Death Unto Life

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).

Why does the sower cast wheat upon the ground? Does he do this so that the wheat will die and rot? No, he does this so that it will live and bear fruit. In sowing the seed, the sower does not think about the death and decay of the seed, but rather about its life and yield. Indeed, with joy does the sower sow his seed, not thinking about the death of the seed, but rather about life and fruitfulness.

The Sower is Christ the Lord and men are His wheat. He was pleased to call us wheat. There are many other types of seed on earth, but nothing is more precious than wheat. Why did the Lord sow us throughout the world? So that we should die and decay? No, rather that we should live and bring forth fruit. He alludes to our death incidently. He alludes to death only as a condition for life and multiple yield. The goal of sowing is not death but life. The seed must first die and decay, and He mentions this only in passing because He knows we are fully aware of it. He only reminds us incidently of this, as His Gospel is primarily a narrative of life–about life and about bringing forth good fruit. He speaks to us a great deal about the latter because He knows we are not aware of it and that we are suffocating from ignorance and doubt. Not only does He speak to us abundantly about life, but He also shows us life. By His Resurrection, He demonstrates to us, more clearly than the sun, life and the multitude of fruit. The entire history of His Church is a clear map of life.

O invincible Lord of Life, save us from a sinful death. Deliver us from spiritual death.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Source: The Prologue, April 9

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Baptism – The Eternal Moment of Deification

The gospel text for Theophany (Epiphany) in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the baptism of Jesus. One might ask, “Why?”

It is important to realize that baptism is the profound Mystery of our salvation and the manifestation of the gospel to the whole world as part-and-parcel of our salvation. Since this is the case, it is important to explore this Mystery and how it is “lived out.” The living out of it is, in fact, our life of discipleship.

In this regard, St. Nicholas Cabasilas (1322 – 1391), a well known theological writer and mystic of the Orthodox Church would be worth reading. His two treatises, Life in Christ and A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, are classics of Eastern sacramental theology.

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“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father… And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1.12-14, 16 RSV)

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“Your love, Yahweh, reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the clouds;
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God,
Your judgments like the mighty deep.

Yahweh, protector of man and beast,
how precious, God, Your love!
Hence the sons of men
take shelter in the shadow of Your wings.

They feast on the bounty of Your house,
You give them drink from Your river of pleasure;
yes, with You is the fountain of life,
by Your Light we see the light.” (Psalm 36 JB)

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That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement. To think of the infinite river that gladdens the city of God being bathed in a poor little stream; of the eternal and unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all men being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world!

He who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of his presence, he who is incomprehensible to the angels and hidden from the sight of man, Hippolytuscame to be baptized because it was his will. And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.

The beloved Father begets love, and the immaterial Light generates light inaccessible. This is he who was called the son of Joseph and in his divine nature is my only Son.

This is my beloved Son. Though hungry himself, he feeds thousands; though weary, he refreshes those who labour. He has no place to lay his head yet he holds all creation in his hand. By his suffering he heals all sufferings; by receiving a blow on the cheek he gives the world its liberty; by being pierced in the side he heals the wound in Adam’s side.

And now, please pay close attention, for I want to return to that fountain of life and contemplate its healing waters as they gush out.

The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world, to come to us men and cleanse us with water and the Spirit. To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility. Now if we become immortal, we shall also be divine; and if we become divine after rebirth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, we shall also be heirs along with Christ, after the resurrection of the dead.

So I cry out, like a herald: Let peoples of every nation come and receive the immortality that flows from baptism. This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise, makes the earth fertile, gives growth to plants, and brings forth living creatures. In short, this is the water by which a man receives new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude and becomes an adopted son. He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun and radiating purity and, above all, he comes as a son of God and a co-heir with Christ.

To him be glory and power, to him and his most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, both now and for ever. Amen.

Excerpted from discourse on the Theophany by pseudo-Hippolytus (170–236)

Participate in His Death to Participate in His Resurrection

From a treatise On the Holy Spirit by Basil the Great

When humankind was estranged by disobedience, God our Saviour made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as children of God by adoption.

