Monthly Archives: June 2015

St. Peter and St. Paul – Commemorated on June 29th

peter_and_paulThe Apostles’ Fast (the Ss. Peter and Paul fast) ends on June 29th, so it is worthwhile to take a look at Ss. Peter and Paul.
After a teaching and preaching trip, Jesus and his disciples were alone in Ceasarea Philippi and Jesus wants to know what the apostles think of him, so he asks the group in general what other people think of Him. They answer “Some say John the Baptist. Some Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. So this is the general belief. However Jesus asks “But who do you say I am?” St. Peter answers for the group saying “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Our Lord then says “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah [i.e., Peter] and I say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” This is a play on words. The name Peter is basically the same as the Greek word petros, or stone.
When Roman Catholics read this passage they say that the rock is Peter himself and his successors, the popes. However, most of the church Fathers say the rock is St. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. As Orthodox we agree that St. Peter was the head of the apostles and had a certain primacy. However, St. Peter did not rule over the other apostles, but was, so to speak, their spokesman. In the same way we would say that in a united Church the Pope would have primacy but as the first among equals, and not absolute ruler. This is one of the differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
In regard to St. Paul, we should know that St. Paul, then known as Saul, had been a student of one of the most important rabbis of his time. This means that Saul was a Pharisee, a member of that group of Jews who obeyed the Jewish law in the strictest way. In other words, Saul took his religion seriously, so much so that he even persecuted the early Church until Christ appeared to him in a unique revelation so that St. Paul (his name changed when he was baptized) realized that Jesus Christ was the Messiah that he, as a Pharisee, was awaiting and that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Jewish Law.
Both St. Peter and St. Paul were highly active in spreading the early church and we can learn about their activities in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles they wrote.

Troparion — Tone 4

First-enthroned of the apostles, teachers of the universe: Entreat the Master of all to grant peace to the world, and to our souls great mercy!

Kontakion — Tone 2

O Lord, Thou hast taken up to eternal rest and to the enjoyment of Thy blessings the two divinely-inspired preachers, the leaders of the Apostles, for Thou hast accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, for Thou alone knowest what lies in the hearts of men.

Fr. John

Never a Deserter

nativityofjohn-1On June 24th the Church celebrates the Nativity of John the Baptist.
John grew up to be more than an energetic servant of God, preaching and baptizing. He also attracted numerous followers with his strong faith and absolute integrity. He fearlessly challenged people to “bear fruits of repentance” and he had a message for each person. He told tax collectors to take no more than the prescribed amount of revenue. Soldiers were admonished to be satisfied with their pay and never extort money through threats or false accusations.
But despite his ability to draw loyal crowds to himself and effectively challenge their behavior, John was a profoundly humble man. When he recognized Jesus Christ as the Savior, he didn’t hesitate to withdraw and say, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” He was astonished, but obedient, when Jesus requested baptism in the Jordan at his hands.
During this week when we celebrate John’s birth, we read Chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel. It contains Jesus’ words about John: “…among those born of woman no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”
The chapter begins with John in prison. He sends word to Jesus to ask, “Are you the One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” It seems a strange question, coming from John. Having done so much and given up so much to prepare the world for the Messiah, is he still unsure that Jesus is the One? Must he die at Herod’s hands without certainty?
Jesus’ answer at first seems merely a statement of the obvious. He tells the inquirers to share with John what they “hear and see”—His healings and the good news He brings to the poor.
But there is deep significance in Jesus’ response. He describes the things He is doing in words that reflect Isaiah’s description of the coming Savior (Isaiah 35:5, 26:19, 29:18 and 42:7). He is assuring John, who is intimately familiar with Isaiah’s words, that He is their fulfillment.
Then Jesus adds a word of encouragement: “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at Me.” The phrase “take offense” can also be translated as “fall away” or “desert.” Jesus is telling John not to lose heart; since he has not fallen away or deserted Jesus, as even the disciples of Jesus will, he is blessed.
In the same chapter, Jesus describes people who have fallen away and deserted. They weren’t satisfied with John who “came neither eating nor drinking,” nor with Jesus who came “eating and drinking” and who could therefore be rejected as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Kontakion – Tone 3

Today the formerly barren woman gives birth to Christ’s Forerunner, who is the fulfillment of every prophecy; for in the Jordan, when he laid his hand on the One foretold by the prophets, he was revealed as Prophet, Herald, and Forerunner of God the Word.

