Monday, May 27, 2019

The Stirrings of a Life-Changing Encounter

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


"So the woman left her water jar,
and went away into the city . . ." 
~  Gospel According to John 4:28

A Samaritan woman came to Jacob's well in Sychar, a Samaritan city, at the same time that Jesus sat down by the well, being wearied by his journey.  The evangelist John provides us with a time reference: "It was about the sixth hour" (JN. 4:6) - i.e. noon.  The Samaritan woman had come to draw water from the well, a trip and activity that must have been an unquestioned daily routine that was part of life for her and her fellow city-dwellers. 

The ancients had a much more active sense that water = life than we do today with the accessibility of water that we enjoy and take for granted:  from the kitchen tap, the shower, or the local store.  On the basic level of biological survival, Jacob's well must have been something like a "fountain of life" for the inhabitants of Sychar. 

Therefore, it is rather incredible that she returned home without her water jar, a "detail" that the evangelist realized was so rich in symbolic meaning that he included it in the narrative recorded in his Gospel (JN. 4:5-42).  And this narrative, together with the incredible dialogue embedded in it, is so profound that every year we appoint this passage to be proclaimed in the Church on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, the fifth Sunday after Pascha.  Why, then, would the Samaritan woman fail to take her water jar home with her?

Her "failure" was based on a discovery that she made when she encountered and spoke with Jesus by Jacob's well.  For even though the disciples "marveled" that Jesus was talking with a woman (v. 27), Jesus himself began the dialogue with the woman perfectly free of any such social, cultural or even religious restraints.  As this unlikely dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman unfolded by the well, it was revealed to the woman that Jesus was offering her a "living water" which was qualitatively distinct from the well-water that she habitually drank (v. 11).  This "living water" had an absolutely unique quality to it that the Lord further revealed to the woman:

Jesus said to her, "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."  (v.13-14)

A perceptive and sensitive woman who was open to the words of Jesus, as the dialogue continued she responded with the clear indication that she had entered upon a process of discovery that would lead her to realize that she was speaking with someone who was a prophet and more than a prophet: "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." (v. 15)  Her thirst is now apparent on more than one level, as her mind and heart are now opening up to a spiritual thirst that was hidden but now stimulated by the presence and words of Jesus. Knowing this, Jesus will now disclose to her one of the great revelations of the entire New Testament, a revelation that will bring together Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles:

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (v. 23-24)

A careful reading of St. John's Gospel indicates that under the image of water, Jesus was speaking of his teaching that has come from God; or more specifically to the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For at the Feast of Tabernacles, as recorded in JN. 7, Jesus says this openly to the crowds who had come to celebrate the feast:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.  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 believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  (7:37-39)

Overwhelmed and excited, inspired and filled with the stirrings of a life-changing encounter, the Samaritan woman "left her water jar, and went away into the city and said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ"?" (v. 28-29)  It is not that the contents of her water jar was now unimportant or meaningless.  That would be a false dichotomy between the material and the spiritual that is foreign to the Gospel. The Samaritan woman will eventually retrieve her forgotten water jar and fill it with simple water in fulfillment of her basic human needs. For the moment, however, she must go to her fellow city-dwellers and witness to Christ!  They, in turn, will eventually believe that Jesus is "indeed the Savior of the world." (v. 42)

There are indeed innumerable "wells" that we can go to in order to drink some "water" that promises to quench our thirst.  These "wells" can represent every conceivable ideology, theory, philosophy of life, or worldview; in addition to all of the superficial distractions, pleasures, and mind-numbing attractions that will offer some relief from the challenges and oppressive demands of life.  For a Christian, to be tempted to drink the water from such wells would amount to nothing less than a betrayal of both the baptismal waters that were both a tomb and womb for us; and a betrayal of the living water that we receive from the teaching of Christ and that leads to eternal life. It is best to leave our "water jars" behind at such wells, and drink only that "living water" that is nothing less than the "gift of God." (JN. 4:10)

Friday, May 24, 2019

'In The Moment'

Dear Parish Faithful,


I had quite an encounter with one of our parishioners last Sunday that I would like to briefly recall and share with you. I went to visit Dave Latorre, an older parishioner who has not been able to be present in church for many years now, so there are more than a few of you who do not know Dave. But Dave has been in the parish as a member before I arrived here many years ago. Be that as it may, I went to visit him at his nursing home in Green Hills. Presvytera Deborah accompanied me.

