Saturday, July 19, 2014

Getting to Know Our (Church) Fathers in the Faith


Dear Parish Faithful,

Last Sunday, we commemorated "The Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils."  If that already sounds a bit esoteric, it  may mean that you will need to do some research into the Church's history and theological teaching.  Just who are these "Fathers;" or perhaps we can ask more generally, just who are the Fathers of the Church? 

Since we are probably aware of some of the basic biographical facts of our country's Founding Fathers - say, Washington, Jefferson and Adams (and I am sure that everyone can supply their first names) - I would submit that we need to know those Church Fathers that so profoundly teach us about God and the entire mystery of our salvation.  (I will avoid mentioning our familiarity for the moment with the lives of movie stars and athletes). If the Church Fathers are admittedly not "household names" in America, as are the Founding Fathers; then I would further submit that they need to be household names in homes inhabited by Orthodox Christians (with perhaps their icons adorning our walls)!  If we know the basics about Washington, Jefferson and Adams; then we should also know the basics about the Three Hierarchs, for example - Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.  Just who are they?  When did they live?  What are their major contributions to the life of the Church? While the founding fathers were deists - believers in a rather remote "Deity" - the Church Fathers taught us about the Holy Trinity, Whom we worship every time we step into the Church for a service, beginning with the Liturgy.

In the homily last Sunday, I attempted to place the commemoration of the Fathers in the context of the pastoral admonitions found in I TIM. concerning the teaching of sound doctrine.  As an example, the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy in the following manner: "If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed" (I TIM. 4:6). 

The fact is that false teaching has plagued the Church from the beginning, and the Apostle Paul realized how pernicious, confusing and discouraging this can be for the internal life of the believing community.  This is why St. Paul further taught:  "Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith"  (I TIM. 6:20-21).

This work of "guarding the deposit" (of the Faith) against false teaching became one of the great legacies of the Church Fathers in subsequent centuries.  The Fathers poured all of their intellectual and spiritual powers into "rightly defining the word of Truth" when confronted with false teaching.  Our Nicene Creed was formulated in response to the Arian heresy that refused to recognize the full divinity of the Son of God. In a more peaceful manner, they would offer brilliant and illuminating commentaries on the Holy Scriptures. And we study their interpretation of the Scriptures to this day. Therefore, it is through the centuries that the Church has developed what we call today a "Patristic legacy."

With this term in  mind, I closed the homily last Sunday by posing a hypothetical scenario. Imagine a friend, neighbor or acquaintance asking you the following questions:  "Knowing you as an Orthodox Christian, and reading a bit about your Church, I came across the claim that the Orthodox Church is very committed to what is called the "patristic legacy."  Could you explain the meaning of that term to me?  I came to the conclusion that is has something to do with the so-called Church Fathers.  Just who are these Church Fathers?  Could you possibly tell me something about the more prominent ones?"  Here is your great opportunity to shine! To witness to the riches of Orthodoxy! Would you be able to enlighten your interlocutor?  (Please remember what I said last Sunday:  you are not allowed to refer this person to me by giving him/her my phone number or email address). Or, would you limp away knowing that this was a missed opportunity?  (For the moment let's not explore the plausibility of such a conversation).  We should never underestimate the potential impact of being capable of something meaningful about our Faith when asked to do so.

http://www.svspress.com/remember-the-days-of-old-orthodox-thinking-on-the-patristic-heritage/
The reason why I specifically chose the term "patristic legacy" for my homily last Sunday is because I had just started a new and fascinating book by a great patristic scholar, Augustine Casiday (who is an Orthodox Christian), entitled, Remembering the Days of Old - Orthodox Thinking on the Patristic Heritage (SVS Press).   So far, so good! This book  promises to be an excellent study from start to finish.  At the very outset of the book, Augustine Casiday begins with some basic definitions of his over-riding theme:

This book is an essay about the patristic heritage and its importance for contemporary Orthodox theology. ,,, Before we can consider the patristic heritage in a sustained way, we need to define both "patristic" and "heritage." ... "Patristic" indicates that any given thing comes from or belongs to the "fathers" of the Church.  (The English word patristic comes indirectly from the Latin word pater which, like the Greek pater, means "father.")   "Heritage" refers to that which is passed from one generation to the next, often within a family.  From these two definitions, two important questions arise. The first is, what do we mean when we describe certain people as "fathers"?  And the second:  what is it that we are "inheriting" from them?

