Orthodoxy & the visit at the home of the two sisters

“Trust in the Lord at all times;
people, pour out your heart before Him:
God is a refuge for us”.
Psalm 61: 8

In the Gospel of Lucas,
Jesus visits the home of two sisters
named Mary and Martha,
living in an unnamed village.
Mary is contrasted with her sister Martha,
who was “cumbered about many things
Luc.10: 40
while Jesus was their guest,
while Mary had chosen “the better part“,
that of listening to the master’s discourse.

Though they are not specifically named as such in the Gospels, the Orthodox Church counts Mary and Martha among the Myrrh-bearing Women.
These faithful followers of Jesus stood at Golgotha during the Crucifixion of Jesus
and later came to His tomb early on the morning following the Sabbath with myrrh,
according to the Jewish tradition, to anoint their Lord’s body.
The Myrrh-bearers became the first witnesses
to the Resurrection of Jesus, finding the empty tomb
and hearing the joyful News
from an angel.

Orthodox tradition also relates that Mary’s brother Lazaros was cast out of Jerusalem
in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church
following the Martyrdom of Saint Stephanos.
His sisters Mary and Martha fled Judea with him,
assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands.
The three later moved to Cyprus,
where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kition [today Larnaca].
All three died in Cyprus.

You are the only one who makes the choice
Have you ever met an individual that just seemed to have God all over them?
It seemed that they possessed a walk with the Lord
that was head and shoulders above anything you have ever experienced yourself
and you wondered how they accomplished it.
Well, I have been there! I think the answer lies in what they have discovered.
It just seems to me that some people have learned
to abide at the feet of Jesus as they go through life
and this translates into peace of heart,
Power of life and Purpose before God.
I want that kind of life for myself! How about you?
I would like to be constantly and consistently filled
with the Holy Spirit of God
and I would like to be found at the feet of Jesus.

The Gospels mention a woman named Mary.
She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha
and she is mentioned 3 times in the Gospel account.
Every time Mary is mentioned, she is always found
at the feet of Jesus.
Her experiences there can teach us
all some valuable lessons about our own walk with the Lord.
Today, we want to take a few minutes
and join Mary at the feet of Jesus.

1.]. a place of stillness [Luc.10; 38-42]
Martha opened her home to Jesus and did her best to be a good hostess.
Mary, on the other had opened her heart to Jesus
and tried her best just to love the Lord.
She found a place where:
a.] She Could forget her Cares –
while Martha was “cumbered“,
Mary was sitting, calmly listening to the Words of Jesus.
When we come into His presence, [i.e., in prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc.],
the burdens of life tend to grow amazingly light.
It would do many Christians good to learn to sit in His presence and forget about the cares of the whole World.
Learn to love the Lord more than your worries
and you will be able to find that calm place
in His blessed Presence.
When we focus our attention on Him,
other things tend to become very shadowy [Phil.4: 6-9]

b.] She could feed her Soul
– Martha was worried over physical nourishment
while Mary was more concerned
with getting her soul fed.
In His presence, we will find food for our souls and strength for our journey.
It is no wonder that many Christians are weak and lacking in spiritual vitality.
They never take the time to just come into His Presence and feed on Him!
We need soul food, or we will dry up spiritually! [2Tim.2: 15; Job 23: 12; 1Petr.2: 2]

c.]. She could focus her priorities
– Looking in on this scene at Martha’s home,
we can tell what each sister’s priorities were.
Martha was concerned with preparing the meal and serving her guests.
Mary, however, was more concerned with being in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Often, the level of spirituality we are able to achieve in life is directly related to the time we are willing
to spend in His presence.
If everything in our lives takes
precedence over being with the Lord,
then we are in danger at the heart of our experience.
Even being overly busy in His work,
to the point where we have no time
to spend at His feet, is a bad thing.
[your first love – Rev. 2: 1-7]
The more time one spends at His feet,
the easier it is to make it a priority in life.
The larger He gets in our eyes, the smaller other things seem to become.
Ask yourself this question:
Is sitting at Jesus’ feet a priority in my life?
We need to seek this Place of stillness before the Lord!

d.] She could find herself
– In sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary found fulfilment and contentment.
What she found at His feet was worth more than all the money in the world can buy.
In fact, in just sitting at the Lord’s feet,
Mary found something that millions live their entire lives and never discover.
She found acceptance and true contentment.
Those things alone are worth spending time in His presence.
If we as Christians could learn the value of spending time in at His feet,
a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists would have to go out of business.
God has promised us that we can find rest at His feet [2Tim.1: 17].

At the feet of Jesus we can see:
that next to a Place of stillness
and a Place of supplication [John 11: 32]
we can see:
That our Lord’s has interest in the need of His People
– When Jesus arrived in Bethany,
Martha ran out to meet Him.
In their conversation, Jesus demonstrated a great concern for and interest in their need.
After speaking with Martha, Jesus apparently calls for Mary.
He is concerned about the grief and pain that they are experiencing.

Every ‘child of God’ needs to understand
that Jesus cares about our need.
He is interested in what we are experiencing [Hebr.4: 15].
Never think for an instant that God does not care for you.
– That is the devil’s lie!
Jesus is extremely interested in everything
you are facing in life:
Though the Lord is high,
and He respect unto the lowly
“.
Psalm 137: 6
The word “respect” means “to see, discern, behold“.
This tells us that the Lord is looking down at our lives
and He misses nothing that affects His children:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear you not therefore,
you are of more value
than many sparrows
“.
Matth.10: 19-31

Our Lord’s Invitation To His People
– Jesus called for Mary
to come unto Himself.
She responded and came.
There, she was able to place
her burdens upon the Lord.
The Lord has invited
all His children to come unto Him and experience what He can do in a time of crisis
Cast your burden upon the Lord
and He shall sustain you:
He will never suffer
the righteous to be moved
“.
Matth.11: 28; 1Petr.5: 7; Isaiah 55: 22

Isn’t it amazing that the Person
Who can do the most, the quickest
is often the last One we turn
in a time of need.
=> Resources are to be used persistently,
without question in time of need.
Doctors are to be sent for in sickness.
Lawyers are to be consulted when property
or character needs defence.
The help of all friends is to be sought.
But still after all,
the first thing to be done is to cry to the Lord Jesus for help.
Whether or not you come to Him in a time of trouble,
His invitation is stands.

Mary heard that Jesus was calling her,
she ran to meet Him. What a lesson for God’s children!
When the time of crisis comes, Jesus is always near.
Run quickly to Him and He will meet your need!

Apolyticion        Tn 4
Today is the beginning of our Salvation,
The revelation of the eternal Mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
the Lord is with You!

4th Sunday of Lent – Saint John Climacos – through prayer and fasting

Then one of the crowd answered and said,
“Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit.
And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down;
he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth,
and becomes rigid.
So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.
He answered him and said,
“O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?
How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me“.
Then they brought him to Him.
And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him
and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him? “.
And he said,
“From childhood. And often he has thrown him
both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.
But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us“.
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes“.
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears,
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! “.
When Jesus saw that the people came running together,
He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it:
“Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you,
come out of him and enter him no more! “.
Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him.
And he became as one dead, so that many said,
“He is dead“.
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately,
“Why could we not cast it out? “.
So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting“.
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee,
and He did not want anyone to know it.
For He taught His disciples and said to them,
“The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men,
and they will kill Him.
And after He is killed,
He will rise the third day.
Marc.9: 17-31

As Christians, we often experience the same frustrations
that the father of the demon possessed child
and the disciples did in today’s Gospel.
Many times people come to the Church
seeking help from God in their prayers,
but their prayers go unanswered.
And many times we as Christians want to help
some family suffering in some great need,
and yet we are unable to provide the particular spiritual help they need,
and we see them languishing in their pain despite our best efforts to help them.

Jesus tells the disciples
that in the particular case brought to them
by the father in today’s Gospel Lesson,
that the only way to resolve the spiritual problem
is through prayer and fasting.
The Gospel Lesson is given to us
at this time of year because we are in Great Lent
that season where we are supposed
to  be engaged in intense prayer and fasting.
And in today’s lesson
we come to understand fasting and prayer
as an act of love for others.
For the ‘self-denial‘ of Lenten fasting
isn’t praised in today’s Gospel lesson
as a means for us to attain Salvation for our own souls,
but rather as a means to drive out evil spirits from the world.

We aren’t fasting for our own selfish interests
– to gain our own Salvation;
we are fasting to help liberate our fellow humans from demonic influence.
Fasting in this sense is not about “ME”.
It is about God’s love for the world
and that some of God’s Kingdom goals only can be accomplished
through intense prayer and fasting.
This of course presents to us the counter-intuitive notion
that for Christians to live for the world, means ‘to pray and fast’.

This 4th Sunday of Great Lent we remember Saint John Climacus
who wrote a book about a ladder reaching to Heaven.
It is a symbolic image which serves to remind us as Christians
that we are on a sojourn.
All of Great Lent is a journey, prayer, fasting, charity and repentance
are the ways we move along this journey toward our destination:
the Kingdom of God.

