St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

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In the Winter 2017 issue of THE WHEEL there is an article about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, one of the members of the Russian royal family who was murdered in 1918 by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.  After the assassination of her husband, Elizabeth committed her energies and her wealth to establishing an order of sisters of mercy – nuns dedicated to the service of the needy people of Moscow and Russia.   Her goal was to establish women’s monasteries not based in what had become the traditional form of women’s convents in Russian Orthodoxy, but rather an order which was far more active in ministering to the poor.  She felt her order of women would far better attract educated women to serve the Church.  She conceived her ideas at a time when some in the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church were also for the first time in centuries beginning to rethink the role of women in the Church.  In fact as the Russian Orthodox Church began to envision a separation of the Orthodox Church from the tsartist state at the beginning of the 20th Century, many ideas were being considered for the Church to fulfill its role in society and to shake off the shackles which had been imposed on the Church since the time of Peter the Great.

The article in THE WHEEL is written by Elena and Nadezhda Beliakova, “St. Elizabeth the New Martry: The Quest to Restore the Order of Deaconess.”  Despite the article’s title, the Beliakovas point out:

It should be noted in passing that Elizabeth was against the restoration of the liturgical function of deaconesses that existed in the early church because, as she put it in an explanatory note on the purpose of the convent:

“The conditions of Church life have changed. The consecration of the ancient deaconesses was necessitated by their participation in the baptism of adult women, the announcement of the baptized, and the old ritual of Communion, when a woman could enter the altar area.  Today, this is no longer needed, but there is a need to preach the Christian faith and help others following the example of the ancient diaconate on behalf of the Church and for the sake of Christ.”

St. Phoebe the Deaconess

I find a couple of things interesting in St. Elizabeth’s comment.  One thing is she acknowledges that changing historical conditions in the world as well as in the Church necessitate that the Church itself has to change, adapt, evolve to deal with these changes.  The reality of historical change had, at least in St. Elizabeth’s understanding, changed the needs of the church and its ministries.  Women deacons were less necessary since the baptism of adult women had virtually disappeared from the Church.  That would seem to mean that in our current day where the baptism of adults has become more frequent again and necessary because there are many adults who were never baptized as infants or in the Orthodox Church, the time is here for the church to again adapt to the changing historical realities.

Another point is that St. Elizabeth comments that there was a time in Orthodox Church history when women approached the altar to receive Holy Communion.  A practice of excluding women (and lay men for that matter) from approaching the altar for Communion is a change that happened in the Church.  It is not the oldest Tradition of the Church.  The received Tradition reflects changes that occurred in the life of the Church – the received Tradition, at least liturgically speaking, is not part of the unchanging nature of Orthodoxy.  Piety and practice have changed over time for many reasons.  The Church can always examine those changes and those reasons and decide that for its current mission – for its catechism and evangelism – that liturgical practices need to change again.  This may mean going back to the older way of doing things, or altering the received Tradition to better reflect the nature of the Church and its mission and message to the world.

Another comment in the article that I found interesting came from Metropolitan
Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky), Chairmen of the Department of Church Discipline.   In a report which was written specifically about the restoration of the order of the deaconess, Metropolitan Vladimir notes:

Even though we know from church history that in ancient times deaconesses mostly served as members of the clergy, we also know that the nature of women’s ministry has always conformed to the needs of the Church in each historical period.

His comment that deaconesses served as members of the clergy in the early church stands out to me.  There are many today who deny that very point and say the women deacons in the early church were exactly not part of the clergy of the Church.  Metropolitan Vladimir does see them as being part of the ordained clergy of the Church.  His comment that “the nature of women’s ministry has always conformed to the needs of the Church in each historical period” is also fascinating.  It would indicate that any discussion about women’s ministry in the Church should focus on what the current need of the Church is.  If we have need of specific women’s ministry in the 21st Century Church, which I think we do, then we should be able to establish it without much resistance from the Church.  The role of women in 21st Century Western society is very different than it was in traditional Orthodox cultures and in the past.   Women today are educated, have careers and take common leadership roles throughout society.  This in itself seems to necessitate that the Church open not only the discussion but the opportunities for women’s ministries today.

God Fearing Women?