To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on that of Christ by being gentle, humble and patient, but we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life. We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless we are born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.

Our descent into hell takes place when we imitate the burial of Christ by our baptism. The bodies of the baptized are in a sense buried in the water as a symbol of their renunciation of the sins of their unregenerate nature. As the Apostle says: ‘The circumcision you have undergone is not an operation performed by human hands, but the complete stripping away of your unregenerate nature. This is the circumcision that Christ gave us, and it is accomplished by our burial with him in baptism.’ Baptism cleanses the soul from the pollution of worldly thoughts and inclinations: ‘You will wash me,’ says the psalmist, ‘and I shall be whiter than snow.’ We receive this saving baptism only once because there was only one death and one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol. Source: Atwell, Robert (2011-09-08). Celebrating the Seasons (Kindle Locations 4293-4311). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Come and See – Go and Tell: All Heaven and Hell Breaks Loose

Hope your Christmas day was amazingly wonderful. But Christmas is not over. In the Holy Tradition offered to us by the Holy Spirit, we are just getting started !!!

Today and the next couple of days are very important. The Church desires to share an essential aspect of the character of the saving message of Christmas.

The following is the fruit of my quiet time this morning. It is my meager articulation, of the point the Church has sought, over the centuries to make, so we do not get the wrong idea about Christmas or the gospel. I say meager because you can find, if you do some “googling” a wealth of reflections by the saints on all of this.

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Christmas – December 25
Feast of the Protomartyr Stephen – December 26 (December 27th in East)
Feast of the Holy Innocents – December 28 (December 29th in East)

That may seem strange…

The story says,

[8] And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
[9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
[10] And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;
[11] for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
[12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
[13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
[14] “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
[15] When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
[16] And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
[17] And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;
[18] and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
[19] But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
[20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2.8-20)

The shepherds:

  • Were told Good News
  • Invited to come and see the verification – experience the truth – of the Good News apparently without subtracting or adding anything (“as it had been told them”)
  • They went and saw
  • They made known the truth that had been told them and their experience
  • Those who heard it wondered
  • The shepherds returned to their previous occupations filled with praise to God

So, “coming and seeing” results in “experiencing” which results in “going and telling.”

Such are the raw materials of witnessing.

Notice the lack of argumentation and debate and the like and the abundance of wonder and pondering and considering deeply.

All seems well. Everyone is happy. Well, not everyone.

Today is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (witness) of the faith. Why the day after the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?!

Juxtaposition. Remember what St. John says,

[4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
[5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
[6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
[7] He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
[8] He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
[9] The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
[10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
[11] He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. (John 1.4-11)

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born to reconcile and reunite what had been alienated and divided.

[18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
[19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
[20] So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
[21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5.18-21)

The Christmas story – narrative witness – is not just one of affirmation. It is one that includes repudiation, rejection, violence. It involves not just birth but death. The fullness of life in the setting in which the Word of God became incarnate testifies to a victory that includes BOTH acceptance and birth, the words of Mary sum up all of them – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1.38); and rejection and death , the words of St. Luke regarding the reaction of those who heard the witness of Stephen sum up all of them – “when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him” (Acts 7.54).

This is the reason today’s feast of St. Stephen is followed, on December 29th, by the feast of the Holy Innocents – the story of Herod’s reaction to the birth of Jesus Christ and the consequences of it.

St. Cyprian speaks of this mysterious juxtaposition,

The Apostle John said: “Whoever says he abides in Christ, ought to walk even as Christ walked” (1Jn 2,6). Moreover, the blessed Apostle Paul exhorts and teaches us, saying: “We are God’s children; but if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him that we may also be glorified together” (Rm 8,16f.)… Let us, beloved brethren, imitate righteous Abel, who initiated martyrdom, he being the first to be slain for righteousness’ sake (Gn 4,8)…; let us imitate the three children Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, who… overcame the king by the power of faith (Dn 3)… What of the prophets whom the Holy Spirit quickened to a foreknowledge of future events? What of the apostles whom the Lord chose? Since these righteous men were slain for righteousness’ sake, have they not taught us also to die?

