32nd Sunday after Pentecost – there raised another Priest after the similitude of Melchisedec

And without all contradiction
the less is blessed of the better.
And here men that die receive tithes;
but there he received them, of
Whom it is witnessed that He lived.
And as I may so say, Levi also,
who received tithes, paid tithes in Abraham.
For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and
not be called after the order of Aaron?

For the Priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
For He of whom these things are spoken pertained to another tribe, of which
no man gave attendance at the altar.
For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe
Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec
there arose another Priest,
Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment,
but after the power of an endless Life.
For He testified,
Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec
“.
Hebr. 7: 7-17

The feast today, the feast of the Meeting ,
surprisingly brings us back to the time of Christmas , the birth of the Lord.
We have the Baptism of the Lord fresh in our memory and it is important to realize that this festival goes back to Christmas,
this is the 40th day after the birth of Christ.
It is the day on which He is charged.
To the Temple as a new-born child , John the Baptist is only a half years old,
Christ Himself is a small baby being brought to the Temple.
Wherein lies the meeting
where this festival is dedicated to?

If we look closely, we see a lot of meetings .
We see the meeting – of course –
between the Old and New Testaments.
But that is an encounter that lasts the whole Gospel,
from the time of Christ’s birth to the moment when
He says, “It is finished” [John.19: 30]
We also see the meeting between
the legislature and the Law.
We see that Christ , the Lawgiver of both
the Old and New Covenant,
obediently adjusts to the Law of the Old Testament.

We see encounters with the Temple .
– the Temple within Himself so that
He would later say,
I will destroy the temple and in three days I will rebuilt it“.
John.2: 19, Marc.13: 1, Luc.21: 6, Marc. 14: 58
the Temple of His Body [John. 2:20]
the Temple in relation to the Holy Trinity
Although the Glory of the Father eternally in the Temple and before. . .,
has been in the Tabernacle  [Ex.40: 34, 2Cron.(O.S.B.)5: 13-14, Ez.9: 3],
although the Spirit of God has always been present
meets the Temple now the incarnate Son of God [John.1: 14].
And as the Trinity in Baptism has become public to all [Apolyticion Theophany],
it is now revealed to the Temple .

The priests of the temple are meeting the new Priesthood,
the Priesthood spoken of in the reading of
the Letter of the Apostle Paulus [Hebr.7: 11-12, 2Petr.2: 9] today.
The people of Israël, represented by Symeon and Anna,
are meeting Him Who is the Bridegroom of the Church of
the New Covenant [Matth.9: 15].

Still not quite explain all these encounters
why we have called today’s festivities “feast of the Meeting“.
After Christ was in the Temple and the sacrifice was made,
bringing him back to his parents Nazareth.
We then read that
He Grows up in Wisdom and
the Grace of God was upon Him
” [Luc.2: 40].
A time of preparation breaks, a time of preparation for several meetings.
Which encounters? With us, you and me.
And if you want a meeting is a meeting,
it must come from both sides .
Not the one who comes to the other more and more [from above] ,
but from two people who are coming together.

And therefore it is important that we are prepared for the meeting with Him .
About that meeting He spoke when He talked about
the foolish and the wise virgins.
Then He said,
What do we do as it sounds in
the middle of the night,
the Bridegroom comes,
Come meet Him . . . . . . ?
“[Matth.25: 1-13].
The biblical word for “meeting” in
Greek is the word “συνάντηση”.
What is our answer
when we are asked the question:
What do you do as the Bridegroom comes!
Is your lamp then ready?

The man-made lights – the candles – are blessed today.
But what about those inner lamp , ‘our eye [Matth.6: 22],
‘our soul, our heart must burn [Luc.24: 32]!!!
Let us, then , now that Lent arrives,
look after the inner lamps and
light the sources of our works,
so we Christians can go with a lighted lamp,
so that we can unite our light with His Light to meet
“.
Sophronios of Jerusalem
and then , as Saint Theophanos the Hermit says:
He will take his residence in us,
just as he took place in the arms of Saint Symeon
“.
homilies at the Meeting of the Lord

32e Sunday after Pentecost – meeting of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished,
they brought Him to Jerusalem, to
present Him to the Lord;
As it is written in the Law of the Lord,
every male that opened the womb
shall be called Holy to the Lord;
and to offer a sacrifice according to
that which is said in the law of the Lord,
a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and
the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and
the Holy Spirit was upon him.
And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that
he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and
when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to
do for him after the custom of the law,

Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now let You your servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen Your Salvation, Which
You have prepared before the face of all people;
a light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Your people Israel.
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary His mother,
Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and
for a sign which shall be spoken against;
[Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also],
that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
And there was one Anna, a prophetess,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser:
she was of a great age, and
had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years,
which departed not from the temple,
but served God with fasting and prayers night and day.
And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and
spoke of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord,
they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and
the Grace of God was upon Him
“.
Luc.2:22-40

The enactment of religious rituals for children in the Jewish faith of Jesus’ time is the background of this only biblical glimpse we have of Jesus’ early infancy.
This luminous text of hope from Lucas’ Gospel is
pictorial in its rendering of Jesus presentation at the temple.
As a new-born, He is brought by His parents to be circumcised and officially named, following the custom of their faith.
This story of a baby’s first religious rituals prompts
the memories of many adults whose own parents involved them at an early age in the practices of their faith.
Lucas paints a touching and very typical picture of just such an occasion.
Today, even though obscured in the unknowingness of early infancy,
how many adults still cherish the pictures and artifacts from their own infancy rituals?
Caregivers of all sorts save a scrapbook of pictures, perhaps a special robe,
a candle, a signed guestbook or maybe a picture of the banquet table of well-wishers.
All of these are reminders which can still bear meaning for adults about the religious and personal commitments caregivers made for them as infants.

The child, Jesus, launched into the world,
through the faithful hopes and practices of his parents and others, prompts the Gospel writer to conclude:
The child grew and became strong …..
Paradoxically this text, while focused on Jesus throughout, also records the responses of the adults around him to the child.
In fact, this text poses a critical set of questions for adults who have anything to do with children, be they parents, members of religious communities or the general public.

What expectations do we have for our children
as they grow towards adulthood?
What are our hopes for them?
How do we utilize the resources of
our faith communities to support children?
What protection and guidance do we offer them so hopes and
expectations can be realized for their flourishing?
What responsibilities do all adults have for children,
regardless of whether or not
they are related to them by blood or marriage?

Lucas’ words portray a picture of hope,
innocence and adult concern for the infant Jesus.
His words foster nostalgia and loving sentiments.
This child, Jesus, has received
a strong start in life.
But in juxtaposing this text with some of today’s
facts and realities about children,
the Biblical passage slashes across
our lives with one harsh notice:
“Warning!.               

Lucas’ words have
at their centre a child:
surely a prompt to everyone to consider the treatment of children today.
—> What does it mean to cherish and value children?
Several years ago a proverbial phrase was popularized through a speech; “It takes a village to raise a child”.
How true in the best sense of that phrase.
And yet, there is ready and ugly evidence that communities of varied sorts
are devoted to the destruction of children,
[particularly through sexual trafficking].
One witnesses this in the print and electronic media and in the reports about those who have been caught vandalizing the souls and bodies of children.
Indeed, the incredible commodifying of children’s lives and bodies can be seen on
the streets and hidden rooms of both large urban centres and
smaller towns throughout the western countries.

