Monthly Archives: December 2018

Advent is a Time to Accept the Invitation to the God’s Great Banquet in Jesus Christ

11th Sunday of Luke, Luke 14: 16-24

Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, when we commemorate all those in the Old Testament who foretold or prefigured the coming of Christ, from our first father Adam to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. We remember today that the Incarnation of our Lord did not simply occur one day out of the blue, but was the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan to bring humanity into His divine life. No one was forced, of course, to prepare for our Lord’s coming. Today we honor those who responded in freedom to God’s calling, who accepted His invitation to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. And in this season of Advent, we want to be like them, which is sometimes a struggle. For we all face powerful temptations to excuse ourselves from the blessing and joy of the Kingdom. Today’s gospel text reminds us of what is at stake. For when a great man invited people to a great feast, they all had better things to do. They turned down the invitation because they had land to inspect, oxen to test, or family responsibilities. So their places at the banquet were taken by the most unlikely of party guests: the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. Strangers from the highways and hedges came to the celebration, but none of those who were originally invited tasted of the supper.

The Lord often used the image of a great feast for the Kingdom of God. This parable reminds us that many of Jesus Christ’s own people, the Jews, refused to accept Him as the Messiah, refused to accept His salvation, while many of the Gentiles—the mostly unlikely people—did accept Him. But we would miss the meaning of this passage for us if we think that it refers simply to what happened long ago to other people. For we too have been invited to the Heavenly Banquet, to the life of the Kingdom of God. And unlike the people of the Old Testament, we have more than the Law and the Prophets to foreshadow the coming of Christ. We have Him, living in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit; nourishing our souls with His Body and Blood; we are members of His Body, the Church; He is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. The Incarnation has already occurred. Christ has united our fallen, corrupt humanity to divinity. He has brought us into the life of the Holy Trinity. We could not ask for more.

But unfortunately, we often act like those who refused to attend the great banquet in today’s gospel lesson. That is, we get so fixated on the cares and worries of daily life that we become blind to the great blessing and glory to which our Lord invites us. The problem is that we make false gods of our possessions, work, family, relationships, and other cares. Instead, of seeing that these good things have their proper and healthy place only when we offer them to the Lord—and that they all provide opportunities to grow in holiness, we tend to choose them instead of God.

So we would rather worry than pray; we would rather obsess about our problems and fears than serve our neighbors, forgive those who have offended us, and find healing for the damage that our sins have done in our own lives. Instead of making our life a Eucharist, instead of offering every bit of who we are to the Lord for blessing and fulfillment, we try to live on our own terms. And when we do, we turn away from the greatest blessing of all, from participation in the eternal life of our Lord and His Kingdom. And consequently we shut ourselves out of the great banquet of God and turn away from the unspeakable glory that is ours in Christ Jesus.

The problem is not with our possessions themselves, or our work, or marriage and family life. These are all blessings from the Lord; no, the problem is with us. As we never tire of saying in the Orthodox Church, we have disordered desires and broken relationships that make it so easy for us to make false gods of other people, of our daily responsibilities, our hopes and dreams in life, and just about everything else. Envy, pride, anger, lust, greed, and other passions tempt us mightily to believe that satisfying our self-centered desires really is more important than loving and serving God and neighbor. And if we are not careful, these temptations will lead us to become like the people in the gospel lesson who really believed that they had better things to do than to share in the great joy of the Lord’s banquet.

Christmas, of course, is a banquet, a great feast. It is a celebration of our salvation in the God-Man Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God Who became a human being in order to unite our fallen, corrupt humanity with divinity, to bring us from mortality to immortality. No matter how the Nativity Fast has gone for us so far, we all have a choice whether we will use the ten days to prepare to enter more fully into the blessed truth and reality of the Incarnation. And it’s clear what we need to do: to confess our sins and repent, as we do in the Sacrament of Confession that we should all take during Advent; to be generous to the needy and kind to the lonely; to fast in a way appropriate to our spiritual strength and life circumstances; to pray, to open our hearts, souls, and minds to God deliberately and regularly in prayer; to be mindful, refusing to dwell on unhealthy thoughts or to act in ways that do not show the love of Christ; and to say the Jesus Prayer as often as we can, especially when our minds are inclined toward something that we know is not pleasing to the Lord.