 (Remembering the Days of Old, p. 25)

The remainder of the body of his book is Augustine Casiday's own answers to those two fundamental questions.  However, the small excerpt above is at least a start.  So, if you haven't yet had that dialogue with a friend, neighbor or acquaintance, perhaps these brief definitions will help you offer an intelligent and accurate response once you get past the initial shock of being asked such a series of questions in the first place.  However, I will leave it to your initiative, interest level and commitment - however modest - to the Church's patristic legacy, (to begin?) that exciting and stimulating discovery of the lives and works of the more prominent of the Church Fathers.   Perhaps you may want to begin with the Three Hierarchs mentioned above.  Here is a good way to spend some summer leisure time!  Explore their lives.  When did they live?  Where are they from?  What were their roles in advancing our knowledge of the Faith?  This kind of use of your time and energy will reward you thirty, sixty and hundred-fold, I am certain.  St. John Chrysostom's life alone will blow you away!

To turn to Augustine Casiday one more time, here is what I believe is a very helpful perspective on what it means for us to "follow the Fathers" and to establish a relationship with them:

When we talk about people from the past as "fathers" (or sometimes, albeit rarely, as "mothers"), we are claiming a special kind of relationship to them.  We are claiming  them as parents and, at the same time, we are claiming to be their children.  We can even say that we are affiliating ourselves to them, in the strongest, etymological sense of the word:  we are making ourselves their children.  This use of family language is not casual.
Our dependence as children upon the Fathers of the Church is both a positive and persistent factor. It is not something that we outgrow as we mature.  Instead, it is, if you like, a structural component of relating to them as their children.  Even when an infant matures into childhood, adolescence, and then adulthood, the relationship remains.  It doesn't remain the same; it matures, but the fact that children relate to their parents is constant, even as the character of the relationship flourishes and ripens.  For this reason, we can talk about continuing to be sons and daughters of our Fathers, even into adulthood, growing into maturity without losing our relationship to them

 (Remembering the Days of Old, p. 26, 30)

Knowing about the Fathers (and Mothers!) of the Church should not be left to the "experts." It should not be an issue of intellectual curiosity.  I think that it is our responsibility to study their lives and teaching at some level of commitment.  Recall this exhortation:  "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their faith" (HEB. 13:7).


Friday, July 4, 2014

Applying the 'Hard Sayings' of Jesus


Dear Parish Faithful,


Recently, I was reading and studying  what has come to be called "the Sermon on the Plain" found in LK. 6.  In this passage, we come to the very heart of Christ's teaching, to the words that penetrate both the mind and heart, and which have drawn countless people to Christ from the time they were first uttered and throughout the centuries up to our own day.  (Yet, are these words that we as Orthodox Christians neglect?)  I am referring to the "hard sayings" of our Lord that both elevate and perplex us; that simultaneously attract and frighten us; that reveal to us a "better way" of living, but which remain as a postponed ideal:

But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well.  Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. 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 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 the most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.   (LK. 6:27-37)

I always feel challenged to make some sense out of this teaching that seems to be humanly impossible to put into practice. I thought I would share a few points that I tried to formulate in short accessible summaries:

Christ is not offering a blueprint for some form of utopia or "social engineering."  He is addressing the human heart of each and every person, challenging each person to a new way of life worthy of the Kingdom of God.  It is about making a choice to "risk" following His path.

We fail to put this teaching of Christ into practice for fear of the consequences to our well-being and security.  We fear our enemies and what they can do to us.  We have thus developed defensive strategies to protect ourselves from our enemies, usually based upon our experience of human sin and common sense.

To "love" our enemies is not to develop strong emotional attachments to them.  "Love" in this context is an action verb about how we react to and treat others.  By refusing to retaliate and do harm to others, we help to break the vicious circle of endless retribution and hatred.

To have our cheek slapped is to be insulted, abused, of offended by our "enemy."  We also have a way of manufacturing "enemies" with our mind.

There is nothing particularly "Christian" about loving those who love us.  That is exactly how all human beings live, including atheists!  It is part of our biological heritage.  Christian living is transcending the biology, so to speak.

There is not one word that Jesus taught that He did not put into practice.  Christ harmed no one and loved  His enemies by dying for them and forgiving them on the Cross.  What Christ taught is humanly possible, and this is the great witness of the saints, who put aside their fears and anxieties by putting the teaching of Christ into practice after Him.

