Walking Humbly 

Christ is risen! 

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I have declared to you, O man, what is good; or what does the Lord require of you, except to do justice, and love mercy, and be ready to walk humbly with the Lord your God? For the Lord shall be exalted in strength, and shall tend His flock in peace, even to the ends of the earth.  (Micah 6:8) 

The Prophet Micah tells us that what the Lord requires of us day to day is that we “do justice, and love mercy, and be ready to walk humbly with the Lord.” We are not only to be merciful, but we are to love mercy. Mercy is to be our default mode of thinking and acting. It should bring us joy to be merciful—to show mercy to those around us, even if they don’t deserve it, for that is what we also ask from God for ourselves. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). If we want God’s mercy, we have to be merciful to those around us.  Remember Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant who after showing no mercy to a fellow servant has to pay his full debt to his forgiving and merciful master.

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We also are told to walk humbly with God, but what does this mean? St Isaac of Nineveh describes in detail what it is to be a humble person. This is what it takes to walk humbly with God: 

A humble man is never rash, hasty, or perturbed, never has any hot and volatile thoughts, but at all times remains calm. . . .  Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet. . . .  This is also what the meek and humble Lord meant when he said, ‘Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.‘ For the humble man is always at rest, because there is nothing which can agitate or shake his mind. . . . 

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Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderated voice; mean speech; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed toward the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistracted senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of a hatred for this temporal life; patient endurance of trials; deliberations that are ponderous, not light; extinction of thoughts; guarding of the mysteries of chastity; modesty; reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance.   (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES, p 349)

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Indeed, He is risen! 

Christ the Water-giving Rock (II)

 Christ is risen!

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This is the concluding post to Christ the Water-giving Rock.

In Exodus 17:1-7 and then again in Numbers 20:1-13, we encounter two stories the Israelites having escaped from Egypt finding themselves in a desert wasteland, totally thirsty and with no source of water to drink.  In both cases Moses is told to take his staff and strike a rock, and miraculously a fountain of water pours forth from the rock to satisfy a thirsty people.

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The two different stories both call the waters which came forth “Meribah” which caused ancient Jewish interpreters of Scripture to assume that it was the same rock in both places that Moses struck.   In Jewish tradition (the Targum), the rock which was a well of life-giving water was following the Israelites on their desert sojourn. The Jewish Midrash (ancient commentary) on Numbers 21:16-18, specifically connects the rock with a well that was moving and following the Israelites.  The Targum allegorically interprets these same verses to claim that the digging of the well means digging into the Torah.  Additionally because of the similarity in the Hebrew words for “well” (as a place to get water) and expound (as in explaining) – in Hebrew the words are cognates – Jewish tradition connected well with Torah and with the expounding (explaining) of Torah.

“It is interesting to note that in bar. Avot  6:1 (note: ancient Jewish commentary on Scripture) the person who concerns himself with Torah is likened to a flowing well: ‘And they reveal to him the secret meanings of the Torah, and he is made as a well that ever gathers force, and like a stream that never ceases.’” (James Aageson, in HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 167)

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The  Jews connected a flowing well to the person concerned with Torah, but Christ connects the flowing well to Himself. The wisdom of God and the Holy Sprit come to us from Christ.

Philo (d. ca 41AD), writing about the same time as St. Paul (d. ca 67AD), and accepting the Jewish tradition which equated Torah with Wisdom, writes about the rock which followed the Israelites in the desert exodus:  “Again Moses leads the song at the well, and this time his theme is not only the rout of the passions, but the strength invincible which can win the most beautiful of possessions, wisdom, which he likens to a well.  For wisdom lies deep below the surface and gives forth a sweet stream of true nobility for thirsty souls.”   (HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 167)

“We have now established that early in the development of this tradition a number of symbols have come together: the rock, well, Torah, digging the well, and wisdom.  In virtually all cases, the implication is clear: something life-giving – water, wisdom, Torah – flows to the people who need to be nourished and sustained.  … Torah, often identified with wisdom, signifies the means by which God gives life to the people, just as water from the rock gave them life in the wilderness.  Torah stands between God and the people, and it flows with life-giving nourishment.” (HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 168)

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It should be quite obvious that in Christianity Christ takes the place of Torah, doing for us all that the Jews believed Torah did for them.

