Friday, June 29, 2012

Where Do We Draw Our 'Water' From?

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

At the Bible Study yesterday evening, we took a close look at the dialogue between Jesus and the woman of Samaria by Jacob’s well (JN. 4:5-42).  This dialogue has a finely-executed literary and structural quality to it, and we began by studying this feature.  That literary structure adds to the inherent drama, refined characterization, theological depth and endlessly fascinating  and unforgettable quality of this unique scene in St. John’s Gospel.   This is an inspired text that can be read over and over endlessly and still inspire the reader as it yields endless insights into the revelation that comes in and through Jesus Christ – “ the Savior of the world” (v. 42).  We hear the account of the Samaritan Woman in church every year on the Fifth Sunday of Pascha.  Yet, to read this passage and meditate upon in more than once a year, would be a wise and fruitful practice.  The Bible Study allows for such an in-depth exploration of such a remarkable passage and the sharing of insights that follows.

Jesus sat down by the well because He was “wearied” from His journey.  This “weariness” reveals the true humanity of Jesus.  Having “become flesh,” He is subject to the “blameless passions,” those weaknesses of the flesh that are inherent to our human nature within the conditions of this “fallen world.”  That would include hunger, thirst, fear, suffering and death.  Jesus is not a divine figure roaming around the world “incognito” under the illusory veil of human flesh.  He does not merely “seem” to be human.  The Word actually became flesh, therefore freely accepting the human frailty that we all experience.  Refreshing himself at the well, Jesus was joined by a woman who was a Samaritan, for she came to the well in order to draw water and take it back to her village.  At this point, the dialogue commences between the two and, since they are at the well,  the dialogue will center around the theme of “water.”   As is typical in these dialogues recorded in St. John’s Gospel, a particular word or phrase will carry a double meaning - earthly and spiritual, we could say.  Jesus informs the woman that if she had asked for a gift from God, she would have received “living water.”  The woman, thinking in earthly or natural terms, would like to receive living water, for that would mean it would be fresh and flowing, coming from a fountain or stream and not from a well or cistern.  But Jesus, who has come to reveal heavenly things, will “elevate” the dialogue to the spiritual level.  By “living water,” he is drawing on Old Testament allusions that equate water with divine wisdom and revelation.   And “living water” is also a clear reference to the Holy Spirit.  This is made explicit a bit later in the Gospel:

“He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’.”  Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believe in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”  (JN. 38-39)

The Samaritan woman responds with a certain confusion.  She still cannot understand how Jesus can draw this “living water.”  Jesus will further elaborate and elevate His meaning, culminating in what could serve as a magnificent definition of baptism “of water and the Spirit:”

“Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (JN. 4:13-14)

At this point the words of Jesus are beginning to penetrate the mind and heart of the Samaritan woman.  Something about Jesus and about what He is saying is attracting her to His enigmatic words.  (As the narrative progresses, she ultimately comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah – 4: 29, 39).  Her response captures her slow movement from the earthly level to the beginning of her elevation to the spiritual level, for her “request” vocalizes a “thirst” that is progressing beyond the merely natural level:

“The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw'.”  (JN. 4:15)

As well as St. John the Evangelist captures the distinctiveness and uniqueness of her character, the Samaritan woman is also representative of humanity “thirsting” and seeking to satisfy that thirst.  On that level, she represents the endless human quest to go to the “well” – any well – from which to draw some “water” that will sustain our search and quench our thirst for that “something more” in life.  The choices are endless.  The wells are attractively presented.  In our restlessness and spiritual confusion, we go from well to well, drinking this or that water, but always ending up with an unquenchable thirst.  As much as our secularism and pop-culture frenzy has seemingly stifled that spiritual thirst that was more apparent in the past, the human spirit is still thirsting for the Holy Spirit of God.  That is why the choices and the frenzied pursuits of the godless world are multiplying to a dizzying  degree.  If we try hard enough, perhaps we can cover up that basic human need for the divine.  Perhaps we can make the thirst go away by drinking endlessly from a variety of wells.  Perhaps there is nothing “out there” to satisfy our thirst.  Perhaps the thirst is only an illusion …

