Ezekiel 33:11

Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11; see also Ezekiel 18:31-32)

St. Romanos the Melodist offers us Christian insight into Ezekiel‘s prophetic words:

“Now I shall make all known to you and I shall prophesy to you, All-Holy, unblemished.

For fall and resurrection,

your Son is set, the life and the redemption and the resurrection of all.

The Lord has not appeared so that some may fall while others rise,

for the All-Compassionate does not rejoice at the fall of mortals.

Nor has he now come to make those who stand fall,

but rather he is here hastening to raise those who have fallen,

ransoming from death what he himself fashioned,

the only lover of mankind.

(On the Life of Christ: Kontakia, p. 31)

And from the desert fathers we find a very motherly and earthy understanding of the Ezekiel prophecy:

A brother asked Abba Macarius, “My father, I have fallen into a transgression.” Abba Macarius said to him, “It is written, my son, ‘I do not desire the death of a sinner as much as his repentance and his life’ [see 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9].

Repent, therefore, my son; you will see him who is gentle, our Lord Jesus Christ, his face full of joy towards you, like a nursing mother whose face is full of joy for her child when he raises his hands and his face up to her. Even if he is full of all kinds of uncleanness, she does not turn away from that bad smell and excrement but takes pity on him and lifts him up and presses him to her breast, her face full of joy, and everything about him is sweet to her. If, then, this created person has pity for her child, how much greater is the love of the creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, for us!   (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 269-279)

The unconditional love of a mother for her child is a most exquisite image of God’s love for us.  God is not repulsed by the filth of our sins but desires to embrace us with God’s eternal love if only we will allow ourselves to be so embraced.

Mothers Day and Myrrhbearing Women

Gospel: Mark 15:43-16:8

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.

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Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Christ is risen!

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Today in our Church we honor the Myrrhbearing Women who bravely went to the tomb of Christ to anoint His corpse.  Mark in his Gospel even gives us  their names: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, so we aren’t honoring “anonymous”, nameless women, but people well known to the Apostles, and who are all glorified as saints in our church.  They are named as the Women Disciples of the Lord.

3799994108_f25fae7a83_nAdditionally today, we have in America, Mother’s Day, and we are honoring our mothers, who gave birth to us and nurtured us in life.  One of the three Myrrhbearing Women Disciples of the Lord is also listed as Mother – her name happens also to be Mary.  We give thanks to you our mothers for all the beautiful things you have done for us, including giving us life.  Our mothers share in one of God’s own characteristics – being life-giving – in a way that we males cannot, so it is appropriate for us to recognize the godliness of women and to honor our mothers.

There is another woman disciple of the Lord that we know and she too happens to be named Mary, it is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha – she too is counted as one of the myrrhbearing women of the Gospels.  In John’s Gospel (11:1-2) we learn about this family:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

And we can read about Mary’s anointing of Jesus in Mark 14:3-10 –

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” And they reproached her.

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But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.

Jesus considered what Mary did for Him – anointing His body in preparation for His burial – to be a beautiful thing.  I’m sure Jesus would also have seen the Myrrhbearing Women coming to the tomb to anoint His corpse as a beautiful thing.  Especially considering that His male disciples were cowering behind locked doors afraid that they might be identified as His disciples if they showed their faces in public.

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When we look into the Scriptures we will see that the concept of “beauty” is related to many other ideas including that which is lovely, fair, desirable to the eyes, comely, befitting, pleasant, graceful, true, delightful, handsome, and godly.  Beauty is also connected to glory, splendor, being faithful, and loving.  That list in itself is joyous to think about.

In Scripture beauty comes from God, and beauty reveals God to us.  Beauty is joyful, wonderful, startling and glorious.  Beauty is something to be valued for its own sake.  We don’t value beauty because it makes us rich, rather it is prized simply because it is beautiful even when it gives profit to no one.  Beauty is noble, eternal and godly.

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The Myrrhbearing Women as they went to the tomb to do this beautiful act, knew nothing about the resurrection.  They only knew their Lord had been killed and that the authorities were threatening to harm anyone who followed Jesus.  So they represent to us courage, nobility, faith, hope and love even in the face of the threat of death.