We are reminded through Lent that the world we live in is the world of the Fall,
a world in which sin and death are still dominant players.
We are reminded that the world we live in is not the Paradise
wherein God put the first human beings,
nor even is this the world into which Eve and Adam were expelled,
because our world is after the Great Flood
and so many things separate us from Paradise and Adam and Eve.
This world also is not the Kingdom of God:
death and corruption and suffering are the signs of this.

So we are sojourning through a time and place which are neither are original home nor our final destination.
We need to actively travel through this time and place and again I remind you this means repentance, going to confession,
being generous and charitable, forgiving others, asking forgiveness,
praying, studying the Scriptures, fasting
and focusing on loving God and neighbour.

The reality of our spiritual sojourn on earth is
that we don’t see the entire picture of what is happening,
what has happened, or what is yet to come.
We know that Jesus is the Son of God
Who came into the world and Who descended into Hades, the place of the dead.
He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven.
Christ reveals to us that there is this greater reality:
that place from which He came and to which He returned after His life on earth.
And He revealed to us that the place of the dead is not our final destination either.
Christ reveals to us that we normally see
only a part the entire cosmos which God created.
This is why we are often troubled by our inability
to understand what is going on in the world.

We can observe only the world of the Fall,
a world in which death, earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear melt downs take place.
It is a world in which the powers opposed to God still operate.
Hebrews 2:14 tells us that it is the devil who has power over death.
We cannot accomplish God’s will through death – not through abortion, capital punishment or bombing enemies into submission.
Death is an enemy of God and of humankind.
Death is not even the way to heaven:
the phrase “die and go to Heaven”
does not occur in the New Testament.

God is destroying both death and the devil.
The world of the Fall is not a world of Justice.
People die unfairly and due to events
that are no fault of their own.
It is a world in which humans afflict death on one another to try to gain control over each other,
even in Church.
That reminds us that we live in the world of the Fall,
for again as Hebrews 2:14 tells us,
the devil has the power of death.

We are sojourning through this world.
We have the power to transform our own lives through the Gospel
– to live not relying on the power of death,
but on that power which destroys death.

4th Sunday of Lent – Saint John Climacos – God’s promises

For when God made promise to Abraham,
because He could swear by no greater,
He swore by Himself,
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless you
and multiplying I will multiply you.
And so, after he had patiently endured,
he obtained the promise.
For men verily swear by the greater:
and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise
the immutability of his counsel,
confirmed it by an oath:
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie,
we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge
to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil;
whither the forerunner is for us entered,
even Jesus, made an High Priest
for ever after the order of Melchisedec“.
Hebr.6: 13-20

It seems as though I have heard a lot of promises lately.
Oh, yes, it is an election year isn’t it?
I hope that all of us have figured out that almost all of the promises
we hear from political candidates [whatever their political party] are empty words.
In many instances the candidates promise different things to different people,
knowing that they cannot deliver.
In a few instances, the candidates may actually think that they can deliver,
but chances are they will not.

This message is about the kind of promises
you can count on, promises
you can “take to the bank,” so to speak.
The particular promises
we are dealing with here in this letter of Paul
are those which God has sworn to uphold as unchanging.

Saint Paul has presented the Hebrews a powerful demonstration of the sufficiency of God the Son
in chapters 1 and 2,
and then drew our attention to the deficiency of men in chapters 3 and 4.
He did so by means of the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt,
and by the lessons the author of Psalm 94 drew from their failures.
He then proceeds to show how the Son is the solution
to our dilemma by means of becoming our Great High Priest,
a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Having issued a solemn warning to those outside the faith,
the author is quick to reassure his readers
that he is assured of better things concerning their Salvation.
In particular, their lives have demonstrated service to the Saints,
manifesting the love which should characterize those who are followers of Jesus:
“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples
– if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

This manifestation of love has continued to the present
and the author hopes that it will continue.
Thus he urges them to persevere in the faith with all diligence,
so that they may realize the full assurance of their hope, up to the very end [Hebr.6: 11].
This will remedy the problem of sluggishness
and will be evident as they imitate others [such as Abraham]
in patiently enduring to the end,
and thus inheriting God’s promises [Hebr.6: 12].

Key of this Text
But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate
the same eagerness for the fulfilment of your hope until the end,
so that you may not be sluggish,
but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance
inherit the promises
“.
Hebr.6: 11-12

The apostle desires for his readers to continue to manifest
the same eagerness and diligence they have demonstrated
in the pursuit of their hope to the very end [Hebr.6: 10].
In doing so, they will be imitators of those, like Abraham and others.
The ones who have demonstrated faith and patient endurance
are those who inherit the promises.

[We know from Hebrews 11: 13-15 & 39-40 that these Old Testament Saints
died without receiving all that God had promised.
They believed, by faith, in what they could not see,
but in what God had promised.
Thus, they still await the full inheritance of the promised blessings
]
.
In this sense, hope is not only the basis for perseverance;
it is also the result of perseverance.
We can find this sequence elsewhere in Scripture.
For example, consider these words in Romans:
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith,
we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through Whom we have also obtained access by faith
into this Grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in the hope of God’s Glory.
Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance, character, and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God
has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit
Who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless,
at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
(For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person,
though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die).
But God demonstrates His own love for us,
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us
“.
Rom.5: 1-8

Christians rejoice in the hope of seeing God’s Glory [Rom.8: 18-25]
and they do so in the midst of trials and tribulations.
How can this be?
Paul tells us that God uses suffering to enhance our hope and our endurance.
When we endure suffering by Faith, we experience God’s sustaining strength.
We discover that suffering actually strengthens our faith
because God is faithful to sustain us.
Successful suffering gives us greater confidence in God
and thus it produces hope by assuring us that,
with God’s enablement, we will endure to the end
and thus experience the full revelation of God’s Glory in the future.

What the author of Hebrews is going to do in the verses which follow [6: 13-20]
is to show how God’s Covenant promises undergird and strengthen our hope,
which then becomes the basis for perseverance and endurance in the midst of adversity.
He will show that as we persevere God provides further confidence in His promises,
which enhances our hope.
All of this is God’s way of showing us
that His promises are the basis for our perseverance.
Thus, it really is all about God, and not about our performance.

The Example of Abraham
“The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from Heaven
and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord,
‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants
so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky
or the grains of sand on the seashore.
Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies.
Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth
will pronounce blessings on one another
using the name of your descendants’

Genesis 22: 15-18

We begin with the account in Genesis.
The promise which God affirmed by His oath is found in Genesis 22.
It comes immediately after Abraham’s greatest test of faith
– his willingness, if necessary, to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.
This was now Abraham’s only heir,
the one through whom God’s Covenant blessings would be fulfilled.
And now God commands Abraham to offer this son up as a Sacrifice.
We know from Hebr.11: 19 that Abraham did so in Faith,
believing that if he did so
God would raise Isaac from the dead.

The promise that God made in Genesis 22 was not something new.
It had been made at various times and occasions
during those years before and after Isaac’s birth.
It was initially given in Genesis 12:1-3,
as the basis for leaving both home and family and seeking the Promised Land.
It was repeated in chapter 13 after Abram and Lot separated [Gen.13:14-17].
In chapter 15, God assured Abram that the promised seed
would not be the child of one of his servants, but his own offspring.
We are then told that Abram believed God,
and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [Gen.15: 6].
In response to Abram’s Faith, God sealed this promise
by making it a Covenant with him [Gen.15: 7-21].
In chapter 17, God affirmed his Covenant with Abram
and gave him the sign of circumcision.
He also clarified that the promised son
would not only come through Abram,
but that the mother of that descendant would be Sarai.
God even gave Abram the name of that child – Isaac.
In chapter 18, the Lord specified
that Isaac would be born at the same time the following year.

Over time and by repetition,
God became more and specific about His Covenant with Abraham
and further assurances were also given.
Moses makes it clear that the assurance
is based upon God’s character and His Covenant
and not upon Abraham’s perfect performance.
Several lapses in Abraham’s Faith are recorded in the period
between the initial promise and the offering of Isaac.
In Genesis 12, shortly after the first recording of the Abrahamic Covenant [12: 1-3],
Abram leaves the Promised Land and sojourns in Egypt because of a famine.
To protect himself, Abram passes off Sarai as his sister,
resulting in her being added, for a time, to the Pharaoh’s harem.
It was only God’s divine intervention
that spared Abram’s life and Sarai’s virtue [12: 10-20].

There were further failures as well.
One was when Abram, at his wife’s suggestion,
took Hagar [Sarai’s handmaid] as his concubine
and produced an offspring [Ishmael] through her [Gen.16].
And then in Genesis 20, we find Abraham
repeating his same deception of passing off Sarah as his sister
– resulting in her being temporarily added to Abimelech’s harem.
And lest we think that he only did this on these two occasions,
Abraham’s confession to Abimelech seems to indicate
that this kind of deception was their usual practice:
Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place.
They will kill me because of my wife.’
What’s more, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter,
but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife.
When God made me wander from my father’s house,
I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me:
Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother”’

Gen.20: 11-13

My point in emphasizing Abraham’s failures is
to show that God was faithful to fulfil His promises to Abraham,
even though this man’s faith was not without its failures.
The birth of Isaac was God’s doing, for which Abraham can receive little credit.
Abraham’s faith sometimes failed, but God’s promises to Abraham were certain.

