Strong medicine

VI Pascha Wednesday, the Leavetaking of Pascha – John 12: 36-47

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The Lord said to the Jews that came to Him:  While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

What does it mean, that God blinded the eyes of those who rejected Him, that they should not be healed?  (Verse 40).  We know that God is not the author of evil; He wills and does only what is good.   What, then, can this expression mean?    St. John Chrysostom uses the image of the sun blinding the eyes of men to explain this:  

For as the sun dazzles the eyes of the weak, not by reason of its proper nature, so it is with those who give not heed to the words of God.   Thus, in the case of Pharaoh, He is said to have hardened his heart, and so it is with those who are at all contentious against the words of God.  This is a peculiar mode of speech in Scripture, as also [when it is written that] “He gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Romans 1: 28)…that is, allowed, permitted them to go.  For, when we are abandoned by God, we are given up to the devil, and when so given up, we suffer ten thousand dreadful things.  – Homily 68 on John 

By saying “…not by reason of its proper nature,” St. Chrysostom means that the sun’s proper nature is to give light and warmth to man, but because of the weakness of our fallen bodies, sometimes the sun harms us, though through no fault of its innate properties.  God is entirely love, but we experience His love as wrath and condemnation when we choose to harden our hearts against Him.   He is entirely goodness, but we experience His goodness as physical and psychological evils, the “ten thousand dreadful things” that St. Chrysostom mentions, when we experience His abandonment caused by our sins.  

Yet God always yearns after us, as loving parents always yearn after disobedient children who have gone far from them, and He never ceases to do what is for our salvation.   His very abandonment of the sinner to the devil is a method of teaching him and bringing him to his senses, and all the while that the reprobate is experiencing those ten thousand dreadful things, the loving Lord is speaking to his heart, if only he will listen.  St. Chrysostom goes on to quote passages of Scripture that emphasize that God never ceases to desire our salvation:  

“…How often would I have gathered your children – and ye would not.” (Luke 13: 34).  Esaias also again, “I came, and there was no man; I called, and there was none to hearken.” (Esaias 50: 2). These things He saith, showing that we begin the desertion and become the causes of our perdition; for God not only desireth not to leave or to punish us, but even when He punisheth, doeth it unwillingly; “I will not, ” He saith, “the death of a sinner, so much as that he should turn and live.” (Ezekiel 18: 32).   Christ also mourneth over the destruction of Jerusalem, as we also do over our friends.”   

Having asserted the Lord’s steadfast lovingkindness and care for us, even when we go astray, the holy commentator now exhorts us to be likewise patient with our brethren when they go astray:  

Knowing this, let us do all so as not to remove from God, but let us hold fast to the care of our souls, and to the love towards each other; let us not tear our own members (for this is the act of men insane and beside themselves,) but the more we see any ill-disposed, the more let us be kind to them.  Since we often see many persons suffering in their bodies from difficult or incurable maladies, and cease not to apply remedies…Not at all, but we use every means that the sufferer may enjoy some comfort, since we cannot get rid of the disease.   This also let us do in the case of our brethren, and, even though they be diseased incurably, let us continue to tend them, and let us bear one another’s burdens.   

At the beginning of Homily 69, St. Chrysostom comments on verse 42, “Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” The saint points out that though these men indeed had feared to confess Christ before His Resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, many came to believe the Apostolic preaching after the day of Pentecost and were baptized, becoming members of the New Testament Church, as St. Luke testifies in the Acts of the Apostles. The saint writes,  

It is necessary for us to avoid alike all the passions which corrupt the soul, but most especially those which from themselves generate numerous sins…Such…is vainglory.  See, for instance, how these men were broken off from faith thought their love of honor…So then, they were not rulers, but slaves in the utmost slavery.  However, this fear was done away, for nowhere during the time of the Apostles do we find them possessed by this feeling, since in their time both rulers and priests believed.  The grace of the Spirit having come, made them all firmer than adamant.  

The Lord Jesus, then, Who forgave these men from the height of the Cross as He suffered unspeakably from their injustice, did not cease to do all things for their salvation.  Having risen and ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of His Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten all men, including those who had condemned and murdered Him, and many of them had a change of heart, cast off their love of human respect, and united themselves to the Lord Jesus.  Without the divine grace, even the Apostles themselves did not understand Who Jesus really was and could not be converted, and so it is with with all men, including ourselves. Let us therefore heed the exhortation of St. John Chrysostom to be patient with our brothers who, having like passions with ourselves, may have cut themselves off from this grace somewhat by any sins little or great, and let us imitate the lovingkindness of our Good Shepherd, Who has never ceased and will never cease to do all things for our salvation. 

To Him be the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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The only Just One

Pascha V Friday – John 10: 17-38

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-v-friday-the-only-just-one–60310644

The Lord said to the Jews that came to Him:  Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

St. John Chrysostom remarks upon the Lord’s long-suffering, as manifested by the calmness and gentleness of His replies to these men who wished to murder Him. 

