Thursday, April 19, 2018

'The Fulfillment of all Creation'


Dear Parish Faithful,


CHRIST IS RISEN!  INDEED HE IS RISEN!




"In the Orthodox Church everything begins and ends at the 'empty tomb'. Until His Resurrection, the Lord taught about eternal life, but with His Resurrection he showed that He is the eternal life. 

"The Church is the entrance to the resurrected life of Christ, the joy in the Holy Spirit. The expectation of the 'day without evening' in the Kingdom is the fulfillment of all animate and inanimate creation. The Pascha (passover) of the world from corruption to incorruption is realized in the Church. We can now cry aloud: 'Christ has risen and life reigns'!"


Found in From the Passion to the Resurrection - An Anthology of Hymns, Literature and Icons on the Resurrection of Christ


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Becoming Witnesses of the Resurrection


Dear Parish Faithful,


CHRIST IS RISEN!
INDEED HE IS RISEN!


"And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." MK. 15:33)

"And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen." (MK. 16:2)

St. Mark the Evangelist is rather precise when he narrates that the Lord was crucified at the third hour (MK 15:25); that darkness fell over the land at the sixth hour (15:33); and that Christ died at the ninth hour (MK 15:34). According to the Jewish reckoning of time, that would mean that the Lord hung upon the Cross from about 9:00 a.m. (the "third hour") until 3:00 p.m. (the "ninth hour") on that first "Holy Friday." For the last three hours, then, "there was darkness over the whole land." 

This is not a weather report from the Evangelist. Rather, this unexpected darkness was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos (read as the OT reading at the Sixth Hour on Holy and Great Friday) that was a "sign" of great significance for the early Church as it began to reflect upon the "scandal" of the Cross:

"And on that day," says the Lord God, "I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all of your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day." (AMOS 8:9-10)

The fulfillment of this prophecy revealed the cosmic dimension and significance of the Lord's death on the Cross: all of creation mourned the death of the Son of God. Truly this was an awesome mystery! Yet, while at the time of the Crucifixion this very darkness may have intensified the solemnity of the Lord's death, it also intensified the starkness of Christ dying on the Cross seemingly abandoned by all, including His heavenly Father:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (MK 15:34)

Again, the impression is that there was no one with Jesus in his hours of darkness upon the Cross. Yet, at the very moment of His death and seeming abandonment, St. Mark narrates that a Gentile centurion was the first to realize that this was not the case:

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (MK 15:39)

In addition, there was actually a silent presence of deeply sympathetic figures within some proximity of the Cross that St. Mark accounts for:

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

Their role was of further great importance, for their vigilance allowed them to know where the tomb of the Lord was located:

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (MK 15:47)

The presence of these faithful female disciples of the Lord - the women we now know and venerate as the Myrrhbearers - prepares us for the awesome revelation that will occur "very early on the first day of the week." (MK 16:2) The account of the discovery of the empty tomb; the angelic proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus to the women by the angel in the tomb; and the astonishment of the women is narrated in a rather succinct manner by St. Mark in only eight verses (MK. 16:1-8). 

When the myrrhbearing women arrived at the tomb carrying their spices in the hopes of anointing the dead body of Jesus, the darkness that will soon be lifted from their hearts was already being dispelled by another sign from the world of nature, for the women arrived "when the sun had risen" (MK 16:2). The cosmos had mourned the death of the Son of God; but it will now rejoice by "announcing" the Resurrection of the Sun of Righteousness. 

The movement from darkness to light is a powerful motif throughout the Gospels. The darkness may represent sin or the final horror of death. Jesus is the very presence of light, and that light is so strong that neither sin nor death can resist its strength. This is not simply a literary "symbol," but a living reality. St. Mark then narrates that the women "were amazed" when, upon "entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe" (MK 16:5). This "young man" was clearly an angel. And it is this angelic being who will first announce the Resurrection of Christ with a definitive clarity that cannot be misunderstood:

"Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him." (MK 16:6)


The Jesus who had been crucified is the Jesus who was now raised from the dead. The risen Jesus is neither a "ghost" nor a "spirit." The Crucified One is now the Risen Lord - Jesus the Christ and King of Israel. The Father had not abandoned His Son; but rather vindicated the One whose resurrection will now be announced to the disciples/apostles, and through them to the whole world. As the biblical scholar, Francis Moloney has written:

The question asked of God by Jesus from the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" (MK 15:34) has been answered. Jesus has not been forsaken. Unconditionally obedient to the will of God (see MK 14:36), Jesus has accepted the cup of suffering. On the cross he is Messiah, King of Israel, and Son of God (see MK 15:32, 39). God's never-failing presence to his obedient Son leads to the definitive action of God: He has been raised! The apparent failure of Jesus has been reversed by the action of God, who has raised Jesus from death. (The Death of the Messiah, p. 11).