The nativity of Christ at once witnessed the martyrdom of infants, so that they who were two years old and under were slain for his name’s sake. An age not yet fitted for the battle appeared fit for the crown. That it might be manifest that they who are slain for Christ’s sake are innocent, innocent infancy was put to death for his name’s sake… How grave is the case of a Christian, if he, a servant, is unwilling to suffer when his Master first suffered…! The Son of God suffered that he might make us sons of God, and the son of man will not suffer that he may continue to be a son of God!… The Maker and Lord of the world also warns us, saying: “If the world hate you, remember that it hated me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world… remember the word that I said to you: “The servant is not greater than his lord” (Jn 15,18-20). (Letter 55)

AND, let’s be careful to allow juxtaposition to be an invitation into a life of mystery not an invitation to attempt to solve a contradiction and smooth out the difficult territory (edgy life) into which the “Glad Tidings” of Christmas invite us. To solve it and separate the happy stories from the sad ones would be to oppose the very thing the Incarnation is intended to do, reunite what has been divided and alienated. We have divided the happy and the sad because we cannot conceive what only the eyes of the heart and a heart of love can know and in which it can participate and facilitate; namely that the union of these “opposites” is the key to our salvation (the cross and empty tomb). The angels did say, after all, “I bring you good news of a great joy.” Well, this is the architecture of joy.

The Good News always defies and frustrates our attempts to corral and manage and control it and institutionalize it (the liberal or the conservative versions). It breaks out… The Good News challenges us to lean into juxtaposition not as an example of contradiction but as an example of a new territory in which to live. An new heaven and a new earth in which Mystery is descriptive of what is normal rather than a word we invent for the abnormal or miraculous.

The light shines in the darkness to overcome the darkness. And darkness is dark and does the deeds of darkness.  But, the darkness does not overcome the light. It is overcome by the light. The Mystery of the Incarnation is the Mystery of the recreation of “what is” into a new “what is.” It involves not just Mary and Joseph but Stephen and the Holy Innocents.

The story of the mystery of the Incarnation must include the reaction of evil to it. The joy the angels proclaim to the shepherds and to the world, mysteriously necessitates not just birth but also death. Not just acceptance but the possibility of rejection. The victory of new and abundant life in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ necessitates a life lived in the environment of mystery, wonder, love, and praise which is the messy environment of salvation.

The “In-temple-ment” of God

Luke 19.45-48
[45] And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,  [46] saying to them, “It is written, `My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”  [47] And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him; [48] but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.

John 1.14, 16
[14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father… [16] And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.

I identify in these two passages a similarity articulated in these words:

  • “and he entered the temple”
  • “he we teaching daily in the temple”
  • “the word became flesh and dwelt among us”
  • “full of grace and truth”

The temple is the place where God dwells. It is not made with the hands of human beings. It was and is fashioned by the hands of God. Into that temple God enters (breathes His presence) to dwell forever.

1 Corinthians 6.19
[19] Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; [20] you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

2 Corinthians 6.16
[16] What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

When the passage for today says “He was … daily in the temple” it is not just saying Jesus was able to be seen in the physical temple in Jerusalem. It is saying that Jesus was daily in the temple of God – human existence. He became human and walked daily in the temple of His humanity and ours, teaching. That is to say, offering the Way, Truth, and Life of the restoration of the indwelling of God both among humans and within them.

The saving work of God (power and grace) of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is often called the “atonement.” But, that term is often used be the “preacher” to take the hearer down the road of divine appeasement, satisfaction of the wrath of God, dealing with God’s offended sense of justice, etc. I would like to humbly offer the idea that the saving work of God can be found, most deeply in the faith fact that the Son of God became the Son of Man – the Incarnation. Perhaps that is the subtle implication of the all too misunderstood term “atonement.” Perhaps its true meaning can be found in the idea communicated in the passages previously noted: salvation is choosing the journey of the “re-in-temple-ment” of God in mankind and the whole created order.