Let us now imitate Him. For not only did He now hold His peace, but even came among them again, and being questioned answered and showed the things relating to His foreknowledge; and though called “demoniac” and “madman,” by men who had received from him ten thousand benefits, and that not once or twice but many times, not only did He refrain from avenging Himself, but even ceased not to benefit them.  To benefit, do I say?  He laid down His life for them, and while being crucified spake in their behalf to the Father.  This then let us also imitate, for to be a disciple of Christ is to be gentle and kind.  But whence can this gentleness come to us?  If we continually reckon up our sins, if we mourn, if we weep; for neither doth a soul that dwelleth in the company of so much grief allow itself to be provoked or angered.  Since wherever there is mourning, it is impossible that there should be anger; where grief is, all anger is out of the way; where there is brokenness of spirit, there is no provocation.  – Homily LX on John 

A priest who hears confessions cannot help but to remark that the sins of anger, condemnation, and the inability to truly forgive plague not only lax and casual Christians, but even the most sincere and pious.   These well-meaning souls do not justify their sin;  they are, on the contrary, deeply troubled.  But they simply cannot let go.  There are several reasons for this.   

One reason is that our sense of justice has been damaged by sin.  The demand of the conscience for justice is, indeed, planted in the soul by God; it is one of the several signs of our being made in the image of God, Who is All-Just.  Because of man’s brokenness, however, there has never been and never will be perfect justice in this world, except for the justification that comes to all men through the Cross.   We are commanded to be just, and, if we are in positions of authority over men, to require that they be just as well.   In our day to day dealings with others, we naturally expect justice from our neighbor. But inevitably both he and we shall fail.    Only the oil of mercy tempering the strong wine of justice makes life livable on earth.   We are all sinners before God.  Let us ask the Lord for the grace of true forgiveness, springing from a profound realization that He is the only Just One. 

Another reason we are not long-suffering in the face of offenses is our vanity.   Vanity is at the root of sinful anger.  We imagine that we are something, and that something not unimportant!  If only we could deeply sense and appreciate how truly unimportant, truly nothing we really are, and rejoice in the realization thereof!   It would be a great deliverance from a terrible burden.   Let us ask the Lord for the grace of realizing that He Alone truly is and that compared to Him we are nothing.   Someone who is nothing is not surprised, or even concerned, that someone else who is also nothing offends him.  What difference does it make?    If the Lord is everything to us, we have nothing that some other finite creature can take away, including our sense of self-worth, which derives completely from Him and from no one else.    

Another reason, that remarked upon by St. Chrysostom, is that we do not mourn continually for our sins.   As the saying goes, “Those who have the dead in their own house do not trouble themselves about other people’s funerals.”    Let us ask the Lord for the grace of growing ever more aware of our sinfulness while acquiring genuine compunction, rejoicing in His mercy and forgiveness to us.   In such a state of soul, it becomes constitutionally impossible to hold anything against anyone. 

O long-suffering Lord, Who forgave those who hated Thee and killed Thee, and, having risen from the dead,  hast to this day never ceased in working ten thousand benefactions for them, grant us the grace of true forgiveness, consistent long-suffering, and pure good will to our neighbors, who are indeed poor sinners like ourselves.  Amen. 

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What are miracles for?

V Pascha Wednesday, Apodosis of Mid-Pentecost  – John 6: 5-14 

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-v-wednesday-what-are-miracles-for–60286608

At that time:  When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

St. Augustine introduces his exegesis of this account by meditating first on the meaning of miracles in general.  Here is what he writes:  

The miracles performed by our Lord Jesus Christ are indeed divine works, and incite the human mind to rise to the apprehension of God from the things that are seen.  But inasmuch as He is not such a substance as may be seen with the eyes, and His miracles in the government of the whole world and the administration of the universal creation are, by their familiar constancy, slightly regarded, so that almost no man deigns to consider the wonderful and stupendous works of God, exhibited in every grain of seed; He has, agreeably to His mercy, reserved to Himself certain works, beyond the usual course and order of nature, which He should perform on fit occasion, that they, by whom His daily works are lightly esteemed, might be struck with astonishment at beholding, not indeed greater, but uncommon works. For certainly the government of the whole world is a greater miracle than the satisfying of five thousand men with five loaves; and yet no man wonders at the former; the but latter men wonder at it, not because it is greater, but because it is rare.  For who even now feeds the whole world, but He who creates the cornfield from a few grains? He therefore created as God creates.  For, whence He multiplies the produce of the fields from a few grains, from the same source He multiplied in His hands the five loaves.  The power, indeed, was in the hands of Christ; but those five loaves were as seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him who made the earth.  In this miracle, then, there is that brought near to the senses, whereby the mind should be roused to attention, there is exhibited to the eyes, whereon the understanding should be exercised, that we might admire the invisible God through His visible works, and being raised to faith and purge by faith, we might desire to behold Him even invisibly, whom invisible we came to know by the things that are visible. 

