Monday, May 31, 2010

All Saints - Common Qualities

Dear Parish Faithful,

The liturgical book that we began with the Matins of Pascha is called The Pentecostarion. This theologically-rich book contains the hymnography for all the days of Pascha, and the Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost. But it does not end with the Leavetaking of Pentecost (this past Saturday). We draw from The Pentecostarion one last time on the Sunday of All Saints, our celebration yesterday. This commemoration is all-inclusive, embracing all of the men, women and children - known and unknown - throughout the ages that have been well-pleasing to God in honestly trying to fulfill the will of God in all things. If a "saint" is a holy person, then that holiness is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a humanly-generated holiness; as it is not a matter of the "indomitable human spirit" struggling to overcome any and all adversities. A saint is the one that makes a conscious effort to cooperate with God (synergy), and is fully aware of his/her dependence on the grace and deifying energies of the "Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth." Thus, the Feast of All Saints is the perfectly-placed commemoration to follow the entire paschal-pentecostal season.

If there is a "road to perdition" then there is certainly a "road to holiness." And there is a seemingly endless number of vocations that a particular person will be able to follow on that road - straight and narrow as it may be. In the Liturgy we commemorate "those who have fallen asleep in faith: ancestors, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith." What are some of the consistent characteristics of the multitude of saints who bless the Church with their intercessory presence? Perhaps we can bring to mind a few of those qualities that draw forth our admiration as well as our desire for emulation:

+ Following the words of the Lord, the saints love no one more than they love Christ - father, mother, son, daughter, etc. They place nothing or no one above the "one thing needful" - Christ and the fulfillment of the Gospel precepts. The primary goal of the saints is to enter the Kingdom of God.

+ The saints acknowledge that they are sinners and spend their lives in an ever-deepening experience of repentance. They will thus never justify or rationalize their sins or shortcomings. But they will never despair of the boundless forgiveness and love of God. The saints realize that they are "nothing" without God.

+ The saints are not concerned with worldly popularity, praise and recognition. They feel no need for "ego gratification." They have no need to favorably compare themselves with their neighbors. They do not feel envy or jealousy when their neighbors prosper. They flee from pride as from the plague.

+ The saints suffer in spirit over the suffering of others in the world. They mourn in spirit when they contemplate the sinfulness of the world. They are deeply compassionate toward all creatures. The heart of the saint expands in order to embrace the entire creation with love.

+ The saints leave all judgment in the hands of God.

+ The saints are ever-prepared to forgive others when they are offended or even persecuted. And they will suffer if they even inadvertently offend another. They do not hold grudges or long-standing anger towards others. Reconciliation is always their goal. They can actually "turn the other cheek." The saints will even love their "enemies."

+ The saints struggle to overcome their fleshly and spiritual temptations. They do this through the consistent practice of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. They also do this by guarding over their "thoughts," driving away the ones that strengthen temptation and thus the proclivity to sin. Their goal is to overcome the "passions."

+ The saints know the Scriptures "forwards and backwards." They regularly immerse themselves in the living Word of God so as to put its teachings into practice.

+ The saints will confess their sins with regularity. They will receive the Eucharist "in the fear of God, and with faith."

+ The saints will defend the Faith when it is under attack, but never harm another person in the process.

No one, beginning with the Lord, ever said it would be easy! In fact, the Lord taught us yesterday in the Gospel: "And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (MATT. 10:38).

Fr. Steven

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Day of the Holy Spirit

Dear Parish Faithful,

When a sunbeam falls on a transparent substance, the substance itself becomes brilliant, and radiates light from itself. So too Spirit-bearing souls, illumined by Him, finally become spiritual themselves, and their grace is sent forth to others. (St. Basil the Great)

The Monday after Pentecost is the Day of the Holy Spirit (which makes today one of our parish "namedays"). The book entitled The Great Horologion offers the following description of this particular commemoration:

As it is the custom of the Church, on the day after every great Feast, to honour those through whom it came to pass - our Lady after the Lord's Nativity, Joachim and Anna after our Lady's Nativity, the holy Baptist the day after Theophany, and so forth - on this day we honour God the All-Holy Spirit, the Comforter promised by our Saviour to His disciples (JN. 14:16), Who descended upon them at holy Pentecost and guided them "into all truth" (ibid. 16:13), and through them, us.

