Thursday, August 14, 2014

Byzantine: 10th Sunday after Pentecost (8/17/14)

Apostol: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16

Apostol

I think one of the most important things to be aware of in reading this passage is that St. Paul is being ironic (ICSB note to 1 Cor 4:8-13). This may not come out so clearly when the reading is read in church.

We need to be mindful of those who were in Christ before us. We can look to the saints for models of holiness, models which often include great suffering, being "poorly clothed and buffeted and homeless" (1 Cor 4:11). Few are the saints (if there are any!) who did not have sufferings in this life!

Moreover, we can now look to the plight of those lands who received the Gospel before us. Our brethren in the Middle East are again being called to give the supreme witness to Christ. We should pray for them, that their plight may be eased and that they may be strengthened for martyrdom while awaiting their deliverance.

Gospel

Today's Gospel reading follows directly on St. Matthew's account of the Transfiguration. It takes us from the shining splendor of God on the mountain back to the humdrum reality of daily life. Very often it may happen that we come back from a retreat or pilgrimage with a spiritual high, only to run into the brick wall of mundanity. On retreat, all seems well; back in ordinary life, though, we see how much there is still to do.

So it was in this episode. On the mountain the disciples saw the glory of Christ; coming down from the mountain they were again confronted with the fact that all was not well in the world. Not only that, but although their fellow disciples tried (at least, it seems to me that the man refers to the disciples who didn't go up the mountain in 17:16, though I could be wrong), they couldn't cast out the demon! Disappointing for those who had just seen the glory of God.

But the story doesn't end there, for Christ again displays His power by casting out the demon. If we have faith in Him, we too will do extraordinary things, even though we may not see His glory on Tabor's height.

Readings for next week: 1 Corinthians 9:2-12 and Matthew 18:23-35 (11th Sunday after Pentecost).

Also, tomorrow, August 15, is a holy day of obligation (Dormition of the Theotokos).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Byzantine: 9th Sunday after Pentecost (8/10/14)

Sorry, but again nothing on the Apostolic reading this week.


Gospel

This week's Gospel follows directly on last week's, so it might be a good idea to read that again before reading this week's reading.

Christ walking on water is always a favorite story for children's videos. It's a good one. Now, we often hear how here how this is a lesson in having trust in God, so I'll try to strike out in a different direction (not because of a problem with that lesson, but because there are other parts of the story that can be examined).

Let's look at the figure of St. Peter. Here we see him painted in not the most flattering light. He comes out on the water, but then loses his focus on Christ (and how often have we all done that?) and begins to sink.

Two chapters from this incident, he makes the great confession of faith in Christ which results in his being elevated to the status of the prime minister of the Kingdom of God. Not much changes between these incidents; St. Peter is a largely insignificant character from here until the confession. So, this shows us again the importance of grace in the life of the believer. After being pulled out of the lake, St. Peter probably didn't feel like someone who'd be making a great confession of faith in just a little while. And yet, he did, because it was not his own power he relied on, but it was God Who enabled him (Matt 16:17). So it is for all of us.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Byzantine (and Roman): 8th Sunday after Pentecost (18th in Ordinary Time) (8/3/14)

Note: The Gospel for this week is the feeding of the 5000 in both the Byzantine and Roman Rites! Here's the link to this week's reflection from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Sorry: I didn't get the Apostol done for this week, so I only have the Gospel.

Apostol: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18


Gospel

One of the greatest disappointments of my grade school career was being told in fifth grade that the numbers here weren't real, that they were exaggerations or something like that. That was really a letdown for a kid who believed that the Lord really had fed 5000 people. It would be a long time before I was vindicated in believing that there were really 5000.

A fun little heresy that I've heard of (though haven't heard professed, to my memory) is that the big miracle here was that the people... wait for it... keep waiting... just a little longer... SHARED! Yes. That's right: no miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes here, just sharing.

For both of those theories, I say yeah right.

What both theories have in common is that they tend to do away with the miraculous. If there weren't really 5000 people, but only, say, five, it's hardly miraculous that Christ could have fed them with limited provisions, isn't it? And again, there's hardly any miracle about people sharing with each other; any half-decent failed messianic prophet (and there were a lot of those) with a little charisma should be able to do that. Nothing special here, folks, move along.

See the problem here? No miracles, nothing out of the ordinary, precious little to make people suspect that "God has visited His people" (Luke 7:16) in Christ. And I think that what's going on here is more that people are reading their assumptions into the text than anything else. The text clearly presents this as a miraculous event (especially Matthew 16:5-11). No, what's going on here is more likely that some have become convinced that miracles don't happen, and have gone on to convince others that they don't. And, because of this presupposition that miracles can't happen, they have to invent other explanations for the text which range from "stretching it" at best to "just plain stupid" or worse.

