Friday, November 24, 2017

Redeeming the Time

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

In Ephesians 5:15-16 we read, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil." 

To "walk" -- in the context of this passage -- is a metaphor for how we conduct our lives.  We can live wisely or unwisely.  To "walk" unwisely means that we can easily resemble a "fool." Avoiding such a false step, but on the contrary walking with wisdom, will depend on how much effort we put into "making the most of the time."  

This can also be translated as "redeem the time."  To redeem the time is, first, not to waste time, especially on what is superfluous. More positively, it could mean to spend our time in worthwhile pursuits, seeking to do the good in all of life's various circumstances.  We are children of God at all times, not only when we are in church or before the icons in our domestic prayer corner.  How we live and how we interact with others is basically how we express our Christian faith on a daily basis.

On a deeper level, to "redeem the time" could also mean to sanctify time, both remembering and honoring the fact that the full expanse of our lives — our lifetime — is a gift from God, for as humans our lives unfold within the time of this world as created by God.  Our time is limited because our lives are of finite duration.  An awareness of this can go a long way in how we appreciate -- and therefore redeem -- the time.

We are drawing closer to the celebration of the Lord's Incarnation.  We can redeem this time within the rhythm of ecclesial time, the time of the Church.  We need to pick up where we perhaps left off during this long and enjoyable Thanksgiving Day weekend.  We have just feasted along with our fellow Americans; now let us fast as Orthodox Christians. To squander a season of preparation before a feast by neglecting prayer, almsgiving and fasting is to act unwisely if we claim to be serious Orthodox Christians.  Any struggle against our lower instincts to eat, drink and be merry as the most meaningful pursuits in life is one sound way of redeeming the time.  One more obvious example of the "battle of the calendars."

The Apostle Paul writes that "the days are evil."  In a fallen world, every single day presents us with the possibility -- if not probability -- of encountering evil on a grand or limited scale.  To somehow believe the days we are living in are not all that evil is to be lost in a wishful thinking divorced from any rational perception of reality.  We live in a time wherein people have forgotten God, and through this forgetfulness lose sight of their basic humanity.  To de-sanctify the world (by claiming that the world is an autonomous reality and a result of blind forces) is to debase humanity, for only through faith in God can we have faith in the goodness of human nature.

We can be "in the world," but not "of the world," if we choose to "make the most of the time, because the days are evil."  One of the key words here is "choose."  Do we really have a hard choice to make?  Hardly!  In my humble opinion, within the grace-filled life of the Church, the choices before us are very easy to make!

Here is a simple prayer (but just try to put it into daily practice!) from the diary of Elder Anthony of Optina [†1820] that teaches us how to redeem the time.

O God, be attentive unto helping me.  O Lord, make haste to help me.

Direct, O Lord God, everything that I do, read and write, everything that I say and try to understand to the glory of Your holy Name.  From You have I received a good beginning, and my every deed end in You.

Grant, O God, that I might not anger You, my Creator, in word, deed or thought, but may all my deeds, counsels and thoughts be to the glory of Your most holy Name.  Amen.

From the Diary of the Elder Anthony of Optina, 1820

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Capable of Thanksgiving

Dear Parish Faithful,

"And we thank Thee for this Liturgy which Thou hast deigned to accept at our hands..." - Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

I have been able to read a good deal of Orthodox theology over the years - and the years are adding up - but to this day, I have never encountered a writer who has expressed with such eloquence and power the insight that we are created to be eucharistic beings, such as Fr. Alexander Schmemann has done. 

Throughout his long priestly ministry, and through his many wonderful books, this was a theme that he continually returned to: the human person as oriented toward God as a being who is eucharistic at the deepest level of existence.  We are our most human when we consciously and with profound gratitude offer thanksgiving (Gk. eucharistia) to the living God who has created us.