This destruction of children through sexual trafficking stands in absolute contrast to
the Lucan story of the nourishing and flourishing of children.
Children’s bodies instead of being blessed and protected are bought and sold by adults.
These adults seek only to gain obscure and profit from them.
In the words and acts of the devout adults who bless Jesus,
Lucas offers an unsettling warning of his own about this child, Jesus.
Simeon notes to Mary, his mother, that her child will cause
“the rising and falling” of many.
What will happen to her son will cause her own heart
to be pierced as though by a sword.
Furthermore, Anna’s act of endurance involves fasting.
Fasting does not signify feasting.
To the contrary it signifies that there are things yet
to be accomplished and fulfilled.
Anna was also keenly aware of the need for the coming redemption.
The child, Jesus, exemplified that for her.

How we are caring for our children
Within this text of love and support for a child,
we unmistakably hear the note of justice sounded clearly.
Indeed the rising and falling of many has and
will occur in terms of their treatment of children.
Lucas’ words have set both the model of parental and adult love for children and they also challenge all adults to ask:
How are we caring for
our children today?

Are we educating our children in our communities or do we force them to come to a Church
in which they don’t understand any word and any background?
Are we educating our children in our churches to
Greek, Russian, Romanian, Georgian, Serbian, Bulgarian nationalists
who are longing for a faraway, strange country?
Are we separating them from the
True Word by keeping them away
from an intelligible [understandable] words, written by the Holy Fathers?
Do we support them by forcing them
to attend hour-long services
in a language they do not understand?
Are we supporting their healthy development in relation to
their environment or
do we condemn them to be a continued stranger and guest-worker and to award themselves to make choices of open and free development.
 What responsibilities do all adults have for children,
regardless of whether or not
they are related to them by blood or marriage?

Lord have mercy“, for
they don’t understand what they are doing
and their leaders are missing any point of view.

31th Sunday after Pentecost – Let no man despise thy youth

This is a faithful saying and
worthy of all acceptation.
For therefore we both
labour and suffer reproach,
because we trust in the living God,
Who is the Saviour of all men,
specially of those that believe.
These things command and teach.
Let no man despise thy youth;
but be thou an example of the believers,
in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy,
with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them;
that thy profiting may appear to all“.
1Tim.4: 9-15

The words you speak today should be soft and tender …..
for tomorrow you may have to eat them

Anonymous

Regardless of how old or young you are physically or spiritually,
soaring high or otherwise in your Christian life and
service is a matter of choice.
Let no man despise your youth.

As we go through life,
I hope many of us believe
we have grown or gained knowledge.
If we talk to a 20 year old,
he will readily admit he knows a lot more as a college student
than he did at 10 when he was in 8th grade.
When one talks to a person in their 40s,
many feel that they know more today
than they did when they were 20 and
if they had to do it over, they would do some things different.
I assume that as one reaches senior citizen age,
they have additional life experiences
that they can share with others.

Because of this the Bible instructs us wisely
to honour the elders.
While our society today teaches to put our older people away, and focus on the fleeting beauty of youth, it is stabbing us in the foot.  The society, advertisers, companies wish us to focus on youth so that the wisdom of the elders is gone and that the media is the one replacing the godly father’s leadership role
with their self for the purpose of influencing us
the way that benefits them.
The lie builds on our pride and
is nothing new.
It goes back to the Garden of Eden when the serpent told Eve, that she would be wiser than God and didn’t have to listen to Him or
respect His commandments.

Many youths through their lack of wisdom believe that they know everything and the adults know nothing, which is not true.
When I was in high school,
I noticed that there were people who applied them self. Some gained wisdom slowly,
some who worked hard to improve had learned more.
Those who didn’t try had less.

Regardless any age,
there are people who have more knowledge
or less knowledge.
A small part of it is genetics.
A big part of it is
what direction one desires to focus.
Whether they desire to grow in knowledge and maturity or
rather spend the time watching mindless entertainment or
playing video games that teach little knowledge to one.
Also, with the wide variety of knowledge out there
one can learn through their life,
everyone will know something a little different and
all can learn from them.
For example one who has a legal degree at 35
probably will know more about law
than an 65 year old physicist, yet
the physicist will know more about science.
Some may have years of experience
drawing closer and closer to God.
Others might have years of experience
being a criminal or a con artist, so
we need to be careful who we have influencing us, and
what knowledge we have entering our minds.

In our society because we have certain things revealed to us,
[ie sciences, technology, etc.] we have many pieces of knowledge
that were not known in the past.
Therefore in these areas of our current society,
we have knowledge which is greater than the past.
TV, computers, space travel are examples of this knowledge
that we have different.
Conversely, the nurturing environment is not as sheltered from sin as
it was 100 years ago in the Europe/ Middle East or the United States.
There are many negative influences on the lives of our society today
training their brains and becoming a part of their formative years.
Therefore, those who grew up in the past, where studying and learning the bible,
morality and other pieces of wisdom
isolated from the influences of our modern decadent culture
in their early schooling, grew much closer to God and
had greater wisdom in those saints than
we do today in our world.
So as I look at the Christian leaders of many denominations,
many appear be a blend of our current decadent/socialist values with Christian principles,
rather than those who were totally separated from that world and
didn’t have to be politically correct to pacify them.
I need to also point out that there were also areas of enlightenment
that they did not have.
Also, so the point being made here, is
that if one does not have spiritual leaders as role models,
one can also learn at the feet of the past saints
in their writings as well as our blessed Lord through the Holy Scriptures.

Because of the lack of wisdom of the elders in our modern environment,
many youths have less exposure to
gaining godly knowledge from the elders.
They are also not stimulated by their parents; many youths without the knowledge come across as
wreck less or carefree.
This may cause parents to think less of them. Yet at the same point, the way we overcome is not to merely brush it off
but to strive to know our weakness and go to improve ourselves.
And those who do, will reach greater heights and wisdom,
growing on the wisdom of the elders which they will appreciate.

Again what’s in a name:
what is the meaning of the name Timothy?
Τιμοθεος  [Timotheos] meaning “honouring God“,
derived from τιμαω [timao] “to honour
and derived from θεος [Theos] “God“.
Timothy had a similar situation and
Paul wrote to him the oft quoted phrase,
let no man despise thy youth“.
And I see so many youth quoting this as if it implied their youthfulness and
immaturity should be appreciated.
But what it is saying is that Paul’s goal was
for Timothy to be a youth that should not be despised.

To gain respect
How quick we forget the second half of the verse
where Paul gives the solution to being despised.
The way he says to gain respect is
to “be thou an example of the believers,
in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity
“.
Notice Paul did not tell Timothy, go out and demand respect?
He showed him instead how to earn it.

