Sinners Called by Christ

“You are, of course, quite right: there is no room for doubt! The Lord does indeed long to gather all into His arms. All – but particularly the worst sinners.

This truth must, however, be rightly interpreted, rightly understood: the Lord calls to Him all sinners; He opens His arms wide, even to the worst among them. Gladly he takes them in His arms, if only they will come. But they have got to make the effort of coming. They must seek Him, go to Him. In other words, they must repent. It is not that He rejects those who do not repent. He still longs for them, and calls them. But they refuse to hear His call. They choose to wander away, in some other direction.”

(Macarius, starets of Optino, Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 58)

Adam’s Death And God’s Mercy

One aspect found in Patristic writings is that the authors always viewed God through the lens of “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).   This was considered to be an unvarying, non-negotiable truth, never up for interpretation or revision.  So all the passages in Scripture in which God appears to be only just or even cruel or capricious were viewed by them through the lens that God is love.  They felt the problem was not God appearing to be different in different bible passages, but our inability to understand God or to read the Scriptures correctly.  We are limited, one-sided creatures, and so we write about God and interpret Scripture to mean that God is something other than love.  We even have a need for this at times to justify our own actions.  These Patristic writers, however, felt we had to hold to the truth that God is love even when that truth seems to conflict with what the Scriptures literally say.  The very fact that God is Trinity, testified to them all that God is love, for the Three Persons of the Trinity abide in a unity of love.  They felt the literal reading of the text was the problem, God remained love no matter how we read the text.  So we see St. Gregory the Theologian (d. 389AD) reading the passage in Genesis 3 where Adam is expelled from Paradise and in which death becomes part of human existence.  While reading the words of the passage, he still sees the text as bearing witness to the love and mercy of God.  He does not see this as a passage about God’s justice and anger, but rather how God limits evil in our lives.  Death prevents us from sinning eternally.  Death prevents us from moving away from God forever.  Death prevents sin and evil from becoming eternal powers in our lives.  Thus for St. Gregory, even when God appears to punish, it turns out to be another form of God’s love and mercy.

“This being (man) He placed in Paradise, having honored him with the gift of free will (in order that God might belong to him as the result of choice); naked in his simplicity. Also He gave him a law, as a material for his Free Will to act upon. This Law, was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the The Tree of Knowledge. But when the Devil’s malice and the woman’s caprice, to which she succumbed as the more tender, brought to bear on the man, he forgot the commandments which had been given him, he yielded; and for his sin he was banished, at once from The Tree of Life, and from Paradise. Yet here too he makes a gain, namely death, and the cutting off of sin, in order that evil may not be immortal. Thus punishment is changed into a mercy; for it is in mercy, I am persuaded, that God inflicts punishment.”  (Gregory of Nazianzos, On the Birthday of Christ, p 7)

Healing: Look for the Kingdom of God

The Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17 –     

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. 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.

Roman Catholic biblical educator Marielle Frigge comments:

“Healing and exorcism stories in the gospels function as signs pointing to the truth of Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of God is beginning now, in Jesus’ person and work. Because first century Jews believed that any kind of illness was caused by evil powers, every healing performed by Jesus indicated that God was indeed at work in him, overcoming the rule of evil and establishing the rule of power of God (kingdom of God ) in this world. These accounts bear witness that the power of God has truly entered the world in Jesus, thus pointing to him as Yahweh’s chosen anointed agent.” (Beginning Biblical Studies, p 160)

Jesus Seeks us in Our Daily Labor

The 5th Sunday after Pascha continues the pattern of alternating the Post-Paschal Gospel lessons between having men and then women being the focus.  The 2nd Sunday focuses on the Apostle Thomas, the fourth on the paralytic man and the 6th on the blind man; while the 3rd focuses on the Myrrhbearing Women, and the 5th on the Samaritan woman.

Men and women both respond to Christ, becoming His disciples through a variety of encounters with Him both before and after His resurrection.  One does not have to be part of the chosen circle of apostles to come to believe in Him. Even having doubts about Christ do not disqualify one from eventually being chosen to follow Him.  In part, the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) includes these words:

The Lord came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

Encounters with Christ do not just occur in “religious” settings such as when we are in prayer.  Even those looking for Him are sometimes surprised by an encounter with Him.  We come to realize He speaks to us in our daily lives, even in our fears and disbelief, in our sorrows,  in our despair, in our sin, in our suffering, in our separation from others.

“In order to meet her at Jacob’s well, Jesus chooses the hour when He knows that the Samaritan woman come to draw her water each day. It is in our daily needs – in our daily  labor – that Jesus wants to meet us.” (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus: A Dialogue with the Savior, p 64)

Striving for the Kingdom

“At the same time, Paul is aware that he is not yet perfect, that he must continue to hasten toward the prize of the upward call of God (Philippians 3:14). Paul does not say that his growth in perfection requires his suffering. He says rather that his growth in perfection requires his striving. And he says that as one who strives he is one who has the righteousness of God and shares Christ’s sufferings. It is as a person ‘in’ Christ, righteous with God’s righteousness, suffering with Christ’s suffering, that he strives. This whole human package – the righteous sufferer – is who strives for the upward call of God.  Paul says that his perfection will be achieved by this striving of one who has been seized by Christ (3:12). Subsequent to this seizure, suffering is part of his makeup. Suffering is not an instrument of sanctification, except insofar as it is part of the condition of the whole ‘in’ Christ person. Paul directs his converts to strive in a similar way: ‘work out your own salvation with fear and quivering; for God is the one who energizes you both to will and to work for God’s good purpose.’ (2:12-13)” (L.Ann Jervis, At the Heart of the Gospel, p 52)