As we all know, nursing home facilities are rather dreary places in that the residents are most likely confined there for the rest of their natural lives; and thus for the most part in some state of decline or debilitating condition. Or, at least we could say that the atmosphere is not cheerful. One hopes that the facility is kept clean and that the staff are dedicated to offering the best care possible within the conditions they are working with. A staff worker who works with great care and compassion is to be highly commended because they know that they are not looking after patients who will not improve, but who, once again, are steadily declining. All in all, it is hard work, and the "rewards" are probably not apparently recognizable.

Dave was having lunch so we had to wait for awhile, but eventually we were able to take him back to his room and set things up for a short service with Holy Communion. Now Dave clearly has "dementia," yet at what stage or level I cannot say. I am pretty certain that he does not fully recognize me but he will greet me with a smile and say "Hi, Father," when I visit.

An encouraging phenomenon I have witnessed with more than one declining parishioner is that they are able to participate in the short service leading up to Communion. However poorly their memory is working, they "somehow" do retain a memory of the prayers of the Church. I commented on this recently at the funeral of Marie Sim. Thus, Dave was quite able to recite the Trisagion Prayers, the Creed and the Pre-Communion Prayers as well make the sign of the Cross at the appropriate times together with Presvytera and myself.

And here is where this all became a memorable moment.

Upon receiving Holy Communion, Dave was almost ecstatic with a kind of sincere and open-hearted joy. He let out a cry of deep satisfaction immediately upon receiving the Eucharist, and repeatedly exclaimed: "This is just so wonderful!" "I am so happy!" And, almost climactically: "This is one of the best days of my life!"

I can assure you that I am not recounting this for any sentimental or warm-fuzzy effect. Wherever this was "coming from" it seemed, well, very real. It does not matter if this was all result of what is "lacking" in Dave. It is not for us to judge the source of a legitimate experience. But Presvytera Deborah caught it all just right when she said: He was completely "in the moment." And being "in the moment" is a deep component of Orthodox spirituality.

To be honest, I will assume that Dave forgot about this experience by the time we took him back to the TV room and departed from his company. It is what it is. But, no reason to allow that to undermine the whole experience and our share in it. Yet, upon a bit more reflection, I found something here rather convicting. Am I - are we as a community of eucharistic communicants - "in the moment" when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ at the Liturgy? Or is it "business as usual" on Sunday morning before we get to our next planned activity? Is our mind elsewhere not only in the Liturgy but even as we are in the Communion line even though we just heard the solemn exclamation: "In the fear of God, and with faith, draw near!" How wonderful, or joyful, or meaningful is our "eucharistic experience?" (Over the years, I have seen parishioners/communicants who have received the Eucharist with tears in their eyes).

We are fully conscious and our faculties for the present are quite intact. But that does not guarantee anything. It is about the heart for: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). Let's do our best to "be in the moment" whenever we are in the Liturgy and especially when we approach the Chalice to receive the Eucharist. As I like to say, it is all downhill from there. But that "hill" could be something like Tabor where we delight in the presence of the Lord.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mid-Pentecost: 'Glistening with splendor!'

Dear Parish Faithful,


Admittedly, this is an older meditation that I have sent out more than once since initially writing it. But, we have new members in the parish; and our liturgical cycle remains, of course, unchanged; so hopefully there are some reflections found here that may seem to be worthwhile. As we have reached the midpoint between Pascha and Pentecost, we realize it all goes by rather quickly.

As Orthodox, we are "Paschal" and "Pentecostal" Christians. At least in theory. It is up to each and every one of us to also be so in practice.


