Monthly Archives: July 2015

Letting Go of Keeping Score

kallinikosThe Gospel reading for July 29 is Matthew 20: 1-16, the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.
This parable can have several layers of meaning. It has been seen, for example, as a description of the various times in life, represented by the hours of the day it mentions, at which people might come to know God. Some have faith from their early youth, some find it in adulthood, and some discover it when they reach old age.
We can also look at the parable as Christ’s direct challenge to us and to our attitude toward other people. In verses preceding the parable (19: 27), Peter has asked the Lord: “Lo, we have left everything and followed You. What then shall we have?” Jesus answers that everyone who has left anything for His sake will have it restored a hundredfold. He adds, “But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The parable follows.
Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a householder who hires laborers to work in his vineyard early in the day, offering to pay one denarius to each. A few hours later, he hires more workers and tells them they will receive “whatever is right.” He does the same with other groups of workers as the day goes on.
When the day ends, the householder’s steward pays the laborers, beginning with those who started at the latest hour. They each receive a denarius. Seeing this, those who started at the earliest hour protest: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us…”
The householder reminds them they have received the agreed-upon wage. He adds, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (This last sentence is also translated, “Or is your eye evil because I am good?”) Then again comes the statement, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
The question is there to consider: “Do you begrudge My generosity?” To begrudge is to keep score, to resent the fact that someone we consider less deserving gets as much as we do. The parable calls us to give up keeping score.
On this day we remember a saint who didn’t keep score. The martyr Callinicus was a Christian native of Cilicia, in Asia Minor, who was arrested for refusing to worship idols. The pagan governor saw that people admired Callinicus’ courage, so he exiled him, not wishing to risk the crowd’s anger by executing him.
The soldiers guarding Callinicus on the arduous journey into exile became overwhelmed with thirst. He might have let these pagan servants of a pagan governor suffer, considering them unworthy of the mercy of his God. Instead he prayed, and God sent water trickling from a rock to refresh them.

Kontakion – Tone 2

You worthily inherited joy on high, Callinicus, for aflame with love for Christ you bravely endured the fire. As you stand before Him, never cease to intercede for us all.

Callinicus didn’t begrudge God’s kindness, and perhaps that day some pagan soldiers saw for the first time what the true God is like. Perhaps they also saw that a Christian, even when life seems unfair, doesn’t keep score.

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The Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils

If someone asked a Roman Catholic who is the ultimate authority in the church, in other words, who guarantees that the doctrines of the church are true, the answer would be the Pope, usually together with the bishops, but occasionally alone is infallible.
If one asked a Protestant, the answer would be that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority, interpreted as best as one can. How would we as Orthodox answer this question? Some would say that the bishops, meeting in council, are “infallible.” Today we are commemorating the Fathers of the first six ecumenical councils, and we certainly believe that what they taught is true and the authoritative source of Orthodox belief.
However, we should not say that councils are ipso facto infallible because there have been councils of bishops which thought they were ecumenical councils but who actually taught heresy.
So what is the ultimate source of truth for us as Orthodox? We would say that it is the teaching of the councils which have been “received” by the church. Now this does not mean that after the bishops define some truth at a council everybody else gets to vote, as in a one person, one vote system. Rather, the writing of the theologians, (monastics, clerical or lay), the use of the council’s decisions in the liturgy of the church and in icons, the veneration of the council fathers as saints and so on show that council’s teaching have been received by the church. Now this is a ‘messy’ process, compared to the “infallible” teaching of the Pope or the inerrancy of the Bible. But it is in this way that the teachings of the councils have been accepted by the church. Jesus Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to the church after he, Jesus, ascended into heaven and it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church guiding the church into all truth. If we want to use the word infallible we say that the whole church, the people of God, is infallible.

Troparion — Tone 8

You are most glorious, O Christ our God! You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth! Through them you have guided us to the true faith! O greatly Compassionate One, glory to You!

Kontakion — Tone 8

The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines have established one faith for the Church. Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology, It defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy!

Fr. John

Christlike Love

seraphimDuring the week of July 19, the Church remembers two saints who showed deep love for Christ by doing things that go far beyond what most people would be willing to do.
The first is Saint Seraphim of Sarov. On July 19 the Church celebrates the transfer of his relics from his original place of burial to the Church of Sts. Zosimus and Sabbatius, and then to the Dormition Cathedral in Sarov. Over 200,000 people paid their respects to the beloved saint, and many healings took place during the procession with his relics.
We know many things about Saint Seraphim, including his wonder-working and his gentle companionship with wild animals. But one of the most unusual things we know is the story of what caused him to walk hunched over during the later years of his life.
Saint Seraphim was working in his garden when he was attacked by robbers. Rather than defend himself or use his heavy garden tools to fight them off, he allowed them to beat him badly. It was after that incident that his injured back was permanently bent and affected his walk.
For most people, the idea of not even trying to defend ourselves from an unjust attack is unthinkable. But Saint Seraphim’s Christlike love for God’s creatures made him unwilling to harm any of them, no matter what the circumstances.
Saint John Chrysostom comments on a similar episode, when companions of Saint Paul didn’t fight back against attackers: “For to endure when insulted is God’s part: to be merely abusive, is the part of the devil…to them that beat us, let us return blow for blow, by meekness, by silence, by long-suffering…”
The second saint, commemorated on July 21, is the Venerable Simeon of Edessa, Fool-for-Christ. Like Saint Seraphim, though in a different way, he showed Christlike love that would be difficult for most people to manage. He called people to repentance by feigning madness. He would bound around crazily in the streets and approach people, whispering their sins in their ears and urging them to repent. Sometimes he appeared in dreams and reminded the dreamers to repent. To do this, of course, he had to have insight into people’s deepest secrets, which he did.
Commenting on Saint Simeon in “The Prologue from Ochrid,” Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes about Lycerges, the king of Sparta, who set down strict laws and got his citizens to promise to obey them while he was away for a protracted period of time. Having secured their agreement he left, and never returned, thus “binding them to their oath forever.”

simeon-parthenios-johnthenew Kontakion – Tone 2
Let us praise with fervent love, This man who lived in the flesh as an angel,
Adorning his soul with the most radiant virtues! Simeon, the equal to the Apostles and the Bearer of God. Together with him, let us honor his companion John, For they both ever stand before God, interceding for us all!