Although not explicitly stated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (you can understand why we shorten that to the Nicene Creed), the Holy Spirit is God, One of the divine and co-eternal Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is

the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father;
who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified;
who spoke by the prophets.

Only God gives life - rather than receives life - and only God is "worshiped and glorified." That is why the first three days of Pentecost - Sunday, Monday and Tuesday - are also called the Three Days of the Holy Trinity.

Looking back to the Feast of the Ascension which prepared the world for Pentecost, the Church Fathers - especially St. John Chrysostom - insightfully expressed this profound connection:

Now the angels have received that for which they have long waited, the archangels see that for which they have long thirsted. They have seen our nature shining on the King's throne, glistening with glory and eternal beauty.... Therefore they descend in order to see the unusual and marvelous visions: Man appearing in heaven.
And one saw miracles follow miracles, ten days prior to this our nature ascended to the King's throne, while today the Holy Spirit has descended on to our nature.
On high is His body, here below with us is His Spirit. And so we have His token on high, that is His body, which He received from us, and here below we have His Spirit with us. Heaven received the Holy Body, and the earth accepted the Holy Spirit. Christ came and sent the Spirit. He ascended and with Him our body ascended also.

What does it mean that the Holy Spirit was poured forth on all flesh? St. Basil, in his famous treatise On the Holy Spirit, offered the following "list" of the many and manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and highest of all, the being made God!

St. Basil also makes it clear that the struggle against evil, waged within every mind and heart, is one that must be waged and won for the Holy Spirit to become a part of our lives:

Only when a man has been cleansed from the shame of his evil, and has returned to his natural beauty, and the original form of the Royal Image has been restored in him, is it possible for him to approach the Paraclete.

Yet the Holy Spirit is never exhausted or diminished in His activity of illuminating and enlightening the souls of the faithful persons He descends upon:

He is distributed but does not change. He is shared, yet remains whole. Consider the analogy of the sunbeam: each person upon whom its kindly light falls rejoices as if the sun existed for him alone, yet it illumines land and sea, and is master of the atmosphere. In the same way, the Spirit is given to each one who receives Him as if He were the possession of that person alone, yet He sends forth sufficient grace to fill all the universe. Everything that partakes of His grace is filled with joy according to its capacity - the capacity of its nature, not of His power.

This is why at the beginning and the end of the day - and in our liturgical services - we call upon the Holy Spirit as the "Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth," praying that He will "come and abide in us" in order to "cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls!"

Fr. Steven

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Let Us Recover the Greatness of the Feast of Pentecost

Dear Parish Faithful,

At last Sunday's liturgy, we heard from the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES the following passage concerning the Apostle Paul: "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." (20:16) For the Apostle Paul, that would mean a very challenging journey by sea, which always included the threat of storms, shipwreck and/or attack by pirates. But St. Paul was determined to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost with his brothers and sisters "in Christ" in Jerusalem - the home and center of the newly-established Christian Church, now making its impact felt in the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean Sea. Pascha and Pentecost were the two major feasts of the apostolic Church. They were powerful communal commemorations and celebrations of the decisive acts that established the Church in the world once and for all: the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the descent of the Holy Spirit into the world.

It would be wonderful and deeply encouraging if we could match the zeal of the Apostle Paul for eagerly anticipating this commemoration and making it as certain as possible that we will also gather together with our brothers and sisters "in Christ" for the Feast of Pentecost. Liturgically, that would mean Great Vespers on Saturday evening and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. In our consciousness, we have lost the profound connection between Pascha and Pentecost. Pascha, of course, is huge and greatly anticipated; but Pentecost is not. It is treated as a "normal" Sunday, which means most parishioners will be in church (thank God Pentecost is on a Sunday), unless some other "pressing concern(?)" keeps them away without, perhaps, any sense of loss. But the role of Pentecost in the economy of our salvation very much needs to be recovered. Pascha does not simply dissolve into the cares and concerns of our daily lives. It does not just disappear once we no longer sing "Christ is Risen!" Rather, Pascha is completed and fulfilled in the twin Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost.

