Join with Me in the Banquet Room of God and Give Him Thanks

“When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14.15-16)

We are invited to the banquet every day. It is good to enter into the great banquet room of God, the very day He has made. We are invited to rejoice and be glad in this banquet room. While it may not appear to be the banquet room of God’s victory, we do not judge by appearances. We have eyes to see the redemption of all things. It is all the more good and fitting to give thanks to God in concert with the faithful. Join with me at the beginning of each and every day, knowing it to be the banquet room of the Holy One, and take time to extol the greatness of God in our lives.

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Psalm 9.1-2
1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in thee,
I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High.

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O Existing One, Master and Lord; O God, the almighty and adorable Father: it is truly proper, right, and befitting the majesty of Your holiness to praise You, to hymn You, to bless You, to worship You, to give thanks to You, to glorify You, the only God Who truly exists, and to offer You this our rational worship with a contrite heart and in a spirit of humility, for You have granted us the knowledge of Your truth. Who can relate your mighty acts? Or make all Your praises known? Who can tell of all Your miracles at all times? O Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation both visible and invisible, You sit upon the throne of glory and behold the depths. You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, and immutable. You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the great God and Savior, our hope. He is the image of Your goodness, the seal of Your equal likeness. In Himself He is expressing You, the Father. He is the living Word, the true God, the eternal Wisdom, the Life, the Sanctification, the Power, the true Light. Through Him was revealed the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth; the Gift of sonship; the Pledge of future inheritance; the First Fruits of eternal blessing; the life-creating Power; the Fountain of sanctification. Through Him every creature of reason and understanding is empowered, worshipping You and sending up to You the eternal hymn of glory, for all things are subject to You. You are praised by angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, and the many-eyed Cherubim. Around You stand the Seraphim, one with six wings and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly, crying one to another with unceasing voices and ever-resounding praises, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Your glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

With these blessed powers, O loving Master, we sinners also cry aloud and say: You are holy, most holy, and there are no bounds to the majesty of Your holiness. You are holy in all Your works, for with righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. When You created man by taking dust from the earth, honoring him with Your own image, O God, You set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of eternal blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when man disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was misled by the deception of the serpent, he became subject to death through his own transgressions. In Your righteous judgment, O God, You expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ Himself. For You, O good One, did not desert forever Your creature whom You had made. Nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but through the tender compassion of Your mercy, You visited him in various ways: You sent prophets. You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation were well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants, the prophets, who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the law as a help. You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us by Your Son Himself, through Whom You also made the ages. He, being the Radiance of Your glory and the Image of Your person, upholding all things by the word of His power, thought it not robbery to be equal to You, the God and Father. He was God before the ages, yet He appeared on earth and lived among men. Becoming incarnate from a holy virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being conformed to the body of our lowliness, that He might conform us to the image of His glory. For since through a man sin entered the world, and through sin death, so it pleased Your only-begotten Son Who was in the bosom of You, the God and Father, born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, born under the law, to condemn sin in His own flesh, so that those who were dead in Adam might be made alive in Himself – Your Christ. He lived in this world and gave us commandments of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He brought us to knowledge of You, the true God and Father. He obtained us for Himself, to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Having cleansed us in water, and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as a ransom to death, in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending through the Cross into Hades that He might fill all things with Himself, He destroyed the torments of death. And rising on the third day, He made a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible for the Author of Life to be overcome by corruption. So He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the First-born of the dead, that He, Himself, might truly be the first in all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat down at the right hand of Your majesty on high, and He will come to render to each man according to his works. (The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great)

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Psalm 145
1 I will extol thee, my God and King,
and bless thy name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless thee,
and praise thy name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud thy works to another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of thy majesty,
and on thy wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 Men shall proclaim the might of thy terrible acts,
and I will declare thy greatness.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of thy abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O Lord,
and all thy saints shall bless thee!
11 They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom,
and tell of thy power,
12 to make known to the sons of men thy mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of thy kingdom.
13 Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and thy dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to thee,
and thou givest them their food in due season.
16 Thou openest thy hand,
thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desire of all who fear him,
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him;
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

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Christ our God, You are the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. You have fulfilled all the dispensation of the Father. Fill our hearts with joy and gladness always, now and forever… For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from You, the Father of lights. To You we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

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Whose Mercy Is Boundless And Love for Us Is Ineffable

One of the things i love about the “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” and Eastern Orthodoxy is that it does not present God as a wrathful judge Who demands satisfaction and appeasement. No matter where I have made contact with the Divine Liturgy in the context of Orthodoxy, this has been my experience. For that experience, I give great thanks.

Some might say that is not what they encountered or are encountering in Eastern Orthodoxy. I do not doubt that is true. Orthodoxy has its share of brokenness for it too is inhabited by sinners. But then, perhaps, just perhaps, sometimes we find what we expect to find and encounter what we expect to encounter.

