Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

On the 7th Sunday of Pascha we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.  [2018 Sermon notes]

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Note:  it is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, not of the decisions of the Fathers or the decisions of the Council.  The focus is on the people involved in the Council .       Christ did not come to reveal dogma, but to unite all of us humans to God.  The Fathers of the Council wrestled with finding a vocabulary with which to express this truth, but what is even more important is they were writing about what they experienced in Christ.

Love – the main teaching of Christ is about people.     Our goal as Christians is to be united to Christ, not just follow some rubrics or rules or regulations.

Tone 4 Troparion (Ascension)
You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, granting joy to Your Disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing, they were assured, that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world!

Christ’s brings joy to His disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples benefit from the blessing.  Christ is oriented toward those who love Him, toward those who follow Him, to the people of God, the Church.  His focus is not doctrine or buildings but people, the people He wishes to unite to the Holy Trinity – to us!

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Tone 8 Troparion (Fathers)
You are most glorious, O Christ our God! You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth. Through them You have guided us to the true Faith. O greatly compassionate One, glory to You!

Christ establishes the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth – not their doctrines.  It is the Fathers that guide us to the true faith, not their decisions.  Very people focused.

In the Epistle, St. Paul is worried about “the flock” – the people of God – and he warns the leadership about impending problems that require them to deal with and protect the people, the Body of believers.  He is warning them about the destructive false teachings, but his concern is the believers themselves.

Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Paul said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

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Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock – pay attention to people.  The elders are overseers and shepherds of the flock – the people.  We are not to make rubrics or rules more important than the flock.  Doesn’t mean that rubrics or doctrines are unimportant, but that the focus has to be the membership, the people.  The troubles that will arise are also from the members!  We need to pay attention to the members.

Finally, we have the Gospel lesson in which it is clear that Jesus is also concerned about His followers, His disciples, about all of us in the Church.

Gospel: John 17:1-13
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

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I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.

Christ’s concern is that we might know God.  For Him, knowing God means experiencing eternal life.  Any concern about right doctrine is a concern about our really experiencing God as God reveals Himself to us.  It is ultimately a concern about us, that we might fully experience what God is offering to us.  And Christ wished that we might experience the oneness, the unity, the love that is shared by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The concern about Church unity and Church doctrine is focused on us, our salvation, our experience of the blessed Trinity.  It is all about God’s love for us.

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Imaging Washington, D.C.

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I took a few days off to visit my son in Washington, D.C.  (Above – the Washington Monument as seen from the National Museum of  African American History.)

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Sometimes we get the impression that the only thing going on in D.C. is political scandals and divisive polarity.  But as seen above, in art, everyone can get along – political opponents as well as the living and the dead!

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But D.C. is also home to many people, and has interesting neighborhoods which offer many amenities not available in my hometown.

39031520052_7bb867241e It has fantastic museums and restaurants.  (Above, “Drift” by Matthias Pilessnig at the Renwick.  OK, maybe too hard to imagine, but I liked it the first time I saw it several years ago.)  (Below, the ceiling at the White House Visitor’s Center, which is rich in history, but doesn’t get the attention it deserves).

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Of note on this visit, we went to the National Museum of  African American History.  Honestly, I think every American should visit this museum.  Especially for those who feel America is the greatest country on earth.  That greatness – specifically the vast wealth of our nation – was originally built upon the blood of the slaves – the nation would not have attained its power and wealth without the evil of slavery.  There is an inestimable debt owed all those slaves who died to make America great.  They planted the seeds but never got to eat the fruit of America’s greatness or prosperity. The Orthodox Church claims to be built on the blood of the martyrs – America was built on the blood of the slaves (I’m not taking anything away from the patriots who fought a war for Independence –  but they too benefited from the institution of slavery.)

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The building looked to me like the bows of ships, slave ships to be exact, but the gold color of the building made me realize the cargo was gold – but only to the slave masters and their families.  The slaves were not given their share of the wealth for they were not even valued as human beings.

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The museum portrays the true “Paradox of Liberty” – while the leaders of the colonies were declaring freedom and independence for themselves, they were enslaving an entire people, and didn’t want to see the inconsistency in their thinking.  They were happy for the chance to become wealthy while enslaving others to maintain their lifestyles.  For me, the museum was emotionally painful – to note the human willingness to sacrifice others because of greed.  A sinful and shameful way of life by people claiming to be Christian.  We cannot be a Christian nation as long as the shadow of slavery and racism darkens our hearts.  Christ told us to “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).  We would be a Christian nation if we did that.  Below, a cross from a slave’s grave.  Christ said we have to take up the cross in order to follow Him.