This was Fr. Alexander's compelling reading of the Genesis creation accounts and what it means for human beings to be made "according to the image and likeness of God."  Dying of cancer, Fr. Alexander served his last Divine Liturgy on Thanksgiving Day, 1983. He was able to deliver a short homily that is now known throughout the OCA as, simply, "The Thanksgiving Homily," in which he uttered a beautiful opening thought that memorably captured the "catholicity" of his vision and understanding of life: 

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

This particular sentence and the whole of this final homily served as a kind of summation of his deeply-conceived and felt intuition of life and the Christian Gospel. For Fr. Alexander, the human person is, of course, "homo sapiens" and "homo faber," but at the most basic level of existence the human person is "homo adorans" - a being instinctively inclined toward worship. We find an expression of this insight in Fr. Alexander's classic book For the Life of the World:

The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God - and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion. (p. 5)

This entire book - an absolute "must read" for contemporary Orthodox Christians - was a new, refreshing and transformative way of understanding and experiencing the Sacraments of the Church, freeing these Sacraments from a stultifying scholastic theology that threatened to reduce them to "religious actions" that would isolate them from the experience of life.  Since I am trying to focus on Fr. Alexander's eucharistic intuition of life, I would like to include a justifiably famous passage from this same book:

When man stands before the throne of God, when, he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.
Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man.  Eucharist is the life of paradise.  Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption and gift of heaven.
But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven.  He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be, (p. 23)

At the time when that was written (around 1960 in the original Russian, I believe - English translation 1963) to the present day, that passage is something like a "breath of fresh air" that brings to life in a very vivid manner what it means to participate in the Divine Liturgy/Eucharist.

How utterly bland, then, is our conventional term "attending church!"  The Eucharist is our recovery - again and again - of who we now are in Christ.  That "recovery" is a life-long process that makes each and every Liturgy a new and fresh experience, or at least so potentially.  We may grow old, but the Liturgy never grows old.  And it can never grow boring no matter how many liturgies one may "attend!"  As Fr. Alexander further wrote:

Eucharist was the end of the journey, the end of time. And now it is again the beginning, and things that were impossible are again revealed to us as possible. (p. 30)

These short reflections were prompted by the Gospel account of the healing of the ten lepers (LK. 17:11-19), read at the Thanksgiving Day Liturgy (and we will hear this passage later in December).  This passage is as much about thanksgiving as it is about the actual healing of the lepers. Being present as homo adorans at the Thanksgiving Day Liturgy is a witness to our commitment to be "eucharistic beings."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Entrance of the Theotokos - Sanctifying Time through the Feasts of the Church

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

"Today let Heaven above greatly rejoice ..."

I will assume that today began and will continue as a normal weekday for just about everyone who reads this email communication.  In addition to our responsibilities, tasks, appointments and over-all agendas, that may also imply the tedium associated with daily life. Another day will come and go, never to be repeated again in the unceasing flow of time ... 

However, today (November 21) also happens to be one of the Twelve Great Feast Days of the Church's liturgical year:  The Entrance of the Theotokos Into the Temple.  For those who came to the service yesterday evening, that may be more apparent; but if we "keep time" with our Church calendar, as well as with our regular calendars, we may not be "caught off guard" by the coming of the Feast.  

The festal cycle of the Church sanctifies time. By this we mean that the tedious flow of time is imbued with sacred content as we celebrate the events of the past now made present through liturgical worship.  Notice how often we hear the word "today" in the hymns of the Feast chanted at Vespers:

Today let us, the faithful dance for joy...

Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed ...
Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to hold God is led into the temple of the Lord...

Again, we do not merely commemorate the past, but we make the past present.  We actualize the event being celebrated so that we are also participating in it.  We, today, rejoice as we greet the Mother of God as she enters the temple "in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all."  

Can all - or any - of this possibly change the "tone" of how we live this day?  Is it at all possible that an awareness of this joyous Feast can bring some illumination or sense of divine grace into the seemingly unchanging flow of daily life?  Are we able to envision our lives as belonging to a greater whole: the life of the Church that is moving toward the final revelation of God's Kingdom in all of its fullness?  Do such questions even make any sense as we are scrambling to just get through the day intact and in one piece, hopefully avoiding any serious mishaps or calamities?  If not, can be at least acknowledge that "something" essential is missing from our lives?

I believe that there a few things that we could do on a practical level that will bring the life of the Church, and its particular rhythms into our domestic lives.  As we know, each particular Feast has a main hymn called the troparion.  This troparion captures the over-all meaning and theological content of the Feast in a somewhat poetic fashion.  As the years go by, and as we celebrate the Feasts annually, you may notice that you have memorized these troparia, or at least recognize them when they are sung in church.  For the Entrance of the Theotokos Into the Temple, the festal troparion is the following:

Today is the prelude of the good will of God / of the preaching of the salvation of mankind / The Virgin appears in the temple of God / in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all / Let us rejoice and sing to her: / Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation!