Even though we are believing and practicing Orthodox Christians, do we periodically succumb to such a temptation?  Do we try and quench our own thirst at “wells” other than the well of the Gospel and the Eucharist?  Do we believe that  if we travel enough,  spend enough and accumulate enough, we can  fool ourselves into thinking that that will quench our thirst?   Why drink from the living water of the Gospels, when one can drink the stimulating water of a soap opera-type novel or splashy magazine?  Why drink from the cup of the Bridegroom of the Church when one can dream of luxuriating in the whirlpools of the latest “bachelorette” or “bachelor” series?  Why observe a fast of the Church when we can eat and drink to our heart’s content?  Why drink from the difficult teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, when we can easily drink  from the latest self-help book or the guidance of a financial guru?  Of course, we will continue to go to church and fulfill our “religious obligations,”  but the Church may only provide a “reservoir” of water kept for emergency situations.  The real “fun” begins after and outside of Church!  These are the types of temptations that we must always be vigilant toward.   Yet, this leaves us with the question:  Where do we draw our “water” from?

When the Samaritan woman eventually left the well to return to her village and tell her fellow villagers about Jesus, she left behind the water jar that she brought with her to the well.  This small detail  did not escape the vigilant eye of the evangelist.  She no longer thirsted for the water from the well; but was now intent upon the living water that came through the presence and teaching of Jesus.  So she left her water jar behind to signify this.  When we worship the Father, we receive the “living water” of  “Spirit and truth.”  This is an inexhaustible font of “water” that quenches our thirst for the meaning of life.  The Spirit guides in a life that is lived within the light of God’s design for the world.  It is the gift of God that we can ask Jesus for, and He will give it to us as He promised the woman of Samaria.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's not about us, it's about Him

Dear Parish Faithful,

I just finished teaching a summer “crash course” – six weeks, three hour per evening twice a week – at XU.  I had a very good student, a young African-American woman who belongs to a Pentecostal Church, probably light years away from an Orthodox church, at least in terms of worship  She attended our Liturgy about three weeks ago, and wrote an “experience paper” about her visit.  She gave the paper a title, something students usually don’t do, but her title caught the main emphasis of her paper.  The title was:  “It’s Not About Us, It’s About Him.”   Some of her opening comments were quite interesting, again remembering her background, and it sounds as if she surprised herself:

“I was shocked to find out that the majority of the service required us to stand!  When I thought about the notion of standing more closely, I realized it was a good thing.  As Christians, we become too comfortable.  Sitting down can also become a distraction as well.  There have been plenty of times where I have become too comfortable in the seat I was sitting in, and fell asleep.  By stepping out of what makes us comfortable, we inevitably become closer to God because all of our attention is on Him.  Even though my feet were killing me (I wore heels), it was worth all the pain.”

Her paragraph about the choir and singing gets to the point that her title alluded to:

“The choir consisted of a few singers, but no music.  All you heard were voices with minimal harmonies.  They sang songs that seemed to come strictly from the Bible.  It became evident to me that the songs were simply unto God.  At my church, we are definitely believers in Christ, and we love to worship God through song.  I have to admit, however, that we get caught up in the “sound.”  We get caught up in the harmonies, music, and the feel of the songs, that it is easy to forget our whole purpose in singing.  The Orthodox Church offered a pure worship that you could easily tell was for no one other than God.  The songs and the sounds of the song were repetitive as well, which allowed for the congregation to join in and experience God as well.”

All quite interesting, but here is my favorite paragraph about “preaching” and “preachers:”

“Another aspect of the Orthodox Church I noticed was how short the priest spoke.  Clearly, the attention was not meant to be focused on him. By speaking to a minimum, with no microphone, platform, or podium, you could really grasp the importance of God, and focus your attention on God.  I think that is definitely a method that all churches should adopt.  Too many preachers get caught up in trying to show off and sound good, that they take the attention away from God. I have heard pastors yell, scream, kick, stomp, and even shout.  Even though their intention is most likely not to distract people from the importance of God, that’s sometimes what they do.  I think  that is the most important aspect that I took from the Orthodox Church; it’s not about us, it all about Him.  Every word that the priest spoke, and every word that the choir sang, was strictly biblical.”

