-22
And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were satisfied, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.

In the rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Judas sings about Jesus:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

One can wonder why Jesus came when He did, 2000 years ago.  We think we would like to walk with Him and hear him today, thinking then we would know for sure if He was true or not, unlike those Palestinian backwater rubes who were easily taken in by “miracles.”

But if Jesus came today and wanted to assemble 5000 men besides women and children, it would be no easy task to arrange.  There would be permits which would be needed, and sanitation and security.  There would have to be plans for emergencies, first aid stations, water bottles, bathrooms, and the authorities wouldn’t allow that many people to assemble with no food in sight.  What kind of parking area would be needed for the cars for all those people?

And then when Jesus promised to feed everyone, and all He gave was bread, there would be mass complaining.  Some would say they are on special diets – high protein, low carb, glutton free, there would be complaints about allergies.  Some would want something with the bread, not bread alone.  Butter and jelly, or perhaps meat and cheese for sandwiches.  And condiments.  Humans can’t live on bread alone!  That is not a balanced diet.  There would be a lot of unhappy people who would not be happy that all they were given is some bread.

Maybe the biggest miracle that Jesus did comes in the line, “So they all ate and were satisfied“.  Amazing, He satisfied 5000 men plus women and children.  Everyone was satisfied, and all they got was bread. [though the Gospel passage mentions the disciples also had fish, it only mentions Christ blessing and distributing the loaves, the fish aren’t mentioned as being distributed].

We can imagine what would happen if at our Fellowship Hour, all we had to offer was bread!  People would demand at least donuts!  And coffee!

But in the Gospel lesson, they are satisfied with bread.  Maybe that is why Christ came 2000 years ago.  He looked into the future, into the 21st Century and realized no one today would consider being offered only bread – after being with Christ all day out in the open, exposed to the weather –  as that wonderful.  Perhaps He looked into our century and realized all He would get is complaints.

Back then, they stayed with Christ all day and witnessed healing miracles, and then Jesus fed them bread.  What happened next?  He told them goodbye – go home!  If they thought that something powerful was going to happen to the world right then and there – the Kingdom of Heaven or the New Jerusalem – Jesus disabused them of those ideas.  He dismissed them.  He didn’t encourage them to stay, didn’t offer an encore.  He didn’t encourage that some kind of shrine be built there.  He moved on.

He wanted them to look beyond the bread they received, to think about the Kingdom, not about making Him king.  The miracle was to be a sign of that greater reality, God’s Kingdom.   Jesus left that spot because the Kingdom wasn’t there and He wanted everyone to look not for some benefit in this world but to look beyond this world.

In our church we have many icons of saints, but if we read there lives we will see precious few of them looked to Jesus for the bread of this world.  They all were looking for something else, something more.  The Myrrhbearing Women go to the tomb, not looking for bread in this world, but looking for Christ.  It is Christ whom the saints were seeking, and it Christ whom they realized they needed.

If we listen to the Gospel of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, and all we get out of it is that we wish we could see a miracle, or we wish we could get some free bread, then we miss the entire lesson of the Gospel, for we miss seeing Christ.  None of those who ate that bread that day were so satisfied that they never hungered again.  That bread fed them for a day, not for a lifetime, not for eternity.

Christ, however, does offer us bread that feeds us for eternity – His own Body and Blood which we receive in the consecrated Eucharistic Bread and Wine. We need to seek Christ like the saints, not mere bread like the crowd. In this, we need to be of one heart and mind.

Being in God’s Image

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  (Genesis 1:27)

Our ability to reason, to use logic, wisdom and knowledge, is seen in the Church Fathers as one way that humans are in God’s image and likeness.

“This reason, in which perhaps most Fathers found the divine image, made human beings “partakers of his [i.e. God’s] own Word, possessing, so to speak, a kind of reflection of his Word,” as Athanasius says. And, because for the Fathers reason was a participation in the Word, it carried with it, unlike reason as understood by us today, a supernatural connotation: to use one’s reason was to act in a graced way and to be open to the realm of the supernatural.”   (Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, pp. 71-72)

Christ Removes All Barriers to God

Since having Christmas in July (sales!) is popular these days, we can think what this means for us Christians.

“He did not change place, nor did He penetrate or pass over a wall, but, as He Himself showed, He left no barrier standing which could separate us from Him. Since God occupies every place He was not separated from man by place, but by man’s variance with Him. Our nature separated itself from God by being contrary to Him in everything that it possessed and by having nothing in common with Him. God remained Himself alone; our nature was human, and no more.

When, however, flesh was deified and human nature gained possession of God Himself by hypostatic union, the former barrier opposed to God became joined to the Chrism. The difference gave way when God became man, thus removing the separation between Godhead and manhood. So chrism represents Christ as the point of contact between both natures; there could be no point of contact were they still separate.”  (St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, pp. 104-105)

It is not living on earth which separates us from God – it is our own freely chosen sins which separate God from us.  Christ in the incarnation shows divinity is united to our humanity.  We are capable of bearing God in our selves, our bodies, our lives!  We are not separated from God by space or distance, but only by our wills.  God stands at the door of our hearts and knocks waiting for each of us to invite Him into our lives, our hearts and our homes.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  (Revelation 3:19-21)

 

Psalm 95 – The World is the Lord’s

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.  

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And the heights of the mountains are His;  

For the sea is His, and He made it,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And His hands formed the dry land.  

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.   (Psalm 95:1-7)

Called to the Abundant Light

“Whereas the old law proclaimed that God was the Maker and Lord of heaven, and laid down God-pleasing ordinances for those under the law, it did not give any promise of heavenly benefits, nor did it offer communion with God, or an eternal, heavenly, inheritance to those who obeyed it. But once Christ the King of all had visited us in the flesh ‘to call sinners,’ as He says Himself, ‘to repentance’ (Matt 9:13), there were greater rewards for those who obeyed and repented, and, through works of repentance, ordered their lives according to Christ’s gospel, keeping the holy commandments it contains.

Nor were these rewards simply greater, but also incomparably more excellent.

For what was promised was

the kingdom of heaven,

light without evening,

heavenly adoption as sons,

celestial dwellings,

and a divine and eternal way of life,

and even more than this:

for we shall be ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17), and ‘I am come,’ says the Lord, ‘that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly’ (cf. John 10:10).

These are not resounding but empty phrases, nor just a litany of vain words, but an account of the unchanging things actually stored up as prizes for those who believe and live according to Christ.”

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p. 445)

The Miracle of God’s Mercy

As Jesus sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’ [Hosea 6:6].  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:10-13)

St. John Damascene (d 780AD) composed an evening prayer in which he wonderfully expressed the joy and hope of Christians experiencing the grace of God’s salvation:

It is not wonderful if You have mercy upon the pure;

and it is not a great thing if You save the righteous,

but show the wonders of Your mercy upon me, a sinner!