The fact is, St. Matthew presents us with a miracle. Now, are we going to accept that it was a miracle, or will we be like last week's Pharisees who didn't see what was plain to all?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Byzantine: 7th Sunday after Pentecost (7/27/14)

Only one set of readings for this week!

Apostol: Romans 15:1-7

Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

Apostol

The theme of this week's epistle reading is the harmony that ought to prevail among believers. We ought to make sacrifices for one another in order to maintain this harmony. Factions among Christians are an outrage and scandal, and we ought to do whatever we can to prevent them.

Let's look at parish life. Is our parish life so structured that an outsider, on entering and seeing our behavior towards one another, will see that he is among the descendants of those who "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42 RSV-CE, emphasis mine)? Or will our visitor see a group of people who come together, sing a few beautiful songs, and then fall to squabbling like the pagans do?

On the flip side, would an outsider come and see only the fellowship? Sure, we should build relationships with our fellow parishioners. But if that's all we're doing, what's the point? I could go to any number of other places and find friendship just as easily (perhaps more easily). We must not lose sight of God in all this!

But then suppose that a parish is full of infighting and factions and all the other tools of the devil. What then? Is that an excuse to call it quits? By no means! On the contrary, that makes it all the more important that we try to reconcile the combatants by whatever means are prudent. And it only takes one person to get the ball rolling.

Gospel

The blind men show us something that we might not like to hear: sometimes we have to wait before the Lord does what we ask. Christ acted fairly quickly in the stories leading up to this, but now He waits, going home with the blind men following Him (the All-Seeing One leading the blind, cf. Matt 15:14). Here we see that we must be patient and persistent in following the Lord.

The healing of the mute man may be summarized as: "Haters gonna hate." Seriously. Christ gives this demon the boot, and the crowds are like "Aww yeah," but the Pharisees are like "meh." The Pharisees missed the obvious: God was at work here! How often do we miss the obvious, mistaking the hand of God for that of Satan?

Next Week

Tune in next week for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Byzantine: 6th Sunday after Pentecost/Feast of the Holy and Glorious Prophet Elijah (7/20/14)

Today's another day (second week in a row!) with two sets of readings prescribed, one for the Sunday and one for St. Elias. If you've been following things here for a while, you know the drill: only the first reading is properly announced, and it just flows into the second reading. Know where one reading leaves off and another begins.

Apostol: Romans 12:6-14; James 5:10-20

Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 4:22-30

Apostol 1: Romans

The reading for this Sunday shows what for lack of better words I'll somewhat crudely call both the individual and collective (I don't like my wording, for the record) aspects of Christian practice. St. Paul begins with the particular here: We have different gifts. He goes through this list of gifts right after declaring,
For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12:3-5)
Then, after pointing out that whatever gifts God has given, each Christian should use, St. Paul continues on with things universal among Christians: love, zeal, prayer, serving the Lord, practicing hospitality. These are things which any Christian can do, things which all Christians must do. So, we see that there are some gifts given to Christians more in particular, and other things which are generally expected of Christians. None are exempted; all are called. Only some are prophets, only some are teachers, but all are called to be lovers of God and neighbor.

Apostol 2: James

"The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (Jas 5:16). What is righteousness? Righteousness is a covenant word which "denotes one's restored relationship with God as an adopted son or daughter" (ICSB, Word Study at Matt 3:15). "[It] is a state of conformity to the covenant, and to act in righteousness means to fulfill one's obligations by keeping the commandments of the covenant" (CBD, "Justification"). To be righteous is to be in a right relationship with God! We will be held righteous if we keep the covenant (into which we were initiated by the free gift of God), and this not on our own power, but by the grace of God (cf. 1 Cor 15:10), for we are unable to do so acting solely on our own (though remember synergy—it's not like we just sit back and God drags us to heaven, either!). Then our prayers will be more effective, like those of the Holy Prophet Elias, whom we celebrate today.

Now go, live the covenant. And get your car blessed while you're at it. It's tradition.

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Scripture quotations are from the RSV-CE.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Byzantine: 5th Sunday after Pentecost/Sunday of the Fathers at the Six Ecumenical Councils (7/13/14)

The first question you're probably asking is, "Why does it say 'at the six Ecumenical Councils?'" I'll be honest: I have no idea, and if you don't want semi-scholarly babble, you'll skip to the next section. This title is what the 2006 book gives. The 1995 Byzantine Book of Prayer gives the name as "Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils." To confuse matters even more, the 2014 Typicon gives the name as "Memory of the Fathers at the First Six Ecumenical Councils." However, this is a Bible blog, not a "figuring out why names of feasts are given differently in some books" blog, so I will restrain myself.