We honor them for these virtues.  We all should be so virtuous and noble and courageous as these Women Disciples of the Lord.  In the face of death they don’t seek revenge or bring retaliation, they seek only that which is beautiful.

And we should consider whether we value such beauty in our lives.  Do we strive for this beauty that is related to courage, truth, love, nobility and virtue?

We might ask ourselves who are we more like from the Gospel lesson of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany.  Judas who was most concerned about money?  or Mary who is concerned about beauty, purity of heart and virtue?  Which are we striving for in our lives?  What do we really seek with our mind and strength?

Do we even bother to seek out this godly beauty in our lives, and do those beautiful things which benefit others but bring no benefit to ourselves?  or are we always thinking about what benefits me?   Do we teach our children the value of godly beauty or is our only concern that they grow up and be prosperous, powerful and successful?

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If we are to be disciples of Christ like these Women disciples who we honor as saints, then we need to have serious discussions within our families and with each other about virtue, beauty, truth, purity and all of these characteristics of God.

Too often instead we place power, wealth, success, pride, and fame as our highest ideals.  We crave being praised.  Too often in the modern world we want to debate the roles of power and authority in the life of the church.  But Christ taught us that such arguments belong to the non-believers (Luke 22:25-26).  For us the discussion is not who is the greatest, but how can we serve one another and serve the Lord?

Jesus taught us to wash one another’s feet, and these Women Disciples of the Lord are going to the tomb to wash the body of Jesus.  The men disciples who debated as to which of them was the greatest are all cowardly hiding at this moment.  So which of these people – the women or the men – show themselves to be true disciples of Christ?

Christ’s Women Disciples witness to us about self-sacrifice, altruism, service, truth, nobility, charity, purity, courage and beauty.

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The Myrrhbearng Women reveal to us the more perfect, healthy, spiritual and beautiful way.  God created beauty and set eternity in our hearts.   As the Psalmist sings:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD…   (Psalms 27:4)

Those Women Disciples of the Lord remind me about a hospital for children which I once read about.  The hospital didn’t see the children just as patients but also as healers of themselves and others.  The children were not viewed as victims needing professional help, but as people capable of healing others.  The hospital’s motto:  “If you can help somebody else, you are not disabled.

In the Church we are not merely the walking wounded or the spiritually sick, we are able to show concern and care for others – we are not disabled.   We are here to serve, no matter what our condition or what we feel about ourselves or of how much we need to repent.  You are not disabled because you are able to help somebody else.  We are here to be as courageous as the women disciples of the Lord and serve those who are in need.

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Which brings me back to the fact that while all of us are called to serve one another , diakonia – to be deacons, we are especially remembering today our mothers who often are a great example of self-sacrificing service to others.  Mothers not only sacrifice their lives and time for their children and husbands, but they also have special opportunity for being evangelists in their families.  In that way they are certainly Women Disciples of the Lord.  For it is the Myrrhbearing Women who tell the Disciples about the resurrection.  And often it is our mothers who who pray for us their children.  There is a saying in the Church that the prayers of mothers is the foundation of households.  May God bless all of your our mothers with courage, faith, hope and love.  May we all follow the example of the Women Disciples of the Lord.

The Myrrhbearing Women Seeking the Lord

There are some, Dearly Beloved, who seem to be seeking the Lord, but since they are slothful, and strangers to virtue, they do not deserve to find Him; nor, when found, to see Him. What however were these holy women seeking at the tomb, if not the Body of the Lord Jesus? And you, what is it you are seeking in the Church if not Jesus, that is, the Savior? But if you wish to find Him, the sun being now risen, then come as these women came; that is, let there be no darkness of evil in your hearts; for the desires of the flesh, and works that are evil, are darkness. They in whose hearts there is darkness of this kind see not like light, and understand not Christ; for Christ is the Light.

Therefore, drive the darkness from you, brethren; that is, all sinful desires, and all evil works, and provide yourselves with sweet spices, that is earnest prayer, saying with the psalmist: Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in thy sight (Ps. cxl. 2).