People still find fault with Jesus and those who serve Him, and use their fault-finding as an excuse to desert Him. But John the Baptist, despite being required to give his life, didn’t fall away or desert the Lord. And despite the firm way Jesus describes fault-finding “deserters” in Matthew 11, the chapter ends with His wonderful invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org

Saint Alban the Protomartyr of Britain (3rd C. AD)

StAlbansCathedral-PS02We are Eastern Orthodox Christians. The countries that compose the Eastern Orthodox world  have been (up until recently) the countries of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire and as we know, there has been a schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western churches for roughly a thousand years. However, this means that the church was, more or less, one for the first thousand years and many, if not most, of the saints of the first millennium are common to both churches.
The Christian East rather forgot many of the western saints of the first thousand years, and the church only began to remember them as Orthodox Christians began to move to the Western Europe, especially as Russian Orthodox Christians fled the communists. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, when he was bishop in Western Europe, strongly encouraged the veneration of the pre-schism Western saints. He wrote
“Never, never, never let anyone tell you that in order to be Orthodox you must also be Eastern. The West was Orthodox for a thousand years and her venerable liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”
In light of that, on June 22nd we commemorate Saint Alban, Protomartyr of Britain. AlthoughSt. Alban Abbey Cathedral 1 legend tells of St. Joseph of Arimathea bringing Christianity to Britain after Christ’s resurrection and building Britain’s first church in Glastonbury, or that Saint Aristobulus was the first bishop in England, these stories are beyond historical verification. We are on firmer ground with St. Alban. He was a Roman-Britain who lived towards the end of the third century. He was not a Christian, but when the Roman government began to persecute Christians in Britain, a priest took shelter in St. Alban’s home. St. Alban was so impressed by the courage and faithShrine-of-st-alban of the priest, he asked to be baptized. The priest changed clothes with Saint Alban and fled. When the Romans went to St. Alban’s house they saw that he was dressed as a priest, so they arrested him. When the judge found out about the switch he got angry and threatened St. Alban with death unless he renounced Christianity. St. Alban refused and was tortured and executed. St. Alban was venerated soon as a martyr and his relics were placed in what later became St. Alban’s Abbey. His relics disappeared during the English Reformation.
He is a saint of the Western and Eastern Churches and reminds us that Orthodoxy is not a religion for only certain nations or regions, but is meant for all humanity.

Troparion — Tone 4

In his struggle your holy martyr Alban, gained the crown of life, O Christ our God. For strengthened by you and in purity of heart, he spoke boldly before the judges of this world, offering up his head for you, the Judge of all!

Fr. John

Chariots and Horses

elisha-1June 14 is the feast day of Elisha, a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Elisha was the son of a farmer, called to his vocation while he was plowing a field “with twelve yoke of oxen before him” (I KIngs 19: 19). Elijah, the senior prophet who has been told by God to seek him out, casts his mantle on Elisha, who runs after him and promises to follow him once he has kissed his parents goodbye.
The casting of the mantle is a kind of anointing, and Elisha will be with his mentor until the day when Elijah says to him, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you” (II Kings 2: 9). Elisha makes a bold request: “I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
hen the two are separated by a “chariot of fire and horses of fire.” Elijah ascends, in a whirlwind, into the heavens. Elisha cries out, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
One of the many miracles Elisha does after this reveals the importance of the words “chariots and horses.” The Syrian army has come by night and surrounded the Israelites with “horses and chariots and a great army.” Elisha’s terrified servant asks, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”
Elisha’s answer at first glance seems strange: “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those are with them.” He prays that God will open the servant’s eyes so he may see for himself what the answer means. The Lord does open the young man’s eyes, and he sees that “behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (II Kings 6: 17b).
As Elisha is dying, Joash the king of Israel weeps and cries out to him, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” These words, the same ones Elisha said to Elijah, indicate the strength and power given by God to His prophets. They are greater than any earthly power, as Elisha’s young servant saw with his own eyes. They will preserve the people of Israel as long as the people listen to their prophets. When they don’t, they will be undone. Even mighty Solomon, with his silver, gold, myrrh, spices, slaves and “fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen,” (I KIngs 10: 26) loses everything when he ignores a warning prophecy and turns away from God.