“The association of the rock with the well and the rock with Torah, the identification of wisdom with Torah, and the concept of spiritual drink all combine to form a symbolic constellation that makes possible Paul’s connection of the rock and Christ.  In the symbolic transformation of the tradition, he has simply substituted Christ for the rock, which as he already knew represented Torah.  … Christ as the source of spiritual drink has assumed in a figurative sense the role of Torah.  For Paul, the messianic Jew, Christ is the means by which God’s life-sustaining drink is given to the people. … As the wandering Hebrews drank from the rock that followed them in the wilderness, and as the Jews were nourished by the life-giving waters of Torah, so now, claims Paul, the people partake of the Eucharistic drink of Christ who is identified as the rock of the biblical story.”  (pp 168-169)

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So in Orthodoxy the feasts of Mid-Pentecost and of Pentecost tie in theologically the Law/Torah with Christ who is the fulfillment and thus replacement of Torah.  Moses gave the Law, but with Christ comes the Holy Spirit.  Or as St John says in John 1:17 – “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”   And the Scripture readings of the Orthodox Church for these two Great Feasts have at their root and basis an interpretation of Scriptures rooted deeply in ancient Judaism.  Orthodoxy continues in an unbroken line proclaiming and liturgically celebrating the truth which God first made known through Torah, and which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

“The link between the rock and Christ – as it was between the rock, well, Torah, and wisdom – appears to be grounded in the notion of the wellspring through which God brings forth life to his people.  … we see the interplay between the biblical images (rock, well, water) and the shifting religious symbols that come to be identified with God’s sustaining power (Torah and Torah interpretation, wisdom, and Christ). …    This is what occurred in 1 Cor 10:4, as Paul has come to perceive Christ as the wellspring of heavenly nourishment.  In the Eucharist, the people of God drink from the wellspring, and  they share in the life-sustaining power of God, which was also poured out upon the people in the wilderness of ancient Sinai.”  (pp 169-170)

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The hymns of the Church for the festal period of Pascha-Pentecost clearly follow the thinking of St Paul connecting Christ to Wisdom and to the miraculous rock of the Exodus story.  Christ’s tomb flows forth with the same spiritual drink that the rock provided Israel in the desert.  The Myrrhbearing women come to the tomb of Christ on Easter morning wondering who will move the rock away from the door of the tomb for them.  The rock has already been moved for it symbolically is like the traveling rock of Israel—its purpose is to slake those spiritually thirsting for God.  The huge stone is moved away from the tomb and so from the carved rock tomb springs forth living water. The living water we receive is the eternal life which flows from Christ’s tomb and the Holy Spirit whom Christ sends forth on the world.  When we embrace the Gospel of the resurrection, we are drinking the new vintage drink which springs forth from the tomb of Christ.

[See also my posts: Christ the Rock which is the Fountain of Life,  Christ the Rock Who Follows Us and Christ the Wisdom and Word of God]

Truly, He is risen! 

Christ the Water-giving Rock 

Christ is risen! 

Come, let us drink a new beverage, not miraculously drawn from a barren rock, but the fountain of Incorruption springing from the tomb of Christ in Whom we are established. (Paschal Canon, Ode 3)

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Today in the Orthodox Church is Mid-Pentecost, we are now half between Pascha and Pentecost which in the early years of Christianity was conceived as one 50-day feast. Fifty days of rejoicing in God’s salvation which included no kneeling in repentance and originally no fasting for the entire 7 weeks of the feasting.  Two of the main hymns of Mid-Pentecost explain to us the meaning of this midpoint of the Feasting:

In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as You cried out to all: “If anyone thirst let him come to me and drink!  O Christ God, fountain of our life, glory to You!” (Troparion) and the

Christ God, the Creator and Master of all cried to all in the midst of the Feast of the Law: “Come and draw the water of immortality!”  We fall before You and faithfully cry:  Grant us Your bounties, for You are the Fountain of our life.  (Kontakion)

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The hymns speak about a spiritual thirst which is slaked by Christ and the Holy Spirit which He sends onto us.  They make reference to a text in the Gospel of St John which we proclaim at the Feast of Pentecost which is the fulfillment of Pascha:

Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”  (John 7:37-39)

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John in his Gospel is proclaiming an idea related to one that St. Paul claims:

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

There are a number of ideas and images which  are brought together to form an interesting mosaic:

1) the traveling rock which followed Israel and gave them water in the desert –this miraculous rock, so St Paul says, turns out to be Christ. In Jewish tradition the rock is associated with Wisdom;

2) the flowing of spiritual water which comes from Christ is a theme of both Mid-Pentecost and Pentecost;

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3)  Christ’s tomb is sealed with a rock and from that tomb springs forth life which flows into all the world;

4) the connection between the Wisdom and Word of God which turn out both to be references to Christ.

