Being Stewards of God’s Blessings

God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses..”

Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, He says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.” To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others. By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal. For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it. If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty.

This is why God has allowed you to have more: not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need. Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends in stead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his need requires, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belong to his fellow servants.

(John Chrysostom, Daily Readings from the Writings of John Chrysostom, p. 44)

We Americans love the bounty with which God has blessed our country.  God has blessed us with this bounty so that we can generously share the blessings with others.  The bounty belongs to the Lord, we are but stewards of the abundance with which God blesses us.

By Order of the King: Love Your Enemies

Jesus said:  “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “  (Luke 6:31-36)

St. John Chrysostom writes:

If the Emperor had laid down a law that all those who were enemies should be reconciled to one another, or have their heads cut off, should we not everyone make haste to a reconciliation with his neighbor? Yes! Truly, I think so! What excuse then have we, in not ascribing the same honor to the Lord that we should do to those who are our fellow-servants? For this reason we are commanded to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:12). What can be more mild, what more merciful, than this precept! He has made you a judge of the pardon of your own offences! If you forgive few things, He forgives you few! If you forgive many things, He forgives you many! If you pardon from the heart, and sincerely, God in like manner also pardons you!

(Preparation for Great Lent, p. 8)

Christ commands us to love one another and even to love our enemies.  While some Christians thunder about God’s  impending judgment of sin and sinners based on Old Testament law, rarely do they mention how those who disobey Christ’s direct commandments might be judged.  If we live godly sexual lives but refuse to love neighbors and enemies or refuse to forgive those who offend us, will we be judged by God as sinners or worse than sinners?   Do we imagine that Jesus Christ takes His own commandments less seriously than those of the Torah?  It seems rather that Christ assumes all of the 613 laws of the Torah can be summarized in a couple of teachings:

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.   (Matthew 7:12)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”   Matthew 22:37-40)

Christians of all sorts tend to pick and chose which of the commandments of the Torah they are required to follow or  face God’s judgment.  But Christians do not teach it is OK to disobey or ignore the commandments of Christ Himself.  So how can Christians justify focusing on Old Testamental laws about sexual morality while overlooking Christ’s direct commandments about loving others?  We don’t get to pick and choose on what basis God will judge us, we can, however, determine how God will judge us by our own treatment of others.

St John Chrysostom in the above quote sees Christ’s prayer that God forgive us in the same way we forgive others (or that God treat us as we treat others) as being pretty straightforward and merciful.  For in this, Christ says you are in charge of your own destiny on judgment day, because as you now treat others, you are telling God this is how you want to be treated by God on judgment day.  You are telling God by your own behavior (how you treat others) how you want God to judge you!  The more forgiving you are, the more God forgives you.

Something for all of us Christian to think about.

One other thought came to my mind.  I remember reading many years ago about Genghis Khan and a theological “wrestling match” that he arranged.  Though some of the details of this have been lost in history and the results of the debate are no longer  known, apparently Genghis, who loved watching wrestling matches, had representatives of the Christian, Buddhist and Islamic faiths engage in a debate to see if any could best the rest.  One rule that he laid down was that they could only speak in positive terms about their own faith.  If the debaters spoke negatively about the other faiths, the penalty would be death.

Just imagine in our times if politicians and political parties at election time were only allowed to speak positively about what they would do but could not use negative advertising against their opponents.   This would be a form of loving one’s enemies, and should be practiced by Christian politicians.  Tell  us what you are going to do and your vision, but never tell us what you fear your opponent will do.  Inspire us with your good vision, don’t play to our worst fears to get our votes.   I think this would improve every campaign and would certainly add a Christian dimension for those who claimed to be Christian.  This type of thinking might also rid the airwaves of quite a number of talk show hosts.

What is the Divine Liturgy?

The totality of the wondrous events performed by God, in order to bring man after his disobedience back to His house and make him His own once more, is called divine economy or dispensation: ‘The divine economy of our God and Savior is the raising up of man from his fallen state and his return from the alienation produced by his disobedience to intimacy with God’ (St Basil).