The message offered, and which I have consistently encountered “again and again,” that shines forth and touches me, in spite of its brokenness, is the love and mercy of God. Christ Jesus’ sacrificial death is a life-sharing, life-creating, life-giving death not a life-ending death. The death of Christ Jesus is the death bears the fruit of life. That is the meaning of sacrifice, not appeasement or satisfaction.

And here is an important aspect of all of this. The irony. The treasure in earthen vessels – cracked pots. The need and the provision of mercy where judgment, a demand for satisfaction, would normally be the choice. Blessed are the merciful.

As we hear in the Divine Liturgy: “Lord, our God, whose power is beyond compare, and glory is beyond understanding; whose mercy is boundless, and love for us is ineffable; look upon us and upon this holy house in Your compassion. Grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy.”

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6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55.6-7)

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10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33.10-11)

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4 Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. 5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30.4-5)

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger forever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103. 8-12)

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“Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Oh, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the peopleladen with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters (Isaiah 1:4), as princes of Sodom (Isaiah 1:10), and upon the people who have become as the people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10): in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance–just as, after terrible lightning, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord–long-suffering and full of mercy: neither will He keep His anger forever (Psalm 103:9). Only if sinners cease to commit evil, and learn to do good, and turn to God with humility and repentance, will they become white as snow.The Lord is mighty and willing. No one but Him is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin, and by cleansing to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap–no matter how often it is washed and rewashed–it cannot achieve whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor, even with the help of all the means of the Law–until we, at last, bring it to the feet of God, spread out and opened wide, so that the light of God may illumine and whiten it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort. He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, to wring it out by repentance, to press it by the pangs of the conscience, and to clothe it with good deeds. After all of this, He calls us to Him: Come now, says the Lord, and let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). That is, “I will look at you, and I will see if there is Me in you; and you will look upon Me, as in a mirror, and you will see what kind of person you are.”

O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the final wrath of that Dreadful Day.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
Source: The Prologue, August 5th

Silently Together, And It Is More Than Enough

I listened to Handel’s “Messiah” in the car and chanted the Magnificat during Advent. We sang Christmas carols during the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Eve.

But, somehow, as satisfying and wonderful as it was/is, it was/is not enough. There is something more. Something deeper I have known (experienced) and desire to enjoy.

Silent veneration and worship with rapt attention. Being loved and loving from the depths. I need no words, I need You, O Lord. And, you offer me Yourself, silently and completely. I have no words I have only myself to offer, O Lord. I offer this silently and as completely as I can at this moment knowing it will be more as I mature in my love for you and my capacity to know (experience unceasingly) Your love for me.

St. John Chrysostom walked this path “before” me and walks it with me still. Thank you “Golden Tongue” for your companionship and encouragement. The same thank you also to Fr. Phillips Brooks who penned, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

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Strange and wonderful is the mystery I behold. In my ears rings the sound of shepherds, not piping a lonely melody but chanting a heavenly hymn. Angels carol, archangels celebrate with song and dance, the cherubim sing hymns, the seraphim give praise, all of them keeping festival as they contemplate God on earth and our nature in heaven. By divine decree he who dwells on high is now here below; by God’s love those who dwell below are raised on high.

Bethlehem today is like heaven: instead of stars it has welcomed angels praising God. Everyone is leaping for joy, so I too want to leap for joy; I want to dance, I want to join the festival; but as I dance I do not pluck the lyre, nor carry pipes, nor kindle torches. Instead of musical instruments I bear Christ’s swaddling clothes, for they are my hope, my life, my salvation; they are my pipe and my lyre. Carrying them I come that endowed with eloquence by their virtue I may say with the angels, Glory to God in the highest; and with the shepherds, Peace on earth for men on whom his favour rests.

Today he who was inexpressibly begotten by the Father is marvellously brought forth by a virgin for my sake. In his nature he was begotten by the Father before all ages in a manner known only to the One who engendered him; outside his nature he is today brought forth anew in a manner known only to the Holy Spirit’s grace. His birth on high was real; his birth here below is real. He was truly begotten as God from God and he is truly brought forth by the Virgin as man. In heaven he is the Father’s only Son, Unique from the Unique; on earth he is the Virgin’s only Son, unique from her who is also unique.

I know a virgin bore a son today and I believe that God begot a son before time was, but the manner in which this happened I have learned to venerate in silence and I have been taught not inquisitively to inquire by busy reasoning. Where God is concerned we should not regard the order of nature, but believe in the power of the One at work therein. Source: from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ADVENT & CHRISTMASTDE, YEAR 1

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“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
-Phillips Brooks
Source: The Hymnal 1982

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And all of this lived not linearly but by “fits and starts” off in this direction and then off in that direction. And yet, we press on, lean forward, drawn by the End/Beginning into such moments of experienced union. Not more union but more deeply knowing the union that is already. This is the pilgrimage of repentance. Repentance is the way of salvation, which is the Way, Truth, and Life of eternal union.