So they [Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome] went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  (Mark 16:8)

The myrrhbearing women come to the tomb of Christ in the early morning of the Sunday following his crucifixion and burial.  According to Mark’s Gospel after being told by a young man (whose clothes apparently caught their attention as they describe them with some detail) that Jesus was risen from the dead, they say nothing to anyone “for they were afraid.”  But afraid of what or who?  And why?

The women disciples of Jesus weren’t afraid to be at His crucifixion as St. Mark reports:

There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.  (Mark 15:40-41)

The women disciples of Christ were at the crucifixion, while on the other hand it is said of the male disciples:  “And they all forsook Jesus, and fled.”  (Mark 14:50)  The women disciples were not afraid to be at the cross of Christ.  One of the Pentecostarian Hymns (3rd Thursday, Vespers) says: “After following in the steps of serving Him with devotion, O Myrrhbearers, you did not forsake Him even after His death…” Unlike the male apostles who had!

On the morning of the great Pascha, it is the women disciples of the Lord who come to the tomb of Christ:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. (Mark 16:1-2)

Where are the men disciples?  Mark doesn’t tell us much about them but John tells us that same day: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…”  (John 20:19).  The men disciples are trembling in fear behind closed doors – hiding, while it is the women who are out and  brave enough to pay homage to their crucified Lord.   The male chosen apostles are engaged mostly in self-preservation, which is no virtue in the spiritual Tradition of Orthodoxy.

The women disciples of the Lord were not afraid to be at His crucifixion, though the men disciples were.  As another Pentecostarian hymn (3rd Thursday, Matins) says: “Bearing myrrh for Your burial, the women came secretly to the tomb at early dawn.  They feared the hatred of the Jews and the strength of the guard, but courage conquered weakness.”   The women disciples courageously conquered their fears, still wishing to serve their Lord even after His crucifixion, while the men disciples were not being manly but rather remained fearfully in hiding.

So what are we to make of Mark’s statement that the women disciples were so afraid that they didn’t want to tell anyone the Gospel they heard?  They weren’t afraid of the Romans at the crucifixion or of the Jewish leaders for they were willing to be at the cross and were willing to go to the tomb of Christ.  They didn’t fear their fellow Jews as the male apostles did.

One wonders if they were perhaps afraid of the men disciples –  afraid of how they would be received, believed and treated.  How was it possible that the almighty and all knowing God would chose to reveal His power, His salvation, His plan and His will to a group of nattering women rather than to those who imagined themselves sitting at the right and left hand of God?   Indeed, Luke reports:

Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The male apostles were incredibly disrespectful of the women disciples of the Lord, dismissing their Gospel as an old wive’s tale.  These women who provided for Jesus and the males disciples out of their own means (Luke 8:3) find these same males as insufferable ingrates.    Jesus, as He often did during His ministry, severely rebukes His chosen male disciples for their failure to believe and their behavior toward the faithful women:

“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”  (Mark 16:14)

Though Mark originally reports the women were too afraid to tell anyone about the empty tomb and the resurrection, obviously they overcame their fear.

The Scriptures are silent about whether the male apostles ever apologized to the women disciples of the Lord for their treatment of them and for their disbelief.  This is a silence that has existed for centuries in the Church, it has become part of the sad tradition of the Church.  Women faithfully ministered to Christ, yet were often curtly dismissed by the male members of the Church, silenced and marginalized.  And the male leadership has continued to remain silent, not offering an apology for such behavior toward those women or any other who remained faithful disciples even when the male apostles and their successors abandoned our Lord.

In a Church which bases itself in its faithful “spending the remaining time of their life in repentance” (from the prayers of the Liturgy), it is amazing how hard we find it to actually practice repentance and asking forgiveness and having metanoia.  Church leaders are ever loathsome to have to apologize.   Women disciples have often been marginalized in the Church like the Myrrhbearers, silenced and deprived of the diaconate which the Apostles themselves recognized for women.  Even St. Paul recognized women deacons.  The male clergy could today recognize this and do what we are called to do and repent.  Consider the words of yet another Pentecostarian hymn (3rd Wednesday, Vespers):  “Hearing the joyful words of the angels sitting in the tomb of the Word, the women who had run there with good intentions knew that the purpose of their group would be changed.  No longer will you carry myrrh!  Instead, you will preach to the apostles: “He who was hidden in the earth is risen from hell!” Initiate them into the mystery of Him who became man for us!”