This reality of our salvation in Christ is what we experience at every Divine Liturgy, for which we give thanks to God: ‘The awesome Mysteries which are performed at every assembly of the faithful and which offer salvation in abundance are called the Eucharist [‘thanksgiving’] because they consist of the recollection of many  benefactions, and reveal to us the culmination of divine providence’ (St John Chrysostom). The Divine Liturgy is the sacramental re-living of these things and the ‘recapitulation of the entire divine economy’. That is why at the end of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the celebrant says: “The Mystery of Your dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected.’

The mystery of the divine economy was made manifest at the same time as man’s disobedience. The Master who loves mankind ‘at once saw the fall and the magnitude of the wound, and hastened to treat the wound so that it would not grow and turn into an incurable injury…spurred on by His love, not for one moment did He cease to provide for man’ (Chrysostom). Through wonderful deeds and prophetic words, God prepared man to partake in the fullness of life and love.

(Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, p. 15)

Dealing with Your Enemies  

4870909879_9023a782e8

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

4870911585_6e6f6edf97

St. John Chrysostom comments:

You, therefore, when you have your enemy in your power, do not make it your concern how to avenge yourself and after subjecting him to countless outrages get rid of him, but how to look after him, how to bring him to mildness; do not stop short of doing and saying everything until by gentleness you overcome his ferocity. Nothing, after all, is more efficacious than mildness; someone suggested as much in the words, “A soft tongue will break bones:” what could be tougher than bones, and yet should anyone be as tough and unbending as that, the one employing mildness will easily prevail. And again, “A submissive answer turns away wrath.” Hence it is clear that you have more say than your enemy in his being upset and his being reconciled: it is up to us, not to the wrathful, both to snuff out their resentment and to kindle the flame to greater heat.

14810945945_8fb6e12549_n

The previous authority suggested as much by a simple example saying, Just as you ignite the flame by blowing on a spark, but extinguish it by spitting on it, and you have the say in each case (his words are “Both come out of your mouth”), so too with hostility towards your neighbor: if you give vent to inflated and foolish words, you kindle his fire, you ignite the coals, but if peaceable and moderate words, you extinguish his rage completely before the fire takes on. So do  not say, I suffered this and this, I was told this and this: you have the say in it all; as with extinguishing and enkindling the fire, so with inflaming or repressing his resentment, it is likewise up to you.

(Old Testament Homilies, Vol 3,  p. 53-54)   

4797148005_d3e9523745_n

Creation: God’s Gift to Us

If we extend our discourse to the boundless multitude of fishes – those in ponds, those in the springs, those in the rivers, those in the navigable sea, and those in the unnavigable –

or if we consider the untold numbers of flocks of birds – those in the air, those on land, those in the water as well as on the land (for there are a great number of aquatic birds among them), wild ones, tame ones, wild ones that have been domesticated,

Cormorant Fisherman

those that always remain wild, edible ones, inedible ones – and if we investigate the beauty, the feathers, and the musical sound of each; if we but closely examine the differences in their singing, their food, their way of life, and if we recount their habits, their haunts, all the benefits and services they provide to us, their sizes, great and small,

their young and the rearing of them, and the great and inexpressible diversity among them, and if we also do the same with the fishes; and if from there we also go on to plants, which grow everywhere on the earth, and if for each of them we look at its fruit and its usefulness and its fragrance and its appearance,

its structure, its leaves, its color, its shape, its size, great or small, its benefits, its methods of cultivation, its kind of bark, trunk, branch, those growing in meadows and those in enclosed gardens; then if we go on to the various herbs and investigate the manifold places where they grow and the ways to find them,

Aloe

to care for them, and to cultivate them, as well as their usefulness to us for healing; and if we also move on to the ore-bearing mountains, of which there are many; and if we search through all the other created things, which are even more numerous –

then, what words or what amount of time would be enough for us to come to a precise understanding of them?
And all that, O man, is for your sake: arts for your sake, and ways of living and cities and villages and sleep for your sake,

and death for your sake, and life for your sake, and growth, and so many works of nature and such a good world for your sake now – and for your sake it will be better still. Concerning the fact that it will be better and that it will be better for your sake,

listen to what the apostle Paul says: Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, that is, from being corruptible. And how it will enjoy such an honor he shows by adding: into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Providence of God, p. 67-68)

Next:  Environmental Theology

Pascha: Celebrating the 1st Day of the Week

Christ is Risen!    Indeed He is Risen!