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles is the goal of the paschal mystery of the death, resurrection, ascent and glorification of Christ. We actualize the coming of the Holy Spirit through our liturgical commemoration on an annual basis. The Holy Spirit is the energy of the Church. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church that makes the Church so unique and unlike any other worldly institution. (The Orthodox Church is the "Pentecostal Church"). This is the Holy Spirit with which we were chrismated after our baptism into the Death and Resurrection of Christ. We seek the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives on the Day of Pentecost. Here is also the basis of "parish renewal." We pray to God for that personal and communal renewal each year in the special Kneeling Prayers of the Vespers of Pentecost that we serve immediately following the Liturgy. This is all a great blessing.

I encourage everyone to recover the greatness of the Feast of Pentecost. We have the luxury of making a relatively short trip in the comfort of our cars and therefore do not have to face the "inconveniences" that St. Paul did. Try and include the full celebration by coming to Great Vespers on Saturday evening. Since Great Lent is over and parishioners are no longer coming to Confession, Great Vespers is now rather poorly attended. This is an unfortunate annual pattern (lasting throughout the summer) that has no real justification. This worn-out cycle can be broken but it will take some effort and commitment to the Church's liturgical cycle on the part of everyone. Pentecost is the time and place to begin.

Parents, do not relax your efforts of bringing your children to church because Church School is now over. Pentecost is not the time for an "off Sunday." It is the time to be in church together with the entire "parish family." Speak to your children about Pentecost and prepare them for the Vespers and Kneeling Prayers that will follow the Liturgy.

The liturgical schedule for the Great Feast of Pentecost:

Great Vespers with the Blessing of the Loaves and Anointment with Oil - Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
Hours of Pentecost - Sunday at 9:10 a.m.
Divine Liturgy - Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
Vespers with Kneeling Prayers - Sunday, immediately following the Liturgy

Let us prepare for Feast as did the holy Apostle Paul - with zeal and the love of God!

Fr. Steven

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Transition of Our Nature

Dear Parish Faithful,
From a Homily "On the Ascension of Christ," by St. Gregory Palamas (+1359)
The Jews kept the Feat of the Passover, the crossing from Egypt to the land of Palestine, as laid down in their law, and we have celebrated the gospel Pascha, the passage of our human nature in Christ from death to life (cf. JN. 5:24; I JN. 3:14), from corruption to incorruption (cf. I COR. 15:42, 50). 

What words can express the superiority of this celebration over the solemnities of the old law and the events commemorated on its holy days? No one can adequately state how much more excellent it is. The enhypostatic Wisdom of the most high Father, God's pre-eternal Word who is beyond all being, who was united with us in His love for mankind and lived among us (JN. 1:14), has now revealed through His actions a cause for celebration even more distinctly superior than Pascha's excellence. For we now celebrate the transition of our nature in Him, not just from the subterranean regions up on to the earth, but from the earth to the heaven of heavens, and to the throne above the heavens of Him who rules over all.

Fr. Steven

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ascension: Our Destiny in Christ

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


You were born, as was your will, O our God.
You revealed Yourself, in Your good pleasure.
You suffered in the flesh, and rose from the dead,
trampling down death by death!
Fulfilling all things, you ascended in glory ...
(Vespers of Ascension)

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.
(Nicene Creed)

The two texts above - one from the Feast of the Ascension and the other a portion of the Nicene Creed - are wonderful expressions of the great mystery of the "descent" and "ascent" of the Son of God. The eternal Son of God becomes the Son of Man, descending into our world to live among us and to teach us about, and prepare us for, the Kingdom of God. This is what we call the Incarnation. This movement of descent is only completed when Christ is crucified and enters the very realm of death on our behalf. There is "nowhere" further to descend (in)to. Thus, there are no limits to the love of God for His creatures, for the descent of Christ into death itself is "for our salvation." The Son of God will search for Adam and Eve in the very realm of Sheol/Hades. He will rescue them and liberate them as representative of all humankind, languishing in "the valley of death." Since death cannot hold the sinless - and therefore deathless - Son of God, He begins His ascent to the heavenly realm with His resurrection from the dead. And He fulfills this paschal mystery with His glorious ascension.