No, these spiritual disciplines won’t make us saints overnight and we won’t do them perfectly. But that’s not really the point. Instead, these disciplines are our way of accepting the invitation of our Lord to the banquet of His Kingdom, of offering our cares, worries, and relation-ships for blessing and fulfillment. They are how we fight our passions, resist our temptations, and do what we can to prepare to receive Him at Christmas. They are what Advent is all about.

We have less than two weeks left before Christmas. We could say that the shepherds, wise men, and angels are on their way to Bethlehem. We should be on our way also. The preparation for the feast will soon begin. Will we be ready? Will we accept the invitation to the feast? I certainly hope so. For we stand at the end of a very long line that goes back to Adam, the first-created; that extends through Abra-ham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, David, Bathsheeba; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; that includes Joachim, Anna, and the Theotokos.

The good news of Christmas is that in Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises are extended to people like us, who are blinded and sickened with sin, who suffer from the pain, weakness, and corruption of life in the world as we know it, and who are not yet perfect. In the Babe of Bethlehem, even people like you and me are invited to take our place with the Holy Forefathers and Foremothers of Christ in the heavenly banquet and to become participants in the Divine Glory.

Now is the time to get ready for His coming, to put aside our excuses, to set right what has gone wrong in our lives, and to prepare to receive Him with the fear of God and faith and love at the great feast of Christmas. Unfortunately, some did not recognize Him at the first Christmas. King Herod tried to kill him, and so many who should have known better rejected the Lord during His earthly ministry, even crucifying Him as a blasphemer and a traitor. Yes, some really did turn down their invitations to the blessedness of the Kingdom, preferring political and religious power to Christ’s salvation.

Nothing that we do will probably be so dramatic, but the same thing is at stake: Will we make our marriages, our finances, our work, our friendships, and our life plans points of entry into the joy of the Lord? Will we accept our Savior’s invitation not to be distracted from receiving the eternal life that He has brought to the world? Our response will be shown by what we do with the last next ten days of Advent.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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Sabbath Rest and Healing

10th Sunday of Luke, Luke 13: 10-17

Recently I visited a friend. She is a very busy person, always on the go personally and professionally. On the refrigerator was a postcard from someone who must have known her well. It said, “I’ll have time to sleep when I’m dead.” Do you ever feel that there are not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the week? Is sleep interfering with getting things done? If so, you are not alone. Life is very busy and seemingly getting more hectic these days.

Let’s take a step back today and consider a few things. We cannot add another hour or two to the 24 we have each day nor can we add a day to each week. These are fixed and constant. What can we change in order to be more productive and not feel so pressured for time? We can try to change ourselves by periodically and regularly taking rest in a Sabbath. What is Sabbath? Most of you probably know that it comes from Hebrew word “sabbat” and Greek word “Sabbato” that refers to the seventh day of week — Saturday.

The origin of Sabbath goes back to Genesis: “Thus the heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1-3).

After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He led them to Mt. Sinai. There He revealed Himself to Moses and gave the tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Listen to the fourth commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your manservant or your maid-servant or your cattle or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath is important for two reasons: 1) It is a time for rest and recovery; and 2) It is holy, meaning set-apart for God. In the first, the corollary is implied that if the all-powerful, all-knowing God needs rest, then we His tiny creatures need rest too. If we think and act like we do not need rest, then we are placing ourselves above God. In the second, we have the foundation for communal worship. In both Jewish and Orthodox Christian liturgical time, the new day begins at sunset/sundown. Thus, Sabbath began on Friday (Greek: Paraskeve meaning “preparation”) evening.

Essentially, the Sabbath is a day of physical rest and spiritual joy, centred around the twin poles of home and synagogue. In Orthodox Judaism, as the men leave for evening service, the women recite a special blessing over the Sabbath candles. Upon his return, the husband blesses his wife and the children, they pray and sing together and partake of a meal of bread and wine together. Some families eat the meal first and then go together to evening service. The next day, Saturday, another festive meal is eaten and the day ends with another worship service. (Oxford Dictionary of Judaism).