Pope Francis reflects on all of this quite wonderfully,

The ancient Temple was built by human hands. There was a wish “to give God a house”, to have a visible sign of his presence among the people. With the Incarnation of the Son of God, Nathan’s prophecy to King David was fulfilled (cf. 2 Sam 7,1-29): it is not the king, it is not we who “give God a house”; rather it is God himself who “builds his house” in order to come and dwell among us, as St John wrote in his Gospel (1,14). Christ is the living Temple of the Father, and Christ himself builds his “spiritual house”: the Church, not made of material stones but rather of “living stones” (1Pt 2,5), which we are.

The Apostle Paul said to the Christians of Ephesus: you are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built… for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (2,20-22). This is a beautiful thing! We are the living stones of God’s building, profoundly united to Christ who is the keystone and also the one that sustains us. What does this mean? It means that we are the temple, we are the living Church, the living temple, and with us when we are together is also the Holy Spirit, who helps us to grow as Church. We are not alone, for we are the People of God: this is the Church!…

God is daily in His temple – you and me – or at least He seeks to be. Actually, even all human being. Are we a house of prayer? That is a question we all must ask, not matter on which side of the baptismal waters we live.

Perhaps baptism is the recapture, cleansing, rededication, and daily opportunity to, with a spirit of thanksgiving, “commune” with God. Perhaps my/our whole life of discipleship is the struggle (with fear and trembling) to live out all of this.

The rekindling of the light in the midst of the darkness.

John 1.4-5
[4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
[5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And, therefore, what is prayer but the conversation of dynamic “at-one-ment,” the converse of love offered, received, and reciprocated.  The shining converse of the light. “In-temple-ment” is for the purpose of prayer not the converse (commerce — giving and receiving) of lesser things. Perhaps that is what Jesus might have been implying: you have chosen to major on the minors or you have chosen to seek first what does not deserve to be sought first. Seek first the kingdom, My “in-temple-ment” and all of the rest of what you need will follow.

Am I “the temple of God” a house of prayer – a location where others can encounter and have converse with God? The temple of God is a/the house to which all can come and into which all who come can enter and encounter the resident God who has “tabernacled” (pitched His tent) within me? Reestablished the at-one-ness of God and man, of God and the whole universe.

Perhaps this is a good thing upon which to meditate as I enter Advent which is the preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation (the “in-temple-ment”) of the Word of God. Perhaps God was given us to repossess and rededicate the temple of God by the Maccabeans a prefiguring of the struggle of our discipleship. The light shines again and forever where there had been an oppressive darkness. The light has vanquished the darkness. Perhaps that is why the readings for today are 2nd Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59 as well as Luke 19.45-48. Perhaps feast of Hanukkah and the feast of the Incarnation (Christmas) deeply inform one another and belong together.

Hmmm….

“What did you see?” — The Referential (Mysterious) Character of All Creation

Chapter 3

8. What did you see? Water, certainly, but not water alone; you saw the deacons ministering there, and the bishop asking questions and hallowing. First of all, the Apostle taught you that those things are not to be considered which we see, but the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 1 Corinthians 5:18 For you read elsewhere: That the invisible things of God, since the creation of the world, are understood through those things which have been made; His eternal power also and Godhead are estimated by His works. Romans 1:20 Wherefore also the Lord Himself says: If you believe not Me, believe at least the works. John 10:38 Believe, then, that the presence of the Godhead is there. Do you believe the working, and not believe the presence? Whence should the working proceed unless the presence went before? […]

15. You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes; that which is not seen is more really seen, for the object of sight is temporal, but that other eternal, which is not apprehended by the eye, but is discerned by the mind and spirit. […]

Chapter 8

[…] 49. Now consider whether the bread of angels be more excellent or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life. That manna came from heaven, this is above the heavens; that was of heaven, this is of the Lord of the heavens; that was liable to corruption, if kept a second day, this is far from all corruption, for whosoever shall taste it holily shall not be able to feel corruption. For them water flowed from the rock, for you Blood flowed from Christ; water satisfied them for a time, the Blood satiates you for eternity. The Jew drinks and thirsts again, you after drinking will be beyond the power of thirsting; that was in a shadow, this is in truth.