Troparion – Tone 4

An angel in the flesh and the cornerstone of the prophets,
the second forerunner of the coming of Christ,
Glorious Elijah sent grace from on high to Elisha,
to dispel diseases and to cleanse lepers.
Therefore, he pours forth healings on those who honor him.

We remember this every Holy Saturday when we read that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea while Pharaoh’s horses and chariots were drowned. We sing with Miriam, “The horse and rider He has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15: 21). We can cross any sea, no matter how daunting, because He is with us as He was with the people and the prophets to whom He sent his “horses and chariots of fire.”

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org

The Sexual Revolution

Icon Augustine of Hippo (504x640)Those of us who grew up or lived through the nineteen-sixties remember that it was during that time that the “sexual revolution” allegedly took place. According to this idea, prior to the sixties most people lived in accordance with the norms of the Bible and the church in their sexual lives, and in the sixties this supposedly changed.
However, this is a historically short-sighted view. To think of the whole world as being sexually repressed until the “summer of love” is simply false. One of the corollaries of this point of view is that it is now harder than ever before to live according to the sexual norms of the church. However, to take another point of view, the Roman empire, especially the later Roman empire, was a linguistically, religiously, ethnically and of course, sexually diverse time and place. It is not exaggeration to say that the sexual behavior of that time might even shock a modern person.
It is into this empire that the Blessed Augustine (Saint Augustine, 354-430 AD) was born into a Christian family. His mother was a devout Christian and also a saint. Augustine’s father was baptized on his deathbed. Although raised as a Christian by his mother, he was not baptized until later in life. In those days many people postponed their baptism because it was considered a life-changing event. Augustine was born in North Africa and studied rhetoric there and in Rome and eventually became a Latin teacher in Rome and then Milan. He was on a religious quest and after leaving behind his mother’s faith tried different forms of religion and philosophy. He was also a sexually active, lustful man. Even as he was moving closer to becoming a Christian he prayed “Make me chaste, O Lord, but not yet.” and he struggled with his sexual desires.
After his conversion and baptism he wrote the book “The Confessions”. This details his life from childhood on. The nature of sin and temptation are described with an insight that is as modern as anything written today. If one wants to read an account of the struggle against sin, this book is ideal.
Saint Augustine wrote many important theological books studied even today, and died as a bishop in North Africa. Many Orthodox will criticize some of Augustine’s theological positions, especially in regard to the Holy Spirit and grace, but he never wanted to disagree with the church and he is a saint commemorated in the Orthodox liturgical calendar.

Troparion Tone 4

Today the whole inhabited world rejoices and radiantly celebrates thy memory, thou who hast trampled down heresy and confirmed Orthodoxy, and who hast given drink to the hearts of the faithful with the river of thy words, O servant of the Most Holy Trinity and inextinguishable lamp of the Church, O holy hierarch Augustine, entreat Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion Tone 2

Holy Hierarch and theologian, boast of the Church of Christ, instructor of piety and confirmation of the Orthodox faith, uprooter of heresies, treasury of mystical teachings;
blessed Father Augustine, most wondrous hierarch, ever pray for us all.

Fr. John