(St Ambrose, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, p. 218)

The Presence and the Present of the Resurrection

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”  (John 11:21-27)

“Martha placed the resurrection at the last day; she changed it into a matter of the most distant future, and without immediate interest.  So she thought that Lazarus had been forever lost from her sight, but the Lord directed Martha’s thoughts to the present, and especially to His own presence.  In the person of the Lord Martha had the whole amazing fact of the resurrection and life.  Therefore, her confidence in the dogma of the future resurrection had to be replaced with confidence in Christ, who was even then present.  The meaning of the revelation which He made to Martha is as follows:  Do not dream of an unending age of silence, lethargy, isolation, inserted between the present and the last day, but learn that through me the resurrection is transferred from the future to the present; through me, life continues.  Beyond the tomb there is no lethargy, silence darkness, or unconsciousness, but life in me.  The resurrection and the life is stored up, like a treasure, in me.   . . . So now to Martha,  who was longing for her brother, whom death had snatched away, and whose resurrection she imagined to be in the unfathomable depths of the ages, He answers: “I am the resurrection.”  In Christ the resurrection exists both potentially and actually, and in Him we find everything which the deepest needs of our existence require in this life, and in the life after death.

I am the life.” I am the fountain of life.  In spite of the fact that Lazarus died and his body had already begun to decay inside the tomb – in spite of that – he was living, because his soul had been joined to the Fountain of life, to Christ; by faith and love, he had already been resurrected to new life; he had become a partaker of undying life.  It follows that the resurrection and the life of Lazarus as with everyone who believes in Christ, is the present one in Christ.  Through birth, parents transmit life to their children, but life which is temporary, corruptible, and sinful.  “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” the Lord said to Nicodemus (John 3:6).  But the life which Christ transmits to those who have been born again through Him, is another.  He transmits the life which is similar to His, not corruptible and sinful, but foreign to sin, immune to death, and thus eternal.  “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).  It follows that he who has Christ in his heart, possesses the true life; he possesses it now, a present possession and not a future gift.”

(Archimandrite Seraphim Papakostas, FOR THE HOURS OF PAIN, pp 95-97)

Our Prayers to the Crucified Christ

Sometimes we find in our lives a need to cry out with Jesus in desperation: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) and then we know with Jesus that despite human appearances, God is with us, even in tragedy, suffering and death.

At other times, meaning in tragedy can only be found in saying with Jesus: “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)  and then we trust God that His forgiveness, mercy and love will somehow and miraculously make right and whole that which had been destroyed or at least that God will forgive us for our willingness to destroy the Good.

Still there are other times when we come to understand the suffering and evil have no power over Jesus Christ our Lord, nor do they have ultimate power over any of us who are united in Christ.  We may suffer, but we realize the suffering is only in this world and is temporary for Christ has overcome the world.

We have been on a long spiritual sojourn together have followed God into the desert of Great Lent, and walked with Christ into Jerusalem to the cross.   We who have been baptized into Christ began a walk with Christ, that began right at the tomb of Christ.   We died with Christ in baptism – we came to his tomb, as St. Paul says:

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.  (Romans 6:3-5)

Baptism brings us to the tomb of Christ, where we die with Him in order to be raised with Him.   It is no accident that we are here, but is God’s own plan for us.  And we are here by our own choice – by accepting Christ’s call to discipleship.  And all of us who have chosen to follow Christ have received His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.   And what are we told about the Eucharist?

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:25-26)

Every time we drink the cup of Christ’s Blood, we proclaim His death, we end up at the tomb of Christ which also happens to be the fountain of the resurrection.   Christ’s own death is a significant part of our salvation.  We need to proclaim His death, we need to be at His tomb, to remind ourselves that our union with God comes in and through the death of God’s only-begotten son, Jesus Christ.

Our long Lenten pilgrimage has brought us to the tomb of Christ.  And here we remember all that Christ has done for us, and how He was willing to suffer for us and die for us.  But the tomb is not meant to be a shrine that we stay at and adore.

Because at the tomb of Christ we also hear the angel tell us, what?