Why Did God Swear to Abraham Later, Rather than Sooner?
So we return to the question I raised earlier:
“Why does God now affirm his Covenant with Abraham
by swearing an oath after the greatest test of his faith?”
Shouldn’t God have given an oath before this test, rather than after it?
Let’s consider some important factors in the answer to this question.

1.]. Hope is the basis for endurance.
Hope inspires and encourages endurance.
We’ve seen this already in verses 11 and 12,
as well as from Romans 5: 1-8.
We see this also in:
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope,
because who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we eagerly wait for it with endurance
“.
Rom.8: 24-25

2.]. Hope is also a reward for perseverance and trusting in God’s promises.
A more certain hope is the fruit of [or reward for] endurance.
God’s promises were the reason why Abraham left his homeland and family
and set out for a new country.
God’s promises assured Abraham in those years
that he and Sarah were growing older
and thus even less able to bear children.
God’s promises inspired Abraham’s faith and thus his endurance.
But the reward for having endured for more than 25 years
was an even greater promise, a promise confirmed by an oath,
a promise that assured Abraham of God’s commitment
to bring His previous promises to fulfilment.
This time the promise of God was confirmed with an oath,
an even greater guarantee than that which he had received earlier.
And thus, Abraham had an even greater hope set before him.

3.]. God’s oath was His confirmation of His promises.
In today’s reading, we are told that men swear in order to confirm their statements
and to remove any doubt about them.
In order to give confirmation of their words,
men must swear by something greater than themselves [Hebr.6: 16].
Thus, when men swear to tell the truth in a court of law,
they swear with their hand on the Bible.
Since God is greater than anyone or anything else,
He can only swear by Himself [Hebr.6: 13].
God swears to remove any doubt
as to the certainty of His promises being fulfilled.

4.]. God’s oath assured Abraham
because he had not yet seen the complete fulfilment of God’s Covenant promises,
nor would he before his death.
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised,
but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them
and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.
For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left,
they would have had opportunity to return . . . . .
And these all were commended for their Faith,
yet they did not receive what was promised.
For God had provided something better for us,
so that they would be made perfect together with us
“.
Hebr.11: 13-15, 39-40

 

Abraham was promised the land of Canaan,
but he had to purchase a portion of that land for a burial place.
Abraham was promised descendants that were as numerous as the sand of the sea,
or as the stars in the Heavens, and yet at this point in time he had but one son, Isaac.
Abraham was promised that his seed would become a source of blessing for all nations,
but this promise was not fulfilled as yet either.
As the time of his death drew ever more near,
God knew that Abraham would benefit greatly
from a further confirmation of His covenant promises.
This further confirmation came after the offering of Isaac,
by means of God’s promise being confirmed by an oath.

5.]. The confirmation of God’s promises to Abraham
was not just for Abraham’s benefit, but for his descendants as well.
His oath gives strong encouragement to the heirs of promise:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement
to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
Hebr.6: 17-18

His descendants would include Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David,
but they would also include those Gentiles like us
who share Abraham’s Faith in God:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants
that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law,
but through the righteousness that comes by Faith.
For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified.
For the law brings wrath,
because where there is no law there is no transgression either.
For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by Grace,
with the result that the Promise may be certain to all the descendants
– not only to those who are under the law,
but also to those who have the Faith of Abraham,
who is the father of us all
“.
cf. Rom.4: 13-16

6.]. The confirmation of God’s promise to Abraham
made it clear that this Covenant was unconditional,
and thus unchangeable.
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope
set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

It is important to recognize
that not all of God’s promises are unconditional [or unchangeable].
Consider, for example this text in Jeremiah:
There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten
to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong,
I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it.
And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me,
then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it
“.
Jer.18: 7-10

Some prophecies, for example,
are warnings that can be avoided by repentance.
For example, there was the warning that Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites:
“When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced,
At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”.
Jonah 3: 4

The king of Nineveh called for repentance in case God might be merciful:
He issued a proclamation and said,
In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles:
No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything;
they must not eat and they must not drink water.
Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God,
and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.
Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing
to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger
so that we might not die
”.
cf. Jonah 3: 7-9

As the king of Nineveh hoped, and as Jonah assumed,
God was merciful and compassionate, and thus in response to Nineveh’s repentance,
He suspended the judgment
Jonah proclaimed was coming in forty days.
This greatly angered Jonah,
who did not share God’s compassion toward sinners:
This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry.
He prayed to the Lord and said,
“Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen
when I was in my own country.
This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!
– because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in Mercy
and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
So now, Lord, kill me instead,
because I would rather die than live!”.
cf. Jonah 4: 1-3

As Jeremiah indicated, the impending judgment that God threatened was stayed,
because He had indicated that repentance may forestall Divine Judgment.
Daniel understood this as well
and this is why he appealed to Nebuchadnezzar to repent,
in order to avoid [or at least forestall] God’s judgment:
This is the interpretation, O king!
It is the decision of the Most High
that this has happened to my lord the king.
You will be driven from human society and you will live with the wild animals.
You will be fed grass like oxen and you will become damp with the dew of the sky.
Seven periods of time will pass by for you,
before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms
and gives them to whomever he wishes.
They said to leave the taproot of the tree,
for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules.
Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you.
Break away from your sins by doing what is right
and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.
Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged
”.
cf. Daniel 4: 24-27

When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham with an oath,
He was indicating to him that this was a Covenant that was unconditional.
This was done so that Abraham [and his descendants] would be assured
that His promises to him would most certainly be fulfilled.
Nothing would prevent His covenant promises from being fulfilled.

Let me illustrate how this works.
In Genesis 15, God entered into His Covenant with Abraham,
making some very specific commitments regarding the Exodus,
which He sealed by a formal covenant-making process:
The Lord said to him,
“Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old,
along with a dove and a young pigeon”.
So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two
and placed each half opposite the other,
but he did not cut the birds in half.
When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep,
and great terror overwhelmed him.
Then the Lord said to Abram,
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country.
They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.
But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve.
Afterward they will come out with many possessions.
But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in Peace and be buried at a good old age.
In the fourth generation your descendants will return here,
for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit”.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark,
a smoking fire pot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts.
That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram:
“To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river,
the Euphrates River
– the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,
Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites
”.
Gen.15: 9-21

When the Israelites sinned in worshipping the golden calf,
God threatened to wipe out the nation
and to start a new nation through Moses.
But look at the basis on which Moses intercedes for the Israelites:
So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them
and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation”.
But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God and said,
“O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people,
whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt
with great power and with a mighty hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains
and to destroy them from the face of the earth’?
Turn from your burning anger,
and relent of this evil against your people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants,
to whom you swore by yourself and told them,
‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven
and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants
and they will inherit it forever’”.
Then the Lord relented over the evil
that he had said he would do to his people
“.
cf. Exodus 32: 10-14

Moses did not promise God
that the Israelites would try harder and do better.
In truth, they persisted in their unbelief and rebellion,
so that this generation would die in the wilderness
and the second generation would possess the Promised Land under Joshua.
Moses interceded with God on the basis of His [Abrahamic] Covenant promises,
His character, and His glory.
The un-changeableness of this Covenant gave Moses
the courage to boldly intercede for the Israelites.

The author tells us, his readers,
that God gave us strong encouragement
by two specific matters in which He could not lie:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in Him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast
to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

So just what are these “two unchangeable things”?
Scholars do not all agree on this matter,
so I will just tell you my opinion as to
what these “two unchangeable things” are.
I believe these two things are matters
in which God has confirmed His promise with an oath,
matters which are found nearby in Hebrews.
And these would be the two promises which were confirmed by an oath:
Now when God made his promise to Abraham,
since he could swear by no one greater,
he swore by Himself . . .

Hebr.6: 13

And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation
– for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation,
but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him,
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”
accordingly Jesus has become
the guarantee of a better Covenant
“.
Hebr.7: 20-22

Thus, I believe that the two unchangeable things
which the author of Hebrews has in mind are the Abrahamic Covenant (chapter 6),
and His oath by which He appointed the Lord Jesus a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek (chapter 7).
These two covenant promises are the basis
for our Salvation, Sanctification, and eternal Security.
How much more secure could our Salvation be?

Jesus Christ, our Lord is the Anchor for our Soul
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast,
which reaches inside behind the curtain,
where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf,
since He became a Priest forever
in the order of Melchizedek
“.
Hebr.6: 19-20

The Apostle changes to different imagery
to describe the Safety and Security of the Christian.
Because our hope is Secure in Christ,
due to God’s oath and His Character,
we need only to cling to Him as our Great High Priest,
Whose substitutionary death on the Cross of Calvary
paid the penalty for our sins
and whose mediatory High-Priestly Ministry at the Father’s right hand
gives us access to draw near for help in our time of need.

The imagery of an anchor should come as no surprise
to the reader of this apostle-reading.
It no doubt is used
because of what we have already read:
Therefore we must pay closer attention
to what we have heard,
so that we do not drift away
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1

It is not difficult to see how an anchor prevents drifting.
A certain hope in God’s Covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants,
guaranteed by God’s oath, is the Anchor for our souls.
As it is unchangeable, so it is immovable.
We shall not drift if we cling to Christ.
And these unchangeable promises are found in the Scriptures,
Old Testament and New.
Thus, we dare not neglect God’s final Word,
revealed in the Person of His Son
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1-4

For what purpose are you coming to Church?