St. Mark - and the other evangelists - recorded the events of that first and glorious Easter morning. The evangelists have preserved for us this precious - and exciting - eyewitness testimony of the myrrh bearing women to the empty tomb and the Resurrection of Christ. We accept their testimony and proclaim the same "Good News" to the world today through the Church. And we invite others to share that life - including "harlots and tax-collectors."

Yet, like the myrrhbearing women, we need to experience the Resurrection on a deep and personal level.  In and through faith, the "stone" that covers the entrance to our own hearts can be "rolled away" by the grace of God, and a new dawn can pierce the darkness of sin and death that leaves us as if living an entombed life hidden from the light.

This is the work of God. When the Resurrection of Christ is genuinely experienced in the very depths of our being, we may at first be silent because "trembling and astonishment" lay hold of us. (MK. 16:8) But when we recover our voice we may then joyfully share with others - through our faith and our lives - that CHRIST IS RISEN!


Friday, April 13, 2018

Thomas and The Beloved Disciple: Foreunners of Faith in the Risen Christ


Dear Parish Faithful,

CHRIST IS RISEN! 
INDEED HE IS RISEN!

PASCHA - The Sixth Day (Bright Friday)




This coming Sunday, the Second of Pascha, will concentrate on the movement from unbelief to belief by the Apostle Thomas (hence, Thomas Sunday, as we call it). Not only will Thomas become "believing," but he will make the greatest Christological confession of faith in the New Testament, when he proclaims to Jesus once he sees him and his sacred wounds: "My Lord and my God!" And yet Jesus will respond by telling him - and through him all later generations of Christians - that it is more blessed to believe without seeing, meaning seeing the risen Christ as did Thomas. We call that belief "faith," and faith has its own assurances.

The two texts below capture some of this based on a close reading of JN. 20:19-31, the Gospel passage that we will read on Thomas Sunday:

Even if Thomas did not actually touch Jesus before his act of faith, his insistence upon the need to investigate the wounds so physically and deeply adds immeasurably to the significance of his confession when at last it is made. His movement from faithless insistence on proof to an unparalleled expression of faith brings out the sense of divinity streaming from the One who has been wounded unto death in such a way. As in the foot washing at the beginning of the Supper, God is revealed here not only as incarnate but as the One who gave himself up to the most degrading of deaths in self-sacrificial love for the world. Before Thomas and the group of the disciples gathered in the room stands an unambiguous depiction of the truth that God is love.

If the coming to faith of later believers is different from that of Mary, Thomas, and the other disciples (who actually saw the risen Lord), it has a forerunner in the faith of the Beloved Disciple. As we have seen, when this disciple entered the tomb of Jesus, the separately placed and folded face veil was sufficient to serve as a sign of the resurrection: "He saw and believed" (20:8). True, his faith was based upon sight but it was sight of the grave clothes not sight of the risen Jesus. In his coming to faith without seeing the risen Lord the disciple foreshadows and models the faith of the later community. As in his presence at the foot of the cross and his taking Jesus' mother to himself, in this respect too he stands in for believers of all later generations.

From Life Abounding - A Reading of John's Gospel, by Brendan Byrne


Thursday, April 12, 2018

'The fire of Love is burning in all...'


Dear Parish Faithful,

CHRIST IS RISEN!  
INDEED HE IS RISEN!



Pascha - The Fifth Day (Bright Thursday)

"O heavenly Pascha! ... by thee the darkness of death has been destroyed and life poured out on every creature, the gates of heaven have been opened, God has shown himself as man and humanity has ascended and become God! 

"Thanks to thee the gates of Hades have been shattered ... Thanks to thee the great banqueting hall is full for the marriage feast, all the guests are wearing a wedding garment and no one, having no garment, will be cast out... 

"Thanks to thee the fire of love is burning in all, in spirit and body, fed by the very oil of Christ."

Easter Homily inspired by Hippolytus

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'The shocking experience of the Easter witnesses...'