God works miracles, then, not simply to satisfy our temporary and temporal needs in difficult situations, but also, and more importantly, to raise our minds on high, to incite in us a divine desire for spiritual vision, that “…we might desire to behold Him even invisibly, whom invisible we came to know by the things that are visible.”   If our hearts were indeed purged by faith and pure, free of sin, our minds would delight daily in all of creation as a most stupendous miracle proclaiming the Creator at every moment.  Holy men, whom God has cleansed of the passions and given the grace of theoria, do not indeed, marvel any more greatly at exceptional miracles than they do at the ongoing, constant, and greater miracles, not only of God’s creation and governance of creation, but also the even loftier miracle of the indwelling presence of the Holy Trinity in the heart cleansed from sin by faith in the redemption granted us through the Blood of Christ and the sanctification bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit.  The exceptional miracles – clairvoyance, healings, bilocation, and so forth – are to them not exceptions to the rule, but an ordinary part of a life lived in the Spirit.  These latter are not the greater miracles, in fact, but lesser ones, whose purpose is to call our attention to the greater ones we ignore every day.  

One miracle worked by God that is unseen by the physical eye, a miracle that is far greater than prophecies, visions, and healings, is the miracle of the prayer of repentance offered with attention, first by the lips, then in the mind, that descends into the heart, restoring a man to his paradisiacal true nature and wholeness, making him fit for eternal life.  A recent righteous new confessor of the catacomb Church in Russia, Archbishop Antoniy (Golynsky-Mikhaylovskiy), articulates this insight thus: 

For man there is nothing loftier than to converse through mental prayer with God, Who is everywhere present; there is nothing higher for him than to stand mentally before the Lord and implore the forgiveness of his sins.   Prayer is called the mother of the virtues, since only through prayer can true virtues be attained and Grace-filled gifts received.  Keep your concentration fixed on the [Jesus] Prayer, and God will accomplish things mystical and exalted at the appointed time, when your heart is fully cleansed of passions, and you have committed yourself to doing God’s will exclusively.  The Lord works through prayer and by means of prayer, and whatever does not come through prayer – no matter how good or conducive to salvation it may seem – provides no help in vanquishing the devil, because it has no real power…  

You must not pay attention to any supernatural phenomena, such as rays of light, even if they are emanating from icons, or voices, even if angels are singing, for you are standing in prayer before the Lord of Angels Himself, Who is invisible but everywhere present.  What could be loftier than this? … – On the Prayer of Jesus and Divine Grace 

“For man there is nothing loftier than to converse through mental prayer with God, Who is everywhere present…”     When you are weighed down to the earth by the cares of life, choose to go apart and converse with God in the prayer of repentance, imploring the forgiveness of your sins.   Force yourself to attention, and keep doing it, until the light of our Morning Star, the Lord Jesus Christ, dawns in your heart.   When that happens, you will have worked a miracle greater than any seen by the eyes of men.  Or, rather, the Lord shall have worked it for you.   He has promised, and He will do it.   

O gracious and man-befriending Lord, Who has created all things out of nothing for the sake of man, and Who became Man for our sake, glory be to Thee. 

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You don’t take a knife to a gunfight

Tuesday of the Week of the Samaritan Woman; Afterfeast of Mid-Pentecost

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/pascha5tues

In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul deals with a sorcerer:

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark. Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. – Acts of the Apostles 12:25-13:12

People today – even, strange to say, some Orthodox Christians – would regard St. Paul’s blinding the sorcerer as an act of “intolerance” or being “mean.”    If only St. Paul had preached Luv and Peace, perhaps old Elymas would have realized the error of his ways and come to his senses! Thank goodness – so goes this new and improved line of thought – today we have kinder, gentler methods to deal with people who are, you know, diverse!

Elymas was not simply different; he was evil in the extreme. Not only was he evil, but he also actively sought to rob Sergius Paulus of the truth of Jesus Christ.   What could be worse than that – to destroy another man’s soul on purpose? Someone who would do that is not open to gentle persuasion, for his heart is hard, he is given over to the service of the devil, and he needs to be “taken out,” as they say. According to the Mosaic law, St. Paul could have justifiably slain him. The treatment he chose was mild by comparison.

Man today recoils at the Church’s strictness in her judgment on such matters, because he does not believe in the soul or eternal salvation or eternal punishment. There are people who readily undergo all manner of torture – chemotherapy, drastic surgeries, the myriad pills and potions of “Big Pharma” with their terrible side effects, etc. – in order to eke out a few more years or even months of their miserable, corruptible biological existence, who think it dreadful that the Church would endorse severe measures to save their souls and bodies for eternity.   It all depends on what you think is real and what you think is important.

We are not sorcerers, and we pray that we will never require the Elymas treatment. But we will never have peace until we accept every pain and sorrow in this life as the necessary correction for our sinfulness, a correction willed by God from all eternity. And when Holy Church, in the person of a bishop or a confessing priest, decides to correct us by her ecclesiastical and spiritual methods, how grateful we should be: We can suffer a little here for a time and not there for eternity!

O All-Wise Lord, Who has given us the Apostolic Church to guide us to salvation, glory be to Thee!

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Seek His glory

IV Pascha Wednesday, Mid-Pentecost  – John 7: 14-30

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-iv-wednesday-mid-pentecost-seek-his-glory–60209698

Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.   And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?  Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.

Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?  The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?  Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel.

Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?  But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?

Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.  Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.  But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.  Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.

 The phrase “of himself” in verse 18 means “from” himself; that is, this person the Lord refers to, who seeks his own glory and not the glory of God, is one who teaches his own false and corrupt teachings, not the true teachings from God which Our Lord perfectly reveals in the Gospel, for, being one with the Father, the Lord Jesus speaks only of that which is from the Father.   There are many such false teachers, of course – the shelves of our libraries groan with the weight of their books, and the airwaves are polluted by their foolish pratings day and night on radio, television, and the Internet.  Moreover, here the Lord is not only painting a picture of all such false teachers, but He is also warning us about one such person, the worst of all, who will be the Antichrist.    The Blessed Augustine elaborates on this in his commentary:  

“He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory (v. 18a).” This will be he who is called Antichrist, “exalting himself,” as the apostle says, “above all that is called God, and that is worshipped (II Thessalonians 2:4).” The Lord, declaring that this same it is that will seek his own glory, not the glory of the Father, says to the Jews: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye have not received me; another will come in his own name, him ye will receive (John 5:45).”   He intimated that they would receive the Antichrist, who will seek the glory of his own name, puffed up, not solid; and therefore not stable, but assuredly ruinous.  But our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us a great example of humility: for doubtless He is equal with the Father, for “…in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” yea, doubtless, He Himself said, and most truly said, “Am I so long time with you, and ye have not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father (John 14: 9).”  Yea, doubtless, Himself said, and most truly said, “I and the Father are one (John 10: 30.).”  If, therefore, He is one with the Father, equal to the Father, God from God, God with God, co-eternal, immortal, alike unchangeable, alike without time, alike Creator and disposer of times; and yet because he came in time, and took the form of a servant, and in condition was found as a man (Philippians 2:7), He seeks the glory of the Father, not His own; what oughtest thou to do, O man, who, when thou doest anything good, seekest thine own glory; but when thou doest anything ill, dost meditate calumny against God?   Consider thyself: thou art a creature, acknowledge thy Creator.  Thou art a servant: despise not thy Lord.  Thou art adopted, not for thy own merits: seek His glory from whom thou hast this grace, that thou art a man adopted; His, whose glory He sought who is from Him, the Only-Begotten. 

“But He who seeketh His glory that sent Him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him (vs. 18b).”   In Antichrist, however, there is unrighteousness, and he is not true; because he will seek his own glory, not His by whom he was sent (though, indeed, he was not sent, but only permitted to come).   Let us all, therefore, that belong to the body of Christ, seek not our own glory, that we be not led into the snares of Antichrist.   But if Christ sought His glory that sent Him, how much more ought we to seek the glory of Him Who made us?”  

“Consider thyself: thou art a creature, acknowledge thy Creator.”  Here St. Augustine gets to the root of our problem:   Our minds have inherited the delusion that entered the hearts of our first parents when they believed the lie of the serpent, that they were the source of their own existence, whereas in truth only God is self-existent, and our existence is completely contingent upon His will.    

“Thou art a servant: despise not thy Lord.”  Self-will, arising from the delusion of self-existence, causes us to despise the Lord’s commands, obedience to which alone can free a man from that slavery to the passions which fallen man calls freedom.  

“Thou art adopted, not for thy own merits:  seek His glory, from whom thou hast this grace…”    The delusions of self-existence and self-will are always accompanied by self-righteousness, for the more a man is enslaved to his delusions and passions, the more righteous he deems himself. 

The saint couples this moral exhortation to eschew pride, self-will, and self-justification with his teaching on the Antichrist precisely in order to arm us against the spirit of Antichrist.   If by God’s grace we abide in the profound and constant appreciation of our status as creatures – that God is God and we are not God;  if by God’s grace we constrain our wills continually to obey God’s commands, understanding that we find our true freedom only as absolute slaves to His will; if by God’s grace we continually grow in the appreciation of our absolute dependence on the Blood of Christ for our salvation, understanding that we have zero righteousness of our own, seeing sinfulness in ourselves ever more clearly and losing all interest in the sins of others – then we have a firm hope of attaining the discernment needed to descry the spirit of Antichrist when it makes its appearance in all areas of life, whether ecclesiastical, social, or domestic.  Then, if the actual Antichrist would come in our lifetimes, we would be in practice – discerning what he is will not be an insurmountable challenge. 

In order to create an atmosphere in which we can grow in this salutary self-distrust, however, we must abjure the media culture that we are drowning in.  It constitutes a nightmare universe of endless self-promotion and self-opinion, endless self-justification and the condemnation of others, endless pre-occupation with endlessly multifarious ideas about a billion unrelated fragments of information that may or may not be real.   One does not have to be a notorious talking head on a political podcast to be part of the problem. The most plebeian of Internet junkies, constantly posting pictures of himself on Facebook, for example, and informing the universe about himself – his opinions, his activities, his likes and dislikes – someone engaged in this endless self-promotion, is engaged in an endless hunt for celebrity, which is inherently opposed to leading a genuinely human life, much less spiritual life.   He acquires the mind of one who “speaketh of himself,” who “seeketh his own glory,” and not the glory of God.     