Remember that paragraph the next time you  are ready to complain about the sermon – especially the length!

And we have to further remember my students main insight:  “It’s Not About Us, It’s About Him.”

The Dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus

Dear Parish Faithful,

As was hoped for, we had something of an “extraordinary” Bible Study  yesterday evening both quantitatively and qualitatively.  We had quite a “turn out” for the third session of our study of that extraordinary book – The Gospel According to St. John.  The discussion was lively, the many shared questions and insights were helpful to all; and the fellowship was enjoyable.  May it so continue!

Our attention was focused on the Dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus as recorded in JN. 3.  It is here that Jesus tells Nicodemus – and us through him – that one must be “born from above” or “born again” of “water and the Spirit” to be able to enter the Kingdom of God. (v. 3-5).  These words proved to be enigmatic for Nicodemus and he struggled to understand what Jesus was revealing to him.  Basically, Jesus was speaking on two levels, the level of the flesh and the level of the spirit.  Every human being that  “is born of the flesh is flesh.”   With these words, Jesus acknowledges what we can call the biological level of our existence.  Yet Jesus also says “and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6).  Jesus thus reveals that we are not meant to exist on only the biological level; but that through the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit, we have a spiritual nature that brings us into direct communion with God.  This is a “second birth” or perhaps “rebirth” that is alluded to under the expression “born from above/again.”  This rebirth happens through the Mystery/Sacrament of Baptism, described here, once again, as being “born of water and the Spirit.”   We are in danger of perishing without this rebirth and the faith in Christ that is presupposes. This dialogue with Nicodemus is directly related to what was revealed in the Prologue to the Gospel, when St. John the Evangelist wrote:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (JN. 1:12-13)

The presence of the Spirit is as mysterious and uncontainable as the wind (in Hebrew and Gk., the same word means both “wind” and “spirit”).  As Jesus said:

“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” (v. 8)

As is characteristic of the discourses in this Gospel, at a certain point Nicodemus seems to disappear, and Jesus is alone with an extended monologue that is filled with divine revelation.  At this point we hear the well-known “JN. 3:16,” a verse that summarizes the entire Gospel as it summarizes the divine purpose for the world and its salvation:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

God did not abandon the world that He created “in the beginning” when sin entered the realm of human consciousness and we, as human beings, deviated from the path that God had set before us.  His love for the world – kosmos  - remained steadfast and true, and according to God’s own design that love was eventually expressed when the only-begotten Son of God became flesh as our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.  This giving extends even unto the Cross, whereon the Son of Man is “lifted up” for our salvation.  To reinforce the purpose of the Incarnation as a movement toward salvation – and not judgment/condemnation - we hear further:

"For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  (v. 17)

To place oneself outside of the light because one prefers “deeds” that are evil, is to condemn oneself.  The question remains:  Do we love darkness or do we love the light?  Our eternal destiny is in the balance.  How we respond to that question theoretically and practically, is of the essence, as the saying goes. Christ came to bring us the light, but we are not compelled to make that choice.  Yet to make that choice is to embrace truth:

“But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”  (v. 21)

This is a brief taste of what we are studying and discussing together in our Bible Study.  Please continue with your presence, or join us as we proceed further and deeper into this most extraordinary of books – The Gospel According to St. John.

