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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The Alpha and Omega

O great and most sacred Pascha, Christ; O Wisdom and Word and Power of God! Grant that we partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy Kingdom.      –from the Paschal Canon by St. John of Damascus 

Listen to a podcast of this post here:   https://www.spreaker.com/episode/the-alpha-and-omega-pascha-the-radiant-resurrection-of-christ–59921173

When we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, we proclaim it as the center of all history.  By His Death and Resurrection, the Lord re-creates His work of Creation that was done at the beginning of the world, and He inaugurates the eternal Kingdom that will be fully manifested at the end of the world.    

  The curricula that dominate history education brainwash students with the idea that man’s history is a beginning-less and endless story of progress from ignorance and superstition into a liberated state of freedom and prosperity brought about by materialistic science.  Those who hold this view classify Christ’s resurrection along with countless other fabricated myths that people can believe, if they want, but which must not be allowed to interfere in the march of history towards a bright and unlimited future of global unity and materialistic happiness under a benevolent and all-powerful government.     

   A Christian stands in absolute opposition to this view of the world.  God created this world to have a beginning and an end, and this world is not an end in itself.  It is, rather, an arena in which man works out his salvation.  Each man’s life is a short and intense race which he conducts according to Christ and in Christ – or not.  The purpose of each man’s life individually, and the purpose  of every event in human history, is to prepare for God’s Judgment.    

  Our Savior’s Resurrection is not simply a miracle that demonstrates His Divinity, though it certainly does that.  It is the destruction of death, the final and totally efficacious rescue of His creation from the corruption that the devil and sin brought into the world.  He has already definitively triumphed over sin, death, the devil, and hell.  All that remains now is for men to unite themselves to the Risen Christ or not, to join His Body the Church or not, to fight for Him or against Him.  When He returns in glory at the end of the world, to judge all the living and the dead from the beginning of the world, the only thing that will matter is that we find favor in His sight.  On that day, all the empty promises of a secular salvation and man’s progress will be revealed as the lies that they are.      

   Today, right now, it is critical for our spiritual lives not to fall back into a worldly and anxious way of living and thinking, but rather to nourish and sustain the spiritual vision we acquired during Great Lent and Holy Week.  By staying faithful to prayer and spiritual reading, we can maintain the Paschal vision of our life, by which we interpret our daily activities not as part of some meaningless struggle for existence, nor as a restless, neurotic escape from being trampled by the march of progress, but as our advancing in hope “from glory to glory,” as we strive to arrive at the final vision of the face of our Beloved Bridegroom, Who shall reward every one of us who will have remained faithful to Him.    

                                               Concerning the Resurrection  

  For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, wherein do we  differ from the irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves. For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight. And who in his senses would take this for the work of a righteous judgment or a wise providence? There must be, therefore, there must be, a resurrection. For God is just and is the rewarder of those who submit patiently to Him. Wherefore if it is the soul alone that engages in the contests of virtue, it is also the soul alone that will receive the crown. And if it were the soul alone that revels in pleasures, it would also be the soul alone that would be justly punished. But since the soul does not pursue either virtue or vice separate from the body, both together will obtain that which is their just due. 

  We shall therefore rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ: and the devil and his demons and the man that is his, that is the Antichrist, and the impious and the sinful, will be given over to everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know. But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages. Amen. 

  – from The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by St. John of Damascus, Book IV, c. 27.    

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

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Lent VI Monday – Proverbs 19: 16 – 25

The Beginning of Wisdom 

The Lenten Readings from Proverbs 

Lent VI Monday – Proverbs 19: 16 – 25

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/monday-of-the-sixth-week-of-great-lent–59565981

My son: He that keeps the commandment keeps his own soul; but he that despises his ways shall perish. 17 He that has pity on the poor lends to the Lord; and he will recompense to him according to his gift. 18 Chasten thy son, for so he shall be hopeful; and be not exalted in thy soul to haughtiness. 19 A malicious man shall be severely punished, and if he commit injury, he shall also lose his life.  20 Hear, son, the instruction of thy father, that thou mayest be wise at thy latter end. 21 There are many thoughts in a man’s heart; but the counsel of the Lord abides for ever. 22 Mercy is a fruit to a man: and a poor man is better than a rich liar. 23 The fear of the Lord is life to a man: and he shall lodge without fear in places where knowledge is not seen. 24 He that unjustly hides his hands in his bosom, will not even bring them up to his mouth. 25 When a pestilent character is scourged, a simple man is made wiser: and if thou reprove a wise man, he will understand discretion. 