We have to understand this monstrous way of life – or, rather, non-life – for what it is, and flee this labyrinth before the Minotaur of the soul that lives in there finally captures us completely and devours us forever.  

Through the prayers of the Blessed Augustine and all the saints who sought the glory of God and not their own, in blessed imitation of their Master, may we just forget ourselves and live for the Lord.  Amen. 

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The world hates the truth

IV Pascha Tuesday – John 7: 1-13

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-iv-tuesday-the-world-hates-the-truth–60200621

At that time: Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come. When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee. But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people.   Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews.

These men, our Lord’s own relatives, who did not believe in Him, spoke mockingly because they were dominated by the spirit of this world.  So too, to this day, those who are worldly minded will mock the true followers of Christ, and the world – that is, the society of fallen man, under the domination of Satan – will persecute them.   Here is what St. Theophan the Recluse says about this:  

“The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil (John 7:7).” The Lord did not say this to His disciples; to His disciples He foretold later that the world would hate and persecute them also, because He has taken them out of the world. So, note what the world hates, and you will learn of Christ’s lot. The world rebels most strongly against what is of Christ, what is closest to Him, and more like unto His spirit. This is an external indicator, but for those who live externally this is enough. The world does not act on its own, but is kindled in its works by its prince—satan, the works of whom the Lord destroyed, and continues to destroy in believers and with believers. He cannot do anything to the Lord directly; this is why he directs his anger upon those who believe in Him, so that in frustrating them he will frustrate the Lord. He does not act directly in this, but through his agencies, which make up the world. This does not mean that he is strong; do not fear him, but rather be bold, for the Lord overcame the world and the prince thereof. Satan is not in a condition to do anything to one who does not yield on his own. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 100-101  

We must remember, then, that when worldly people mock our belief and piety – which is especially difficult to bear when they are nominally people who call themselves Orthodox, a situation that is, alas, all too common – we must not direct our anger against them, for they are under the domination of the prince of this world, the devil.   They are in big trouble, though they do not know it, or least will not admit it.   We must direct our anger against sin, the devil, and the spirit of this world.  

St. John Chrysostom interprets the Lord’s rebuke to his unbelieving relatives as a model of meekness and gentleness.  The Lord is saying simply, “You cannot understand me, because you belong to this world, not to the world above to which I and my true followers belong.”  It is not a railing accusation, just a statement of the truth of the situation.   We shall find, also, that if we state the truth firmly but without irritation, this will leave our opponents without an answer, without a pretext for accusing us, and without excuse, while simultaneously preserving the peace of our souls. 

Following his usual method, St. Chrysostom follows his doctrinal exegesis of this passage with a moral exhortation in the form a thundering peroration that engraves itself easily on the hearts of his listeners.    I shall not quote this passage at length, but here is the conclusion:  

Let us then become spiritual, and bridle this dreadful wild beast.  Anger differs nothing from madness, it is a temporary devil, or rather it is a thing worse than having a devil; for one that hath a devil may be excused, but the angry man deserves ten thousand punishments, voluntarily casting himself into the pit of destruction, and before the hell which is to come suffering punishment from this already, by bringing a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul.  Let us, therefore, that we may deliver ourselves from the punishment here and the vengeance hereafter, cast out this passion, and show forth all meekness and gentleness, that we may find rest for our souls both here and in the Kingdom of Heaven.  To which may we all attain, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, now and ever and world without end. Amen. 

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How not to lose your faith

IV Pascha Monday – John 6: 56-69

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-iv-monday-how-not-to-lose-your-faith–60187827

 The Lord said to the Jews who believed on him: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.  And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

St. Peter, along with the other faithful disciples who remained loyal to Christ, heard the same words spoken by Him which supposedly scandalized and drove away the majority of the hearers.   Why, then, did the faithful disciples remain while the others “went back,” that is, cut themselves off from eternal life by rejecting the Lord?  It was not that the loyal disciples were clever academicians whose professional training had taught  them how to decode the veiled language of mystical theology by means of the fallen intellect; they were rough Galilean peasants just like those who decided to depart from the Lord.    St. John Chrysostom explains it thus:  

Seest thou that it was not the words that caused offense, but the heedlessness, and sloth, and wrong-mindedness of the hearers?   For even had He not spoken, they would have been offended, and would not have ceased to be ever anxious about bodily food, ever nailed to earth.   Besides, the disciples heard at the same time with the others, yet they declared an opinion contrary to theirs, saying, “To whom shall we go?” An expression indicating much affection, for it shows that their Teacher was more precious to them than anything, than father or mother, or any possessions, and that if they withdrew from Him, they had not then whither to flee. Then lest it should seem that [Peter] had said “To whom shall we go?” because there were none that would receive them, he straightway added, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.”   – Homily 47 on John 

There are three main lessons here:  1. Those who refused to understand and accept the Lord’s teaching did so out of their worldliness and carnality.   2. The faithful disciples’ minds were enlightened to understand because of their great love for the Lord.  3. They did not stay with Christ because they had no other options, but because following Him was the only option for someone who wants eternal life. 