Dear Parish Faithful,

CHRIST IS RISEN! 
INDEED HE IS RISEN!

Pascha - The Fourth Day (Bright Wednesday)




"The first witnesses... knew him as the one with whom they had traveled through Galilee, the one who had taught and led them. They experienced him as the one who had been crucified. Therefore the Risen One also bore the wounds of his passion in his body. He retained them as glorified wounds, because resurrection means that every instant a person lived bears fruit in eternal life with God. 

"That is why later Christian iconography always depicted the Risen One in his fully embodied self - with all the wounds that had been inflicted on him. That corresponded exactly to the shocking experience of the Easter witnesses, an experience they could never have invented."

- Gerhard Logfink

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Christ is Risen!




We greet you on the Great Feast of Christ's Resurrection!

You may wish to explore Fr. Steven's Meditations tagged with 'Pascha' and 'Resurrection' (two different groups, with some overlap).

Listen to Fr. Steven's two-part special on Ancient Faith Radio,  Living in the Light of the Resurrection, given at a women's retreat at Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Jct, MI. Part 1 is titled, Theological and Historical Aspects of the Resurrection, and part 2 is titled, Living in the Light of the Resurrection.

And we strongly recommend (re)visiting Fr. Steven's article, 'The Resurrection of Christ and the Rise of Christianity'. As Fr. Steven writes,

"The historical aspect of our Christian faith means that any historical evidence that can disprove the resurrection of Christ would immediately and definitively undermine that faith. But no such evidence exists. On the contrary, it points us toward the genuineness and authenticity of those very claims."

Be sure to subscribe by email (at left) to receive Fr Steven's Meditations automatically. And join us for the Fifty Days of Pascha-Pentecost in the church!




Friday, April 6, 2018

'On the cross, death is crucified...'


Dear Parish Faithful,

GREAT AND HOLY FRIDAY - A reflection




"Holy Friday is the day of the Cross, yet without meaning that it is a day of mourning. Mankind crucifies the God-man. It is evil and hatred in its most absolute form: the creation kills its Creator. And it seems that evil has triumphed.
"It seems so but evil does not triumph because Christ responds with love. He does not offer opposition which would multiply and scatter the hatred, but submits to condemnation from love for the judges. He inoculates the appearance of evil with the vaccine of love and the cross, from being a symbol of humiliating death, becomes a symbol of life and salvation. For on the cross, death is crucified.
If the action of hatred is death, then the action of love is life. In loving mankind, Christ accepts the action of hatred and submits to the condemnation of death. This death, however, takes place on account of love, and thus, from this death, flows life. This death is the death of hatred; it is the death of death. And the cross is the symbol of life and the symbol of triumph. For this reason, Holy Friday is not a day of mourning but a day of celebration."

- From the Passion to the Resurrection - An Anthology of Hymns, Literature and Icons of Holy week

Monday, April 2, 2018

A different kind of King - 'The Victory of Palm Sunday'


Dear Parish Faithful,



The Feast of Palms - Liturgically, this splendid Feast Day is behind us for this year, but the meaning of each feast is always timely as it reveals something of great significance in the life of Christ and, by extension, in our lives. Here is an insightful reflection as to how Palm Sunday impacts our perception of life and where real strength is to be found:

Today, on Palm Sunday, we have fasted forty days, we are hungry, and if ever we face temptation from Satan, it is now. We face the temptation to gratify ourselves with worldly delights. We face the temptation to demand our liberty from everything and everyone that oppresses us. We face the temptation to fight for strength, and wealth, and power. This is the spiritual warfare that constantly rages on all sides, and today on Palm Sunday the battle is particularly violent.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, he faces these temptations as never before - all of those people cheering, crying out "Hosanna!," just begging him to be their worldly general, their commander, their emperor. 
Yet, Christ refuses to be the earthly king that people demand. Instead he will be revealed as a kind of king that the world has never seen, a perfect king, a heavenly king, a humble king, crowned with thorns, robes in the purple of mockery, and enthroned on the Cross.

Though Christ enters Jerusalem and is enveloped in a firestorm of temptation, he keeps his eyes on the Cross. This is the victory of Palm Sunday.