Therefore, this teaching of the Lord is the imitation of God Himself, Who is merciful even to great sinners.

It is never going to be easy to be a disciple of Christ!

          

Friday, June 27, 2014

Keeping The Great Feast of the Foremost Apostles



Dear Parish Faithful,

"Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."  (PHIL. 3:8)

"Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.  As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls."  (I PET. 1:8-9)


The Apostles Fast is drawing to a close as we prepare to commemorate the Feast of the Apostles Peter & Paul on Sunday, June 29.  As a liturgical principle, a great and meaningful commemoration is preceded by a period of fasting - as we  prepare for Nativity, Pascha, Dormition.  The Apostles Peter & Paul are perhaps the two greatest figures in the spread of the Gospel in the early decades of the Church's existence.  They "sealed" their respective apostolic ministries by giving their lives as a witness to Christ.  Thus, they died as two of the earliest and greatest martyrs of the Church.  The most reliable witness to this comes from St. Clement, bishop of Rome, in his Epistle to the Corinthians (known today as I Clement)  from around the year 96 A.D.  St. Clement writes the following:


Let us have the good apostles before our eyes.  Peter through wicked jealously endured not one or two hardships but many, and after having thus borne witness went on the place of glory which was his due. On account of envy and strife Paul gave an example of the prize of endurance: seven times imprisoned, driven into exile, stoned: he preached in the East and in the West, and won noble renown for his faith. He taught righteousness to the whole world and went to the western limit of the earth.  He bore witness before the rulers, and then passed out of the world and went on to the holy place, having proved himself the greatest pattern of endurance.  I Clement, v-vi.

From then to this day we keep the sacred memory of these great apostles on June 29.  Since the feast falls on a Sunday this year, the commemoration will be all the greater.

Yet, the liturgical cycle of the Feast begins with Great Vespers on Saturday evening.  It is in this service that the majority of the hymnography to the apostles will be sung; and it is at this service that we will bless the five loaves and then be anointed with the blessed oil, signifying the joy of the feast. 

I encourage everyone to venerate the two great apostles Peter & Paul by making every effort to participate in the full celebration of the feast, beginning with Great Vespers on the eve. Honor the apostles by your presence.  Choir members have the added responsibility in their ministry to the parish of helping to make the feast days as festal as possible by "singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart."

I am aware of the fact that many churches have their summer festivals at this time of the year, including the upcoming weekend.  But for the Orthodox (and for Roman Catholics) this is the weekend of commemorating the two great apostles.  This is where our focus belongs.  If you make the choice of attending such a festival for "food, fun and entertainment"  (or anything else of like nature) while the celebration for the apostles is going on in the church, then you are not prepared to receive Holy Communion on Sunday morning, and it is my pastoral position that you do not approach the Chalice.  Choices have consequences.

However, I am confident that the church will be filled for the full cycle of services and that we will "keep the Tradition" by offering  our veneration, respect and love to the holy Apostles Peter & Paul.

Saturday - Great Vespers with the blessing of loaves and oil at 6:00 p.m.
Sunday - Hours at 9:10 a.m. Liturgy at 9:30 a.m.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Too Busy Not To Pray


Dear Parish Faithful,


In case you are interested ...


Here is an older meditation of mine that has recently been posted on the OCA website.  Be that as it may, I believe that the issue dealt with below remains an urgent one that needs our attention.

Fr. Steven

* * *


Too busy NOT to pray!

While looking through a catalogue recently from a Christian publishing company, I came across a rather intriguing title: Too Busy Not to Pray.  I say intriguing because this is a theme that I think about often and one that I have raised with others before. Read that title again carefully, because it does not say Too Busy to Pray, but precisely Too Busy Not to Pray

Either title could serve as an invitation to a book that assumedly addresses the contemporary Christian’s struggle to maintain a regular prayer life amidst his or her busy schedule.  However, the title as it stands captures the urgency of the issue much more effectively.  I would express that urgency in the following manner:  If we are indeed “too busy,” then the only way that we can prevent our lives from spinning out of control—or of losing a God-directed orientation or reducing prayer to moments of danger and stress—is for the “busy person” to be ever-vigilant about praying with regularity to guard such spiritual catastrophes from occurring.