“There are many thoughts in a man’s heart” – If one kept a careful journal of all the thoughts he had in the course of the day, how many of them would be true, good, and beautiful thoughts, full of wisdom and usefulness to the soul and the body?   It would be revealing, indeed, if one were to try such an experiment.  We know that the ultimate issues of life are decided in the heart:  keeping that in mind, the evidence of such a one day journal would probably convict us of the need to change what we think about. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven of St. Matthew, revealed to man a new standard for the God-pleasing life, based on purity of heart:  If a man, for example, is only angry at his brother, he has murdered him.  If he merely indulges in a carnal thought, he has in fact committed adultery.   This far surpasses the merely outward discipline of the Old Testament, or, rather, it reveals the true meaning of the Old Testament, which in fact did not give a merely outward code but also contained many passages in which the Lord called upon His children to “rend your heart and not your garments (Joel 2:13) .”  “My son,” the Lord says in the person of wise Solomon, “give me thine heart (Proverbs 23:26).” “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deuteronomy 6:5).”  Our Lord Himself said that He had come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.   All that His Holy Apostles did indeed abrogate at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) were those rituals and ordinances which had been given for a limited time, for man’s instruction before the coming of Christ, which did not constitute the essence of the Law but only contained types and figures of that essence.   The essence lies in purity of heart.  

As we begin the last week of Great Lent, let us resolve to govern our thoughts more attentively with the constant use of the Jesus Prayer, at our waking, at our rising, throughout our day, and into the night.    The all-powerful divine energies imparted to the human name of Jesus in the hypostatic union, descending into the depths of the heart, will cleanse the Augean stable of our countless unhappy and impure thoughts, making it a cleansed and shining home for the One who was born in a stable and laid in a manger, Who came to suffer for us and to save us.  

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

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Lent V Friday – Proverbs 17:17 – 18:5

The Beginning of Wisdom 

The Lenten Readings from Proverbs 

Lent V Friday – Proverbs 17:17 – 18:5 

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/friday-of-the-fifth-week-of-great-lent–59550361

My son: 17 Have thou a friend for every time, and let brethren be useful in distress; for on this account are they born. 18 A foolish man applauds and rejoices over himself, as he also that becomes surety would make himself responsible for his own friends. 19 A lover of sin rejoices in strifes; 20 and the hard-hearted man comes not in for good. A man of a changeful tongue will fall into mischiefs; 21 and the heart of a fool is grief to its possessor. A father rejoices not over an uninstructed son; but a wise son gladdens his mother. 22 A glad heart promotes health; but the bones of a sorrowful man dry up. 23 The ways of a man who unjustly receives gifts in his bosom do not prosper; and an ungodly man perverts the ways of righteousness. 24 The countenance of a wise man is sensible; but the eyes of a fool go to the ends of the earth. 25 A foolish son is a cause of anger to his father, and grief to her that bore him. 26 It is not right to punish a righteous man, nor is it holy to plot against righteous princes. 27 He that forbears to utter a hard word is discreet, and a patient man is wise. 28 Wisdom shall be imputed to a fool who asks after wisdom: and he who holds his peace shall seem to be sensible. 18:1 A man who wishes to separate from friends seeks excuses; but at all times he will be liable to reproach. 2 A senseless man feels no need of wisdom, for he is rather led by folly. 3 When an ungodly man comes into a depth of evils, he despises them; but dishonour and reproach come upon him. 4 A word in the heart of a man is a deep water, and a river and fountain of life spring forth. 5 It is not good to accept the person of the ungodly, nor is it holy to pervert justice in judgment. 

The fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, should inspire in us simultaneously both a desire to practice silence more strictly,  in order to bring our restless minds under greater control, and a corresponding desire to seek that true wisdom and knowledge that God alone can give, and which He does give to the man who humbles himself, acknowledging himself to be indeed that “fool who seeks after wisdom” spoken of in verse 28.   Here is what Abba Daniel says about this verse in the Fourth Conference of St. John Cassian: 

 It belongs to the understanding to discern the distinctions and the drift of questions; and it is a main part of knowledge to understand how ignorant you are. Wherefore it is said that “if a fool asks questions, it will be accounted wisdom,” because, although one who asks questions is ignorant of the answer to the question raised, yet as he wisely asks, and learns what he does not know, this very fact will be counted as wisdom in him, because he wisely discovers what he was ignorant of.  – St. John Cassian, Conference Four, of Abba Daniel

These words should greatly encourage us, for, though we possess so little of actual divine wisdom in ourselves, we can be accounted wise in a single moment when we acknowledge the poverty of our understanding and ask those wiser than ourselves to enlighten us.   One might say that the entire course of spiritual life consists of a gradual revelation of just how ignorant we really are, and how wise is God alone. It is often forgotten that intellectual vice is vice indeed:  God will hold men accountable at the Judgment for the wisdom which in their pride they did not seek, accounting themselves already wise.  We can easily become like such men, if at some point we imagine that we have studied enough and understood enough, and no therefore no longer need to imbibe daily the Holy Scriptures and teachings of the Church, and to seek greater knowledge, prudence, and discernment in silence and in prayer.  

Among the divine graces we seek during the closing days of this Great Lent, therefore, let us beg the Lord with pain of heart, “O Lord enlighten my darkness!”   The Giver of all good gifts desires to fill us with His divine knowledge as far as we can bear it; He desires this for us infinitely more than we desire it for ourselves.    That is really good news. 

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Lent V Friday – Esaias 45: 11-17

For the Lord Hath Spoken

The Lenten Readings from Esaias 

V Lent Friday – Esaias 45: 11-17

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/episode/v-lent-friday-esaias-45-11-17–59549238

For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, who has formed the things that are to come, Enquire of me concerning my sons, and concerning the works of my hands command me. 12 I have made the earth, and man upon it: I with my hand have established the heaven; I have given commandment to all the stars. 13 I have raised him up to be a king with righteousness, and all his ways are right: he shall build my city, and shall turn the captivity of my people, not for ransoms, nor for rewards, saith the Lord of hosts.  14 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Egypt has laboured for thee; and the merchandise of the Ethiopians, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall pass over to thee, and shall be thy servants; and they shall follow after thee bound in fetters, and shall pass over to thee, and shall do obeisance to thee, and make supplication to thee: because God is in thee; and there is no God beside thee, O Lord. 15 For thou art God, yet we knew it not, the God of Israel, the Saviour. 16 All that are opposed to him shall be ashamed and confounded, and shall walk in shame: ye isles, keep a feast to me. 17 Israel is saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation: they shall not be ashamed nor confounded for evermore. 

Both St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Cyril of Jerusalem comment on verses 14 – 15, explaining that here the prophet is proclaiming the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ: 

No one initiated in the divine mysteries needs to be told that prophets, evangelists, disciples, and apostles confess that the Lord [Jesus] is God.  For who does not know that in the 45th psalm the prophet proclaims in word that Christ is God: “anointed by God” [see Ps. 45: 6-7, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness. 7 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness beyond thy fellows. ”  In verse six, the psalmist calls the king “God,” and then in verse seven the psalmist says that God has anointed this person that he has just called God. The king, who is God, is Christ, and He has been anointed by God, that is, the Father].     Further, who is not aware that in a number of places Esaias openly announces the divinity of the Son, as, for example, when he asserts: “… and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall pass over to thee, and shall be thy servants; and they shall follow after thee bound in fetters, and shall pass over to thee, and shall do obeisance to thee, and make supplication to thee: because God is in thee; and there is no God beside thee, O Lord. For thou art God…” What other God is there who has God in himself and is himself God except the Only-Begotten, let those say who have no regard for prophecy?St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius 3: 15-16