It is on this day that we put aside every work, when our soul beams with joy from relaxation; most important of all, we have enjoyed innumerable blessings this day. For on this day death was abolished, the curse was erased, sin disappeared, the doors of Hades, were broken into pieces, the devil was imprisoned, the long-lasting war ended, and reconciliation between God and men happened. And our race returned to its former, or better yet, to a much greater nobility, and the sun beheld that marvelous and paradoxical sight — man being born immortal.

He wanted to remind us of all these events and other similar ones, and he brought the day before all, taking only this day as an advocate, and he says to everyone: “Just think about how many and extraordinarily great blessings you benefited from on this day, O Man; from how many evils you were delivered, who you were before and who you have become since these things. If on our birthdays we, and many house-slaves on these days on which they were freed, celebrate these events with great honor, and the former holds banquets while the free even give gifts, and they all very much honor those specific times, much more so must we honor the Day of the Lord, which one would not err in calling the birthday of all of human nature. For we were lost and then found, dead and alive again, enemies and then reconciled.” For this reason, it is fitting to honor it with spiritual honor — neither to hold banquets, nor to pour out wine like water, nor to get drunk and dance, but rather to render great abundance to the poorer of the brethren.

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: On Repentance and Almsgiving, p. 138)

Fasting: To Cleanse the Heart

“I beg and entreat that each one of you reckon up in his conscience the results of his fasting. If he discovers that he has gained much, let him reckon it to his hard work; but if he has gained nothing, let him use the remaining time to gain goods through diligent fasting. As long as the festival lasts, let us not leave before we have exerted ourselves and acquired great gain, so we will not leave with empty hands. In this way we shall not forsake the reward of fasting, since we have endured the toil of fasting. For it is possible to endure even the toil of fasting and not receive the reward of fasting. How? When we abstain from food but do not abstain from sins; when we do not eat meat but devour the homes of the poor; when we do not get drunk from wine but become intoxicated by wicked desire; when we continue without food for the entire day but pass all of it a wonton spectacles. Recognize that we can endure the toil of fasting but not receive the recompense of fasting, when we attend the theaters of lawlessness.

What does the divine law say? “You have heard that God said to the ancients, ‘You shall not commit adultery!’ But I say to you that everyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Have you seen an adulterer perform? Have you seen a sin fulfilled? And worse yet, the adulterer who is not convicted and condemned by a human court for his adultery is held accountable by the divine tribunal, whose retributions are eternal. Everyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.Fasting eradicates not only the disease but also the root of the disease, and the root of adultery is wonton desire. For this reason, Scripture punishes not only the adultery but also the desire, the mother of adultery.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom on Repentance and Almsgiving, p. 70 & 73)

Great Lent: We Now Begin the Spiritual Contest

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”   (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

St. John Chrysostom at one point describes our spiritual lives as Christians as being like the battles in the Olympic arena with countless spectators watching with excitement the unfolding fight.  The spectators in his metaphor include both fellow Christians and the angels.  Jesus Christ presides over the contest, sitting in the judgment seat.  He, however, is not there to judge us nor is He just an impartial observer, but rather is there to help us in our contest.  It is Christ Himself who through baptism and chrismation prepared us for this battle.  And in so preparing us, Christ has shackled our opponent, Satan, so that the advantage is ours.  His comments are completely apropos the beginning of Great Lent.

“Up to now you have been in a school for training and exercise; there falls were forgiven. But from today on, the arena stands open, the contest is as hand, the spectators have taken their seats. Not only are men watching the combats but the host of angels as well, as St. Paul cries out in his letter to the Corinthians: We have been made a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men. And whereas the angels are spectators, the Lord of angels presides over the contest as judge. This is not only an honor for us, but assures our safety. Is it not an honor and assurance for us when He who is judge of the contest is the one who laid down His life for us?