Let’s go through each part of this verse.
“an example”
►  the Greek word here is toopos which means, a model for imitation, pattern, form.
So what this word is saying that instead of being despised,
we should strive to be the best in these following areas
where we will be one that others desire to copy.
► The word ‘word‘ here [logos] means something said,
by implication of topic, reasoning, computation.

The bible teaches us to beware of idle words.
Too often all of us at all ages speak frivolously, but
rather it is teaching we must strive to watch
what we say, that it is holy, godly and just and
that we are a proper example of the king of kings.
Let us not strive to justify our self,
but rather seek the Truth of God and
be able to have the verbal/logical skills
to communicate it wisely to others.
► Communication is talking and speaking with each other and
not blaming someone and smash another one totally down.
Conversation, the Greek word here is anastrophe
which basically means our behaviour.
We should strive to be a role model of perfect behaviour.
How sad in Christians of all ages
we see behaviour in our professing Christian communities
focused on the things of the world rather than on God.
As we do our tasks, we should ask our self,
is this what Jesus would do?
Is this bringing me or the other closer to Our beloved Lord?
Or is this action causing me to fall farther from Him.
Has my presence in this community been as a healthy development or
am I just a block to their bones.
When they really not accept me
I have to search for another possibility and
stay in my study room and far, far away from them.
Christ did it in the same way,
in these moments He went up to the mountain and
prayed to His Father in Heaven.
►in charity – the Greek word here is agapè,
which means the greatest Love.
The Love of sacrificing one’s self for another.
How true are the words in the Good Message which say,
Without Love I am nothing” and
when Jesus states, the greatest commandment is to
Love the Lord with all your heart soul and strength“.
Paul is not saying that we should merely love others.
He is saying that our love should be a role model.
And the greatest source of love is
the One Who loved us the most,
our blessed Lord Jesus.
That when people see us,
– they see Jesus in us and His Love though us,
then we can truly be a Light to His Truth.
How sad when
many professing Christians say
– they do not love their brother or
– they do not love their neighbour.
Is God happy with that?
Is he not grieved like the ruler
who forgave so much to a man yet
the man refused to forgive something small of his neighbour?
As we grow closer to God, we will understand His Love,
the Truest and Greatest Love and
that Love will spread out to others.

►In spirit – this is the spirit or one’s rational soul.
It is our essence.
When people see us,
our essence and our spirit should be in line with God’s Spirit,
facing the same direction, desiring the same things.
As John the Baptist once said, not my will, but thine.
So should we have a heart seeking
the things of God so when people see us,
they know our heart is desiring the Lord.

” In faith – the greek word here is pistis,
which means our beliefs or moral convictions.
When people look at us, what do they say as we believe?
Do we ‘mouth‘ the things of God,
but by our actions we live a different life and
show a different belief system?
Faith in God, our belief in Him should be a centerpiece
in our life where our actions flow.
It is not following laws, but coming from a heart
who truly believes God, trusts God and
cannot be happy in any other path than serving God.
Let us look at our heart, and search out our beliefs truly are, and
then use that knowledge to resist the lies of the devil.

►In purity – the Greek word here is cleanliness specifically chastity. or physical purity.
The culture of our world is to sleep around outside of marriage.
Our society, not only doesn’t find it wrong, it glorifies it.
Many churches don’t desire to address this sin,
because it is so rampant in our society.
Yet God takes a firm stand against it throughout the old and new testaments.
Our youth today, many in our churches unfortunately
are committing fornication and think its fun.
Also we give our virgin children to men/women who have them
as one of many women in their life because they are pleasing to us, or
have things of the world, or are great seducers.
Yet we see here, that it makes the person dirty,
it isn’t pleasing to God yet they don’t care and commit deliberate sin
because they believe it will be forgiven,
yet they forget to realize that
deliberate sin perhaps is a sign of problems with
their relationship with God in the belief area.
How sad it is that we no longer aspire to seek the purity of Body.
The Good Message says that fornication is a sinning against our body, and
describes it as marriage when it says the two become one.
Let us not only remain pure for marriage,
let us also respect purity and not hold it as a nice extra
but rather a value that God desires of us, and
teaches us leads to the best relationships of this earth.

So to summarize, understand those who are older than us,
likely they have more wisdom than us.
That we should seek after godly elders for wisdom.
Whether we are younger, or older,
let us be willing to respect others, learn of others, and
respect the wisdom of those who are older, wiser and godly influenced.
Rather than despise others, let us love them.
Rather than defend ourselves,
let us strive to be more perfect and
pleasing our Master.

Orthodoxy & going forth thus we shall have no enemy

If we have first made God propitious by
prayer and supplication,
going forth thus we shall have no enemy.
Or if you should, you will laugh him …..
having God propitious“.
Saint John Chrysostom

A truck driver had been driving quite a few hours straight, and was tired and hungry, so he pulled into a truck stop and went into the restaurant to eat.
While he was eating, a group of local Hell’s Angels motorcyclists came into the restaurant to eat. While waiting for their food to be prepared, the Hell’s Angels got bored.
They began to harass the truck driver just for entertainment.
They called him names, yelled at him, and so on.
Then they started throwing rolled-up napkins at him.
He just sat and ate quietly and totally ignored them.

This upset them – they just couldn’t get a rise out of him.
So, finally, one of them walked over and dumped a plate of food over the truck driver’s head.
He still didn’t react, other than to take some napkins and clean himself up as well as possible
– while the Hell’s Angels laughed at him.
He paid his bill and quietly left to go back to his truck.
The thugs joked around with the waitress after he left, saying, “You know, that fella sure was a wimp. He wasn’t much of a man!
The waitress, looking out the window at the parking lot, said,
You know, he’s not much of a truck driver, either.
He just ran over a bunch of motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot!

Another story [more close]:
A Dutch speaking reader got the duty to introduce Dutch in a Greek church, for the young generation would miss the essence of those lessons which the fathers educate during the Orthodox services.
This reader was during 9 years making progress – knowing that the Greek priest wouldn’t let him alone in this job.
Even the priest didn’t preach anymore after people of the church were talking about this behind his back [to the bishop].
By all kind of ways the reader tried to be friendly to these visitors of the church, who enjoyed going to church just because they were from Greek nationality, meeting their fellow citizens.
After services most of them went home and lived their common western life
without even knowing what was educated during their services.
It’s is common to have church visiting tradition and live your civil life on, only to be baptized, married and buried in the common Greek tradition; it would be all enough to be a good Orthodox Christian.
At the main feasts of the year the church-building is so over-crowded that every fire department chief should worry about the dangerous safety circumstances in this building.

After 9 years an new-born main-bishop made a speech in which he expressed that the communities of the Greek
should keep their original behaviour.  This was the sign for
the community court to make their stripes – they were floating the priest in distress – so that he would drop the reader in a zero position. The Church should give the people hope, love and progress instead of Nationalism and immutability
After 9 years committed to improving this reader couldn’t do otherwise than hang his coat on the coatrack and leave this narrow thinking community.
This group of Greeks who are domiciled in the Netherlands
are leaded by an archaic Greek bishop ordering for more than
20 years a board to arrange money by selling the candles and collecting just to arrange this community. It’s just banking.
People around them, even the priest don’t know the results of the yearly finances; it’s just the secret of Brussels.