49. If that which you so wonder at is but shadow, how great must that be whose very shadow you wonder at. See now what happened in the case of the fathers was shadow: They drank, it is said, of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were done in a figure concerning us. 1 Corinthians 10:4 You recognize now which are the more excellent, for light is better than shadow, truth than a figure, the Body of its Giver than the manna from heaven.

Chapter 9

50. Perhaps you will say, I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ? And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.

51. Moses was holding a rod, he cast it down and it became a serpent. Exodus 4:3-4 Again, he took hold of the tail of the serpent and it returned to the nature of a rod. You see that by virtue of the prophetic office there were two changes, of the nature both of the serpent and of the rod. The streams of Egypt were running with a pure flow of water; of a sudden from the veins of the sources blood began to burst forth, and none could drink of the river. Again, at the prophet’s prayer the blood ceased, and the nature of water returned. The people of the Hebrews were shut in on every side, hemmed in on the one hand by the Egyptians, on the other by the sea; Moses lifted up his rod, the water divided and hardened like walls, and a way for the feet appeared between the waves. Jordan being turned back, returned, contrary to nature, to the source of its stream. Joshua 3:16 Is it not clear that the nature of the waves of the sea and of the river stream was changed? The people of the fathers thirsted, Moses touched the rock, and water flowed out of the rock. Exodus 17:6 Did not grace work a result contrary to nature, so that the rock poured forth water, which by nature it did not contain? Marah was a most bitter stream, so that the thirsting people could not drink. Moses cast wood into the water, and the water lost its bitterness, which grace of a sudden tempered. Exodus 15:25 In the time of Elisha the prophet one of the sons of the prophets lost the head from his axe, which sank. He who had lost the iron asked Elisha, who cast in a piece of wood and the iron swam. This, too, we clearly recognize as having happened contrary to nature, for iron is of heavier nature than water.

52. We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet’s blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created. Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

53. But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

54. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: This is My Body. Matthew 26:26 Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.

55. Christ, then, feeds His Church with these sacraments, by means of which the substance of the soul is strengthened, and seeing the continual progress of her grace, He rightly says to her: How comely are your breasts, my sister, my spouse, how comely they are made by wine, and the smell of your garments is above all spices. A dropping honeycomb are your lips, my spouse, honey and milk are under your tongue, and the smell of your garments is as the smell of Lebanon. A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed. By which He signifies that the mystery ought to remain sealed up with you, that it be not violated by the deeds of an evil life, and pollution of chastity, that it be not made known to thou, for whom it is not fitting, nor by garrulous talkativeness it be spread abroad among unbelievers. Your guardianship of the faith ought therefore to be good, that integrity of life and silence may endure unblemished.

56. For which reason, too, the Church, guarding the depth of the heavenly mysteries, repels the furious storms of wind, and calls to her the sweetness of the grace of spring, and knowing that her garden cannot displease Christ, invites the Bridegroom, saying: Arise, O north wind, and come, thou south; blow upon mAmbrose Of Milany garden, and let my ointments flow down. Let my Brother come down to His garden, and eat the fruit of His trees. For it has good trees and fruitful, which have dipped their roots in the water of the sacred spring, and with fresh growth have shot forth into good fruits, so as now not to be cut with the axe of the prophet, but to abound with the fruitfulness of the Gospel.