Mid-Pentecost: “Glistening with splendor!”

Today finds us at the exact midpoint of the sacred 50-day period between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost.  So, this 25th day is called, simply, Midfeast or Mid-Pentecost.

Pentecost (from the Greek pentecosti) is, of course, the name of the great Feast on the 50th day after Pascha, but the term is also used to cover the entire 50-day period linking the two feasts, thus expressing their profound inner unity.  Our emphasis on the greatness of Pascha—the “Feast of Feasts”— may at times come at the expense of Pentecost, but in an essential manner Pascha is dependent upon Pentecost for its ultimate fulfillment.  

As Prof. Veselin Kesich wrote:

“Because of Pentecost the resurrection of Christ is a present reality, not just an event that belongs to the past.”  Metropolitan Kallistos Ware stated that “we do not say merely, ‘Christ rose,’ but ‘Christ is risen’—He lives now, for me and in me.  This immediacy and personal directness in our relationship with Jesus is precisely the work of the Spirit.  Any transformation of human life is testimony to the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. God constantly creates new things and glorifies Himself in His saints, in order to make it known that the Word of God became flesh, experiences death on the cross, and was raised up that we might receive the Spirit”  (The First Day of the New Creation, p. 173).

Be that as it may, there is a wonderful hymn from the Vespers of the Midfeast that reveals this profound inner connection: 

“The middle of the fifty days has come, beginning with the Savior’s resurrection, and sealed by the Holy Pentecost.  The first and the last glisten with splendor.  We rejoice in the union of both feasts, as we draw near to the Lord’s ascension—the sign of our coming glorification” (Vespers of the Midfeast).

Pascha and Pentecost “glisten with splendor” – what a wonderful expression!  Yet, this very expression which is indicative of the festal life of the Church, may also sound embarrassingly archaic to our ears today.  This is not exactly an everyday expression that comes readily to mind, even when we encounter something above the ordinary!

However, that could also be saying something about ourselves and not simply serve as a reproach to the Church’s less-than-contemporary vocabulary.  Perhaps the drab conformity of our environment; the de-sacralized nature of the world around us, together with its prosaic concerns and uninspiring goals; and even the reduction of religion to morality and vague “values,” make us more than a little skeptical/cynical about anything whatsoever “glistening with splendor!”  How can Pascha and Pentecost “glisten with splendor” if Pascha is “already” (though, only 25 days ago!) a forgotten experience of the past, and if the upcoming feasts of Ascension and Pentecost fail to fill us with the least bit of expectation or anticipation? 

To inwardly "see" how Pascha and Pentecost "glisten with splendor" then our hearts must "burn within us" as did the hearts of the two disciples who spoke with the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus (LK. 24:32).  At the empty tomb, the "two men ... in dazzling apparel" told the myrrh-bearing women to "remember" the things that the Lord had spoken to them while He was still in Galilee (LK. 24:6).

Only if we "remember" the recently-celebrated Holy Week and Pascha can any "burning of heart" that grants us the vision of the great Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost "glistening with splendor" possibly occur.  With an ecclesial remembrance, only prosaic and drab events - or those that are superficially experienced - are quickly forgotten.   

The Lord is risen, and we await the coming of the Comforter, the “Spirit of Truth.”  These are two awesome claims!

The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).  This exhortation from the Apostle is a great challenge, for experience teaches us that “the things that are on earth” can be very compelling, immediate and deeply attractive, while “the things that are above” can seem abstract and rather distant; or that they are reserved for the end of our life as we know it “on earth.”

The Apostle Paul is exhorting us to a radical reorientation of our approach to life—what we may call our “vision of life”—and again, this is difficult, even for believing Christians!  Yet, I would like to believe that with our minds lifted up on high and our hearts turned inward where God is – deep within our hearts – not only will the feasts themselves “glisten with splendor,” but so will our souls.  Then, what the world believes to be unattainable, will be precisely the experience that makes us “not of the world.”