In the invisible warfare of the soul, we are torn between the competing voices of both parties.   On our bad days we are tempted to reject the radical message of the Gospel and join those who “went back.”  “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”  On good days,  we recognize that here, indeed, are the words of eternal life.   The good days are not the problem.  What can we do on the bad days to chase the dark thoughts away? 

Most often, the dark thoughts that come to inspire doubt come at times when we have been immersed, even more than usual, in either the pleasures or the pains of temporal existence.   Like the majority crowd in John 6, we just want to know where our next meal is coming from.    A carnal way of life, consumed by worldly cares, will usually bring down even the baptized soul from the refinement of a heavenly understanding to the coarseness of  the materialist, who cannot imagine anything beyond the evidence of the senses.   We must take steps to simplify our lives, detach from the earthly concerns that detract from a God-centered life,  and reserve both time and mental energy for the care of the soul.   

Most often, doubts and unbelief arise when we have grown cold towards the person of Our Savior.   We forget that, when we came to believe in the Gospel, this belief was inseparable from, demanded by, and made firm in love for Jesus, our greatest friend and benefactor, the most delightful intimate of the inner thoughts and feelings of the soul. In times like these, let us force ourselves to kneel before the icon of Christ crucified for us and read the Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ.   Read aloud, slowly, and fight for attention.   The grace with which the words themselves are imbued will enliven our hearts and cleanse our minds.  

Most often, when Orthodox Christians stray far from the Lord, one notices that they have been caught up in, even fanatically devoted to, the externals of the Faith and have forgotten the essence. That is, they have forgotten the Gospel.  To avoid the fate of those who “went back,” let us open the Holy Gospels daily and read with great attention, humbling our minds and wills, and asking the All Holy Spirit to warm our hearts.   The grace of our baptism will be energized, and it will once again be obvious to our minds, not from argument but from divine power, that these indeed, are “the words of eternal life.” 

Through the prayers of St. Peter and all those who have followed Christ to the end, may our minds and hearts be ever with the Lord.  Amen. 

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His flesh and blood

III Pascha Friday – John 6: 48-54

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-iii-friday-his-flesh-and-blood–60160859

 The Lord said to the Jews who believed on him:  I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

This great and exceeding promise of the Lord, that He would give us His own flesh and blood as food, and that our partaking of them would grant us eternal life,  inspires the great Chrysostom to rise to the heights of eloquence in the well known passage reproduced below, remarkable even compared to the many other great patristic praises of the Holy Eucharist.   It is so complete, and requires so little explanation, that I wanted only to write it and read it for you today; whatever I could have added would have been by way of an anticlimax.

“Those men at that time reaped no fruit from what was said, but we have enjoyed the benefit in the very realities.  Wherefore it is necessary to understand the marvel of the Mysteries, what it is, why it was given, and what is the profit of the action.  We become one Body, and members of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5: 30). Let the initiated follow what I say. In order then that we may become this not by love only, but in very deed, let us be blended into that flesh.  This is effected by the food which He has freely given us, desiring to show the love which He has for us.  On this account he has mixed up Himself with us; He has kneaded up His body with ours, that we might be a certain One Thing, like a body joined to a head.  For this belongs to them who love strongly; this, for instance, Job implied, speaking of his servants, by whom he was beloved so exceedingly, that they desired to cleave unto his flesh.  For they said, to show the strong love which they felt, ‘Who would give us to be satisfied with his flesh (Job 31:31) ?’     Wherefore this also Christ has done, to lead us to a closer friendship, and to show His love for us; He has given to those who desire Him not only to see Him but even to touch, and eat Him, and fix their teeth in His flesh, and to embrace Him, and satisfy all their love. Let us then return from that table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil; thinking on our Head, and on the love which He has shown for us.  Parents often entrust their offspring to others to feed; ‘but I,’  says He, ‘do not so; I feed you with My own flesh, desiring that you all be nobly born, and holding forth to you good hopes for the future.  For He who gives Himself to you here, much more will do so hereafter. I have willed to become your Brother, for your sake I shared in flesh and blood, and in turn I give out to you the flesh and blood by which I became your kinsman. ‘   This blood causes the image of our King to be fresh within us, produces beauty unspeakable, permits not the nobleness of our souls to waste away, watering it continually, and nourishing it.  The blood derived from our food becomes not at once blood, but something else; while this does not so, but straightway waters our souls, and works in them some mighty power.  This blood, if rightly taken, drives away devils, and keeps them afar off from us, while it calls to us Angels and the Lord of Angels.  For wherever they see the Lord’s blood, devils flee, and Angels run together.  This blood poured forth washed clean all the world; many wise sayings did the blessed Paul utter concerning it in the Epistle to the Hebrews.  This blood cleansed the secret place, and the Holy of Holies. And if the type of it had such great power in the temple of Hebrews, and in the midst of Egypt, when smeared on the door-posts, much more the reality.  This blood sanctified the golden altar; without it the high priest dared not enter into the secret place.    This blood consecrated priests, this in types cleansed sins.  But if it had such power in the types, if death so shuddered at the shadow, tell me how would it not have dreaded the very reality?   This blood is the salvation of our souls, by this the soul is washed, by this is beautiful, by this is inflamed, this causes our understanding to be more bright than fire, and our soul more beaming than gold; this blood was poured forth, and made heaven accessible. 

