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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Byzantine: 3rd Sunday after Pentecost/Feast of the Holy Pre-Eminent Apostles Peter and Paul (6/29/14)

Apology


I was running low on time as I finished it, so I ran it through a quick (but not necesssarily exhaustive) heresy check and published it. Hope everything's okay in it.

Notes for Reading/Hearing

First off, the wall calendar prescribes two readings from the Apostol: one for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost and one for Ss. Peter and Paul. However, it only prescribes one reading, the one for the 3rd Sunday. Why? I honestly don't know. It might be a pastoral recommendation, or it might be that they ran out of space, or who knows? But I dug out the 2014 Typicon (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press? 2013) and it prescribed both Gospel readings, so I'll say something on both readings. This is in conformity with the ancient Byzantine "Principle of Elongation," which basically states: "If a service only need be a certain length, but it could be even longer, let's do the longer version!"*

I really recommend reading all the readings beforehand. Otherwise, it could get confusing. Only the first of the two readings is announced, so it will end up sounding like:
This is the end of the first reading, but you don't know it because I'm not using the concluding chant. This is the beginning of the second reading, but you don't know it because it wasn't announced.
Confusing, right? So, know where one reading leaves off and another begins. Also, the 2 Corinthians reading begins with the second sentence of the verse.

Apostol: Romans 5:1-10; 2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9

Gospel: Matthew 6:22-34; Matthew 16:13-19**

Apostoly

It is interesting that the two readings from the Apostol coincide so perfectly. In the reading from Romans, we have pointed out for us in broad strokes the value of suffering and God's love for us. Then, in the 2 Corinthians reading we have the many sufferings of St. Paul depicted in more detail.

St. Paul says some mighty interesting things about suffering in the Romans reading, namely that it ultimately produces hope. But come on, what's that all about? And what right does this guy have to tell me about getting hope out of suffering? Well, let's take a look at his credentials.

First off, St. Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So there. Instant infallibility. Bam. But, it's not like he was lacking credibility on the not-divinely-inspired level either.

Lest we think that St. Paul is just saying some fluffy nonsense without ever having actually experienced any of it, we can read today's passage from 2 Corinthians and see just how much suffering he endured, both mental and physical, to say nothing of the "thorn in the flesh" with which he was afflicted (by the way, I'm totally open to the Spongebob interpretation of this passage). I doubt that many of us have been stoned or even shipwrecked once, much less going through both. And lest we think St. Paul only suffered in body, he adds his "anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I (St. Paul) am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?" (2 Cor 11:28). Just the mental exhaustion involved from his mental and physical sufferings seems like it would be enough to break most others.

However, in the case of Ss. Peter and Paul, they weren't broken. Rather, they continued on, and the Lord "preferred their sufferings and death above any sacrifice" (Kontakion of Ss. Peter and Paul). I see no reason to think that He will not prefer ours as well.

Gospels

The Gospel readings for today are almost exactly ten chapters apart. The first is from the Sermon on the Mount. In it, the main theme is trusting in God. The Apostles left the tools of their trade with which they made a living last week; now we are called to leave behind anything else which promises life, but which can never make good on that promise, and to cling to God.

To really leave all behind for the sake of Christ, we need a strong faith. Today we celebrate St. Peter, who was "truly revealed as the rock of faith and a trustee of the keys of grace" because of his confession of faith (Sessional Hymn 1 of Ss. Peter and Paul), as well as St. Paul, "the preacher of the faith and teacher of the universe" (Aposticha Doxastikon of Ss. Peter and Paul). They left all for the sake of Christ and endured great sufferings for His sake. So, we can look to them as examples and fervent intercessors when we undergo the same. 

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*Note: This is not really a principle. It is an attempt at a joke by the author.

**Note: This is the reading for Ss. Peter and Paul prescribed for the Ruthenian usage. Other Byzantine Churches may differ (I'm looking at you, Melkites).

Scripture quotations are from the RSV-2CE.

Liturgical quotations are mainly from the propers available on the MCI website, and the kontakion was from The Divine Liturgies of Our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Basil the Great (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press? 2006).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Roman Corpus Christi

Today we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This great feast is the source of our grace, and through the Resurrection we see it in its true light: The Risen Lord comes to us under the guise of bread and wine, truly present in the Sacrament upon the Altar!

"'Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. 
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him. 
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me. 
This is the bread that came down from heaven. 
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."' -Jn 6:51-58

Do we believe the Word of the Lord? "Indeed the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two edged sword, penetrating to the division between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, able to discern thoughts and reflections of the heart." Heb 4:12.