Hear Esaias saying, “Egypt has labored for thee; and the merchandise of the Ethiopians,” and soon after, “…and [they shall] make supplication to thee: because God is in thee; and there is no God beside thee, O Lord. For thou art God, yet we knew it not, the God of Israel, the Savior.”  You see that the Son is God, having in himself God the Father, saying almost the very same which [Christ] has said in the Gospels [see John 14: 11, where Christ tells the disciples, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me…”] And again he has not said, “I and the Father am one” but “I and the Father are one,” that we should neither separate them nor confuse them.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 11.16 

As we draw near to the end of Great Lent and approach Holy Week our primary attention will shift from the labors of repentance to the contemplation of the great mystery for whose reception and glorification we have been preparing ourselves:  Our redemption by the saving passion, death on the Cross, and life-bestowing resurrection of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.   The chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, who rejected both the prophets and the One whom they prophesied, blinded themselves on purpose, in an act of incomprehensibly stubborn self-will, in order not to humble themselves before the God of Israel, Who stood before them in the flesh.  We, on the other, confess Him to be the God-Man, our only Savior.   Let us pray to complete the Fast in patience and peace, so that truly cleansed by the grace of this Lent, we will not only confess Him with our lips but also know Him as most intimately present in our minds and in our hearts. 

Glory to Thee, O Lord, One with the Father and one with us.  Glory to Thee!  

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V Lent Tuesday – Esaias 40: 18-31

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Thus saith the Lord: To whom have ye compared the Lord? and with what likeness have ye compared him? 19 Has not the artificer made an image, or the goldsmith having melted gold, gilt it over, and made it a similitude? 20 For the artificer chooses out a wood that will not rot, and will wisely enquire how he shall set up his image, and that so that it should not be moved. 21 Will ye not know? will ye not hear? has it not been told you of old? Have ye not known the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he that comprehends the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants in it are as grasshoppers; he that set up the heaven as a chamber, and stretched it out as a tent to dwell in: 23 he that appoints princes to rule as nothing, and has made the earth as nothing. 24 For they shall not plant, neither shall they sow, neither shall their root be fixed in the ground: he has blown upon them, and they are withered, and a storm shall carry them away like sticks. 25 Now then to whom have ye compared me, that I may be exalted? saith the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high, and see, who has displayed all these things? even he that brings forth his host by number: he shall call them all by name by means of his great glory, and by the power of his might: nothing has escaped thee. 27 For say not thou, O Jacob, and why hast thou spoken, Israel, saying, My way is hid from God, and my God has taken away my judgement, and has departed? 28 And now, hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? the eternal God, the God that formed the ends of the earth, shall not hunger, nor be weary, and there is no searching of his understanding. 29 He gives strength to the hungry, and sorrow to them that are not suffering. 30 For the young men shall hunger, and the youths shall be weary, and the choice men shall be powerless: 31 but they that wait on God shall renew their strength; they shall put forth new feathers like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not hunger. 

Verses 18 – 20 satirize the idol maker who imagines that with his hands he can create an image of the invisible and infinite Creator of the world.  Until the invisible God became visible in the Incarnation, of course, this was impossible.  Now, however, we can depict the face of God when we depict the face of Christ in His icon, for the face of Christ is not simply the face of a man Jesus in whom God dwells, but rather is the face of the Logos of God, according to the human nature He assumed in the hypostatic union.  The face of Jesus is not simply the face of God figuratively or morally, but is, rather, the face of God ontologically.   The face of Jesus is the face of God.  

Verses 21 – 28 remind man that his created mind cannot comprehend the uncreated Creator of all things.   The Lord has freed us from the sort of idolatry found in  pagan art, but our minds still commit the sin of idolatry when our pride convinces us that we can comprehend the infinite God, whether in His internal perfections or in His actions toward His creation.   The idea that the intellect can comprehend the infinite God is the basis of the heresy of Eunomianism, which arose in the 4th century and was defeated by the wise words of the Cappadocian Fathers, especially St. Gregory of Nyssa.   We are not Eunomians formally, of course, but we are acting like little Eunomians every time our intellects rise up in pride to impose the analysis of fallen reason on the judgments of God in the lives of men.  If we have received the grace of the God-pleasing desire to acquire true wisdom, in order to understand His ways as far as we are truly able, we will dedicate time daily to cleansing the mind of ignorance through prayer and sacred reading, and abjure the absurd speculations fueled by the restless vanity of the limited human mind which characterize almost all discourse in the society of fallen man.      