57. Lastly, the Lord also, delighted with their fertility, answers: I have entered into My garden, My sister, My spouse; I have gathered My myrrh with My spices, I have eaten My meat with My honey, I have drunk My drink with My milk. Song of Songs 5:1 Understand, you faithful, why He spoke of meat and drink. And there is no doubt that He Himself eats and drinks in us, as you have read that He says that in our persons He is in prison. Matthew 25:36

58. Wherefore, too, the Church, beholding so great grace, exhorts her sons and her friends to come together to the sacraments, saying: Eat, my friends, and drink and be inebriated, my brother. Song of Songs 5:1 What we eat and what we drink the Holy Spirit has elsewhere made plain by the prophet, saying, Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that hopes in Him. In that sacrament is Christ, because it is the Body of Christ, it is therefore not bodily food but spiritual. Whence the Apostle says of its type: Our fathers ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink, 1 Corinthians 10:3 for the Body of God is a spiritual body; the Body of Christ is the Body of the Divine Spirit, for the Spirit is Christ, as we read: The Spirit before our face is Christ the Lord. Lamentations 4:20 And in the Epistle of Peter we read: Christ died for us. 1 Peter 2:21 Lastly, that food strengthens our heart, and that drink makes glad the heart of man, as the prophet has recorded.

59. So, then, having obtained everything, let us know that we are born again, but let us not say, How are we born again? Have we entered a second time into our mother’s womb and been born again? I do not recognize here the course of nature. But here there is no order of nature, where is the excellence of grace. And again, it is not always the course of nature which brings about conception, for we confess that Christ the Lord was conceived of a Virgin, and reject the order of nature. For Mary conceived not of man, but was with child of the Holy Spirit, as Matthew says: She was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 If, then, the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Virgin wrought the conception, and effected the work of generation, surely we must not doubt but that, coming down upon the Font, or upon those who receive Baptism, He effects the reality of the new birth. Source: “On the Mysteries,” Chapters 3, 8, & 9, St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340 – 397)

Life

What does it mean for a human being to “live?”

From the Old Testament:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1.26-28

From the New Testament:

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8.28-30

God fashioned human beings in such a way as to need the indwelling of God’s life to live – “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Therefore, God’s life is the life with which all humanity is designed to be filled. We have no life apart from the indwelling life of God.

There is nothing greater or more desirable than for someone to become like God. There is nothing greater because this exceeds all the laws of nature. There is nothing more desirable because it raises man to the highest degree of ultimate and fullest happiness. All of the other dignities the inhabitants of the earth are able to enjoy – even if they are wonderful and great – still lack the greatest good and impart only partial happiness, and therefore they are not as great and desirable as becoming like God. This dignity is so excellent and grants such perfect happiness that every rational creature is set ablaze with desire and love for it. First of all, when Lucifer was in heaven, he was so consumed with desire for this dignity that he imagined he could exalt his throne above the stars and become like the Most High: I will go up to heaven, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven, I will sit on a lofty mount, … I will be like the Most High (Is. 14.13-14). Secondly, when Adam was on earth, he was overcome by the same desire and wanted to become like God, and so heeded the counsel of the serpent: You will be like gods, knowing good and evil Gen. 3.5). And from Adam onward, many … have attempted over and over again to claim this lofty title for themselves and proclaim … that they are like God. The Orthodox Word, pg. 165-166 [from a discourse entitled “A Discourse in Praise of the Archpriesthood,” by St. Nikodemus of Mount Athos]

As St. Nikodemus articulates it, then, the essence of the fall is the attempt – unsuccessful and tragic – to be who truly are and have “life” in any way that is outside God’s design, no matter how right (reasonable and apparently fruitful) it may sound. We have chosen to attempt to fill ourselves with life other than the life of God. We have chosen to be like God (have the life of God) without having to be filled with God’s life. By Holy Baptism and the participation in the fullness of the Holy Tradition, the living God once again comes to live within us as well as among us as His Body. This is the meaning of God sharing His life with us. It is not God slicing off a part of His life and placing it in you and me. It is the living God permeating all who receive Him with His ONE and only life. Therefore, “my” life is a shared life not an individualistic life (life of my own apart from the life of others). It is not “mine.” Therefore, neither is our life “our” life. It is not “ours.” I/we are united with God and with one another in God’s life, “without separation and without confusion.”

