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.