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It is significant, I think, that when the soldier pierces Christ’s side with a spear, water springs forth (John 19:34) just as water flowed from the miraculous rock which accompanied Israel in the desert when the rock was struck by Moses’ rod. Christ is the giver of the living water which unlike normal H2O  quenches thirst forever: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). The imagery reinforces the connection between Christ and the miraculous rock.  There is a life-giving nature to that which flows from Christ in the desert or on the cross.

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Even before Christians associated Christ with the traveling rock that accompanied Israel through the desert, Israel saw this rock to be a sign of Wisdom. Orthodox scholar Eugen Pentiuc notes:

“… the first century C. E. already had interpreters associating  Wisdom with the ‘traveling rock.’ ‘They [Hebrews] became thirsty and called upon you, and water was given them out of a sharp-edged rock…, and a remedy for [their] thirst… out of hard stone…’ (Wisdom 11:4).

Since, in Paul’s view, Christ assumes the role of Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30), the association in 1 Corinthians 10:4 of Christ with the ‘traveling rock’ could just be another variant of a Jewish-Hellenistic theme. However, as Fisk notes, the Pauline equation was probably motivated by reading the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 (cf. Ps 81:16 [80:17] LXX: petras, ‘rock’), where the living God is depicted as Israel’s ‘rock’…”  (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, p 170)

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It is the Christians who understood Christ to be the Wisdom of God who then come to believe the traveling rock of the Exodus story is actually Christ our God traveling with Israel during their desert sojourn and supplying their spiritual needs. Again, Pentiuc comments:

The same divine, creative Wisdom who shared a free banquet (Proverbs 8-9) on Holy Thursday through a self-offering is now entering the tomb, pouring streams of life to the ones held in captivity as far as the ‘impenetrable, innermost parts‘ of Hades (Wisdom 17: 4-5, 14-15). There is no noise of battle, no clash of weapons, only streams of life flooding the realm of corruption, evil, and death. A victory with no battle, just an irresistible invasion of goodness, light, and life that brings Hades to its final chapter.   (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, p 228)

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God’s overwhelming victory over sin and death is not a battle between equals, and there is no battle with an uncertain outcome.  God overwhelms Hades and brings life to all those being held captive by Death.  God is establishing His Kingdom over all.  From Christ’s tomb carved from stone (Matthew 27:60) comes the waters of immortality—another connection between the miraculous rock and Christ.

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.” (Revelation 21:6)

In the next post we take a look at the Old Testament story of the miraculous rock which accompanied Israel in its sojourn through the desert and how the Jewish tradition valued this story.

Next: Christ the Water-giving Rock (II)

God Accepts Anyone Who Works Righteousness 

Christ is risen! 

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Peter fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:10-15)

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Christ’s resurrection forced His disciples into a true paradigm shift: the finality of death was gone forever. Yet, life with all its trials and problems was still ongoing and the disciples themselves still feared death. The disciples had to think through what the implications of the resurrection were for all aspects of life and some of the implications caused deep cognitive dissonance for them. They were hopeful that the resurrection was good news for Jews and was indeed the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel as well as the chosen people’s mission in the world. But then, non-Jews began to embrace the faith and the Jew-Gentile divide so deeply engrained in the Jewish mind was being challenged. They were overwhelmed by the idea that God was overcoming His separation from the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. Then Peter has this vision of a sheet filled with animals, clean and unclean, and God telling Peter to eat all of them. Was God abandoning His law on Kosher eating? No, that wasn’t the point of the vision; it had far bigger and more important implications – the Gospel was for all the people in God’s creation, not just Jews. Peter tells the Roman Centurian Cornelius of his realization:

“You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:21)

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And the implication of this was astonishing to Peter:

“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

47381932371_8c30f8834b_wPeter’s Jewish worldview was being completely overturned. God accepts everyone—Jew or Greek, cultivated or barbarian, male or female, slave or free—who fears God and works righteousness. Godly fear and righteous deeds are not the sole prerogative of observant Jews. The most revered assumptions of pious Jews were being vacated by the universal message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Neither ethnicity, race, gender, language or observing the Law determined who could or could not serve God. Following Torah was no longer a determinant in who belonged to God’s flock. The spiritual world had shifted completely in and through Jesus the Messiah.  Peter later speaks to the same issue at the first recorded church council when he says to his fellow apostles and the elders:

Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.  . . .  we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:7-11)

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Origen, writing in the 3rd Century, comments on Romans 8:38-39 –

For I am confident that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor another creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

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“… he says that none of these things ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.’ For of human temptations, as if of things that are trivial and light, he confidently declares that we overcome; but with respect to these greater and more than human [temptations], even though we are not strong enough to overcome them and cast them to the ground—for this is the work of Christ alone, who ‘stripped the rulers and the authorities, triumphing over them in himself‘ (Colosians 2:15) – nevertheless in place of a victory there is this: Though they weave together every scheme in their assaults against us, they are nevertheless not strong enough to separate us from the love of God.” (COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, pp 99-100)

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Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ and that is paramount life in a Christian parish as well as for the evangelical effort of the Church. Christ died for all the people of the world in order to save them all. This required the disciples of Christ to abandon narrow minded thinking, and to embrace a global vision of God’s chosen people. As Fr Alexander Schmemann writes for us in the Church today:

Being in church should be liberating. But in the church’s contemporary tonality, church life does not liberate, but narrows, enslaves, weakens the man. One starts to be interested in the Old and New Calendars, in what the bishops are doing, one assumes a kind of unctuous sweetness. A great deal of so-called spiritual literature is of dubious quality. Instead of teaching man to look at the world through the church’s vision, instead of transforming man’s view of himself and his life, one feels obliged—in order to be ‘spiritual’—to clothe oneself in an impersonal, soiled ‘garment of piety.’ Instead of at least knowing that there is joy, light, meaning, eternity, man becomes irritated, narrow-minded, intolerant and often simply mean. He does not even repent of it because it all comes from ‘churchliness’, whereas the meaning of religion consists only in filling life with light, in referring it to God, transforming it into a relationship with God. (THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, p 33)

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Indeed, He is risen!

Our Prayers Reveal Our Will 

Christ is risen! 

10619310065_1de2a32391_wThere was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (Acts 10:1-6) 

8186037621_7d1687fab3_wThe Roman Centurian Cornelius is given shocking news by an angel – his righteous prayers and charitable gifts have been noticed by God!  I’m sure we all would like to receive that message.  What the angel doesn’t promise Cornelius is that his prayers will be answered.  Rather, the angel tells him that since God has accepted his prayers and charitable deeds, God is now going to tell Cornelius what he must do.  The reward for God hearing your prayers?  It might not be what we hope – that God will give us what we want.  Rather, when God accepts our prayers and good deeds, God takes notice of us and tells us what we must do!  Our prayers and good deeds reveal to God our hearts and minds and tell God whether or not we will be willing to do His will. When our prayers are pleasing to God, that doesn’t necessarily mean God will grant our wishes, only that God sees us as having a heart, mind and soul which are willing to serve God. 

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In the case of Cornelius, he is told to send for the Apostle Peter who will be the one to tell Cornelius what God expects from him.  Why Peter?  St Gregory Palamas gives us some ideas as to why St Peter might have been chosen to reveal God’s will to Cornelius: 

When He [Jesus] was referring to the company of believers as a building, He promised to make Peter the foundation stone, saying, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church‘ (Matthew 16: 18). On the other hand, when He was talking in terms of fishing, He made him a fisher of men with the words, ‘From henceforth thou shalt catch men‘ (Luke 5:10). But when He speaks of His disciples as sheep, he sets Peter over them as a shepherd, saying, ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep‘ (John 21:15-17). It is clear from this that the Lord’s desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation.   (THE HOMILIES, p 223) 

51592738104_a71627deb9_wOur hope as Christians is mostly that God will hear our prayers and accept our charitable deeds as a memorials … so that God will then (have to) answer our petitions and fulfill them.  One lesson from Cornelius is that our prayers and good deeds can be received by God, this will not necessarily result in God doing our will. The result may be that God will clearly reveal His will to us and tell us what we must do to accomplish God’s will. 

In other words, we cannot hope to shift all the spiritual work needed in the world unto God. God rather intends us to accomplish His will. 

Truly, He is risen! 

Raising the Paralytic 

Christ is risen! 