God speaks to us today and presents rather bluntly the core truth of the Eucharist. Jesus proclaims the controversial statement about eating (gnawing, in the original Greek) His Flesh and drinking His Blood. He is not gentle with His presentation of this eternal truth. Yet, God gives it to us in this way because of its importance! This is the source and summit of the Catholic Life, and indeed, Christ desires it to be plain as day, even though the mysteries of the Eucharist could be meditated upon without end.

Why should we receive often? Christ died for us, and through His resurrection suffering was given meaning. Our own sufferings and sacrifices are worthless unless we unite ourselves to the Sorrowful Passion of Jesus. And, in the context of the Holy Mass, Christ's Passion is relived, not as a second Passion but as a partaking in the one sacrifice. Thus, when we go to Mass and unite our minds, hearts and wills to God, we can sanctify all of our sufferings and trials! Then, if we follow the Mass to its climax, the reception of the Eucharist into our hearts and souls, we are then transformed: Christ is living WITHIN us!

Taking this knowledge, along with the promise found at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: "I will be with you until the end of the age", we can then go and take the Risen Body and Blood and share Him, in a spiritual sense, with the world that hungers for naught but Love. This is our life: We come to the fount of Love, receive the overabundance, and in appreciation and gratitude to the Lord, we are enabled to go out and share that Love.

Byzantine: 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (6/22/14)

Notes for Reading/Hearing:

Today we begin the series of Sunday readings from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans and the Gospel according to St. Matthew. This will be so for more or less the next several weeks. So, because you'll only hear selections from these writings at the Divine Liturgy, I heartily encourage reading the entire works. That way you'll gain an idea of the context of the weekly reading and be somewhat more familiar with it already.

Apostol: Romans 2:10-16


Apostol

In the Apostolic reading for this week, St. Paul has just finished a discourse on how humanity basically dug itself into a hole through sin. Then, he gives us the even worse news: "[God] will render to every man according to his works" (Rom 2:6). Verses 7 and 8 outline the respective rewards and punishments for those who do good and evil. Then we have verse 9, which is the beginning of the sentence finished in verse 10. Below, the normal text is where the reading for today picks up:
There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2:9-10)
Good news: those who do good get rewarded in kind. Bad news: those who do evil also get rewarded in kind. And we've all done evil things.
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Rom 2:13)
The ICSB indicates that this verse applies to Jews who have the Torah, but does it not remain valid for Christians? Sure, we know the commandments, but do we keep them? This forms a big part of the next bit of Romans: the Jews, who had the law revealed to them, failed to keep it. Moreover, there were Gentiles who did keep the law: though it had not been revealed to them as it was to the Jews, yet they had the voice of conscience to guide them. So, no one is excused from following the natural law: we have it in a divinely revealed manner, but everyone has these principles in a natural way, written on his heart (CCC 1860). We can expect people to behave in accordance with the moral law, as it is not only the law for Christians and Jews, but the law for all mankind. Sure, we only expect Christians to be in church on Sundays, but we can (and do) expect everyone not to kill, steal, commit adultery, lie, etc. These are not specifically Christian: you don't have to be a Christian to know these commandments!

However, though we are accountable for following the law, we do not have the power to do it by ourselves. We need the grace of God. It is heresy (Pelagianism, to be precise) to say that by our own efforts, with no need of divine grace, we can become saints. But, the good news is, there is grace! On our own, we are lost. But we are not on our own. That is what St. Paul is building up to. Continue reading the letter.

Gospel

Last week, we heard from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapters 10 and 19. This week, we're jumping back a good deal to when Jesus was just beginning His public ministry. So, we've had the Nativity, the Baptism in the Jordan, and the temptation in the desert, and Jesus is beginning to preach.

It's interesting that the way things fall this year, we hear about St. Peter's call to follow Jesus exactly one week before we celebrate his feast. That's pretty cool, right?

After our great celebration of the Lord's victory, the Church brings us back to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, once again to hear the Lord calling His first disciples. And so here we are, beginning again the journey from the shores of Galilee, through Israel and Samaria, to Jerusalem, to the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, and to our own sainthood. Ready?

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All Scripture quotations are from the ICSB, which uses the RSV-2CE.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Liturgical Year and Christian Life

Our very first "Extra" post! This began as part of the Byzantine post for this Sunday, but kind of took on a life of its own. Here you go!