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A little political (or photographic) trickery for those who embrace their end of  the country’s political polarity.  Note in the first photo below the Christmas tree is the right of the Capitol dome:

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But wait, now it is to the left of the Capitol dome:

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And now it has disappeared:

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My prayer is that we believers will stop looking at the faith through polarity of the political right and left and instead will view politics through the eyes of Christ.  We are to pray for our political leaders (1 Timothy 2:2), but we also remember Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

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You can view all of my photos from this year’s visit to D.C. at Washington, D.C. 2017.  (Above, a hall in the Smithsonian Castle).  There are a couple of older collections of photos at Washington DC 2015  , Washington 2013, Washington 2012 , Washington 2010 and Washington 2008.   It helps in visiting D.C. to have a son who is a long time resident and a Smithsonian docent.

 

Keeping Christmas: Being Bad or Good

Sermon notes 12/3/2017 – preparing for Christmas

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Focus on one idea from the Gospel lesson:  Luke 18:18-27
Jesus tells the rich ruler: “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the rich man heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich

While we tend to assume that the rich man became sorrowful because he was being asked to give up his wealth, but his grief arises immediately after Jesus tells the rich man to follow Him.

All of us who are at the Liturgy have received the invitation from Christ to follow Him.  This is for us the very meaning of Christmas, it is time for us to follow Christ.  And just like with the rich man, it is possible that the thought of following Him might cause us grief because we too might not want to have to give anything up.  Jesus said we cannot serve God and mammon/money, yet many American Christians think that we can.  We want prosperity in this world – at no spiritual cost – AND we want the Kingdom of God in the afterlife.  We imagine we can pursue all that this world has to offer now, and then, only much later in life should we think about the Kingdom of God, because we will in any case still inherit the Kingdom no matter how we lived on earth.  But the rich man in today’s Gospel realized he had to choose between the two and he wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice.

We can think about St. Paul’s comments in Ephesians 5:1-21 to get a sense of what St. Paul thought following Christ meant.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

St. Paul uses the phrase “to walk” several times in this passage.  To follow Christ is to walk with Him.  We are to walk in love, walk in light and walk in wisdom.  We are to imitate Christ who taught us:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

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Christmas means to imitate Christ.

But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

According to historians, there were pagans in the First Century who really admired the Jews and the Christians for their morality, especially their sexual morality.  There was plenty of sexual freedom in the Roman Empire, especially for those who had money.   They could have whatever sex they could afford.  And yet, some were attracted to the restraint and purity of Jews and Christians.  Sexual freedom and license did not give the philosophers the ideal human.    Some Hellenic Philosophers called for sexual restraint as a way to a more spiritual life.  These folk were attracted to Christianity.   Sexual license did not lead to human fulfillment.   People admired the Christians because their morality was stricter than societal norms.  People didn’t say: “Look at those Christians, they sin more than we do, let’s join them.”  Rather, they looked at the Christians and noted their self restraint and willingness to sacrifice and deny the self, and they were attracted to the self denial and self giving.  They saw the Christians who were willing to die for the faith, to die in order to preserve their moral purity.  AND Christianity grew.

Kristin LIn Sigrid Undset’s wonderful trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter (for which she won the Nobel Prize), the young Kristin leads a sheltered Christian lifestyle in rural 14th Century Norway.  As a teenager she wants to break tradition and choose her own path in life.  She is sent to a convent where, wanting to justify her own (mis-)behavior, she ceases to see the Gospel as establishing a norm of behavior and instead begins to compare herself to the sinners living around her.  She is able to justify more and more of her own misbehavior by comparing herself to others (“I’m not as bad as some…”) while ceasing to compare herself to Christ, the Virgin or the Saints.  As her standard of comparison falls, so does her own morality.   She feels ever more justified in judging others while justifying herself, losing completely any foundation for moral thinking.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

St. Paul teaches us to follow Christ, means to follow a standard in moral behavior, especially sexual behavior.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

St. Paul teaches that being a Christian means not only seeing the Light, but becoming the Light.  Jesus said to His disciples: “You are the light of the world…”  (Matthew 5:14).