He is not here!  He is risen! (Matthew 28:6)

The death of Christ which we personally experience in baptism and proclaim at every Eucharist and which is essential to our salvation, is still not our destination – if we want to be with Christ He is not at His tomb.  For we know now that Christ is sending us out into the world to live the resurrection and to share this good news with everyone we might meet.  The tomb of Christ it turns out is another sign of the Kingdom of Heaven, just like all the miracles Christ performed.  The tomb of Christ is telling us to continue our spiritual sojourn, to go out and live in the world, but live in the light of the resurrection.

St Thomas: Faith and Seeing

Origen reminds his readers that doubting Thomas is not the only model of faith in the Scriptures. Faith is more than believing what was not seen with the eyes. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Happy are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear‘ (Matt. 13:16). His saying suggests that those who have seen with the eyes are happy, not just those who believed without seeing. Was not Simeon happy, asks Origen, when he saw the Christ child and “held God’s salvation in his arms.” Did he not say, ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation’ (Luke 2:29-30). Origen concludes that ‘faith complemented by vision is far superior to faith through a mirror.’ The disciples who saw Jesus alive after his death knew him by faith even though they could see him with their eyes.”  (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 179)

“The physical evidence that Thomas is invited to inspect is only a beginning, but, in human terms, perhaps an essential beginning for many on the road to faith. St. John the Theologian begins his first epistle by restating this evidence and its ultimate purpose: ‘That which was from the beginning, which we heard, which we saw with our eyes, which we observed, and which our hands touched, concerning the Word of Life…what we saw and heard we announced to you so that you might have fellowship with us as we have fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ’ (I Jn. 1.1-3), author’s translation).

The faith of Thomas was not born from a purely objective examination of empirical evidence. It could only emerge from the interface between a conscious acknowledgement of the evidence and an interaction between persons made initially possible through the senses. For the faith spoken so eloquently in Thomas’s declaration to Christ is not the affirmation of an idea or a fact, but a commitment of absolute trust in a Person. It is the necessary element, the sine qua non, for the journey toward union with the unknowable God, who yet through a relationship with his incarnate Word can be known.” (Daniel B. Hinshaw, Touch and the Healing of the World, p. 111)

One Week Later

35073055991_e5ce1754ceThen, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.   (John 20:19-31)

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The celebration of the Resurrection is always a wonderful event, a foretaste of the Kingdom of God which is to come.  But there is a reality that Pascha does not end all of life’s problems, nor resolve all of them, nor does it necessarily make them more tolerable.  At midnight on Pascha we leave the safety of the church and go into the darkness of the night, into the world as it is without light.  Yet we rejoice, though darkness is all around us we are carrying the Light of Christ within us.  That Light of Christ shines and the darkness does not overcome it.  The night becomes resplendent with the singing about Christ being risen from the dead.  The Light which shone when God first spoke the universe into existence continues to shine in our hearts and lives.  For that Light is Christ.

The full glory of God’s Kingdom is yet to be revealed, but now we thank God that we can experience here and now the great joy of the resurrection.  Now we know of God’s victorious power and His great plan for our salvation.

The Kingdom of Heaven is breaking into our lives, but the world too continues to press in on our lives.  On the day of the resurrection, the Apostle Thomas already doubted the truth of Christ.   On Pascha Sunday, according to St Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples were filled with joy at meeting our Lord risen from the dead, “though some doubted” (Matthew 28:17)  On the very day that Christ rose from the dead, already some of Christ’s most ardent faithful are already in doubt!  The world continued intruding into their joy, hopes and dreams – and though they know the Good News, one week after the resurrection, they are still cowering in a room behind locked doors.

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Despite the resurrection, the disciples are still afraid of dying.  The world has not gone away and has not ended.  The Kingdom of God has not come in all its power.  They and we continue to have to cope with a fallen world and manage our lives in this fallen world.