Lycerges’ willingness to leave his country forever was a sacrifice for the good of the Spartan people, Bishop Nikolai writes: “But how much greater a sacrifice it is voluntarily to leave one’s mind and always to appear before men as mad! Is not madness the greatest banishment known to man? And to live year after year in that state, and all in order to be of help to one’s neighbour!”

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at

Giving the Best They Had

nikodemus-aquilas-justusOn July 14 we remember two saints, one who lived during the first years of the Christian Church and the other who lived just a few hundred years ago. They are the apostle Aquila from among the Seventy, and Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite.
Aquila and his wife Priscilla, were friends and co-workers of Saint Paul. All three were born into Judaism, became Christians, and taught the faith to others.
In Romans 16:3 Paul writes that Aquila and Priscilla “risked their own necks for my life.” It isn’t clear what he is specifically referring to, but obviously the couple acted bravely at some time when their courage saved Paul’s life.
Paul then writes that not only he, but “all the churches of the Gentiles” are thankful to the pair, who offered their home for Christians to meet in. This was another way in which Aquila and Priscilla gave the best they had so that the Church could flourish and its great leaders could continue to teach. According to tradition, Aquila gave his very life, killed by jealous pagans.
Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite (which means “of the Holy Mountain,” referring to Mount Athos) was born in 1748. He became a monastic on that mountain when he was twenty-six. For the rest of his life, he would work at writing and editing some of the most important books and texts we have in the Church. He prepared himself well for this work, using his prodigious memory to learn by heart the Scriptures and many writings of the Fathers, and bringing his knowledge of Greek to a level of near perfection.
The work began when he was assigned, along with Saint Macarius of Corinth, to edit a manuscript of the “Philokalia,” a collection of spiritual writings of Fathers from the fourth to fifteenth centuries. The two monks chose the contents of the book based on their availability. They included pieces that had never been published and were not accessible anywhere else. Some pieces had appeared in other publications, but these were worm-eaten, crumbling texts that were nearly impossible to read.
Saint Nicodemus’ preface to the “Philokalia” emphasizes that the book is meant to inspire all Christians, not just monastics. He was always eager to share good Christian teaching from any source. For example, he produced an edition of “Unseen Warfare” by Father Lorenzo Scupoli, a Roman Catholic.
During the remaining years of his life Saint Nectarios continued to work intensity. He wrote hymns, a book on Christian morality, a manual for confession and accounts of the lives of saints. He produced a new edition of the “Rudder” and translated a three-volume work on the Pauline epistles by Saint Theophylact.


Troparion – Tone 1

As a disciple and companion of Paul you received in your soul the grace of preaching. You shone in the night of error and struggled for the Lord’s glory. Sacred minister of the Savior,
Aquila, we all acclaim you.

Exhausted and ill, he died at the age of sixty, having given the best of his great learning and energy to the service of the Church. He left encouraging words for every Christian: “…the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart, illumines and deifies him.”

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Parables of Patience

jcsower11The Gospel readings for the week of July 5th include Matthew 13: 10-43.
These verses come after Jesus has just told the crowd the Parable of the Sower. It describes various kinds of ground, and the seeds that fall on the ground as the sower works. Some seeds die because they are scorched by the sun or choked by thorns, eaten by birds or withered in soil that isn’t deep enough to sustain them. But the seeds that fall on good soil bring forth abundant grain.
In verse 10, the disciples ask Jesus why He speaks to the people in parables. He answers: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'” His words are close to the message the prophet Isaiah is commanded to give the people (Isaiah 6: 9-10).
Commentators on this passage note that the Lord’s words have different meanings for different kinds of people. Those who are willing to hear and spiritually sensitive will gain understanding. But those who are hard-hearted, who are unwilling and spiritually insensitive, will only hear a story. They won’t heap up condemnation on themselves by rejecting the message Christ is giving in the parable. So Christ makes His point in this way as an act of mercy toward those who do not want to hear Him. They are represented, in the parable, as the seeds that fall “by the wayside” as the King James Version has it.
The following verses include the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven (or Yeast). Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias writes in his book “The Parables of Jesus” that the words of these parables are often mistranslated. Jesus is not saying that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, or like yeast that a woman mixes with flour. He is saying that it is the same way with the Kingdom that it is with a mustard seed or a morsel of yeast. Jeremias writes that the meaning of both parables is that “out of the most insignificant beginnings, invisible to [the] human eye, God creates His mighty Kingdom, which embraces all the peoples of the world.”
Jeremias goes on to say that with these words about the mustard seed and yeast, Jesus is actually talking about His disciples, who will spread the Gospel and build up the Kingdom. He knows that doubtful people are asking whether this “wretched band, comprising so many disreputable characters” can actually “be the wedding-guests of God’s redeemed community.” Jesus’ answer is that the Father will “cause My small band to swell into the mighty host of the people of God in the Messianic Age, embracing the Gentiles.”
But to see this miracle, a person must be patient. The miracle only happens over time, just as a small, frail seed can grow into a lush plant only with time and with patient, unhurried tending by the sower.
To us, who read and listen to these words, Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

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