~ Father J. Sergius Halvorsen

Our Commitment to Holy Week


Dear Parish Faithful,




We have reached the saving passion of Christ our God.
Let us, the faithful, glorify His ineffable forebearance,
that in His compassion He may raise us up who were dead in sin,
for He is good and loves mankind. 
(Matins of Holy Monday)


I am trying to fit in one more book before Pascha, and that is The Final Days of Jesus by two PhDs and professors at a Baptist Theological Seminary(!). It is a day-by-day account, based on the Gospels, of Christ's last week before His Death and Resurrection. It is very well done and provides a good chronology and excellent background material that allows the reader to better understand the religious, cultural, political and social realities of 1st c. Jerusalem. All of this is based upon a close reading of the four canonical Gospels.

The authors actually refer to "Holy Week" in the process, and write about it very reverently, but as if this is something their fellow Baptist or Evangelical believers are not overly familiar with.

In fact, a kind of sub-text to the book is precisely to awaken a sense of Holy Week in their fellow (Protestant) Christians. That is not our problem! As Orthodox, we "live" for Holy Week and realize that it is the key week of our liturgical year, as it will culminate in the Lord's Death and Resurrection - the great paschal mystery. As Fr. Sergius Bulgakov once wrote: "Holy Week sweeps the Orthodox believer along as if on a mystic torrent."

Our problem may just be observing Holy Week with focused attention and prayerful participation, as other demands of life impinge upon us in a never-ending flow of responsibilities - and distractions.

Therefore, I would simply like to provide a few pastoral suggestions that everyone can think about and perhaps incorporate into your daily lives as Holy Week unfolds:

+ One must first make a commitment to Holy Week and make it the priority for your respective households, regardless of how often you actually make it to the services. This is a week of strict fasting, and no other activities should impinge upon that. Your commitment to making Holy Week the center of your lives is synonymous with your commitment to Christ.

+ Try and arrange your schedules so that you are able to attend the services as well as possible. However, if you are not able to attend the services, it must not be because of something of "entertainment value;" or some other distraction that can wait for a more appropriate time. Be especially aware of Great and Holy Friday and Saturday. These are the days of the Lord's Death and Sabbath rest in the tomb. These are days of fasting, silence and sobriety. Respect that fact that you are participating in a great mystery - the mystery of redemption and salvation.

+ Parents, you may think of taking your children out of school on Holy Friday and attending the Vespers service in the afternoon. Other children have their "holy days" on which they may miss school; and we, as Orthodox Christians, have our own.

+ Reduce or eliminate TV and other viewings for the week. Keep off the internet except for essential matters. Struggle against smart phone distraction/app obsessions.

+ Be regular in your prayers.

+ Try not to gossip or speak poorly of other persons.

+ Choose at least one of the Passion Narratives from the four Gospels - MK. 14-15; MATT. 25-26; LK. 22-23; JN. 18-19 - and read it carefully through the week. There is also other good literature about Holy Week and Pascha that could be read. Actually, this is an incredibly rich resource page from our own parish website that offers extensive and intensive insights into the meaning of Holy Week.

+ If you have access to any of the Holy Week service booklets, read and study the services carefully before coming to church. This will deepen your understanding of that particular service's emphasis as Holy Week unfolds.

+ If you come to the midnight Paschal Liturgy, do your best to stay for the entire service, prepared to receive the Eucharist. It does not make a great deal of sense to leave the Liturgy before Holy Communion. You may or may not choose to stay for the meal to follow, but what matters is the Liturgy and the Eucharist.

Our goal, I believe, is to make of Holy Week and Pascha something a great deal more than a colorful/cultural event that is fleeting in nature and quickly forgotten. To encounter this "more" requires our own human effort working together with the grace of God so that the heart is enlarged with the presence of the crucified and risen Christ.

__________

At the last of our Presanctified Liturgies for this year, we heard the following hymn:

I am rich in passions,
I am wrapped in the false robe of hypocrisy.
Lacking self-restraint I delight in self-indulgence.
I show a boundless lack of love.
I see my mind cast down before the gates of repentance,
starved of true goodness and sick with inattention.
But make me like Lazarus, who was poor in sin,
lest I receive no answer when I pray,
no finger dipped in water to relieve my burning tongue;
and make me dwell in Abraham's bosom in Your love for mankind.


Does this possibly sound familiar to anyone? Do you know of anyone that this hymn may be describing? Is this person well-known to you? If so, you may want to keep this person in your prayers so that he or she may one day - by the grace of God - be freed of these spiritually-harmful traits.