Jesus Christ observed the Sabbath by going to the synagogue regularly and at times by going away, either by Himself or with His disciples, to be alone and/or to pray (Mark 6:31; Luke10:38-42; John 6:15;12:36). In addition, after completing His work of salvation culminating in His death on the Cross, Jesus rested in Hades on the Sabbath before being raised from the dead by His Father. In fact, we find Jesus in the synagogues on the Sabbath in today’s Gospel reading from the 10th Sunday of Luke 13:10-17. He heals the woman with the 18 year infirmity. We can learn a great deal from this passage. Of course, in the Orthodox Christian tradition, Sabbath rest is taken not on Saturday but on Sunday (Greek: Kyriake – “the Lord’s Day”) that begins with Great Vespers service on Saturday evening and culminates with the Divine Liturgy – the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. The woman with the eighteen-year infirmity observes the Sabbath, takes leave of work, goes to the synagogue, is seen by Jesus who calls her over, speaks to her, touches and heals her. We need to do essentially the same thing. It is no coincidence that the relationship between Sabbath and healing is highlighted.

If we constantly work and are busy, eventually our body and mind will begin to break down. We are not made to endure constant stress and anxiety. We must take a break. We must also remember that our rest needs to be accompanied by a return, a return to God. Just like we need 7-8 hours of sleep each day, we need to spend some time, at least a few minutes each day, in dedicated prayer, meditation and quietness.

The day we take-off from work should be Sunday and on that day, we need to be right here to hear the Word of God and touch/taste His Body and Blood. Our rest in and return to God will have several effects:

  • We will be released from our bondage of chronic stress and anxiety that produces fatigue and despair. This will lead to healing and restoration of body, mind and soul. God’s peace will our fill heart and mind.
  • This peace of mind allows us to exercise discernment to prioritize the tasks and relationships of our life.

We will have more time and be more productive. If we don’t pray, we usually feel rushed and overwhelmed by the work that is in front of us.

When we do pray, the minutes and hours of the day are stretched and we can accomplish our work, even more work than if we had not prayed. Therefore, let us observe the Sabbath and keep it holy so God can prepare and raise us up to eternal life.

Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

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The Blind Beggar Receives His Sight

14th Sunday of Luke, Luke 18: 25-43

We have probably all had moments in our lives when we couldn’t see very well. Maybe the power went out at night at home, our eyes took a while to adjust after walking out of movie theater, we lost our glasses, or we were headed east or west at just the right time to be blinded by the light of the sun. Unfortunately, we have also had moments when we have been blind in other ways when our actions, words, and thoughts went against God’s purposes for our lives. In fact, it’s an ongoing struggle to have a clear take on how what we do each day impacts our souls, as well as our neighbors in whom we encounter the Lord.

St. Paul reminded the Ephesians that they had come out of the darkness of paganism and immorality by putting on Christ in baptism and the life of His body, the Church. Instead of returning to the shadowy ways of the world, he called them to turn on the lights, see the truth about themselves, and live accordingly. “Awake from sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” he tells them. It’s not a time to be in a drunken stupor or to be lulled into complacency in any other way, but instead to be alert and focused so that we won’t be lulled back into the darkness.

Our Savior, in His earthly ministry, certainly healed many blind people. We read in today’s gospel text of a blind beggar who was so eager to see that he would not stop yelling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” as the Lord passed by. Even though others told the man to be quiet and not to cause a scene, he continued to plead for healing. He succeeded in getting Christ’s attention, and He asked the man a simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man responded, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Christ said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he could see again and began to follow the Lord and to glorify God.

Unlike the Gentiles we mentioned earlier, this fellow was Jewish and waiting for a Messiah to fulfill God’s promises to Israel. But he was not able to see the Savior as He passed by. His eyes were shut to the Lord and to all the beauty of the creation. He lived in darkness. He was poor and wretched, a beggar, who could do nothing but call out for help from the Son of David, a common name for “the anointed one” whom the Jews expected. And the man’s sufferings had made quite clear to him what he wanted: to be able to see, for he was tired of living in darkness. When the blind man had his chance, he took it – refusing to shut up when he heard that Christ was passing his way.