We chuckle at how these stakeholders handled their situation and
probably can’t help but admire them some, but …..
that is not Jesus’ way to handle enemies!
How did our Lord say to respond to situations where enemies confront us?
In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ told us, “Love your enemies“.
It’s natural the choise one of these stakeholders did!
But as Christians we are called to a higher way of life.
The Lord Himself told us about this.
As He said in:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High;
for He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish
“.
Luc.6: 32–35

A very radical idea! Loving friends? That’s usually not too hard.
But to love our enemies? Very unusual, very difficult.
And that’s what Christ wants us to do.
You don’t have to quarrel further with these guys; just go your way and
do what you have to do – just turn yourself to the Lord of Hosts;
leave these Greeks in their fat cooked braise.

As always, Jesus Christ practiced what He preached.
Jesus just didn’t say, “Love your enemies“; He really did it!
When He was put on the cross, did He curse out those who id it to Him?
Did He call down lightning or angry angels to “take out” those killing Him?
He certainly could have done that.
But He didn’t.
– Instead, He loved them and prayed for them –
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do“.
And the Lord is still forgiving His enemies today.
For every time we sin, we make ourselves enemies of Christ.
And what does He do? He forgives us and keeps on loving us.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be like Him.
We should do the same: love our enemies, and
forgive those who have hurt us and pray for them.
And if we really do that, it will be the case that,
from our side anyway, we won’t have enemies.
They may still see us as enemies,
but we won’t see them as enemies.
If, as Christ commands, we love and forgive our enemies,
they really won’t be our enemies anymore.

Saint Ephraim of Syria wrote about this sixteen hundred years ago:
Do not have any enemies except for Satan himself“.
On Admonition and Repentance

There are different ways of achieving this goal of not having enemies.
Years ago, a mafia boss on the island of Sicily was on his death bed.
He called for the local priest to come see him and hear his confession.
He had decided he wanted to get right with God before he died.
The priest came and, before he began to administer the sacraments, said,
Part of getting ready to die is that you need to forgive all your enemies“.
The mafia boss said,
Father, I don’t have any enemies“.
The priest was surprised and said,
That’s amazing!
After all the years of your violent and criminal life,
you must have enemies!
The mafiosi replied,
No, Father, I really don’t have any enemies.
I killed them all“.

That’s not the right way to end up with no enemies!
We do need to take action, however,
to stop having enemies, even drastic action if necessary.
Saint John of Alexandria was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt,
many centuries ago.
One day he was serving the Divine Liturgy and
as he was lifting up the bread and wine at the altar to God,
he remembered something:
he had had a falling out with a priest in
a nearby parish that week.
Saint John felt that he himself was at least partly to blame for their argument.
He realized, too, that he hadn’t fixed the problem.
So he put the holy gifts down on the altar, bowed to the people saying,
I will return soon” and
walked right out of the church.
He left and found the priest and
talked with him and
apologized to him.
They were reconciled and all was well between them.
Then Saint John returned to his own church and
finished the liturgy.
Whatever it takes – do it.
Love your enemies enough so that
you won’t think of them as your enemies anymore.

The following are some ways to work on this:
Pray for your enemies
Back in the 600’s A.D. there were definitely some people who considered Saint Maximus the Confessor as their enemy.
They hated him because he stuck to the truth about Jesus Christ and
wouldn’t give in to the latest heresy.
They cut out his tongue and cut off his hands.
Saint Maximus’ response was to say this about enemies:
Pray for him sincerely to God“.
Do you, priests and bishops talk with those who you are hurting,
do you apologize yourselves and pray for them?
Or do you keep silence and live on in your nice admospheres.
I hope you realize that you are role models.

That person who is hard to get along with,
who irritates you, who has hurt you,
who you perhaps even think of as an enemy?
Put those persons at the top of your prayer list and
pray for them more than for anyone else.

Thank God for something good about your enemy
It may not be easy to think of something good about some people
if they’ve done bad things to us or talk between each other and said bad things about us.
But you can always think of at least one good thing about that person.
Focus on that one good thing.

Shift your anger
Is there someone who has angered you?
Saint Ambrose of Milan, back about 400 A.D., said that
you should shift that anger at other people to anger at yourself.
Instead of being angry at someone else,
be angry at yourself that you are so spiritually weak
that something about that other person caused you
to fall into the sin of anger.
Being angry at yourself will help
your anger at others to fade away.

Treat them kindly
Saint Barsanuphius lived in the deserts of the Gaza area of Palestine
about fourteen hundred years ago.
A very holy and wise man, he received many letters
seeking spiritual advice and he wrote many letters giving spiritual advice.
We still have some of them today and they are a good read.
One writer explained to the saint about an enemy he had, and
sought advice on how to deal with the hateful person.
Saint Barsanuphius’ advise was simple and brief:
Do good to him“.
Even if someone has hurt you badly and
you don’t feel kindly towards them, you can still act kindly towards them,
even if it’s just a matter of smiling and saying,
Hi, how are you?
As Saint Barsanuphius said,
Do good to them.
Act kindly, and who knows?
Maybe they’ll start to change a bit and
act a little more kindly to you.
If you both keep that up,
pretty soon you won’t be enemies anymore!
Enemies are turned into friends.
Why? Because of simple acts of kindness.

Do the same.
Remember the words we looked at earlier by Saint Ephraim:
Do not have any enemies except for Satan himself“.
Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, instructed us,
Love your enemies“.

It’s all hard, very hard.
We are Christians,
however and so are called by our Lord to do as He did,
even when it is hard.
The Lord said that He will reward us
if we obey Him in this regard.
He tells us that if we love our enemies,
Your reward will be great and
you will be children of the Most High
“.
Luc.6: 35
What a wonderful reward!
To be children of the Most High God!
That’s what He promises us.

They cried to You and
were delivered;
they trusted in You and
were not ashamed
“.
Psalm 22: 5

Pain of Salvation
If you’re tearing down my world
please just try to do it gently…
there is love inside‘.

Thank you Lord for my enemies.

Orthodoxy & Superstition

Superstition has been defined as a belief,
a half belief, or a practice for which there appears to be no rational substance.
The data superstition arises often in remote areas where simple believers are
taught by untrained teachers.
A great deal of Greek Orthodox people [mainly the older folks]
adhere to many cultural superstitions, some of which date as far back as pagan Greece.
An old woman, I know — has some extremely stange beliefs,
[one which being the practice of the “Evil Eye
which was weird indeed]
These things are not a part of Orthodoxy, and
are in fact condemned by the Church.
Those who use the term imply that they have certain knowledge or superior evidence for their own scientific, philosophical, or religious convictions. An ambiguous word, it probably cannot be used except subjectively.
With this qualification in mind,
superstitions may be classified roughly as religious, cultural, and personal.
Superstitions that belong to the cultural tradition [in some cases inseparable from religious superstition] are enormous in their variety.