You probably know that the Byzantine liturgical year begins on September 1. However, unlike the Roman Rite's new year (1st Sunday of Advent), Byzantine new year isn't really tied to the cycle of readings. Our cycle is more tied to the readings for Pascha (look in the Apostol: that's the very first reading given).

You probably also know about the Church Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant, but just to make sure we're clear, I'll outline them. First, there's the Church Militant. That's us, living on earth. Then there's the Church Suffering, which is those undergoing purification before being admitted to heaven. Finally, there's the Church Triumphant, which is the Church in heaven. I propose that the Byzantine cycle of readings corresponds to this division.

So, the Christian generally passes through life as a member of the Church Militant, dies, is purified as a member of the Church Suffering, and then is admitted to heaven, becoming a member of the Church Triumphant.

So, what do we do as members of the Church Militant? We are to heed the Lord's call, follow Him, and be fishers of men. Moreover, we are to follow His law. This is the subject of the readings for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. For roughly the next 30-odd weeks (give or take some feasts like the Sundays of the Forefathers and Ancestors, etc) we'll hear the Lord's teachings and doings, as well as readings from St. Paul. After this comes the season of the Triodion, which begins several Sundays before Great Lent.

During the season of the Triodion and Great Lent, we are called to purify ourselves, to really "set aside all earthly cares" (Cherubikon, Divine Liturgy). This is what happens to us as members of the Church Suffering. So, there is the link of a common theme of purification between Great Lent and the "Final Theosis" (what the West calls Purgatory). And then, once we have been purified?

That's right: Church Triumphant. And what, pray tell, are Pascha and the season of the Pentecostarion about? The victory of Christ in which we share! The Pentecostarion even draws to a close with the Sunday of All Saints (MCI, "The Pentecostarion"), that is, the members of the Church Triumphant.

So we have the cycle of readings and the trajectory of the Christian life. The cycle provides, in a way, a roadmap and a mirror, showing us where we are, where we're going, and how to get there. So, now, as we begin again this trek to the time of the Triodion and, ultimately, to the Pentecostarion, we would do well to consider whether we really are going on the journey from call, to Cross, to Resurrection and beyond.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Roman Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
June 15th, 2014


"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." John 3:16-18

Today, in the United States of America, is Fathers Day. But for Roman Catholics, that day is eclipsed, in a sense, by the great feast of the Holy Trinity. Yet, as much as Father's Day is overshadowed by the Trinity Sunday, truthfully I think that we can say that this day is given meaning through the solemnity.

Photo by Elizabeth Nguyen
Fatherhood is a unique and inexpressible role, bestowed mutually by God and Woman upon the man at the moment of conception. Saint John Paul II, in his writings "Love and Responsibility", touch on this when he speaks of the "Communio Personarum", or the community of persons within a marriage. Through the intimate self-gift of man and woman together, a new child is created, as well as the new states of life of 'motherhood' and 'fatherhood'. Yet, without a context, this splendid truth is only an isolated experience of wonder.

From God, revealed to us through today's scriptures, comes this great gift of fatherhood. We are given, as it says, a spirit within us crying out "Abba, Father". We begin as adopted sons of the Father, but He invites us to embrace fatherhood for ourselves. We see here in the Gospel a truth so profound that we can hardly grasp it: "God...loved." This is fundamental, becuase inevitably, true fatherhood is the union of love which creates another. God loved, and He spoke the world into being. God loved this world so much, He was willing to save it at any cost. This love is the foundation of fatherhood.


Photo by Elizabeth Nguyen
Here, we come to the cross of Christ. The truth of the Father's love is that He was willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus. Like last weeks readings, we come to a crucial point: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Jn. 20:21. So, His Love was without limits, to the point of sacrificing Him who was most dear to His heart upon the cross. So too are we called to be detached from our own longings, to live not for ourselves, but to see ourselves as a gift. So in that giving of self man and woman creates child and become, in their own right, 'mother' and 'father', and in that giving of self as a gift we are called to inspire others to live no longer for themselves and their worldly posterity, but for heaven and for the salvation of souls.

The Love of the Father is the Love to which we are called, and today's feast of the Blessed Trinity celebrates the bestowal of Himself upon us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God Be Praised! 

Byzantine: Sunday of All Saints (6/15/14)

Notes for Reading/Hearing

Today's Apostolic reading begins in mid-sentence. So, while the reading actually begins in verse 33, I included verse 32 in the link for readability. The reading as given in the Apostol (Epistle Book) will begin with "By faith [the Saints] ..."* and ends at "perfecter of our faith."