A great Feast Day of the Church is never a one-day affair.  There is the "afterfeast" and then, finally, the "leavetaking" of the Feast.  So this particular Feast extends from today, November 21, until Saturday, November 25.  A good practice, therefore, would be to include the troparion of the Feast in our daily prayer until the leavetaking.  That can be very effective when parents pray together with their children before bedtime, as an example. 

Perhaps even more importantly within a family meal setting, would be to sing or simply say or chant the troparion together before sitting down to share that meal together.  The troparion would replace the usual prayer that we use, presumably the Lord's Prayer.  All of this can be especially effective with children as it will introduce them to the rhythm of Church life and its commemoration of the great events in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. 

Do you have any Orthodox literature in the home that would narrate and then perhaps explain the events and their meaning of the Great Feast Days? Reading this together as a family can also be very effective.  A short Church School session need not be the only time that our children are introduced to the life of the Church.  The home, as we recall, has been called a "little church" by none other than St. John Chrysostom.  Orthodox Christianity is meant to be a way of life, as expressed here by Fr. Pavel Florensky:

The Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, not proved.  That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct experience ... to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once into the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way.  There is no other way.  (The Pillar and Ground of the Truth)

As this Feast Day falls during the Nativity Fast, the Church calendar tells us that "fish, wine and oil" are allowed today.

NOTE: Special articles and resources on the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos and all the Great Feasts are available on our parish website.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Forty Shopping (and Fasting) Days Until Christmas

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Today, Wednesday November 15, we will observe the first day of the 40-day Nativity/Advent Fast, meant to prepare us for the advent of the Son of God in the flesh, celebrated on December 25.  (The Western observance is from the four Advent Sundays before Christmas). For some/many of us this might very well catch us unaware and unprepared.  However, as the saying goes, “it is what it is,” and so the church calendar directs us to enter into this sacred season today. 

This indicates an intensification of the perennial “battle of the calendars” that every Orthodox Christian is engaged in consciously or unconsciously.  The two calendars – the ecclesial and the secular – represent the Church and “the world” respectively.  Often, there is an underlying tension between these two spheres. Because of that tension, I believe that we find ourselves in the rather peculiar situation of being ascetical and consumerist simultaneously.  To fast, pray and be charitable is to lead a simplified life that is based around restraint, a certain discipline and a primary choice to live according to the principles of the Gospel in a highly secularized and increasingly hedonistic world.  That is what it means to be ascetical. It further means to focus upon Christ amidst an ever-increasing amount of distractions and diversions. Even with the best of intentions and a firm resolve that is not easy!

From our historical perspective of being alive in the twenty-first century, and leading the “good life” where everything is readily available, practicing any form of voluntary self-restraint is tantamount to bearing a cross.  Perhaps fulfilling some modest goals based on the Gospel in today’s world, such as it is, amounts to a Christian witness, unspectacular as those goals may be.  

Yet, as our society counts down the remaining shopping days until Christmas; and as our spending is seen as almost a patriotic act of contributing to the build-up of our failing economy; and as we want to “fit in” – especially for the sake of our children – we also are prone (or just waiting) to unleash the “consumer within” always alert to the joys of shopping, spending and accumulating. When you add in the unending “entertainment” that is designed to create a holiday season atmosphere, it can all get rather overwhelming.

Certainly, these are some of the joys of family life, and we feel a deep satisfaction when we surround our children with the warmth and security that the sharing of gifts brings to our domestic lives.  Perhaps, though, we can be vigilant about knowing when “enough is enough;” or even better that “enough is a feast.”  An awareness — combined with sharing — of those who have next to nothing is also a way of overcoming our own self-absorption and expanding our notion of the “neighbor.”

Therefore, to be both an ascetic and a consumer is indicative of the challenges facing us as Christians in a world that clearly favors and “caters” to our consumerist tendencies.  To speak honestly, this is a difficult  and uneasy balance to maintain. How can it possibly be otherwise, when to live ascetically is to restrain those very consumerist tendencies?

I believe that what we are essentially trying to maintain is our identity as Orthodox Christians within the confines of a culture either indifferent or hostile to Christianity.  If the Church remains an essential part of the build-up toward Christmas, then we can go a long way in maintaining that balance.  Although I do not particularly like putting it this way, I would contend that if the church is a place of choice that at least “competes” with the mall, then that again may be one of the modest victories in the underlying battle for our ultimate loyalty that a consumerist Christmas season awakens us to.