Many persons, in nearly all times, have held, seriously or half seriously, irrational beliefs concerning methods of warding off ill or bringing good,
foretelling the future, and healing or preventing sickness or accident.
Current behavioural research that suggests
that everyday superstitions are the natural result of
several well understood psychological processes.
Fear of the unknown, especially the desire to avoid misfortune,
illness or accident which lead to paradoxical human behaviours
are being examined through scientific investigation.
Ultimately, science can evaluate these behavioural elements
but only the True God can offer the confidence and
certainty to confront life without phobia.
The Church does not accept superstition.
We invite you to submit any questions you may have to your priest;
a list of the most asked questions will be displayed here
with the appropriate responses.
And of course, all enquires will be treated in confidence with
no personal or national details displayed.
To learn more about Tradition in the Orthodox Church.

Superstition about Marriage and Newlyweds
1.] Two children of the same family should not get married in the same year
because it will cause bad luck.
The Orthodox Church does not accept superstition.
Orthodoxy says that one, two, three or more children can get married in any one year.
Marriage is a Sacrament and therefore blessed by God Himself.
The notion of bad luck is rejected by the Church.

2.] Don’t get married in May. It’s bad luck.
For the Orthodox Church every moment and
every day of every month is blessed by the Holy Spirit.
Many weddings are conducted in May which
is neither less nor more blessed than any other month.

3.] If you’ve been koumbaro [best man or matron of honour] at
someone’s wedding don’t make them koumbaro
at your wedding or something will go wrong.
There is no impediment in the Orthodox Church to
one koumbaro being koumbaro to the other. This is superstition.

4.] It’s a sin for newlyweds to go to Church during the first year of their marriage.
Nonsense. The couple has been blessed by the Grace of God in His Church.
Their relationship at all levels has been sanctified.
If a couple ever needed to attend Church it is precisely in their first year
when they are still discovering each other and are
in need of God’s enlightenment.

5.] Newlyweds should not receive communion in the first year.
Nonsense.
This goes back to the notion that essentially ‘marital love’ is a sin at any time.
The Orthodox Church teaches that newlyweds should receive Holy Communion
regularly, throughout their life, with the appropriate preparation and fasting.
Their physical union is not a sin. It is a blessing.

6.] Newlyweds should not attend a funeral in the first year.
Nonsense. The Orthodox Church would encourage them to attend,
especially in the case of a loved one.
Should they not attend the funeral of a parent,
a grandparent or a friend? Of course they should.

7.] Newlyweds should not attend memorial services in the first year.
Nonsense. The Orthodox Church would encourage them to attend
because a Memorial Service is prayer.

8.] The bride should not plant a tree in the first year of marriage
because her fertility will be transferred to the tree.
Nonsense. The whole of creation is sanctified by God.
What fault of the poor tree is it if human beings adhere
to such ridiculous superstitions?
If this superstition was to be thought out rationally,
the tree should give birth to babies.

Myths told about Birth and Baptism
1.]
For 40 days after birth the mother should not leave the home.
This is a misrepresentation of a practice in the Old Testament.
The Orthodox Church says the mother can go anywhere she likes
during the 40 day period, apart from the church.

2.] For 40 days after birth a mother [‘lehona’] should not visit anyone else’s home.
For the Orthodox Church this is superstition. Common sense, however, would dictate that the woman should avoid upsetting herself by visiting homes that are superstitious and will be offended by her visit.

3.] During the first 40 days the mother should not walk to a crossroads.
Nonsense. The Orthodox Church has no issue with crossroads.

4.] The new mother should not receive a 40 blessing on the exact day
but should do so a few days before.
Why not? Jesus was blessed on exactly the 40th day.
If it was appropriate for Jesus,
then it is our responsibility to emulate His example.

5.] The new mother should ask the priest for
a “half” blessing so she can go out of the home.
There is no such thing as a ‘half blessing’ in the Orthodox Church.
This is a fallacy created for social reasons e.g. wishing to
attend a wedding or christening of a relative or friend.
What does exist, however, is a blessing for the child,
brought to the church by the father or grandparent on the 8th day,
for the naming of the child.

6.] A pregnant woman should not be a godparent.
It’s not good for the child.
Orthodoxy has no problem with a pregnant woman becoming a godparent.

7.] If someone’s christened your child
don’t christen theirs or else “you’ll take the oil back”.
This is entirely foreign to the teachings of the Orthodox Church.
The ‘annointing oil’ cannot be taken back by anyone.
It is indelibly and permanently ‘sealed’ on
the body of the person who has been baptized.

8.] After a Baptism, the child should not be bathed for three days.
Whilst the number 3 is symbolic of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit),
for the Orthodox Church there is no reason why the newly baptized child
cannot be bathed even on the same evening of the Baptism,
so long as the water from the bath and from
the washing of the baptismal clothes is not poured down a common drain,
but is emptied somewhere where it will not be trodden on
– such as a hole in the yard of the home or down by the sea.

Myths told about Funerals
1.] Cover the mirrors in the house so that
death won’t look at anyone else in the home.
Superstition. Christ has defeated death by His own death.
Covering mirrors won’t protect against the loss of life.

2.] When someone dies,
place a glass of water next to the oil lamp in the home
so that the soul of the departed might drink of it.
One priest reported that a parishioner notified him
that the deceased had consumed all the water in forty days.
Water, as in H2O, is of no use to someone who has died physically.
The soul, which never dies, however,
‘drinks’ of Christ’s ‘living water’ in the Kingdom of God.

3.] At the graveside the priest should break a plate
so as to smash any further visitations of death.
This is a strong superstition on a number of Aegean islands.
Breaking a plate will not stop the visitation of death.
The Orthodox person says with certainty
“I expect the resurrection of the dead and
the life of the age to come. Amen”.

4.] Don’t hold the 40 day memorial service on the day.
Always hold it several days before because the soul will be anxious.
The soul of the deceased is now in the timeless dimension of eternity.
Time counts for us. Not for the deceased.
If we wish to adhere to Orthodox practice,
we should arrange for the priest to conduct a ‘Trisagion’ Memorial Service at
the graveside on exactly the 40th day.
It then does not matter whether the Mnimosino is held at
the church a few days earlier or a few days later.

Myths told about Women
1.] During menstruation, women are not allowed to go to church.
Nonsense. Menstruation is a natural process
established by the perfect wisdom of God.
A woman is not ‘unclean’ during her period.
She certainly can attend Church.

2.] During their period, women must not kiss icons or other sacred objects.
Why not? The woman herself is an icon of God created in His “image and likeness”.
Some Fathers of the Church, however, specify that
during this time the woman should not receive Holy Communion.

Other Myths told
Chain letters should be forwarded according to their contents
in order to win the lotto or for some loved one not to die.
One manifestation of fear is the ambiguity displayed towards chain letters.
Now, if only two of twenty recipients would actually continue a chain letter,
it is estimated that in one year 35,184,372,088,832
(this is thirty five trillion) letters would have been sent across the world.
Obviously, this number far exceeds the population of the planet
(which is approximately 5.3 billion).
The so-called chain letter attributed to Saint Nectarios and
circulated by certain superstitious Christians, is
totally and utterly rejected by the Orthodox Church.