It was women who initiated the male apostles into the Mystery of Christ’s incarnation and of His resurrection, not the other way around.  The office of every male clergy of the church stems from the ministry and message of the Women disciples of the Lord.  That is how God ordained it!  The women Christians taught the male apostles how hard it would be to convert the world to Christ.   They taught them that they would have to be incredibly reliable witnesses if they ever wanted the world to believe anything they said.

Women Disciples of the Lord

3rd Century Christian theologian Origen commenting on Romans 16:1-2 notes that the Myrrhbearing women were not the only females to have served the Church.  Women continued serving in recognized offices in the Church throughout the early centuries of Christianity.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you  may receive her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may  require from you, for she has helped many and myself as well.’ [Romans 16:1-2]

This passage teaches us, with apostolic authority, that women were appointed to the ministry of the church. Paul describes Phoebe, who held office in the church of Cenchreae, with great praise and commendation.   He lists her outstanding deeds and says, she has helped many, ready whenever they were in difficulty, and myself as well, in my troubles and my apostolic labors, with full devotion.

I would compare her work to that of Lot; because he always offered hospitality, he merited to receive angels as guests. Similarly Abraham, who always went out to meet strangers, merited that the Lord and his angels would stop and rest in his tent. In the same way, Phoebe, since she offered and provided assistance to everyone, merited to become a benefactor of the Apostle. This passage provides two lessons: women served as ministers in the church and those appointed to the ministry of the church should be benefactors to many and through their good services merit the praise of the apostles. The passage also encourages Christians to honor those who commit themselves to good works in the church; whether they serve spiritual or fleshly needs, they should be held in honor.” (J. Patout Burns Jr., Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, Kindle Loc. 7510-18)

Purity of Heart

“Amma Sarah said, ‘If I prayed God that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure toward all.’ Amma Sarah did not seek the approval of others; likewise, she remained nonjudgmental in her attitude toward others and their own journeys toward God. As in any other time in church history, there were strong personalities in Sarah’s day, but she did not follow fads. She sought to remain true to her own simple path toward God.” (Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers, pg. 39)

St. Mary Magdalene, Holy Myrrhbearer and Equal to the Apostles

On July 22 we commemorate the Holy Myrrhbearer Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles.  Two hymns from the Praises of Matins honoring her are listed below.

YOU LOVED THE CREATOR OF ALL GOOD,
WHO IN HIS COMPASSION MADE OUR NATURE LIKE GOD.
YOU ZEALOUSLY FOLLOWED HIM, MARY, OBEYING HIS DIVINE COMMANDS!
COMING TO THE TOMB OF THE DELIVERER WEEPING,
YOU WERE THE FIRST TO SEE THE DIVINE RESURRECTION.
YOU WERE REVEALED AS A MESSENGER OF THE GOSPEL AS YOU CRIED:
REJOICE, FOR CHRIST IS RISEN!

AFTER THE DIVINE PASSION AND FEARFUL RESURRECTION OF THE SAVIOR,   YOU HASTENED ON YOUR WAY AS A GLORIOUS DISCIPLE OF THE WORD.           YOU ANNOUNCED EVERYWHERE THE PRECIOUS WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, DRAWING INTO YOUR NET MANY LED ASTRAY THROUGH IGNORANCE.

The Samaritan Woman (1994): Women Disciples of the Lord

Sermon notes for THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

May 29, 1994         John 4:5-42

Christ is risen!

Today we have reached the 5th Sunday after Pascha. Our Sunday Gospel lessons continue to look at the reaction of different people to Christ and how they came to believe in him. We have heard the stories of Thomas the Apostle, the Myrrhbearing Women, the paralytic man, and today’s lesson is about the Samaritan woman. Next week the lesson is about a blind man. The gospel lessons tell us about how different people become disciples of Christ.

If you notice the pattern, the lessons are about first a man (Thomas), then women, (The Myrrhbearers), then a man (the paralytic), and then again today a woman.

Today, I want for just a few minutes to make a comment about the role of women in the church. This is a topic which causes much controversy today, and usually focuses on the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not intend to focus on that part of the controversy, since I cannot add anything new to the debate, and I do not ordain others, so no matter what I or you might think, we cannot resolve it anyway.