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Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:5-6) 

Fr John Behr comments on the Gospel lesson in which Christ heals the paralytic at the pool: 

The first of these occurs during the healing of the lame man in John 5, where it states that the healing waters were inaccessible to him because he has no ‘human being’ to immerse him in them (5:7).

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Christ directs him to ‘rise’ (5:8, ἔγειρε), and in the ensuing exchange about working on the Sabbath, Christ asserts that ‘my Father is working still [ἕως ἄρτι ἐργάζεται] and I am working’ (5:17), leading the Jews to seek to kill him for making himself equal to God (5:18). As Jesus further expounds what this work is, he specifies that what the Father does, and the Son seeing this does likewise, is to ‘raise [ἐγείρει] the dead and give them life’ (5:21), so that one who hears the word of Christ and believes in him who sent him, ‘has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life’ (5:24), and this is so because ‘just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself’ (5:26). (John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel, Kindle Loc 7092-7101)

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Indeed, He is risen! 

Enlightening St Paul 

Christ is risen! 

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Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. (Acts 9:1-8) 

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Jacob of Sarug (d. 521AD) poetically comments on the conversion of St Paul: 

The Gospel is a light, a light that quenches all others.  

When it shone upon Paul, it enlightened him.  

At midday, revelation came to the apostle.  

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Give ear, O prudent one, and lucidly focus your mind.  

What kind of light burst forth at midday  

to outshine the sun so many times over?  

In the darkness of night, a lamp sheds its ray  

but the sun by daytime suppresses all other light.  

The Light of the Son shone on Saul at noonday.  

It eclipsed the sun with a far greater glory.  

When the sun arose to the highest rung of heaven,  

it blazed from the top of the firmament arch. 

. . . 

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Had that light not greatly outshone the sun,  

it would not have shown forth in the middle of the day nor have been seen by anyone.  

It shone in the day, and because of its rays, day became like unto night;  

this was to show that in comparison, our sun is no more than a shadow.  

In the sea of its brightness, the persecutor’s eye was flooded and drowned;  

he no longer saw any visible things.  

His capacity to see retreated into his mind;  

his vision turned inside out to reveal hidden beauties within. 

Light entered his inner eyes  

until it extinguished the light in his outer eyes. 

. . . 

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Because he went out to persecute the light, He (the Light) made him blind  

so that he might return a witness to the Light once he was enlightened.  

(HOMILIES ON PAUL, pp 24-26, 42) 

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Truly, He is risen! 

In the Eucharist, Two Become One Flesh 

Christ is risen! 

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I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:48-54) 

St Augustine comments on Holy Communion and our receiving the Body and Blood of Christ: 

The sacrifice you are looking at was instituted by Christ our Lord as the sacrifice of his own body and blood. His body was pierced by the spear and there flowed out water and blood, through the medium of which we have obtained the forgiveness of our sins. 

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Mindful of this gracious gift, approach with fear and trembling to take part in this feast, knowing that God himself is at work in you. Recognize in this bread the body that was hanged on the cross. Recognize in this cup of wine the blood that gushed out from his pierced side. Take and eat the body of Christ, since in the body of Christ you have become Christ’s members. Take and drink the blood of Christ. 

To counter your tendency to disunity, eat that body which is the bond of your unity. So as not to appear to be without value in your own eyes, drink that blood, which is the price that was paid for you. 

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When you eat this food and drink this wine, they will be transformed into your substance. Equally you will be transformed into the body of Christ, if you live in obedience and faithfulness. 

The apostle reminds us of the prediction in Scripture: ‘Two will become one flesh.’ (Ephesians. 5: 31) And elsewhere, in reference to the Eucharist itself, he asserts: ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body.’ (1 Corinthians 10:17) 

You, therefore, begin to receive what you already begin to be.   (DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 337) 

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Since in marriage, the two become one flesh (Matthew 19:5), it is not surprising that St Augustine also understands that because in Holy Communion two become one flesh (Christ and the communicant), it is appropriate to apply nuptial imagery to Communion. The early Church Fathers certainly thought that each baptized person is in fact united to Christ the Bridegroom in a spiritual marriage (see my post Christ the Bridegroom). What God has joined together, no one should put asunder (Matthew 19:6). Do nothing which would deny you Communion and separate you from the Savior for separation from Christ is not God’s will for anyone. 

Indeed, He is risen! 