Things like this occur within Orthodoxy quite frequently.
You may be surprised to hear this, but weeping icons, incorrupt saints’ relics,
myrrh streaming from their bodies
[one saint in Greece has this to such a degree
that they had to construct a pipe system underneath his tomb
which ends in a big pool of healing myrrh one floor beneath), and
many other unnatural phenomena are extremely common within Orthodoxy, and
are deffinately no secret.
This, for me, serves as a testiment to God’s Grace within the Orthodox Church,
affirming that we are the Truth.
Did you know that there is a big, supernatural light
that comes out of the tomb of Christ every year on Orthodox Pascha (Easter) at
the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and
that the flame from this light that they light everyone’s candles
with does not burn anything–including skin, hair and clothing–
for the first thirty-three minutes?
Also, it only appears for us canonical Orthodox Christians.
Latins (Catholics), Protestants, Monophysites, and schismatics
who call themselves “Orthodox” are unable to get
the light to come out for them, no matter how much they envoke it.
Just something for you to chew on.

Scripture is clear about superstitions and wives tales,
but they attack the church for a long time.
Well, they don’t really exist in the Church, per se.
It’s more to do with certain members of the Church
not letting go of these things;
but the Church Herself does not prompt nor inspire
this sort of behaviour from Her children.
Thankfully, it seems that as we grow up into a more civilized world and
become integrated in a modern society.
I hope that as the people from the older generations are dying off,
these superstitions seem to be lessening greatly.
Communities has for this reason be open and not closed [nationalistic]
so that scientific and technological advances
organise an open Orthodox View, which can
teach the humanistic [without God] surroundings.

I hope and pray that a lot of readers join our beautiful Faith.
If that is your intention, then be welcome to Orthodoxy!
If you are still undecided, then continue to pray on it
and I here will pray for you as well and
God will guide us to the Truth.

Orthodoxy & Ambition

The time is now, on everything.
Took my heart away from money.
I ain’t interested in fame.
And I pray that never change.
Ambition is priceless.
It’s something that’s in your veins.
And I put that on my name“.
Wale – Ambition Lyric

Western society has undergone changes within the last 40 years with respect to morality.
Many things that were once viewed as being inherently immoral, such as gambling,
fornication (sex outside of marriage), homosexuality, are now viewed as being acceptable, and in some cases, outright laudable.
Many Christian denominations have followed suit by adopting the attitude
that modern Christians should adopt this “New morality” of secularism
lest we be judged by the world as being culturally backward and irrelevant.
I know you do not save man with advice and exhortations from outside.
Nor do you offer him freedom by telling them, “Do whatever you want“.
Wordlessly, like a sun of tender Love and fresh breeze of Courage,
your Love needs to be able to give them health and arouse
within them their personal appetite for Life.

Ambition
Especially the attitude of modern ambition gives me the impression of playing with fire.
It is not inherently negative, in fact it is good to have goals and
to work for those goals with perseverance.
But ambition uses people, destroys relationships, and muddy the waters of communities.
Ambition is intimately coupled with “envy, pride, and perhaps gluttony“.

In our times we are fully embodied creatures
and ambition feeds on our chemistry and biology
and it shapes our natural responses, it  is addictive.
Ambition, although not always clearly recognized and acknowledged as such, creates ‘Chaos’
[Tohuwabohu hebr. תהו־ובהו, tohu-wa-vohu]
in Communities.
Sexual sin, despite the attention rewarded to it, is of less significance if we consider impact on community and pain caused.
The difference in impact is primarily because we recognize sexual sin as sin
– there are consequences.

In contrast we often value and reward the result of ambition.
We brush under the rug or rationalize away its impetus in envy and pride.
This is a spiritual problem and a physical problem.
Scientific developments have impact
on our understanding of human behavior and human response.

Biochemical background
I have been reading in an article about Seven Deadly Sins, “Why does being bad feel so good?” and it described research being done these days to explore the science of sin.
Scientists are using techniques such as  functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] and PET [Positron-Emission Tomography] to map the active areas of the brain as a subject responds to certain stimuli.
Lust is a big one
– Research into brain response connected with lust indicates that (in males at least)
the response is all-encompassing.
All said, the most notable thing about lust is that it sets nearly the whole brain buzzing“.
The signals are unique, distinctive, unmistakable and uncontrollable.
This isn’t surprising.
We know that lust is a problem, we know that behaviour can shape response, that
there is a biological and chemical aspect that shapes not only the present, but the future.
The biochemical response can be addicting and destructive.
The lure of pornography is an excellent case in point.
We could go on here, but this isn’t really the point of today’s question.

Envy
Envy is interesting
– in a study of envy a number of volunteers were observed using fMRI while they read one of three scenarios
– the key one described a student similar to the volunteer, but better in every respect.
The conflict detecting regions of the brain fired and the response was similar to that for pain.
This leads to the suggestion that envy is a kind of social pain.
Later, when reading about this student’s downfall, the reward and pleasure regions of
the volunteer’s brain fired.
Not only this but the greater the pain in reading about the student’s success,
the greater the reward in reading of the student’s downfall.
The reward response is along the same line as that experienced from food – or sex.
It feels good.

Pride
And now the queen of vices – Pride.
Gregory the Great in commenting on Job noted:
For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders is immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste. …
For pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness;
Pride is the beginning of all sin
“.

Does pride show response in brain scans?
The science here is rather interesting.
For most of us, it takes less mental energy to puff ourselves up than to think critically about our own abilities.
… volunteers who imagined themselves winning a prize
or trouncing an opponent showed less activation in brain regions
associated with introspection and self-conscious thought
than people induced to feel negative emotions such as embarrassment.

We accept positive feelings about
ourselves readily,
Joseph S. Takahashi, a Japanese American neurobiologist and geneticist says:
Compared with guilt and embarrassment,
pride might be processed more automatically
”.
In another experiment a part of the brain
could be stimulated to turn off the protective influence of pride.
When this happened
They saw themselves as they really were, without glossing over negative characteristics“.
Even more interesting, the experiments demonstrate that righteous humility,
deliberate self-downgrading, is but arrogance and pride in cover.
The brain activation is the same.
Both are forms of one-ups-man-ship.
‘They are in the same location and seem to serve the same purpose:
putting oneself ahead in society’
“.

What does this mean?
Self-confidence, ambition, pride, envy – this is a slippery slope.
It is insidious – affecting our very make-up inside out.
We are wrong when we cast it “simply” as a battle of wills.
And our capacity for denial, blame-shifting,
and self-deception is also rooted in our make-up.
It is interesting though, because studies also show
that we can train our brains and influence response
– especially true of sins of envy, wrath, and pride.
Feeding ambition, with its corollaries of envy and pride, is like feeding lust.
It changes our very being, our function, our chemistry, our brain paths.
On the other hand intentional pursuit of virtue is also self-re-in-forcing.

So why is it playing with fire?
This reflection leads me though, to an idea that I would like to pose for consideration.
Within the Church we view ambition as a virtue.
We make allowances for ambition, we reward ambition,
we cultivate ambition, we admire ambition, we feed ambition.
The whole community, especially in the west, is puffing up the value of the ‘blacks’,
the priests, the bishop, the Patriarch [Pope].
And this is a serious problem.
In fact, I think it is one of the biggest
and most destructive temptations active in our Church today.
Ambition, accompanied by, and inseparably knotted with, pride and envy,
is the death of the Church.
The communal People of the Western Church are disordered by it,
because they only see the system instead of the original aim [object].