Let us seek to comprehend the radical meaning of God’s gift of human life and live in harmony with it.

Fr. Thomas

Shine Jesus Shine – Shine Church Shine

Two Sundays ago, during the Divine Liturgy, we sang, “Shine Jesus Shine.” I was moved. I began to ruminate. I began to connect the dots. Here is the fruit of my ruminations and “dot connecting” regarding “Shine Jesus Shine” and our singing of it.

During the season of Epiphany (Theophany) we celebrate the “showing forth” of Jesus as “the Christ,” the Son of the Living God,” “the Savior of the world.” He is the Light of Life.

But, it is also the season in which we say our “yes” to the challenge to live out our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection; and become, by grace, all that He is by nature. Will we engage the mandate to be what He is – “the light of the world” for the salvation of the world?

Here is a passage and reflection by St. John Chrysostom that you might like to use. Allow this invitation and mandate to sink deep into the place where you make your decisions at any given moment (especially the ones that are filled with fear, frustration, and/or helplessness). “What am I going to say?” “What am I going to do?” “How then must I live?” “I HAVE A CHOICE.”

“…you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8.9-21)

From The Homilies on Romans of St. John Chrysostom

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. The Spirit you have received does not enslave you and make you afraid. No; you have received the Spirit of sonship so that you cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The baptized know the power of this word, for they are rightly instructed to use it for the first time when they say the Lord’s prayer after their Baptism. You may ask if the Jews did not also call God Father, if Moses did not say, You forsook the God who was your Father and if Malachi did not remind those he was reproaching that they all had one Father and were created by one God. But despite these and many similar texts, we never find them actually addressing God thus in prayer.

Yet this is how we, both priests and lay people, both rulers and subjects, are all commanded to pray. Our Father is the first word we speak after our marvellous rebirth in Baptism. We have been taught that as the Spirit gives the wisdom that enlightens the foolish, the power by which weak human beings have raised the dead and cast out devils, the gifts of healing, of prophecy and of tongues, so also the Spirit makes us sons of God. And just as we recognize the Spirit’s gift of prophecy from the fact that those possessing it foretell the future, speaking not from their own knowledge but under the inspiration of grace, so also we recognize the Spirit’s gift that makes us God’s sons from the fact that he inspires whoever receives it to call God ‘Father’. In his desire to make us realize that we really are sons of God, Paul made use of a Hebrew word. He said not only ‘Father’, but ‘Abba, Father’, which is the word used in addressing a father by one who is in actual fact his son.

Then, after speaking of what we gain from our new way of life with its gift of grace and freedom, he shows in still another way the dignity of divine adoption. He says: The Spirit of God joins with our spirit to declare that we are sons of God. But if we are sons we are also heirs, heirs of God. And we are not only heirs but something even greater: we are coheirs with Christ. See how he strives to bring us close to the Lord! Since not all sons are heirs, he declares that we are both sons and heirs. And since not all heirs have a very great inheritance, he shows the greatness of ours by saying that we are heirs of God. If it is an inexpressible grace to be a son of God, think what it means to be also an heir! And if this is something great, how much greater it is to be a coheir with God’s only Son!

Then, to show that grace is not the only factor upon which this gift depends and at the same time to make his words more credible, he continues: provided we suffer with Christ, in order that we may also be glorified with him. In other words, if we share with him in what is painful, much more shall we share in what is blissful. Since God bestowed such great blessings upon those who had no good deeds to their credit, when he sees that they have endured trials and much suffering he can hardly fail to repay them with even greater blessings. — St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 14.3 (Bareille 16:36-8); Word in Season V.

It is in the intense “moment of choice” that we either participate (suffer with Him so we may reign with Him) or opt out of the gospel challenge and promise one more time. Our participation requires that we “cry out boldly” for the strength we need to walk in the light and become one with the light by grace so He may shine forth through us. I have a choice.