The Church directs us to fast before we feast.  Does that make any sense? Do we understand the theological/spiritual principles that is behind such an approach?  Can we develop some domestic strategies that will give us the opportunity to put that into practice to at least some extent?  Do we care enough?

The final question always returns us to the question that Jesus asked of his initial disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?”  If we confess together with St. Peter that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God", then we know where we stand as the “battle of the calendars” intensifies for the next forty days.

Friday, November 10, 2017

10 Ways the Funeral of a Priest is Different from a Layperson’s

Dear Parish Faithful,
I have provided a link to a fascinating article on her Ancient Faith Radio blog from our former parishioner, Dr. Nicole Lyon Roccas. Nicole has written a very well-researched and challenging article comparing the funeral service/rites of an Orthodox priest and a layperson. Her ten points bring up many important aspects of what we mean by the phrase "death and dying," as well as our Orthodox approach to these subjects and how these are reflected in the Orthodox funeral service.

I would like to draw some practical conclusions from what she writes and discuss this openly in church - perhaps at one of our post-Liturgy discussions in the near future. There is much to learn here, beginning with the differences in funeral practices between the clergy and laity, but she extends the discussion much further and raises important questions in the process.

This particular article is longer than what she usually writes, so please give yourselves the needed time to read through it carefully.

Fr. Steven

10 Ways the Funeral of a Priest is Different from a Layperson’s

'And deliver us from the evil one...'

Dear Parish Faithful,

 It has been three days now since the latest horrific act of mayhem took away the lives of so many innocent persons gathered for worship in a small Texas community on Sunday. The images of that unthinkable tragedy are deeply troubling especially, perhaps, when you think of the very young children either killed or terribly wounded and scarred for life. Yet another infamous "record" has been set: the most people gun downed while gathered in a church. I am not convinced that this was a "mental health issue."  Acts this heinous are hard to explain without looking deeper into the human heart where evil can reside waiting to spew forth based upon some provocation or other. The irrationality of evil always leaves us groping for answers.

I explored this approach to these tragic incidents a few years back when a young man slaughtered over thirty students one day on the campus of Virginia Tech. Perhaps you recall that event. I saw that as an "act of evil" and I see Sunday's killings the same way. If anyone would be interested in (re)reading what I wrote then, I have attached that meditation here for your convenience.

Fr. Steven

The Virginia Tech Massacre

V. Rev. Steven C. Kostoff

As more of the harrowing details emerge about the twisted mind of Cho Seung-Hui, the “experts” are slowly assembling a classic profile of a mass murderer. As Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan said: “In virtually every regard, Cho is prototypical of mass killers that I have studied in the past 25 years.” He then went on to say: “That does not mean, however, that one could have predicted his rampage.”

Unpredictability, perhaps, remains a consistent trait of such spontaneous outbursts of evil. Obviously, there are countless others who fit the same profile, but who do not make that fateful decision to wreck such violent vengeance on society. The troubling images of this young man rationalizing the irrational from beyond the grave will remain indelible for some time to come. Certainly it was painful to hear the name of, and even comparison with Jesus Christ, spewing forth in the gunman’s irrational rant against his fellow-students and the world. Seeking such an infamous form of “immortality” is difficult for us to conceive. It sounds like sheer madness. Of course, it may be far better to try and understand the mind of persons such as Cho Seung-Hui than to vilify them; but whatever one’s choice about that, I find it difficult to ignore the presence of evil in this latest rampage of violence.

I admit to lacking the necessary psychological and psychiatric skills needed to analyze a mass murderer. And there will be no shortage of such analysis in the days to come as the very human desire to find a “motive” in this case will be doggedly pursued. The effects of being “bullied”, the contentious issue of gun-control, the polarizing effects of social acceptance or alienation, and other important issues will be the focus of discussion and debate once again. 

Yet beyond – or could we even say transcending? – the environmental, genetic, psychological and social factors readily available to our gaze, there remains a “choice” that one makes expressive of the capacity and need for self-determination. At least according to the teachings of Orthodox Christian anthropology. And thus one has the “freedom” to choose to do something that is undeniably evil. In the public forum, though, it seems that the very concept of evil is ignored or treated as a four-letter word. Our secular age is very uneasy with concepts that press toward a more religious/metaphysical/moral dimension. Or perhaps evil is resorted to as an explanation only in the face such horrific events that unfolded on the campus of Virginia Tech.