The original Christian ambition
Orthodox Christians must respond
to the moral confusion of our age
by examining the rich spiritual Tradition bequeathed to us in the Church.
Contrary to what many people might think, the answer to this problem is
not an answer that lies in the uniquely Western irreconcilable difference of conservatism verses liberalism;
rather, it has to do with the Church’s understanding and experience of ‘Theosis’ and Beauty.

Theosis
Theosis is the teaching that as human beings we have been created for a life of perfect and unending communion with God, and that this Divine Life
– revealed to us in Christ – is the very dynamic and substance of Salvation itself.
By uniting ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh, we receive the gift [Grace] of the Holy Spirit,
Who in turn, reconciles us to the Father.
Christ was delivered over to death for our sins
and was raised to life for our justification
“.
Rom.4: 25

I am crucified with Christ:
nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lived in me:
and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,
Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.

I do not frustrate the Grace of God: for if righteousness come by the Law,
then Christ is dead in vain
“.
Gal.2: 20,21

Here, in his own person, the apostle Paul describes the spiritual or hidden life of a believer.
The old man is crucified” [Rom.6: 6],
but the new man is living;
sin is mortified, and Grace is quickened.
He has the comforts and the triumphs of Grace;
yet that Grace is not from himself, but from another“.
Believers see themselves living in a state of dependence on Christ.
Hence it is, that though he lives in the flesh, yet he does not live after the flesh.
Those who have true faith, live by that faith;
and faith fastens upon Christ’s giving Himself for us.
He loved me, and gave Himself for me.
As if the apostle said, The Lord saw me fleeing from Him more and more.
Such wickedness, error, and ignorance were in my will and understanding,
that it was not possible for me to be ransomed by any other means
than by such a Price.
Consider well this Price.
Here notice the false faith of many.
And their profession is accordingly;
they have the form of godliness without the power of it.
They think they believe the articles of faith aright, but they are deceived.
For to believe in Christ crucified, is not only to believe that He was crucified,
but also to believe that I am crucified with Him.
And this is to know Christ crucified.
Hence we learn what is the nature of Grace.
God’s Grace cannot stand with man’s merit.
Grace is no Grace unless it is freely given every way.
The more simply the believer relies on Christ for everything,
the more devotedly does he walk before Him in all his ordinances and commandments.
Christ lives and reigns in him, and he lives here on earth by faith in the Son of God,
which works by Love, causes obedience, and changes into His Holy Image.
Thus he neither abuses the Grace of God, nor makes it in vain.

Orthodoxy & Official relations

The woman answered and said,
“I have no husband”.
Jesus said to her,
“You have well said,
‘I have no husband,’… ;
in that you spoke truly”.
Luc.4:  17, 18

View on sexuality
From the Orthodox churches point of view, humans are not sexual creatures in terms of their essential identity.
To Eastern Orthodoxy, the relationship which people have with God is reflected in the love for one another; the union of two people in marriage is considered to be a reflection of our ultimate union with God.
However, as a result of humanity’s rebellion against God [the Fall], humanity has tended to adopt a more animalistic view of sexual activity which is not true to the ultimate transfigurable nature of the human race, having been made in the Divine image and likeness.

Orthodoxy holds that Adam and Eve
did not have sexual intercourse until after the Fall,
and that sexual sin and the Fall are intimately linked [Reproduction must have happened in some way, however, for God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” before the Fall as is stated in Genesis 1: 28].
The Orthodox churches do not hold that sex is inherently sinful, but rather condemn seeing sex as something which can be divorced from the loving act between a married couple.
As Saint Cesarios said, “copulation and birth of children in accordance with the law is free from any sin and condemnation“.

Marriage
One of the Fathers of the Church,
John Chrysostom, in elaborating on the words of Paul of Tarsus states that
because man is prone to strong lustful feelings, and because all men are not strong enough to be celibate, the Church allows the temporary union of marriage as an alternative to sin“.
This is a commentary on 1Cor. 7, which states “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion“.

To some Orthodox, sex and marriage
are both temporary states experienced in this world only.
In Heaven all are equal and our relationship is with God [Matth.22: 30, Marc.12: 25, Luc.20: 35].
Other Orthodox regard marriage as being eternal, that the crowns used in the Orthodox marriage ceremony are received [as the rite states] into Heaven and therefore signify an eternal reality.
Thus, while sexuality in its physical sense may not be continued in Heaven, the bond between a husband and wife is permanent, and celibacy, while an honourable and holy state if done for the sake of the Kingdom, is not by any means the most common path for all Orthodox Christians.
With virginity, marriage is thus also understood as
an ascetical working out of salvation.
As the Bible says,
the “marriage bed is undefiled” [Hebr. 13: 4].
As is seen in the sacramental rites themselves,
marriage is understood as being forever sanctified by Christ’s presence and first miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. John 2: 1-11

The Orthodox view Christian marriage as a primary image in the New Testament of the union of the Church with Christ.
The eschatological fulfillment of all things is in terms of the marriage of the Bride to the Lamb [Revelation 19: 7-9], i.e., the Church to Christ.
“Thus, marriage is a Mystery — Holy, Blessed, and Everlasting in the sight of God
and His Church” [Orthodox Study Bible, pg. 448].
Or, as Father r. Alciviadis C. Calivas writes:
Orthodox theology has always presented Christian marriage as something absolutely unique, and, indeed eternal.
In marriage, human love “is being projected into the Kingdom of God” [John Meyendorff],
reflecting the intimate union between Christ and the faithful which Saint Paul speaks of [Eph. 5].
Married life is a special vocation which requires the grace of the Holy Spirit; and it is this very grace which is conferred in the Marriage Service.

Father John Meyendorff in Byzantine Theology [pp. 196–197] says:
The Byzantine theological, liturgical, and canonical tradition unanimously stresses the absolute uniqueness of Christian marriage, and bases this emphasis upon the teaching of Ephesians 5.
As a sacrament, or Mysterion, marriage reflects the union between Christ and the Church, between Yahweh and Israel, and as such can be only one — an eternal bond, which death itself does not destroy.

In its sacramental nature, marriage transfigures and transcends both fleshly union and contractual legal association: human love is being projected into the eternal Kingdom of God.

Only this basic understanding of Christian marriage can explain the fact that until the tenth century no second marriage, whether of those widowed or of those divorced, was blessed in church. Referring to the custom of “crowning” the bridal pair – a feature of the Byzantine rite of marriage
— a canon attributed to Nicephorus the Confessor [806-815] specifies:
Those who enter a second marriage are not crowned and are not admitted to receive the most pure mysteries for two years; those who enter a third marriage are excommunicated for five years“.
This text, which merely repeats the earlier prescriptions of the canons of Basil, presupposes that second and third marriages of those widowed or divorced can be concluded as civil contracts only.
Actually, since the marriage blessing was normally given at a Eucharist, where the bridal pair received communion, the required temporary excommunication excluded the Church’s participation or blessing in cases when marriage was repeated.