We always need to pray with regularity—“pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17].  But it strikes me that the busier we are, the more urgent it becomes for us to pray. In other words, the busy person cannot afford not to pray.  Busy people indeed need the nourishment of prayer.  Otherwise, the spirtual dangers are immense. 

The “business” of our lives make us too busy to ... do what?  We are certainly not “too busy” to socialize, to seek entertainment, pleasure and diversion—all necessary to one degree or another because of the pressures of work and other responsibilities.  And these diversions are layered onto lives that already feel the strain of “multi-tasking” the endless activities that keep our children educated, developing, healthily-preoccupied, etc.  (A social commentator recently wrote that mothers have been reduced to the roles of domestic caretakers and chauffeurs.  And is this why we still read such nonsense about the very “need” of fathers?)  Therefore, most people carefully construct their schedules so that these extra social and diversionary activities are not terribly neglected.  We can cast this under the rubrics of “leisure time” or “recreational time.”  (This all gets a bit sloppy when we go further and speak of “vegging out”).  It is the careful, calculated and natural integration of such activities into our lives that leaves us with the overwhelming certainty that we are “too busy.”  And “too busy” leaves us “too tired.”

And at that point, we just may be. 

The question then arises again, now with a certain persistence:  to busy to ... do what?  To pray, to read the Scriptures, to assist a needy neighbor, to visit someone who really needs a visit, or even to call someone we know who is lonely?  We are “too busy” to integrate the life of the Church into our lives beyond Sunday mornings.  We are “too busy” for Vespers, Bible Studies, Feast Days, etc.  Perhaps, finally, we are “too busy” for God!  How often do we postpone our relationship with God until we have more time?  “If only my life would slow down a bit, then I could turn my attention to God, beyond the perfunctory rushed prayer of my busy, daily life—if I even get to it.”

Is this dilemma unavoidable and irresolvable?  Every Christian who does face—or face-up—to this dilemma must search his or her heart and ask, “how is it that I am ‘too busy’ to pray?”  Whatever honest answers we come up with, I am convinced that we, indeed, are too busy not to pray.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pentecostal Renewal or the Summertime Blues?



Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Last Sunday was the First Sunday After Pentecost.  All of the subsequent Sundays of the liturgical year until the pre-lenten Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee sometime next year will be so numbered.  Thus, this coming Sunday will be the Second Sunday After Pentecost. This is not intended to help us count better. 

The purpose is to keep before our spiritual sight the overwhelming significance of Pentecost in the divine economy. 

The New Testament era of the Church began its existence on the Day of Pentecost with the Spirit’s descent as a mighty rushing wind that took on the form of fiery tongues alighting upon the heads of the future apostles (ACTS 2:1-13).  The Church has always existed, but the Church as a remnant of Israel that would flourish and grow with the addition of the Gentiles began its final phase of existence with the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, Who, seated at the right hand of the Father, would send the Holy Spirit into the world and upon “all flesh” on the Day of Pentecost.  As St. Epiphanius of Cyprus wrote in the fourth century:  “The Catholic Church, which exists from the ages, is revealed most clearly in the incarnate advent of Christ.” 

The simple calendar rubric of numbering the Sundays after Pentecost is one way of reminding us of this essential truth of the Christian Faith.  The Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and in and through the sacramental life of the Church we experience something like a permanent pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It is this outpouring of the Spirit "on all flesh" that offers the possibility and the promise of human holiness.  The fact that so many men, women and children throughout the centuries of the Church's existence received this gift with joy and gladness is revealed to us in the lives of the saints.  It is these "holy persons" that we commemorated last Sunday on the Sunday of All Saints.

However, as we embark upon the Sundays of Pentecost we immediately encounter a prevailing tension between the "rhythm" of the Church and the "rhythm" of our personal lives.  We begin these Pentecostal Sundays just when summer is also beginning - and our summer schedules often minimize our participation in the Church. 

So, as we receive the Spirit of renewal and re-commitment to the Church as the source of authentic life; as we pray to the Heavenly King and Spirit of Truth to "come and abide in us;" we more-or-less settle into our church summer schedules that have something of a lazy-hazy approach to the Church.  There seems to exist an Orthodox version of "the summertime blues!" 

This can especially afflict Orthodox parents who equate "summer vacation" from school and summer vacation from church school.  The notion of  "we're off until the Fall!" can translate into sporadic attendance at the Lord's Day Liturgy, let alone any other services or events in the church.  Fortunately for us, God's providential care for us is not seasonal.