In the Olympic combats the judge stands impartially aloof from the combatants, favoring neither the one nor the other, but awaiting the outcome. He stands in the middle because his judgement is impartial. But in our combat with the devil, Christ does not stand aloof but is wholly on our side. How true it is that Christ does not stand aloof but is entirely on our side you may see from this: He anointed us as we went into combat, but he fettered the devil; He anointed us with the oil of gladness, but He bound the devil with fetters that cannot be broken to keep him shackled hand and foot for the combat. But if I happen to slip, He stretches out His hand, lifts me up from my fall, and sets me on my feet again. For the Gospel says: You tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. (Baptismal Instructions, p. 58)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Forgiveness Sunday (2018)

If Lent is to be a truly Christian fast, it must be accompanied by love and forgiveness. Thus, before Lent begins, we are called to forgive everyone who has injured or offended us from the bottom of our hearts. Only then can we have a truly Christian Lent. Only then can our fast be pleasing to God.”   (Vassilios Papavassiliou, MEDITATIONS FOR GREAT LENT: Reflections on the Triodion, Kindle Loc. 281-83)

St. John Chrysostom tells us that we should consider forgiving others and reconciling with them as an essential part of spiritual lives – not something optional if it is convenient and easy, but something critical and necessary no matter what what the obstacles or what the cost.

If the Emperor had laid down a law that all those who were enemies should be reconciled to one another, or have their heads cut off, should we not every one make haste to a reconciliation with his neighbor? Yes, truly, I think so!

What excuse then have we, in not ascribing the same honour to the LORD that we should do to those who are our fellow servants? For this reason we are commanded to say, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. (Matt. 6:12) What can be more mild, what more merciful, than this precept! He has made you a judge of the pardon of your own offenses! If you forgive few things, he forgives you few! If you forgive many things, he forgives you many! If you pardon from the heart, and sincerely, God in like manner also pardons you…

Do not tell me, ‘I have besought him many times, I have entreated, I have supplicated, but I have not effected a reconciliation.’ Never desist till you have reconciled him. For he said not, ‘Leave your gift, and go your way’. Although you may have made many entreaties, yet you must not desist until you have persuaded. God entreats us every day, and we do not hear; yet he does not cease entreating. And do not then disdain to entreat your fellow-servant. How is it then possible for you ever to be saved? In proportion as the good work is accomplished with greater difficulty, and the reconciliation is one of much labour, so much the greater will be the judgment on him, and so much the brighter will be the crowns of victory for your forbearance. (Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Kindle 2950-62)

Nothing is as Sacred as a Human Being

“There is nothing as sacred as a human being, whose nature God Himself has shared.”  (St. Nicholas Cabasilas)

“The glory of God is a living human being.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

Christmas focuses on the incarnation of our God.  And the incarnation is the most amazing act of God – for God sees in humanity something so sacred that God desires to be united to humanity.  The Holy God wishes to share in human nature because God sees in humanity something lovely and holy and blessed.  God chooses to share in human nature.  This is the mystery of the God of love which results in the incarnation – results in the Nativity of Christ.

St. John Chrysostom describes it this way in a homily:

And in what manner was the almighty with her, Who in a little while came forth from her? He was as the craftsman, who coming on some suitable material, fashions to himself a beautiful vessel; so Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the loveliness of our nature. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what he Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

As Chrysostom envisions Christmas, Christ Himself as Creator fashions the body in the Virgin’s womb that He Himself will take for Himself.  God is able to see in humanity something so holy that God wishes to be united to the holiness of humanity.  God chooses to share His natural holiness with the humans created in God’s image and likeness.

Chrysostom goes on:

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.”   (St. John Chrysostom)

The mystery and the amazement continues.  For God chooses to unite Himself to humanity while human nature is still subject to the power of sin and death.  God doesn’t choose perfect and sinless human nature before the Fall, but accepts human nature as it is in the world.  God enters into the human condition and does not create a special humanity and a special world free of sin, temptation, violence, evil, suffering, sorrow or death.  God enters into the world that we experience with all of its suffering and sorrow and accepts our human nature.  God enters into our lives and embraces the same life that we all share.  God is not distant and transcendent, but near you where you are .

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.  (Hebrews 2:14-18)

There is nothing as sacred as a human being.  Even an imperfect human, a sinner, a flawed person, one beset with temptation.  For God every human being is sacred – no matter who I am, no matter what I think about myself, or what others think about me.  In God’s eyes, I am still sacred, holy.  I am to be what God is.  “Be holy for I am holy, ” says the Lord (1 Peter 1:16).  This is why God became incarnate.  God became human because God sees humans as having a holiness to which God wishes to unit Himself.  God did not avoid the fallen, sinful world, but entered into and shared our life in this world.