May the days to come somehow, by the grace of God, “glisten with splendor!”  As it is written:

“The abundant outpouring of divine gifts is drawing near.  The chosen day of the Spirit is halfway come.  The faithful promise to the disciples after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ heralds the coming of the Comforter!” (Vespers of the Midfeast)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Do You Want to be Healed?

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

“Do you want to be healed?” (JN. 5:6)

We have already reached the Fourth Sunday of Pascha, with the Midfeast approaching on Wednesday. The Fourth Sunday is known as the Sunday of the Paralytic based upon the “sign” of the healing of the paralytic by the Pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem and the profound discourse to follow (JN. 5).  
Archeologists have fairly recently discovered this pool demonstrating the accuracy of St. John’s description.  The paralytic had taken his place among a human throng of chronic misery, described by the evangelist as “a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed” (v. 3).  
Being there for thirty-eight years and not being able to experience what were believed to be the healing capacities of the waters of the pool, the paralytic seemed resigned to his destiny.  Then Jesus appeared.  He saw the paralytic and He knew of his plight.  
And then Jesus asked the paralytic a very pointed and even poignant question:  “Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6).  
Surprisingly, considering what must have been his own misery, the paralytic’s answer was less than direct and not exactly enthusiastic:  “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me” (v. 7).  
Nevertheless, and even though the paralytic does not commit himself to an act of faith in the healing power of Jesus, he receives the following directive from Jesus:  “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  And then, in that somewhat laconic style of describing the healing power of Christ that characterizes the Gospel accounts, we read simply:  “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked” (v. 9).  The “sign” is that Christ can restore wholeness to those in need.

I believe that we need to concentrate on the question Jesus posed to the paralytic: “Do you want to be healed?”  (The King James version of the question is: “Wilt thou be made whole?”).  For, if the various characters that Jesus encountered in the Gospels are also representatives or “types” of a particular human condition, dilemma, or state of being; then the question of Jesus remains alive in each generation and is thus posed to each of us today.  
If sin is a sickness, then we are “paralyzed” by that sin to one degree or another of intensity.  But do we really want to be healed of the paralyzing effect of sin in our lives?  The answer seems obvious, even a “no-brainer,” but is that truly the case?  Or, are we more-or-less content with continuing as we are, satisfied that perhaps this is “as good as it gets” in terms of our relationship with God and our neighbors?
Do we manage to politely deflect the probing question of Christ elsewhere, counter-posing a reasonable excuse as to what prevents us from exerting the necessary energy from our side?  Our teaching claims that we must also  contribute to the synergistic process of divine grace and human freedom that works together harmoniously for our healing.  Perhaps it is easier and more comfortable to stay as we are – after all, it’s really not that bad - a position reflected in the noncommittal response of the paralytic.  For to be further healed of sin will mean that we will have to make some changes in our life, in our interior attitudes and in our relationships.  It certainly means that we will have to confess our faith in Christ with a greater intensity, urgency and commitment.  None of that sounds very "convenient." Are we up to that challenge?

Actually, we could more accurately say that we have already been healed.  That happened when we were baptized into Christ.  (There are baptismal allusions in the healing of the paralytic by the pool of water).  
Every human person is paralyzed by the consequences of sin, distorting the image of God in which we were initially created.   Baptism was meant to put to death the sin that is within us.  We were healed, in that baptism is the pledge to life everlasting, where death itself is swallowed up in the victory of Christ over death.  For we are baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Christ. 
So, with a slight variation, the question of Christ could also imply:  
Do you rejoice in the fact that you have been healed, and does your way of life reflect the faith and joy that that great healing from sin and death has imparted to you? 
Are you willing to continue in the struggle that is necessary to keep that healing “alive” within you?  
Direct and simple questions can get complicated, often by the paralyzing effect of sin in our lives. We can then get confused as to how to respond to such essential questions.  Every time we walk into the church we are being asked by Christ:  “Do you want to be healed?”  Responding with a resounding “Yes!” would be a “sign” of the faith, hope and love that are within us by the grace of God.

Monday, May 13, 2019

An Encounter Like No Other

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


Among the Myrrhbearing Women, it is clear that Mary Magdalene is something of a "first among equals."  In the Synoptic Gospels she is always listed first among the other women whose names are recorded by the Evangelists (MATT. 28:1: MK. 16:1; LK. 24:10).  In the Gospel According to St. John, she is the only one of these remarkable women actually named by the Evangelist.  

That St. John also knew the tradition of multiple women visiting the tomb of Christ "on the first day of the week" (JN. 20:1) is indicated by Mary Magdalene using "we" when returning from the tomb and excitingly telling the disciples what she/they discovered there, mistaken though she was as to the reason:  "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know here they have laid him" (JN. 20:2).  

And it is St. Mark and St. John who record the fact that she is the first of the women to actually see the Risen Lord (MK. 16:9: JN. 20:14).  In addition, it is the Evangelist Mark who informs us that Jesus had "cast out seven demons" from Mary Magdalene (v. 9).  

St. Mary Magdalene thus stands out among these outstanding, though self-effacing women, who are now known throughout the world wherever the Gospel is proclaimed.  The Myrrhbearing Women were privileged to be the first human beings to discover the empty tomb, and the first as a body to behold the Risen Christ (MATT. 28:9).

At the Divine Liturgy yesterday we heard the account in St. Mark's Gospel about the role of the Myrrhbearing Women in the discovery of the empty tomb as we commemorate the Myrrhbearers on the Third Sunday of Pascha (MK. 15:43-16:8).  This is the only Sunday during the paschal season that we hear from a Gospel other than St. John's. 

However, I would like to return to St. John's Gospel for the purpose of this meditation and share a few words about the extraordinary encounter between the Risen Lord and Mary Magdalene recorded there (20:11-18). This is an encounter like no other.  I recall the renowned British biblical scholar C. H. Dodd writing that this  account in St. John's Gospel has no remote counterpart in all of the ancient literature of the Graeco-Roman world.  It is absolutely unique.

At first, as recorded above, Mary Magdalene believed that the tomb was empty because "they have taken the Lord out of the tomb" (20:2). This was her "natural" reaction to the fact of the empty tomb. She then temporarily disappears from the narrative as we hear of the disciples Peter and John discovering the empty tomb, prompted by her troubling words. But after this discovery "the disciples went back to their home" (v. 17).  Then, Mary appears again "weeping outside the tomb" (v. 11). When she stoops to look into the tomb she is surprised by the presence of two angels, who pointedly ask her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She again repeats her despairing belief that "they have taken away my Lord" (v.13). At this point "she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus" (v. 14). 

And then that remarkable dialogue and encounter occurs.  

At first Jesus will repeat the words of the angels: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" (v.15)  Still fixated on the mistaken belief that someone has removed the body of Jesus, Mary, for the third time repeats that assertion to "the gardener" hoping that he will cooperate in disclosing the whereabouts of the body of Jesus.  

And then all is transformed "in the twinkling of an eye" when the Risen Jesus pronounces her name: "Mary" (v. 16). That is all that was necessary, and Christ prepared us for that immediate recognition upon hearing one's name pronounced:

"I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father ... "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand."  (JN. 10:14, 27-28)

When the Risen Good Shepherd speaks her name she immediately recognizes His voice as foretold in the words above and she responds with the endearing title: "Rab-bo'ni!" (The evangelist parenthetically informs us that this means Teacher). 

This encounter like no other is actually consummated through the seemingly simple pronouncement of a name and a title exchanged with both love and devotion between Christ and His disciple Mary Magdalene. I believe that this moment of recognition would be impossible to express in words. We can only bow our heads in silence and awe. Or, perhaps like the other Myrrhbearing Women, "trembling and astonishment" (MK. 16:8) will come upon us if we allow the full power of this encounter to enter our minds and hearts. 

For Mary, bewilderment, despair and confusion give way to joy and regeneration.  That the setting was a "garden" is no accident. Now, upon returning to the other disciples for a second time, a new message is delivered to them, for St. John tells us: "Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'" (v. 18).