In those moments, God supplies the grace to meet our need. As Paul says,

“Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedo’nia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except you only; for even in Thessaloni’ca you sent me help once and again. Not that I seek the gift; but I seek the fruit which increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphrodi’tus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4.11-20)

Choose this day… Today is day of salvation.

Fr. Thomas

Baptismo – The Way, The Truth, and The Life

A wonderful reflection, by Barbara Livingston, can be found here. Read it before you read the following…

I would like to reflect on Barbara’s (and Bill’s) reflection.

Embrace, embrace, embrace…  Immerse, immerse, immerse… Be in the present totally – immersion – crushed to (as regards) death by death and expanded to Life (animated and filled)by resurrection in Christ Jesus. With much vigilance, constancy, and focus I/we fight the inner battle against avoidance of the truth; delusional thinking, and enslavement to our passions (death-dealing tendencies that control me/us). St. Cyril says in his Catechetical Lectures that one of the fruits of baptism is continual identification (really not figuratively) with Christ Jesus in His dying.

Yes, yes, yes… But, but, but …

My/our tendency is to escape from the truth of the present, which is full union with Christ Jesus, and flee to the past or the future or reshape the present into something it isn’t.

The fruit of the discipline you mention in Hebrews21.1 is shared with us in verse 11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Finally, over time (for it does, as you remind us, in concert with all the saints TAKE TIME), the mind is purified and descends into the heart there to abide in peaceful union (intimacy) with the Savior.

The present is the ONLY place of joy. The present is the ONLY place where I/we can participate in the life of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Union with God is possible and real ONLY in the present… Why? Because, as you so aptly put it, that is where I/we are… We are NOT in the past or the future or the fantasy/illusion about our self-strength or unfulfilled dreams about what “should have been”. We are here and now. It is here and now that the fullness of God’s mercy/grace is present and available to me/us for practical/real (not theoretical) transformation.

The ruthlessly trusting embrace of The Present One (otherwise known as “I AM” [not the tense] and as God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at work) in fullness “just as I am” is the doorway into greater and deeper “intimacy” (functional union) with the Lord.

The fragrance of salvation is, therefore, the fragrance of embracing the crushing joy of the present with trust. We are myrrh in the crushing/raising hands of the Living God. Let me quote from an article by Rebecca Totilo in which she outlines the significance of myrrh and crushing:

The Hebrew word for Myrrh is Mowr which means distilled and comes from the root word Marar which means bitterness.

During the Messiah’s final agonizing hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, the weight of the world’s sins crushed our Savior like a wine press, causing Him to sweat great tears of blood. His bitter sufferings can be compared to Myrrh, a highly-prized spice used for perfumes and incense, extracted by piercing the tree’s heartwood and allowing the gum to trickle out and harden into bitter, aromatic red droplets called, “tears.” When the myrrh flows from the tree, it is distilled in bitterness.

As joint heirs with the Messiah, we are to share in His afflictions according to 2 Corinthians 1:5, so that His bride can be triumphant through the bitterness of suffering. Myrrh represents the bitter sufferings of Yeshua as a man on earth, whereby He learned obedience unto death by emptying himself of His own will (Hebrews 5:8, Philippians 2:7-8).1

Baptismo / Immersion – it is a fearful thing to fall (intentionally commend ourselves into) the hands of the living God!! But the fearful thing is the ONLY THING – the ONLY WAY, TRUTH AND LIFE – offered to us by Christ Jesus. Be crushed in the hands of God and be infused with the Life of God. His life becomes your life as you “expand” in Him and are filled by Him and live in Him and He in you.

Thanks Barbara and William…

The Lord bless us all in our dying and rising our baptismo our immersion unto life in the present to “The Present One”.

Fr. Thomas

1) http://searchwarp.com/swa478654-Spiritual-Significance-Of-Myrrh-In-The-Bible.htm