Later Meyendorff also says:
The most striking difference between the Byzantine theology of marriage and its medieval Latin counterpart is that the Byzantines strongly emphasized the unicity of Christian marriage and the eternity of the marriage bond; they never considered that Christian marriage was a legal contract, automatically dissolved by the death of one of the partners….
Guided in its practice by the legal notion of contract, indissoluble as long as both parties were alive, the West seemed to ignore the idea that marriage, if it is a sacrament,
has to be projected as an eternal bond into the Kingdom of God.
Byzantine Theology, pp. 198-199

Homosexuality
The Orthodox Church has been consistent in condemning acts of homosexuality [but not homosexual persons], despite variations
in the conditions for homosexual activity and responses from
various Church leaders and the State.
Continuing a worldview evident from the Old and New Testaments, the Church Fathers consistently condemned homosexual activity, as did the Byzantine state.

Official statements by the Orthodox hierarchy continue to be consistent in terms of the traditional position that homosexual behaviour is sinful and thus damaging to the human person, and that homosexual temptation is a subject for ascetic struggle.
While some Orthodox theologians and jurisdictions have championed the traditional view, they have also engaged in scientific conversation and in dialogue with the increasing number of societies that view homosexuality far differently than at the time of the Byzantine Empire.
After affirming the import and meaning of the Scriptures that address homosexual activity, calling it sin, the Orthodox Church in America offered the following advice at its 10th All-American Council in 1992:
Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings…
Persons struggling with homosexuality who accept the Orthodox faith and strive to fulfill the Orthodox way of life may be communicants of the Church with everyone else who believes and struggles.
Those instructed and counselled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.

Assistance is to be given to those who deal with persons of homosexual orientation in order to help them with their thoughts, feelings and actions in regard to homosexuality.
Such assistance is especially necessary for parents, relatives and friends of persons with homosexual tendencies and feelings. It is certainly necessary for pastors and church workers.

Within the Orthodox churches, there is a minority advocating a change in the view of homosexuality; one such group is Axios.
However, the work of such groups and any blessings they confer are largely ignored by the Orthodox as a whole.

I have always asked myself
why the world has to confront tradition
in calling to make homosexual relations official by Law
– a ‘Marriage‘, instead of a ‘friendships-commitment’.
By taking this formulation the world denies her relation with God, our Lord.

The Biblical Greek term for sin is αμαρτία [amartia] which means missing the mark,
it means that our aim is out and we have not reached our goal, our fullest potential.
As in Western Christianity, in Orthodoxy, the goal is Union with God.
Orthodoxy also understands sin as
a disease of the soul, a condition where
the soul is lacking in God’s Grace.
Union with God, which is made possible through Christ, is the ultimate medicine.
In Orthodoxy, the Mysteries of the Church, also known as sacraments in the West,
are vehicles leading towards union with God.

I wish, nobody loses hope,
even if he reaches the limit with his evil…
The power of repentance is so immense,
to turn us into the whiteness of snow, and the purity of wool,
even if the sin reigned over us and tinted us“.
Saint John Chrysostom

Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee

The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee begins the Lenten Triodion, the liturgical book used in the services of Great Lent. It is the Sunday after the Sunday of Zacchaeus and Sunday before Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This is the pre-Lenten start of the Easter cycle of worship in the Orthodox Church.

The focus this Sunday is on the Gospel
of Lucas 18:10-14, in which two men went
to the Temple to pray.
One was a Pharisee, an externally decent and righteous man of religion, and the other was a publican, a sinful tax-collector who was cheating the people.
Though the Pharisee was genuinely righteous under the Law, he boasted before God and was condemned.
The publican, although he was truly sinful, begged for mercy,
received it, and was justified by God.

On this Sunday in the preparation for Great Lent, Orthodox Christians are to see that they have not the religious piety of the Pharisee, but the repentance of the publican.
They are called to think about themselves, in the light of Christ’s teaching, as they really are and to beg for mercy.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted
“.
Luc.18: 14

Kontakion       Tn 4
Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee!
And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!
Let us cry to our Savior,
Have mercy on us,
Only merciful One!

Do I View Others as Bigger Sinners?
One huge indicator of spiritual health and maturity is when a Christian views his sin as being at least
as great, if not greater, than the sins of others.
The apostle Paul described his own attitude this way: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst“.
1Tim.1: 15
Paul ministered to people out of that deep sense of being a bigger sinner than anyone he was trying to reach with the Gospel.

Spiritual pride leads me to think
that others are bigger sinners than me.
In fact, if that attitude is present in the heart and mind of a believer,
it is impossible to grow spiritually.
The minute I begin to entertain that arrogant attitude, I start to carry myself with an air of superiority toward others.
That “air” is very different than the “breath” of the Holy Spirit inside believers.
He will never lead me to think highly of myself….ever.
It is very natural to become proud of my “righteous efforts” for the Lord.
It is also natural to compare my works and my life of discipleship to that of others.
A mature disciple of Christ does not live according to the natural way of looking at others.
A mature disciple is filled with the Holy Spirit….and therefore, he or she has tons of compassion for anyone caught in sin….and anyone who does not know Christ.
Simply put, mature disciples don’t view others as bigger sinners.

Most of the Pharisees mentioned in the New Testament were not known for their humility. In one instance, “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector‘”. Luc.18: 11
Notice that as he compared himself in his mind with others, he truly thought that his personal righteousness was superior.
That is where he went way off the rails. He was trusting in his personal righteousness….rather than in the righteousness of Christ.

The Pharisee went on to say, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get“.
Luc.18: 12
Those were a couple things which he felt made him superior to others.
How sad. He didn’t get it.
None of us have any righteousness of our own that is even one cut above anyone else.
As long as we concentrate on our own “righteous acts“, we will continue to live in pride and self-deception.

Meanwhile, “the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’“.
Luc.18: 13
Wow….what a difference in attitude.
He did not consider himself worthy before God….and therefore, he didn’t waste his time comparing himself to others.
He was so aware of his own sinfulness that he didn’t fall into the trap which had ensnared the Pharisee.

How aware are you of your own sinfulness….relative to your awareness of the sins of others?
Your spiritual health will depend largely upon whose sin you are looking at….and where you are turning to find the cure for your sinful attitudes and behavior.

Take this quick test. Ask yourself this question.
Who are the biggest sinners?
Your instant response will tell you a lot about your spiritual health. Did your mind go immediately to others….or to yourself?
If it went to others, here is the way to deal with spiritual pride.
Admit it to yourself, and to God.
Confess that sin to the Lord.
Ask Him to forgive you because of the cross of Jesus. He will.
Then ask the Lord to give you a new heart, and a new mind….one that has genuine humility.
Ask Him for it everyday….and then one of these days, ask yourself that question again. Before long, you will hopefully be able to truthfully say what Paul said:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst“.
1Tim.1: 15
That mindset and heartfelt perspective is an essential attribute of a healthy disciple….
and it is a God-given attitude that must be in our hearts before we can be used by God to reach anyone for Christ.
Daan Delzell