Access to the “Extraordinary”

Dear Parish Faithful,

We all know and experience the fact that our lives are basically filled with “ordinary” events.  These are the routines and rhythms of daily life.  As such, the ordinary can become over time tedious, mundane, prosaic, even boring.  Yet, such is life and at our best we try and accomplish the ordinary with a good and cheerful spirit.  Yet, a daily diet of the ordinary has us seeking out anything of an “extraordinary” nature to break through those mundane patterns of existence.  This would include anything novel, exciting, enticing; in short, anything that takes us beyond the ordinary.  I am not sure that what passes for “entertainment” can be described as truly “extraordinary,” but that is part of the lure of entertainment – at least something reaching beyond the mundane events of ordinary daily living.  This came to mind as I am continually campaigning to recruit further members for our parish Summer Bible Study.  (Something is working, because we were “packed in” last Wednesday).  I cannot claim that a parish Bible Study is an “extraordinary” event, for the simple fact that many – if not most – parishes have Bible Studies, thus making them a somewhat “ordinary” part of parish life.  (Perhaps it is the commonplace nature of a parish Bible Study that makes them less than attractive for some parishioners – nothing extraordinary there and thus not that attractive.  Someone just might say:  I can find much more exciting or worthwhile things to do with my [precious] spare time).

I will concede that that is one possible way of looking at it.  But other perspectives are also legitimate.  Take our own Summer Bible Study currently underway for (only) two sessions thus far.  We are reading, studying and discussing the Gospel According to St. John – truly an “extraordinary” book without parallel.  This Gospel is unique, intellectually and spiritually stimulating, challenging, life-transforming and revelatory of God’s design for the world that He created and loves!  It has limitless breadth and unfathomable depth.  It has been written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that we may have life in His name.  So, while the Bible Study may be “ordinary” enough as a commonplace event; the content and focus of the Bible Study – The Gospel According to St. John - is one of the most “extraordinary” books ever to have been conceived and written.  There is nothing like it since the “foundation of the world” and there never will be.  More specifically, this coming Wednesday we will read and discuss what has to be one of the most “extraordinary” dialogues/discourses in human history, the one between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee about being “born again/from above.” (A quick question:  Are you able to explain the meaning of this discourse to your next door neighbor if asked to?).  We have unimpeded access to this dialogue and this extraordinary book. Granted, this also means that anyone can read St. John’s Gospel alone, in the comfort of one’s home.  I will assume that that is what some parishioners who cannot make the Bible Study are doing.  But as I have argued many times before, a group/communal settings has its own rewards that make it worthy of our consideration.

No pressure intended – seriously.  But a pastoral reminder that sometimes the most “extraordinary” things are hidden in plain view, right before our eyes, as someone once put it.  And we may look right past it in search for something that is not really there .  My “target audience” are simply those of you who are not  held back by domestic complications – also known as child-rearing – or other legitimate reasons, and who may need some extra stimulation to point you in the direction of the church on Wednesday evenings.  Whether this appeal is effective or not, I am absolutely convinced of one thing – there is nothing more “extraordinary” that you can find to do with your time than study the Gospel According to St. John.

Vespers will first be served at 7:00 p.m.  The Bible Study begins at 7:45 p.m.  We will read and study JN. 3 this week.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Holiness of the Saints, and Our Calling to Join Them

Dear Parish Faithful,

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.  This is not intended to help us count better.  The purpose is to keep before our spiritual sight on  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.

The First Sunday After Pentecost  is entitled, simply, All Saints.  On this Sunday we commemorate all of the saints of the Church – men, women and children -from her beginning to the present day, including the “patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.”  That is, the entire “cloud of witnesses” that surround us and pray for us as well as serve as models for our own faith.  God has revealed to the Church His innumerable saints and we rejoice in their continuous presence made possible by the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.  The divine and co-eternal Spirit, holy by nature, makes human beings holy by grace.  That is why this particular Sunday falls so naturally after the Sunday of Pentecost.  The word we use for saint is the Greek word for “holy” – agios.   In a real sense, we are celebrating the presence of holiness in the world, incarnate in actual flesh and blood human beings. The descent of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for human beings to become and remain holy.  Without the Holy Spirit human beings can be nice, pleasant and even good – but not holy.  And it is the holiness of the saints that is their one common characteristic, expressed in an endless diversity of vocations.  Every baptized and chrismated member of the Church is already a saint – a person sanctified and set apart as a member of the People of God – and every such member has the vocation to become a saint.  The phrase often used to capture this paradox of the Christian life is:  “become what you already are.”  This phrase expresses an entire lifetime of striving and struggle to attain, by God’s grace, the highest of vocations – the holiness of a genuine child of God, “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (JN. 1:13)