St. Paul doesn’t say, “once you were in darkness…”  but rather “once you were darkness“.  Being a Christian means moving away from darkness in any and all of its forms, and moving into the Light and all its manifestations.  To follow Christ is not merely to see the Light, but to participate in it, to become the light.

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To follow Christ is a transformation from darkness to light, to live the morally pure life.

Therefore it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

Christ is going to give us light – we can receive it from Him.  First we have to awaken.  It is not the Light which awakens us, but rather once we spiritually and morally wake up, only then can we receive the Light.

The days are evil – St. Paul writes this in the 1st Century.  Believers have always felt this way about the world we are trying to navigate through.  Evil times are not something new.  The world is not becoming evil, evil has been with us since the beginning of Christianity.  But we are not to despair because of this, but rather are to make “the most of the time“!

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

Folly is a sin.   We need to be mindful of that.

Drunkenness may be socially acceptable and popular entertainment, it may be the most common way to deal with stress or to celebrate success.  It is not approved behavior for the Christian.

Christmas means walking with Christ, which means walking in the Light, being the Light, instead of cursing the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”   (John 1:5)

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And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  (John 3:19)

I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.  (John 12:46)

The Sabbath is a Rest from Sin not from Love

According to Luke 13:10-17, Jesus confronted by a synagogue ruler regarding Sabbath laws, confronts the ruler with what the Sabbath is meant to be.

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Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

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But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

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Jean Danielou notes Jesus taught a very particular understanding of Sabbath rules and rejected common ideas about the Sabbath held by Jewish leaders.

The other element in the Sabbath is the idea of rest (anapausis). Here also we find a primary typology in the Old Testament, consisting in a spiritualization of this idea of rest. In the prophets, and especially in Isaias, we find the statement repeated by the Fathers of the Church, that the true Sabbath, the true anapausis, is not to cease from physical work, but to cease from sinning. “The new moons and the Sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide, your assemblies are wicked…cease to do perversely, learn to do well…” (Is. 1:13-19). And this passage is the more important because, as we shall see presently, the teaching of Christ is its exact extension. This spiritualization of the idea of the Sabbath rest, which does not, obviously, exclude the idea of the actual practice of the Sabbath, is found again in Philo, transformed by its platonic setting, when he sees in the Sabbath the symbol of the soul “that rests in God and gives itself no more to any mortal work.”

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The Jews of the time of Christ, in their exaltation of the Sabbath, thought that God Himself was subject to it. We find such an idea expressed in the Book of Jubilees (II, 16). The word of Christ formally condemns the application to God of the Sabbath rest understood as idleness. In God there is no idleness; but His activity which, as St. Clement of Alexandria says, is identical with His love, is exercised without ceasing. And this is of great importance: the idleness, otium, of the Sabbath appears henceforth as a literal and inferior notion, giving room for seeking its spiritual meaning. The Fathers of the Church used this text to condemn the Sabbath rest by showing that it is not the law of the universe and that Christianity is the reality of which this idleness is the figure. Origen, using the same text of St. John, writes: “He shows by this that God does not cease to order the world on any Sabbath of this world. The true Sabbath, in which God will rest from all His works, will, therefore be the world to come. The working of Christ is seen to be the reality which comes to replace the figurative idleness of the Sabbath.”   (The Bible and the Liturgy, pp. 224 & 227)

 

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2017)

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Meditation on the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple.  So much of the imagery of the Feast and of the hymnology involves a mutual and mysterious indwelling between creation and Creator.  Humanity enters into the full presence of God, as God prepares to enter into humanity.

The Virgin Mary, who is to be the dwelling place of God, enters into the Temple, the place where God dwells.  There is a mystery of co-indwelling, God in God’s creation and God’s creation in God.

The Virgin comes to dwell in the temple to prepare herself for God to dwell in her.

The Theotokos enters the Temple to be in God’s presence, yet  God enters the Theotokos and becomes present in her.

In God we live, move and have our being.

In the world we find God’s Temple.

The Ark is in the Temple.

The Tablets/ God’s Word is in the Ark.

The Virgin is the Ark.

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God the Word is in the Theotokos

The Virgin is in the Temple

The Temple is in the world.

God is in the world.