For Christians the source of evil is the “evil one”; yet in a manner that is never quite susceptible to rational analysis. From our limited perspective it is immensely difficult to unravel that connection in a satisfactory manner. In no way does this allow Christians to somehow lessen the moral responsibility of the perpetrator of evil, as in the limp cliché: “the devil made me/him do it”. We always stand morally responsible for aligning ourselves with evil/the evil one. We come back to the reality of a choice that puts one on a “road to perdition,” and that once embarked upon may prove humanly impossible to turn back from. Perhaps at a certain point one is “too far” along that road, thus leading to a sense of being engulfed by the inevitable or irreversible. Or perhaps to a greater sense of calculation and perverse empowerment when contemplating the effects of a considered course of action.

As Christians we must develop a realistic understanding of the pervasive presence of evil in the world. We take seriously the Apostle Paul’s claim that we live in “this present evil age”. (GAL.1:4) And Christ spoke of “the ruler of this world.” (JN. 12:30) That does not make the Lord and His great apostle - or us for the matter - metaphysical dualists obsessed with the reality of evil as if it were an independent substance, as were the early Gnostics. 

Without being either “optimists” or pessimists” we realize that the vast majority of humankind is made up of good, decent people who do not wish evil on anyone. Most people desire to lead morally-healthy lives pursuing positive and constructive goals. If it was otherwise, life would be unendurable. But as Christians we accept an ethical dualism in the world that keeps us vigilant to the fact that on a daily basis people make choices that can only be described as evil – whether on a minor or major scale. And others suffer because of those choices, including these new innocent victims and their families, friends and communities (and elsewhere throughout the world today). This creates anxiety and fear in us. It fills us with mistrust and suspicion. It is why we lock our doors at night. As I wrote earlier, it has us warily awaiting its next deadly outburst. As such, and in a mysterious manner, this supports the “evil one”.

To expand the two biblical texts above, and thus uncover their powerful meaning, we read that the Apostle Paul actually wrote:

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (GAL. 1:4)

And that the Lord declared:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. (JN. 12:31)

The source of evil – the evil one – has been overthrown in an ultimate sense. His “power” is not eternal as is the power, glory and authority of God. This supposed power will be bound and cast away in the “Day of the Lord”.  Suffering – as powerful, absorbing and crippling as it may be – is only temporary. Its effects will be undone and overcome. This is the promise of God. And the living Face of this promise is Christ, Who vanquished the power of sin, death and the devil on the Cross, revealing that victory in His life-giving Resurrection. The evil of “this world” converged on Christ and He absorbed it through love and conquered it through an act of sacrificial love. This does not free us from being the potential victims of evil in the time allotted to us for our lives in this world. If death is the “last enemy,” that in itself is an “evil” we must all endure. It is only our hope in Christ that makes any “sense" in the face of such evil deeds as these recent shootings.

Whatever helpful insights we hear throughout all of the “talk” that will fill the various media sources in the days to come; whatever we can learn to create a society better protected from such outbursts; however we equip social institutions and families to “read” the signs of mayhem waiting to explode; I believe that we need to realize that the ‘battleground” exists within the human heart, where God and the devil struggle for mastery, awaiting the free choices that we will eventually make.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Thundering Message

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

We recently heard the powerful account of Jesus raising from the dead the widow's son at Nain (LK. 7:11-16). This particular event is unique to St. Luke's Gospel. In his Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, the biblical scholar Carroll Stuhlmueller, summarized the over-all impression left by this extraordinary event in the following manner:

This incident, only in Luke, shows the Evangelist's special delight in portraying Jesus not only overwhelmed with pity at the sight of tragedy but also turning with kindly regard toward women (cf. 7:36-50; 10:38-42) ... This narrative possesses the charm, color, and pathos of an excellent story:  two large crowds meet, approaching from different directions; the silence with which Jesus touches the bier and stops the funeral procession; the thundering message, calmly spoken, bringing the dead back to life.  (The Jerome Biblical Commentary)

Truly, it is nothing less than a "thundering message" when Jesus said: "Young man, I say to you arise!"  (LK. 7:14).   And when the young man "sat up and began to speak" we should be able to understand, however dimly, the reaction of the crowd: "Fear seized them all; and they glorified God" (7:16).  The pathos of this story is further increased by the fact that the young man was "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow" (7:12).  There was no existing social safety net within first century Israel that would provide support for this woman.  Without a son who could help provide for her, this widow would have been totally dependent upon the good will and the charity of her neighbors in the small village that Nain was known to have been.  Hence, the power of the simple statement that accompanies the young man's restoration to life:  "And he gave him to his mother" (7:15).  What a reunion that must have been!