There is one interesting note to this. In the history of the Orthodox Church, we find women in almost every role in the church. There are women who are called disciples such as the Myrrhbearing Women referred to as the women disciples of the Lord. There are women in our church who are called equal-to-the apostles such as Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and Nina of Georgia.  There are women evangelizers, which include Nina of Georgia, as well as the Myrrhbearers. And we must remember that Christ picked women to be the first to know of the resurrection, so they were the first evangelists to proclaim that Christ is risen. There are in our church’s history women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers, monastics. And perhaps even more significant, women have been recognized as saints in every one of these roles. Women have occupied almost every position in church life and been recognized as saints in those positions. I said almost every position, for in the history of our church, despite the exalted role of the Virgin Mother, and of the women disciples of the Lord and of all the other women glorified as saints in the church, there are no women who have been gloried as saints as either priest or bishop. In fact, despite a few claims today, there are no indisputable accounts in the history of the church of women serving as priest or bishop. And that is one of the major reasons today that the Orthodox Church does not ordain women today.

Now, as I said, I do not intend to wrestle with issues of ordination because I cannot resolve them. What I do want to comment on is a much simpler fact. When we read the New Testament, and when we look at the lives of saints, we come to understand that what is most important in our salvation is that we become faithful disciples of Christ, like all those people of the Gospel lessons. However it is that we come to know Christ, the truth is we all are being called to be his disciples, each of us whether male or female are asked to believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah. Our salvation, eternal life, is linked to our relationship to Jesus who is the Son of God. Our own ability to become one of God’s saints is linked to our personal willingness to be Christ’s disciple, to do as Jesus teaches us, to love and to forgive. We do not become saints by becoming ordained. No one is saved by being a priest. All of us are saved by our relationship to Jesus Christ, by becoming his disciples, by being part of the body of Christ. It is in this context that I believe St. Paul said that in Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew. In Christ all of these distinctions are unimportant, because all of us are asked simply to love God and love neighbor, to love as Jesus loved us. And that aspect of being a disciple is equally accessible to all of us.

We see vividly in the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan Woman, the tensions between men and women. The woman is surprised that Jesus speaks to her publicly, because this was not considered proper behavior. Besides of course the fact that Jews would not normally accept food or drink from Samaritans. Yet Jesus speaks to her most respectfully and about the most theological things, even though her reputation is quite sordid having had 5 husbands. Jesus accepts her as an evangelist for himself, he allows her to be both disciple and preacher.

Again the male-female tensions are apparent when the disciples see Jesus speaking with this women, because this was not customarily accepted behavior. But Jesus taught those disciples to open their eyes to see the fields ripe for harvesting. He was asking them to see even their relationships with Samaritans and women in a new way. For all who are called by Christ are called to be his disciples, to be co-workers with one another on the road to the kingdom of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not leave for us an exact picture of how the Church was to be structured. He left us with teachings on how to be his disciples, to be co-workers with one another in building up this Church. He taught us to what degree we are to love one another, to what extent we are to forgive one another, how we are to love God. He revealed to us what God is like, so that each of us in our turn might become god-like.

We will accomplish this task only to the extent that we help each other, and pray for each other. Amen.

Reading the Bible Literally

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Reading the Bible: The Treasury of Allegory.

The Publican and the Pharisee

It has been said that you can find a verse in the Bible to justify just about any thought or behavior.  Most believers, however, do recognize that taking verses willy-nilly out of context and quoting them does not in any way reflect truly understanding them nor does it bring us to the message that God wishes for us to understand from them.  Part of what the 16th Century Reformers alleged against  Roman Catholicism was the Church’s ability and willingness to justify most any practice by quoting some verse of scripture regardless of how the verse had to be twisted or decontextualized to give it the meaning claimed.   This pushed the Protestants toward accepting only “the plain” or literalist interpretation of the text, which they naively in turn imagined would be free of human error.  Yet nothing has so relativized the scriptures, and caused endless denominations from dividing from the rest of Christendom than the rejection of Church tradition and authority in interpreting the Bible.

Arguing for the literal meaning of a verse of course doesn’t stop people from decontextualizing and “proof texting” – using verses to uphold any belief or practice one wants to defend.  The problem remains the same – the Scriptures were written by those inspired by God AND were accepted and interpreted within a living community.  The text of the Bible is proven to be true in and by the experience of the Christian people who are also inspired by God.   There is no perfect divine copy of the Bible which is pure truth without human mediation.   The Bible is God’s Word, but God spoke through the prophets and inspired humans to write it down; God did not try to free the scriptures from human influence or mediation.   Rather God chose humans to be His heralds of the divine revelation and used their languages and cultural concepts to convey His eternal truths. 