“Awful in truth are the Mysteries of the Church, awful in truth is the Altar.  A fountain went up out of Paradise sending forth material rivers; from this table springs up a fountain which sends forth rivers spiritual.  By the side of this fountain are planted not fruitless willows, but trees reaching even to heaven, bearing fruit ever timely and undecaying. If any be scorched with heat, let him come to the side of this fountain and cool his burning.  For it quenches drought, and comforts all things that are burnt up, not by the sun, but by the fiery darts.  For it has its beginning from above, and its source is there, whence also its water flows.  Many are the streams of that fountain which the Comforter sends forth, and the Son is the Mediator, not holding mattock to clear the way, but opening our minds.  This fountain is a fountain of light, spouting forth rays of truth.  By it stand the Powers on high looking upon the beauty of its streams, because they more clearly perceive the power of the Things set forth, and the flashings unapproachable.  For as, when gold is being molten, if one should (were it possible) dip in it his hand or his tongue, he would immediately render them golden; thus, but in much greater degree, does what here is set forth work upon the soul.  Fiercer than fire the river boils up, yet burns not, but only baptizes that on which it lays hold.  This blood was ever typified of old in the altars and sacrifices of righteous men.  This is the price of the world, by this Christ purchased to Himself the Church, by this He has adorned Her all.   For as a man buying servants gives gold for them, and again when he desires to deck them out does this also with gold; so Christ purchased us with His blood, and adorned us with His blood.  They who share this blood stand with Angels and Archangels and the Powers that are above, clothed in Christ’s kingly robe, and having the armor of the Spirit.  Nay, I have not yet said any great thing: they are clothed with the King Himself.  

“Now as this is a great and wonderful thing, so if you approach it with pureness, you approach for salvation; but if with an evil conscience, for punishment and vengeance.  ‘For he that eats and drinks unworthily’ of the Lord ‘eats and drinks judgment to himself (I Corinthians 11:29)’ ; since if they who defile the kingly purple are punished equally with those who rend it, it is not unreasonable that they who receive the Body with unclean thoughts should suffer the same punishment as those who rent it with nails.  Observe at least how fearful a punishment Paul declares, when he says, ‘He that despised Moses’ law dies without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing (Hebrews 1: 28) ?’  Take we then heed to ourselves, beloved, we who enjoy such blessings; and if we desire to utter any shameful word, or perceive ourselves hurried away by wrath or any like passion, let us consider of what things we have been deemed worthy, of how great a Spirit we have partaken, and this consideration shall be a sobering of our unreasonable passions.  For how long shall we be nailed to present things?  How long shall it be before we rouse ourselves?   How long shall we neglect our own salvation?  Let us bear in mind of what things Christ has deemed us worthy, let us give thanks, let us glorify Him, not by our faith alone, but also by our very works, that we may obtain the good things that are to come, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end.  Amen.” 

– St. John Chrysostom, Homily 46 on John 

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Murmur not among yourselves

Pascha III Thursday – John 6: 40-44

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/pascha-iii-thursday-murmur-not-among-yourselves–60150982

 The Lord said to the Jews who believed in him: This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

St. John Chrysostom says that these men murmured because they wanted only earthly blessings from Christ and not spiritual food:  

For when He gave them bread, and filled their bellies, they said that He was a prophet, and sought to make Him a king; but when He taught them concerning spiritual food, concerning eternal life, when He had led them away from objects of sense, and spake to them of the resurrection, and raised their thoughts to higher matters, when most they ought to have admired, they murmur and start away.  And yet, if He was that Prophet as they before asserted, declaring that he it was of whom Moses had said, “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren like unto me, unto Him shall ye hearken (Deut. 18:15); they ought to have hearkened to Him when He said, “I came down from heaven”; yet they hearkened not, but murmured.  They still reverenced Him, because the miracle of the loaves was recent, and therefore they did not openly gainsay Him, but by murmuring expressed their displeasure, that He did not give them the meal which they desired. – Homily 46 on John

The Lord’s audience are men who are following Him and believing in Him, but their admiration and reverence spring from the miracle He worked earlier in Chapter Six, when He multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the five thousand.   When He announced that He was the True Bread that came down from Heaven, and attempted to raise their minds to higher things by preaching the Resurrection,  they were disappointed, wanting only a continuation of temporal benefits, as if this life and its material concerns were all that is;  as if the Savior came only to be a munificent provider of temporary goods and not the One Who delivers man forever from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  

We rightly abjure the carnality and obduracy of these foolish semi-believers, of course, 

at least in our words, but we have a great advantage over them, in that having beheld the Resurrection of Christ and having received the Holy Spirit, the veil has been taken away from our eyes and we see Christ no longer through earthly eyes but spiritual ones.   Yet how fragile, it seems, is our spiritual vision, how easy it is for us to be “the Jews who believed in Him” and yet, when push comes to shove, murmur and even, God forbid, follow Him no longer, because of a temporary disappointment.  The disappointment may come in the shape of a personal loss – the death of a loved one, a terrible illness, the betrayal of a friend.    Frequently today it comes in the shape of the betrayal of the Faith by those in whom we placed our trust, and we say, “Well, if there is nothing but hypocrisy and cynicism everywhere, perhaps what I believed is not true after all, ” an argument which proves nothing but does appeal powerfully to our desire to please our fallen nature and release ourselves from the moral constraints imposed by faith. 