The Gospel is more complicated. It's all from Matthew, but it skips, first a few verses, then ten chapters. However, I'm don't think that actually causes a problem for reading it. It's probably more an interesting little fact than anything else.

Apostolic Reading: Hebrews 11:33-12:2a

Gospel: Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30


Apostolic Reading

The author of Hebrews names specific men from the Old Testament as examples of faith. This comes after a more detailed description of some other heroes' exploits earlier in chapter 11. Part of this is part of the reading for another feast, but you should really read the whole thing. Actually, read the entire Letter. It's just really good.

What I'd like to focus on here is the link between the Old and New Testaments. I think we may tend to separate them far too much. This reaches an extreme point in an experience I had, where one of my friends seems to have thought that the Old and New Testaments dealt with different gods. That's just a dumb idea.

But we see here that the Christian author of Hebrews is citing Old Testament figures as examples of faith, and that the liturgy goes so far as to refer to them as saints (though it would seem not indiscriminately: I have no evidence that all those named are actually venerated as saints and would not be surprised if all of them are not)! Many figures from the Old Testament have their own commemorations during the liturgical year, and if you look in the green Divine Liturgy book, you'll see that there's a common office for "Holy Prophets." Obviously, that wouldn't be the case if there was a radical disconnect between the Old and New Testaments.

And yet, as good as these saints were, Hebrews says, they didn't quite get it all (11:39). They still had to wait until "something better" came. What exactly is that "something better?" It is "the grace of believing in [God's] Son Jesus" (CCC 147), which we no longer have to wait for.

I would be remiss if I did not say a little about the "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in the reading. There's such a tendency in modern religion in general, and modern Christianity in particular, toward religion being an almost exclusively personal affair. However, this is not at all a very Biblical attitude to take. Yes, there is a personal element, but there's also the community. I do not run the race in isolation from you, nor you in isolation from me, nor we in isolation from St. John Chrysostom and St. Nicholas and St. John the Baptist and all the other saints! We are surrounded by our brothers and sisters, all urging us onward and aiding us in our struggles!


Gospel

The Gospel for today begins with some rather harsh words after the exhortation given from the Apostol. Verses 37-38 give us a nice little sledgehammer blow right in the conscience. And, there's that unpleasant little part about picking up our crosses. Who wants to do that? Yep, there's going to be suffering. What a miserable way to begin what might have been an otherwise quite pleasant Sunday morning!

But not so fast, Jesus says. There isn't just suffering: there's going to be a reward. Sure, there's our cross that we have to bear, but that's not the end of the story. Jesus bore His Cross – His precious, holy, and life-creating Cross, to be precise – and His story didn't end there. Neither does ours. Remember what we sang last Sunday? "All you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. Alleluia!" (Galatians 3:27, replacing the Trisagion – Byzantine Liturgy).
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Romans 6:3-5).
Christ's answer to Peter also answers our own question. Okay, Jesus, I've left all this stuff. Why do this? What's in it for me? We want to know. And Jesus tells us. Yes, we lose some. Perhaps our blood will even be as a royal garment for the Church (Troparion of All Saints). Perhaps, as it is written of the saints of old, it will be said of us:
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment.They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:35-38).
But, it will not be for nothing. We have the promise from the Lord Himself of a great reward. Onward, then!
_________________________

*This is the way it begins in The Epistles and Old Testament Readings for the Liturgical Year (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1979), the Apostol used in the Metropolia of Pittsburgh.

With the exception of the Galatians quote, all Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, either Catholic Edition or 2nd Catholic Edition (in the ICSB), most likely the 1st Catholic. Differences between the texts are minimal.

The Galatians quote is as given in The Divine Liturgies of Our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Basil the Great (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press? 2006).

I defend my use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a Byzantine blog post with the following:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the kingdom!
The approval and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church represents a service which the Successor of Peter wishes to offer to the Holy Catholic Church, and to all the particular Churches in peace and communion with the Apostolic See: the service, that is, of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus' disciples (cf. Lk 22:32), as well as of strengthening the bonds of unity in the same apostolic faith (St. John Paul the Great, Fidei Depositum IV, emphasis mine).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Byzantine: Pentecost (6/8/14)

I've taken the liberty of preparing today's readings using the Beta Version of BibleGateway. Not everything on the site (either current or beta) is kosher, but it's got a copy of the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, my current favorite Bible translation, and is useful when I need to put together readings that aren't exactly consecutive, as with the Gospel.