Christ the Conqueror of Sin

“Death is always evil and terrifying, whether it be the death of an old man or that of a child, of a just man or of a sinner. Death is always the victory of the devil, a temporary victory, yet a victory. Our body which was created for immortality, submits to the evil law of death, is separated from the soul, disrupted, stricken with decay, turned into nothing. Through sin, death has entered the world; it enters into us from our very childhood, traces the lines of sin on our faces, extinguishes the living fire in our eyes, disables our body. But Christ is the conqueror of sin and hell, and Christ’s task is chiefly the victory over death through His resurrection: ‘if Christ be not risen again, your faith is also vain.’ (1 Cor. 15,14)”  (Father Yelchaninov in A Treasury of Russian Spirituality by G.P. Fedtov, p 481)

Blind + Mystery

 “We might more clearly portray the nature of mystery with an example. For a man born blind, a two-dimensional representation is a mystery. He does not have what it takes – sight – to comprehend this reality. Sight is required for a person to understand how a two-dimensional representation actually does represent something that is three-dimensional. Since he does not have the means to see, it is a mystery how this flat something is a likeness, let us say, of his brother. In fact, that it is a likeness of his brother is something that he must be told, and then he must take it on faith. He may have some idea of what his brother ‘looks like’ since he has, for example, felt the features of his brother’s face with his hands. Yet, the photo remains a mystery for him. It is beyond the power of a man born blind to understand this. However, we note that not every aspect of the photo is a mystery. Even the man born blind can feel its flatness. Even the man born blind can feel the smoothness of the glossy print or the lesser smoothness of another kind of photo paper. He can even perceive it is paper, not wood. Even the man born blind can smell the photo, comparing it with other papers, with other flatnesses he experienced this way. Thus, it is possible for some aspects of even the greatest mysteries to be understood, at least in a limited way.”   (Father Laurence in In The Spirit of Happiness: The Monks of New Skete, pps. 148-149)

Christ Dwelling in our Hearts

“When Christ is in our heart, we are contented with everything: what has been discomfort to us becomes the greatest comfort, what was bitter to us becomes sweet, poverty becomes wealth, our hunger is satisfied, and our sorrow turns to joy! But when Christ is not in the heart, then the man is not contented with anything, he does not find happiness in anything: neither in health nor in comfort, nor in ranks and honors, nor in amusements, or in rich palaces, nor in a luxuriously served table covered with all kinds of viands and drinks, nor in rich attire – in nothing. Ah! how necessary for the man is Christ, the Life-giver and Saviour of our souls!”

(St. John of Kronstadt – d. 1908AD, My Life in Christ, pg. 169)

Church as Body

Commenting on the writings of St. Paul, Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457) says:

“Again he called Christ the Lord head, and the structure of the Church body, using all the terms metaphorically: just as in the case of the body the brain is the root of the nerves, and through the nerves the body has the senses, so from Christ the Lord the body of the Church receives both the founts of instruction and the basis of salvation. What sinews are in the body apostles, prophets and teachers are in the structure of the Church.” ( Commentary of the Letters of St. Paul: Vol. 2, pg. 96)

The World May or May Not End September 5

RasputinSpoiler Alert:    Grigori Rasputin (d. 1916AD), the Russian self-proclaimed savant and mystic charlatan who predicted his own death and the downfall of the Russian imperial family also predicted that the world would end on 23 August 2013.

While some were relieved that the world didn’t end with the Mayan calendar on 21 December 2012, yet another prophecy of the end time may still loom ahead.   Less ballyhooed than the Mayan calender’s end,  Rasputin, the Russian rascal, apparently predicted the world would end on August 23, 2013.  And while some may be breathing a sigh of relief that the date has past, the Pacific Standard magazine reminds us there may be some confusion with the date since he may have meant August 23 OLD CALENDAR, which corresponds with September 5 on our calendar.    Ryan O’Hanlon wrote some days ago in the magazine:

“Today is August 23, 2013, which means that today is also the day that Grigory Rasputin said the world would come to an end.
If you doubt Rasputin, here is why you are a fool:

• It is said that, as a 10-year-old, he had the ability to read minds and heal sick animals.
• He cured the son of Czar Nicholas II of hemophilia.
• He said that if he was killed by government officials, then the whole imperial family would be killed by the Russian people.
• He was killed by government officials, then the whole imperial family was killed by the Russian people.
• Russia is currently experiencing what some are calling a “pigeon apocalypse.”

If you believe Rasputin, here is why you are a fool:

• The historical success rate for apocalypse predictions is currently zero percent.
• There is some doubt over the Julian/Gregorian calendar conversion, so he may have actually predicted that September 5, 2013, will be the world’s final day.

So, if you are unsure of whether or not you are currently experiencing the apocalypse, look around. If everything you see is being engulfed in what could accurately be described as an “eternal flame,” the world is ending.  Actually, no. If you are unable to perceive anything around you because you, yourself, are being engulfed in what seems like what one would consider an “eternal flame,” then most likely, yes, this is the end of the world. If not, then you have until at least September 5. Have a good weekend.”

Rasputin apparently thought he knew what even Jesus Christ said he didn’t know – when the end of the world would take place (Matthew 24:36).  Predictions of apocalyptic conflagrations ending the world garnish attention (at least for 15 minutes) and fervent reactions among certain people.   There are other images of the end not to be forgotten.  In Revelation 20:13 both Death and Hades will give up all the dead in them as neither Death or Hades are eternal.  In Revelations 20:14 Death and Hades themselves are thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed forever.

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

  (Revelation 21:3-4)