What Was Christ’s Love Like?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-9)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:35-39)

St. Maria of Paris writes:

What was Christ’s love like?  Did it withhold anything? Did it observe or measure its own spiritual gifts? What did it regret? Where was it ever stingy? Christ’s humanity was spit upon, struck, crucified. Christ’s divinity was incarnate fully and to the end in his spit-upon, battered, humiliated and crucified humanity. The Cross — an instrument of shameful death — has become for the world a symbol of self-denying love. And at no time nor place — neither from Bethlehem to Golgotha, neither in sermons nor parables, nor in the miracles he performed — did Christ ever give any occasion to think that he did not sacrifice himself wholly and entirely for the salvation of the world, that there was in him something held back, some “holy of holies” which he did not want to offer or should not have offered.

He offered his own “holy of holies,” his own divinity, for the sins of the world, and this is precisely wherein lies his divine and perfect love in all its fullness. (Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, pp. 179-180)

Parables: Many Faceted Stories

6248333844_fff10d033f_mThere was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 

 

8270092319_af5d79afc2_mBut Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”   Luke 16:19-31

Through the 2000 year history of Orthodoxy, many sermons have been preached on the Gospel parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  The sermons have taken into account the time and place in which the sermon is given – using the Gospel lesson to shape a pertinent message to those listening to the Gospel.  We encounter one such interpretation of the parable in a hymn from the last Wednesday of Great Lent.  It is a message meant for monks in a monastery – people who have given up all claims to personal possession and sot social status.  The parable is interpreted allegorically – it is not about opposing the rich to the poor but rather it is about “me”.  For each monk is called upon to see themselves like the rich man – rich in the gifts from Christ – but poor like Lazarus, not in money but in spiritual understanding.  I made reference to this interpretation of the Gospel lesson in a previous blog, Rich in Passions or Poor in Sin? .  The Gospel is being proclaimed as the living Word of God, so it speaks to everyone who hears it, even those communities which have no distinction between rich and poor.

We could also see in the Gospel lesson how our blessings can blind us.  The rich man is satisfied with his life, fat and happy.  He feels blessed but because of this he sees little need to pay attention to the world beyond his household, or even beyond the table at which he sits eating sumptuously.  The poor Lazarus is right at his door step, but the rich man has no reason to take notice of him.  he is blinded by his blessings.  It is something we Americans might want to think about.  We too can be blinded by our prosperity, good fortune, possessions and blessings, thinking we are favored by God.  In fact, we sing: America, God she His grace on thee.  Exactly like the rich man, blind to the bigger picture of the world around him, or the smaller picture of the insignificant beggar lying neglected at his gate.

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The Gospel lesson reminds us that life in this world is not all there is to our human life.  There is the world which is to come.  Abraham speaks even fondly to the rich man suffering in Hades:  ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’  Abraham tells the rich man, you had a blessed life on earth, but guess what that isn’t all there is to life.  Life on earth is only a small part of the big picture.  We like the rich man can be so absorbed with this life that we totally ignore that we will continue life in the world to come, and that life is not going to be merely a continuation of this life – that life involves answering for this life.  The two lives are related, but connected by a judgment.  This world alone is not the total story of humanity.  There is life in the world to come, which is shaped by our life in this world.  Like the rich man we can decide we have enough or we want more of this life, so no need to think about any life beyond the grave.  However, life is more than one’s possessions.  If we have been paying attention, we’ve heard Jesus say:  (Luke 12:23)  –  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.   If we live for this world alone, we will wake up one day and realize we are some place we don’t want to be, and the chance to change that condition lies in the past, back on earth which we no longer can access.  

I’ve heard it said that there is a saying attributed to the monks of Mt Athos  which says,   to enter into eternity, you must be able to see eternity in the eyes of another human – your neighbor, brother or sister, or in the eyes of a stranger.   This of course requires that we have the eyes to see our neighbors, family members, fellow parishioners, or strangers. And not only do we have to take notice of them, but we have to look into their eyes, to really see who they are and how heaven is visible in their eyes.    Otherwise, we are just the rich man of the parable, self absorbed in our own good enough lives, basking in what we think are our riches, enjoying our life while ignoring the chance to see eternity because we blind ourselves to others all around us.  Ignoring the salvation which God is revealing to us in the people around us, we are the rich man satisfied with our own life and so cut ourselves off from others and their sorrows, needs and suffering.  To see eternity in the eyes of another, we have to notice others exist and be open to seeing eternity in them.  The rich man was oblivious to eternity laying at his door step – the beggar Lazarus.  How often God puts people in our lives for no reason but to give us opportunity to see eternity in their eyes.  If we don’t want to be bothered by them, we lose the gift God has laid at our doorsteps.