Now St. Luke makes it clear just who it was who encountered this funeral procession and dramatically brought it to a halt: "And when the Lord who saw her he had compassion on her" (7:13).  It was "the Lord."  This was the first of many times throughout his Gospel that the Evangelist Luke will use this exalted title for Jesus.  The Greek ho Kyrios — the Lord — is the translation found in the Septuagint of the divine name Yahweh.  Ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament, this title reveals that as the Lord, Jesus has power over both life and death.  Anticipating his own resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ brings this young man back to life, revealing that even death is not beyond His authority and capacity to give life.

We are not told how this young man died.  In our contemporary world, death can be more-or-less defined in a clinical manner.  The shift in this clinical definition has moved toward a final determination of "brain death."  Be it the cessation of breath, permanent "cardiac arrest," or the brain death just mentioned, we can identify death and its effect on our biological organism.  And so could anyone in the ancient world, where death was such a more immediate and "up close" reality compared to the rather antiseptic experience of death that we promote today in a attempt to distance the living from the dying as well as that is possible. 

But as Christians, we certainly understand death in a way that moves far beyond its current clinical definition and determination.  That is because we understand life in such a way that the clinical is transcended by the mysterious:  "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (PS. 8:4). Conversant with a biblical anthropology that refuses to limit a human person to his or hers biological functions, we perceive ourselves in a more complex and meaningful manner.

There are many ways over the centuries that within our theological tradition we have elaborated on that inexhaustible biblical affirmation that we are created  "according to the image and likeness of God."  The Church Fathers will speak of the human person as a psychosomatic union of soul and body. Or, following the Apostle Paul of a union of spirit, soul and body. (I THESS. 5:23)  Because of some of the Greek philosophical connotations - primarily dualism - of using the terminology of soul and body, there has been a concerted movement within theological circles today to use the more biblically-based terms of "spirit and flesh" to describe the mystery of human personhood.  Whatever the exact terminology employed to describe the fullness of human existence, the essential point being made is that the human person is more - much more - than "what meets the eye."  We are even greater than the angels according to some of the Fathers, because we unite in our person the "spiritual" and  the "material" as the pinnacle of God's creative acts. We have our biological limitations, but we can still know the living God!  Even though we are so frail in our humanity, the psalmist can still exclaim in wonder:  "Yet you have made him little less than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor" (PS. 8:5).

In describing the mystery of death as it pertains to all creatures, including human beings, the psalmist says (and we hear this at every Vespers service):  "When you take away their spirit, they die and return to their dust" (Ps. 104:29).  This is what happened to the young man from Nain regardless of whatever may have been the immediate cause of his death.  Something had happened that could not be fully described as merely brain death. His "spirit" had been taken away and his flesh was destined to return to the dust.  Another expression that became almost classical as a theological description of death - and which essentially means the same thing - is that of the "separation of soul and body."  Either way, the wholeness and integrity of the human person is lost in death.  This is what renders death a tragedy and why the Apostle Paul can refer to death as "the last enemy."

When the Lord brought this only son of his mother to life again, the spirit of the young man returned to his flesh - or the soul to his body - and he began to live again in the full meaning of that word.  Yet, this is not resurrection in the fullness of that word's meaning as we apply it to Christ:  "For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him" (ROM. 6:9).  The young man was resuscitated to life. He lived — and died — again, to then await the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, a resurrection prefigured and promised by the Lord's resurrection and victory over death.  The same can be said of the synagogue elder Jairus' daughter and, of course Lazarus, the friend of Christ who had been dead for four days.

We are told today that we are essentially a walking bag of chemicals with an evolved consciousness.  This further implies that at death this biological organism collapses, all consciousness is irreversibly lost, and that final oblivion is our common fate. The Scripture revelation that we accept as coming from God tells us something radically different.  To hear the Gospel is to fill us with the faith, hope and love that can only come from the living God.  It is to hear of a different destiny and one that makes life infinitely more meaningful and hopeful.  We too can cry out together with the crowd at Nain: "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!"  (LK. 7:16).  And living within the Church we know that this is the Lord who "shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end."