The Apostles don’t conclude that the resurrection is not real or that they were mistaken in thinking they saw Jesus living, but the truth presents the fact that there is mystery in life.  God’s ways are not our ways, and we have a hard time grasping His Truth.   The world continually presses in on us.  Christ has overcome the world, but He has not called us out of this world but rather to be a light to the world (John 17:15-16)

Here we are one week after celebrating the resurrection of Christ, and a few vestiges remain of our celebration – some flowers remain, but many have faded.  So too some of those who joined us for Pascha have also faded away.  One week after proclaiming the resurrection of Christ from the dead, we have already returned back to normal time.  Life goes on.

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And one week after Pascha, Thomas is still doubting the fact of the resurrection.   Thomas’ doubt however is sometimes called blessed  by some Church Fathers because it is reasonable, based on experience.  It is doubt based in the fact that the dead do not come back to life. It is doubt based in fact and in fact is our doubt.  We realize how hard it is to convince anyone else about why we believe in Christ and the resurrection.

The real world is relentless and rushes by pushing into the distant past the good news and placing new pressures on the disciples, problems, some old and some new, which must be faced.  The 10 disciples who saw Christ risen from the dead on that first day of the week can’t even convince their fellow disciple, Thomas, that what they had seen is real and true.

The promise of the resurrection is not that our life will be easy, nor that our life will be free of problems, worries, troubles.  The resurrection does not make it any easier to love one another, nor does it mean all believers will now be wonderfully loving to you.  The Kingdom of God is breaking into the world and into our lives and yet it is still not fully realized.

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The promise of the resurrection does not spare us trouble or sorrow, but offers us hope in the day of our trouble and sorrow.   Bearing the cross of Christ, which we agreed to do as Christ’s disciples, is not the way to avoid difficulties in this world, nor is it the road to prosperity.  Rather the Cross reminds us that our hope is still beyond this world and our hope is that this world is only a small part of the total reality of God’s Kingdom.  There is a far bigger picture of which we are part, and reality itself, like the entire universe, is far bigger than we are able to comprehend or envision.    Christ makes us part of that greater Kingdom.  We can only live in the Light of the Resurrection by also facing the darkness of Good Friday and the Cross of Christ.

[Physicists speak of dark energy and dark matter which are invisible to us and yet make up most of what exists in the universe.  Dark energy makes up 68% of what exists in the universe, and dark matter makes up 27% of the universe, which means the visible universe as vast as it is and which exists almost entirely beyond our grasp is still only 5% of all that exists.  The Kingdom of God is much the same it constitutes far more time and space than all that has ever existed, and we only know an extremely small part of it.  Planet earth, the only place in the universe we have lived, is a tiny part of the entire universe, and that universe is but a tiny part of the Kingdom of God.]

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The world is awash with problems, but it is God who remains both a compass to us through the stormy sea of life and who is our destination, our safe harbor to whom we are sojourning.  In God we find meaning and purpose to all that we experience and realize that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Christ is risen!       This was a fact the Apostles could not deny, but now they are faced with figuring out how do they live in this world which basically is unchanged by the good news.

The disciples have been changed by the Gospel, but the world is the same old world.  And after celebrating Pascha, the resurrection of Christ, we too are faced with the task of returning to the world to live the Gospel and to be a light to all those still in darkness.  The resurrection of Christ should mean that we see the world differently in His Light, and we live differently because now we live not just for this world but for life in the world to come.

Bright Saturday (2019)

Bright Saturday

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

St. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

“‘Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness, and there the blessed Paul partook of supernatural nourishment. When he tasted there of the tree of life, he cried out, saying “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” Adam was barred from this tree through the devil’s counsel. The tree of life is the love of God from which Adam fell away…When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread…The heavenly bread is Christ, Who came down from Heaven and gave life to the world..Therefore the man who lives in love reaps life from God, and while yet in this world, he even now breathes the air of the resurrection; in this air the righteous will delight in the resurrection.

The torment of gehenna, in Isaac’s vision, is constituted by a human person’s inability to participate in the love of God. This does not mean that sinners in gehenna are deprived of the love of God. On the contrary, this love is given to everyone equally, both to the righteous and to sinners. But for the former it becomes a source of delight and blessedness in paradise; for the latter it is a source of torment:

I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways. It torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend. But it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”

(Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, p. 279-280)

 

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)