Sunday, June 15, 2014

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!


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).

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