The New Testament has numerous quotes from the Old Testament which it claims are prophecies of Christ – but the texts in their original context don’t necessarily say they point to Christ.  For that is the Christian community’s understanding of these texts; it is the community of believers which sees in the text the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies.  The New Testament, which is the Christian understanding of the Old Testament promises and prophecies, doesn’t just read the Old literally; it sees in the Old a deeper meaning which is revealed only in Christ.  The literal reading is but one reading of the text, and may not be the most important one.  The Church followed a Christocentric reading of the Old Testament, not necessarily a literal reading.  As Jesus said in John 5:39-40, the scriptures bear witness to Him, they don’t have eternal life in them; rather the scriptures serve to bring us to Christ.

Consider for example the Twelve and the women disciples of the Lord first being confronted by the empty tomb on that first Paschal morning:

“So, neither seeing Christ on the cross, nor the report about the empty tomb, nor even the encounter with the risen Christ prompted the disciples, finally, to know the Lord: the tomb is empty, but this in itself is ambiguous, and when he appears he is not immediately recognized.  Rather, the disciples come to recognize the Lord as the one whose passion is spoken of by the Scriptures (meaning, the ‘Old Testament’), and who is encountered in the breaking of the bread.  Consuming Christ’s offering, they become his body.  These two complementary ways—the engagement with the Scriptures (understanding how Christ ‘died according to the Scriptures and was raised according to the Scriptures’ [1 Cor 15:3-5]), and the participation in the Lord’s meal (‘proclaiming his death until he come’ [1 Cor 11:26])—specify what St. Paul claims he had received and then handed down, or ‘traditioned,’ to later generations (cf. 1 Cor 11:23, 15:3).”    (John Behr in THINKING THROUGH FAITH: NEW PERSPECTIVES FROM ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS, p 74)

Even when facing the bare facts of the empty tomb, the men and women disciples of Christ still needed some explanation to be given to them before they began to realize what had happened.  They have encounters with the risen Lord who explains to them the Scriptures, who eats with them, and in these encounters the facts are made alive and real. 

“Every word, both as a separate unit and within the context of the sentence in which it is written, has to be interpreted by the reader’s mind.  There is no such thing as a ‘literal’ meaning of any sentence, since the whole point of writing is that thoughts and ideas be communicated through words.  The thoughts and feelings of the writer are made available to the thoughts and feelings of the reader, in order that communication can occur as a sort of resonance between the experience of the writer and that of the reader.”   (Meletios Webber, BREAD & WATER, WINE & OIL: AN ORTHODOX EXPERIENCE OF GOD, p 67)

“…the Church’s spiritual elders have always recognized that truth is more than sheer fact, and the Scripture speaks more in the figurative language of poetry than in the analytical language of science.  This is because truth is ultimately ineffable. … While the fathers placed different emphases on the historical value of any given Old Testament passage, they were united in their tendency to look beyond its purely historical significance in order to discover the deeper, higher or fuller meaning that God Himself, acting through the Holy Spirit, wished to convey… typology is in fact an aspect or function of the larger interpretive process of allegory.”     (John Breck,  LONGING FOR GOD: ORTHODOX REFLECTIONS ON BIBLE, ETHICS, AND LITURGY, pp  31, 44-45)

Next: St. Paul and the Literal Truth

Truth and Christian Witness

7th Sunday after Pascha:  Commemorating the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

Early Christianity understood the fact that Jesus is the Christ to be a revelation of the truth about God.  Jesus was not only the Messiah but also the Son of God, which his miracles confirmed.  The truth about God is that God is Trinity, and one of the Person of the Trinity became flesh/human.  Everything we understand about God, about Creation, about being human, about the relationship of God and humans, is radically altered by the incarnation of the Son of God.

This Sunday after the Ascension is dedicated to the Christian leadership which assembled in council in 325AD to wrestle with the implications and understanding of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  They affirmed what they believed to be the truth about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.