To whom will I have respect,
but (save?) to the humble and meek
and the man that trembles at my words.
For all those things My hand has made
and all those things have been’,
said the Lord:
‘but to this man will I look,
even to him that is poor,
of a contrite spirit,
and trembles at My Word’“.
Isaiah 66: 2

“Awake, O sleeper
and Christ shall shine upon You”.
Eph.5: 14

We know from the life of Saint Arsenius the Great
that after entering upon a life of solitude and prayer
he constantly asked himself,
Arsenios, to what purpose have You gone out?

We as Orthodox Christians, similarly
must ask ourselves each and every time
we approach our Parish church,
for what purpose am I coming to church?

Surely, we attend church for our own spiritual profit.
One might say, yes.       But what is our goal?
We know from many sources
– one of which is the Conversation of Saint Seraphim of Sarov with Moltivilov –
that the reason that we labour at any of the virtues and the ultimate purpose of Christian life is for us to become partakers of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
But as we know from this same discourse,
one can labour at the virtues to no purpose as the foolish virgins did,
receiving no oil for their lamps, that is,
receiving no Grace for their labours.
It follows that,
yes, we can labour to attend church
and gain nothing.

As Saint Seraphim explains in the same Conversation
and the Lord says:
Not every one that said unto Me: Lord, Lord shall be saved,
but he that does the will of My Father
“.
Matth.7: 21
– that is,
he who does the work of God
and, moreover,
does it with reverence,
‘for cursed be he that does the work of God negligently’
Jer.31: 10, LXX

For this reason the Saints sought to cultivate a reverent fear of God.
Saint David of Thessalonica prayed and fasted for three years while enduring the ascetical feat of dwelling in an almond tree,
in his wisdom he all the while entreated God for this Gift of reverent fear.
As it is recorded in the Life of the Saint,
“When the three years had passed,
a holy angel appeared unto him saying,
‘David,
the Lord has heard your supplication
and grants unto you this favour for which you have asked many times,
that is, that you be humble-minded and modest,
and that you fear Him and worship Him with proper reverence’.
We know from his life that this “Mother Virtue”

[to borrow a term from Saint John Climacus]
gave birth to many spiritual “daughter virtues”
and Saint David was manifested
to all as a clairvoyant wonderworker
“.
from Orthodox Word 1970 May/June, vol. 6 No. 3, pg.123

If one reads the church Service books, one can see
that this reverence and fear of God
is an intrinsic part of the Church’s understanding.
As it is proclaimed in the Great Ektenia:
For this Holy House, and for them that with faith,
reverence, and fear of God enter herein,
let us pray to the Lord
“.

After the Our Father when the deacon commands,
bow your heads unto the Lord“!

[why nobody in Church is bowing?
– indeed, when you only come to Church to hear nice old Greek or Russian words on a nice sound,
you will never understand the background; you even don’t know
you have to bow!!!
]

the priests secret prayer reads as follows:
We give thanks unto You, O invisible King,
Who by Your measureless power hast created all things,
and in the multitude of Your Mercy has out of nothing
brought all things into being.
Do You Yourself, O Master,
look from Heaven upon them
that have bowed down their heads to You:
for they have bowed them not to flesh and blood,
but to You, the dread God . . . . .

In the holy Liturgy we encounter our awesome and terrible God,
Who created all things by His measureless Power
and Who came in Meekness and Humility
in order to gather us
as a hen does her chicks.
A strange and unheard of paradox
which is beyond the mind of man.
[so next Sunday you bow all your heads ???]

Saint Pachomius the Great explains the awesomeness of the New Covenant
and the fearful world – transcending Divine Liturgy.
As a monk describes the words of Saint Pachomius in his life,
“. . . . . He explained the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies,
applying the explanation to the two peoples,
‘For the first people’, he said is the outer Tabernacle,
whose service consisted in animal sacrifices, visible loaves,
the lamp stand and the lamps, and some other things.
But the calling of the Nations is the Holy of Holies,
that is, the fulfilment of the Law.
And everything in the Holy of Holies
is more glorious than the outer Tabernacle.
For instead of animal sacrifices it has a censer of incense;
instead of a table, the Ark of the Covenant with the spiritual loaves,
the book of the Law and all that is to be found there,
and instead of the light of the lamp stand,
the Mercy Seat where God appears as a consuming fire,
that is, God the Incarnate Word
Who was made propitiation for us by appearing in the flesh
“.

In every Divine and Sacred Liturgy
fearful and awesome things are accomplished,
God appears as a consuming fire
to sanctify the gifts and overshadows all of the faithful.
Let us not draw nigh carelessly.
It is our Father’s house and
He calls us all to the banquet,
but let us with fear of God, faith,
and love draw nigh.

Treasures of Orthodoxy:
The fear of the Lord is
the beginning of Wisdom;
and there is good understanding
to all that practice it:
and piety toward God
is the beginning of discernment;
but the ungodly will set
at nought wisdom and instruction
“.
Prov.1: 7

Fear is the paternal rod which guides our way until we reach the spiritual Paradise of good things.
When we have attained there to,
it leaves us and turns back.
Saint Isaac the Syrian, ascetical Homily Forty-Six

What children should be given to read
Father Ambrose:
“It is my opinion that a young mind should first of all
be occupied with sacred history and readings of the Lives of Saints
of your choice,
which will unnoticeably sow the seeds of the fear of God
and Christian life.
You especially need to make them understand, with God’s help,
how important it is to keep God’s commandments
and what disastrous consequences follow breaking them.
All of this will lead them away from the example set by our first parents,
who ate the forbidden fruit and were therefore exiled from Paradise.
You can put Krylov’s fables away until later
[Иван Андреевич Крылов 1769 – 1844, Russian translator and imitator of existing fables],
for now teaching your child some prayers by heart,
like the Symbol of Faith and certain Psalms, for example:
He that dwells in the help of the Most High” [Psalm 90];
The Lord is my Light” [Psalm 26], and the like.
The main thing is that the child himself
be occupied according to his strength
and directed toward fear of God.
Everything good and kind comes from this.
while, to the contrary, idleness and not being instilled with the fear of God
are often the cause of all evil and misfortune.
When the fear of God is not instilled,
children will not bring forth the desired fruits of good morals
and a well-ordered life, no matter what you occupy them with.
When the fear of God is instilled,
all occupations are good and profitable”.
Elder Ambrose of Optina – Амвросий Оптинский [1812-1891]

And they put the ark of the Lord on a new wagon,
and took it out of the house of Aminadab who lived on the hill:
and Oza and his brethren the sons of Aminadab drove the wagon with the ark,
and his brethren went before the ark.
And David and the children of Israel were playing before the Lord
on well-tuned instruments mightily,
with songs, with harps, with lutes, with drums,
with cymbals, and with pipes.
And they come as far as the threshing floor of Nachor;
and Oza reached forth his hand to the ark of God to keep it steady,
and took hold of it; for the ox shook it out of its place.
And the Lord was very angry with Oza;
and God smote him there:
and he died there by the ark of the Lord
before God
“.

Certainly, the idea of conforming one’s actions,
one’s approach to living and thinking,
and even the eye of one’s noetic heart
to live chiefly to glorify God
runs completely contrary to what “the World” values today,
especially in its prevailing secular outlooks of modernism and relativism,
which challenge and question the very concept and existence of objective Truth.
This is why the True heart of the Christian Gospel appears
“as foolishness to those who live
and think and have their being in and of the world,
outside of a yearning for God”.
cf. 1Cor.1: 18-25
Indeed, Saint John the Theologian, beloved apostle of the Lord,
reminds us that our love, if truly selfless,
is something the world not only often fails to understand,
but indeed, because it is selfless, is something the world often despises:
“Wonder not, brethren,
if the world hates you.
We know that we have passed from death to life,
because we love the brethren.
He that loveth not, abideth in death”.

1John 3: 13-14

 

Orthodoxy & the CROSS in the OLD TESTAMENT

In this day and age,
where one is “infatuated” by everything that is “fashionable“,
new schools of biblical thought tend
to separate the Old Testament from the New.
To these doctors who wish to be “in fashion” and “in the stream of things“,
our response is that the Old Testament is like the New;
both are the Book of Jesus Christ and His redeeming work.
From the beginning to the end of the Old Testament,
the main subject is the coming of the Messiah,
the Liberator of Israel and the Nations.
“. . . He has chosen us
before the foundation of the world . . .”
Eph.1: 4

The whole of the Old Testament
was a vague image of the New.
It was destined to disappear.
It is again Paul the divine, the mouth of Christ,
who says in his Epistle to the Hebrews that God,
by declaring that He was going to build a New Covenant,
“. . . hath made the first old.
Now that which decayed and waxed old is ready to vanish away“.
Hebr.8: 13
Those therefore that think that the Old Testament
has an independent existence are much mistaken.
They should put themselves
in the guidance of the School of the Holy Spirit
and the Fathers and sing with us:
The shadow of the Law passed away
With the coming of Grace, O Virgin.
As the Bush was burning but not consumed,
A Virgin, thou gavest birth
A Virgin, thou remained.
Instead of the pillar of fire,
The Sun of justice shone forth,
And instead of Moses
Christ, the Saviour of our souls
“.
Theotokion of Saturday Vespers             Tn 2

He who possesses spiritual eyes
can easily see in the Old Testament
the Light of the New
which begins to break through.
Behind all the events in the History of the Hebrew people,
one can see the unfolding of Divine economy
and hear the footsteps of the approaching Messiah.

The Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Sacrifices,
the religious figures of Worship,
announce the coming of the God-Man and yet,
Christ was not the only One
about Whom Prophesies were made.
The People who would take part in the Divine-Human tragedy are equally prophesied:
the Mother of God, John the Forerunner,
the Apostles, the enemies of Jesus
and the sign of the Son of Man
– the Cross.

The ecclesiastic year begins in September,
the month in which we celebrate the universal exaltation of the Cross [Sept.14th].
The Cross is prophesied about not only in the Old Testament but also, if one could say, by the New.
It must appear, preceding the Saviour,
the day of His Second and Glorious Coming.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man, in Heaven:
and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,
and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of Heaven, with Power and great Glory
“.
Matth.24: 30
The Prophet Isaiah says that
“. . . and the Government [Kingdom]
shall be upon His shoulders . . .”
Isaiah 9: 5
The Kingdom is the Cross
that the Saviour carried on His shoulders.
The Kingdom is His Power
“. . All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth“.
Matth.28: 18

The first Mystical and Mysterious sign of the Cross
is hidden in the Paradise of Eden.
In the celebrated Heavenly valley
where there was no sin, corruption, or death,
man lived in the blessing and familiarity of God.
Marvellous trees of all types were planted there.
And out of the ground made the Lord God
to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight,
and good for food . . .
“.
Gen.2: 9
Among them stood two mysterious trees,
two trees which were not strangers to
the adversity, trials, and tribulations of our ancestors:
the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil [Gen.2: 9].

This Tree of Life, from which man did not taste,
is the first and oldest sign of the venerable Cross.
There were many symbols regarding
the Cross in the Old Testament,
but none of them was as clear as that of the Tree of Life.
You only have to glance at the theology of the Fathers
and at the Hymnology of the Church
to discover the close relationship between
the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Cross.
The Cross is characterized as “venerable”, as “sacred”
and overall as “Tree of Life”, “Life Giving Tree”,
“Tree Holder of Life”, etc.
These names proclaim that for the Church,
the Cross is the new Tree of Life.

If one were to ask me
what was the most admirable thing that Christ did,”
says St. John Chrysostom,
I would put aside the Heaven, the earth, the sea,
the Resurrection of the multitude of dead and all the other miracles
and I would display only the Cross which is the most glorious of all . . . “.

If in the image of the Tree of Life
and in that of the Tree of the Cross, we see only the obvious,
that is to say, a tree and a collection of wood;
even if we see a sacred symbol, the relationship between the image
and that which is represented will be trivial.
However,
– if we are to quench our thirst at the source of Church dogmas,
– if we examine the teachings of this authentic exegete of Scripture,
which is the Church, and what She says
about the purpose of the Tree of Life,
and afterwards,
– if we turn our spiritual eyes to the Cross,
we will then see it as
the Sacrifice of the New Adam,
of Jesus the God-Man,
the only One without sin,
expiatory victim for the deliverance of all humanity from sin and from eternal death.
By sacred mediation our eyes will open
and we will understand that
which was the Tree of Life
before our fall from the height of our original beauty and also that which is the Cross after the Redemption.

God, says the Apostle Paul,
loved us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
Understand!
– before the foundation of the world,
God had in mind the deification of man.
But man, seduced by the counsel of the serpent-devil, believed he could become God
by his own initiative, by his own power, without the Grace and blessing of his Creator.
It is this Divine plan, of the deification of man,
which served as the argument
for the Devil to fool our ancestors.
For God does know that in the day you eat thereof,
then your eyes shall be opened,
and you shall see as gods. . .
“.
Gen.3: 5

In this way,
man hastened to taste from that Tree of Knowledge
which would make him equal to God
even though he was not worthy to digest such nutrition.
The result was the opposite.
His eyes opened, says Scripture,
He knew good and evil,
he saw that he was naked,
and he was afraid.
“. . . And the eyes of both of them were opened
and they knew that they were naked . . .
and Adam and his wife hid themselves
from the presence of the Lord God
amongst the trees of the Garden”.
Gen.3: 7-8

So that man would
not live eternally in spiritual death
– and this is another aspect of the mystery –
God chased him from Paradise.
And the Lord God said,
Behold, the man is become as one of us,
to know good and evil:
and now, let he put forth his hand,
and take also of the tree of life,
and eat, and live for ever
“.
Gen.3: 22

It is from compassion, forgiveness, and love
that God allowed death and bodily dissolution
in order that spiritual death,
the result of the rupture in the link with the Source of Life,
would not be eternal, as is the misfortune of nakedness,
which is the absence of the Grace of God.

Saint Basilios the Great raises this mystery
in the anaphora of his Liturgy during Sunday’s of Lent
“. . . in Your just judgment, O God,
You hast exiled him [Adam] from Paradise
and placed him in this world;
You has returned him to
the earth from where he was taken,

all the while preparing him for Salvation
by rebirth in Your Anointed One.

For You did not reject forever
the creature which You had fashioned, 
O Good One,
nor didst Thou forget the work of Your hands
. . .”.

Saint Cosmas the Melodius,
the composer of the canon of the Exaltation of the Cross,
sums up brilliantly this theology and in the Troparion of the 5th ode,
he also identifies the Tree of Life with the Cross:

It was on thee, O Tree memorable,
That Christ was suspended.
It is thee, O Cross, that the turning sword
Which guarded Eden protected.
Even the dread Cherubim fell back
Before Christ Who was suspended on thee,
Granting peace to our souls“.

Man, unworthy of the Divine honour,
was chased far from the Tree of Life,
whose safekeeping was now placed in the hands of the Cherubim
and the turning sword.
So He drove out the man;
and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden, Cherubims,
and a flaming sword which turned every way,
to keep the way of the Tree of Life“.
Gen.3: 24

The question, then, that is raised is this:
if Adam, still without sin, could not eat from the Tree of Life,
how would he be able to participate after the fall?

The Fathers divinely resolve the difficulty:
God Who so loved His creation before it existed, Who wished freely to give man incorruptible Life,
would send His only Son to open anew
the door to the Tree of Life.

The Lord, having become Man,
taught the eternal Truths.
But He was not content with only this
because where would be the significance?
What would man have gained
by knowing eternal Truths
if he did not have in him Life Eternal,
which is given only by the Tree of Life?

Bodily and spiritual death would have rendered the heavenly truths empty.
However, the Bible, which has the Saviour come down from the heavens to earth,
tells us that the Lord is not only the Truth, but He is also the Life.
“. . I am the Way, the Truth and the Life . . ”
John 14: 6

The death on the Cross and the Resurrection
gave the Divine teaching all of its value.
All the Economy of our redemption finds
its climax in the mystery of the Cross.
It is by the Cross that the Apostle Paul finds
the breadth, the length, the height
and the depth of the mystery of God [Eph.3: 18].

The Cross and the Resurrection
have purified man from sin
and from the ancestral curse.
From them we have become participants in Eternal Life.
The Blood of Christ the God-Man,
the fruit of the death on the Cross,
nourishes us and grafts onto our aged trunk the new man,
the son of immortality.

The new life,
the beginning of future immortality,
the new  spiritual Paradise, is the Church,
the very Body of Christ.
That which we should have received from the Tree of Life, from which we were originally deprived because of the transgression,
we now receive freely from the Cross
by the Grace of God in the Church
and nowhere else
because outside the Church there is no Eucharist.

The Tree of Life, the Cross, are not ordinary symbols,
but a  substantial and fundamental reality.
Clement of Alexandria sees in the Cross,
the Tree on which Christ, our Life, was hung,
from which  we eat the fruits of eternal Divine knowledge.
The holy Fathers  Cyril of Jerusalem and Photios of Constantinople see
the whole earth as Paradise, in the centre of which is planted the Cross,
the new Tree of Life, just as the old one was planted
in the beginning in the centre of Paradise.
By the new Tree, the earth, in the past cursed,
is now full of blessings and has become Paradise.

For the Apostle Paul, who has risen to the third heaven,
the new reality is the Church, which appeared in this world by the Incarnation.
She is the new Creation, the New Man.
And He that sat upon the Throne said,
Behold I make all things New. . .”.
Rev.21: 5

New Creation, Christ the second Adam, new Tree of Life: the Cross.
This is why the Incarnation of Christ is a Mystery
more profound and greater than that of the creation of the world.

All the events in the Bible, especially those of the Divine Passion,
are linked to events and things in Paradise.
They are a repetition, a recapitulation, a clearing up,
one could say, of the ancient acts of those
who caused our fall from our first beauty
into misery and death.
There is a certain parallel.

Christ does not find fruit on the fig tree.
This is because the first earthly Adam ate the fruit
and used its leaves to hide his nudity.
“. . . and they sewed fig leaves together
and made themselves aprons
“.
Gen.3: 7
It is also in this context that one should put
the mysterious episode of the withered fig tree
of which the Evangelist Mark speaks [Marc.11: 12-14]
and which confounds the exegetes and makes those who mock smile.
Isidore of Peluse speaks of a tradition received from the Fathers,
according to whom the tree of transgression is the fig tree,
whose leaves served the transgressors to cover their nudity.