Apostolic Reading: Acts 2:1-11

Gospel: John 7:37-52, 8:12

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. You probably already know that. But, did you know that Pentecost was already a feast day before Christianity? It was actually a Jewish feast celebrating the spring harvest and the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. With that in mind, let's take a look at the readings.

Apostolic Reading

The Apostolic reading actually mentions Pentecost. It's the first story after the election of Matthias as an Apostle, which happens at an unspecified time between the Ascension and Pentecost. You probably know the story, so I won't bother recounting it. However, I will pay special attention to verses 5-11. This is where they're listing a whole lot of different places which all spoke different languages. There's something this should remind us of, which today's kontakion makes clear:
When the Most High descended and confused tongues, he scattered nations. When he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity.
So, we see that Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel! Cool, huh? Years ago, God had come down and made people unable to understand each other. Now, He again comes down, and undoes that curse. God is gathering His People!

Gospel

The Gospel for Pentecost actually comes from a good bit of time before the event itself, on "the last day of the feast" of Tabernacles (John 7:37, 2), which is a different feast. Adding to the confusion, the reading begins in the middle of the chapter, and actually comes about ten chapters BEFORE last Sunday's reading, which was from John 17. So, I suppose one of the first questions we could ask is, what's going on here?

The reference in the reading to "living water" also calls to mind John 4, which contains Our Lord's conversation with the Samaritan Woman, whom tradition calls St. Photina. At the end of chapter 6, Jesus delivers the Bread of Life discourse, which you should really read at some point. Chapter 7 begins with Jesus in Galilee, being told to go work some miracles in Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus kind of dismisses His hecklers, then goes to Jerusalem, but not as a big show-offy miracle worker. While in Jerusalem, Jesus starts teaching things, which makes the authorities mad. This prompts an argument about whether Jesus is the Messiah. The authorities send men to arrest Jesus. This is more or less where the Pentecost reading picks up. Then, after the first part of the reading, we skip over the Woman Caught in Adultery to find Jesus teaching again. So that's the context of the Gospel.

In the reading, Jesus speaks "about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive" (John 7:39), but at this point in the Gospel "the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). However, we just finished celebrating the glorification of Jesus "through his Passion and Resurrection" (ICSB note to John 7:39), so what Jesus spoke about in the reading as something yet to happen has on this day come to pass!

So we should rejoice on this day when God has called all to unity and on which we who have believed in Jesus Christ have received the Holy Spirit. A happy feast to all!

And, of course, my favorite part of the beginning prayers has been restored:
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain, and save our souls, O gracious One.

________________________
Liturgical quotations taken from The Divine Liturgies of Our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Basil the Great (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press? 2006).

Scripture quotations taken from the Revised Standard Version – 2nd Catholic Edition.

Roman Pentecost Sunday


Roman Pentecost Sunday 2014                              JMJ

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Saint John:
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Jn. 20:19-23

Here, on the birthday of the Church, we pause and reflect. What is Christ's call to these cowering men, who locked the door because of their fear of the punishments that might be their lot? He comes bringing peace, first of all.

When He greets them, He says "Peace be with you." Then Jesus shows them His wounds. Remember, it was for this reason He came, to garner these wounds. Now in His glorified body, Christ shows His disciples that He chose to retain these wounds, the marks of His sacrifice. "Peace be with you." When He repeats something within the Scriptures, we ought to listen closely. What He is going to tell us is important. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Christ was sent for one purpose alone: While all men are born to live, Christ was born to die.                       Let that sink in for a moment.
Photo by Elizabeth Nguyen
   
We are now called to die in Christ. His crucifixion was the Sacrifice of all sacrifices, and now he invites us to partake with our lives in His mission, which is the forgiveness of sins. This is what the Christian life is at its nexus.

With the bestowal of the Spirit, we are brought into union with this salvific mission. Our lives are to be transfigured through the working of the Spirit in our lives. True repentance for the forgiveness of our sins is essential in this struggle. We must break from sin! But that is only the beginning. He will only be satisfied when we are truly at peace within His heart. Our lives are restless, truly restless until we deny ourselves and follow Christ, whose path leads to the Cross and beyond.

The Father sent His Son so that we might not perish, but might have Eternal Life. So too, does Christ send us for the same purpose. Now, inspired and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are called to preach the Truth with the power of Christ.

God be praised!