As St. Paul writes: "He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things." (EPH. 4:10) The One who ascended, however, is now both God and man, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the incarnate, crucified, risen, and glorified Jesus Christ who is now seated at "the right hand of the Father," far above the heavens. It is the glorified flesh of the Incarnate Word of God which has entered into the very bosom of the Trinity in the Person of Christ. As St. Leo the Great, the pope of Rome (+461) taught:

With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of Heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest Heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father.

This is simultaneously our ascension and our glorification, since we are united to Christ through holy Baptism as members of His Body. Therefore, St. Paul can further write: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (COL. 3:3) Out of our physical sight, we now "see" the glorified Christ through the eyes of faith. St. Leo further explains how important this spiritual insight is:

For such is the power of great minds, such the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eyes; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what is visible.

The Feast of the Ascension is not a decline from the glory of Pascha. It is, rather, the fulfillment of Pascha, and a movement upward toward the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the joyful revelation of our destiny in Christ. To return to the opening theme of the marvelous acts of God moving from the Incarnation to the Ascension, I would like to turn to St. Leo one more time for his understanding of that entire movement:

It is upon this ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established, so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvelous when, in spite of the withdrawal from men's sight of everything that is rightly felt to command their reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold.

I would like to further note that within my memory, at least, we never had as many faithful present for this Feast than we had yesterday evening at the Vesperal Liturgy. It is always wonderful when a Feast is ... festal! And it is most festal when many faithful members are present worshiping and glorifying God. According to St. Luke, once the disciples beheld Christ ascend into heaven, "they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God." (LK. 24:52) The "temple" is our common place of worship. Hopefully, we too, will continually be in the temple blessing God.

Fr. Steven

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ascension - 'An Endless Soaring Upward'

Dear Parish Faithful,


Pascha - The Thirty Ninth Day

Today is the "Leavetaking of Pascha" but also the "Forefeast of the Ascension." I am prone to saying on an annual basis "that Pascha comes in with a roar and goes out with a whimper." How far and long ago it may seem that we experienced that explosion of joy at the Paschal Liturgy following Holy Week. And how quickly that experience disappears! I often find myself asking the pastoral question once Great Lent is over: Did we "redeem the time" and by the grace of God and our efforts allow Great Lent to bear fruit in our lives? Or were we deceived by the evil one and squander the precious time of Great Lent? Perhaps the same kinds of questions are fair now that the forty-day paschal season has ended: Did we "redeem the time" and by the grace of God and our efforts allow the Paschal Season to bear fruit in our lives? Or were we deceived by the evil one and squander the precious time of the Paschal Season? These are both forty-day periods of liturgical time and together combine for an extended period (Holy Week connects them) that without a doubt is at the very center of our lives as Orthodox Christians. Without any real elaboration here, I come up with an over-all question or two: What impact did either Great Lent or the Paschal Season - or again both combined - have on our lives? Does the Death and Resurrection of Christ shape our worldview and the manner in which we live our lives?

Regardless of how we answer these questions, the coming Feast of the Ascension allows us to be positive and hopeful, for in this celebration we experience both glorification and a "taste" of heaven. In words that I hope will inspire all of us to embrace this Feast with sincerity and awareness, Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes the following about the Lord's Ascension:

There is a thrill of joy in the very word "ascension" that issues a challenge, as it were, to the so-called "laws of nature," the perpetually downward-leading, downward-pulling, and enslaving laws of gravity, weight, falling. Here, in contrast, all is lightness, flight, an endless soaring upward. The Lord's Ascension is celebrated forty days after Pascha, on Thursday of the sixth week after the feast of Christ's Resurrection.