On the Sunday of All Saints, we read from the Gospel According to St. Matthew:

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. … 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.”  (MATT. 10:32-33, 37-38)

We probably have a difficult time relating to such a passage, since we expend an enormous amount of energy – time, talent and treasure - in order to guarantee for ourselves a comfortable life and the closest of possible family relationships.  God and Church may be a part of that choice, but perhaps only as one compartment of life among many.  At times, the greatest of our goals may be to create a certain form of “domestic bliss” to the extent that that is humanly attainable. Nothing else can seem greater or more desirable.  Jesus, however, makes other claims on us.  And the first of those radical claims is that we must love Him above else – including father and mother; son and daughter.  This is a “hard teaching.”  Perhaps it is here that we discover the greatest “achievement” of the saints, and the reason behind the sanctity that they often so clearly manifest.  They simply loved Christ before all else.  And there is nothing that can deflect them from that love.  In no way need this diminish our love for our loved ones.  I believe that if we love Christ before all else, then we would have a greater love for those around us, including our very family members.  To love Christ above all else is to expand our very notion and experience of love.  If we live “in Christ,” we can then love “in Christ.”  Elsewhere, Jesus would claim that this would include our enemies!  This is a love that will not disappoint. With any other deeper love, there is always the lurking temptation of succumbing to one form of idolatry or another.  Jesus even says that if we love anyone else more than Him, we are not “worthy” of Him!  Clearly, there is nothing easy about bearing the name of Christ and calling oneself a Christian.  Is all of this impossible?  Jesus teaches that “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (MATT. 19:26)

We share the most difficult of vocations – to live up to our high calling in Christ Jesus.  This is not something that we achieve on our own, but a process that includes the grace of God and our own self-determination, what we call our freedom of choice or “free will.”  There are obstacles that begin with the genetic and the environmental.  There are distractions and temptations too numerous to keep track of.  There is the unbelief of the world around us.  Yet, if we approach this “day by day,” we soon realize that we are simply trying to become genuine human beings, for the glory of God is a human being fully alive, to paraphrase St. Irenaeus of Lyons.  As disciples of Christ, we have the “inside track” to allow us to “run with perseverance the race that is before us.” (HEB. 12:1).  So, we thank God for the multitude of the saints who not only set an example for us, but who also pray for us unceasingly in the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Beginning of His Signs

Dear Parish Faithful,

“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana of Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”  (JN. 2:11)

Yesterday evening we had the second session of this summer’s Bible Study.  For those unaware of this , we are studying the Gospel According to St. John (actually the first eleven chapters known as the “Book of Signs”).  The first of these great “signs” performed by Jesus, was the transformation of water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus had been invited to the marriage there together with His mother and disciples.  When the wine ran out, and when this presumbably was going to spoil the festive atmosphere of the wedding – or perhaps embarrass the bridegroom and the bride – the mother of Jesus intervened.  In his Gospel, St. John never refers to the Lord’s mother by her name of Mary, but always as the “mother of Jesus,” (JN. 2:1,3) or “His mother” (JN. 2:5; 19:25-26).  At one point, Jesus even addresses her by the term “Woman,” certainly a strange and unprecedented term for a son to use for his mother according to Jewish custom.  Always with a profoundly insightful eye for the “symbolic” or the typological (an Old Testament prototype that anticipates its fulfillment in the New) the evangelist is presenting the Virgin Mary here as the counterpart to the “woman” in the garden of Genesis 3.  The mother of Jesus is the “New Eve” that will act in a way that is in harmony with the will of God, and not in a way that will subvert that will.  According to the biblical scholar Raymond Brown:

In this light we can compare the woman in the Garden of Eden who led Adam to the first evil act with the woman at Cana who leads the new Adam to his first glorious work.  In the prophecy of Genesis we hear that God will put enmity between the woman and the serpent and that her seed will crush the serpent.  In calling his mother “woman,” Jesus may well be identifying her with the new Eve who will be the mother of his disciples as the old Eve was the “mother of all the living.”  She can play her role of intercession, however, only when her offspring on the cross has crushed the serpent.  (The Gospel and Epistles of John – A Concise Commentary, p. 29)