Verses 29 – 31 promise God’s all-powerful aid to those who are faithful to Him.   St. Jerome gives an eschatological meaning to the promise of eagle wings, writing that it symbolizes the putting on of immortality at the general resurrection, when the blessed of the Lord will receive their spiritual bodies united to their immortal souls: 

We have said that the old age of eagles is revived by a change of their wings and that they alone who see the brilliance of the sun and the radiance of its splendor are able to gaze with gleaming eyes; and they test their young ones to see whether they are of noble birth by this same test. In the same way the saints are made young again as they put on their immortal bodies so that they no longer feed the toil of mortals but are taken up into the clouds before the face of Christ, and in no way do they hunger, since they have the Lord present to them as food – St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 

Even now, before the Resurrection, the Lord is present to us as food in Holy Communion, a foretaste of the eternal banquet in which the saved shall neither hunger nor thirst, having Him alone as that one nourishment needed, both feeding and delighting His children unto eternity.  Let us resolve to take every measure demanded to maintain the grace that we receive in His Precious Body and Blood, so that we may inherit His eternal Kingdom.  

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IV Lent Thursday

The Beginning of Wisdom 

The Lenten Readings from Proverbs 

Lent IV Thursday – Proverbs 13:19 – 14:6

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My son: The desires of the godly gladden the soul, but the works of the ungodly are far from knowledge. 20 If thou walkest with wise men thou shalt be wise: but he that walks with fools shall be known. 21 Evil shall pursue sinners; but good shall overtake the righteous. 22 A good man shall inherit children’s children; and the wealth of ungodly men is laid up for the just. 23 The righteous shall spend many years in wealth: but the unrighteous shall perish suddenly. 24 He that spares the rod hates his son: but he that loves, carefully chastens him. 25 A just man eats and satisfies his soul: but the souls of the ungodly are in want. 14:1 Wise women build houses: but a foolish one digs hers down with her hands. 2 He that walks uprightly fears the Lord; but he that is perverse in his ways shall be dishonoured. 3 Out of the mouth of fools comes a rod of pride; but the lips of the wise preserve them. 4 Where no oxen are, the cribs are clean; but where there is abundant produce, the strength of the ox is apparent. 5 A faithful witness does not lie; but an unjust witness kindles falsehoods. 6 Thou shalt seek wisdom with bad men, and shalt not find it; but discretion is easily available with the prudent. 

“He that spares the rod hates his son:  but he that loves, carefully chastens him.”   The Apostle echoes this wise thought in Hebrews 12:8:   “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”   It was predictable, having in the 1950s given up prudent chastisement in favor of the Dr. Spock philosophy of raising children by spoiling them, that by today in the 2020s the same society thinks there is nothing unusual about siring multiple bastards and allowing them to live like mindless beasts.  The two degenerate practices go hand in hand; they both spring from a blind intellect and a corrupted will.  

For a starting point in learning how to rear children, every Orthodox parent should read a little volume called Raising Them Right, which reproduces the earlier sections of The Path to Salvation by St. Theophan the Recluse, that are concerned with infancy, childhood, and adolescence.    Father and mother need to study it together, agree on the principles enunciated, and support one another in taking action.    The Lord will reward you in this life with pious and happy children, and in the next life with the crown of victory given those who do the will of God.  