Understanding Scripture Requires Guidance 

Christ is risen! 

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So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31) 

10619324084_cdb99eda43_wThe Scriptures are not self-interpreting as some think. Some of the texts are straightforward, but many require knowledge of how to interpret them. This we see in the above quote from the Acts of the Apostles – the Ethiopian man asks the Apostle Philip to help him understand the text of the Prophet Isaiah which he was reading. The Apostles knew from personal experience that the Scriptures required someone to interpret them, as we read in Luke 24:27 when the two disciples are downtrodden by Christ’s death and puzzled by stories of His resurrection. “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” The Apostles did not understand the Scriptures about the Messiah and the Resurrection. Jesus must interpret the Old Testament to them. Then when Jesus meets with all of the 11 Apostles together,”He opened their minds to understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:45) They were not able to understand the biblical texts on their own for those texts are not self-interpreting. The Apostles needed to be taught the meaning of the Scriptures as we all do. We have to learn not only what the text says, but what it means which often requires us getting beyond a literal reading of the text. The text might be interpreted in many ways but not all of the interpretations are true. Origen, the great 3rd Century biblical interpreter, points out one error we can make in reading the Scriptures – reading it only literally (in his words, ‘according to the flesh’). We have to be trained in how to read the Bible spiritually in order to come to the spiritual meaning which God has placed within the words of the text. 

51636059286_865fa8b929_w“The law turns into an Old Testament only for those who insist on understanding it according to the flesh; and for them it has necessarily become old and feeble because it is separated from its source of life. But for us, who understand and interpret it spiritually and according to the gospel, it is always new; indeed, both testaments are new for us not because of age, but because of newness of understanding.” (SPIRIT AND FIRE, pp 111-112) 

The Patristic Fathers point out that another error that afflicts us and prevents us from coming to the spiritual meaning of the text – we must purify our hearts and minds of passions and sins in order to see what meaning God has placed in the text. Theodoret of Cyrus, writing in the 5th Century, says: 

39062348761_41dcda34c1_wThe explanation of the divine sayings requires, on the one hand, a purified soul that is also rid of every uncleanness; on the other hand, it requires as well a mind that has wings, capable of discerning divine things and prepared to enter the precincts of the Spirit. There is need, too, of a tongue responsive to the mind, and worthily interpreting its vision.” (COMMENTARY ON THE SONG OF SONGS, p 21) 

Reading the Bible properly requires us to use our soul, mind and tongue in a holy fashion in come to the right interpretation of the text. And that right interpretation itself may apply only to the moment or to a particular person and may not be the one and only meaning or use of the text. “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). 

Truly, He is risen! 

Show This Bread to Be … 

Christ is risen! 

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And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.  (John 6:35) 

Jesus says He is the bread of life who cures hunger. In the Liturgy of St Basil (which the Orthodox use during Great Lent and on certain Feast Days), we pray that God will show the bread on the altar to be Christ’s Body. Show us what will take away our spiritual hunger and thirst. 

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… we pray you and call upon you, O Holy of Holies, that by the favor of your goodness your Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon these gifts now offered, to bless them, and to hallow and to show this bread to be truly the precious Body of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.  (Liturgy of St Basil; emphasis added) 

Showing the bread to be the Body of Christ has a different implication than the words of consecration in St John Chrysostom’s Liturgy in which we pray God to make the bread to be the Body of Christ. St Basil’s prayer asks God to reveal the Body of Christ to us in and through the bread. Orthodox theologian Elizabeth Theokritoff notes the same word ‘show’ also occurs in the prayers for the blessing of water. 

The verb in this prayer of St Basil’s (anadeixon) is the same one that he uses in his Eucharistic prayer for the consecration of the eucharistic elements: the root of the word in the verb ‘to show’ suggests a change of function rather than of nature. The water is not ‘turned into’ something unrelated to its God given nature. Rather, it is ‘promoted’ to doing the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctifying and giving life; this shows its most mundane functions in a new light.   (LIVING IN GOD’S CREATION, p 185) 

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Following Theokritoff’s theological point, we understand that in St Basil’s Liturgy we are not asking God to change the nature of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, rather we are asking God to change its function so that it will not just be bread and water, but show us the Body of Christ in it. It is the eyes of our heart that we want God to open so that we can experience the transforming salvation which God is making available to us in Christ. We can personally participate in union with Christ through what God reveals to us. 

Indeed, He is risen!