At the time of the sin of the ancestors, the forbidden tree was not cursed.
Christ cursed it later in His love for us so that it would no longer
produce harmful and mortal fruit for His creation.
Truly the Mysteries of God are unfathomable!

Adam tasted of the forbidden tree and we were chased from Paradise;
Christ fasted and we entered into spiritual Eden.
By sinning, Adam lost the vestment of incorruptible glory woven by God;
he remains nude and covered with shame.
The Lord again covered the nakedness of our ancestor
when He ascended the Cross.
All of you who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ“,
writes Saint Paul.

Our ancestors did not eat of the Fruit of the Tree of Life,
but we, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ,
fruits of His sacrifice, Eternal Life.

Adam, created on the sixth day,
holds out his hand to receive the forbidden fruit.
On the sixth day and at the sixth hour [Friday],
Christ holds our His hands on the Cross to save us.

In the middle of the new spiritual Paradise rises the Cross, the Tree of Life.
The first flower is the self-acknowledged thief.
He is the first to enter there.
This theme is repeated every Sunday in the Beatitudes
which we sing with their Stichera in the Liturgy.

By the Tree Adam was deceived,
by the Tree of the Cross,
You saved him once more
,”.
2nd Beatitude, Tn 6

The fruit, beautiful to behold and good to eat,
brought me death.
But by tasting of Christ,
the Tree of Life,
I no longer die and with the thief I cry out:
Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom
“.
1st Beatitude, Tn 7

“By food the enemy led Adam out of Paradise.
By the Cross, Christ brought the thief in again, crying:
Remember me when You comes in Your Kingdom”.
1st Beatitude, Tn 1

In the person of Christ, human nature, immaculate and without guilt,
enters into the perfect Beatitude at the right hand of God.
In the person of the self-acknowledged thief, sinful human nature,
but whose heart is well-disposed,
enters liberated into the beatitude of Eden
and eats from the Tree of Life.

In the person of the unrepentant thief,
sinful and un-repenting nature,
whose heart is ill-disposed,
– refuses to eat from the Tree of Life,
– refuses to participate in the Cross,
– in the fruit of the Cross,
– and falls to death.
It is this teaching that is represented
by the lower and diagonal branch
of the Cross,
which rises on the right towards Heaven
and descends on the left towards the abyss.

In Christ, we are given more than we received from Adam.
The Economy of the  Redemption in Christ
is not  merely a return to the paradisiacal state.
It is something greater, more grandiose.

The Church is a New world, a New Paradise.
In his commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,
Saint John Chrysostom says,
Christ does not make us well in the same proportion
that Adam made us ill, . .  .  but much more . . .
for the Apostle does not simply say ‘Grace’,
but ‘a superabundance of Grace’ . . .
Where sin abounded, Grace did much more abound“.

The Cross, says Saint Simeon the New Theologian,
is the altar on which was offered the fearsome sacrifice.
It is on the Cross that the Son of God died
because of the fall of mankind.
Also, the Cross is venerated and symbolized
as the sign of the universal redemption of man.
All those who worship the wood of the Cross
are delivered from the curse of Adam
and receive the benediction
and Grace of God to achieve all virtue.

For Christians, the Cross is a pride, a glory, a strength.
All our strength comes from that of Christ crucified;
our sin is put to death by the death of Christ on the Cross.
Our elevation, our glory, are owed to the extreme humiliation of God
Who is humiliated even unto dying with thieves and brigands.

What is there greater for a Christian than to become god through Grace?
This is why Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the Cross
–  not carelessly, out of habit, or without thought,
but with attention, intelligence, fear, trembling,
reverence and piety.

The sign of the Cross shows the transformation of each man
and his friendship with God.
The demons fear the sign of the Cross
and cannot stand to even see it traced in the air
because they know that the Cross is
the sign of friendship between mankind and God.
Demons are apostates, the enemies of God.
They are far removed from the Divine Face.
They cannot approach those who have made peace with God,
who have united with Him.
The demons can no longer injure them.

If at times they tempt certain Christians
– as everyone knows they do –
it is those who do not understand
as they should the  sublime Mystery of the Cross.
For, those who know it,
know from experience the strength
and the power of the Cross against demons.
The Cross gives the soul strength, power, intelligence, inspired wisdom
and those who know the Mystery of the Cross cry out in joy,
But God forbid that I should glory,
save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by Whom the world is crucified unto me,
and I unto the world
“.
Gal.6: 14

Therefore, the sign of the Cross being great and fearsome,
it is every Christian’s duty
to make the sign of the Cross with fear and trembling,
with piety and attention,
and not carelessly and foolishly,
only out of habit or with distraction.
Everyone receives strength and help from God
according to the measure of piety he has for the Cross.
Father Ambroise Fontrier
La Lumiere du Thabor” no.20.

March 25th – Annunciation, Christ’s Birth announced to the Theotokos

Christ expounded unto the Disciples,
walking to Emmaus
in all the Historical Scriptures
the things concerning Himself“.
cf. Luc.24: 26-28

Man would never come to know the True God unless God Himself first became man,
thus the Coming of Christ has been foretold.

The promise that Christ would come can be read in:
Gen. 3: 15, 22: 18, 26: 4, 49: 10;
Num. 21: 6-9, 24: 17, Deut. 18:15;
Psalm 15: 8-10, 21: all, specifically: 21: 14-16-18, 131: 11;
Isaiah 7: 14, 9: 6-7, 40: 10-11, 50: 6, 52: 13-15, 53: all, 60: 21;
Jer 23: 5, Jer 33: 14-15, Ezek 34: 23, Ezek 37: 25;
Dan. 9: 25, Mic.5: 2 & 7: 20;
Zach.6: 12, 9: 9, 9: 10, 12: 8-10, 13: 7;
Mal.3: 1-4 & 4: 2-6.
This list is not complete by any means and if one were to take into account
the more complicated Scriptures, the compound Scriptures,
one would be able to enlarge this list geometrically, for the Old Testament
was a promise of that which was to come.
Jesus was that Promise Which did in fact come,
and the New Testament is the record of the Promise fulfilled
and the future Promises yet to come,
but they all revolve around Almighty God’s plan, purpose
and consummation of the eternal Union
between His children and Himself
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Today’s Feast is indeed the Feast of
the True knowledge of God,
as foreseen by the Fore-fathers.
This is the Feast of the Formation of Christ in the flesh, announced by the Archangel Gabriel
and accepted by the Virgin,
and it occurs therefore nine months
before the Birth of Christ at Christmas.
It is, as the hymns of the Church tell us,
the Crown of our Salvation,
the beginning of everything.
This is why its Greek name is ‘Ευαγγελισμος’ [Evangelismos],
which comes from the word ‘Ευαγγελίων’ meaning ‘Good News’.
This is the feast of the Good News, the Feast of the Gospel.
Without this Feast, there would have been
no Good News, no Gospel.

Its usual English name is the Annunciation.
For it is the Feast not of an announcement,
but of the Announcement.
It is the ultimate Announcement, for it is the Announcement that God has become man,
the Announcement of the Presence of
the Wisdom of God amongst us,
not of the wisdom of man as before Christ,
but of the Wisdom of God.
It changes everything in World’s History,
overshadowing and surpassing all
that old human wisdom
of Ancient Greece, Egypt, India and China.

But however Divine this Highfeast is, it is also human.
The humanity of this Feast is not only in that today God becomes an embryo,
it is also in that today the Virgin becomes a Mother.
This is why today the Church is in blue,
the colour of the Virgin-Mother
and why this Feast is also known as ‘Lady Day’ in England.
Today, in accepting the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel, in accepting the Will of God, the Virgin becomes the most high of all mankind,
‘More honourable than the Cherubim
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim’
.
Mp3: Megalynarion of Orthros [Greek & English]
She exceeds in her sacrifice all other men and women in human History,
past, present and future.
She becomes linked with all eternity
and surpasses humanity while remaining human.
In a word,
this earthly being becomes through her sacrifice the Mother of God,
which is why we, though still on earth,
commemorate her in Heavenly blue.

In accepting this cross of sacrifice,
the Mother of God also accepts
the approaching Cross of Victory of Her Son.
This is a very significant fact
and indeed this is a spiritual law.
For every sacrifice, for every cross
that we take on ourselves according to God’s Will,
we receive a spiritual reward.
It may not come at once, but it will inevitably come.
This is a spiritual law, just as, in the same way,
if we fail to make a sacrifice and take up our cross
when God calls us to do that,
there is also a price to pay,
the price of spiritual defeat.
Mp4: Anaphora – Divine Liturgy [English]

For example, at this moment,
and in more than one part of the world,
men are fighting, men are slaughtering one another.
This is because they are blind to Christ.
For when we are blind to Christ,
then we are also blind
to the meaning of Christ’s Cross.
Thus people make war, instead of making Peace.
For people cannot make Peace because
that involves a sacrifice,
the sacrifice of sharing.
If there is no Cross of Sacrifice,
then there is
– no Cross of Victory,
– no Cross of Resurrection,
just the constant cycle of wars.