In the passage from Hebrews, of course, the Apostle was using the image of good parents’ chastisement of their children to encourage the faithful to accept sorrows and persecutions as God’s good parenting towards their souls.  St. Augustine, in commenting on the verse from Proverbs, contrasts the eager soul, thirsting for union with God, with the inattentive soul that needs to suffer more in order to be recalled to the awareness of its need for repentance:  

“He that spares the rod hates his son.”  For, give us a person who with right faith and true understanding can say with all the energy of his heart, “My soul thirsted for God, the mighty, the living; when shall I come, and appear before the face of God (Ps. 41) ?”.  For such a person there is no need for the terror of hell, to say nothing of temporal punishments or imperial laws, seeing that with him it is so indispensable a blessing to cleave to the Lord that he not only dreads being parted from that happiness as a heavy punishment but can scarcely even bear delay in its attainment.   But yet, before the good sons can say they have “a desire to depart, and to be with Christ (Philippians 1: 23),” many must first be recalled to their Lord by the stripes of temporal scourging, like evil servants, and in some degree like good-for-nothing-fugitives. – The Correction of the Donatists 6:21

Let us pray for the grace to receive all temporal sorrows as loving reminders from our merciful Father, to love Him alone and seek Him alone, because He alone is worthy of all love.    Then our sorrows will be turned to joy, and we will by His grace attain a firm hope in our salvation. 

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III Lent Friday – Esaias 13: 2-13

For the Lord Hath Spoken

The Lenten Readings from Esaias 

III Lent Friday – Esaias 13: 2-13

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Thus saith the Lord: Lift up a standard on the mountain of the plain, exalt the voice to them, beckon with the hand, open the gates, ye rulers. 3 I give command, and I bring them: giants are coming to fulfill my wrath, rejoicing at the same time and insulting. 4 A voice of many nations on the mountains, even like to that of many nations; a voice of kings and nations gathered together: the Lord of hosts has given command to a war-like nation, 5 to come from a land afar off, from the utmost foundation of heaven; the Lord and his warriors are coming to destroy all the world. 6 Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is near, and destruction from God shall arrive. 7 Therefore every hand shall become powerless, and every soul of man shall be dismayed. 8 The elders shall be troubled, and pangs shall seize them, as of a woman in travail: and they shall mourn one to another, and shall be amazed, and shall change their countenance as a flame. 9 For behold! the day of the Lord is coming which cannot be escaped, a day of wrath and anger, to make the world desolate, and to destroy sinners out of it. 10 For the stars of heaven, and Orion, and all the host of heaven, shall not give their light; and it shall be dark at sunrise, and the moon shall not give her light. 11 And I will command evils for the whole world, and will visit their sins on the ungodly: and I will destroy the pride of transgressors, and will bring low the pride of the haughty. 12 And they that are left shall be more precious than gold tried in the fire; and a man shall be more precious than the stone that is in Suphir. 13 For the heaven shall be enraged, and the earth shall be shaken from her foundation, because of the fierce anger of the Lord of hosts, in the day in which his wrath shall come on.

This passage forms a part of “A Vision Against Babylon,” in which the Lord announces His judgment against that great pagan nation that figures so prominently in the history of Old Israel.  “Babylon,” of course, means “Babel,” that is, “confusion,” and the word conveys layers of meaning.  It refers to the Tower of Babel of Genesis 11, to the historical Babylon of the first millennium B.C., to apostate Old Israel that killed the prophets and the Son of God Himself, and to the kingdom of Antichrist in general, both in its final, eschatological form as well as in its various iterations throughout history, in the form of all the innumerable worldly kingdoms based on demonic worship and fallen man’s lust for power and enslavement to all the passions.  Thus the prophecy in today’s passage has a contemporary application to the Babylonian nation, a moral application to all societies who manifest the wicked character of the Tower of Babel, and an eschatological application to the final reign of Antichrist, which Christ will destroy forever on that last and greatest Day of the Lord: His Second Coming. 

St. Jerome writes that this passage applies not only to kingdoms but also to every soul considered individually:  

[Esaias] saw, not with the eyes of flesh but with the eyes of the mind, what a huge, heavy weight Babylon imposes.  And since Babylon, which in Hebrew is “Babel,” means “confused” (it was there that the speech of those who built the tower was confused), spiritually it signifies the world which is inclined toward evil that confuses not only tongues, but also individual behavior and outlook. – Jerome, Commentary on Esaias, Book 5.  

Each of us then, when he fights against mental deception by the struggles of his own spiritual warfare,  does his own part, by the grace of God,  in the war of Christ against the Babylonian kingdom of Satan and his tool, the Antichrist.  

“For the kingdom of God is within you.”   

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