What we sometimes forget today is that the Church has always fought for the truth.  Today we sometimes act as if the truth is self-evident and needs no discussion.  The first Christians were witnesses to the truth – like the Myrrhbearing Women who came to the tomb and found it empty.  The meaning of the empty tomb was not self-evident to these disciples of the Lord: they thought a theft, not the resurrection had occurred!   It is only when the meaning of the empty tomb is explained to them (by the angelic beings, or by encountering the risen Christ) that they understand what has happened.  Only as time unfolds do they and the Apostles realize the implication of the resurrection of Christ.

We too have to witness to the truth about the resurrection and its implications about God.  We too have to struggle with the truth about Christ in the modern world, which means relating to that which the rest of the world knows or believes to be true about science, relativism, and materialism.   Self evident truth since the 18th Century Enlightenment and as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence is that which can be observed, verified and deduced from what is known.  The Christian message  however is something to which we Christians must bear witness through our lives, and it is tested by the non-believer in terms of its rationality as well as by how they see us living.

The early Church battled against heresies – distortions of the truth – because they knew that a correct way or thinking (correct opinion = Orthodoxy) leads to the right way of living.

Truth is something you enter into a relationship with. Taking cues from the Scriptures, the Christian goes still further. Truth is linked to a way of life, one that is in concert with the way things really are. Truth is not just something that we learn; it is something that we do, how we live. Truth can be an action, an activity. St. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15 about “speaking the truth in love,” or at least that’s how it’s commonly translated. The Greek here uses truth as a verb—aletheuo—so that Paul is really talking about “truthing” in love. That means speaking, thinking, and acting rightly, truly, honestly—and with love, lest we forget the relational dimension of truth. The Scriptures speak in the same breath about walking before God “in truth, with a truth of heart” and doing “that which is pleasing in the sight of God.” Isaiah 26:10 talks about learning righteousness and doing the truth. We usually think of it the other way around, doing the righteousness and learning the truth…But Jesus goes one step further when says to his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). What could he mean? He could mean simply that he speaks the truth and is trustworthy. Some say that this pronouncement shows Jesus in an unattractive light: he sounds so full of himself! And he excludes other expressions of truth. But a genuine follower of Jesus Christ interprets these words only in their fullest sense, to refer to absolute truth itself: Jesus links truth not only with salvation, freedom, and action but also with his own person. This is remarkable, to be sure. But Christians can believe no less.      (Peter Bouteneff, Sweeter than Honey:  Orthodox Thinking on Dogma and Truth, pgs. 22-23)

Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women (2010)

SUNDAY OF THE MYRRHBEARING WOMEN     Gospel: Mark 15:43-16:8

Women Disciples of the Lord

These women, when they arrive at the tomb, do not find what they expected (“they did not find the body”) but learn to their total surprise from an angel that they are dealing not with a dead Jesus but with a live Jesus (“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”). Not the Word of God dead and buried in a tomb, but the Word of God resurrection-alive in the neighborhood. They leave their spices and ointments at the tomb – they have no use for them:  Jesus has no use for them. They are on their way, ready to meet and follow and listen to the Word alive, Jesus. Ready to join the company of the Emmaus pilgrims, listening to Jesus interpret “to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

                      (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, pg 85)

Great & Holy Wednesday (2010)

REPENTANCE AS CHOICE 

 

The Disciple Judas betraying Christ with a kiss

On Great Wednesday the Church invites the faithful to focus their attention on two figures: the sinful woman who anointed the head of Jesus shortly before the passion (Mt. 26:6-13), and Judas, the disciple who betrayed the Lord. The former acknowledged Jesus as Lord, while the latter severed himself from the Master. The one was set free, while the other became a slave. The one inherited the kingdom, while the other fell into perdition. These two people bring before us concerns and issues related to freedom, sin, hell and repentance.  The full meaning of these things can be understood only within the context and from the perspective of the existential truth of our human existence…Sin is more than breaking rules and transgressing commandments. It is the willful rejection of a personal relationship with the living God. It is separation and alienation; a way of death…Likewise, repentance is not merely a change in attitude, but a choice to follow God…

“While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh, the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors. She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious, he made haste to sell the One who is above all price. She acknowledged Christ as Lord, he severed himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. Grievous was his lack of love. Great was her repentance. Grant such repentance also unto me, O Savior who has suffered for our sake, and save us.”   (Orthos of Great Wednesday)

(Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church, pg. 38-41)