The feast of the Ascension is the celebration of heaven now opened to human beings, heaven as the new and eternal home, heaven as our true homeland. Sin severed earth from heaven and made us earthly and coarse, it fixed our gaze solidly on the ground and made our life exclusively earthbound. Sin is the betrayal of heaven in the soul....

... heaven is the name of our authentic vocation as human beings, heaven is the final truth about the earth. No, heaven is not somewhere in outer space beyond the planets, or in some unknown galaxy. Heaven is what Christ gives back to us, what we lost through our sin and pride, through earthly, exclusively earthly sciences and ideologies, and now it is opened, offered, and returned to us by Christ. Heaven is the kingdom of eternal life, the kingdom of truth, goodness and beauty. Heaven is the total spiritual transformation of human life; heaven is the kingdom of God, victory over death, the triumph of love and care ... And therefore, heaven permeates our life here and now, the earth itself becomes a reflection, a mirror image of heavenly beauty. Who descended from heaven to earth to return heaven to us? God. Who ascended from earth to heaven? The man Jesus.

Fr. Alexander writes of "flight, and endless soaring upward ..." Perhaps that may be claiming a great deal more than what we are prepared for. However, the opportunity for lifting up our minds and hearts to "Our Father who art in heaven ..." through the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ is always an open possibility when we are present at the Divine Liturgy. For the Feast of Ascension itself, we will serve the Vesperal Liturgy this evening beginning at 6:00 p.m. If you come, you offer yourself and your families that blessed possibility. The Lord can "lift us up," but we need to give Him the opportunity.

Fr. Steven

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Risen Lord - Evidence Which Leads to Faith

Revised 5/18/2010 - Link to the full article (in pdf format) by Fr Steven appears below...

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

Pascha - The Thirty-Fourth Day

The Resurrection of Christ and the Rise of Christianity

Orthodox Christians believe that the New Testament Church and the Christian faith itself appeared at a particular point in history because the crucified Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. The cause behind the emergence of the Church and the Christian Faith was not a crucified, dead and buried Jesus. Rather, that very crucified, dead and buried Jesus was revealed to be both Lord and Christ following His Resurrection “on the third day.” God vindicated the messianic claims of Jesus when He raised Jesus from the dead “according to the Scriptures.” Contemporary Orthodox Christians readily agree with the Apostle Paul’s insistence on the absolute centrality of the bodily resurrection of Christ as the foundation of Christian faith in Jesus: "If Christ is not raised, then your faith is in vain and our preaching is in vain.” (I COR. 15) Among all Christians this has been an overwhelming consensus since the initial witness of the apostles to the Risen Lord. But since the emergence of critical biblical scholarship within the last two centuries or so, we find Christian scholars and those influenced by them questioning, reinterpreting or openly denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This process may be more accelerated today, or simply more prominent and public in its expression. A vivid – if not lurid - expression of this skeptical approach to the resurrection claims of the first Christians can be found in the work of the New Testament scholar Dom Dominic Crossan. In his reconstruction of events, the body of the crucified Jesus was discarded in a shallow grave, there to suffer the further humiliation of becoming the food of ravenous dogs. That is also the kind of counter-claim that will attract a good deal of publicity. This threatens to undermine a consistent and long-standing witness among all Christians that points to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ among the great “religious founders” within human history. That uniqueness was articulated by Prof. Veselin Kesich in the following manner in his book The First Day of the New Creation:

For the members of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, the resurrection of Christ was above all an event in the life of their Master, and then also in their own lives. After meeting Christ following his resurrection, they could have said with St. Paul that necessity was laid upon them to preach the gospel of resurrection (I COR. 9:16). Christianity spread throughout the Greco-Roman world with the proclamation that Jesus who died on the cross was raised to a new life by God. The message of Christianity is without parallel in religious history in its content and in its demand. (p. 15)