At one point in this incredibly momentous morning, Mary Magdalene told the angels that "they have taken away my Lord."  St. Thomas said when also coming to recognition of the Risen Lord: "My Lord and my God!" In these words, both of these saints made it very personal

The encounter with Christ, regardless of the circumstances is always something deeply personal.  Each unique human being has a unique relationship with Christ. We say that He is our Lord, but we equally say that He is my Lord. Therefore, I would like to quote again the deeply encouraging words of Fr. Alexander Men who, when commenting on the events of JN. 20, wrote:

"Therefore today, on this Paschal day, let each of you, returning home, carry in his heart this joy and the thought that the Lord has appeared to me, too. He is risen for me, and speaks for me, and remains with me, and will forever be as my Lord, as my Savior, as my God. May the Lord protect you!"

A pious tradition has St. Mary Magdalene greeting the Roman emperor Tiberius with the words "Christ is Risen!"  These words reverberate to this day with the glorious "good news" of life out of death.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Glorious First and Eighth Day of the Week

Dear Parish Faithful,


In St. John's account of the first appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples as a group (Jn. 20:19-31), we find the liturgical structure of the Church as it exists to this very day in his account of this incredible encounter. For St. John records: "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week ..." (20:19). The first day of the week is the day after the Sabbath, and that would be our Sunday.

It was on this day that the risen Christ appeared to his bewildered, dejected, and frightened disciples in order to convince them that He was risen from the dead. "Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord" (20:20). Jesus returned to further convince the unbelieving Thomas that He was indeed risen. And significantly, this next appearance was "eight days later" (20:26). Which means, of course, the following Sunday.

Since those memorable two days until today, we use the language - with all of its symbolic meaning - of the First and Eighth Day of the week for our liturgical assemblies on the Lord's Day - Sunday. In a deep sense, the first day of the week is the eighth day, if we understand the "eighth day" as taking us beyond the seven days of the week as a kind of anticipation of the Kingdom of God which is beyond the "time" of this world.

St. Gregory Palamas (+1359), Archbishop of Thessaloniki, in a homily entitled "On the Sabbath and the Lord's Day," explains it like this:

You will see that it was Sunday when the disciples assembled and the Lord came to them. On Sunday He approached them for the first time as they were gathered together and eight day later, when Sunday came around again, He appeared to their assembly. Christ's Church continually reflects these gatherings by holding its meetings mostly on Sundays and we come among you and preach what pertains to salvation and lead you towards piety and a godly way of life.

Yet, as a pastor, St. Gregory continued his homily with this admonition:

Let no one out of laziness or continuous worldly occupations miss these holy Sunday gatherings, which God Himself handed down to us, lest he be justly abandoned by God and suffer like Thomas, who did not come at the right time. If you are detained and do not attend on one occasion, make up for it the next time, bringing yourself to Christ's Church. Otherwise you may remain uncured, suffering unbelief in your soul because of deeds or words, and failing to approach Christ's surgery to receive, like divine Thomas, holy healing.

To our modern sensibilities, even these words of pastoral admonition may seem over-stated if not harsh to us today. But the saint was trying to reinforce the sense of commitment that the believer needs to have to the Lord's Day Liturgy which brings us directly into the presence of the Risen Christ - "Christ is in our midst!" - as we joyfully exclaim at the Liturgy.

St. Gregory's homily clearly places commitment over convenience. This is our first priority. He was writing to a Christian society that was not as pluralistic or diverse as our own, there is no doubt. That means that the pressure for us is "out there" to conform to those "worldly occupations" that St. Gregory warns us about. Today, that could even have a bearing on our presence at the Sunday morning Liturgy. As one example from among many: How many Orthodox parents have to deal with their child's sports events scheduled these days on Sunday morning? So, we can see that the challenges are out there.

In the light of the Gospel revelation about the glorious first and eighth day of the week, we should at least think hard about any such choices.