Notes for Reading/Hearing

Two Epistle-Gospel sets of readings are given for today, one for the 5th Sunday and one for the Council Fathers. If both sets are taken, the reading prescribed for the 5th Sunday is announced, but there is no pause or announcement for the reading for the Fathers. This can be confusing, so be sure to read the readings beforehand! Also, I was short on time. Family reunion this past weekend, and left Thursday morning for the ByzanTeen Youth Rally (no internet).



Short Reflection on the Readings from the Apostol
(In lieu of my usual step through each reading.)

To understand where we pick up with this week's reading from Romans, I think it would be best if everyone read at least chapter 9, if not everything up to that point.

The end of the Romans reading mentions two actions of man: believing and confessing. Note that it is not only believing that St. Paul mentions. He also stresses confessing the faith. Christianity is not a "private" religion in the sense of being the sort of religion meant to be kept to oneself. It never has been and never will be. Christianity is meant to move from person to person.

However, we need guidance on what to confess. Yes, St. Paul tells us to confess that "Jesus is Lord," but what does that mean? Christianity is a living faith: more questions are bound to come up. So, what can we do? That question is answered by today's feast.

We remember those who spoke the word of God to us (Hebrews 13:7 RSV-CE). Today we commemorate the Fathers at the first six ecumenical councils, through whom Christ led us to the true faith (cf. Troparion of the Council Fathers). Aided by their example, their teachings, and their prayers, we are better able to rightly confess faith in Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Liturgical reference based on the text in The Divine Liturgies of Our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Basil the Great (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press? 2006).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Byzantine: 4th Sunday after Pentecost (7/6/14)

Readings:

Apostol: Romans 6:18-23

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13


Apostol

One of the first things that came to my mind when I read this passage was the word synergy.* In short, synergy is the working of God and man together, which produces man's salvation. St. Paul is urging us here to that cooperation, to that yielding of ourselves to God, which results in salvation. For God does not drag us, kicking and screaming, into a heaven we did not want to enter. This little cartoon is cute and kind of funny, but it's also heresy.

God does not save us without our consent. To make it even more explicit, I'll let Archbishop Joseph (Raya) take over for a second: "God does not 'rape.' Any compulsion rapes the human conscience. God does not enter where he is not invited and accepted. Herod chased him away from his land when he decided to kill the babies of Bethlehem. ... God never forces the evil doer to be good." So, what is our choice? Will we cooperate?


Gospel

What's not to love about this story? Think about how it must have looked: a Roman centurion—an important official in the most powerful army on earth, with power over 100 soldiers—comes up to this Jewish Preacher and calls Him "Lord!" Nor does he only call Christ "Lord" once, but twice! Imagine what his friends must have thought! Imagine if his commander found out! This is ridiculous, if not treason: to go up to one of the people you conquered and call Him "Lord!"

And yet the centurion did it anyway. He swallowed his pride and went up to this Jewish Preacher from Galilee, and begged Him to heal his servant, placing great faith in His power. It is altogether fitting that the Roman Mass preserved this confession of faith as a pre-Communion prayer. While we do not use it as a prayer in the Divine Liturgy, it expresses the same attitude as our own longer prayer. Regardless of which church we attend on Sunday, let us always express the humility of the centurion's prayer.

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I've decided to use the citation method employed by Doubleday, where in lieu of footnotes I'll bold the first few words and then cite. The sequence will be: general sources, sources of quotes, then notes. Sources that are only given as abbreviations can be found on our "Resources" page.

Coniaris, Anthony. Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality. 2nd printing. Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1998. See note below.

God does not: Archbishop Joseph Raya, The Eyes of the Gospel, 2nd ed (Comberemere: Madonna House Publications, 2006), 21.

an important official: "Centurion," CBD, 143.

*For what I think is a good discussion of synergy (though I'm hardly qualified to say so), see Fr. Coniaris' book. Note, however, that the section against Latin Rite merit theology seems to be directed by (1) reference to an historical abuse, (2) a misunderstanding of the Latins' view of merit, or (3) a language barrier between the Byzantine and Roman theological languages. Other than that section, though, I don't remember a problem with Fr. Coniaris' discussion. See also CCC 2006-2011 and 2025-2027.