Of course, the man knew a portion of the truth. He knew that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, Who could miraculously restore his sight. He had enough faith, enough trust in Christ, to ask for that. His plea for mercy sounds like an early version of the Jesus Prayer. But the man did not know that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. Like the rest of the Jews, he was probably waiting for a Messiah who would be a great political and religious leader, not a Savior Who is both God and man. Fortunately for him and the rest of us, Christ is not a stern master who has mercy only on those with perfect understanding. He heard the man’s humble plea and restored his sight; then the man gave thanks to God and began to follow the Lord.

Jesus Christ came to bring us all into the light of His life, regardless of whether we are Gentiles or Jews and no matter how we have lived or what we have done. Just as a blind person could only beg and pray for a miracle in that time and place, we cannot force or earn our way into the blessed life of the Kingdom. We all need His mercy. But like both the blind man and the Ephesians, we have to do our part to become receptive to the light of Christ in our lives.

A person who keeps his eyes closed will never see the day or the beauty of the world. Likewise, it is impossible for those who insist on filling their lives with darkness to receive the light of Christ. If we are asleep, we are not awake. If we insist on living in the shadows, we will never see clearly. The good news is that we have already open our eyes to the light, for we have put on Christ in the waters of baptism, been sealed with the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and nourished with the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist. Our eyes have been opened to behold the glory of the Lord. We have entered into His house, the Church, and confessed Him in the words of the Creed and in our hearts. Indeed, we know that we are able at any moment of the day to show the humble faith of the blind beggar through the words of the Jesus Prayer.

Nonetheless, our spiritual vision is still obscured by a measure of darkness. We still look at other people with self-righteous judgment, envy, lust, and other bad attitudes. We make hateful, profane, and other unedifying comments that make faithfulness harder for ourselves and other people. We drift off to spiritual sleep thinking that we will find fulfillment in pleasure, possessions, and the praise of others. We are lured powerfully back to the darkness in many ways. So we continue to need therapy to help us keep our eyes open to the brilliant light of Christ, to the salvation that He has brought to the world.

That’s why it’s good that we have seasons like Advent to wake us up from our slumbers, to switch on the lights and tell us it’s time to wake up. In these weeks of preparation for Christmas, all of us need to gain strength in resisting our self-centered desires by fasting or some other form of self-denial. All of us need to place greater focus on prayer. All of us need to confess our sins and turn away from them through repentance. All of us need to give alms and become more generous to the needy with our time and resources. All of us need to love and forgive our enemies. In these ways, we all need to open our lives more fully to the light of Christ.

At the same time, we also need to do everything that we can to shut out the darkness that so easily overtakes us. Most of us probably do not have to look very closely at our lives to identify habits, weaknesses, relationships, or social settings that can dim the spiritual light pretty quickly. We have to be prudent and persistent in discerning how to respond to those temptations, but it’s not our intelligence or will power that is our hope. It’s the mercy of the Lord, the same One who responded to the plea of that blind beggar. So when we are tempted to wallow in the darkness, we need to follow his example of calling out to Christ persistently with humility, asking for His forgiveness and healing. That fellow would not shut up even when his pleas disturbed others, and we must learn not to abandon our spiritual disciplines, mindfulness, and prayers even when our thoughts, feelings, and friends want to lead us away from the light.

Sometimes we feel like it will kill us to resist certain temptations. Of course, that’s not true, but it is often how we feel. We all need to cultivate the faith that Christ comes to heal and strengthen us, not to frustrate and destroy us. The disciplines of Advent are not about legalism or causing inconvenience.

Instead, they are tools for our healing, ways for us to turn away from the darkness and to walk in the light, into a life where we are not the slaves of sin but embrace joyfully the glorious freedom of the children of God.

No matter where we are in our journey to the Kingdom, we can all welcome the light of Christ more fully into our lives in the coming weeks. No matter our measure of spiritual health or disease, we can open ourselves more fully to the mercy and healing of the Lord. He made a blind beggar see and turned idol-worshipping pagans into saints. And He will do the same for us, if we will only stay focused on Him and turn away from the many distractions that blind us to His truth. As we prepare for Christmas, let’s do everything that we can to walk in the light of the Lord.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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Words of St Porphyrios

A person can become a saint anywhere…At your work, whatever it may be, you can become a saint through meekness, patience, and love.
Make a new start every day, with new resolution, enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence.

When we pray continually, God will enlighten us as to what we must do in each situation, even the most difficult.

God will speak in our heart. He will find ways.

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