Thus, the tension between Pentecostal renewal and the beginning of summer.  If anyone gets the urge to just stay home on Sunday for leisure purposes or for no particular reason at all, my pastoral response is:  that is a temptation that must be resisted.


The Lord's Day cycle for the Second Sunday of Pentecost - when we commemorate the Saints of North America - begins with Great Vespers on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. and culminates with the Hours and Liturgy on Sunday morning at 9:10 and 9:30 a.m. respectively.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Become What You Are!



Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Come, O believers,
Let us celebrate in song today,
Glorifying the memory of all the saints:
Hail, O glorious apostles, prophets, martyrs, and bishops!
Hail, O company of all the just!
Hail, O ranks of holy women!
Pray that Christ will grant our souls great mercy!

(Sunday of All Saints, Aposticha, Vespers)

The Sunday of All Saints fittingly follows the Sunday of Pentecost, for the saints of the Church are the “fruit” and manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence among us.  They are the living icons that are transparent to the glory of God that shines in and through each of them as a gift of the Holy Spirit.  The saints (literally, the “holy ones”) have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature” (II PET 1:4).  Created in the image of God, they “are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another”  (II COR 3:18).  In the Book of Revelation, St. John has recorded his incomparable vision of the saints in heaven:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”  (REV. 7:9-10)

Since, in the one Church of Christ, the heavenly and earthly realms are united, the saints are “the great cloud of witnesses” that surround us and exhort us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (HEB. 12:1-2).  At the most basic level, the saints are the true friends of God:  “But to me, exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord” (PS. 138:16, LXX).  The saints put Christ above all else in the fulfillment of their Master’s words:

"He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it."  (MATT. 10:37-39)

The words of the Scriptures are the seeds that nourish the life of sanctity which results in the slow transformation of a human being, made in God’s image, into the very likeness of God, so that this particular person becomes by grace what Christ is by nature.  The saint is thus a scriptural man or a scriptural woman, inasmuch as he/she hears the Word of God and keeps it – meaning acting upon and living out what is heard.  The saint has responded positively to the paradoxical admonition:  “Become what you are!”

Now, as we like to say today:  “No pain – no gain!”  If we were “bought with a price” (I COR. 6:20), then we could say that the saints “bought” their sanctity at “a price,” abandoning security, comfort and safety which, we acknowledge, are so central to our own understanding of life.  (It is rather easy, though it may go unnoticed, for Christians to be transformed in Epicureans over time:  avoid pain and seek pleasure).  Being “destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated” they “wandered over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  As such, God has revealed that “the world was not worthy” of them. (HEB. 11:37-38)

The “diversity” of the saints is remarkable:  fathers (and mothers), patriarchs (and matriarchs), prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith,” culminating in “our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

On the Sunday of All Saints, we do not commemorate only the saints whose names have been included on our ecclesiastical calendars; those, in other words, who have been officially “glorified/canonized” by the Church and whom we remember and venerate by name. We remember all of the saints, that vast multitude, both known and unknown, (symbolically numbered at 144,000 in the Book of Revelation; a multiple of 12 that signifies an incalculable figure as well as wholeness and totality – much to the dismay, I would imagine, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) “who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (REV. 21:27).  Perhaps this will include our own ancestors who lived modest and humble Christian lives.

All of the saints, therefore, intercede before the throne of God on our behalf.  They are with us and not cut off from us by death. Rather, they are now more alive than ever and being “in Christ” are present wherever Christ is present.  The earthly lives of the saints become sources of inspiration and models of emulation for us, teaching by examples of faith, hope and love; of long-suffering, perseverance and patience; of lives steeped in prayer, almsgiving and fasting.  They do not discourage us because they attained what may seem unattainable to us; but rather they encourage us to struggle to overcome our weaknesses as men and women who did precisely that in their own lives.  They were not born saints or privileged from birth.  They became saints by co-operating with the grace of God.  We, in turn, simply need to become what we already are:  saints of God through Baptism and Chrismation and membership in the Church!

Many of us are deeply impressed by the total dedication, perseverance, training, commitment and love of the sport exhibited by today’s athletes.  (Possible envy of their great wealth and fame is a different subject).  Many may shake their heads in disbelief or nod in admiration.  Hardly anyone will call these athletes “fanatics.”  But if someone is that single-minded and intent upon the life in God, that is a word that will inevitably ring out.  But the saints are not fanatics – they simply have a passion for God and put the Gospel and the Kingdom of God above all else.

To be inducted into any particular Hall of Fame – from baseball to Rock ‘n Roll – is considered to be a great human achievement and a goal only an elite few could even aspire to.  However, these Halls of Fame are the secular and rather pale – if not pitiful – reflections of an earlier age’s striving for the heavenly realm of the Kingdom of God.  The saints looked beyond the fleeting and temporal “glory of men” to the unchanging and eternal “glory of God.”  That seems to be the vocation of all Christians and the Lord’s desire for us.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Holy Spirit's Presence in the Church



Dear Parish Faithful,

We are drawing near to the close of the (fast-free) Week of Pentecost.  This is something equivalent to Bright Week following Pascha.  The "fast-free" nature of these weeks reveals the bright and festal nature of Pascha and Pentecost, which in turn reveal the Church as Feast; as the "place" where we rejoice in all that our God has done "for us and for our salvation."  As is often the case, it is the Apostle Paul who articulates this truth to us in a passage of deep encouragement and comfort:  "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." (ROM. 15:13) The Leavetaking of Pentecost is tomorrow, and the Apostle's Fast (Sts. Peter and Paul) begins on Monday.  This is fitting, in that the two great apostles were clearly vessels of the Holy Spirit in their fruitful ministries to both the circumcised and uncircumcised, respectively.  Here, I would simply like to share a fine passage from Fr. John Breck who wrote a summary paragraph of the role and work of the Holy Spirit in the divine economy, and in the life of Christian believers.  This passage gives us a sense of the extraordinarily rich and varied aspects of the Spirit’s presence in the Church which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  I am breaking down Fr. John’s paragraph in a more systematic manner:

The Spirit …

+  Prays within us and on our behalf (ROM. 8:26).

+  He works out our sanctification (ROM. 15:16; I COR. 6:11; II THESS. 2:13; GAL. 5:16-18).

+  He pours out God’s love into the hearts of believers, enabling them to address the Father by the familiar and intimate name, “Abba” (ROM. 5:5; 8:15-16; GAL. 4:6).

+  He confirms out status as “children of God” through His indwelling presence and power (ROM. 8:16; GAL. 4:6).

+  He guides and preserves the faithful in their ascetic struggles against the passions (GAL. 5:16).

+  And He serves as the source and guarantor of our “freedom” from the constraints of the Law, a freedom which enables us to behold the glory of the Lord  (II COR. 3:17-18).

Looking up these passages in the Bible may further prove to be helpful in gaining a sense of the ongoing and endless gifts that the Holy Spirit brings to the Church and to our personal lives.

_____

To add a little bit more to these “fragments,” I would like to include a passage from Veselin Kessich’s book The First Day of the New Creation.  In his discussion about Pentecost, Prof. Kessich offers a good summary of the Orthodox position concerning the issue of the filioque.  As Orthodox Christians, we continue to recite the Nicene Creed in its original form, without the interpolation of the filioque, the Latin term that means “and from the Son,” when proclaiming the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father.  Prof. Kessich summarizes the Orthodox position based upon a careful reading of the Scriptures.  The “filioque controversy” remains to this day a divisive point of contention between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches respectively – and those Western churches that also use the term.  The point to be made is not about remaining entrenched in a polemical position, but to try to come to some understanding as to why the Orthodox have never embraced this later addition to the Nicene Creed.  In the words of Prof. Kessich:

“It is equally true that the Fathers sends the Spirit (JN. 14:16, 26).  The Son sends the Spirit, but the source of the Spirit is the Father, for the Spirit proceeds from the Father (JN. 15:26). The verb “proceed” that is used in JN. 15:26 is ekporeuomai.  When it is said that the Son “comes forth” from the Father the verb is exerchomai.  St. John consistently uses the latter verb whenever he speaks of the Son coming forth from the Father (8:42: 13:3; 16:27f.; 16:30; 17:8).  The Spirit and the Son have the same and only origin.  They are two distinct persons.  Their missions are not identical.  Although the Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet glorified (JN. 7:39), yet it is nowhere stated in St. John’s Gospel that the Spirit “proceeds” from the Son as he proceeds from the Father.  Therefore, there is no filioque here.”

Nothing like some good biblical exegesis to make’s one day brighter and more glorious!