The sacrifice of the Mother of God
in accepting to bear and nourish God,
giving Him her blood, bones and flesh,
and raise Him as a man is such
that she alone among all mankind
can take us outside the cycle of wars
and can lead us,
if we wish to follow her,
into Eternity,
to the Resurrection of Christ.

“Most Holy Mother of God, save us!”

And the Scripture is fulfilled which said,
Abraham [man] believed God,
and it was imputed unto him [us] for righteousness:
and he [we] is [are] called the friend[s] of God“.
cf. James 2: 23

Orthodoxy & Memorial service

Memorial service Mp4
•  Greek μνημόσυνον “memorial“:
ΕΙΣ ΜΝΗΜΟΣΥΝΟΝ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΝ ΗΧΟΣ Α Δ ΠΑΙΚΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ
• Slavonic: панихида, panikhída, from Greek παννυχίς, pannychis, “vigil“:
Panakhida Memorial Saturday Services Вечная память Vechnaya Pamyat
• Romanian: parastas, from Greek παραστάς, parastas
[Traditional folk funeral ritual [Transylvania, Sibiu county 1937]:
Cocosdaiul _ Funeral ritual
is a liturgical solemn service for the repose of departed
in the Orthodox Church.

Burial is a time-honoured and ancient Christian custom.
The modern multi-billion death industry is a historical novelty.
Today the usual burial involves practices with the deceased that are not traditionally Christian.
The loving care of the departed is an act of real Love.
As the Body of the Lord Jesus was cared for
by Saints Joseph and Nicodemos and the Myrrhbearing women,
washed, anointed, clothed and placed with prayer into a tomb,
so Orthodox Christians have traditionally buried their loved ones.
After Burial the Orthodox Church has her own Tradition:

Saturday is generally
a day dedicated to prayer for the departed,
because Christ, our Lord,
lay dead in the Tomb on a Saturday.
In some monasteries and large churches,
it is customary to serve a Panikhida on every Saturday.

The various prayers for the departed
have as their purpose to pray for the repose of the departed,
to comfort the living and to remind those who remain of their own mortality.
For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them.

The Church’s prayers for the dead begin at the moment of death,
when the priest leads the Prayers at the Departure of the Soul,
consisting of a special Canon and prayers for the release of the soul. Then the body is washed, clothed and laid in the coffin,
after which the priest begins the First Panikhida [prayer service for the departed].
After the First Panikhida, the family and friends
begin reading the Psalter aloud beside the casket.
This reading continues until the funeral begins
[usually on the third day after death],
being interrupted only by more Panikhidas
[at least one per day].

Orthodox Christians offer particularly
fervent prayers for the departed
on the first 40 days after death.
Traditionally, in addition to the service on the day of death,
the memorial service is performed at the request of the relatives
of an individual departed person on the following occasions:
– 3rd day after death
– 9th day
– 40th day
– 1rst anniversary of death
– 3rd anniversary (some will request a memorial every year on the anniversary of death)

In addition to Panikhidas for individuals,
there are also several days during the year
that are set aside as special general commemorations of the dead,
when all departed Orthodox Christians will be prayed for together
[this is especially to benefit those who have no one on earth to pray for them].
The majority of these general commemorations
fall on the various “Soul Saturdays” throughout the year [mostly during Great Lent].
On these days, in addition to the normal Panikhida,
there are special additions to Vespers and Matins,
and there will be proper’s for the departed added to the Divine Liturgy.
These days of general memorial are:

Meatfare Saturday [two Saturdays before Great Lent begins]
– in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas
for their loved ones during the week,
culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
– The second Saturday of Great Lent
– The third Saturday of Great Lent
– The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
– Radonitsa [the second Tuesday after Easter]
– The Saturday before Pentecost
– in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas
for their loved ones during the week,
culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday

Demetrius Saturday
[the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius, Oct. 26th].
In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
there is a commemoration of the dead
on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Michael,
the Archangel, Nov. 8th,
instead of the Demetrius Soul Saturday.

The most important form of prayer for the dead
occurs in the Divine Liturgy.
Particles are cut from the prosphoron during the Proskomedie at the beginning of the Liturgy.
These particles are placed beneath the Lamb [Host] on the diskos, where they remain throughout Holy Liturgy.
After the Communion of the faithful,
the deacon brushes these particles into the chalice, saying,
“Wash away, O Lord,
the sins of all those here commemorated,
by Thy Precious Blood,
through the prayers of all thy saints”.
Of this action, Saint Mark of Ephesus says,
We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them,
offering commemoration for them at Holy Liturgy.
Of this they are always in need . . . . .
The body feels nothing then:
it does not see its close ones who have assembled,
does not smell the fragrance of the flowers,
does not hear the funeral orations.
But the soul senses the prayers offered for it
and is grateful to those who make them
and is spiritually close to them
“.

Normally, candidates for sainthood,
prior to their Glorification [Canonization] as a Saint,
will be commemorated by serving Panikhidas.
Then, on the eve of their Glorification
will be served an especially solemn Requiem,
known as the “Last Panikhida“.

• Saint Basil the Great [† 379], a saint of undivided Christianity, writes in his Third Kneeling Prayer at Pentecost:
O Christ our God . . .
[Who] on this all-perfect and saving Feast,
art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers
for those who are imprisoned in hades,
promising unto us who are held in bondage great hope of release
from the vileness that does hinder us and did hinder them . . . . .
send down Your consolation . . . . .
and establish their souls in the mansions of the Just;
and graciously vouchsafe unto them Peace and pardon;
for not the dead shall praise You, O Lord,
neither shall they who are in Hell make bold
to offer unto thee confession.
But we who are living will bless You,
and will pray, and offer unto You
propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for their souls
“.

• Saint Gregory Dialogos [† 604]
in his famous Dialogues [written in 593] teaches that,
“The Holy Sacrifice [Eucharist] of Christ, our saving Victim,
brings great benefits to souls even after death,
provided their sins [are such as] can be pardoned in the life to come”.
However, Saint. Gregory goes on to say,
the Church’s practice of prayer for the dead
must not be an excuse for not living a godly life on earth.
“The safer course, naturally,
is to do for ourselves during life
what we hope others will do for us after death”.

• Father Seraphim Rose [† 1982] says,
The Church’s prayer cannot save anyone
who does not wish salvation,
or who never offered any struggle [podvig]
for it himself during his lifetime
“.

Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh,
those whom we have remembered
and those whom we have not remembered,
men of the “True Faith, from Righteous Abel unto to-day;
do You Yourself give them rest there in the land of the living,
in Your Kingdom, in the delight of Paradise,
in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Holy fathers,
from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away,
where the Light of Your countenance visited them
and always shines upon them
“.
Prayer for the departed – Liturgy of Saint James

Orthodoxy & Political Ideologies

Today’s Orthodox have forgotten
the meaning of life in the Holy Sacraments.
True membership in the Body of Christ
is grounded in a day-to-day Crucifixion of one’s sentimental, eudemonistic love.
Such a Crucifixion gradually replaces self-centered love with the kenotic love of the Cross, which “seeks not its own”.
However, this call to arms
bears no resemblance to the revivalism of the West,
because for Father John the spiritual ascesis of the individual Christian is
inseparable from life in the Holy Sacraments.
Sacramental life, in turn, is always presented as a literal union of love
between actual people who are waging unremitting warfare against Satan,
side by side with the Holy Angels as well as with the Saints of all eras.

When we look at the teaching
about purification, illumination and Theosis,
we are looking at a science.
But can we give this science a political character?
Can we Orthodox Christians claim, for example,
that only leftists are able to acquire noetic prayer
or that someone who possesses noetic prayer
is obligated to be on the Left or on the Right?

Of course, we cannot make such a claim.
So the science, which we call “Orthodoxy“,
should never be associated with politics,
because someone who loves his neighbour
cares for every human being,
no matter who he is and
no matter what convictions he might hold.
When it comes to questions of ideology,
Orthodox Christians are primarily concerned
about whether the Church has the freedom
to carry out Her work,
which is to heal the sick in Her care.
The Church must have this freedom.

So if an ideology hinders the Church
from carrying out Her work,
it is immaterial as far as the Church is concerned
whether it is called nationalistic like “atheistic Fascism & Marxism
or “right-wing Masonry“.
For the Church, they are both the same – hostile forces
from whom She is equally obligated to defend Herself . . . . .

So based on what we have just said,
is the Church obliged to support any specific ideology?
Of course not.
=> Medical science ought to support
whatever political party is interested in public health.
A doctor exercising his medical profession is
under an obligation to use medical criteria in this case.
Protopresbyter John Savvas Romanides [1927-2001]
Life in Christ” & “Patristic Theology“.