“Wisdom… Let us be Attentive!”

The Divine Liturgy is designed; first and foremost, I believe, to be “entered into” (experienced) with the heart and the intellect. And, what is more, the relationship of head and heart must be of a particular kind. The head must descend into the heart, there to dwell restfully, perceiving and comprehending all it receives through the heart. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the congregation is exhorted to pay attention in this particular way.

Before the reading of the Gospel, the Church proclaims that the life of Christ Jesus is the very foundation and center of the Scriptures. How does it do this? The celebrant issues an exhortation to pay attention. He is proclaiming that what is about to happen, what is about to be spoken (and hopefully received) is of first importance – the revelation of Christ Jesus for the life of the world! Then he says a prayer asking God to grant all who will hear (and receive) the Gospel proclamation will do so with the intention having what they hear (and receive) to transform their lives and the world in which they live.

Here is what is said by the celebrant and people at that point:

Priest: Wisdom. Arise. Let us be attentive. The Lord be with you.

People:  And also with you.

Priest: Let us pray.

Priest: Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Priest: Peace be with you.

People: And also with you.

Priest: The Holy Gospel of ……..

I was spending time, early this morning, in the Psalms and chose to read Psalm 78, one of the “exodus Psalms” (also one of my favorites). Verses 1-8 leapt off the page in light of the proclamation before the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy. Listen to this!

Psalm 78.1-8

[1] Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
[2] I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
[3] things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
[4] We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders which he has wrought.
[5] He established a testimony in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children;
[6] that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
[7] so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
[8] and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Sounds the same, doesn’t it?! Well, of course it does. The Divine Liturgy is simply the revelation of the whole Scriptural counsel of God in liturgical form. “The Mysteries,” proclaim and consummate the transformative power and wisdom of God in Christ Jesus.

I was using Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalms as my vehicle for moving through Psalm 78. Here is what he says about verses 1-8. Listen for the similarity between what this 19th century evangelical pastor/preacher says about the attitude that all faithful Christians need to have and what the priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church says about the character of our discipleship in the Divine Liturgy.

“’Give ear, O my people, to my law.’ The inspired bars calls on his countrymen to give heed to his patriotic teaching. We naturally expect God’s chosen nation to be first in hearkening to his voice. When God gives his truth a tongue, and sends forth his messengers trained to declare his word with power, it is the least we can do to give them our ears and the earnest obedience of our hearts. Shall God speak, and his children refuse to hear? His teaching has the force of law, let us yield both ear and heart to it. ‘incline your ears to the words of my mouth.’ Give earnest attention, bow your stiff necks, lean forward to catch every syllable. We are at this day, as readers of the sacred records, bound to study them deeply, exploring their meaning, and laboring to practice their teaching. As the officer of an army commences his drill by calling for ‘Attention,’ even so every trained soldier of Christ is called upon to give ear to his words. Men lend their ears to music, how much more then should they listen to the harmonies of the gospel; they sit enthralled in the presence of an orator, how much rather should they yield to the eloquence of heaven.

“Speak Lord, for your servant listens.”

More than enough said and, hopefully, more than enough heard!

Fr. Thomas

Prayer of St. John Chrysostom – According to the Hours of the Day and Night

O Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly blessings;

O Lord, deliver me from eternal torment;

O Lord, if I have sinned in my mind or thought, in word deed, forgive me.

O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart;

O Lord, deliver me from every temptation;

O Lord, enlighten my heart darkened by evil desires;

O Lord, I, being a human being, have sinned; do Thou, being God, forgive me in Thy lovingkindness, for Thou knowest the weakness of my soul.

O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy holy Name;

O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me, Thy servant, in the Book of Life, and grant me a blessed end;

O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me, according to Thy grace, that I may make a start in doing good.

O Lord, sprinkle on my heart the dew of Thy grace;

O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Thy sinful servant, cold of heart and impure, in Thy Kingdom.

O Lord, receive me in repentance;

O Lord, leave me not;

O Lord, save me from temptation;

O Lord, grant me pure thoughts;

O Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death, and the sense of peace;

O Lord, grant me mindfulness to confess my sins;

O Lord, grant me humility, charity, and obedience;

O Lord, grant me tolerance, magnanimity, and gentleness;

O Lord, implant in me the root of all blessings: the fear of Thee in my heart;

O Lord, vouchsafe that I may love Thee with all my heart and soul, and that I may obey in all things Thy will;

O Lord, shield me from evil persons and devils and passions and all other lawless matters;

O Lord, Who knowest Thy creation and that which Thou hast willed for it; may Thy will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for Thou art blessed forevermore. Amen.