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Remember, St. John says in his epistle:  If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.  (1 John 4:20-21)

The life of every Christian is both defined by the Gospel, and is also a retelling of the Gospel.   The people of the world often have no access to the Gospel other than how it is narrated through our lives.  They aren’t going to pick up a bible to see what’s in it.  They are going to look at us and are going to read us to know what our God is like.

The poor Lazarus looks to the rich man to see if God is real, good and kind.  The rich man can live Torah, can care for his fellow human and show that poor man that despite his poverty and suffering, God is good and God is real.

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The world looks to us to see what God is like, to encounter the Gospel.  That Word of God has to be written on our hearts, and our lives are the voice enhanced ereaders, narrating to others what is written on our hearts.  God has called us to be a light to the world, to show the Gospel to others by how we live.

Prayer for the Peace of the Whole World

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Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people on the earth. Guide, I pray, all the nations and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Protect us from the evils of injustice, prejudice, exploitation, conflict and war.

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Help us to put away mistrust, bitterness and hatred. Teach us to cease the storing and using of implements of war. Lead us to find justice, peace and freedom.  Unite us in the making and sharing of tools of peace against ignorance, poverty, disease and oppression.

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Grant that we may grow in harmony and friendship as brothers and sisters created in Your image, to Your honor and praise. Amen.

(My Orthodox Prayer Book, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Kindle Location 824-834)

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The Cheerful Giver is the Righteous Human

24319325696_77e0508aea_nIn the Epistle lesson of 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, St. Paul describes the generous giver, which turns out to be for him identical with a truly righteous person.   His words are something for all believers to consider, for often Christians think of the righteous person as an upright person who avoids sinning and chooses a virtuous way of life.  St. Paul reminds everyone that to truly be righteous one needs to know how to be charitable, generous and cheerful about the giving.  St. Paul’s words are to a large extent him quoting, paraphrasing and/or echoing Old Testament texts.  It is in the Scripture he uses that we really see how St. Paul is describing that the righteous person is a generous person.  Below are St. Paul’s words with the Old Testament texts interspersed to who what he had in mind:

But this I say: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

Proverbs 22:8-9 in the Septuagint reads:
God blesses a cheerful and generous man . . . He who has compassion over the poor will himself be nourished, because he gave his own food to the poor.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.

While God is able to make all grace abound, St. Paul quotes a text (Psalm 112) that refers not to God but to the righteous person:

Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house; and his righteousness endures for ever. Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the LORD is gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever. He is not afraid of evil tidings; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. His heart is steady, he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire on his adversaries. He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked man comes to nought.

The Lord is gracious, merciful and righteous, but the righteous person is the one who “deals generously and lends“, who gives freely to the poor and needy.  The righteous is not just interested in avoiding sin, the truly righteous is like God in being generous, kind and merciful.  The righteous person isn’t the one who gnashes his teeth when thinking about sinners, but rather is benevolent and hospitable to those who lack clothing, food, or who are homeless or exiles or strangers or refugees.  It is the person who gives to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, not the person who judges sinners.

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Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness,

The Prophet Isaiah proclaims (55:6-12) :

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Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

God is abundantly merciful and forgiving – God’s mercy are the seeds Go plants in us to accomplish God’s own will.  God’s Word, in Orthodoxy that surely means Jesus Christ, comes into our lives to change us into the human beings God wishes us to be.  Christ tells us to love others as He has loved us.  We are not just to hold onto Christ’s teachings to purify ourselves, we are to bring forth the fruits of repentance, to be able to offer back to God an abundant harvest through our imitation of Christ’s love and mercy.

while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

Proverbs 11:24-28 offers us this wisdom:
One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.  A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it. He who trusts in his riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.

Those who are generous, charitable, hospitable, benevolent, merciful and kind are the very people who are rich in God and will receive the Lord’s blessings – becoming enriched by God.  Not gathering in more possessions, but being blessed in giving all the more.

34358292054_143cd83080_nAnd Jesus said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:15-21)