3rd Sunday of Lent – Veneration of our own Cross

And when He had called the people unto Him with His disciples also,
He said unto them, ’Whosoever will come after Me,
let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it;
but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s,
the same shall save it.
For what shall it profit a man,
if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me
and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation;
of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed,
when He comes in the Glory of His Father
with the holy angels’
.
And He said unto them,
’Verily I say unto you,
that there be some of them that stand here,
which shall not taste of death,
till they have seen the Kingdom of God
come with power’
“.
Marc.8: 34- 9: 1

For what will it profit a man
if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of Man is going
to come in the Glory of His Father with His angels
and will then repay every man
according to his deeds
“.
Matth.16: 27

Jesus answered,
’If I want him to remain alive
until I return, what is that to you?
You must follow me’
Because of this,
the rumour spread among the believers
that this disciple would not die.
But Jesus did not say that he would not die;
he only said,
’If I want him to remain alive until I return,
what is that to you’?
“.
John 21: 22,23

’Men of Galilee’ they said,
’why do you stand here looking into the sky?
This same Jesus,
Who has been taken from you into Heaven,
will come back in the same way
you have seen Him go into Heaven’
Acts 1: 11

For the son of man, the True Disciple of Christ
shall come in the Glory of his Father . . . . .

A True Disciple of Christ is one
that does follow Him in duty,
and shall follow Him to Glory.
He is one that walks in the same way Christ walked in,
is led by His Spirit, and treads in His steps, where ever he goes.
Let him deny himself.
If ’self-denial’ be a hard lesson,
it is no more than what our Master learned and practised,
to redeem us, and to teach us.
Let him take up his cross.
The cross is here put
for every trouble that befalls us.
We are apposite to think
we could bear another’s cross
better than our own;
but that is best which is appointed us
and we ought to make the best of it.
We must not by our rashness and folly pull
crosses down upon our own heads,
but must take them up
when they are in our way.
If any man will have the name and credit of a Disciple,
let him follow Christ in the work and duty of a Disciple.
If all worldly things are worthless
when compared with the life of the body,
how forcible the same argument with respect
to the soul and its state of
never-ending happiness or misery!
Thousands lose their souls for the most trifling gain,
or the most worthless indulgence,
nay, often from mere sloth and negligence.
Whatever is the object for which men forsake Christ,
that is the price at which Satan buys their souls.
Yet one soul is worth more than all the world.
This is Christ’s Judgment upon the matter;
He knew the Price of souls, for He redeemed them;
nor would He underrate the world, for He made it.
The dying transgressor cannot purchase one hour’s respite
to seek Mercy for his perishing soul.
Let us then learn rightly to value our souls,
and Christ as the only Saviour of them.

And He said to me,
’Do not seal up
the words of the Prophecy of this Book,
for the time is near.
Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong;
and the one who is filthy [
dirty], still be filthy;
and let the one who is righteous,
still practice righteousness;
and the one who is holy,
still keep himself holy.
Behold, I am coming quickly
and My reward is with Me,
to render to every man
according to what he has done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the first and the last,
the beginning and the end . . . . . ’
“.
Apocalypse 22: 11-13

Self-denial
Leonard Bernstein,
the celebrated orchestra conductor,
was asked,
what is the hardest instrument to play.
He replied without hesitation:
Second fiddle.
I can always get plenty of first violinists,
but to find one who plays second violin
with as much enthusiasm
or second French horn or second flute,
now that’s a problem.
And yet if no one plays second,
we have no harmony
“.

Self-denial is a summons to submit
to the authority of God as Father
and of Jesus as Lord
and to declare lifelong war
on one’s instinctive egoism.
What is to be negated is not personal self
or one’s existence as a rational and responsible human being.
Jesus does not plan to turn us into zombies,
nor does he ask us to volunteer for a robot role.
The required denial is of carnal self,
the egocentric, self-deifying urge with which we were born
and which dominates us
so ruinously in our natural state.
Jesus links self-denial with cross-bearing.
Cross-bearing is far more than enduring this or that hardship.
Carrying one’s cross in Jesus’ day,
as we learn from the story of Jesus’ own Crucifixion,
was required of those whom society had condemned,
whose rights were forfeit,
and who were now being
led out to their execution.
The cross they carried was the instrument of death.
Jesus represents discipleship as a matter of following Him,
and following Him as based on taking up one’s cross in self-negation.
Carnal self would never consent to cast us in such a role.
When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.
The cross is laid on every Christian.
It begins with the call to abandon
the attachments of this world.
It is that dying of the old man
which is the result of his encounter with Christ
“,
wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was right:
Accepting death to everything
that carnal self wants to possess
is what Christ’s summons
to self-denial was all about.

And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
[and we beheld His Glory, the Glory as
of the only begotten of the Father],

full of Grace and Truth . . . . .
And of His Fulness have all we received,
and Grace for grace.
For the law was given by Moses,
but Grace and Truth
came by Jesus Christ“.
John 1: 14, 16-17

3rd Sunday – Veneration of the Cross – We have a Great High Priest

Seeing then that we have
a Great High Priest,
that is passed into the Heavens,
Jesus the Son of God,
let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the Throne of Grace,
that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.
For every high priest taken from among men
is ordained for men in things pertaining to God,
that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
Who can have compassion on the ignorant,
and on them that are out of the way;
for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people,
so also for himself, to offer for sins.
And no man takes this honour unto himself,
but he that is called of God, as was Aäron.
So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest;
but He that said unto Him,
You are My Son,
today have I begotten You.
As He said also in another place,
You are a Priest for ever
after the order of Melchisedec“.
Hebr.4: 14-5: 6

I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You
“.
Psalm 2: 7

The Lord has sworn
and will not relent,
’You are a priest forever
according to
the order of Melchizedek’
”.
Psalm 109: 4

The work and ministry of Jesus Christ in our behalf
The book of Hebrews was written
in order to help keep faithful
those who were tempted to fall away
from the faith.
What Christian, in what era,
hasn’t faced the same temptation?
Therefore the relevance of what Paul wrote to the Hebrews is for us, even today.
Hebrews points weary New Testament believers
– to Jesus,
– to His work on earth below and
– to His work in Heaven above.
The book reveals Jesus in various roles, each one helping us
understand the great Salvation that has been offered to the world through Him.
The Letter shows us a very heavy emphasis on the Old Testament,
on its history and on its sanctuary, and the book is written in a manner implying
that the Apostle knew the readers were known something about that history and sanctuary.

In looking at the richness and deepness
of Jesus in Hebrews, we must consider
the witness of both
the Old and the New Testaments,
which together form an indivisible unity
of the revelation from God,  a unity suggested by its main focus on one Saviour.
This letter is written by Paul because it seemed to be that these people were
in danger of falling away from Christianity and returning to Judaism.
They were losing faith in the Second Coming
[they thought Christ should have been back already];
and, as time progressed,
they were in danger of drifting away from the great Truths of the Gospel.
Thus, not only does Hebrews begin with Jesus as Creator,
it quickly moves to His role as our Saviour.
Instantly linked with His role as our Saviour is His role as our High Priest in Heaven,
a key element of the book of Hebrews.
This is seen in the final clause of
Hebrews 1: 3,  where, after talking about His purging our sins, it says:
that He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high“.
The apostle faces that the new system is better than [superior to] the old,
because its Mediator is the Divine Son of God [Hebr.8: 6; 9: 15].
Jesus, who is human [Hebr.2: 5-18] and Divine [Hebr.1: 1-4],
is able to bring God and humans into a special Covenant association.

Jesus’ Human Nature
The letter to the Hebrews also sets forth the full Divinity and the full humanity of Jesus
in a special contrast:
But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,
crowned with Glory and Honour; that He by the Grace of God should taste
death for every man
“[Hebr.2: 9].
Jesus’ status as lower than the angels was in a limited manner.
A contrast is drawn between the nature of angels and that of the Son.
According to the laws of Hebrew parallelism,
the angels and the ministers must be related terms.
Angels are ministers, servants of God. Jesus, however, is Deity:
Your Throne, O God, is forever and ever;
a Sceptre of Righteousness is the Sceptre of Your Kingdom
“.
Psalm 44: 6
Jesus Christ took this position, because it was necessary for the plan of Salvation.
By becoming a human being, Jesus won for us the Victory
that could not have been possible had Jesus chosen
to remain eternally separated from humanity.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession” and then “Let us therefore come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” (Hebr.4: 14,16).
In short here is said: Hang on to your Faith in Christ.
These words, of course, are so important for us today, as well.
Jesus died for us.
The Cross is the turning point of history and of our fate.
Jesus serves as our High Priest; He is intervening in Heaven in our behalf.
He is our great High Priest.
Therefore, we have confidence and assurance,
because Someone now stands in Heaven in our stead, Someone Who, in fact,
knows what it is to be tempted by sin [see Hebr. 4:15].
He knows how it feels to be human, to be tempted, to be hungry,
to be tired, to be assaulted, abandoned, and to face death,
because, as a human, He went through it all.

Therefore, we are called to draw close to God
and receive Mercy, Grace, and Help from Someone Who can relate to us.
The way to the Heavenly Sanctuary, the way to the Throne of God, the Kingdom is now open!
God is our Father, we are His children, and He treats us as such [Hebr.12: 7- 9].
Jesus’ Sacrifice is once-for-all and is sufficient for all.
We just have to accept it.
The book Hebrews may present the aim of the epistle:
Do not give up on Jesus! The best has come.
Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament types
and the guarantee of Salvation.

The Incarnation [becoming man] of Christ has ever been,
and will ever remain a Mystery.
That which is revealed, is for us and for our children,
but let every human being be warned from the ground
of making Christ altogether human,
such an one as ourselves;
for it cannot be.