I would submit that the “mother of Jesus” begins that role of intercession – or anticipates her later role as the intercessor on our behalf following Her Son’s death and resurrection - when she intervenes as the wedding at Cana of Galilee by telling Jesus that “they have no wine;” and after his seeming rebuke of her, by telling the servers “Do whatever he tells you.”  (JN. 2:3-4)  And Jesus responded to his mother’s intervention/intercession by changing the water into wine.  The water used for the Jewish purifactory rites is now no longer sufficient to satisfy the thirst of those seeking the fullest possible communion with God.  It is the Word made flesh – giving us the “good wine” at the end of the age - that makes possible the “tasting” of a greater reality. This occurred on the “third day” after the call of Philip as recorded in Ch. 1 of the Gospel.  The “third day” on which Jesus will first reveal His glory by performing this great sign, is a clear foreshadowing of His glorification when He is raised from the dead on “the third day.”  When that happens, then the wine that is offered in thanksgiving and praise of the Lord will become the blood of Christ that we receive and share in the Eucharist.  If a wedding celebration and the abundance of wine is often used to convey something of the joy of the messianic banquest in God’s Kingdom in biblical thought (IS. 25:6; JOEL 3:18; AMOS 9:13); then the consecrated wine of the Eucharist is our joyful anticipation of the feast in the Kingdom of God – referred to as the marriage supper of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation.  The blood flowing from the side of the pierced Savior on the Cross is a “sign” of the Eucharist that will nourish the members of the Church.  In this light another comment made by Raymond Brown is also helpful:  “It is interesting too that at the cross the themes of Mary and of blood from Jesus’s side [the eucharist?] come together.” (p. 29)

A further and careful study of the chronology of the opening of Christ’s ministry in St. John’s Gospel, will yield the result that the sign at Cana occurs on day seven from the first appearance of St. John the Baptist following the Prologue (JN. 1:19).  Here is another clear allusion to the Book of Genesis and the revelation that the ministry of Jesus - the Word made flesh - is the beginning of a New Creation in which God will be reconciled to a sinful humanity through the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (JN. 1:29).

Anyone married in the Orthodox Church knows that the prescribed Gospel reading for the service is JN. 2:1-11, the Marriage at Cana of Galilee.  This reading captures the joy of the Sacrament of Matrimony, for we believe that as Christ was present in Cana, He is now present at every marriage within the Church, blessing and sanctifying this new union between a man and a woman.  (The Church has never known or recognized – and never will know or recognize as “marriage” - any other kind of “union” besides that of a man and a woman).  Only that which is “according to nature” is blessed within the Church.  The celebrant of the service makes the connection between the marriage at Cana and every marriage within the Church by the following prayer after the crowns are removed:

O God, our God, who didst come to Cana of Galilee, and didst bless there the marriage feast:  Bless also these Thy servants, who through Thy good providence now are united in wedlock.  Bless their goings out and their comings in.  Fill their life with good things.  Receive their crowns into Thy Kingdom, preserving them spotless, blameless, and without reproach, unto ages of ages.

We know sadly that not all marriages fulfill the hope expressed in this prayer.  Some do not develop well and some are cut short and dissolve prematurely by human sin.  Other marriages flourish and love remains through many years and through many trials and tribulations.  Yet, the potential for a good marriage is given through the sacramental grace that is made truly present by “the all-holy, consubstantial and life-giving Trinity.”  The Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit bestows this grace in abundance.  A “civil marriage” is one thing; but an ecclesial and sacramental marriage is another.  The “water” of institutional marriage is transformed into the “wine” of a Christ-centered marriage, when husband and wife believe in Christ and the glory that He continues to manifest today as He first did at Cana in Galilee.

There are more signs – and powerful discourses - to come in the Gospel According to St. John.  “Come and see” what Jesus has revealed to us by committing to a close study of this extraordinary Gospel together with your brothers and sisters in Christ.