The Risen Christ spoke to His disciples about “belief” in His Resurrection even among those who did not “see” Him as those very first disciples did. This was in response to the Apostle Thomas’ movement from unbelief to belief when Jesus appeared to Thomas and offered him to probe the wounds in His hands and side: “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (JN. 20:29) Clearly, the presence of faith is essential in confessing that Jesus has been raised from the dead: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (ROM. 10:9) However, in perhaps challenging a misconceived understanding of faith, this does not mean that believing that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead is an irrational leap into the unbelievable and indefensible. On the one hand, the Resurrection is an overwhelming and awesome event that invokes “trembling and astonishment” in those who are presented with its reality – and perhaps initial silence because of its numinous quality (cf. MK. 16:8). On the other hand, Christians do not believe in the resurrection of Christ in the face of evidence that clearly contradicts or “disproves” that claim. It is not as if the first disciples of Jesus were confronted with His (rotting) corpse in the tomb, but then said: “Nevertheless, we still believe that He is risen!” The resurrection of Christ is not about the fate of the “immortal soul” of Jesus, which is quite irrelevant to the Christian claim that death has been overcome in the resurrected Christ. Resurrection is the claim that the body – and thus the whole person conceived biblically – has been raised and glorified to a new mode of existence in an eternal relationship with God. What many Jews believed would occur at the end of history, happened with Jesus within history. And that is why the Apostle Paul called Christ “the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I COR. 15:20).

So, while we “see” the Risen Lord through the eyes of faith, we also claim that the historical investigation into the reliability of the evidence for the resurrection, narrated and developed in the New Testament, cannot refute that belief in any way. In Christianity, there exists a mutual interpenetration between theology and history. Thus, theology and history remain in an unbreakable bond of mutual support and clarification. Basically, Christians cannot make theological claims that are historically untenable or refutable. This is due to the foundational claim that God acts decisively on behalf of humankind and the world within the historical space and time of our created world. With this in mind, we can say that there are three essential components to the New Testament’s proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that together present a reasonable defense of that claim that is simultaneously consistent, coherent and convincing: 1) the discovery of the empty tomb; 2) the appearances of the Risen Lord to His male and female disciples; and 3) the transformation of the disciples into the apostles who boldly proclaim the Risen Christ to the world, and the beginning of the New Testament Church.

Read the complete article in PDF format...

NYT Op-Ed: Red Family, Blue Family - Navigating Post Sexual Revolution America

Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Risen!

Here is another solid and balanced editorial from one of my favorite practitioners of the genre, Ross Douthat. In this one, he addresses a very contemporary social issue concerning the interrationship between marriage, sex, childbirth and abortion.

Fr. Steven


OPINION | May 10, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist: Red Family, Blue Family

When it comes to marriage and teen pregnancy rates, there's more than one America.

Fifty years ago, American family structures were remarkably uniform. The rich married at roughly the same rate as the poor and middle class. Divorce rates were low for the college educated and high school graduates alike. Out-of-wedlock births, while more common among African-Americans, were rare in almost every region and community.

That was a long time ago. The intact two-parent family has been in eclipse for decades now: last week, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2008, 41 percent of American births occurred outside of marriage, the highest figure yet recorded. And from divorce rates to teen births, nearly every indicator of family life now varies dramatically by education, race, geography and income.

Continue reading . . .

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Challenge of Easter - with elaboration...

Dear Parish Faithful,


Pascha: The Thirty Third Day

Human beings know in their bones that they are made for each other, made to look after and shape this world, made to worship the one in whose image they are made. But like Israel with her vocation, we get it wrong. We worship other gods and start to reflect their likeness instead. We distort our vocation to stewardship into the will to power, treating God's world as either a gold mine or an ashtray. And we distort our calling to beautiful, healing, creative many-sided human relationships into exploitation and abuse.

Marx, Nietzsche and Freud described a fallen world in which money, power and sex have become the norm, displacing relationship, stewardship and worship. Part of the point of postmodernity under the strange providence of God is to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity. What we are faced with in our culture is the post-Christian version of the doctrine of original sin: all human endeavor is radically flawed, and the journalists who take delight in pointing this out are simply telling over again the story of Genesis 3 as applied to today's leaders, politicians, royalty and rock stars.