This latter kind of disappointment, caused by the failures of supposedly spiritual men and spiritual institutions, carries far greater power to tempt and to destroy those who are genuinely pious.    We readily accept that we must carry the cross of sorrows related to the material aspect of our lives – social isolation, financial loss, illness, and so forth.    But, being religious people, we find our comfort in the warmth and security of being in the Church: “Well, I’ve lost so much in this life, but I know that I have the Church; so I can keep going.”    What should we do when even that seems to be taken away, by the betrayal of spiritual authorities?   A large question, of course, and one that deserves book length treatment.   But for today, let us ponder a short list of counsel: 

1. Remember that the Lord desires your salvation, more than you do!   Ask Him to let this crisis be an opportunity to go more deeply into prayer, to trust Him more completely, to submit yourself more unreservedly to the decrees of His all wise providence.    

2.  Ask yourself if the failure of your spiritual authorities is about primary things or secondary things.    There will always be scandals caused by failures in prudence or justice on the part of all men in authority, even the best.   These do not separate you from Christ.  Again:  Go more deeply into prayer, especially for the men who have disappointed you. 

3.  If it is a matter affecting the Faith itself, affecting the continuation of the apostolic confession and therefore the apostolic succession of your hierarchs and clergy, take careful and traditional steps to deal with the problem, according to the example of the saints, with determination to follow the Truth where It – or rather He – leads, but without anxiety.   After all: God is with us!   

The Lord uses all such crises, whether they are caused by failure in primary things or secondary things, to enlighten us as to the difference between the psychological and spiritual comfort of our Faith.   There are great psychological comforts deriving from  many things genuinely pertaining to the Church, that form the day to day outward experience of our life in the Church.  But even these good things can become the loaves and fishes that blind our eyes to the truly spiritual and permanent good things the Lord has in store for us.  Sometimes they need to be lost, at least for a time, good though they are, so that we may seek our comfort in the Lord alone, our sustenance in Him alone, the Heavenly Bread.   

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The Son of Thunder

The Gospel Readings of the Pentecost

Better late than never! I’ve been meaning, since before Pascha, to start writing and recording commentaries on the pericopes from St. John’s Gospel that we read during the 50 Days of the Pentecost from Pascha through Pentecost Sunday, but the post-Holy Week psychosomatic crash emptied my mind of all useful energy for any but the most mundane activities. With God’s help, and through the prayers of the great Evangelist, we’ll begin in medias res…tomorrow!

I have penned a short introduction to the series, which you’ll find below, along with an audio recording of the same. First, however, I invite you to listen to this sermon that I preached this Sunday past, on the subject of St. John the Theologian: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/8-may-os-2024-st-john-the-theologian–60137788

The Son of Thunder 

The Gospel Readings of the Pentecost 

This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. – John 21:24

Introduction – 

There is an old saying, “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.”  Our Lord Jesus Christ, during His life on earth, chose John the son of Zebedee to be His most intimate friend.  John, thus, may show us the Lord and honestly say, “I show you my Friend.”   We may then conclude that John, in his life and in his writings, reveals to us who Christ is.   

Great Lent was the springtime season to harrow the overgrown field of the soul, pulling out the weeds and stones of our passions and sins.    It was not the season of planting, not yet – it was the season of preparing the ground for the seed.   The Old Testament readings of Lent were not the full revelation of Who God Is – They pointed the way, prefigured,  predicted, gave hints; they were looking forward to That, or rather, Him, Which was to come. 

Having worked so hard to prepare the ground of our souls, what a shame it would be if we did not plant the life-bearing seed, the Word of God, in the ground that has been prepared.   And what marvelous seed the loving Church now graciously gives us:   The ineffably sublime  deeds and words of the Savior as recorded by His friend, the Son of Thunder, John the Theologian.    

When spiritual torpor overtakes us, when our minds are lulled into the madness of a waking nightmare by the siren song of this world, when we are tempted to descend from our Lenten heights to wallow senselessly in the mire of temporal concerns instead of ascending to the yet greater heights of Paschal illumination:   let us force open the Books of Thunder – the Gospel according to John, his Epistles, and the Apocalypse – and they will slay the Hades in our hearts by the lightning of the divinity of the One Whom they proclaim. 

If these little commentaries motivate you, dear Reader, to imbibe the noetic nectar and heavenly ambrosia of Divine John to any degree, then remember in your prayers this sinner, 

              Steven, Priest 

             Pascha, 2024

Listen to an audio podcast of this introduction here: https://www.spreaker.com/podcast/the-son-of-thunder–6185218

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