Our task, as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to the world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to the world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to the world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion.

Humans were made to reflect God's creative stewardship into the world. Israel was made to bring God's rescuing love to bear upon the world. Jesus came as the true Israel, the world's true light, and as the true image of the invisible God. He was the true Jew, the true human. He has laid the foundation, and we must build upon it. We are to be the bearers both of his redeeming love and of his creative stewardship: to celebrate it, to model it, to proclaim it, to dance to it.

From The Challenge of Easter, by N. T. Wright

Fr. Steven

Added May 7, 2010:

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

As a follow-up to the passage I sent out earlier this morning from N. T. Wright, someone asked me to provide some further context for some of Wright's phrases or expressions. I did this below, and thought to share this with the everyone else.


Dear Father Steven,

He is Risen Indeed!

Could you please provide context or interpretation to the following statements? What grabbed my attention most was the last sentence in which Jesus is referred to as ‘the true Jew, the true human.’ I had an interesting conversation with my sister recently about Jesus, a Jew and the Son of God. What is it that makes him the ‘true’ Jew?

In Christ, John

Humans were made to reflect God's creative stewardship into the world.

We are to care for the world on behalf of God, not exploit the world. This unique role for human beings is first clearly stated in Gen. 1. This is our human vocation as being created "in the image and likeness of God." We our rational, creative, and loving beings. Pollution and environmental disasters are a result of neglecting those gifts and our responsibility before God and manipulating the world around us for our selfish gain and desires. From within the Church we can renew this vocation as the stewards of God, and nurture the world in a non-exploitative manner. This is the role of a "steward" acting on behalf of a higher authority; in this case God Himself! This is a basic "Orthodox environmentalism" that is not linked to any given political agendas "left" or "right."

Israel was made to bring God's rescuing love to bear upon the world.

Israel was formed by God to be His chosen people through whom, eventually, and "in the fulness of time," the Messiah/Savior would appear bringing a universal gift of reconciliation and salvation. This was Israel's vocation as the chosen people of God. The prophets understood this, and always spoke the "word of God" - as chastisement or consolation - to Israel when it strayed from its vocation, so as to bring Israel to its senses. Israel would even have to"suffer," if need be, to complete that God-given vocation. Understood in this wider perspective as serving God by serving the world, and not its own nationalistic or ethnic goals, the Law/Torah of Israel was a "custodian/guide" preparing for the coming of the Messiah.

Jesus came as the true Israel, the world's true light, and as the true image of the invisible God.

The image of light pervades the Scriptures as an image of freedom from the darkness of sin and alienation from God. Jesus is that light - "I am the light of the world" as we hear Him declare in the Gospel According to St. John. Through the risen Christ our minds and hearts can be illumined by that light and, again, slowly be liberated from the darkness of evil impulses and sin. As the "image of the invisible God" (COL. 1:15), the Son of God is eternal and of one nature with His eternal Father. Jesus is the eternal Son of God become flesh (JN. 1:14). To "see" Jesus is to see God. He makes the invisible visible.

He was the true Jew, the true human.

Jesus is the "true Jew" for He totally and absolutely embodies the vocation of Israel - fulfilling the Law in total obedience to His heavenly Father as the Suffering Servant of God. Salvation became universal following the death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Gentiles and Jews are no longer divided, but now united in the one Body of Christ. In a sense, Jesus was Israel's "gift" to the world, in fulfillment of God's eternal design for the world's salvation and eventual glorification. Jesus is the "true human" as the sinless Son of God. To see Jesus is to see the human face of God in the incarnate Son. In Him, the divine and human natures were united once for all, thus restoring our lost communion with God. All of human nature is now healed. Thus, Jesus is the "last Adam," or the representative man - embracing all men and women - who healed the failed vocation of the first Adam. He is also the "first-fruits of them that have fallen asleep" (I COR. 15:20). The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead anticipates the resurrection of all human beings at the end of time, the final destruction of the "last enemy" - death - and a transformed and glorified cosmos in which God will be "all in all" (I COR. 15:28)

I hope that proves to be of some help.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven