Assumption of the Holy Virgin Church
Orthodox Church in America
Clifton, NJ
Wednesday, October 27th., 2021

Wednesday, October 27th 2021

Epistle: Colossians 1:18-23               Gospel: Luke 11:9-13

Father Terence Baz

I mentioned yesterday (see yesterday’s post) that St. Paul had to address the issue of Gnosticism that had crept into the community of Colossae from both pagans and Jews. St. Paul’s first couple of sentences in today’s passage sums up how he addresses it. He wrote:

“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

The heresy of Gnosticism was a serious threat to the fledgling early Christian communities. St. Paul and other faithful teachers in the early Church dealt firmly with it and it is now little more than a footnote in Church history. Other heresies such as Arianism would follow and its influence is still a serious threat to the Church. To remain steadfast to the teachings of the apostles and the New Testament is a fundamental tenant of Orthodoxy. At the Divine Liturgy, just after the Anaphora, the priest says aloud:

“Among the first, remember, O Lord, His Beatitude our Metropolitan Tikhon, His Eminence and our Archbishop Michael. Grant them for your holy church in peace, safety, honor, health and length of days, to rightly define the word of Your truth.”

As St. Paul says above, Christ is the head of the Church. We are its members. It is fundamental that we “rightly define the word of Your truth.

For us, who believe in Christ, He is everything. No one or nothing else can take His place. Throughout the centuries, political systems and philosophies have come and gone and will continue to do so. The one Truth that the early Christians steadfastly held on to was Christ, especially when confronted with the demand to worship something or someone else other than Him. They were prepared to die for this Truth. As St. Paul wrote:

“Continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast”

Let us also not be swayed by fashionable ideas or teachings. They will come and go and belong to this fallen world. Our belief in Christ and the Kingdom of God is being offered to us for all eternity.

The teachings of the Church are there to prevent us from becoming confused. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that what the Orthodox Church teaches is merely one of many Christian creeds. Remember that it was the Orthodox Church which wrote the scriptures. It was the Orthodox Church which determined what are the canonical books of the Bible and what are not. It was the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, as direct descendants of the apostles, who passed on the proper teachings of Christ and the apostles. It has been the Councils of the Church who have guarded them right through the centuries, often enduring great crosses and persecutions in the process. Other churches may try to discredit this history but it is undeniable. Do not be confused by such false teachers. When we do, we drift from what Christ taught us. This is happening a great deal today, especially among the Protestants.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus continued His teaching on how to pray. Like yesterday’s teaching, He taught about the need for persistence in prayer. In this passage, He taught about trusting in the Father about what is best for us. We do not always pray for that which is good for our souls. Jesus did not say that we should not pray for everything we think of but, “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

What matters is that if we pray sincerely in faith, our Father will listen to our prayers and petitions. What we do not know is His plan for us and how our salvation will unfold through it. I have often said that, in believing in and calling out to Christ in our difficulties, He will send His Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and guide us. The more we pray, the clearer this becomes.

Tuesday, October 26th., 2021

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Epistle: Colossians 1:1-2, 7-11          Gospel: Luke 11:1-10

Father Terence Baz

The Epistle today is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It was a city in modern day Turkey or Asia Minor. It was probably written while he was in prison in Rome about A.D. 61-63. As with some other communities he established, this one was influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ and also local pagans. Because of these influences, a serious heresy that the Church had to deal with, later called Gnosticism, was becoming popular. It held that you were saved by doing certain rituals that supposedly gave them ‘special knowledge’ for salvation. As such, belief in Christ was superseded and baptism was pushed aside. They also reverted back to many of the practices of the Old Mosaic Law. These were serious diversions from Christian faith and Paul wrote to deal with them.

Today’s Gospel passage is so rich that it is not possible in this short message to fully explore all of its aspects. It is St. Luke’s account of Jesus teaching them the Our Father. Whole volumes have been written to analyze this great prayer. I have written about the Our Father often, its importance in our prayer life and how it helps us to relate to our Heavenly Father.

It acknowledges our Heavenly Father and that we wish His will to be done ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’ It mentions us praying for our needs or our ‘daily bread’, our need to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others who have wronged us. At the beginning of the prayer, we implore the Father to have His Kingdom come to us. All these things are the basis of our Christian life. It is also the basis of the Orthodox Christian Way of life. Let us therefore always pray this prayer with reverence and sincerity.

The second half of the passage is a short parable given by Jesus about the importance of being persistent in our prayer and our petitions to the Father. Jesus is teaching the apostles not to be fainthearted in their prayers because they will eventually be answered. God is beyond time and space so, we may not know how or when but if we pray with sincere faith, our Father will hear our prayers. Jesus told them therefore:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Again, faith is the key. If we make excuses such as

  • our needs are not very important
  • God has more things to be concerned about than my little concerns
  • I should put up with my sufferings because everyone else does or,
  • why would He be concerned about my child’s needs?

We will put doubts into our minds that our Father is not capable of hearing us. It is not that we should not accept our crosses because Jesus said that we must take up our cross daily to follow Him but, even in enduring our crosses, we should persistently ask our heavenly Father to help us. Talk to Christ about them. Bring them to the Divine Liturgy and offer them back to Christ and our Father. Use the sacraments to strengthen and sustain us with those spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has promised us. Pray that we will not become fainthearted but always seeking our Father instead.

Tuesday, October 26th., 2021

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Epistle: Colossians 1:1-2, 7-11          Gospel: Luke 11:1-10

Father Terence Baz

The Epistle today is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It was a city in modern day Turkey or Asia Minor. It was probably written while he was in prison in Rome about A.D. 61-63. As with some other communities he established, this one was influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ and also local pagans. Because of these influences, a serious heresy that the Church had to deal with, later called Gnosticism, was becoming popular. It held that you were saved by doing certain rituals that supposedly gave them ‘special knowledge’ for salvation. As such, belief in Christ was superseded and baptism was pushed aside. They also reverted back to many of the practices of the Old Mosaic Law. These were serious diversions from Christian faith and Paul wrote to deal with them.

Today’s Gospel passage is so rich that it is not possible in this short message to fully explore all of its aspects. It is St. Luke’s account of Jesus teaching them the Our Father. Whole volumes have been written to analyze this great prayer. I have written about the Our Father often, its importance in our prayer life and how it helps us to relate to our Heavenly Father.

It acknowledges our Heavenly Father and that we wish His will to be done ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’ It mentions us praying for our needs or our ‘daily bread’, our need to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others who have wronged us. At the beginning of the prayer, we implore the Father to have His Kingdom come to us. All these things are the basis of our Christian life. It is also the basis of the Orthodox Christian Way of life. Let us therefore always pray this prayer with reverence and sincerity.

The second half of the passage is a short parable given by Jesus about the importance of being persistent in our prayer and our petitions to the Father. Jesus is teaching the apostles not to be fainthearted in their prayers because they will eventually be answered. God is beyond time and space so, we may not know how or when but if we pray with sincere faith, our Father will hear our prayers. Jesus told them therefore:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Again, faith is the key. If we make excuses such as

  • our needs are not very important
  • God has more things to be concerned about than my little concerns
  • I should put up with my sufferings because everyone else does or,
  • why would He be concerned about my child’s needs?

We will put doubts into our minds that our Father is not capable of hearing us. It is not that we should not accept our crosses because Jesus said that we must take up our cross daily to follow Him but, even in enduring our crosses, we should persistently ask our heavenly Father to help us. Talk to Christ about them. Bring them to the Divine Liturgy and offer them back to Christ and our Father. Use the sacraments to strengthen and sustain us with those spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has promised us. Pray that we will not become fainthearted but always seeking our Father instead.

Monday, October 25th., 2021

Monday, October 25th 2021

Epistle: Philippians 4:10-23             Gospel: Luke 10:22-24

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul said in other letters that he never asked any of the communities to give him compensation or wages for his preaching of the Gospel. Most of them did not. He managed to get by from his tent making skills. We can see from the concluding section of his letter to the Philippians, however, that this was one community that gave generously to him. He expresses his gratitude in today’s passage and it clearly created a special bond between him and the community. Not all the communities gave him the same joy that the Philippians did. He makes that clear in his letters to the Corinthians and Galatians. Even so, he does not complain. He kept in his stride what he may or may not have been given to support him.

“I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It is poignantly clear in this conclusion of his letter that all he wanted to do was to preach the Gospel and stay focused on Christ. He was not going to let what people may or may not do for him distract him away from it. At the same time, it is clear he was comforted by their generosity. He wrote:

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.”

He knew at the time that his execution was not far off. He tried to comfort the Philippians, knowing that he would not see them again while on earth. He fare-welled them with a final blessing:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

In today's Gospel passage, after having given instructions and sent out His apostles and disciples to preach and bring the life of the Kingdom of God to the chosen people, Jesus reflected on how profound this moment was. The very Son of God, who intimately knew the Father, was now bringing the presence of the Kingdom of God to them, as a man. This is the great mystery of our belief that He was both “True God and true man.” Others such as kings and prophets had previously longed to see the presence of God in this way but were not able to. Yet, these simple fishermen were given this blessing:

“Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

Like His chosen people who saw the presence of God, we too, have been given a great blessing. Through our baptism, the Holy Spirit has been given to us. It is that same Spirit who led Jesus into the desert, through whom He preached to the people, cast out demons and healed people. That same Spirit has been offered to us to comfort, strengthen and guide us through the troubles of our life’s journeys. He is not there like a magician to make our troubles disappear but to guide us through them in order to receive the joys of the Kingdom of God which have been promised to us. Like Paul above, let us always be grateful for what our Heavenly Father has given us, even in times of great distress.

The other great blessing we have is for us to also be able to call the first person of the Trinity, ‘Father’, like Jesus did. This is a tremendous privilege to be given! Let us never take it for granted. Without Christ, we could never have this intimacy. Let us always be thankful that we can call out to the Father. At the same time, when we fail, Christ is there for us to turn back to. He will never refuse us because our Heavenly Father wants all souls to be saved but more than that, to also be holy, even as He is holy. Our Father sent His only Son to offer that to us. As Jesus said:

“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Christ has willed for us to gain this revelation. Let us also be grateful to our parents if they chose to baptize us as babies so that we toowould be given access to Christ. Let us always be thankful for these wonderful blessings!

Thursday, October 21st., 2021

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Epistle: Philippians 3:1-8                  Gospel: Luke 9:49-56

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage of his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul reflected on what he was and he had become. In the Old Law, he lived the ideal life of a Pharisee. He was

“circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”

This was according to the flesh, however, not according to the Spirit and therefore it counted for nothing or ‘rubbish’ as he wrote. The reason is that

“these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

In suffering the loss of his past, he gained everything in Christ Jesus because the past was of the flesh but what he gained in Christ was the righteousness that the flesh could never give him. As baptized Christians, let us treasure, like Paul, what we have been given. The ritual of baptism might seem to be a straightforward one but it is one that has profound and life giving consequences for us, who believe in Christ. Let us not take it for granted.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we see the mentality of the Old Law being expressed by the apostles when they were not welcomed into a Samaritan village. Their response was to want to bring down fire from heaven to destroy them. Jesus said no:

“The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

Jesus did not judge others. He would leave that to His Heavenly Father. He only ever invited others to believe in Him and when they did, He offered them the life of the Kingdom of God. Instead of condemning, He embraced the cross for the salvation of all. He knew this and is why the passage said He was so focused on returning to Jerusalem.

It is important to realize that the Orthodox Church takes the same stand. As the Body of Christ that came from the apostles, it invites everyone, through its sacraments and blessings, to drink of the Living Waters of Christ. The sacraments are vehicles for us to enter into the mystery of the Kingdom of God and drink of its living waters. They are us not there to make restitution for our guilt and sins. It does not condemn or judge those who break its rules. It does not force someone to repatriate if he or she has wronged someone. If it feels the need to discipline someone for their sins, it only does so in the hope that their soul would be given the time to repent and turn back to Christ. Christ and His Body, the Church, is always there for us when we need to turn back to Him. When we do, the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us. Just as Christ embraced the cross, the Church does the same. This is not an easy path to follow but it is what Christ wants of us. The Orthodox Church has suffered many persecutions, continues to do so and will in the future. It also knows, however, that the gates of Hell will never prevail against it.

It is important for us therefore to always pray for those who wrong or persecute us. Let us not fall into the trap of judging or condemning others. Let us earnestly ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of Wisdom to guide us to prudently help someone who has gone from the Church. Let us always forgive others no matter what the hurt done to us is. It is what we pray for every time we pray the ‘Our Father.’

Wednesday, October 20th., 2021

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Epistle: Philippians 2:24-30              Gospel: Luke 9:44-50

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, a dispute arose between the apostles about who was the greatest. Jesus responded:

“Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”

We must remember that the bedrock of our faith and of our parish community is humility. Arrogance is the opposite of what we are as disciples of Christ. An arrogant person will bring on great destruction on his or her soul and much worse, if it spreads to the parish community. It is important to do the best job we can in regard to parish responsibilities but if such accomplishments breed arrogance then all those efforts will be for nothing. It will create enmity and if the whole parish becomes arrogant because they have built a beautiful church or something else significant, such an edifice will become an empty shell because it will drive people away. The convenience and comfort of a beautiful facility will mean nothing to those who yearn to drink of the living waters from Christ through His Body, the Church. If that community is arrogant, it cannot offer the Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit will only reside in us if we are humble. This is what our Heavenly Father calls us to be. Thus, being part of the Communion of Saints through Christ’s Body, the Church, carries with it an awesome responsibility. We must be prepared to take up our cross daily and humbly seek to do the Father’s will, just as Jesus did.

After all the extraordinary things that had been happening with His apostles, such as healing the sick and casting out demons, the apostles must have started comparing what each of them had done with the others. This is why a dispute about who was the greatest of them arose. They forgot that it was from Jesus that they were able to do those things. So, one of the things we must always reflect on is, have we been comparing what we do in a parish with what others have done? If we do, we forget about Christ and start thinking about ourselves and others. The only one we should ever compare ourselves to is Christ. When we realize this, we see that all we can do is to humbly ask Christ to make up for our weaknesses and failures. Unless we become like a little child before Christ, the Holy Spirit will not reside in us nor will He act in us. Let us always pray for humility.

In the latter part of this passage, John asks if someone else can do those works if he was not sent out by Jesus. Jesus replies,

“Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.”

Remember that the Holy Spirit blows where He wills. We do not know where He may choose to work. One thing that will be needed, as I have mentioned above, is humility. It is for this reason that we should respect the works other people’s faiths or of those of ‘good will.’ As Orthodox, we do not judge and leave their works in God’s hands. As long as what they do does not undermine the Orthodox Church and its teachings, we leave them in God’s hands. If they spread malicious rumors about us then they do not represent Christ.

Tuesday, October 19th., 2021

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Epistle: Philippians 2:17-23              Gospel: Luke 9:23-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, we read the profound words that Jesus spoke about the cross:

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

If, like Jesus said, we lose our life to this world or, lose what the fallen world poses to us as a glamorous, desirable life, if we remove ourselves from what it offers, we will seek the Kingdom of God instead.

This does not mean that we do not enjoy the blessings and benefits of God’s created world. There are those who believe that the fallen world is bad and must be frowned upon, such as some Calvanists and the Jansenists. The Orthodox Church believes in contrast that God’s created world is innately good. Nor does this mean that we should not use our talents to the best of our ability. What it does mean is that the benefits of this world and the use of our talents should always be for Christ and the Kingdom of God, not for ourselves. Enjoying the glamour of this world for our own benefit means that we will lose our life for eternity:

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”

Let us, therefore, keep this in mind as we go about our daily lives and work. Unless it is for Christ, it will be for nothing. This is exactly why in every Divine Liturgy, right after the words of Consecration and right before the Epiclesis, we offer back to Christ what He has given us:

“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all”

It was the cross, that Jesus spoke about above, that St. Paul lived out in his life and wrote about in today’s passage from his Letter to the Philippians.

“Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Paul was comforting them in telling them that they would never see him again in this earthly life. He said he would send his trusted disciple, Timothy, to minister to them.

In offering our lives to Christ at each Divine Liturgy, let us remember that, like the Philippians, we are not being left alone. The Holy Spirit will guide, comfort and strengthen us on our day to day journey. Let us give all our cares to Christ out of love for Him so that we will save our lives, as Jesus said in today’s Gospel.

Friday, October 15th., 2021

Friday, October 15th 2021

Epistle: Philippians 1:27-2:4             Gospel: Luke 9:12-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul restated some of the messages that he had written about in several of his letters. The first was to let their conduct be worthy of preaching the Gospel. The second was to not be terrified by their adversaries lest they think that their threats or worse would have an effect. The third was that for those who believe in Christ, they should expect to suffer for His sake or, in other words, take up their own cross. The fourth is to not do things out of selfishness but by serving one another in humility in order to build up the community. He also urged them here to follow his example in that,

“If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Obviously for us, we need to keep in mind these same ideals and as Paul says, always reaching out to the Holy Spirit to help us do so.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Luke puts this event in the context of a lot of other activities that had been happening. Jesus had healed many, cast out demons, raised the widow’s son from the dead, preached to the multitudes and now he fed them. This created an enormous amount of interest and curiosity, even from Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist. Such was the impact of the Son of God visiting His people, preaching the Kingdom of God and bestowing its blessings.

Let us not forget that this same Jesus, the Messiah or Christ, is always there for us too. The Holy Spirit who had led Him to do these wonderful things is there to lead us too! His Father in heaven had sent Him to bring His holiness to the Chosen People and calls us to be holy as well, through that same Spirit of God. We have the grace to deal with whatever this fallen world throws at us. Let us be confident that with Christ, all things are possible and that the powers of darkness will never prevail against us.

Thursday, October 14th., 2021

Thursday, October 14th 2021

Epistle: Philippians 1:20-27              Gospel: Luke 9:7-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is between St. Luke’s account of Jesus sending our His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and their return. Then the crowds caught up with Him, listened to His preaching after which He fed the crowd with the five loaves and two fish.

In this segment, Luke described how King Herod heard about Him and was puzzled because he had beheaded John the Baptist. God’s plan would unfold despite the attempts of the fallen world to stop it. In fact, Jesus would soon say to His disciples that He too would be rejected, tortured and killed. Let us remember that when it seems that the fallen world is stopping God’s plan from unfolding, it never will.

In today’s letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, he reflects on the tension about wanting to leave this world to be with Christ but still wanting to continue his mission on earth to preach Christ to as many as he could and also encourage those who had converted to Christ. It would not be long before he would be executed but the Christian communities continued to grow after he left this earth despite the threat of persecution.

Wednesday, October 13th., 2021

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Epistle: Philippians 1:12-20              Gospel: Luke 8:22-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

I mentioned yesterday that it is extraordinary how St. Paul, through his prayers and faith in Christ, was by the grace of the Holy Spirit often able to turn what seemed like a hopeless situation into one of grace or blessing. In his letter to the Philippians, he reflects how his imprisonment enabled him to preach to the prison guards and that his example encouraged his disciples to do the same. It is interesting that we read in today’s passage that not all those who followed his example did so from a genuine desire to preach the Gospel but imitated him out of jealousy and did so to try to bring about his demise. This does not deter St. Paul but instead he remained focused on preaching Christ to anyone he could for their salvation. He could have responded by engaging in arguments with his detractors. He is not interested in this. As he wrote:

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Paul knew that, as a disciple of Christ, he would die to himself, take up his cross so that he could live in Christ. Paul did not try to save his earthly life but tried to live in Christ instead.

Anyone who believes in Christ and wishes to follow Him must take up his or her cross to do so. Like Paul, they must be prepared to lose their earthly life for the sake of Christ. Like Paul, when people ridicule or detract from their example in striving to follow Christ, they must also strive to stay focused on the Holy Spirit to guide them through their adversity. As St. Paul said about such detraction, “in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Let us, therefore, turn our difficulties into times of grace through our intercession to the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus calming the waters after He and His disciples had got into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. A storm had arisen and the disciples became terrified. Jesus’ response was, “Where is your faith?” Even though the disciples were awestruck at Jesus ability to command the winds to calm down, it does not detract from their lack of faith. It is understandable that they became terrified of the waves and I am sure they had heard of people who had perished in this way but they had witnessed many miracles done by Jesus. Their lack of faith was in that they allowed those winds to overcome them with terror and they forgot about all the awesome things they had just witnessed of Jesus on land. We have reflected today on how St. Paul responded in faith during times of adversity. We too, can call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us in the most alarming of situations. Let us pray to that same Spirit to give us the faith to be able to respond in the way that Christ wants us to if we are faced with similar circumstances. Let us not be overcome with fear like the disciples were but even if we do, Christ will always be there for us if we turn to Him.

Tuesday, October 12th., 2021

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Epistle: Philippians 1:8-14                Gospel: Luke 8:1-3

Archpriest Terence Baz

One of the extraordinary things about Paul’s missionary life was that even though he frequently faced great adversity, in times of peril, he simply prayed to the Holy Spirit and a situation that looked hopeless was turned into a moment of great grace. Today’s passage from his letter to the Philippians is another example. He was in prison but through his faith and prayers, he was able to preach to the Roman prison guards about Christ, who listened. This emboldened his disciples to not be afraid of preaching about Christ as well.

Let us remember him when we find ourselves in difficult situations and like him, call out to the Holy Spirit to guide us.

St. Luke in today’s Gospel continues to describe the work of ministry that Jesus did: healing the sick and casting out demons. Note that in referring to Mary Magdalene, Luke says that she had 7 demons that Jesus cast out. She is not described in the scriptures as a prostitute as the Roman Church claims. She later became very close to Jesus whom he appeared to her right after his resurrection. As yesterday’s Gospel passage said, she who is forgiven much, loves much. That was certainly true with Mary Magdelene.

Monday, October 11th., 2021

Monday, October 11, 2021

Epistle: Philippians 1:1-7                  Gospel: Luke 7:36-50

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Philippi was a city on the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Macedonia. It looks like Paul started this community through his preaching about 10 years prior to this letter. Like the letter to the Galatians, he was either under house arrest or in prison at the time of writing in the early 60’s. It is obvious from the tone of the introduction that he had fond memories of this community.

Note the term ‘bondservants of Jesus Christ.’ Belief in Christ meant that they had received the gift of righteousness from the Kingdom of God but it also meant that, as Christ’s followers, they must be prepared to take up their own crosses. The same holds true for us.

Today’s Gospel story from St. Luke portrays the extraordinary incident of the sinful woman who poured out her tears on his feet to repent of her sins. The hosts who invited Jesus were understandably indignant at someone uninvited putting on such a dramatic performance in their house but Jesus was incisive in handling it. He noted that while he was invited, they showed none of the courtesies normally given to an invitee: washing His feet, offering a welcome kiss and even anointing His hair. While these may have been regarded as polite courtesies, Jesus pointed to something much deeper. The sinful woman did all those things to Him, not out of courtesy but from a very deep felt sense of being forgiven for all her sins and thus out of love for Him. In contrast, Jesus pointed out to Simon that he felt no such indebtedness to God and so, much less was forgiven of him. Jesus concluded the incident by offering to forgive her sins:

‘Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”’

The hosts still did not perceive what was happening. They still did not see Jesus for who He was. All they heard was that He said something that they would not dare to say to someone else: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus was offering this woman the life of the Kingdom of God instead of that of death and she had felt the great sense of release from the burden of sin that this had brought. The Pharisees could not see this.

Like the sinful woman in this story, let us not be afraid to ask forgiveness of our own sins before Christ in the confessional. He will never refuse us and always offers forgiveness. If we repent, we will walk away from our sins and embrace the love of Christ instead. Let us always strive to do this.

Friday, October 8th., 2021

Friday, October 09, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 6:18-24                Gospel: Luke 7:31-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage concludes St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We can see from verse 20 that he probably wrote it while he was in prison in Rome. We also think that it was written about 61-63 AD. He describes himself as “an ambassador in chains.” Even in this condition, he sees as his mission “to make known the mystery of the gospel,” in a bold manner. He sends one of his disciples, Tychicus, to reassure and comfort them and to deliver his letter. Note that he also asks for their prayers in conjunction with his own.

Paul must have been aware that his case to the Emperor would be the end for him. He was not afraid of this and wrote many times in all his letters that any harm done to the body by those who do not believe in Christ does not matter. What matters is that we remain focused on the Kingdom of God and Christ. His strength was by

“praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

The pagans may take away his body but his soul will be with Christ in the Kingdom of God.

In these troubled times when we face social uncertainty and violence from some segments of the community, remember that many of the saints have endured similar or worse trials. St. Paul was a great example and so was St. Tikhon (celebrated tomorrow), who endured the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution. Both remained steadfast in their focus on Christ’s Kingdom. Both prayed earnestly in the Holy Spirit for their Church and for themselves. Both would not compromise the teachings of the Church. Let us be inspired by them. Let us also pray earnestly for our country, our communities and our families. Through being focused on Christ, let us also give comfort and reassurance to others in these troubled times, by guiding them to see that the only way to the truth is in Christ. Realize, however, that in following Christ in this way, He will call us like Paul to take up own crosses, not for simply suffering for its own sake, but that through them we may bring others to Him. This is what will transform the fallen world.

The example of these two saints stands in stark contrast to what Jesus was facing in today’s Gospel passage. The Jewish authorities refused to believe in God’s Word! When John the Baptist preached they said he was too strict. When Jesus preached they said He was not strict enough in their Mosaic practices. Thus, Jesus gave them this parable where some children cooperate in playing a game but others refuse. What was really at stake for the Jewish authorities was their pride and lust for power. They would only listen on their terms, not God’s. They rejected the Word of God.

St. Paul wrote that for the Jewish leaders, the teachings of Jesus were a stumbling block and for the Greeks, foolishness. Neither could accept that the cross He went on was the key to the life of the Kingdom of God. There are plenty in society today who take a similar stand, presenting views that are different to Christ’s message. Never be afraid to proclaim our relationship with Christ and our belief in Him. At the same time, do not attack or judge others who may be different from us. Never let what we say cause enmity between us and others because of our words. This does not mean that we hide what we believe but when we talk about it, we should be gracious in the way we say it. It is always helpful and important to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in what we say. One of the Morning Prayers used by the Orthodox Church says:

“Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me mischief, and do not let them perish through me, a sinner.”

Thursday, October 7th., 2021

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 5:33-6:9               Gospel: Luke 7:17-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, he lays out to his readers what it meant to be disciples of Christ. In the previous segment, Luke described how Jesus preached, cast out demons and healed people. With all the talk going around about Him, John the Baptist sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus directly. Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

John would have clearly known what Jesus meant by His reply. The very thing that John preached about was at hand. These were demonstrations of the presence of the Kingdom of God. John had been preaching to the people to repent in preparation for oncoming of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God means life. Everything Jesus was doing brought life not death. In the same manner, Luke was telling those to whom he wrote and who believed in Christ that their belief gave them access to that same life of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus then quoted the prophet Malachi to describe who John was, a messenger or prophet, sent by God to announce His coming. Jesus also described John as the greatest of the prophets. Luke then makes the point in this description that those who believe in Jesus as the Christ or Messiah are even greater than the prophet John because they now have access to the very joys of the Kingdom John was announcing!

 ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

In other words, for St. Luke, the disciples of Christ had something that even John’s disciples did not have, which was the Holy Spirit who gave them the life of the Kingdom of God. Further, despite being God’s chosen people and descendents of Abraham, those Jews who refused to be baptized by John and believe in the life giving works that Jesus did, confined themselves to the incomplete sacrifices of the Old Testament and ultimately to death rather than life.

"And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him."

What Luke outlines here goes to the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Through our baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit we then received, the life of the Kingdom of God is always at our disposal. The Holy Spirit will give us the gifts and fruits we need to live a wholesome life to prepare us for His Kingdom. We have to be careful therefore not to look for the sensationalism that some pastors seek by trying to force miracles or spectacular healings. Sometimes extraordinary healings or demonstrations of the Kingdom of God will happen. We rejoice when they do but in the meantime, we need to realize that like St. Paul said, the grace of God is sufficient for us in our daily lives. We also need to remember that as Christ’s disciples, we are also called to take up our own crosses. This does not mean that we do not pray for the healing of someone who is sick. If we pray in faith, God will listen to our prayers and will act on them even if we do not see it.

Further, we should pray for those looking for remedies in the medical field and those assisting them. The Holy Spirit can guide them too! Be careful, however, to realize that the world of science and medicine belong to the physical world not to the spiritual. As such, it does not always have the answers. Faith in medicine alone is not enough. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life alone. At the same time, The Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit continues the work of creation in the physical world even though, as St. Paul says, it is subject to futility because of the sin of Adam and Eve. In other words, the field of medicine is good. The Orthodox Church has sought its help, when necessary, over the centuries but because Christ alone is the absolute, it must always measure up to what His Body, the Church teaches.

Wednesday, October 6th., 2021

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 5:25-33                Gospel: Luke 6:46-7:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul compares the mystery of marriage to the mystery of the Church. Paul often talks about the Body of Christ, which is the Church. In this passage, he gives a comparison about how intimate Christ’s relationship with us is. Christ gave His life for us. He continues to love us because we are now His Body, not in the flesh but in the Church. It is the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit who gives life to and guides the Church. In marriage, husband and wife “become one flesh.” In Christ, we are one in Spirit through the Church. His relationship with us in the Church is no less intimate than the flesh of a husband and wife but in an incomparably more profound way because, where the flesh dies, the Church does not. This is why in the Orthodox Church we say that the bond between a husband and wife is much more than a contract that ends when our earthly life ends. Through Christ’s Body, the Church and the Holy Spirit who animates it, the marriage bond becomes eternal. What a profound mystery this is! At the time of the marriage, the husband and wife probably do not feel this intimacy in the same way that they do with sensuous intimacy. They are also probably more concerned about making sure all the details for the celebration go well without mishaps. This does not impact the establishment of the profound mystery of their eternal bond that is concurrently happening. It will, however, that become more recognizable over time.

In regard to their earthly relationship, Paul also used this comparison to write about how a husband and wife should treat each other. Just as Christ loves His own body, so a husband should love his wife in the same way as he treats his own body. Likewise, the wife should respect her husband:

“So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.”

He continued:

“Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Paul also reiterated in this passage what Jesus taught that, because of this mystery, the two should begin a new life:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus warned the people that it is not enough to call Him ‘Lord.’ What really mattered was that they also do what He taught them. Once again, He was challenging them to not only listen to Him but to be prepared to live out what He taught because they believed in Him. For those that do, they are like a house built on a firm foundation that can weather storms and floods. Those who do not will be like those who build a house without taking such a precaution.

St. Luke would have also been warning those to whom he was writing not to simply read what he wrote but also to live out the teachings of Jesus. If not, they would be swept away. Let us not forget that those who were Christian in Luke’s time often faced persecution, even death. It would have been tempting for them to forget the teachings of Jesus and go along with what pagan society presented as the norms to live by. This may have looked like a secure way to live by but Jesus was warning them that the opposite is true! It is only by believing and following Him that they will gain true and eternal life.

We are not immune from this in our own society. It is easy to go along with what society presents as the norm and also forget what the Church teaches in the name of Christ. Thus, many will say that the Church is ‘out of date’ or ‘old fashioned.’ Remember that what Christ taught is eternal but what the fallen world may teach is passing. This does not mean to disrespect civil laws or norms but we must remember to always measure them up by what the Church teaches. The two are not always the same.

Tuesday, October 5th., 2021

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 5:20-26                Gospel: Luke 6:37-45

Archpriest Terence Baz

Let us start with the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke:

“For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

For those who have maintained their commitment to Christ since being baptized, they will seek guidance each day from the Holy Spirit through the teachings of Christ’s Body, the Church. If anyone does this, their hearts will be one in Christ. Despite that person’s shortcomings and faults, the Holy Spirit will make up the difference to enable them to be united to Christ. When this is the case, such a person will bear good fruit and they will speak in a way that reflects their love for Christ. Such a person will be grateful for the love that Christ has given them and for all the fruits of the Kingdom of God bestowed upon him or her, by the Holy Spirit.

If, on the other hand, they choose to outwardly compare themselves to others and judge others, their hearts will only be interested in boasting about their own qualities, not the goodness of Christ who is supposed to be in them. Such people will ridicule others, judge other’s weaknesses, seek to prevail when they see differences or even revenge when they become offended because of those differences. This is what Jesus talked about in today’s Gospel:

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus also taught:

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye?”

As St. Paul said in one of his letters, “We must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ.” For Paul, the only way to true righteousness is through Christ. It is in Him that we are freed from our sins and specifically, with regard to today’s Gospel passage, that sin of self-righteousness or proneness to judge others.

It is not that we remain blind to the wrongdoings of others but the easy way to respond is to judge that person and speak badly of them to our neighbors. The difficult way is to offer that sin to Christ and pray for them without judging them. Further, this way will often lead to the cross of Christ. Instead, we live with the pain of seeing another person’s sin, we offer it to Christ and pray for them without judging them.

Having said this, if we know that what our neighbor is doing is damaging other people we must respect society’s responsibility to protect its citizens. One such example is child abuse. We should not stand back and ignore the damage that may be done to a child. Jesus Himself taught about not leading astray His ‘little ones.’ Once again, we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide and help us respond in a way that Christ would respond. Let us always pray for that guidance. When an Orthodox priest learns of such a situation, he is required to inform his bishop and refrain from hearing that person’s confession until that person goes to the civil authorities. The Orthodox Church also has a number of protocols put into place when it learns of a parish member who is accused of child abuse.

Another big issue in society today is substance abuse. It can be very painful to see someone we love being afflicted in this way. Society has a lot of resources available to help such people. It does not always get the treatment right but what we can do as disciples of Christ is pray for them, the doctors and others attempting to treat them. We need to trust in and stay focused on Christ because our prayers can be very powerful in guiding everyone through such difficulties. It is not easy!

In response to today’s Gospel, it is worth quoting the Prayer of St. Ephrem that we say during the season of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, October 4th., 2021

Monday, October 04, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 4:25-32                Gospel: Luke 6:24-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

I will start today with the Gospel. I have often said that as Orthodox Christians, we do not judge other people. Another beautiful aspect of Orthodoxy is that when Orthodoxy Christians are persecuted, they do not seek revenge but strive to love their enemies and those who wish to do them harm. Whatever stand the state may take against its enemies, the Orthodox Church does not take up arms. It seeks its enemy’s forgiveness and forgives them for any wrongdoing. This is the hallmark of the Orthodox saints. What matters is what we store up in heaven. So, the Church strives to follow today’s words from Jesus:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”

As a father and the head of the household and the family, I will strive to do what I can to care for the family members but when faced with persecution because of my belief in Christ, I must remember His words.

The segment before today’s passage is St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes where Jesus said, “Blessed are you poor…” (Look up my message from Friday to see the passage.) So, the first part of today’s passage is a continuation of them. Jesus said:

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”

If we strive for the wealth and power that this fallen world offers, then all it will lead to is death. Such riches are passing but the riches of the Kingdom of God will be given to us for all eternity. Let us keep this in mind when we strive to provide for our families by using our God given talents. As Jesus said: “The workman deserves his keep.” At the same time, however, we must remember that the rewards we receive from our talents are meant to be shared with others just as our Heavenly Father has shared the gifts of His Kingdom with us. It does not mean that we do not provide for our loved ones but it does mean that we stop short of amassing wealth and power to ourselves. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to achieve this balance.

In a sense, today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel. Some of the community must have been stealing from others. St. Paul reprimands them for this:

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

In other words, find work in order to support those in need. For Paul, the purpose of earning money for work is to share with others. For those who have had things stolen, let them speak the truth but in love. Further, as he wrote:

“Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”

For our parish community, we also need to support it from the benefits of our labor. Our support for it will benefit the whole parish. Thanks to the labor and hard work of our predecessors, we have a beautiful facility but it needs to be kept up. Further, the priest needs to be supported so that he can carry out his responsibilities to his parishioners. This time has been difficult for all parishes because of the pandemic but for those who work, it is important not to forget to give to the parish. Just as St. Paul said to the Ephesian community, that they need to edify one another, if everyone in our parish also plays their part, the parish will be able to hold its own until we get a vaccine. After then when we will be able to interact in a normal social way and recommence our parish functions. Please continue to pray for the parish for its well being.

Friday, October 1st., 2021

Friday, October 1, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 4:17-25                Gospel: Luke 6:17-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

I have often spoken about us being created in the image and likeness of God. Unfortunately, the sin of Adam and Eve damaged them significantly, especially our likeness to God. We still have an innate ability and wish to talk with God so, the image of God is still with us, although, diminished. Our likeness with God, however, was greatly damaged. So, as much as we may love God, we still sin a great deal. It is this latter aspect that St. Paul discussed in today’s passage from his Letter to the Ephesians. The pagans, who are blinded in their sin, flounder around in their corruption, especially with how the lusts of the flesh control them. He urges his community that, because they have put on Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to enable them not to fall into such sins.

As followers of Christ, we are given two things: firstly, the Holy Spirit and secondly, the ability to control our sin. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can gain the strength to control our passions and lusts. As always, the tools that the Church provides: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, are what we need to free us from our bodily passions and to follow Christ. When we struggle with the passions, prayer becomes very important. The “Jesus Prayer” is especially effective. Our own will power is not enough and if we rely on that without prayer, we will fail and become very discouraged, resigning us to believe that we cannot do it. We cannot, of course, on our own. We need the Holy Spirit! He is the one who will enable us to get through our struggles, no matter what hurt or pain is within us. Let us offer those struggles up to Christ so that He may sanctify them.

So, when at the end of this passage, Paul says: “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” it is this truth of our belief that through the Holy Spirit, Christ sets us free from sin. It is Christ who sets us free, not law, not social standards or rules. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is in Him that we receive all the blessings that the Kingdom of God offers us.

In today’s Gospel passage, after describing the power of the Kingdom of God from Jesus by His healings and the casting out of demons, St. Luke then moves on to the teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Luke shows that, having demonstrated the Kingdom of God, Jesus now talks about the Kingdom and what it means to be blessed by it.

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.”

Belonging to the Kingdom of God means that we will be rejected by the fallen world that is under the power of Satan. We will be ridiculed because we do not succumb to the material glamour with what it attempts to entice us. We will be deprived of the material benefits that only the rich and powerful of the fallen world have access to. In contrast, Jesus says to “rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is the very opposite of what the fallen world believes is worth seeking. The fallen world encourages us to use our talents to build up wealth and power but keep it from everyone else, in fact, to subjugate others through it. Jesus teaches that this is the opposite of the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, September 30th., 2021

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 4:14-19                Gospel: Luke 6:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul told the community that because they now belong to Christ, they are no longer the same as their fellow Gentiles who do not believe in Him. They are now free from the passions or lusts of the flesh. He also told them not to be afraid to speak the truth that they have now learned but speak it in love. Within the community, they should use their talents to build up the Body of Christ. The result will be the: “growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

For us too, it is important to realize that because we believe in Christ, we are not the same as those who do not believe in Him. We too, should be free from passions and the lusts of the flesh. We too should speak about the truth of Christ, in love. Being an Orthodox Christian, we may be accused by those who are not, of being backward or out of date because our Church strives to be faithful to these same teachings from Paul and what Christ taught, together with all of the apostles. Remember that these teachings are eternal and beyond the realm of this fallen world. As St. Paul advised in this passage, do not be afraid to speak this truth in love.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke describes how Jesus chose His 12 apostles after praying in the wilderness. He picked 12 fishermen who would be called to proclaim the Kingdom of God just as He was doing. The presence of God’s kingdom was being made manifest to everyone whom He was in contact with. Some simply sought to touch the hem of His garment to receive the life of the Kingdom of God.

Let us too, remember that when we seek the Kingdom of God, we seek its life and its power through the Holy Spirit. Christ is always there for us. Let us imbibe of that life whenever we get the opportunity. In the long term, this will be incomparably more beneficial than what the glamour of this fallen world can offer in the short term. In the long term, it can only offer death.

Wednesday, September 29th., 2021

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 3:8-21 Gospel: Luke 5:33-39

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reflected on the wonderful and undeserved blessing he received from Christ when he was called to be an apostle. Because of the way he treated the early Church before he converted to Christ, Paul regards himself as the least of the apostles. After his conversion, it became abundantly clear to him that God had called all of us to be holy as He is holy. The mystery for Paul is how God bridged heaven and this fallen cosmos by sending His own Son to invite us to His Kingdom and made this invitation effective by being prepared to sacrifice Him for the sins of the whole universe. Our Heavenly Father did this out of love for us. This love has been bestowed upon all of us. This union of heaven and earth was given out of compassion for us. Its foundation is Christ and is as firm as any rock or cornerstone. No principality or power will ever prevail against it.

For Paul, in realizing this great compassion and love, not only for him but the whole universe, he felt compelled to preach about its mystery ceaselessly. It was ever in front of him. It was the expression of God’s purpose for him. More than that, through the Church, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God were made manifest. Our knowledge of the Kingdom of God became accessible. Our ability to attain its righteousness was freely given to us. He stated that we:

“may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height –to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Paul could not hold back in preaching about these wonderful blessings that we can acquire through Christ’s Body, the Church. So, he prays for them in this passage:

“according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,”

Remember that the tribulation he mentions is that he wrote this letter from prison. He concludes with an expression of thanks and praise for the foundation of this wonderful mystery:

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

This is the reality of those who seek the Kingdom of God. This is the purpose for which we were made. This is the rock of those who seek Christ. Against these wonderful blessings, the troubles of this life pale into insignificance. Let us therefore always be focused on Him.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke, relayed yet another story about the inflexibility of the Jewish elders. Why would Jesus’ disciples not fast like their own? Jesus’ answer was that there is a time and place for fasting and it was not the right time for them. He also gave them the parable about the futility of putting new wine into old wine skins. The old skins will burst. Their inflexibility was like the old wine skins and will not last in the presence of the Kingdom of God.

One must remember that in the Church, the outward forms of expression such as the prayers of its liturgical services are not absolute. If ever this was brought home, it has been during the time of this pandemic. Churches had to be shut down, the standard way of performing the Divine Liturgy had to be altered for the sake of safety. Some parishes have even been doing the Liturgy outdoors. The practice of using a choir has had to be dropped. The normal format for funeral services had to be drastically altered. What is essential, in contrast, is the faith of the community, the use of the priest to intercede on behalf of everyone. As altered as the way the Divine Liturgy has been, we learnt to broadcast it online. To proclaim the Word of God in any way possible such as these sermons I post.

We all pray, of course, that we can soon get back to normal but when necessary, we have to think about what is essential for the community’s life in Christ. In this needed time of deprivation, it makes us realize the value of those things we often take for granted. This pandemic has been a necessary time of fasting and prayer. The time will come when we can celebrate our family events in the way that we used to.

Tuesday, September 28th., 2021

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 2:19-3:7               Gospel: Luke 5:12-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul describes the Body of Christ. That structure holds true today as it did in those very early times of the Church.

Christ is the cornerstone and the apostles and the prophets are the foundation. He uses the image of a temple. All the various aspects of the Church build it into a temple. It becomes a dwelling place for God in the Holy Spirit. God revealed to Paul the mystery of this new temple and he wrote that he has been called by Christ to serve all the communities to preach this mystery. In understanding this, we understand the mystery of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ continues to be present to His people in His Body, the Church. Up until this point, this mystery was never revealed, even to the prophets. The Son of God came upon earth and united heaven and earth through His sacrifice but this union continues in His Body, the Church. So, the presence of God stands firm in this fallen world in Christ’s Body, the Church. The invitation to be part of the Church is given not only to the Chosen People, the Jews, but to all Gentiles, not as aliens but “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

For this reason, the Orthodox Church strongly believes in the Communion of Saints. It is one of its most visible expressions as shown in its icons. Anyone who walks into an Orthodox Church cannot help but sense the presence of the saints around them. It is only by faith in Christ that the power of the Holy Spirit will be made manifest in us through these icons. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we will gain the full sense of this mystery of the saints in Christ’s Body, the Church. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we get the full sense of the presence of God in this way. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we will realize that this is our true home, among the presence of the saints and not the in glamour of the fallen world. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we will see the true beauty of creation as God intended it to be and how the beauty of creation fits into the context of His Body the Church.

Let us pray that we will be open to the Holy Spirit so that we will understand the mystery of the Church as Paul describes it in today’s reading.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we read of another instance of Jesus healing someone, this time, a leper. He had the faith to believe that Jesus could do this and so, was healed. Jesus then instructed him to go to the temple to make an offering of thanks but not to tell anyone about it. Of course word spread all around about Him. Note that Jesus never talked at this point about Him being the Messiah. It was not time for that yet. Further, the Jewish people had the expectation that the promised Messiah would be a political deliverer, not one who was a representative of the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not want to be drawn into any such political, worldly movement. So, Luke wrote that Jesus often went into the wilderness to pray.

Monday, September 27th., 2021

Monday, September 27, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 1:22-2:3               Gospel: Luke 4:37-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

In this passage to the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul describes the impact of Jesus rising from the dead. Paul says that “He put all things under His feet.” Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ are free from the bondage of sin and belong to His life giving Body, the Church. Paul does remind them, however, that the prince of the fallen world still reigns over it and “works in the sons of disobedience.” Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to that prince but will eventually face the judgment seat or wrath of God. In contrast, those who belong to Christ’s Body, the Church, are free from sin. For Paul, the reality is the Kingdom of God, not the glamour of this fallen world.

Let us remember that the life of the Kingdom of God is with us in His Body, the Church. Any time we call upon the Church, whether it be by a simple prayer of faith, at the Divine Liturgy, by lighting a candle at church, by asking the saints, especially the Mother of God, to intercede for us through devotion to an icon, by asking the priest to pray for them or someone else, we are calling upon our Heavenly Father to bring the life of His Kingdom to us. When we do, we enact the words of the Our Father, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the Gospel today, St. Luke continues his description of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus brings the life of the Kingdom of God to them by healing the sick and casting out demons. He commands the demons to be silent about Him because He was not ready to proclaim that He was the Messiah or the Christ. Luke also gives a specific reference to Jesus healing St. Peter’s mother in law who had a fever. She immediately arose and began to serve Him at table. The crowds followed Him everywhere and did not want Him to leave but He said to them:

“I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”

Let us rejoice that Jesus did not stop His ministry at the end of His earthly life. Let us be constantly grateful that He did far more by sacrificing Himself on the Cross so that He could send the Spirit of God to everyone who believes in Him. The life of the Kingdom of God now dwells in us. Let us cherish this precious pearl, given freely to us so that we may be free from the bondage of sin and can attain the gift of righteousness not only now but for all eternity in the Kingdom of God. Let us realize that no other gift can compare to it, no other gift can last for eternity, no other gift can nourish our souls in the way that this free gift is given to us.

Friday, September 24th., 2021

Friday, September 24, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 1:7-17      Gospel: Luke 4:22-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

As I mentioned in yesterday’s message, St. Paul covers many aspects of our faith in his letter to the Ephesians. Today, I will cover one of the important themes that threads through both yesterday and today’s segments, namely, the Trinity.

One of the great contributions Paul makes to the Church is the clarity of his teaching on the Trinity. He reiterates in today’s passage what he said in the introduction that we have been predestined to be called by our Heavenly Father to be holy as He is holy. Although our calling was one that was offered beyond space and time, it is an invitation, not a forced command. We have to choose to accept the invitation to be holy and we can do so by our belief in His Son whom He sent to the chosen people of Israel and who sacrificed Himself for us. It was the blood of that sacrifice that became the eternal offering to the Trinity on our behalf. All that the Jewish people and those who followed (including us) had to do was believe in Him to be able to obtain the blessing of righteousness that our Heavenly Father was offering.

In the first half of today’s passage, Paul describes how the mystery of the Father’s will from all eternity is summed up in Christ:

“that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

Paul then assures the Ephesians that, because they had trusted in Christ:

“after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

Thus, those who believe in Christ are given the seal of the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of their salvation. One must remember, however, that we must continue to believe in Christ and act according to His teachings in order for the Holy Spirit to remain with us.

Those familiar with Orthodox Christian teachings and practices will see the connection to what Paul teaches here. In the first place, the Nicean Creed used in all its service expresses that same faith in the Trinity, together with that of the divine and human nature of Christ. Secondly, the creed reiterates Paul’s teaching here about the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, when the priest baptizes or chrismates someone, the words used come from today’s passage. The priest says: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the community responds: “Seal!” Fourthly, another familiar teaching mentioned here is Paul’s reference to the ‘saints.’ The Orthodox Church strongly believes in the ‘Communion of the Saints’ and its icons vividly express its belief in this Communion.

It is easy to take for granted the words used in the sacraments of baptism and chrismation. We can see from today’s passage, however, that St. Paul acknowledges the importance of the Ephesians’ faith and love for the saints. He does so because their choice to live a life in Christ was no flippant matter! They were persecuted by fellow Jews and pagans alike. They also lived under the threat of the Roman authorities, who if they heard about their beliefs, would persecute them savagely. The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit came from their profound choice to live in Christ and for them it was the key to eternal life. Paul concludes:

“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”

Let us not take the above described treasured blessings that were given to us at our baptism for granted! We may not be under persecution for our beliefs in this country but the prospect of losing the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit has incomparably more profound implications for us for all eternity than possible earthly rejection! Let us treasure this gift just as those early Christians in Ephesus treasured it! Let us affirm here and now our faith in Christ and turn back to Him if we have drifted. Let us drink of the Living Waters that Christ gave us through His Body, the Church, from its many blessings.

We also read in yesterday’s Gospel the story of Jesus going into the temple to announce His public ministry but as was mentioned, they could not go beyond the question: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” In today’s passage, Jesus retorts that:

“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”

He then reminds them of a couple of instances where the Chosen People’s pleas to God were rejected over those of some Gentiles because they were stiff necked and refused to believe the prophets. They reacted violently to His accusation and took Him up to a cliff to throw Him off but He disappeared from them. These people were just as arrogant and stiff necked as their ancestors in the times of Elijah and Elisha. They regarded themselves as better than Jesus because He was only the “carpenter’s son.”

The danger for us is to be tempted to ‘objectify’ the scriptures and write them off as fables from the past which are irrelevant. Always remember that whatever current opinions may be expressed today, they will pass. This does not mean that the Church rejects the secular sciences. To the contrary, it often relies on them to help clarify current issues such as the Coronavirus or rising global temperate. This does not mean, however, that their studies supersede the Church’s teachings. Its doctrines are an expression of God’s revelation. When we are confronted with new issues, we must always look to the Church to guide us in its teachings.

Thursday, September 23rd., 2021

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 1:1-9        Gospel: Luke 4:16-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is the introduction of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. It is in western Turkey today, on the Mediterranean Sea. It would take too long to delve fully into Paul’s introduction so I will focus on one theme coming from it. In verse 4, Paul states:

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

It may seem puzzling, that Paul would write about the Christians as being predestined and chosen before the foundation of the world. What he also stated though, is that we are all created to be holy, so that we may share the joys that our Heavenly Father wants to bestow on us. This is what he means by saying we are predestined.

Note he says that we are chosen by Christ. As Orthodox Christians we believe that God invites us. We do not invite God into our lives. Jesus offered His life for us and invited us to share in His Kingdom. It is up to us to respond by believing in Christ and accepting His invitation. When we are baptized, we are given the Holy Spirit to guide and form us. If we continue to respond to the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, we will become holy as our Heavenly Father intended us to be. Thus, we say in the Orthodox Church:

“God became man so that man can become god.”

St. Athanasius was the one who coined this phrase. Thus, we become absorbed into the holiness of God but this does not mean that we lose our identity or our free will. We are not Pantheists.

In fact, God will call us to become more and more holy but we have to choose to respond at each step. Remember the rich young man whom Jesus said to go and sell everything he had and follow Him. He chose not to. Mary, on the other hand, immediately said: “Let it be done.” We too, are called to make choices in our lives to become holy and if we want our relationship with Christ to grow, we need to respond whenever He calls us to be more holy. It often happens when we unexpectedly are given a cross. Will we respond in faith just like Abraham did? Christ’s Body, the Church is given to us to help when faced with such crosses through all the blessings it has to offer. Note what Paul says in verse 3:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

These blessing are not simply rituals performed by the Church to make us feel good. They are the very blessings that our Heavenly Father offers us to make us more holy like Him in our life’s journey. Let us treasure them because we believe in Christ and His Body, the Church. It is in this way that we will enter into the life of Christ and become holy as our Heavenly Father called us to be.

Today’s Gospel passage is the description given by St. Luke of Jesus announcing His public ministry in the temple. Jesus paraphrases the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

The Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove when He was baptized in the River Jordan. He proclaimed this event by using the words of Isaiah. He also proclaimed that Isaiah’s promise was being fulfilled at that moment through Him. Those listening were surprised at His eloquence but could not get out of their head the question: “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Let us make sure that we are open to the Holy Spirit who is present with us because of our own baptism. Let us not allow doubts to occur in us like those listening to Jesus did. Let us not rationalize away our belief in Christ like the fallen world does and may try to persuade us to also doubt. The Holy Spirit is a treasure that was given to us in such as simple way but let us not take it for granted. He is the one who will enable us to have eternal life.

Wednesday, September 22nd., 2021

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Epistle: Galatians 6:2-10       Gospel: Luke 4:1-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is the account from St. Luke of Jesus going into the desert to fast and pray but also where Satan tried to tempt Jesus.

Firstly, the desert is regarded as a place of both solitude and the presence of evil. It is often a place of striking beauty and monks will go there from time to time to allow their hearts to gain the stillness needed to listen to God. But it can also be a place of danger, not simply from the elements but is seen as a place where evil spirits can dwell. Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, went there for solitude to commune with His Heavenly Father.

Secondly, it may seem strange that Jesus would go without drink and water for 40 days, especially in a desert but there are people who do this. Those who make this a practice know from experience that the body can last about 40 days without needing sustenance. After some days when the body would have been feeling pangs of hunger, it becomes accustomed to the condition and the hunger dissipates. In that period, it uses up the body’s reserves before it would be required to delve into essential organs. By the time this happens, however, the body has become purified of all toxins. The appetites will have become completely under control, removing all sinful passions. The heart, mind and soul therefore are purified and refreshed, becoming acutely aware of the presence of God. As a warning, this is not something that the ordinary person should try! Nor is it a practice that anyone can walk ‘off the street’ and automatically delve into. It is something that a person needs to train for and can take years to get to the point to be ready to undertake it.

Thus, at the end of this period, Jesus’ body, heart, mind and soul would have been especially attuned to be open to the invisible world. Satan was watching Him and knew this was the opportune time to tempt Him. He would have also realized that Jesus was no ordinary person and therefore a prize to be claimed if possible.

Jesus body by the end of this period would have become very hungry again so, Satan tempted him by firstly offering Him bread. Jesus responded:

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’”

Realizing that food would not beguile Jesus, Satan then offered Him great power, in fact, all the kingdoms of the world. It is also a reminder to us that Satan is still the prince of this world. All human structures are subject to being swayed by the lure and glamour of what Satan can offer. This was what the Jewish authorities could not resist. This is what they really wanted, not the Kingdom of God. This is why they hated Jesus when He exposed their lust for power.

This is also why corruption is always prevalent, even to this day. Remember the phrase of Lord Acton:

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Jesus responded by saying:

“Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

Realizing that Jesus had rebuffed that temptation, Satan then tried to tempt Him with what he then knew as being Jesus’ own spiritual power, the angels of the Kingdom of God, whom were at His disposal and whom he presumed would not stand by to let Him fall off a precipice. Satan also used the scriptures to make his point. Jesus responded:

“It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’”

This third temptation is a reminder to the Church that Satan will continue to try to beguile its authorities to think that they are invincible. This is why humility is very important for those in authority. Those who are humble will listen to the Word of God and to the Holy Spirit instead of their own pride. This is why our bishops and priests as well as even our lay representatives, the parish councils, need our prayers!

After this third attempt, Satan left Him but would bide his time until the crucifixion.

Today’s Epistle, the Letter to the Galatians from St. Paul, concludes his discussion about the question of whether or not to follow the Old Mosaic Law. The question had caused deep divisions within the community. Paul made himself very clear that, as followers of Christ, the Old Law is gone. They would only find unity in Christ, not the Law. In this passage, he says that when they live in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, they will wish to serve and love each other and

“he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

In contrast, those who look to the Law will only want to bicker and sow division. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us to serve one another to store up everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, September 21., 2021

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Epistle: Galatians 5:11-21                 Gospel: Luke 3:23-4:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

As St. Paul continued his discussion in his letter to the Galatians contrasting faith in Christ verses that of the Mosaic Law, in the early part of this passage he states:

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Faith in Christ gives us liberty from sin and the ability to obtain righteousness but it will also bring us the cross of Christ as it did for Paul. He suffered greatly from persecution when he traveled around preaching the Gospel of Christ. We too, will be given our own crosses. We too, must embrace them.

The disagreement within the community about the Law also caused divisions. Instead of serving one another in love, they were bickering. This is the opposite of what Paul wanted to see and what Jesus taught. Paul concludes:

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

He then wrote about what believing in the Mosaic Law will really mean. They will lose the power to live in the Holy Spirit and their fleshly passions will take over. They will live according to the flesh and in sin.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.”

Paul said here that “that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

When the appetites take over and control not only our bodies but our hearts, mind and soul, the Orthodox Church describes them as becoming ‘passions’ that seek to insatiably control us. The Orthodox Church does not regard the appetites as being bad. They were created by God for our needs. It is because of the sin of Adam and Eve, however, that they can get out of control. It is by seeking Christ that we will be given the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live according to His teachings. It does automatically mean that we will be perfect. There will be times when we fall but if we seek Christ, we can always ask the Holy Spirit to dwell in us to free us from those passions. Christ will never refuse us.

The Orthodox Church offers many ways for us to return to Christ. It offers us its liturgical prayers and devotions, the sacraments and many its blessings. In fact all of the dimensions of its Living Faith are provided for us to seek Christ. Let us not ignore them. One of its main personal prayers is the ‘Jesus Prayer.’

“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

If we pray this prayer over and over, it is impossible for sin to take over our hearts. It is the prayer that the monks use constantly. The prayer beads that they have are used to pray this prayer.

In seeking to live this way, we will be able to serve one another in love as Paul described in this letter.

St. Luke in today’s Gospel passage announces Jesus’ public ministry. In this passage, he connects all of Salvation History to what Jesus was about to begin by outlining His genealogy.

Monday, September 20th., 2021. The Afterfeast of the Elevation

Monday, September 20, 2021

Epistle: Galatians 4:28-5:10              Gospel: Luke 3:19-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul continued his discussion about the futility of reverting back to the old Law instead of having faith in Christ. He says:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

The bondage is the Mosaic Law and specifically the question of whether or not to be circumcised. He also says:

“And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.”

So, for St. Paul, this is not simply a nice practice to keep up for ‘old time’s sake.’ Either you adhere to Christ or you adhere to the old Law. For those who choose the latter, they are estranged from Christ and fallen from grace because they reject the righteousness that Christ has given them. So, what matters is faith in Christ, not law.

We too, can fall into the same trap, not with the Mosaic Law but by presuming that being a good citizen is enough to make us justified. If this is our choice, then we become estranged from Christ. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and as His followers, this must be the standard for us to live by. It is not that we disrespect Civil Law but we need to realize that the only absolute is Christ, not manmade laws. In fact, it is because we live in Christ that we strive to support civil society’s need to care for and protect its citizens. Fortunately, in this country, almost all of the time, the Church’s teachings will align with society’s requirements to live safely and peacefully. For instance, the Orthodox Church has been supportive of federal and state requirements to protect ourselves and others from the Coronavirus. If we were to think that because we wear a mask and keep social distancing that this was enough to make us justified, we would be fooling ourselves.

This is exactly what St. Paul was saying about the question of circumcision:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything…”

The only way to true righteousness is through Christ. He has given us His Body, the Church, to follow His teaching so that we will not be led astray. As we continue our daily work and routine, using our talents as best we can and striving to help those around us by being civically responsible, always remember to offer those efforts to Christ so that they will be sanctified by Him. This will enable our life to be an offered like incense for the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan with the Father and the Holy Spirit manifesting themselves to announce Jesus’ public life.

Friday, September 17th., 2021

Friday, September 17, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:5-21       Gospel: Mark 4:1-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul continued to deal with the community’s complaining. It is clear that some of them were engaging with people who were not committed to Christ, probably other Jews. It seems that some of them were being swayed by others claiming to be apostles who were even demanding money for their services. Paul tells them that other communities provided for him while he began to preach to them and instead of being grateful for his effort, they were demeaning to him because he did not require money from them. He frankly told them that those others claiming to be apostles were false teachers. For us today, we need to realize that others beyond the Church could make similar claims. It is part of the local priest’s work to be on the lookout for such people. The diocese will quickly call out anyone claiming to be a teacher but is false. We pray in each Divine Liturgy for our shepherds, the bishops, to “rightly divide the word of Your truth” which are the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

Today’s Gospel passage is about the parable of the man sowing seeds in the fields, how some will not bear fruit but some which falls on good soil will yield “thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” The warnings Jesus gave in this parable are as pertinent today as they were then. It is easy to be swayed by the attractions of this world and we must be on our guard to see them for what they truly are and avoid them. Most of us need to face such choices every day, even if it is only a matter of what television channel to choose, maintaining a pattern of prayer to listen to the Holy Spirit, avoiding the dangers that society offers that can lead to death. Not only for ourselves but also for our family and friends, especially the youth who can easily get trapped into addictive habits. As Jesus said at the end of today’s passage: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

There are a number of Orthodox Websites available to help those suffering from addictions. Here is one of them: http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/11/03/st-ephraim-of-nea-makri-prayers-for-deliverance-from-addictions/

Thursday, September 16th., 2021

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 10:7-18       Gospel: Mark 3:28-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus talked about not sinning against the Holy Spirit. Mark was warning those to whom he wrote not to. He was teaching his community to listen to the Holy Spirit by using the Church community to understand what He was saying. The main format for Church gatherings was the Eucharist, together with preaching from the apostles as well as by those designated by them. Jesus had told the Jewish people that, in order to receive the gifts of the Kingdom of God, they must go through Him because He was the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the eternal Light and the Gate through which to go. Thus, it was from their baptism and in their Eucharistic worship that they could understand how to seek and follow the Holy Spirit. In contrast, Mark was warning them not to listen to those who refused to believe in Christ. There was no in between; either be a follower of Christ and seek the Kingdom of God or follow those who did not believe in Him and choose the kingdom of death.

Notice also that Jesus had the divine ability to look at nature and describe what the Kingdom of God was like through parables: the lost pearl, the leavened bread, the faith of a tiny mustard seed etc. The early Church realized that there were two books of God’s revelation: the book of the scriptures or the Word of God and the book of nature. Many of the Fathers of the early Church attest to this. To find God in nature is also a major part of monastic life. The Orthodox Church strongly believes that God’s creation is good and that the Holy Spirit continues the Trinity’s work of creation and will continue to in the future. If we abuse nature and God’s creation, we abuse the work of the Holy Spirit in nature. This is what Jesus was talking about. To abuse the planet that we live on, given to us to care for by God, we abuse the Holy Spirit. This is what is unforgivable.

We have received many benefits from nature especially since the time of the industrial revolution. Yet, even from the beginning of the industrial period, there were serious abuses done by industry because of terrible working conditions, poor wages with terrible pollution. Today, we see that industry is also having a big impact on the welfare of the planet either from pollution or other ominous dangers such as deforestation and rising global temperatures. We, as a Church, must strive to do all that we can to re-balance those benefits in a way that will reduce the abuse of the planet. Remember that many of the reforms made in Great Briton to improve working conditions were influenced by Christian values and beliefs. The Church does have a role to play in this.

In the latter part of this passage, Jesus told the people that not only were his blood relatives His family but “whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” St. Paul was to develop this theme a lot in his Epistles, saying that those who follow Christ are no longer slaves or aliens but co-heirs and fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul remonstrates those within the community who have been boasting about themselves saying, that if we want to boast, we boast in Christ and His Gospel.

Wednesday, September 22nd., 2021

Wednesday September 15, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 9:12-10:7                Gospel: Mark 3:20-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells the community to not treat him as one in the flesh or by only outward appearances. His relationship with them is a spiritual one because, as an apostle, he began and formed their community and brought them to Christ. They would not be such if he had not served them from the beginning. They failed to see this and began treating him as if he was like a fellow employee or even as their employee. Paul formed their community to give them righteousness and to bring them to the Kingdom of God, not the material benefits of this world. He had to remind them of it.

This is an easy trap for any Church community to fall into, even now. As soon as parishioners start thinking like this, it damages it a great deal and if such thinking takes over, the parish will lose its mission and sense of purpose. Such thinking will destroy it. The priest, designated by the bishop, is there to bring the Kingdom of God to the community just like St. Paul did. He does so through the various responsibilities that a priest has: the celebration of the Eucharist, the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, ministry to the sick, praying and interceding on behalf of all the community to strengthen and comfort them in times of need. If, in contrast to the problems that St. Paul faced with the Corinthian community, the members of the parish strive to work together as the Body of Christ, by using their talents to serve one another, the Holy Spirit will bless those efforts. We all need to pray for each other. Even when the Coronavirus passes, the troubles of this fallen world will continue. The one place that the parish community can go to is the Church during such struggles.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read that the Jewish authorities were trying to accuse Jesus of gaining His power from Satan. This was a lie, of course, and Jesus pointed out that Satan would not tolerate a divided kingdom. It he did, it would collapse, just like any other kingdom. Notice the last sentence in today’s passage:

“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”

Jesus’ presence in this world caused Satan’s house to be plundered because Jesus was casting out many demons. In the realm of the spiritual world, it was Jesus, the Son of God, who was the “strong man.”

In contrast, the Jewish authorities could not stand it that the crowds were chasing after him in such huge numbers. They refused to accept that His power came from the Kingdom of God. They refused to accept that a humble carpenter’s son was at the same time the Son of God. They would look for any excuse to belittle the extraordinary works that He was doing. Labeling those works as Satanic was a convenient way to discard them and justify their own rejection. It was they who, out of their own arrogance, were the ones who were chasing Satan. Jesus would not be intimidated by their accusations and pressed forward with the mission that His Heavenly Father gave Him.

It is important for us to realize therefore that we cannot allow our belief that Jesus was true God and true man at the same time to be compromised. Many try to water this mystery down, claiming that He was a prophetic man but not God or that He was God but not truly a man. More than this, when He rose from the dead after sacrificing Himself on the cross, He showed Himself as the Messiah, the Christ. He had also promised that He would send the Spirit of God, the Comforter to His Body, the Church, to strengthen it and protect it. In the same manner, those very same powers from Satan that He confronted in His earthly life would never prevail against His Body, the Church. Christ is there for us. His presence, in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, can never be taken away from us no matter what the fallen world may throw at us. When Christ comes again, the destruction of the kingdom of Satan will be completed.

Let us therefore remain steadfast in our focus on the Kingdom of God to which we have been invited to for all eternity.

Thursday, September 9th., 2021

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 7:1-10         Gospel: Mark 1:29-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul told them that, despite having to discipline them for their faults, he loved them greatly. He also told them that he knew that they loved him greatly too and that he was comforted by their love. He also rejoiced that they repented about the things that he had previously written. For the Orthodox Church, any discipline given is intended to heal the soul, just as it seems to have happened with the Corinthians. It is not to pass out punishment as Western Europe and its descendents view it. Judgment and punishment belong to our Heavenly Father and will happen on the last day.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark described the continuation of Jesus public ministry. Three actions were taken by Jesus in this passage. The first was that He healed Peter’s mother and many others. The second was that He cast out demons from people. The third was that He went afterwards to a solitary place where He prayed.

These three actions were central to His mission on earth. They were part of His proclamation about the Kingdom of God. Some people such as faith healers and Pentecostals think that if Jesus did these things then, if we are authentically His disciples, we should be able to do them too. There are many ways that we can serve Christ, whether it be through administration, teaching and preaching, doing charitable works or praying. Each of us has different talents given by God but being able to heal someone’s diseases is not necessarily one of them! Nor is casting out demons!

As a priest, I can tell you that I have seen from some of the anointings I have done in the past that some people have inexplicably been healed. Was it because of me? I do not know. What I do know was that the priesthood I have received from the Church is a powerful source of intercession. The other necessary factor was the faith that those people had. What matters is that, in whatever we do, the Kingdom of God is proclaimed and, as St. Paul says, it is done in love. Otherwise, any such anointing is simply an empty performance. We cannot, therefore, presume we can interpret the scriptures authentically on our own. We need the Church’s guidance.

Returning to the question of praying for someone to be healed, yes, of course, as this is part of our mission as Christ’s disciples. Further, we should expect that our prayers will be heard by God and that they will be answered. How and when, only God knows. One thing is sure though, if we pray in faith, God will respond, not just to requests for healing but to all the other requests we have. Do not doubt that the Holy Spirit is with us, interceding on our behalf to the throne of Christ.

Tomorrow, I plan to go to a funeral for a flood victum and will not be able to post a message for Friday.

Wednesday, September 8th., 2021. The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady, Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 8 2021

The Nativity of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Nativity of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. It uses the readings listed above to connect God’s plan of salvation for the whole universe. The first 3 readings were used for the Vespers Service the evening before.

The one from the Book of Genesis relays the story about Jacob who fell asleep on a rock and had a dream that God would make his descendants as many as the stars of the sky. In the second reading from the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet was only allowed to see the presence of God from the outer, back gate, not the front one where the Lord had entered. In the third reading from the Book of Proverbs, the readers are invited by Wisdom to eat and drink of her fruits at her table. In the first reading, God made a promise to Jacob and his descendants and in the third one, they are invited to Wisdom’s table but the second one from the Book of Proverbs reveals that there is still a gap even between a prophet and the Lord. Thus, those promises were yet to come.

Before connecting them to the Theotokos or God-bearer, let us look at what Orthodox Church Tradition believes about the circumstances of the plight that her parents, Joachim and Anna, were in before her birth. If you want to read the full story, either click onto the following link or copy and paste it: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/09/08/102541-the-nativity-of-our-most-holy-lady-the-mother-of-god-and-ever-vi.

In Jewish society at that time, any couple who was not able to bear children was seen as being punished by God. For this reason, Joachim and Anna, who were childless, were ostracized by most of the community. It culminated when the High Priest refused to accept Joachim’s offering at the temple because they were childless. Many tears were shed by both of them but then, the Archangel Gabriel gave them a message that God had heard their prayers and they were to bear a daughter through whom would come the salvation of the universe. The promises revealed in the above readings were being fulfilled in the Archangel’s message.

The reading for this morning’s Matins Service is the account of Mary proclaiming the wonderful things that God was doing through her in the Magnificat: “My soul rejoices in God my savior because He has done great things for me.” In the Epistle reading at the Divine Liturgy, St. Paul relayed how the Son of God humbled Himself by becoming a man and suffered for us. God’s plan has enabled us to gain the righteousness that Ezekiel could not attain, nor any of the other Old Testament Fathers. Paul says that His name should therefore always be exalted. The Gospel for today’s Liturgy relayed the story of Jesus visiting the house of Martha and Mary. Martha, in her concern to get every properly prepared for Him, complained that Mary was not helping her. As good as her intentions were, however, Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better path because she wanted to listen to His words and the Word of God. At the end of this passage, the Orthodox Church adds in the story of a woman who praised the one who raised Jesus but Jesus responded by saying:

“More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

For the Orthodox Church, the heart of this celebration is about our ability to listen to the Word of God and benefit from it.

There are several other reasons for us to rejoice in today’s feast. In it, the Orthodox Church has shown how God’s plan for salvation has unfolded and culminated in the birth of this daughter. Mary is now exalted as great because it is through her that God’s plan to save the world would happen. We too can rejoice with her because, when the time came for her to accept God’s call at the Annunciation, she enabled us to receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God by the front door and not the outer back door. When that plan unfolded at the time of Pentecost, we were given the Holy Spirit, the fount of Wisdom, to drink and eat of the Kingdom’s fruits. Further, if we follow the example of Joachim and Anna’s perseverance, we too can pray with confidence for our needs and those for whom we intercede. It gives us great hope to know that despite our struggles, if we persist, God will answer our prayers, just as He did with Joachim and Anna! Finally, the promise given to Jacob in that dream has now been given to us through the Holy Spirit,.

It is little wonder therefore that the Church sees it as fitting to rejoice in and celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary.

Tuesday, September 7th., 2021

Tuesday September 7th, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 5:15-21       Gospel: Mark 1:16-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul summarized what he had previously written in this letter and others about living in Christ and what it means for us. Because Christ died for our sins, we who are now His disciples and follow Him are also dead to our old selves in the flesh. We have become a new creation and are one with the Father in the Kingdom of God. The reason is that Christ has enabled us to be reconciled with the Father through His sacrifice.

Unfortunately, it is easy to misinterpret what he wrote here as Evangelical Protestants often do. While one can read the scriptures and choose to follow Christ because we are inspired by them, we cannot do this alone. We need the Church! Protestants often say that we are redeemed by His blood. In the sense that His sacrifice has reconciled us, yes but as Jesus said to Nicodemus in Chapter 3 of St. John’s Gospel, it is only by being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit that we can be reborn to enter into the Kingdom of God. This has to be done through Christ’s Body, the Church. This is the way that Christ told us that we can be reconciled. St. Paul knew this and wrote about it a lot in other parts of this letter and other letters. The real point that Paul made to the Corinthians was that the “old things have passed away” specifically our sinful ways.

Note that in the latter part of this passage Paul talked about being ambassadors of Christ. Given the problems that he needed to address in other parts of both his letters to them, they were often behaving in ways that were anything but as being ambassadors of Christ! He was urging them to remember who they were as a community. For Orthodox Christians, this sense of being ambassadors is very much linked to knowing that the Kingdom of God is within us and that we are part of the Communion of Saints. In the flesh today with those faithful members of the Orthodox Church at large and also through the Holy Spirit with those saints who have passed on from this life and are now part of the heavenly hosts. Let us be grateful for this wonderful reconciliation that Christ has given us that has enabled us to be part of the Kingdom of God, not as aliens but as fellow citizens as Paul says in other letters.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read as a follow up from yesterday that He began His public ministry. Yesterday’s passage was about Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan.

It was the Holy Spirit who had sent Him into the wilderness after the baptism for 40 days. It was the Holy Spirit who prompted Him upon His return to seek out those who would be His apostles and call them to follow Him. It was the Holy Spirit who enabled them to respond affirmatively and leave what they were doing. It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus to the temple to preach. It was the Holy Spirit who gave Him the wisdom and authority through the words He preached to astound those listening in the temple.

Let us pray, in our own humble way, to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us today and each day of our lives. Let us pray that we too can we too can respond to our Father’s call to build up the Kingdom of God in our lives and those whom we interact with.

To quote part of the Morning Prayers on page 1791 of the Orthodox Study Bible:

“… O Most Holy Trinity… Do now enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive Your words, and teach me Your commandments. Help me to do Your will, to sing to You, to confess You from my heart, and to praise Your All-Holy Name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Monday, September 6th., 2021

Monday, September 6th., 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 5:10-15       Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

Having gone through the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Orthodox Church’s daily liturgical now moves onto the Gospel of St. Mark. Today’s passage starts off with the commencement of Jesus’ public life. It is the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.

The celebration of this event is a very important feast in the Orthodox Church. We call it the feast of the Theophany or Epiphany and it is specifically celebrated on January 6th each year. On this feast, aside from the liturgical services of Vespers, Lytia, Vigil, Matins and Divine Liturgy, the priest does the Great Blessing of Water. It remembers the story of Jesus’ baptism and in the same way that the waters of the Jordan River were blessed by it, the priest blesses his local water. The water is blessed in a vessel in the church when possible. The faithful may take some of this water afterwards but the priest will also offer to go to all of the peoples’ homes to use that water to bless them. Some priests will go their local river or to the sea water and bless that as well. It is not seen as only a private blessing but one that embraces the local area, the country the planet and all of creation.

Notice that when Jesus goes to the Jordan River and is baptized, the other two persons of the Trinity are made manifest. The heavens open and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove and the Father says: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” After this, the Spirit immediately sent Jesus into the wilderness to pray and fast alone for 40 days where He was ministered by the angels. The desert is seen by the Church as both a place where one can find solitude to allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts but also a place of darkness where the presence of Satan and his spirits loom. In other words, it is a place of trial and struggle. Jesus was to experience this when Satan came to tempt Him calling Jesus to submit to him. Notice, too, that when Jesus returns to Galilee, He immediately proclaims to the people the Kingdom of God. This proclamation began His mission on earth and was the center point of all His teaching, preaching and works.

In the blessing of the waters described above, the Church’s mission is to continue this proclamation from Jesus and to bring the life of the Kingdom of God to the whole universe.

Moving on to the Epistle, it is important to realize that, because of our fallen state from the sin of Adam and Eve, the image and likeness of God we inherited from them has been damaged. The image of God within us is still there because we innately long for God, we are able to pray and aspire to His ways and we still have a conscience that tells us what is right from wrong. Even so, the image of God within us that we inherited from Adam and Eve together with the intimacy that God offered them in the Garden, was withdrawn from them and us because of their pride. Their likeness to God that they knew in the Garden was also severely damaged and we inherited this state as well. We know this because we all struggle with trying to do what is right but we often fail. We often make mistakes, sometimes serious ones.

St. Paul in this passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians reminded them about this fundamental teaching of our fallen state. The Corinthians had also fallen into the sin of pride, thinking they knew all the answers to life. Thus, they were judging others by their invented standards. Paul was telling them that the only answer is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Any other standard is false. They had forgotten this in their squabbling and bickering. He told them at the end of this passage that when Christ died for all of mankind’s sin, the ways of the fallen world died with them. It is only in Christ that we can receive the life of the Kingdom of God. It is only in Christ that we can receive the true righteousness that His sacrifice for us enabled us to acquire.

Let us pray for the gift of humility to avoid pride. Let us give ourselves to Christ so that we can live in Him and not the fallen world.

Friday, September 3rd., 2021

Friday, September 3, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18       Gospel: Matthew 24:27-33, 42-51

Archpriest Terence Baz

The quote at the beginning of this passage from St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians is from Psalm 115.

It is worth making a note about the Word of God. This term and ones similar are used a lot in the Old Testament. It is also used by St. John at the beginning of his Gospel. When God spoke, it was all powerful and always had an impact. Its impact may not have happened immediately but in God’s way and in His own time, it happened powerfully. In St. John’s reference to the Word of God, he referred to the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity: “the Word became flesh.” It was not just a verbal expression but became the human person, Jesus.

In today’s passage, Paul uses the great theme mentioned above to encourage the Corinthian community with their struggles.

“He who raised up the Lord Jesus, will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.”

All that Jesus foretold was brought about. All that He promised was given and specifically here, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

He encouraged them to keep remembering that their current troubles are passing and that the reality for all eternity will be the Kingdom of God if they remain steadfast to the Word of God.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is a graphic description of the apocalypse that will occur at the end of the world. You may have heard the term “apocalyptic language” and you have probably heard of the Book of the Apocalypse. Such language was deliberately used, so that others beyond the community to which it was written, could not understand it. The dangers from the Roman authorities and from Jews who refused to believe in Christ were very real. So, it was written in apocalyptic code language. Specific terms were used to get across a point. For instance, the term 144,000 meant a great number of people. This is not the time to go into these terms but Fundamentalist Protestants such as Evangelicals did not write these books and do not know how to interpret them. They take this language literally resulting in bizarre conclusions and can unfortunately have dangerous consequences. Remember again, that we need the Orthodox Church, who wrote these books, to guide us in interpreting them and their language.

In this passage from Matthew, the language is obviously more direct. One important point he was making to his people was to always be ready.

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”

At the beginning of Holy Week just before Pascha, the Orthodox Church holds the Bridegroom Service. Many of its prayers tell us to be ready as well. The Church is reminding us not to forget this important warning. The one who is not prepared will lose everything. The one who is prepared will, in contrast, be given everything, including what the unprepared will have lost. This is why it is always important to focus on the Kingdom of God.

Matthew also gave us many graphic images in his description: the sun and the moon dancing in the skies, the sound of the great trumpet, the four winds gathering all peoples and the sign from the shoots of the fig tree that tell us of the oncoming of the spring season. All these images, which at first sight look disconnected, are used to describe the oncoming of the Kingdom of God at the end of the cosmos. Jesus once again uses images from nature to describe what is divine. We may not have the ability to connect the created and the uncreated like Jesus did, but through the Holy Spirit, we are able to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. In doing so, we will not ignore the warnings that St. Matthew gives us in this passage..

Thursday, September 2nd., 2021

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6           Gospel: Matthew 24:13-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul talked about Christ’s light that shines in the darkness of this fallen world. He said that not everyone will see it and he advised the community to be aware of it. He described them as ‘bondservants’ to Christ. Jesus did not reveal Himself as the Messiah or the Christ until after His resurrection. He often told those whom He healed not to go telling the whole city about it. That time had not yet come. Thus, Paul advised his community to be careful to whom they preached about the light of Christ. As disciples of Christ, they must also take up their cross. It is not easy for anyone to see someone close to them living a life that is anything but what a Christian should lead. We should pray for them earnestly but they have become veiled to the light of Christ because of their non-Christian lifestyle. Intercessory prayer is a very important way to allow their hearts to change from the darkness that they have chosen.

It is true that St. Paul preached in many cities to large congregations of people but he was called to do so as an apostle. He often suffered severely for his preaching because many hated his words. It is not that we should not proclaim Christ to others but if the scriptures and Church teaching have been given to them, sometimes it is better to simply pray for someone who has strayed rather than create an even bigger gap between them any yourself.

In today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple because they refused to believe in Him or His works. St. Matthew also used Jesus proclamation to warn his people not to chase false teachers and prophets. Only the testimony and teaching from Christ that Matthew relayed should be followed. Note that Matthew quoted Jesus as saying: “See, I have told you beforehand.” Matthew warned his community not to be led astray by false speculations. The destruction of Jerusalem itself had probably already happened and St. Matthew was connecting Jesus’ proclamation with that event.

This passage can also be looked at ‘apocalyptically’ in other words a warning for the end of time. One must be careful how to interpret such teaching. Many have predicted the end of the world using passages like this. Jesus said at the end of this passage that the oncoming of the end of the world will be very clear.

The Orthodox Church teaches that we have to look to it for guidance to be able to properly interpret such passages. Some modern academic scholars have falsely accused the Orthodox Church of hiding early apocryphal letters from its communities in order to manipulate Jesus’ teachings. The Church has never hidden such passages. Some of the manuscripts have been lost over time but not hidden from people. Such conspiracies cannot belie the authority that Christ has given His Body, the Church to be able to authentically interpret the scriptures. The Orthodox Church does not say that readers cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit from reading the scriptures but it does say that when trying to interpret a saying from it that is puzzling, we need its guidance.

Wednesday, September 1st., 2021

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11         Gospel: Matthew 23:29-39

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from St. Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians, he reminded them that whatever glory they may have known as Israelites in the past, was nothing compared to the glory now given to them through the Holy Spirit. We can see from other parts of the letter that Jews who would not believe in Christ kept trying to draw them away from Him by throwing up arguments to challenge their beliefs. For instance, they accused the early Christians of pandering to pagan culture by not keeping the Sabbath in the way they were and not being strict in keeping the Mosaic Law’s dietary requirement. In the case of today’s passage, they were arguing that they had the glory of Moses. St. Paul makes it clear that this was a passing glory, in fact, one that Moses and the other prophets longed for in their time. It was the glory of God revealing Himself to them. That glory was now to be found in Jesus Christ, revealed as a man but, as could be seen from His works, was the Son of God at the same time and who, after He rose from the dead, would send the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who would guide them in their troubles as they follow Christ by taking up their own crosses. This was the path to glory. This was the path to the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel, God’s own chosen people were being lamented by Jesus for refusing to be gathered into God’s Kingdom like a hen would gather her chicks. It would have been obvious to St. Matthew and his readers that the desolation of Jerusalem after it fell to the Romans, was a stark reminder of their refusal to believe in Christ. St. Matthew was reminding them that not only did Jesus foretell this but there was no future in trying to continue through a nation that had been destroyed. There own refusal to be gathered by God would only lead to the path of death and in this case, the destruction of Jerusalem. That destruction resulted in the death of countless numbers of people.

It is also a reminder to us that the only way to life is through Christ, not all the alternatives that the fallen world offers. They too can only lead to death. Let us, therefore, stay focused on the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, August 31st., 2021

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:3       Gospel: Matthew 23:23-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

There are a number of references Paul makes in his Letters to the Corinthians about them complaining about him or speaking of him in a negative way. Today's passage from his Second Letter is one of them. For some of the community, his words are life, for others, death. What matters to St. Paul is not what they think but that he was an apostle sent to them by Christ. What ever he said, was said in Christ. It is He who will make the increase through the Holy Spirit. As an apostle, he built that community and they themselves are his testimony. He wrote:

"You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart."

As a priest, when I preach, I leave the impact of my words to the Holy Spirit. I may preach better on some days than others but in the end, any touching of a listener's soul will depend on Christ. Like Paul, all I can do is preach Christ in the best way I can and then leave it in His hands and upon the Holy Spirit to warm a listener's heart to reach out to Christ. The important thing for the listener is to pray to hear what Christ may be teaching us through these words and what our heavenly Father may be calling us to through them. This requires a humble heart like that of the publican rather than the pharisee.

In today's Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus attacks the scribes and pharisees about their outward showing of beauty but their lives, in fact, were full of filth. Their downfall was their wealth and arrogance, by insisting on the people keeping the Mosaic Law but charging them handsomly for their required practices. They became immensely wealthy as a result but without giving anything back to those Chosen People that they were custodians of. The bestower of blessings is entitled to receive a portion of that blessing, as was the case with Melchesedek, the high priest of Salem, who blessed Abraham before rescuing his brother, Lot. The giving of a 'tithe' was a standard practice for the Jewish people. A balance is required, however, to not let what happened to the Scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was referring to.

Today in our OCA diocese of New York and New Jersey, as is the case for all the dioceses under Metropolitan Tikhon, we have an annual budget in which parishes give tithes to their diocese for its administration and its ministries. It is public and is audited to prevent misuse. In the same manner, each parish has an annual budget to administer its affairs. The salaries of the priests are also standardized by the diocese to enable a priest and his family to be properly supported but people may still choose to give to the priest for a specific blessing or prayer. 

Monday, August 30th., 2021

Monday, August 30, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 2:4-15         Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians showed that the community was a troubled one. Paul had to correct them about many issues and this passage was no exception. Apparently a young man had to be disciplined about something he had done. The letter does not say what but it was obviously serious enough for Paul to make mention of it. He also talked about not being too severe with the young man but that a balance must be struck between the severity of an offense and a suitable punishment. He was probably ostracized by the community. Paul wrote that the punishment given to him was enough and that they needed to forgive him and show love to him.

There are times that the Church has to deal with a scandal or a serious sin a person commits. When a priest hears someone confess a serious sin such as breaking a commandment, he does not judge the person but must weigh up how to get his soul back onto the right path, so that it can be healed. This is the main purpose of any correction that the priest will give. The main discipline that he will administer would be to prevent that person from receiving communion for a period of time. He may give him or her certain prayers to say to help refocus the soul back to the Kingdom of God. He may also instruct that person to fast for a certain time. The priest would need to be in close contact with them to make sure he or she does not drift back into that sin. For instance, addiction is a serious issue in today’s society. Many people struggle to get on top of their affliction. The priest needs to offer what support he can to help that person on their life’s journey. At the same time, it would be a big mistake for the priest to play down the magnitude of a serious sin or offense.

There is so much freedom in this country that many people will simply ignore the Church’s standards but for those who have the courage to face up to their sin, confession should be seen as a sacrament of healing whereby they can come back to Christ through the intercession of the priest and the Church. Christ never refuses anyone.

Society is not completely tolerant of offenses, however. If someone breaks society’s laws, they will be punished through a fine or jail term if brought before the courts. The Orthodox Church is very cognizant of society’s responsibility to protect its citizens. For this reason, it will not give absolution to someone who has committed a serious crime until they face up to the authorities first. We know that society is not perfect and discrepancies occur in the administration of justice. Having said that, however, it sees its relationship with the state as a symbiotic one, in which it attempts to cooperate with its responsibility to protect its citizens. The Church does not always agree with the state but in cases such as murder or child molestation, the decision is clear.

If a priest comes across such a situation, he will consult his bishop. The Orthodox Church uses the principle of ‘economia’ in deciding what St. Paul says in today’s passage about giving a suitable proscription to the person. That principle is the very thing Paul talks about: that no discipline should be so strong that it would crush the person’s soul. The priest goes to his bishop because only he can make such a determination. As I have said, for the Orthodox Church, its concern is the healing of a person’s soul, not retribution.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew relayed an attack given by Jesus to the Jewish authorities about their duplicity and corruption whereby they ignored the heart of the Mosaic Law and made up false exceptions for it when they do not like what it requires. This passage is read at the Bridegroom Service during Holy Week.

Friday, August 27th., 2021

Friday, August 27, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:12-20   Gospel: Matthew 22:23-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul discussed his plans to return to Corinth from Macedonia. It seems as if some doubted that he would keep his promise.

In the Old Testament, God made Covenants with the Chosen People, such as with Abraham and Moses. The trouble was that their descendents never kept their side of it, sometimes even blatantly defying it such as with the construction of the golden calf. More still, even though God commanded them to offer sacrifices, they were never adequate.

That all changed with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. St. Paul points out to the community that his promise was not a human one that could falter but one made in the name of Jesus Christ. Christ is the one who would make it happen even if it meant that Paul and his disciples may suffer through it as often happened to them on their missionary journeys. St. Paul’s point was that God always keeps His promises, as He did in the Old Testament but now through Jesus Christ.

If we also dedicate our lives to Christ, praying to the Holy Spirit to guide us and working through His Body, the Church to keep His teachings, we too are given the promise that God will work through us in His own way and His own time. Like Paul, however, we need to embrace our crosses each day as we strive to live in Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus discusses the question of the resurrection with the Sadducees, who did not believe in it. Jesus taught them that God is the God of the living not the dead. He said:

“But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ’I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’”

From the outset of His public ministry, Jesus consistently preached about and demonstrated the life of the Kingdom of God. He called people to repent of their sins which bring death and turn to the Kingdom of God which brings life.

In our struggles to live our daily lives, it is important to remember that our sinfulness will only bring death, not life, even though the fallen world will tell us that its glamour and glitter are life.

So, we have two messages for today. Firstly, that God will keep His promise to stand by us and secondly, that He promised to give us eternal life, the true Bread of Life and the true Living Waters, for which we will never thirst nor go hungry.

Thursday, August 26th., 2021

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7           Gospel: Matthew 21:43-46

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage is the opening and greeting of St. Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians. He introduces Timothy and himself to the community. Notice, as is his custom, he greeted them in Trinitarian terms, offering grace from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He does not here specifically mention the Holy Spirit as in other letters but he soon will. He does mention being comforted, a word in the New Testament that is usually connected to the Holy Spirit. In the latter part of this passage, he talks of their afflictions and sufferings as being part of Christ’s suffering. Paul himself suffered greatly for the sake of Christ. He often talked about bearing the cross of Christ. For him, being a disciple of Christ inevitably means sharing in the cross of Christ and of suffering for him. He assures them however that they also “will partake of the consolation.”

In the same way, when we are afflicted, the test for us it to seek the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and strengthen us. Let us always take this path and not another way. In such times, our faith in Christ is being tested but we will not be left alone. Always earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit will be with us.

Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of the confrontation that Jesus had with the authorities. Jesus warned them that “whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” The reason is that they will not bear the fruit that God wants them to because they refuse to believe in Him. They knew what He was warning and wanted to destroy Him because of it but they were not game to touch Him.

Wednesday, August 25th., 2021

Wednesday August 25, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 16:4-12       Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus give a parable about two sons and their different responses to their father’s order to go and work. After refusing, one had second thoughts about his reaction and decided to respect his father’s wish and go to work. The second said yes but disrespectfully chose to ignore it.

I have written a lot about the scribes and Pharisees refusal to believe.

Let us look at the other reference Jesus makes to “tax collectors and harlots” who will be invited to the Kingdom of God instead of the Jewish leaders. Jesus often spoke about the poor. He talked about restoring the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He spoke parables about going into the highways and byways to invite people to His Father’s Kingdom because the house of Israel declined the invitation. He never refused to minister or heal anyone who was afflicted if they sought Him to help. He often told them that their sins were forgiven or to not sin anymore. He was criticized for mingling with tax collectors and harlots. When dying on the cross, the first person invited to the Kingdom of God was the thief next to Him. It was these people that Jesus was referring to in today’s parable.

What He did preach about was to repent “for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” What He would not tolerate were those who refused to believe in His works and His preaching. This is who He was talking about in today’s parable.

In the Orthodox Church, we invite people to come, to receive the “living waters” that Christ offers through the Church. We do not judge those who do not respond right away. We keep the invitation open. As a community, we pray for all those whom we love asking the Holy Spirit to touch their hearts. Jesus was prepared to sacrifice Himself as a ransom for all in order that they could receive the life of the Kingdom. We should be prepared to do even that if required to. What is important for now is to pray, fast and give to the poor. These are the practices of the Orthodox Church and what is termed the Orthodox Way. Let us continue on that path because it will help us to stay focused on the Kingdom of God that Jesus invited us to.

Tuesday, August 24th., 2021

Tuesday August 24th 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:29-38                 Gospel: Matthew 21:23-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

In his continuing discourse about the resurrection in the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warns his community not to be close to ‘evil company’ lest they become corrupted by them. Paul points out that without Christ rising from the dead, there would be no point to any of their efforts. For the Jews of the old Mosaic Law, there had been a long standing dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The latter did not believe in the resurrection. Obviously, there were Jews in Corinth who still agreed with the Sadducees and this is where this debate would have come from.

Occasionally, I come across families who have someone who has converted to or has sympathies with Islam. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God. It is very important that our children do not become influenced by such thinking. We believe in the words of the Nicean Creed that Jesus is the Son of God, who suffered, died and rose again to save us from our sins. Reciting it often may seem repetitive but it is important to continue to steadfastly affirm our faith in the Risen Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage, the chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority to teach and preach the way He was doing. They hated that they could not control Him. When confronted by Jesus’ question about John the Baptist, they backed away.

Just as Paul was dealing with some of the community of Corinth who were being swayed by those who did not believe in the Risen Christ, we also must not allow others to manipulate us to falter in this belief. Our belief in the Risen Christ is the gateway to the Kingdom of God. It is the key that allows us to call on the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. It is the truth that the fallen world will never see or accept, in the same way that the chief priests and elders would never accept Jesus’ authority. To the Greeks, this belief was foolishness. To the Jews, it was the stumbling block, as St. Paul relays it. For us, it is the pearl or treasure that Jesus described in His parables. It is the one thing we need to take with us when we pass from this life to the next, which will be for all eternity. It is everything for us. We must be on our guard to not let anyone take from us our belief in the Risen Christ.

Thursday, August 23rd., 2021

Monday, August 23, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19     Gospel: Matthew 21:18-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul corrects some of the community who claimed that Christ did not rise from the dead. I suspect that some of the Jewish converts or Jews close to them were saying this. Paul corrects the futility of this teaching. It may seem surprising to some of us today that such a teaching was going around but remember what Paul says, that if we do not believe in the Risen Christ, then our belief is worthless. So, if you hear of anyone talking like this then it is important that we too correct this false teaching. It could be particularly damaging if it is said to children. We cannot use the excuse that we can say what we like because it is a country of free speech. If we deny Christ, then He will deny us! Jesus also warned about how serious it is to lead children astray. Thus, do not let a teaching like this pass by.

The context for Jesus cursing the fig tree that did not bear fruit in today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is that Jesus conflicted with the scribes and the Pharisees and He warned that those who do reject Him will be cast aside and thrown into hell. In this conversation, the discussion moves from them to requiring everyone to have faith. St. Matthew was teaching his people to remain steadfast in their belief in Christ. Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to all those who believe in Him. Remember that the Holy Spirit will guide us in all things no matter what the difficulty.

Friday, August 20., 2021

Friday August 10, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40                 Gospel: Matthew 21:12-14, 17-20

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is a crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew’s account, this occurs right after Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey with the people calling out “Hosanna!” In the liturgical calendar of the Church, it commences the celebration of Holy Week. For Matthew, it is the turning point where the Jewish authorities dislike for Him turns into straight out hostility. Not only does Jesus' turning over of the tables of the money changers hit a raw nerve for them because He interfered in their economic prosperity but because it was at the temple of Jerusalem. The spectacle of Him being adulated by the people was too much for them. Who was He to undermine their policies and administration of the Mosaic Law?

The reality however was very different from their perception of themselves. This is brought out in the second part of the passage. It does not say it here but in St. John’s account, the discourse about the temple being destroyed and then raised up again in three days, predicted the very destruction of the temple with the end of its worship and sacrificial offering as they knew it. Jesus warns that those who refuse to believe in Him will not bear fruit and will be cut down to be burned.

Matthew is also warning his own people not to fall into that trap. It is also a reminder for us to not take the spiritual gifts given to us by the Church at baptism for granted. We must allow them to bear fruit. We must continue to choose Christ, humbly follow in His footsteps and remain part of His Body, the Church. The world will try to entice us to ignore our commitment to Christ. We must be on our guard to not fall into its trap.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul cautions about the gift of praying in tongues. To be sure, the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills and there are a number of instances where we read of people in the early Christian communities praying in tongues.

Even at this early point however, it was getting out of hand. It did so mostly because the Corinthian people were used to the pagan cultural practices of the time. Some continued to practice those so called pagan ‘spiritual’ practices. Much of it was demonic but in their yearning for the divine, the pagan people would turn to ‘divination’ practices. Some in communities such as the Corinthians tended to mix the two practices up. They would get very emotional, even hysterical.

Paul was cautioning that there is no point to praying this way if no message could be gained from it. The main way such prayer was interpreted was by the gift of ‘prophecy’ but he says in this passage that even the ‘prophets’ need to be evaluated. He says in another part of the letter that any gift should only be used to serve others. If others cannot understand it, it is not serving anyone. Another point he makes in this passage is that there should be order in any prayer service.

The early Church had to grapple with this problem. Both St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine mention that the practice had passed away by their time. The Church came to the conclusion, for the reasons I mention above, that it was not good to practice this gift in regular prayer services. What they decided was that if anyone wanted to continue to pray in this way, it should be done in monasteries where it could be kept under control. It died out quickly after then. What did develop in monasteries was the praying of the psalms and the discipline of scheduled prayer and fasting. This has been the case ever since.

What is called the prayer of the heart is seen as a very important part in the Living Faith of the Orthodox Church. Aside from our liturgical prayers and daily designated prayers, the Church encourages Orthodox Christians to use the Jesus Prayer constantly when able to:

“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

This prayer is a very good vehicle to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives. The saints of the Orthodox Church have said that the Holy Spirit will respond to our needs if we use this prayer.

Thursday, August 19th., 2021

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 14:6-19         Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote about praying in tongues. We know that the most dramatic account of praying in tongues from the Acts of the Apostles was the apostles doing so when they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There are also several instances when the early Church wrote about praying in tongues and all of them were connected to the Holy Spirit. Praying in tongues became part of the Assembly’s or Ecclesia’s worship. After all, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills. Two problems emerged with its usage, however. The first was what St. Paul wrote about in today’s Epistle passage that, except for a person’s self edification, what purpose does it serve if no one can understand what it means? The second was that its practice became entangled with the former pagan practices of some of the converts, especially women. It got to a point where members in the services became hysterical. Paul wrote about that in other letters.  Eventually, the early Church decided that if someone wanted to pray in tongues, they could do so at a monastery, where an abbot could control any excesses of its use. It was from that time on that Church services became more structured and centered on the Eucharist rather than spontaneous prayer.

While the practice of praying in tongues died out, the Orthodox Church has never lost sight of the necessity to have the Holy Spirit guide our lives. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to those who would become His disciples through repentance and baptism. What is also important is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. He said in St. John’s Gospel:

“If you love me, keep my commandments and I will pray to send you the Comforter.”

This is why the Orthodox Church puts so much emphasis on keeping the teachings of Christ and has always striven to be faithful to His teachings in the Church’s doctrines and teachings. We may not experience a dramatic manifestation of the Holy Spirit like the apostles did at Pentecost or those whom St. Paul baptized but we believe that Christ is always faithful to His promise that if we strive to follow Him as disciples we will receive the Holy Spirit.

In our daily practice, the Church urges us to use the Jesus Prayer:

“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

This prayer will protect us from sin and instill the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus announced that He would be betrayed and condemned to death when they went to Jerusalem. This must have sent shock waves to the apostles because they did not yet fully understand His teachings and what their Heavenly Father had planned for His Son. They reacted in fear and the mother of Zebedee’s sons wanted to make the most of the situation. She asked for the best seats for them in the Kingdom of God. The rest of them became upset at this request. Jesus had to teach them that to be served, they had to serve and to become great in the Kingdom of God they had to be the least among them. They did not know what this meant until the death and resurrection of Jesus and after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

We too must strive to serve for Christ in any way we can. In doing so, we must pray for the gift of humility so that, as St. Paul said, it is Christ who brings about the fruit of our efforts through the Holy Spirit. When we do, we put on Christ, take up our cross and die to ourselves. Let us make that our prayer today.

Wednesday, August 18., 2021

Wednesday August 18, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:4-14:5                Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

It helps to put today’s passage from St. Matthew giving the parable of the landowner who employed people for his harvest into the context in which he was relaying the parable to his own community. Debate had begun about whether it was proper and how non-Jewish converts should be brought into the Christian community. Ultimately, St. Paul’s view that the Gentiles who converted to Christ should be welcomed in freely, prevailed. This parable, therefore, was very applicable to that debate. Our Heavenly Father has invited everyone to feast in His Kingdom. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross opened the doors to that invitation. It also signaled that the ways of the Mosaic Law where only God’s chosen people would be invited had ceased. As Jesus said at the end of this passage:

“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.’”

For us, once again, the parable is a reiteration that the Risen Christ has made it very easy for us to accept this invitation. Anyone who believes in Him is welcomed. As St. John Chrysostom preached in his Paschal Homily about the Risen Christ:

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.”

Let us not take this invitation for granted, however. Our choice to follow Christ is a daily one whereby we stay focused on it despite what troubles this fallen world might throw at us. This choice also means taking up our cross daily and offering it back to Him. This is what will test our faith and enable us to be the chosen ones. Nor, like some of those Jews in Matthew’s time who begrudged the invitation of the Gentiles, should we ever hesitate to invite others on behalf of Christ to invite others to Christ. Nor should we hesitate to challenge anyone who seems to be drifting from Christ. Their souls are at stake if they reject Him!

Today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is his famous one about love.

It would be well worth reading the whole passage. If you are viewing this message on the parish website, simply click onto the link at the top of this page. If you are reading it on Facebook, unfortunately, the link is lost but you can copy and paste it to your browser and it should come up.

Remember that Paul had been talking about the divisions among the Corinthian community, with their jealousies and boastfulness. He had firstly said that if he was going to boast, it would only be about the cross of Christ. Secondly, that they must use the talents they were boasting about to serve others, not for everyone to look at. In this teaching, he coined the phrase the “Body of Christ.” Only then will the community build because only then will it stay focused on the Kingdom of God, not on themselves or what this fallen world regards as being important. Thirdly, in today’s passage, regardless of their talents, whether they be spiritual or material, unless they are done in love then they are nothing. He specifically referred to the spiritual gifts of praying in tongues and prophesying. They will pass away and if they are not used to serve and done in love, they mean nothing. Finally, he compares the way of the love of Christ, to what the world says:

“love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity.”

In our own community, it is always important to lookout for people’s talents. Someone new may be able to offer a dimension or insight to a task needed to be done that had not been thought of before. It is easy for a Church community who has been performing a task in a certain way for many years to become inflexible, refusing to listen, because “we have always done it this way.” Any good idea needs to be considered and obviously not all would be good for the community. The important thing is to encourage people to use their talents to up build the Body of Christ.

I have talked about the need to pray for humility. The gift of love goes hand in hand with it so, do not hesitate to pray for it.

Tuesday, August 17th., 2021

Tuesday August 17, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26                 Gospel: Matthew 18:18-22, 19:1-2, 13-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

The first verse of today’s Gospel is quoted at the end of the Orthodox Funeral Service, when the priest says the prayer of absolution for the deceased person. The priest does this in the name of the Church.

The next two verses concern praying together in Christ’s name. Again, the Orthodox Church uses this saying during the Second Antiphon of the Divine Liturgy. When two or three people come together and pray in Christ’s name He promises us that He will be there with us. That is how easy He makes it for us! All we have to do is believe what He promised and pray from our hearts. It is tragic that so many people do not take this seriously today. Christ’s presence is being offered to us freely. It is a gateway for our souls to enter into the Kingdom of God.

The next two verses concern the requirement of any Christian to forgive others. This can be very difficult at times but we must always strive to have the willingness to forgive. For the Orthodox Church, it is a pillar of the Orthodox Way. At the beginning of the season of Great Lent, we ask for everybody’s forgiveness and during that season, we use the Prayer of St. Ephraim to seek not to judge other people. Before the Great Entrance at the Eucharistic section of the Divine Liturgy, the priest turns to his people and asks for forgiveness from everyone. As Orthodox Christians, we must forgive and never judge others. The martyrs often asked for their executors’ forgiveness. When the Day of Judgment comes, our Heavenly Father will forgive us if we have forgiven everyone else.

For the rest of this passage, we read from St. Matthew how Jesus continued to powerfully bring the life of the Kingdom of God to others through His miracles and preaching. Matthew also repeats what he previously had written about Jesus calling the little children to Him. It is not those who are powerful in the eyes of the fallen world who will get to heaven but those who have humility like that of a little child’s. As I said yesterday, it is important to always pray for the gift of humility. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul. It is not something that will always come automatically to us and as such, it is something we must pray for from the Holy Spirit.

I did not comment on yesterday’s passage from St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians but today’s follows directly on from it. The community at Corinth were getting jealous of each other and forming factions, based on a particular apostle or disciple of all people. They fell into this trap because they lost focus on the Kingdom of God and started boasting about how good they were compared to others. The only one we should compare ourselves to is Christ. He is our only measure, no one else. When we do compare ourselves to Him, we soon realize that we fall short of what we could or should be and certainly not in a position to judge others. For this reason, Paul says that the only boasting he will do is about that of the Crucified Christ, something that is folly to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews who do not believe in Christ.

What Paul does do to counter their tendency to boast about themselves is to talk about how they can use their talents, not to boast with but to serve others. He presents the model of the body that has different parts which are needed to function properly as a whole. When any one part hurts, the whole body hurts. In contrast, when the members of the community join together to serve each other, just as the hands or feet do for the body, then the community functions properly and begins to thrive. In using this model, Paul coined the phrase the “Body of Christ” a phrase that is well known among all Churches. For the Orthodox Church:

  • It sees this model of the “Body of Christ” as continuing today in its members
  • The Holy Spirit is present among its members when they strive to serve each other
  • As such, they bring the Kingdom of God into this fallen world
  • The parish becomes the vehicle whereby the presence of God inserts itself into history
  • When the parish functions in this way, the Church sees it as a continuation of the Communion of Saints and joined to it in the heavenly kingdom.

All of this is happening when we strive to serve the parish through the talents that we offer to this Body of Christ!

Paul is, of course, using it as an anecdote to the egotism or elitism that was rife in the Corinthisn community but it is important to realize that there is a huge difference between behaving as a clique or faction compared to those who wish to serve because they serve Christ, not themselves. One attitude panders to our fallen nature that will only end in death. In contrast, the way to Christ, gives us life, not only now but for all eternity among the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God. Let us pray for the grace to serve Christ, not our fallen selves.

Monday, August 16th., 2021

Monday, August 16, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:31-12:6              Gospel: Matthew 18:1-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

The first part of today’s passage talks about humility. Jesus told his disciples that to get into the Kingdom of God we must have the humility of a little child. Jesus himself was very humble and spoke a lot about humility. He never sought the power of this world and was simply known as the carpenter’s son. St. Paul, in his letters, talks about us not being aliens or slaves but fellow citizens. As such though, we are children of the Kingdom. If we become arrogant, feeling we are entitled to be there, we will be rejected. Thus, it is always good to pray for the gift of humility because this will make us great in the Kingdom of God.

Note that St. Matthew, in this next section, quoted Jesus about scandals against children. It makes me suspect that there must have been talk about it among Matthew’s community. Given the patriarchal nature of society at that time, men had a lot of power and could get away with such scandals.

How timely this warning is for today! As a parent, I find it chilling that churches have protected such perpetrators in the past. For the OCA Archdiocese, strict guidelines are now in place to protect the vulnerable, not just in regard to sexual abuse but other types of abuses as well. Nor does it allow the church’s administration to give perpetrators protection. For instance, as a priest, I cannot give absolution to someone who wants to confess an abuse until that person goes to the authorities first to face up to their crime. Society has a responsibility to protect its citizens and the seal of confession is not over and above that responsibility.

The Orthodox Church does not look upon its Canons as being divine like the Vatican in Rome does. As such, a Canon such as the seal of Confession must be looked at in the context of where it would be applied. The sacred responsibility that society has to protect its children from abuse takes precedence over a person’s right to confidentiality in this context. This does not mean that the Orthodox Church does not take the seal of Confession seriously but it is not an absolute in and of itself and cannot ignore the teaching from Jesus that:

“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

The OCA also takes abuse by its clergy very seriously. If a priest is taken to a civil court, he will almost certainly have to face the Archdiocesan Ecclesiastical Court as well. Ultimately, all such judgments are left in God’s hands but it too has a responsibility to protect its parishioners and suspend a priest if it determines it is necessary.

The passage also warned parents and adults not to teach their children to sin. Children are a solemn gift from God. Adults have a responsibility to teach correctly what Christ and His Body, the Church teaches. Jesus warned:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Thus, let us remember this phrase:

 “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

It is not unreasonable to look at the sayings talking about cutting off limbs and plucking out eyes as metaphorical. We have no accounts in the early Church of Christians attempting such things. We too, do not talk in such violent terms today but one must remember that in St. Matthew’s time, such grizzly forms of punishment and revenge were not uncommon. The point is there, however, that to commit crimes against children will have dire consequences for such people on Judgment Day.

Friday, August 13 2021

Friday August 13, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:8-22       Gospel: Matthew 17:10-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage, the disciples ask Jesus about Elijah (or Elias or Elia) because the scribes were arguing that Jesus cannot be the prophet because Elijah must come first. Jesus replies that the spirit of Elijah was in John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. The prophet Malachi said that the spirit of Elijah would return and this forecast would have been known to the scribes and Pharisees. The spirit of Elijah was given to Elisha when he left this earth on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 6:17).

It is interesting that the passage just before this (Matt. 17: 1-8) is the account of Jesus being transfigured on Mt. Tabor. The account of the transfiguration gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. In it, Peter also makes reference to seeing Elijah. Thus, Elijah’s prophetic calling is connected to the divinity of Jesus, who is the Second Person of the Trinity. Thus, Matthew sees the discussion in today’s passage about Elijah as being connected to Jesus’ transfiguration. Further, immediately after the discussion, a man who is possessed by a demon is brought to Jesus and Jesus expels it. Jesus also complains about those disciples who brought the man to Him who could not cast it out because of their lack of faith.

From St. Matthew, therefore, we are taught a number of lessons. Firstly, he was telling his people not to listen to the arguments of those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. Secondly, that entertaining such arguments will easily blunt their faith, as happened to those disciples who could not cast out the demon. Thirdly, both in this story and in many others, the divinity of Jesus is clearly displayed. Fourthly, that the Trinity certainly intended that the spirit of Elijah would come again and did so through John the Baptist. Fifthly, not only would the authorities reject this spirit but they hated John for it because of his outspokenness in preaching the truth. So, they had him executed. Finally, just as they hated John for this spirit and Jesus for His divinity, they may well hate and kill those to whom he wrote, who were followers of Christ.

These lessons apply to us as well. Note that the father of the afflicted man came to Jesus humbly asking for mercy in his suffering. We too not only need to keep our faith pure but we need to also pray in a spirit of humility as this father did. This is why the phrase “Lord, have mercy!” is so often used in our services. When affliction or difficult times come, as humans, it often takes time to absorb what has happened, especially if the pain is acute. It can take years for our bodies and our emotions to settle down. It can be a great challenge to stay focused on the Kingdom of God as the father in today’s story was able to. Always strive to reach out to Christ in times of difficulty with a spirit of humility, pouring out our hearts to Him. There will definitely be times that our faith will be tested but remember, when we are tempted to doubt or we fall, Christ will never refuse us when we come back to Him.

Remember the words of the Beatitudes that we say in our Divine Liturgy:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

Jesus' teaching helped them stay focused on the Kingdom of God during times of hardship. Let us embrace His teachings enthusiastically.

Thursday, August 12th., 2021

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:28-11:7              Gospel: Matthew 16:24-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

If ever there was a passage that you wanted to learn off by heart from the Gospels, it is today’s. Most of us are at least very familiar with it. As Orthodox Christians, we celebrate the cross of Christ a number of times during the year in our liturgical calendar. Most Christians wear a cross around their necks. For us clergy, it is an honor to wear a crucifix, testifying to the great example and sacrifice that Jesus gave us.

At the time that Jesus was on earth, the cross was a symbol of great fear. For those who suffered crucifixion, it was a message to everyone else to not challenge the ‘Pax Roma’ the so called Roman way that imposed ‘peace’ on its subjects. For those who underwent it, it was an unimaginably painful, agonizing and prolonged death that dashed any hopes of promoting oneself or one’s family’s ambitions.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross undermined Rome’s way to impose itself on others. Jesus was prepared to suffer it all for the sake of His Heavenly Father, for us and the whole universe. For those who believed in the Risen Christ, such torture was not to be feared but seen as a way to receive the gifts of His Heavenly Kingdom. Jesus had promised to send His Holy Spirit and it was that same Spirit who gave them the courage and strength to face up to any form of worldly torture that would threaten to destroy the body. Rome had no answer to this. Thus, more and more people embraced Christ’s way and eventually the Roman world itself turned Christian.

Today’s Gospel passage about the cross gives us an opportunity to renew our commitment to follow Christ. It could be easy for us to forget what the cross entails because television and social media rarely portray something about the Church’s teaching on the cross. It rarely, if ever, focuses on the lives of the countless martyrs who have followed the example of Christ and those of the early Church. Thus, we could be lured into thinking that ‘real life’ is separate from the Church’s devotion to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Such thinking would be  a big trap. Remember that the only true life is that of the Kingdom of God. We must live it now. It is not something that we need only to worry about at the end of our life.

The ways of the fallen world will mean nothing in the end. What will matter is that we give Him our sufferings and struggles, offering them to Christ. If we do, we will also be empathetic to all those who suffer throughout the world, giving in charity to those less fortunate than us, when we are able. As Jesus said later in Matthew’s Gospel:

“I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick or in prison and you visited me.”

These are the treasures we need to focus on, not those of the fallen world. These are what will feed our souls for eternity. As Jesus said in today’s passage:

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

The community to which St. Matthew was writing, indeed all the early Christian communities, realized that the only way to gain true life, the life of the Kingdom of God, was to let go of their earthly life by following Christ. Again, Jesus said:

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

So, take the opportunity today, to offer all the struggles and sufferings we are presently undergoing to Christ, asking that the Holy Spirit would guide and strengthen us on our journey. Take the opportunity to give to others, where possible, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, August 11th., 2021

Wednesday August 11, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:12-22     Gospel: Matthew 16:20-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples not to call Him the Christ or Messiah. He was given many titles such as teacher or master but He did not want to be called the Messiah at that point. It was not time for that and importantly, the Jewish people were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver their nation from the Roman yoke. There were also times that He asked those whom He had healed not to spread around how it happened. Not that they did but Jesus knew what such news would head to: the people would start speculating that they type of Messiah they expected may have come.

In contrast, in this passage, Jesus teaches His disciples what such a title would really mean: which was to be sacrificed on the cross in order to save the world. When Jesus told them this, Peter could not accept it and started to remonstrate with Him. Jesus’ response was very stern:

“Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

The reason He was so blunt was that to acquiesce to the way the fallen world thinks would be to destroy His mission. It was not until after crucifixion happened that they finally understood what it meant. Jesus taught them here that, as His disciples, they will also be required to take up their own cross because the fallen world will reject them.

Matthew would have been very aware of the importance of this teaching for the community he was writing to. It too, had to face rejection and possibly persecution from both those Jews who would not believe in Christ and the Roman authorities.

We know, as Orthodox Christians, that the command to take up our cross is a central part of our teaching. It is not an easy one but as I have said often, we must offer our hardships and sufferings back to Christ each day. This is how we take up our own cross. It is always important to stay as focused as possible on the Kingdom of God when have to endure sufferings or when we pray for others going through suffering.

In today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warned them not to contaminate the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ that they have received, by also drinking from the cup of a Jewish offering or from a pagan sacrifice. It is likely that some of them were doing so.

For us, before we receive communion we always recite the prayer ‘I believe O Lord and I confess…’ At the end of that prayer we say:

“May the communion of your holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.”

Let us never take this awesome Mystery for granted.

Tuesday, August 10th., 2021

Tuesday August 10th., 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:5-12       Gospel: Matthew 16:6-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from St. Matthew follows on from yesterday’s one. In fact, the first sentence from today’s is the same one as the last one in yesterday’s. The apostles and disciples kept taking what Jesus literally. Thus, when He talked about leaven they thought He was talking about bread. He was using that image to describe what was in the Pharisees’ hearts. The leaven they had was not from God and was the opposite to the life of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was warning them not to be beguiled by them because they rejected that life which they saw in His miracles.

Jesus often used images from nature or basic life functions such as the birds of the air or the making of bread. This is because the Father’s revelation comes as much from His creation or nature as it does from the scriptures. What Jesus did was interpret these day to day images to show how they connect to the Kingdom of God. Note that He often says “the Kingdom of God is like” and then goes on to use such an image. St. Matthew was telling his people through these stories to be on their guard against those Jews who refused to believe in the Risen Christ. The way they argued may have sounded plausible but their rejection of Christ would only bring death.

The Orthodox Church has given us its liturgical calendar and set daily prayers as well as specific prayers for many needs. The OCA has composed a four volume set called ‘The Book of Needs.’ It also has abridged versions. These structured prayers help us to keep in touch with Christ during our busy daily lives and are important to use. At the same time and especially during the summer season, we all enjoy getting in contact with nature, whether it is by enjoying mountain views and streams or the seashore. Our diocese, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, has a camp on Oneida Lake in Central New York State for this very purpose. So, much of the structure of its summer camp program is intended for this.

For those who are not able to get away this summer because of the pandemic, we should still strive to pray about nature in our free time. While being in a nature setting will help prompt this, the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills. So, we should not be afraid to ask for the gift of seeing the Kingdom of God through His creation, which as Orthodox, we believe has not stopped but ongoing.

Returning to the Gospel passage, much of what Jesus taught was about seeing the Kingdom of God through these created signs. Make this part of your prayer because understanding nature in this way will bring us close to the Kingdom of God.

In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians, he warns that community to not indulge in their former pagan immoral practices. He does so by reminding them that the Israelites did similar things after being freed from Egypt and were punished heavily for it. He warns his community that they will fall if they do similar things.

It is also a timely reminder for us. We have seen on the news about young people reveling at parties. American culture largely ignores the danger of this type of behavior with the attitude to ‘work hard and play hard’ is okay, whether or not it is immoral. We are in a time when God’s laws of nature have imposed themselves through the Coronavirus. The consequences of undisciplined behavior have had deadly consequences by the spread of the virus. Try to warn any young people who talk about such parties that they are not from God. Instead of imbibing nature, they use it to revel in an immoral way. Such a way will only bring death. To imbibe the beauty of nature does the opposite. It enables us to get in touch with the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

Monday, August 9th., 2021

Monday August 9, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:13-18       Gospel: Matthew 16:1-6

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, the Pharisees ask for a sign from Jesus. Jesus had been doing signs all the time in the works He was performing. The Pharisees did not like what He was doing because it was not from them. Not only did they ‘nit pick’ about Him breaking the Mosaic Law because He would perform miracles on the Sabbath, they also claimed that His power came from the devil! They hated the fact that they could not control Him. The reason they asked at this point for a sign from Him was that they wanted to dictate the terms by which He would do them. They failed to recognize that they as chosen, created people could not control the creator. All they were interested in was a political savior not one who reflected the Kingdom of God. Politicians will always attempt to use anything they can to control and use something that will help them keep their power.

In dealing with the political world, the Orthodox Church seeks to have a symbiotic relationship with the government of the day. It recognizes that what is due to Caesar should be given to Caesar, as long as what the government does will not contradict the teachings of Christ. When it does, the Church will seek to correct. Thus, it will try to support the government where possible. Note that in our liturgical prayers, the Orthodox Church often prays for the head of state and its government. At the same time, the Orthodox Church sees itself as being separate from the state. The Church needs the state for good order and tranquility but it also believes that the state, if it wants to function correctly, needs the Church for its guidance. This is why the term ‘symbiotic’ is used to describe its relationship. It is not always an easy relationship and can be straight out hostile, such as when a Communist government is in power. It is also not uncommon for states to try to manipulate the Church to gain its ends.

For us, it is important to pray for the state. It is a good thing to bring our political concerns to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and protect you. In this country, however, in which everyone feels entitled to express their opinion, it is easy for us to lose focus on the Kingdom of God and get caught up in political movements. We have to be very careful about this if we want to have the Kingdom of God reside in our hearts. It is easy to see how Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ attempts to control Him. He called them hypocrites because their wish for political gain that had made them blind to very signs that God was showing them at that time in history. The sign that was offered to them instead was that of the prophet Jonah who lived in a whale for three days. This image was a foretelling of Him being buried for three days, the very opposite to their blinding political aspirations, aspirations which would see the Mosaic temple destroyed.

Jesus taught us that if we follow Him, we would also need to take up our own cross each day. It is only through His sacrifice on the cross that people’s hearts can change from being blind to being able to see the ways of the Kingdom of God. When we share in His cross, our efforts become transformed and bear fruit. Always ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to faithfully follow Christ.

In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, although he is referring to specific matters within their community in this passage, he strongly expresses later in the letter that he will only preach Christ crucified. Politics was rife in that community and the only boasting Paul would indulge in was Christ crucified.

Sunday, August 8th., 2021

This passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus’ works as He travelled about the countryside. It is a depiction of how the life of the Kingdom of God entered into history. In these stories we see that these moments transcended space and time. Many were healed. All that they needed to do was believe that Jesus was able to do these works.

It is interesting how Matthew depicts the story of the blind men. They call Jesus ‘Son of David.’ Because of their faith, they eyes were opened. It would not have gone unnoticed, by both the witnesses of this story and St. Matthew’s own people, the connection to the Messianic promise from Isaiah (Is. 35:5) that the eyes of the blind would be opened. The Messianic promise was that a Messiah would come to redeem Israel from its oppressors. It may be surprising to realize that Jesus did not reveal His identity to many people while He was performing these works. This is why He commanded the blind men that He healed not go around telling everyone how it happened. The reason for the concealment of His identity was that many of the Jewish people foresaw a political Messiah who would give them political freedom. They would not acknowledge that what Jesus was doing was not on behalf of this fallen world. Although this may be obvious to us in hindsight, these works were done by Jesus in the name of the Kingdom of God, not the fallen world.

Matthew is telling his people through these stories that the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom of God is very different from a political kingdom. Those who continued to adhere to the latter would endure the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans precisely because of their often violent political agitation. Such agitation is not the way of the followers of Christ.

We must remember this as we witness the reaction in this country to the pandemic by some, that directives to get vaccinated, wear masks or other precautions advised by medical authorities are a violation of their free speech which is sanctioned by the Constitution. There are many good principles in the American Constitution but we must remember that it is a political framework that is designed to keep order for our country that is part of the fallen world, not the Kingdom of God. I have previously said that there are two books of God’s Revelation: that of the scriptures and that of nature. We must respect the laws of nature and our constitutional rights do not supersede them. I am not suggesting that scientific observation is infallible but when the consensus of the whole medical community is that it is better to wear a mask, we should respect this. This is why the OCA has been so cautious to adhere to the medical advice. In the meantime, remain focused on the Kingdom of God, not on political agitators who want to take advantage of these times to cause chaos. Such agitation can only end up in death.

In today’s passage, which is towards the end of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he gives some timely advice about how we should behave towards each other as we seek out the Kingdom of God:

“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is not always easy to live up to such ideals but as Jesus asked of those who came to be healed, do we believe in Christ enough to see that the grace of the Holy Spirit will prevail when we do?

 

Thursday, August 6th. The Transfiguration of Christ

Thursday, August 06, 2021

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus

Epistle: 2 Peter 1:10-19     Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

Please click onto or copy and paste this link to see the readings for today that I refer to: https://www.oca.org/readings. There are several of them.

For today’s celebration of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain (Mt. Tabor) St. Matthew gives his account of what happened (Matthew 17:1-9). It is a depiction of Jesus’ divinity, where He became brilliantly white, so intense that the apostles Peter, James and John could not look at it. A cloud descended upon them, Moses and Elijah appeared and our Heavenly Father spoke, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

In the services used to celebrate this event, the Orthodox Church uses readings from both the Old and the New Testament that pre-figure and highlight the continuity of the Father’s plan of salvation from eternity. Two visual images are connected in the readings.

The first is the presence of God in a mountain. Jesus often went to a mountain to commune with His Father but here, the dramatic scene of Moses going up Mount Sinai to speak with God (Exodus 24:12-18) is connected to what happened with Jesus. Moses asked to see God’s face. God told him he could only see the back side of Him, otherwise he would die. In the brilliance of Jesus countenance, the three apostles could not look at Him. The presence of God’s is often associated with a mountain.

The second is the cloud. A cloud descended upon the mountain. When Moses left those who came with him partway up the mountain (Composite 15 - Exodus 33:11-23; 34:4-6, 8), he left them behind and a cloud descended upon the mountain. Afterwards, when the Ark of the Covenant was carried by the priests with the Israelites across the desert, a cloud surrounded it by day and fire by night. The presence of God is also associated with a cloud.

A third association is with the Word of God. The Father speaks to the apostles about Jesus as His “beloved Son.” Moses also heard God’s voice and the Ten Commandments were given by God. When God speaks, His word is always true and will be enacted powerfully.

So, what the apostles had been seeing of Jesus as a human being was only part of the picture. He is also divine, the Son of God the Father. When God’ spoke to Moses, the prophets and other fathers in the Old Testament, it was the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who was speaking to them. The Church was to later on describe Jesus as “true God and true Man.” The glimpse they saw of Him as God was a foretaste of what they would experience for all eternity in the Kingdom of God. Nothing in this fallen cosmos, despite its beauty, can even compare to it.

The Orthodox Church also makes a connection with Elijah (Elias). God spoke to him as well as the other prophets. Like Jesus and Moses, Elijah was told to be alone for 40 days and nights on Mount Horeb (Composite 23 - 3 [1] Kings 19:3-9, 11-13, 15, 16). This time, God did not speak to him by an overwhelmingly powerful demonstration but in a gentle breeze. Elijah still covered his face but God told him to pass on his prophecy to Elisha. This was a foretelling that the presence of God would not stop but continue in a gentle way. The Son of God Himself would be present among the people, not as all powerful but as a humble human being. The vision of Elijah by the apostles testified to this humble manner by which God was revealing Himself.

In today’s Epistle (2 Peter 1:10-19), St. Peter describes how he witnessed this event. In it, he tells his own disciples that they too have been given a mission to show the presence of the Risen Christ to others who had not heard of Him. Peter heard God speak. He saw His divinity in this transfiguration. He suggested in that vision to erect a tent, or dwelling place, to continue to be in the presence of God. He also listened to Jesus teach and preach as a human being. He spoke to his own people about what he heard. In his letter, he commanded his disciples to continue to speak that same message because it is a prophetic word. It is this message that is the tent in which the presence of God dwells and continues to be revealed. It is a divine mission, not spoken by a powerful demonstration but as like the gentle breeze that Elijah experience.

The Orthodox Church also uses a separate passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 20:17-28) to warn people not to lord it over others like the Gentiles do, exercising great coercive authority to prevail over them. This is not the way of Christ. Even though we reflect on the majesty of Jesus in today’s feast, we must be humble like He was. He told the apostles, after a dispute among them about who would be first that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” In this life, “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” The Church is telling us that we must be humble in following Christ. In other words, store the treasures up for heaven, not for this fallen world.

As I often say, Jesus has made it easy for us to reach to the Kingdom of God. If we believe in Him as the Son of God and choose to follow Him, He promised that He would never refuse us. We must be His followers, however, following His humble way of the cross to be a sacrifice for many. Today’s feast gives us a glimpse of what is awaiting us if we follow His teachings and commandments. Let us renew our longing to be His disciples, to continue to spread the words of His message as St. Peter has urged and to wish to live in the presence of God as the prophets did. Let us never be timid in telling of the wonderful things that Christ has done for us!

Thursday, August 5th., 2021

Thursday August 5th., 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:24-35       Gospel: Matthew 15:12-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew immediately follows from yesterday’s passage. I suggest you read what I said about it if you did not get the chance to. At the end of yesterday’s passage, Jesus says:

“Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

Jesus retorts that the adherence to the more important commandment of honoring our father and mother had been watered down by the scribes and the Pharisees but they still obsessed about the necessity to wash their hands before eating. They did not want to adhere to the heart of the Law, only the letter of the Law. Requiring people to wash their hands before eating meant nothing, if they did not also require them to keep one of the Ten Commandments. Thus, what they were teaching was false.

Jesus warns against this and tells Peter and His disciples that because they refuse to keep the heart of the Law, they have become blind. He says:

“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

The explanation of the saying that follows may well be one provided by Matthew himself to his own community. It serves two purposes: firstly, a warning to be very careful about absorbing what others outside of the Christian community might say; secondly, not to use such conversation as a means of gossip. Those early Christian communities were being attacked from all sides and Matthew was warning them not to be led astray.

For us, what matters is that we stay focused on Christ, seeking the Kingdom of God. Others in this fallen world may gossip about others but more often than not, it is the product of the evil that is in their own hearts. Such people are often very judgmental, denigrating others in order to gain power and assertion over others. There has also been a lot of discussion in recent times about the power that sexual predators exert, either in the home, at work, in educational institutions or care giving facilities. Pray every day for deliverance from evil for ourselves, our families, friends and work colleagues. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom each day to deal with whatever may come our way.

The Orthodox Church has come to realize in recent decades that it is very important to work with the authorities when someone confides with us about molestation, whether it be from a predator or a victim. Evidence needs to be acquired as best as possible to avoid misjudgment but at the same time, victims need to be protected. In the past, people have been shocked that a child would claim that a relative had been molesting them over time and perhaps, have used what Jesus says in today’s passage to conclude that such claims are evil thoughts. What matters is to gain evidence about such claims while at the same time, protecting the victims from reprisal or future abuse.

It is very important, therefore, to teach our families about how important it is to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. Pray that they will be delivered from such pitfalls that we hear about today. When we encounter victims, pray for their healing and for wisdom to know the best way to help and respond to them.

Wednesday, August 4th., 2021

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

In today’s letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote about people who had converted but whose spouses still remained pagan. He says that they should remain married to that person. Their own baptism will sanctify their family and over time, they may convert. In her experience with dealing with Muslims, the Orthodox Church has found that people who marry a non-Christian will often be coerced to abandon their faith in Christ. For this reason, it will not recognize a marriage that is non-Christian because it is not blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the interest of the well being of the family, the bishop may use his discretion or ‘economia’ to allow a person who is in a non-Christian marriage to return to the sacraments if that person continues to commit to the community to which they belong. This is not an uncommon dilemma. In contrast, many in Africa and elsewhere have been prepared to give up their lives rather than choose to reject Christ. Further, those today, who convert to become Orthodox Christian, never do so lightly. It is much more profound than the simple action of turning on or off a light switch. Thus, going against this Church practice is taken very seriously by the clergy and hierarchs. At the same time, the Orthodox Church never judges but tries to gently teach and advise those who fall in love with a non-Christian. Always consult with the priest who will consult his bishop about the circumstances of the case.

In the latter part of the letter, Paul wrote about whether or not it mattered about one’s social status when being called by the Church to serve its community members. He says that it should not, even for slaves. The social context of that time in the Roman Empire was that slavery was acceptable, something that is not tolerated in our time by the western world. He did not attempt in the letter to challenge that social norm but he does say that, being united to Christ and His Kingdom is all that mattered. Such social practices of the fallen world will not continue in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel passage, when challenged by the scribes and Pharisees about why Jesus’ apostles do not wash their hands, Jesus calls out their own double standards about a commandment, honoring your father and your mother, that is much more important than about when one should wash one’s hands. They used their interpretation of scripture to water the commandment down, trying to exempt themselves from their responsibility towards their parents. He referenced Isaiah, claiming that they do not live out the heart of the Law, just as the Jews did not in Isaiah’s time. He quoted him, saying:

“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”

It is good to faithfully carry out the practices of the Church but if it goes to the level of judging others, then all that effort will be for nothing.

Then St. Matthew quoted Him with this famous saying. It is:

“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

When people only worry about the surface of the Law, they start judging and gossiping about others. Jesus warns about falling into such a trap because if we do we separate ourselves from our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom. People in our society are always giving their opinions, often different from our own. Always measure such opinions against what the Church teaches. Such debates will count for nothing when our time comes to pass from this life.

Tuesday, August 3rd., 2021

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6:20-7:12      Gospel: Matthew 14:1-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul gives pastoral instructions to the community of Corinth about Christian sexuality, marriage and divorce. The Corinthian community was struggling with former pagans who continued to be sexually immoral.

For the Orthodox Church, his teaching then holds true for today as well: for men and women, husbands and wives should respect each other’s bodies but should not refuse or deprive the affection of the other. They should stay together as one. Paul talked about those who were not married, advising them to stay as such if they are able to. Otherwise, they should seek to be married. He also talked about divorce, advising that they should not do so. The Orthodox Church does not believe that sexuality is bad and that it is important to have children for the future of the Church. The Orthodox Church is also against divorce but it will exercise its discretion of ‘economia’ for the sake of a partner’s soul and grant permission to do so if the marriage appears to be impossible but only after the civil procedures have been completed. This discretion can only be exercised through by the local bishop after advice from the local priest. One must remember that such a step will have dire consequences for the children and other close family members.

Today’s Gospel is St. Matthew’s account of the beheading of John the Baptist by King Herod after his wife, Herodias, insisted upon it after she hated John for calling her out about divorcing to marry Herod.

Monday, August 2nd. 2021

In the Epistle from St. Paul to the Corinthians, the community is tackled for some of their scandals. In this passage, some have been taking their disagreements to the civil authorities. When any Church community gets to such a point, something is very wrong. Paul tells them so. Even today, this occasionally happens. It can have a lot of bad results. It is important to pray for the stability and well being of the parish community. If it stays focused on the Kingdom of God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide it under the direction of the hierarch, it will gradually develop according to God’s plan. Our own parish community is known to be a welcoming, loving community. It requires our effort but such gifts ultimately come from the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus is confronted by the skepticism of the local community in which He grew up. They saw themselves as better than Him because they knew Him as a boy. Despite His wise teaching, they brushed Him aside. Jesus comments:

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

 In St. Luke’s Gospel that is listed for today, we see another account of the same skepticism and rejection. This time, Jesus quotes the prophet Elijah:

“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

There are many seemingly innocent ways or attitudes that can hinder our faith. Many people today throw up many reasons for why they refuse to believe in Christ or His Body the Church. It may be socially acceptable in the context of freedom of speech that our constitution embraces but it is very easy to become confused by the many voices and opinions that are offered to us. It is very important to use the teachings of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Way as a standard by which other opinions are given. Why? Because at the end of our lives, all we will have are our souls. If we are not focused on the Kingdom of God, we can be easily led astray by Satan when our souls separate from our bodies. More than that, Jesus urged everyone to store up treasures in heaven, not while on this fallen earth. This is why the Orthodox Church teaches about the Orthodox Way.

The Living Faith or Tradition of the Church offers many tools for us to do so. The three fundamental tenants are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. There are many ways to pray: personal prayer, the daily prayers that the Church uses at various hours, Liturgical prayer, devotions to the Saints, Icons, the Jesus Prayer, reflection on the beauty of Creation and more. Fasting helps us to keep focused on the Kingdom and not be beguiled by the attractions of the fallen world. Almsgiving is very important in storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. We cannot take our money with us but we can use it to please our Heavenly Father.

Friday, July 30th., 2021

Friday July 30, 2021

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:5-8           Gospel: Matthew 13:44-54

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew relays a number of other parables that Jesus taught the people with. They are images from everyday life that Jesus uses to illustrate about the importance of staying focused on the Kingdom of God. The need for this focus is so important that nothing else matters! Our earthly lives will pass quickly enough when the soul separates from the body at our death. At that point, we will have to account for the good we have done in our lives according to the teachings of Jesus and our commitment to Christ.

Thus, Jesus warns those listening that “at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

It is very important, therefore, that we choose the life of the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of death. The ways of the fallen world may seem like that it is the way to ‘live life.’ All it can offer, however, is death. Its ways may feel good at the time but they lead to death.

I have said this many times in the sermons that I have been writing since the time of the pandemic. In the stress and uncertainty of the isolation it is very easy to go astray. I have talked about the proper response that the Church offers: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Also, about the need to stay within Christ’s body, the Church, and what it teaches.

The laws of nature must be respected. This is why the Orthodox Church has responded and continues to respond cautiously to the dangers of this virus. Those who do not respect the laws of nature are acting out of arrogance and pride. As part of teaching  about the Kingdom of God, we need to warn people not to fall into such pride. Medical science is there to protect us and should be respected. Science itself is subject to what the Church teaches but because of the Church’s experience and wisdom, it knows that we must lean on science at times to protect ourselves.

In today’s First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul also warned that community not to indulge in the sin of pride. Paul wrote that he deliberately wrote while he was away from them so that “that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.” They had become very boastful causing factions to develop. Paul could see the foolishness of their pride and in the last sentence of this passage, he mocks it: “You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us.” Such pride is the very opposite of the humility of Christ who suffered for them on the cross. Let us pray for humility!

Thursday, July 29th., 2021

Thursday July 29, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 3:18-23       Gospel: Matthew 13:36-43

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul is warning the community in Corinth that if they want to boast about themselves, then they are part of the fallen world and not the Kingdom of God. Paul says: “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” There was a strong message from the prophets of the Old Testament that God’s ways are not man’s ways. Paul will say a lot about this as the letter progresses. In this passage, he ridicules those who want to boast about a particular leader and warns them that this is not the way God thinks. Thus, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” He is, of course, writing about the wise in the ways of the fallen world. The cause for their straying from God’s ways was their pride. They wanted to be seen as being better than their fellow members. The anecdote to pride is humility. It is something we need to pray for constantly to avoid getting into such a trap.

There is a strong urge in this country to want to compete. When one does, it can bring out the best of our talents. It is also enjoyable and entertaining to watch a competition. Further, watching them can be a harmless way of relaxing after working hard during the week. Even St. Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete who trains to compete for a sport event to describe how we need to train in order to gain heavenly talents. We must realize, however, that such things are passing. Even if they go into the record books, they are not eternalized as sports commentators may claim. Our bodies grow old soon enough and one day they will die and separate from our souls. Jesus warns that we can exchange nothing for our souls. The point is that we have to be careful to not turn such entertainment into an absolute. Some people live for such competitions and nothing else. People often take sports so seriously because they gamble their hard earned money on it! The beauty of the sport is forgotten when people do that.

When we pray, we need to bring the good as well as the bad to Christ, offering it all back to Him. This is the way we can maintain a balance with such activities. It is when we forget Christ in the process and focus on such entertainment only that we fall into the world of pride that Paul talks about in today’s passage. Thus, our involvement in recreational activities requires a certain detachment from them whereby we leave them behind once we offer them back to Christ. They will not matter in the Kingdom of God and we need to keep telling ourselves this. Much more important will be the humility that Christ has given us because we have prayed for it.

St. Matthew, in today’s passage, relays another parable that Jesus told. It is a second story about sowing wheat. This one is about seeds of weed that have been secretly thrown in among the wheat by an enemy. His servants noticed them once they started to sprout up.

Three important lessons come out of this parable. Firstly, Jesus is talking about Satan who deceived Adam and Eve. Ever since then, he has been beguiling people to choose evil instead of the goodness and life of the Kingdom of God. It is important for us to realize that Satan is still doing this.

Secondly, God allows those who choose Satan to grow with those who choose the Kingdom of God. Everyone is blessed by God’s life on this earth, even though it and we have fallen.

When our souls separate from our bodies, then we will await the reckoning. If we have chosen the Kingdom of God, we will be among the wheat. If we choose the kingdom of death, then our souls will be among the weeds and will burn. It is very easy to forget this so, as Jesus says elsewhere, we must remain alert, be on our guard to not drift away from the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to guide us on the right path. Christ is always there for us when we fall. He will never refuse us.

Thirdly, the parable is a reminder that what appears to be eternal on this earth is only temporary. It is the Kingdom of God that is eternal. If we choose to cling onto earthly things, we will forget about the Kingdom of God. God has blessed us with these earthly things but they are nothing if they do not help our souls focus on His Kingdom. We need to remind ourselves of this all the time. As St. Paul says, such people choose to worship what is created, not the One who created them. Also, when sufferings and setbacks occur, remember that they are temporary. When such things occur because of our belief in Christ, rejoice and be glad because our reward will be great in the Kingdom of God.

 

Friday, July 23, 2021 after the 4th. Sunday of Pentecost

Friday July 23, 2021

Epistle: Romans 16:1-16   Gospel: Matthew 13:4-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul addresses a number of people closely connected to him and the community of Rome. Much of what I write is taken from the footnotes in the Orthodox Study Bible on page 1548. Make sure you click on the link and read the Epistle passage listed above first to make sense of the following notes.

Phoebe was a leading Christian woman who was both a deaconess and involved in missionary work. St. John Chrysostom notes that Paul held her in the highest esteem, as he named her first. He recognized her as being a saint.

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple, Jewish business people, and Paul’s coworkers (see Acts 18:18 & 26).

The word ‘prisoners’ is being used in a more general sense of his fellow sufferers. The Acts of the Apostles does relay that he was thrown in prison more than once. He had not been put into prison in Rome at this point, however.

The Gospel passage from St. Matthew is the story of the sewer sowing wheat and the varying results. Other accounts give an interpretation of what it meant for the communities to whom they wrote.

The parable itself is clear enough. Some of the seeds fell on the wayside, some on stony places and others among thorns. These did not bear fruit. The rest fell into good soil. It is those who produced thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold.

 

In other words, listen to what the God reveals and teaches. To interpret what is revealed correctly, listen to what the Church teaches, otherwise, in our fallen state, we could easily miss the mark in understanding it. Remember that there are two books of God’s revelation: the Book of Nature and the Book of the Scriptures. Notice that Jesus uses the Book of Nature to teach this parable. People forget this. Imbibing nature and reading the scriptures are both very important practices that we should do.

Thus, for us, it is important to not only read the scripture readings set down by the Orthodox Church each day but also, when possible, to go out and take a walk to enjoy the beauty of nature. Even sitting in the backyard or doing some gardening are healthy practices. Always dedicate both the reading of scripture and the enjoyment of the outdoors to Christ, asking that the Holy Spirit would inspire you as you undergo these practices.

 

Tuesday, July 20th., 2021

Tuesday July 20, 2021

Epistle: Romans 14:9-18               Gospel: Matthew 12:14-16, 22-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew describes a major showdown that Jesus had with his enemies. In the first part it was against the powers of darkness controlling a man who was blind and mute. Then in the second, the Pharisees are once again trying to intimidate Jesus by claiming it was through Beelzebub that He was able to do this. Jesus retorts, how can a house divided among itself stand? “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” Then He warns His enemies, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” This was almost certainly a reference by Matthew to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Thus, Matthew was teaching his people that, despite them being persecuted by both the Jews and the Romans, it is only by adhering to the teachings of Jesus and choosing Him as the Risen Christ that they will be protected them from the destruction of the fallen world. Those who refuse to will be scattered and this was poignantly borne out with the destruction of city and temple of Jerusalem. For us in today’s world, no matter how dazzling our modern secular culture may seem, its outcome will be the same. In the end, all it can offer is death. On the other hand, if we continue to choose the Risen Christ, we will have the power of the Kingdom of God to protect our souls. This is what people need to realize. This is what we need to teach people, just as St. Matthew did.

In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul discusses the issue of fasting. If used in the right way, fasting is a good practice for the body and soul. The Orthodox Church encourages us to practice fasting at certain times of the year as part of our way of life. The trouble is, it is very easy to be tempted to compare what we do to what others do. When we do this, we start to judge one another. St. Paul warns against this. He goes even to the point of saying that it is better not to fast than to scandalize our brethren. If we cannot fast in a spirit of love, then don’t fast. If our fasting creates a grievance, then don’t fast. Another person’s soul is more important than the practice of fasting. Fasting is meant to help us reach the Kingdom of God, nothing more. Further, we should never judge others:

“let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

This is why, during the season of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, the practice of fasting goes hand in hand with our prayer to not judge our brethren. The Orthodox Church is emphatic about not judging others. In like manner, St. Paul says in this passage:

“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

Paul concludes:

“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

Let us pray, fast and give alms as much as we can in this time of the pandemic and social unrest. Never judge others, either among ourselves, our families or society as a whole. Let us use these practices as a way to reach out to the Kingdom of God so that they will be like incense offered up to the Lord, who hears our prayers. Just as when Jesus cured the possessed man who was blind and mute, the power of God will shatter His enemies in His own way.

Monday July 17th., after the 4th. Sunday

Monday July 17, 2021

Epistle: Romans 12:4-5, 15-21      Gospel: Matthew 12:9-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he urges the community to repay evil with good. The early converts to Christ were a small vulnerable counter-culture community who lived in a perilous, violent world. Besides refusing to worship the pagan gods, the Christians were known to greatly love one another. It was this love that drew strangers to it. Paul tells this community to never repay evil with evil and to overcome evil with good. Despite the pagan world, he told them to live as peaceably as possible with others.

This advice very much applies to us today. Social media encourages people to write vile things about others who differ from them. We see on TV acts of violence being committed against the vulnerable people all the time. Technology simply makes it worse, whether it be in the types of guns used, disguises invented to remain hidden from violent acts or using the media to slander others, one has to be on one’s guard not to fall into a trap. If we do get hurt by others, we must do as St. Paul says by trying to live at peace with others and repaying evil with good. Technology can also be of great benefit but ultimately, it needs to embrace the love of Christ to be truly beneficial.

Social media also makes it very easy to sound off our opinion about political or social matters. As disciples of Christ, we are not called to be political commentators. We are called as Orthodox Christians to pray, fast and give alms. We are called to try to bring the Kingdom of God to others, to intercede for others, to give painful news and incidents we hear about to Christ so that our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom will come! So, be careful about falling into the trap of worldly arguments and philosophies. St. Paul wrote a lot about this to the Corinthian community. He was emphatic that we only preach Christ crucified. We never hear of the Christian community in Rome getting embroiled in state affairs.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we read the story of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath Day. After pointing out how those questioning Him break the Law on the Sabbath by performing some everyday necessities, Jesus stands up against their murmurings by saying: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” All Jesus was doing was bringing good into the fallen world. The man had been afflicted by the fallen world from birth with a withered hand. Jesus healed it. Those in the temple were not interested in changing the fallen world. They were only interested in publicly keeping the Law! In private, they broke it anyway. They were not interested in trying to bring the Kingdom of God into the world in which they lived.

We must keep in mind that, as disciples of Christ, we too have the same task! Whatever situation we find comes upon us, we must do what we can to embrace the Kingdom of God first and foremost and enable others to see that, in the end, this is all that will matter. We may not be able to do what Jesus did but we can pray and fast on behalf of others, we can give alms to help the hungry, the unemployed, the hungry and the homeless. This must be the standard by which we gauge ourselves. We are not perfect in doing this but we can strive to. We strive because we love Christ and His Kingdom and because of this we love everyone, whether they be good or evil.

Referring back to today’s Epistle, this is what the early Christians in Rome did. St. Paul wrote to them:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The 4th. Sunday after Pentecost: the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils. Sunday July 18th., 2021

The 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: Romans 6:18-23               Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew gives us this story of a centurion who shows the type of faith that our Father expects from us. Matthew does not say if he was a Jew or not but I would be very surprised if he was. The Jews were very wary of the Roman soldiers and St. Matthew himself, a Jewish tax collector on behalf of the Romans, was resented by the Jewish people. Jesus makes it clear, however, that after hearing the centurion explain the comparison about the faith and obedience to orders that his own soldiers gave to him, this man had faith in Him. The centurion had no prejudice against Jesus about His abilities to do such works. He did not regard Jesus as inferior to him because He was not a soldier. He simply looked at the works that Jesus was doing and asked if He would do something for his servant.

“Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.”

In contrast, the Jewish authorities were too arrogant to think like this because they regarded themselves as superior to Him. They refused to believe Him.

Thus, Jesus connects the sort of faith that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had with this demonstration of faith from the centurion. He also warns those watching that even the chosen people will be cast out if they refuse to demonstrate the type of faith that the centurion showed:

“The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Today, we have been blessed to live in a society that allows freedom of worship and is largely Christian. Many however, in the name of freedom, choose to ignore the teachings of Christ and the Church we grew up with. Many also belittle or deny the stories and teachings from the New Testament written about Jesus. Just as the Pharisees, because they regarded themselves as superior to Jesus, refused to believe what He demonstrated and taught, many also today, in the name of secularism or other philosophies, refuse to believe. All Jesus asked was for people to believe Him. His Body, the Church simply asks for the same. This is the choice we are faced with. We cannot ignore it or walk away from it. We will be confronted with it down the road somewhere, even if it is at the Judgment Seat of God. We either choose Christ and the life of the Kingdom of God or, we choose the fallen world and the kingdom of death. Technological development does not enable us to escape from it.

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, talks about this choice but in a different context. He writes:

“For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”

The ‘uncleanness’ is the loose living or licentiousness of the Roman pagans. Those who chose Christ, died to that type of living. Paul warns them that the fruit of such living is death. Now, however, “you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”

One cannot argue that teachings such as this were okay 2000 years ago but not relevant for today. Christ has said that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” This is something beyond space and time. It is not something that is subject to a mere 2000 years of development, a speck on the geological time scale. The Kingdom of God is completely beyond the physical realm, even though God created it. That Life which created it is the same Life we are given when we embrace Christ and His Kingdom.

Friday, July 2nd., 2021

Friday July 2nd., 2021

Gospel: Matthew 9:14-17   Epistle: Romans 5:17-6:2

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is challenged by the disciples of John the Baptist about fasting. Jesus explains that because He is with His apostles, this is not the time for them to fast but it would come. This time was for Jesus to form and teach His apostles in the ways of the Father. That was the priority. Jesus goes on to use the metaphor about wine skins. The time comes for them to be changed. Old wine skins are not suitable for new wine.

It is important for us to know that this current time, when God is all forgiving and asks the same of us, will not go on indefinitely. The time for judgment will also come. That is why we pray in the Divine Liturgy for “a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of God.” We will be judged on how much we have stored treasures in heaven, not earthly treasures. Everything that Jesus taught is for us to understand what these treasures in heaven meant.

In this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he continues the theme he discussed previously, that the righteousness offered by the sacrifice of Christ is far stronger than the condemnation brought about by the sin of Adam and Eve. Sin is never greater than Christ’s righteousness within us. At the same time, he warns that this is not an excuse to cling onto sin. If we die to sin in baptism, we cannot go on living in it.

For us, this means that we strive to let go of our faults, giving them to Christ. Obviously, this can be very hard to do for some but the point about Christ’s righteousness being much greater than the condemnation of sin is that we can always come back to Christ and ask for the gift of repentance and for the grace to let go of it. When we fail, we pick ourselves up again and present ourselves back to Christ. St. Paul talks about himself in this context in this same letter to the Romans. He was given a “thorn of the flesh.” No one knows what that was but he concludes from the affliction that it is Christ who will provide the strength for us to live with our own afflictions. As long as we give our faults back to Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit will enable us to move forward in Christ.

Thursday, July 1st., 2021

Thursday July 1st., 2020

Gospel: Matthew 8:23-27   Epistle: Romans 5:10-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s wonderful passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is the story of Jesus calming the waters on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was tired from the previous day and was sleeping when the storm came up. Some observations can be made about the story.

Firstly, the Jewish leaders would not believe the works that Jesus was doing and they tried to discredit them. Secondly, fear of perishing from nature is not the response that Jesus wanted from them. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” He wanted them to have faith and not be afraid. Thirdly, the story was a lesson for those people to whom St. Matthew was writing. Yes, storms will come our way and they were certainly living during a precarious time. There was the constant threat of persecution from the Jewish authorities and the Romans, not to mention the usual dangers of robbers and thieves who could be violent. Matthew was teaching them not to be afraid but to have faith in the Risen Christ. The apostles who witnessed this, questioned: “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” He who could control the elements could also take care of their lives. Fourthly, we are also going through dangerous and turbulent times but like the readers of St. Matthew’s Epistle, we must not be fearful but have faith in the Risen Christ, who has power over nature and the storms of life that we go through. We may not always avoid their impact but what matters is staying focused on the Kingdom of God in which we have been invited to be part of. If we love His Kingdom with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls, our Heavenly Father will take care of all our needs.

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, discusses the implications of the sin of Adam and Eve verses that of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Firstly, he describes Adam as “a type of Him who was to come.” Paul uses such typology quite a lot in his letters. They are linked, because what Adam did impacted all of us but the same holds true of Jesus Christ. When Adam and Eve sinned, we also all became subject to sin. When Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, however, we were freed from the power of sin. Whereas formerly, we had become enemies to God because of their sin, now we are reconciled and saved by His life. Thus, we can rejoice because we have been reconciled.

Secondly, Christ’s sacrifice of reconciliation had an incomparably more profound impact on us than the sin of Adam and Eve had. This gift of reconciliation is given in abundance to everyone and through it, we can all be justified. Even though we are still prone to sin, the gift of reconciliation is constantly offered to us because of our faith in Christ.

We must remember that it is through Christ’s living Body, the Church, that we acquire this reconciliation. Not that the Holy Spirit is confined to the Church for He blows where He wills, but it is through the sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist and Confession that we gain this reconciliation. Without faith, of course, these gifs are nothing more than rituals. If we must seek the Kingdom of God in our hearts, however, that same Spirit will offer us His fruits to continue our daily lives and not go astray.

Wednesday, June 30th. 2021

Wednesday June 30, 2021

Gospel: Matthew 7:21-23   Epistle: Romans 4:13-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

In the Gospel passage for today, St. Matthew makes an important distinction between keeping the Mosaic Law and doing the will of our Heavenly Father. Adhering to the Law only fulfills outward appearances. Matthew is telling his people that the Jews who do not choose to believe in Christ, likewise choose only to live outwardly the precepts of the Law. They will therefore not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Thus, he is telling his people not to waver in their choice to be followers of Christ. Our Heavenly Father will recognize this choice, not the choice to only live out the old Law. Matthew knew that this choice could be a life or death choice for his people. Keeping to it was not something to be taken lightly.

St. Paul, in today’s Epistle to the Romans, is echoing the same thing. The mark of circumcision is not sufficient to please God. What pleased God about Abraham before that was his faith in God, in which he chose to do the Lord’s will above all else. Paul says that it is this same faith that will make us righteous. The first sentence summarizes the whole passage:

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

For the Romans whom Paul was writing to and for us as well, our belief in the Risen Christ, is what will make us righteous, just as it did for Abraham. His righteousness

“shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”

Later in his letter, St. Paul also talks about the living Body of the Risen Christ, the Church. In order that we do not stray from this faith, we must also adhere to the teachings of the Church handed down from the apostles and the Fathers of the Church. Committing ourselves to Christ and to His Body, the Church, go hand in hand. This is what will bring us righteousness.

The Church has many tools to guide us along the path of righteousness. We call it the living faith or Tradition of the Church. Using these tools and striving to live by them is called the Orthodox Way. It has the:

  • scriptures, which it wrote and compiled for us to read the Word of God
  • offices of the Church: bishops, clergy and laity to keep order and minister to the Church
  • monastic tradition, whose prayers and way of life give us a model to live by as much as we able and to intercede for us
  • sacraments to nourish and bring us back to Christ
  • Canons of the Church to teach us and guide us what is true and righteous
  • Liturgical Cycle for us to celebrate the important events of the Old and New Testament and the lives of the Saints
  • liturgical services and prayers to walk us through the Liturgical Cycle
  • prayers, devotions and gestures to help us reach out to Christ and His blessed mother
  • icons which help us through its imagery to reach the divine and remind us that we are part of the Communion of Saints

All these aspects make up the Orthodox Way. This way of life keeps us faithful to our Heavenly Father. Use them as much as possible to remain close to Him and the Kingdom of God. We have been restricted because of the pandemic but our parish and many others are now using online streaming services to help us connect and keep in touch with this Living Faith. Our parish and diocesan websites also provide the weekend liturgical prayers and services for us to pray.

Monday, June 28th., 2021

Monday June 28, 2021

Epistle: Romans 2:28-3:18            Gospel: Matthew 6:31-34, 7:9-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul, in today’s passage from his Epistle to the Romans, writes about those who do not live righteously, whether they be pagans or Jews. God’s law is written within us but our fallen nature usually means that we do not live it out. Nor is it sufficient for Jews to claim that, because they are circumcised, they are therefore righteous. They too, sin! What matters for Paul is the circumcision of the heart, not appearances or the outward practice of the Law. As a former Jew, he could testify to this. That is what he thought until the Truth, Christ, confronted him. It is from this perspective that he makes these assertions. Thus, the only way we can truly live the law of God in our hearts is through Christ. He is the only way that can enable us to live in Truth. Those who reject Christ reject the Truth and live in sin.

For us, it means we need to always reach out to Christ whenever we get the opportunity. We need to give what we do from day to day to Him. We need to ask Him, through the Holy Spirit, to sanctify our efforts, giving us the wisdom to make righteous choices throughout the day.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel passage, he tells his people not to worry about material things. Our Heavenly Father will provide them. The message of seeking first the Kingdom of God above everything else is one that all the Gospels and Epistles keep repeating. It is not easy with all the cares and worries of this world, not to mention the current big issues like the Delta |Variant of the Coronavirus and social unrest that we see and have to deal with. Even so, it is very important to keep our hearts focused on the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that we neglect doing what we can to care for our families and loved ones. It means to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and protect us for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

The Orthodox Church has told us to live the Orthodox way of praying, fasting and almsgiving. These are tools for us to use in our journey of life in order to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God.

It is important to say the prayers that the Church provides each morning and evening; to pray at meals and during this time of self-isolation, to use the prayers provided by our diocese while we are home on Sundays or for important feasts. We also need to pray for everyone, not judging them but interceding on their behalf before the throne of God.

The practice of fasting is also important. If used wisely and properly, it will be good for both our souls and bodies. While we are in control of our bodies and their appetites, they will serve us in the way that will bring us closer to the Kingdom of God instead of deadening our souls. No one is denying that it can be difficult but it can be done and if we strive to Christ will always welcome us back when we fail.

Today starts and ends the fast of Saints Peter and Paul, the apostles. It is a time to refrain from meat, and dairy. Take the opportunity to refrain from these things until June 29th, which is their feast. If it is too difficult to refrain from them fully, strive to do part of the fast. If you have medical conditions, requiring pills, make sure that the fast does not jeopardize your health. Doing so would defeat its purpose.

Thirdly, many people are hurting at this time because they have lost their jobs from the virus. If you know of reputable charities or food banks that you can give to, do so happily. As St. Paul says: “God loves a cheerful giver.” Don’t forget of course, your responsibilities to the parish. It too, has to pay its bills!

All in all, keeping these three practices will help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God. The many distractions of the fallen world will be a lot easier to avoid if we keep them up enthusiastically.

Friday after Pentecost. June 25th., 2021.

Friday June 25, 2021

Epistle: Romans 2:14-29   Gospel: Matthew 5:33-41

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew continues a discourse from Jesus in which he has been challenging his own community of Jews who follow Christ, to look beyond the Mosaic Law and seek to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It requires a purity of heart that will be reflected in our actions.

Thus, the Mosaic Law says that they should not swear by the altar but Jesus says we should not swear at all. Taking such oaths reflects our own pride in not wishing to be seen by others as imperfect. “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

The Hammurabi Law says ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Those who follow Christ must have a heart that is full of love, always trying to good even for those who would harm us. All the Orthodox Martyrs bear witness to this! Jesus says: “I tell you not to resist an evil person.” For those who follow Christ, material things do not matter. Do not waste your life, therefore, in seeking material possessions. Yes, we need to pay our bills to care for our families and yes, we need to protect them and ourselves from those who would seek to do us harm but if a circumstance arises whereby it is out of our control, we must put it in Christ’s hands, forgive, intercede and love those people. Our Father wants them to be rescued from the kingdom of death as well. Pray for them.

At the beginning of today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes about the natural law written into men’s hearts. He is talking about the Gentiles. We all have a natural inclination to good, to help someone in need when it is required. Such people, who have never heard of Christ, will be judged according to such works in the end, because God knows the thoughts and actions of every person every day.

St. Paul also writes about the Mosaic Law. He says that the Jews will preach about that law but they do not practice what they preach. A true Jew is one “who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Their concern about outward practice is really about their pride, seeking to look good in front of men, not God.

It is easy for us too, to forget that our Heavenly Father wants us to be repentant in our lives so that His mercy will raise our hearts and souls to be like Him. We say constantly in our prayers: Lord, have mercy! This is what it means. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can raise our minds, hearts and souls to be like the Father. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can have the Wisdom to live our daily lives as our Father would have us live. So, it is important not to lapse into only thinking about what we do and not why we do. If we fall back to only being worried about keeping laws and doing our tasks correctly, without looking into our hearts to examine whether we do them to please God then, what is the point of them? Are we doing them to please the State, the Church or our friends because we only worry about what they think of us but not God?

Always, therefore, pray to have a purity of heart. A heart that never wishes to do evil, even not to swear, because we want to offer what we do to our Heavenly Father, not to men.

Thursday after Pentecost. June 24th., 2021

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Epistle: Romans 1:28-2:9  Gospel: Matthew 5:27-32

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes about those who do not know Jesus Christ. Their lives are generally de-based and they live immorally. On top of this, they also make laws that they expect others to keep which they themselves do not. He writes mostly about the pagans but he also makes reference to those Jews who refuse to believe in Christ. He is saying that until someone repents and embraces Christ, they cannot know the truth. Jesus, in St. John’s Gospel told Pontius Pilate that He came to bear the truth. Pilate was very direct when he replied: “What is truth?” He knew that truth was such a murky idea for him that he had no illusions about claiming that he had the truth.

Thus, manmade laws without Christ are artificial. In St. John’s discourse of Jesus with His apostles at the Last Supper, Jesus talked about this. He said the world would be judged when He rose from the dead and it would be judged because it rejected the truth of God’s revelation through Him in His teachings and works.

The same principle holds today. We live in a secular country that has innumerable secular laws. Yet, we also see from the eruption of today’s social unrest, they are applied inconsistently, often according to the color of one’s skin. They are artificial because they are not based on Christ. It is important to respect civil law as it aims to protect society but it is by no means perfect and can never be because they are secular laws.

It is important to mention that Canon Law in the Orthodox Church is viewed very differently from the Western understanding of it. The Orthodox Church is only interested in the healing of an offender’s soul, not in atonement or reparation to society. The word Canon means the written application of a pastoral principle to do deal with sin. Thus, with the sexual immorality that St. Paul refers to in today’s passage, the Church in its Canons, may proscribe a penalty such as barring an offender from communion but its intent is to give the soul time to repent, to be reconciled with Christ and receive communion wholesomely. It is not intended as a punishment. Only our Heavenly Father is our judge, not society.

In today’s Gospel passage, Matthew is challenging the people he is writing to, not to simply fall back onto the Mosaic Law that they grew up with. Living a life in Christ requires a change of heart that seeks to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. He talks specifically about adultery and divorce. Neither is pleasing to our Heavenly Father, even thoughts in our hearts about another woman or seeking the prospect of separating to live a life with another person. Regarding the instruction to pluck out one’s eye or to cut off ones arm, we must remember that they lived in a very violent world at that time. I do not know of any instance when someone in the Church carried out these metaphors nor does the Orthodox Church condone violence in any form.

The Orthodox Church’s approach to dealing with such painful questions is again, to guide a person to be one with Christ. It does not condone divorce but for the sake of the soul and for the sake of peace for all parties concerned, it will allow it under certain circumstances. The persons involved have to live with their choice and our Father in heaven will be their judge.

In the next chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” Treasure the gift of your family, your marriage, asking the Holy Spirit to preserve these God given blessings and not be caught up in the attractions of this fallen world that can only promise death. Not only to treasure it, but live it in a way that Christ would want us to.

Wednesday After Pentecost. June 23rd., 2021

Wednesday June 23rd., 2021

Epistle: Romans 1:18-27   Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle and Gospel, both St. Paul and St. Matthew make comments about dealing with some issues of the day in the communities to which they write.

In the Epistle, St. Paul comments on the sexual immorality of the Greeks. He had set up missions in that part of the Roman Empire and had to write a number of times to those communities about new Christians needing to let go of their past pagan practices. That also included idolatry.

He makes a comment about God revealing Himself to everyone but that it has been hidden from the fallen world where those that do not know Christ become attracted to sin and forget about God’s revelation. There are two books of God’s revelation: the Book of Nature and the Book of the Word. He is referring in this passage to the Book of Nature, where not only have pagans hidden God’s revelation through nature but because of sin have made nature itself a god by the creation of idols. He says that they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

While the issue of sexual immorality continues to this day, the Book of Nature is being ignored and forgotten by many. The abuse of the environment by exploiters is putting great pressure on the current stability of the planet. People forget that nature is not benign. It rebelled against mankind when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and chose to eat the fruit of knowledge. If mankind continues to abuse and exploit nature instead of caring for it, it will rebel again. This will leave future generations with a terrible legacy.

St. Matthew, writing to the Jews who have committed themselves to Christ, instructed them on how to live in Christ and not the old Mosaic Law.

“unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Thus, murderous thoughts of anger, accusing someone of being worthless (Raca) or a fool, holding grudges and refusing to forgive before going to the altar are not the way to act for the followers of Christ. Remember that these people grew up knowing and practicing the old Mosaic Law. For Matthew, they must exceed those practices.

The context of life in the USA is very different when it comes to resolving disputes. There is a separation of Church and State and a legal process to use when one is aggrieved. What has not changed is our relationship with Christ and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that He has offered for us to be able carry on in our day to day lives. It is these fruits that will enable us to act wisely and not vengefully in dealing with those who harm us. Place yourselves in the Holy Spirit’s hands each day to strive to live it without sin. On page 1793 of the Orthodox Study Bible, where is has the Morning Prayers, it says:

"O Lord, grant me to greet the coming of the day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me in throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And, Yourself, pray in me. Amen."

Tuesday after Pentecost. June 22nd. 2021

Tuesday June 22, 2021

Epistle: Romans 1:1-7, 13-17        Gospel: Matthew 4:25-5:13

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is one of his most beloved and well known passages, the Beatitudes. We recite it at every Divine Liturgy because it can be a great guide and strength to assist us in our daily lives. Make sure you click on the link above and read it. For me, the sayings in this passage are too profound to add to. It is simply a matter of trying to live it out each day. Jesus warns that if we do not strive to live this teaching, we will become like salt that loses its flavor.

The media often exalts those with great wealth and power. It drools over items purchased that are far beyond our resources to purchase. In the end, however, such things will not matter. They may give their children the material legacy but all they can take with them is their souls. This type of living is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes. If anything is to be stored, it has to be treasures in His Heavenly Kingdom. The Beatitudes will lead us on that path. It will enable us to only treasure what Christ wants for us, not the material wealth that the fallen world offers.

Today’s Epistle is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In it, he states clearly what the Orthodox Church summarized in the Nicean Creed we recite at every Divine Liturgy. Paul writes of Jesus as both human, through the line of David, and divine as the begotten Son of God born as a man of the Spirit. Thus, he describes the human and divine nature of Christ and clearly states the Trinity, in which he offers a blessing:

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul also describes himself as being a “bondservant” with Christ who goes where He wants him to go and does what He wants him to do.

In the last 4 verses, Paul reflects on the blessings of his experiences in Greece, Judea and among the barbarians.

Paul was the great early missionary of the Church. He was not one of the original apostles but became one of them by the calling that Christ gave him. Aside from the extraordinary missions that he underwent, he taught this same message of being a servant of Christ. He established communities in many places he went. He taught them to die to themselves and live in Christ. He showed them that Christ crucified was the way to the Kingdom of God.

We too, are Christ’s disciples. Let us strive to live our own calling out as fervently as we can.

Monday after Pentecost Sunday. June 21st., 2021

Monday, June 21, 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 5:9-19  Gospel: Matthew 18:10-20

Archpriest Terence Baz

After the great feast of Pentecost, the Orthodox Church’s liturgical cycle returns now to the daily cycle it was progressing through before the season of Great Lent began. Thus, we leave the readings of the Gospel of John and St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. St. John taught his community to stay focused on the mystical Kingdom of God, not on the surface attractions of this world.

Today’s Epistle expresses a similar message but in more practical terms. This Epistle, from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, is part of a list of instructions he gives to that community to help them continue to live in Christ. St. Paul wrote his letters earlier than when St. John wrote his Gospel and Epistles. Christians were less well known. Thus, many of his letters are instructions similar to this passage where the message was for them to completely reject their pagan ways.

So, this passage starts off with a reference to the fruits of the Holy Spirit: goodness, righteousness and truth. Then, however, he warns them against falling back into darkness. He specifically mentions drunkenness but obviously there were other types of behavior that some were indulging in. Paul says:

“Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

The saying is in quotes so, was probably an early Christian one but the point is obvious: let go of the former ways of darkness. He continued:

“But be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,”

The reading of the Psalms is a practice that the Church continues to this day. It is easy to drift away from the practice, falling into the same darkness that St. Paul warns his own people about.

St. Matthew in today’s Gospel passage also gave instructions about how to live as a community that follows Christ. Those to whom he wrote were mostly Jews who believed in Christ but still considered themselves as belonging to the Jewish faith.

  • Do not despise little ones, for they are seen to be like angels
  • Seek after those who have been lost for there is more rejoicing in one lost sheep than the other 99 who are in the fold
  • Instructions were given on how to solve disputes within the community
  • The presence of Christ in a group that asks Him to intercede, even with only 2 or 3. Our priest prays this same prayer during the Second Antiphon at each Divine Liturgy,

In today’s world, when young people especially are faced with a bewildering number of choices every day that could lead them away from Christ, it is very important for us to continue to pray and intercede for them. Just a Matthew said, they have guardian angels who try to care for their souls. Our intercessory prayer is very important for them.

With the social unrest and the history of racism in this country, young people can lose focus on their own soul’s salvation. They can get wrapped up in the strong political currents currently swirling about. Pray for them, the issues involved, for the country, indeed the whole world and the universe. Intercessory prayer is a very precious blessing given to us at our baptism.

Archpastoral Message from Archbishop Michael for Pentecost 2021

If you would like to read the beautiful message from Archbishop Michael for Pentecost, please click onto or, copy and paste the following link: Archpastoral-Letter-Pentecost-2021.pdf (nynjoca.org).

Pentecost Sunday. June 20th., 2021

PENTECOST SUNDAY

Sunday, June 20th 2021

Epistle: Acts 2:1-11           Gospel: John 7:37-52, 8:12

Archpriest Terence Baz

On this 50th day after the resurrection of Christ, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the event of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire and with the sound of a mighty wind.

The Epistle, Acts 2:1-11, tells the story of this awesome event at which the apostles found the courage to speak out confidently about the revelation of God and then be heard in whatever language the person who was listening would speak. It was a moment when the Trinity profoundly broke into human history and made it Salvation History. It was the fulfillment of all the prophets. It became the culmination of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Jesus, when He was among His disciples, promised that this moment would happen and that they would receive great joy because they now understood all the things He taught them. It was a moment at which the divisions of language and culture among peoples would be overcome and where the people were uplifted by the Kingdom of God. Three thousand of those who witnessed it converted.

This is truly a day to remember and rejoice in! God, in His own way and own time, fulfilled His promise to save His people. It is a heartwarming reminder to us that we, too, have been offered the rewards of the Kingdom of God, perhaps in a different way, but in no less a profound way and with as much certitude as what the apostles realized what they were being given, on that day. Like the apostles, we too face the dangers of a fallen world, wondering where God might be in all this uncertainty. Like them, however, we have been promised the certainty of receiving the Holy Spirit and that He can be in our hearts if only we believe in the teachings of Jesus and His Mystical Body, the Church. When we embrace the Church, our souls are at home. No one can take this from us except ourselves.

The Gospel, John 7:37-52, 8:12, reflects what St. John had been teaching his people about how to enrich themselves in the Kingdom of God. In referring to the Spirit, John quotes Jesus as saying:

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Thus, those who embrace the Kingdom of God will never thirst.

In this passage, those Jewish people who recognized something profound in what Jesus was saying conflicted with the Scribes and the Pharisees, who only wanted to focus on the point that He came from Galilee. They kept looking at the outward observations, not on how Jesus’ works pointed to the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father. They arrogantly accused anyone who went beyond the surface actions Including Nicodemus) to what they pointed to, as being accursed, Jesus would not acquiesce to their refusal to believe and see. He simply proclaimed:

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

John, throughout his Gospel, constantly teaches his people to follow Christ, the Light of the world, thereby embracing the Kingdom of God. In doing so, they received all the blessing of that Kingdom given through the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Church uses today’s passage to teach us the same message. We too must embrace the Kingdom of God to receive these blessings. We celebrate today the event of the Holy Spirit powerfully coming upon the apostles. We also rejoice that the same Spirit is with us. Thus, throughout the year as we begin our prayers we say or chant:

"O Heavenly King, the Comforter the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, cleanse us of every impurity and save our souls O Good One!"

Let us keep all this in mind each time we recite this prayer.

Friday before Pentecost, June 18th., 2021

Friday June 18, 2021

Gospel: John 17:18-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In this segment of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus prays directly to His Heavenly Father. Up to this point, John almost always has Jesus talking about His Father, the works that He was sent to do, His relationship with His Father and what our Father is teaching us through His Son.

Now, he has Jesus praying directly to Him and some important points comes out.

Firstly, that Jesus’ disciples would be sanctified in the Truth and not only them but anyone who believes in Him through their teachings. Specifically, in his own Gospel, John is telling his people that Jesus commissioned him to teach what he had learnt. If they believe these teachings, they too, will be sanctified in the Truth.

Secondly, that they may be one as He and His Father are one. It is this gift of unity that gives John’s people the strength to choose the Kingdom of God day by day. The Romans said of the early Christians that they loved one another. They could not deny it. Jesus prays here that “the world may believe that You sent Me.” It was the disciples’ gift of unity and love that showed the fallen world that they had something the world could not give.

Thirdly, He prays that they will be glorified, just as Jesus is glorified by His Father. The word ‘glorify’ is used a lot in John’s Gospel. For the fallen world it meant demise because it brought about Jesus’ crucifixion. John’s point, however, was that from a mystical point of view, it would become a victory whereby Jesus would enter into hell, destroying its power of death. His true glorification can only be seen in the Kingdom of God. The power of oneness and the power of love is something that the fallen world cannot give. Jesus prays that they may have that same power and be glorified in it.

For us today, as John told his own people, we too can have all of this if we believe in the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught us to. Let us, therefore, pray for oneness in the Risen Christ and that through this we will be sanctified in the Truth. In this sanctification, we too will become one with the Father, just as Jesus is.

This is an extraordinary message to grasp. Just as Jesus is true man and true God, He is enabling us to reach the divine in the Kingdom of God! It is not something we can attain on our own. We have to believe in Christ and we have to be given the grace of the Holy Spirit to receive it. Let us pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts!

This weekend, we will celebrate the wonderful event of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles in tongues of fire, enabling them to speak many languages. It also marks the birthday of the Church. Let us pray and believe that that same Spirit will come upon us in these difficult times. The Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in us in a way that He wants to but in believing in the way that St. John taught his own people, we are no less playing our part to manifest the love and unity that Jesus prayed to His Father about.

Let us rejoice in the oneness Christ has offered to us. The apostles rejoiced in it. The disciples rejoiced in it. Those who have lovingly followed Christ as His disciples throughout the centuries have rejoiced in it. Indeed, the whole Communion of Saints has rejoiced in it. We have become part of this family of the Kingdom of God. Let us keep our eyes on that family, not judging the sinfulness of the fallen world but praying for its sanctification that it too, can rejoice in the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 17th., 2021

Thursday, June 17th 2021

Gospel: John 16:23-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. John has been building up a picture in his Gospel about Jesus’ relationship with His Father. He has also taught his people that they are invited to be part of that relationship. Today’s segment is part of the discourse that Jesus held with His apostles at the Last Supper. For those who believe in Him, accept His invitation and choose His Heavenly Kingdom, He says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” One must remember that it took years for the apostles to get to a point when they could embrace this with purity of heart. Jesus had to form them and train them. Many at the feeding of the 5,000 walked away from Him and even at the end, Judas would betray Him. There were times that Peter and the other apostles argued with Him but by this moment all, except Judas, believed in Him in the way that He asked them to.

Jesus told them that because they now believed in Him, they also love their Heavenly Father. Jesus says:

“for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.”

Then He says:

 “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

This is the first time John spells out Jesus’ mission in this world in some type of chronological context. The reason he has not done so before is that he wants his own converts to be totally focused on the choice that they have to make each day, which is to embrace the Kingdom of God and not that of the fallen world. The former gives them eternal life but the latter can only offer death. Having explained this in many ways through the signs (miracles) he portrays and through the teachings of Jesus that he writes, only then will John put these stories a chronological context. His disciples reply:

“See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”

Jesus immediately retorts that they will soon be scattered:

“the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”

In adding the last sentence, John is reasserting to his people that knowing the chronology is not important. What is important is to know that the Father is with us.

John is reaffirming to his people that by choosing the Kingdom of God in following Christ, they will receive all the blessings that Jesus’ disciples received. The first given after His resurrection, as St. John relays here, is His peace.

We, in like manner, must continue to choose the Kingdom of God, even in the face of persecution. We will be given the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the first being His peace, a peace that the fallen world cannot give. Let us pray for that today in these troubled times. Let us pray that when the time comes for us to be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we will be embraced by the light of the Heavenly Kingdom. Let us pray that our hearts will always cling onto the fruits of the Spirit as we move on in our daily lives towards the day when our souls will arrive at home in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, June 16th., 2021

WEDNESDAY June 16, 2021

GOSPEL: John 16:15-23

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Christ is in our midst!

In this passage, Jesus tells His apostles that He is going to the Father. He also foretells that they will weep but in a little while, they will be full of joy. This confuses some of them but He is foretelling of His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. After His resurrection, they will be full of joy.

St. John, in writing this Gospel, is telling his people that they can expect the same thing. Whether or not they die like Jesus did, they can expect the joys of the Kingdom of God, not only when they pass from this earth but also here and now because they have the Holy Spirit.

For those afflicted with acute suffering, he uses the analogy of a woman in labor. It is painful at the time but when the baby is delivered, the suffering is forgotten.

This time of the pandemic and social unrest has caused pain for all of us. For some, it has been more acute than for others, depending on their circumstances. What we have been promised, however, is that we will ultimately be full of joy because we choose the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of this fallen world. Thankfully, a vaccine for the virus has been found but no one can anyone predict how long racism and the social unrest emanating from it will last but it need not take away the peace that the Holy Spirit has given us. What is clear is that, in times of pain, when we pray earnestly to our Heavenly Father, His mercy and the presence of His Kingdom will come upon us. Also pray for wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us get through difficult situations.

 

Tuesday, June 15th., 2021

TUESDAY June 21, 2021

GOSPEL: John 16:2-13

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In today’s passage, St. John makes a specific reference to being persecuted for choosing to believe in Christ. It seems that his Gospel was written in the late 80’s after the birth of Jesus. In AD 85, an edict from the Emperor Domitian, forced the Jewish authorities to evict any Jews who decided to follow Christ. Up until then, many of the Jews would go to the Synagogue on Saturday and then to a Church service on Sunday. This edict stopped that. Such Jews were banned. One notable martyr was the bishop, Antipas, whom it seems that some Jews reported to the Roman authorities. He was subsequently put in an iron ball and roasted to death. As I have mentioned often, John taught his followers that choosing Christ could well mean facing death by the authorities.

It is appropriate that as we come near to the feast of Pentecost, we read verse 7:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

St. John reassures his people that despite the persecution they face, Jesus’ departure meant they would receive the Holy Spirit to strengthen them against adversity.

Then, he goes on to talk about three profound truths. The Holy Spirit “will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”

1.“of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus asks many times for people to believe in Him. In refusing to, they choose to live a disconnected life of what they do from what they were created for. We are given free will to make that choice. Their sin is to want to go their own way, not the way God made them for.

2. “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more.” Human beings have refused to live in a manner according to the image and likeness of God. So, they establish their own standards or laws to keep order in society. This is a lie because their standards are artificial. Then they judge others according to it. This is why we say in the Orthodox Church to never judge others. Pray for them instead. True righteousness occurs when how we live and what we say is in accordance with the image of God within us.

  1. “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Because we live in contradiction to our true selves, we live in death. This was caused by the sin of Adam & Eve. It is not a punishment but the result of us living the lie mentioned above. If we choose to live according to this fallen world we constantly face death. Death is the only future it has to offer. Christ rising from the dead judged that for what it was. He did not come to condemn us. He came to free us from death. “Come, take the light that is never overtaken by night.”

At the end of the passage, the discourse refers back to the Holy Spirit, who:

“will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

You are well aware that we live in disturbing, troubling times. All the fallen world can offer is death. We see it in the context of St. John’s times as well as when Jesus was here on earth. As I keep saying, in the difficulties of living in our own times, always place these concerns before our Heavenly Father. He sent Christ to teach us what truth is. He sent us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us on our journey in this life. When we choose the Kingdom of God, we choose the life that Jesus offered us. We have to live out our daily lives and work in our jobs to care for our families. We have to live in civil society which, in this country, offers us the freedom to worship without harassment but when we see its imperfections and wonder when the current chaos will stop, always offer it back to our Heavenly Father. Pray for all those concerned. As you well know, there are many.

We may not have much political influence on the powers that be but remember that the early Christians had much less! Even with that, God transformed the Roman Empire within 250 years. The most powerful choice we can make is to use the priesthood from our baptism to intercede and pray for everyone. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are there for us: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Cling onto them, knowing that the Kingdom of God is in our hearts.

Monday of the 7th. Week of Pascha. June 14th., 2021

Monday, June 14th., 2021

GOSPEL: John 14:27-15:7 EPISTLE: Acts 21:8-14

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In this passage, St. John continues the discourse between Jesus and His apostles at the last supper. He had previously said that “the Father and I are one” so, the beginning of today’s passage may seem confusing.

In verse 29, John quotes Him as saying:

“You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.”

It is clear from the context of previous sections of his Gospel that there is no implication that Jesus is inferior to the Father. What the Orthodox Church teaches and anyone who believes the Nicean Creed is that in His essence, the Father and the Son share the one divine nature. The Father is the fountainhead of the Trinity. Other theologians say that the Father is the principle of origin of the Trinity. One must remember that the Trinity is beyond time and space and is eternal so, the words ‘origin’ or ‘fountainhead’ do not imply a beginning.

So, having talked about His Sonship with the Father, John then uses the image of the vine and the vine dresser. We must again remember that John is teaching his people to always choose the Kingdom of God. If they do not do this, they will not bear fruit. John is warning his people not to become like the withered branch. Despite what the fallen world may throw at them, if they do choose the Kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of death (that the fallen world keeps trying to offer), then the Holy Spirit who dwells in them, will bear fruit in them. A reference is then made to Satan:

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”

If they reach out to the Father, they will be pruned so that they will bear fruit. The Father is the vinedresser, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Jesus tells the apostles that they will abide in Him if they keep the word or teaching that He gave them. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

We must keep in mind that in writing his Gospel, John is aware that his people face many worldly dangers. He is teaching them and encouraging them to always remain focused on the Kingdom of God by adhering to Jesus’ teachings and word. Any other path will lead to death.

We are nearing the end of the Paschal Season. In every Sunday Divine Liturgy, we still remember Christ’s rising from the dead. The Church remembers this event because it has given us the ability to receive the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We receive these blessings from the Kingdom of God to enable us to bear the fruit that Christ commanded us to bear. Satan has no power over them!

We are all aware of the troubles happening in today’s world. We have firstly had to deal with the Coronavirus and now, we see the ugly face of racism and violence confronting us. Remember that the fallen world presented many dangers to Jesus’ disciples as well as to John’s people. If anything, they faced grater dangers than we currently face. John’s teaching holds just as true today as it did for his own people: always turn to the Kingdom of God, never be tempted to follow the seductions of the fallen world. Above all, be on your guard to not fall into the hatred and anger that we currently witness. Satan is still prince of this world. Although Christ’s resurrection destroyed his power, the victory over Satan will not be completed until Christ comes again. So, the hatred and violence of the fallen world will still manifest itself. Do not fall into the trap of thinking such thoughts! Do, instead, what we were called to do through our baptism: to use our priesthood to pray for all people, all of the pain and hurt, all of the fallen world, indeed the whole universe and offer it back to Christ so that the Kingdom of God will overshadow it. Do not judge those whom you see or read about in the media. Pray for them all.

We will soon celebrate the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles at Pentecost. They were not given swords or weapons. They were given the mystical gifts of the Kingdom of God. Adhere to the fruit of Christ’s words. Always cling to it! The Holy Spirit in His own way will enable this choice to bear the fruit of the vinedresser, Our Father in Heaven.

The 7th. Sunday of Pascha: the Fathers of the 1st. Ecumenical Council. June 13th., 2021

7TH SUNDAY OF PASCHA

HOLY FATHERS OF THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL.

AFTERFEAST OF ASCENSION.

June 13th., 2021

EPISTLE: Acts 20:16-18, 28-36     GOSPEL: John 17:1-13

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Some may wonder why the Orthodox Church commemorates the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council on the 7th Sunday of Pascha. Throughout the season of Pascha, we have been reading the Gospel of St. John and the Acts of the Apostles. In his Gospel, John continually reiterates Jesus’ connection to His heavenly Father and His Kingdom. In the past couple of weeks, John uses the works of Jesus, His miracles, which John calls signs, to show that Jesus is manifesting our Heavenly Father. John constantly says that without the Father, Jesus can do nothing. Even so, John clearly points out that Jesus is in the Father, and that the Father is in Him. The Acts of the Apostles describes how the Holy Spirit is powerfully working through the Body of Christ (now Risen from the dead) or the Church to manifest the Trinity to the Gentiles.

By connecting the First Ecumenical Council to these events, the Church reiterated in clear terms, Jesus’ relationship with His Father and the Holy Spirit. In other words, it was restating and clarifying the words and implications of St. John’s Gospel. Besides a description of Salvation History in relation to the Trinity, the Creed that was formulated clearly spelled out the great mystery of the Incarnation: that Jesus was true God and true man but also one in substance with the Father. As John writes of Jesus, “the Father and I are one.” What precipitated the need to formulate this Creed at Nicea was the false teaching by the priest Arius that Jesus was created, not divine.

The Creed also stated the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, is begotten of the Father but equal and co-eternal. Further, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. St. John states this in his Gospel in 15:26. One must understand that this relationship is beyond time and space. They are all co-eternal and equal, of one substance.

The western Churches later on, in facing a heretical belief about the non-divinity of the Holy Spirit, added to the original creed, stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Orthodox Church strongly denounces this addition. It is not said in the scriptures and it places the Son, as a principle of origin of the Trinity, up ‘in the clouds’ with the Father, distancing the human Christ from us human beings. This is why medieval architecture has such tall Gothic cathedrals. They point to the heavens, not to people’s hearts as the way to seek God. Again, John’s Gospel in 15:21 says that “the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father.”

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus begins to address His Father, asking Him to glorify Him as He glorifies the Father.

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Then Jesus commends the disciples, whom the Father gave to Him, back to His Father. He tells His Father that He has taught them all that the Father has given Him. Jesus prays for them, not for the fallen world. In making this prayer, He says, “all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” He asks that they will be kept in the Father’s name so that “they may be one as We are.” In the final sentence, Jesus foretells that they will have the joy that He has.

Once again, there is an emphasis on the equality between the Father and Jesus. John is telling the people whom he writes to that belief in the Father and the Son must be clearly proclaimed, even in the face of rejection or death. The early Church needed to restate this belief and it did in the Nicean Creed from the First Ecumenical Council. It continues to restate it every year at this time in order to remain faithful to the words of St. John’s Gospel.

It is important for us to also proclaim this faith. This is why we recite the Nicean Creed at every Divine Liturgy. This is who we are. We have a great deal to be thankful for in today’s commemoration. Never be afraid to stand up for this belief. Never back down from it, no matter how much ridicule or rejection from others, even perhaps from our family. This belief in Jesus Christ as the co-eternal Son of God, who is Risen, is what enables us to reach out to the Kingdom of God, not up in the heavens, but in our hearts. He sent His Holy Spirit to be in our hearts as we journey through life. All He asked is that we believe. Let us re-commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God as we reflect on today’s feast.

The Afterfeast of the Transfiguration. Friday, June 11th., 2021

THE AFTERFEAST OF THE ASCENSION        Friday, June 11, 2021

GOSPEL: John 14:1-11     https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/29/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In today’s passage, St. John outlines some profound truths.

After mentioning many times in previous sections of his Gospel to choose the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of death that this fallen world belongs to, he talks about the many mansions in the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus often taught people to store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth. In today’s passage, He tells His apostles that He will prepare a place for them.

Thomas, of course, does not grasp it. He is still thinking of an earthly kingdom and asks Jesus to show him the way. Jesus retorts: “all this time and you still do not grasp it?”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

Even so, Thomas keeps persisting: then show us the Father. Jesus replies: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?”

John reiterates something that he has been saying throughout his Gospel:

“Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”

John is telling his people to not look at appearances only but to look at the mystery behind what Jesus was doing. The true reality is the life of the Kingdom of God, not what appears in this material world. He called the eight miracles he relayed in his Gospel “signs” because it was not the material change that mattered but what it pointed to. For instance, at the feeding of the five thousand, John is clear, the miracle is not about feeding their stomachs but what it pointed to: being fed with the Bread of Life. He is again teaching his people to choose the Kingdom of God, not the appearances of this world.

The words in this passage are so profound that it is not difficult for us to realize they apply just as much to us today.

Like those people who sat in the field and were physically hungry, we too, have to feed ourselves and work at all the other daily tasks that need to be done to care for our families. Still, we need to recognize that this world is passing and that all our efforts are for nothing if we do not measure them in terms of the Kingdom of God. The world offers a dizzying array of choices each day, especially now, through the internet. Yet, such choices will bring death if we do not offer them to Christ, so that they may be sanctified. As we read in today’s passage, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” His Body, the Church, is also there to guide us to make suitable choices so that we do not fall away from Christ.

Fundamental to understanding this is what Jesus always asked of anyone who wanted something from Him: “Do you believe?” Poor Thomas was finding it very difficult to answer that question. John was teaching his people to choose to believe in Christ in every circumstance of their lives. Many today will argue that we do not need to believe in Christ because technology can provide the answers. We need to answer the same question: do we believe that Christ is the way, the truth and the life? Those who do, are choosing to give their lives for the Kingdom of God, to receive eternal life and one day enter the mansions of the Father’s Kingdom.

Ascension of Our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ; Thursday, June 10th. 2021

ASCENSION THURSDAY

June 10th., 2021

EPISTLE: Acts 1:1-12 GOSPEL: Luke 24:36-53

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Today, on the 40th day after Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven. He told His disciples on that day to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. On this festive day, the Church celebrates an important moment in the unfolding of God’s plan for our salvation. Although the disciples were saddened at His departure, this moment cemented the union between heaven and earth. Jesus, as a human being, was ascending in heaven in His divinity. It also marked the promise of the beginning of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, as St. Paul spoke of it.

In the Epistle, St. Luke describes the final discourse between Jesus and His disciples before He ascended into heaven. He told them that in contrast to John the Baptist, who baptized with water, they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They asked Him about the establishment of His kingdom on earth and when would the end of the world come. He told them that only their Father in heaven would reveal that moment. Some of them were still thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom.

In the Gospel from St. Luke as well, he writes that Jesus interpreted the meaning of the scriptures to them, how all the scriptures were tied together by His Father’s plan for salvation history. Jesus’ kingdom was not an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one. An essential part of that plan was the Christ should suffer and be given up for all of mankind. They would soon be commissioned to go out and proclaim this to the whole world when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

Ever since then, the followers of Christ have proclaimed this message and the numbers of the Church have grown accordingly. Like Jesus, those followers have also suffered but the Holy Spirit continues to inspire peoples throughout the world “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” Why, because when one chooses Christ, they choose to turn from the sin of this fallen world and repent of their own sins.

The Father’s plan for His is Church will continue to unfold over time. We are part of that Body of the Church. It may seem to some as if the Church is diminishing in this secular world but it never will. During this Paschal season, the Orthodox Church uses the Gospel of St. John. He wrote that Gospel to teach his own people that the Kingdom of God would prevail despite persecution from the Roman Empire and rejection from the Jews. It continued to grow. It will continue to grow today as well. Christians continued to give up their earthly lives because they chose Christ rather than the fallen world. We still live in a fallen world. People still need to find Christ to free themselves from it but the world will also continue to reject them.

As St. Paul says, “nothing can come between us and the love of Christ.” He is there with us in our hearts. Let us rejoice today that these wonderful things have been revealed to us. That we have the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. That Christ will continue to guide us in our lives. He will never abandon us!

Wednesday before the Ascension. June 9th., 2021

WEDNESDAY BEFORE THE

ASCENSION OF OUR LORD & SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

Wednesday, June 9th., 2020

GOSPEL: John 12:36-47   https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/27/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

I have been writing in these sermons about St. John’s Gospel, which are being used by the Orthodox Church during the season of Pascha, that recurring themes run through the stories St. John portrays. Today’s Gospel passage brings out the same themes.

He is the light that shines in the darkness of the fallen world but He will only be on earth for a short time. Many refused to believe Him despite all the miracles He did. To his own people, John often emphasizes not to seek the praises of men but of our Heavenly Father because the praises of men will pass but the rewards of the Kingdom of God are eternal. Jesus did His works to honor His Father, not Himself and John is urging his people to seek the Kingdom of God, not the approval of those Jews who do not believe nor of the Roman authorities. So,

“He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.”

It is that last phrase that John kept repeating and emphasizing over and over to his people. The things of this world are merely appearances and will pass. Seek instead, the true and eternal light, the Kingdom of God, in order to receive life, not death. He was telling them to make a choice: to seek Christ’s living waters, the bread of life, the eternal light, the freedom from darkness and sin, all which will enable our souls to be at home. The Orthodox Church from the beginning has known that this is not something that is for the future but is for now. The Kingdom of God is in our hearts if we choose to invite Christ into it at every moment of the day. The Risen Christ is in our hearts now.

Those who choose to cling onto the fallen world of darkness are embracing the kingdom of death. In the early part of this passage, John quotes Isaiah. Not only can they see the Pharisees’ blind refusal, more than that:

“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”

Thus, anyone who does not choose the light of Christ will be blinded and their hearts will become hardened. In the context of the time when John was writing, those Jews who refused to believe will be blinded. John could see this happening and was warning his people.

When we do choose the life of the Kingdom of God, we receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control, to quote St. Paul in his letter to the Galations. Many people in this time of the pandemic resort to being judgmental, especially about the authorities’ restrictions, to being political commentators etc. These things will not bring us to the Kingdom of God. I have been emphasizing that now is a time for prayer as we remain in our homes. The best way to build up treasures in heaven is to pray for everyone, interceding on their behalf so that the light of the Kingdom of God will enliven their hearts. The fruits of the Holy Spirit that are mentioned above are the weapons that will be effective in transforming this fallen world. Those fruits have become available to us because Christ rose from the dead but His rising is not gone, it is in our hearts!

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Tuesday, June 8th., 2021

TUESDAY OF THE 6TH WEEK OF PASCHA

GOSPEL: John 12:19-36   https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/26/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

In writing his Gospel, St. John would have known that this was an important story for his converts. Some Greeks wanted to see Jesus and when they did, they heard a thunder bolt. The Father spoke to Jesus and He told them that it was intended for them. While He was in the world, the light shone in the darkness. That would soon end, however, but in the process the “the ruler of this world will be cast out.”

John also uses these three famous sayings:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”

In using these sayings from Jesus, John continues with a familiar theme: that what seems the visible reality of this world is something passing but in contrast, the reality that will give us life and will be there for all eternity is the Kingdom of God. In the process, we must be prepared to die like a grain of wheat in order to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God (See my message from yesterday). If we cling on to our earthly lives, however, we will lose the life of our souls. In contrast, those who serve Christ will be honored by their Heavenly Father, just as Jesus was.

Once again, John is teaching his people that they must constantly choose Christ and may even be called to lose their earthly lives because of this choice. He also taught them that this choice will bring them to the mystery of the Kingdom of God and that our Heavenly Father will glorify them because they chose to follow Christ.

The Jews could not understand that the Son of Man must be lifted up. They knew that being lifted up meant being crucified, the very method of terror that the Romans used to maintain order in their empire. Those Jews of John’s era would also not have understood what Jesus was saying because they did not understand that this life is passing and not the true life that our Heavenly Father intends for us. The Jews knew that the Christ remains forever. What they did not comprehend was that Jesus was talking about the mystical life of the Kingdom of God. They were not prepared to give up their earthly lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

In contrast, John is teaching his people that if they do choose Christ, not only will they receive the life of the Kingdom of God but that they will also draw others to them. The souls of others will be drawn to the life and love they see in those who do choose Christ. John’s disciples would have been acutely aware of this because they themselves were drawn to that love.

These same principles hold true for us. As we go through the struggles of life, continually pray that we may always make the same fervent choice as John’s disciples did. We may not be confronted with the possibility of death every day like them but we can still make that choice. Tell Christ that you want to give your life to Him and in the daily tasks we need to do, we want to do them completely for Him and His Kingdom; that we want them to be holy so that we may bear fruit in our own small way.

Jesus would soon leave them by ascending into Heaven but He promised them to wait until the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, would descend upon them. We celebrate His Ascent this Thursday, Ascension Thursday. In choosing Christ as described above, ask that the Holy Spirit would descend upon us too.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Monday of the 7th. Week of Pascha. June 7th., 2021

Monday of the 7th. Week of Pascha

 Epistle: Acts 17:1-15 Gospel: John 11:47-57

Archpriest Terence Baz

Monday of the 7th. Week of Pascha

 Epistle: Acts 17:1-15          Gospel: John 11:47-57

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today's Gospel passage, St. John, wrote about how the High Priest, Caiaphas fortold that Jesus would sacrifice Himself for the whole nation. As the High Priest, Caiaphas enjoyed the presence of God but he chose a life that acquiesced to following Satan by building up a worldly empire for himself. John's reference to Caiaphas was much more than a mere anecdotal reflection on history. As High Priest, what Caiaphas decreed was taken very seriously by the Jewish people and given at that time the threat of Rome, something that would not have been forgotten. John's point was that even the enemies of Christ realized His sacrifice was for all people. John was pointing out to his readers that even their enemies recognize what Jesus had done.

While Chiaphas lived a life that was only concerned for himself, Jesus' life on earth was the very opposite. The Son of God became man for the sake of all. He emptied Himself for all. He gave Himself for all. This was not only a command given by His Father in heaven, it was so by the very nature of the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity exists for the other and is there for the other. The Son of God extended that selflessness to mankind by becoming flesh and entering history, specifically among the Chosen People. At this moment, when the chief priests were plotting to destroy Him, Jesus chose to leave the protection of the wilderness and go back to Jerusalem where He would face bodily death. Jesus knew that Caiaphas' words were from God but He also knew that this is what He was born for. This was yet another act of Him emptying Himself. In all of the Gospels the apostles warned Him not to go back to Jerusalem. Jesus, however, had spoken many times about needing to die to ourselves such as when He said that a grain of wheat must die to bear fruit. It is the nature of the Trinity to exist for the other. We too have been offered to commune with God as persons but we must die to ourselves in order to find God. Adam and Eve chose in their pride to abandon God and follow Satan as individuals rather than commune with God. Caiaphas and the priests of that time chose live for themselves and not give to others. They feared Jesus because they did not want to lose what they had which was the wealth given to them by Rome. They were trapped in the own selfish wants, needs and desires. When we die to our selfishness, we free ourselves from death. Jesus underwent His sacrifice so that we could be freed from the selfishness of death.

Every time we choose to forego our selfcentered needs for the sake of Christ, we enter into His selfless love. We enter into His glory. We cannot do this on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to enable us to make this choice. The more we choose to die, the more we enter into Christ's glory. St. Gregory of Nyssa coined the phrase. "From Glory to Glory." As the Holy Spirit calls us to empty ourselves, we more and more enter into the glory of the Kingdom of God. The more we do, the more we become like God. As Jesus said: "Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy." The Orthdoox Church uses the term "theosis" to describe this journey of growth toward holiness. The more we die to ourselves, the more we become like Christ and the more we become like God. This is our soul's true desire. St. Maximos the Confessor said that "'Theosis' is always by divine grace."

Jesus had to take the path to Jerusalem because that is who He was. He calls us to follow Him in that same path. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the divine grace to always choose Him instead of what our selfish ends want.

In today's Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles, we read how Paul and Silas were producing much fruit but it also stirred up much hatred against them. They therefore suffered the stripes of Christ. In this passage, we read of two instances where the mob wanted to destroy them. They were sheltered by their believers and escaped out of the area and they ultimately ended up in Athens. Despite the opposition, many of the communities that Paul established are still with us today. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Kingdom of God. Their choice to proclaim Christ's Gospel was a choice 'par excellence' to die to themselves and follow Him through the stripes of their own crosses. Let us be inspired by their wonderful missionary work.

The 6th. Sunday of Pascha. The man born blind. June 6th., 2021

SIXTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA: THE BLIND MAN

GOSPEL: John 9:1-38      https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/24/3

SUNDAY, JUNE 6TH., 2021

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

In this Sunday’s beautiful story of the man who was born blind receiving his sight from Jesus, let us look at it from the point of view of the people that St. John was writing to.

  • Their souls were like the man who was born blind. They had been lost but now they see.
  • Jesus told the man after He spoke to him to go and wash at the pool of Siloam. The word means sent or to go out. John’s communities had been washed in baptism and are being told to go out to tell others of the sight they had been given in their souls.
  • It is not a question for John of sin, rather that the works of God were revealed through his blindness. For his people, God was revealing His works through them. They were blind to the Kingdom of God before but now they see.
  • Jesus would only be on this earth for a short time but while here, because He is the Light of the world, He must do the works of His Father. Jesus had left this earth when John wrote to his communities but He left His Holy Spirit to continue on His works in them.
  • The question then came up about how did this man begin to see? How did he change? The same questions would have come up for John’s followers from those that knew them before they were baptized. How do they claim now that they see where they did not before? How did they change?
  • The man born blind then explained what happened to him but the authorities refused to believe him. They even brought in his parents however they wanted to avoid any controversy and evaded the question. John’s disciples probably received the same hostility. In relaying the story, John portrays the man as standing up to the authorities, arguing with them and ultimately ridiculing them because of their blindness and stupid denial. John is teaching his people to stand up to those who would reject them as well.
  • The man born blind was eventually thrown out of the temple because the authorities could not admit to the profoundness of what had happened. All they were concerned about was the peripheral requirements of the Law. By the time John wrote his Gospel, anyone who chose to follow Christ would be thrown out of the temple as well.
  • Finally, when Jesus caught up with him again, he asked him: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The man said “yes, Lord. Who is he that I may worship him?” Throughout his Gospel, John constantly quotes Jesus as asking this same question: “do you believe?” He is telling those whom have been baptized that they must continue to believe if they want to hear the words of eternal life and belong to the community of worshippers in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Friday of the 5th., Week of Pascha. June 4th., 2021

FRIDAY OF THE 5TH WEEK OF PASCHA        June 4th., 2021

GOSPEL: John 10:17-28   https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/22/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In this passage today, the Jews are accusing him not only having a demon but of being mad. St. John is teaching his people that those who do not believe in Christ will speak of them in the same way. Even so, Jesus does not back away from reaffirming that His works testify He belongs to the Father. He also tells them that, because they do not believe in Him they therefore do not belong to Him and cannot hear His voice. John is teaching his people that because they believe, they do hear His voice in contrast to the Jews of their day who do not believe, just as with the Jews who were arguing with Jesus.

We too, as Christians, will be ridiculed and mocked. We have seen it in the past with the Communist manifesto in Russia. We see it today with atheists who say that there is no evidence that God exists and therefore we are blind because we do not think rationally like them. Like the Communists, atheists have also persecuted Christians. Look, for example at how many were slaughtered during the French revolution. Many young people today choose to ignore the Church, saying it is irrelevant to them. Thus, “religion is not for them.” For them, religion is a quaint system of belief that belongs to the past. What is called scientific determinism also has a strong influence upon them. This philosophy says that everything can be explained scientifically and rationally. It claims that God cannot be proven and so, has no place in their world view.

Although taking new forms, these criticisms of the Church are nothing new. Christ warned us that we would be ridiculed and His Body, the Church, has endured much persecution over the centuries. Please continue to pray for all these people. Do not judge them but instead, intercede for such thinkers and especially for the younger generation influenced by them. Never be afraid to reaffirm the Orthodox faith. As mentioned above, Jesus did not back away from reaffirming that He is from the Father. We should never be afraid to reaffirm our relationship with the Father either. Continue to pray also for those suffering from the virus at this time, those on the front line trying to make them well and protect them.

Those who do not believe ridicule us because they do not have such a relationship with our heavenly Father. They do not have the power of the Risen Christ in them. Always treasure your relationship with Him and reaffirm it each day, especially in the recital of the Our Father. Remember always that the Risen Christ is in our hearts and always will be.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Thursday of the 5th. Week of Pascha. June 3rd., 2021.

THURSDAY OF THE 5TH WEEK OF PASCHA June 3rd., 2021

GOSPEL: John 9:39-10:9  https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/21/8

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In today’s Gospel passage, St. John continues to teach his people about how to choose the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of death. In this passage, Jesus gives the image of Himself as the door or the gate through which the sheep, those who hear him, can go in and out of freely to find green pasture. In contrast, the Pharisees with whom He is arguing have no idea what He is talking about because they think they have the answers but are blind as a result. Nor is there an alternative choice! Thieves and robbers will try to climb in by some other way but for the Kingdom of God, that will not work.

The same holds for us. There is no alternative way to enter the Kingdom of God and its life. We have to realize that there is something deeper, beyond what we see around us in our earthly lives and we have to choose it. It is the life of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, minds and souls. Many things can distract us on our journey of life but in the end, we must embrace the Kingdom of God. There is nothing else for us. The pleasures of this world will end when our earthly bodies separate from our souls and we pass from this life to the next for all eternity.

Sometimes we realize this after we suffer a great loss or setback. Such moments help us to see what is important and what is not. Whatever the circumstances, Christ is there to support and love us. He invites us to give it back to Him to take it beyond time to sanctify it in eternity. He offers His peace to strengthen us as we continue on.

There are many other ways, of course, that we can recognize and embrace the Kingdom of God. We can see the life of the Kingdom of God in the many blessings we receive, acknowledging that they must have come from Christ. We can see it in the beauty of nature around us, which, if we take the time to enjoy it, can be refreshing and life giving for us. Yes, creation fell with us when Adam and Eve disobeyed God but creation was created by God and is still innately good. The Church also enables us to enter into the mystery of the Kingdom of God through the sacraments and its many other blessings. In reaching into the divine, it makes us part of the family of the Communion of Saints. By embracing the Church’s teachings we stay on the path of righteousness.

Like the Pharisees who rejected and hated Jesus for proclaiming the Kingdom of God and like the Romans who hated the love that the early Christians had for one another and the God whom they worshiped, those who reject our embrace of this same Christ and His Kingdom, may also try to destroy us. This is why embracing what is beyond this earthly life is so important. When we do, as Jesus said in this passage, those who are His sheep will hear His voice and listen to Him. Those who do will not succumb to the wolves who may try to lure us away from Christ.

So, always pray for the gift of being able to listen to Him through the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts. This gives us the ability to see instead of being blind because we know that without Him we can do nothing. Be grateful and rejoice that we have been given this ability to see because Jesus suffered, died and rose again, in order that we may have it. Again, it is not something that happened in the past. It is something present in our hearts. The Risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit, dwells with us now and this is why we say:

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Wednesday of the 5th. Week of Pascha. June 2nd. 2021

LEAVETAKING OF THE MIDFEAST OF PASCHA

Wednesday jUNE 2, 2021

GOSPEL: John 6:5-14      https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/20/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

In today’s story from St. John’s Gospel about the feeding of the 5,000 with five loves & two fish, he is teaching his people that the reality was not the feeding of their bellies (as Jesus says after this story) but instead, that the divine had entered into their presence to multiply the loaves and fish.

The story says that He simply “gave thanks and distributed them among the people.” Giving thanks was a regular practice for Jewish people when they sat down for a meal. The way John describes it, almost seems matter of fact. So, what was part of their daily lives has become divine in the simplest of ways. What was required of them by the Law, was now blessed by the very one who gave them the Law. What John is saying, is that the true reality at that moment is the presence of the divine, not the extraordinary event of a small number of loaves and fish being multiplied to feed many thousands.

For John, it is a sign that leads to the presence of the divine. The ritual of sitting for a meal and giving thanks becomes a mystery. How it happens, no one knows and John does not try to explain it. It is a mystery that is made present to those people. In the discussion that ensued afterwards, most of those people would not see this. They were fascinated with His teachings, marveled at His miracles and enjoyed the food given to them from nothing but when it was put to them that what mattered was the need to embrace the spiritual life of the Kingdom of God, they responded “this is a hard saying” and most of them walked away.

John is teaching the people to whom he writing to embrace the mystery of the Kingdom of God and not be perturbed by those who will not. Once again, he is showing them how to choose the life of the Kingdom of God instead of death. Those who were present at the event were well fed but would become hungry again and eventually their bodies would die. John is teaching his people to embrace the Bread of Life, so that their souls would never hunger. We too, have to make the same choice. We have to embrace the Bread of Life from the Kingdom of God. It is easy to get caught up in the material necessities of our earthly life but ignore feeding the Bread of Life to our souls. The Orthodox Church calls such moments Mysteries because they do exactly this.

Sometimes, when things are taken from us, we realize not to take them for granted. Just as now, when we know it would be dangerous to visit some family members because they may contract the virus, we miss their presence. By pointing to the divine, St. John is also teaching us that we can still embrace the Kingdom of God in our hearts. Let us yearn for that time when we will be able to be physically present to receive the mystery of communion and be with the family of our parish. The parish is part of the Communion of Saints that will be our treasure for all eternity.

In this time of isolation, offer back to Christ those things that we once took for granted and now realize that we will not get back for a long time. Offer them to Him so that they would sanctified in the Kingdom of God. Ask that the Spirit of God will strengthen us and give us peace while we are on this journey.

Finally, we continue to rejoice in this season of Pascha because the Risen Christ has given us the ability to choose life rather than death.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Pascha. June 1st., 2021

TUESDAY OF THE 5TH WEEK OF PASCHA    June 1st., 2021

John 8:51-59          https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/19/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In this ongoing dispute that the Jewish leaders had with Jesus, they would have known that He performed amazing miracles but all they cared about was that He was breaking the Law because He healed on a Sabbath. Yet, when Jesus claimed His authority from the Father because of them, they said He was a demon. When He asserted His eternal relationship with His Father, they rejected it outright. When He told them that they were living a lie and were the ones possessed by demons because of it, they scoffed at Him. When they still refused to see His words in spiritual terms, He did not back down from the truth, He told them bluntly: “I AM!” For this, they hated Him and wanted to kill Him but He slipped from their midst.

This was the apocalyptic confrontation that St. John was unfolding in his gospel. In writing to his people, He was teaching them that what they were being confronted with, whether it was ridicule from those Jews who would not become Christian or the threat of torture and death from the Roman authorities, was not new. Their very savior went through the same confrontation. He would not back down from the truth, suffering a physical death as a result, and as was said by the other evangelists in their gospels, if the master would suffer this, then His followers could expect the same. John is telling his people to cling onto this truth and not back down from it.

The Orthodox Church has suffered many persecutions ever since, with many of the faithful being prepared to suffer the same fate as He did in martyrdom. We are fortunate to live in a society that will not persecute us for our beliefs, even if our ability to worship is restricted in this time of the pandemic. Even so, given all the choices we are offered, we must still treasure the gift of belonging to the Kingdom of God and be careful not to lose it. Always turn back when we find ourselves drifting away from Christ and His Kingdom. He will never refuse us. Always ask for His forgiveness and mercy. Always express our desire, despite our limitations and those of this world, to fully embrace His Kingdom. Always pray for the gift, that one day, when our souls separate from our bodies and we pass from this life to the next, we will be united with the Communion of Saints in His Kingdom. Never be afraid or intimidated by those who would ridicule us for seeking the Kingdom of God first and foremost in our lives. Always choose it even if it means being isolated or rejected by others because of this choice. Jesus did it before when confronted by the Jewish authorities. Let us follow His example.

Is this choice beyond our grasp? John is telling us in his gospel that we have the power of the Risen Christ in our hearts which is always stronger than any intimidation that may confront us.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Monday of the 5th Week of Pascha May 31, 2021

MONDAY OF THE 5TH WEEK OF PASCHA    May 18, 2020

John 8:42-51          https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/18/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

In today’s gospel, St. John defines Jesus’ relationship with the Father: that He comes from the Father, that He is doing the will of the Father, that He seeks not His own glory but wishes to obey His Father.

He also confronts the Jewish leaders about where they stand. Their father is the devil. The devil is the father of lies and has no truth in him. In the same way, they live a lie and cannot hear the truth. They reject the truth of Jesus’ words that come from His Heavenly Father. Thus, they disown their Heavenly Father.

John is using this confrontation to teach his people to keep Jesus’ words because, if they do, they will “never see death.” He is, of course, talking about the death of their souls and the life of the Kingdom of God in them. If they keep Jesus’ words, their souls will never see death.

Once again, therefore, it is important for us to remember that we too, through our own baptism, have the life of the Kingdom of God within us; that we too, have been given the words of truth that Jesus taught of when He was on earth. We also need to affirm it each day. That is why it is important to read the Creed each day. Knowing this, we have a great opportunity to pray for all our concerns and that the Kingdom of God will reach into each and every situation we pray about. Troubles will come but we know that the Kingdom of God will always abide with us if we reaffirm what we have learnt from today’s gospel. Do not be afraid of it. Do not shy away from it. Do not be ashamed of it. Do not curse about whatever our lot is but cling instead to the Kingdom of God that can never be taken from us unless allow it to.

Remember too, the words that Jesus taught us to pray with, the Our Father. Everything John teaches in his gospel to his communities is expressed in this prayer. Say the Our Father to yourself now and realize how much of John’s gospel gels with this familiar but profound prayer.

Finally, in this Paschal season, remember that Jesus’ rising from the dead is what enabled all that He said to become true: that the power of the devil, death, sin and lies have been destroyed:

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

The 5th. Sunday of Pascha: The Samaritan Woman. May 30th., 2021

Epistle: Acts 11:19-26,     Gospel: 29-30 John 4:5-42

Archpriest Terence Baz

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

In this well known story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well, He talks about the seasons and timing.

Currently, while many of us are couped up in our homes, we find ourselves to be in a very different context from what St. John the Evangelist was writing about for his own people. He talked about the harvest, that those who have sown have prepared the way for those of his communities who may reap. While we, who in contrast to them, find ourselves neeeding to be careful about venturing outside because of the Coronavirus, are limited to prayer and intercession for others, rather than action. As such, at least for a short while, it is a time to help prepare for those who would go out to harvest when they are free to leave home.

I urge you therefore, to make the best use of this time as possible. God has His reasons for allowing this pandemic to take place. Many in society are complaining about the inconvenience of the restrictions. It is easy to complain but this will not help our relationship with Christ. Yes, definitely talk to Him about it, but offer back to Him our frustrations, fears and concerns for our loved ones in prayer.

At the heart of His conversation with the Samaritan woman is that He offers her living waters that will enable her to never thirst again. But he is not talking about physical water. He is talking about the living waters of the Spirit and the need to worship in spirit and truth. You notice in the conversation that Jesus reveals her fickle life, in which she already had five husbands besides the one she had at the time. He was saying to her to let go of this wayward life and embrace the true living waters of spirit and truth. She is startled and believes that He must be truly from God because she realizes that no one else could have told him about her life.

In our own context, it is a good practice to review our lives to see where we have clung on to things that are not of the spirit and truth. Then, give them to Christ. In this time before the Second Coming, He does not judge us but only wants us to embrace this living water. So, do not be afraid to take this step. Then we can pray for all the needs and difficulties of our daily lives, as well as for all our family, friends and indeed the whole world.

As John often does in this Gospel, he makes reference to Jesus’ relationship with His Heavenly Father. In this story, Jesus says that we too must have such a relationship with our Father: “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” Why is this so? Because our Heavenly Father loves us! He sent His son because He loves us. He wants us to share in His Heavenly Kingdom because He loves us. He wants us to have the true life because He loves us. Do not, therefore, be afraid to embrace this love! It will give us the true living waters.

Jesus challenged the Samaritan women about her wayward life because to have continued on in that way would only lead to death. Our Heavenly Father wants to free us from death. Notice too, that when asked about food, Jesus told His disciples that His food was to do the will of His Father. Not only should we not be afraid to reach out to our Father, it is the very reason why Jesus did all that He did! Jesus’ food is for us to come to the Father and thereby, through His living water, become our true selves. Our souls reach home when they lay in the living waters of the Kingdom of God.

The Orthodox Church uses this story in the middle of the Paschal Season because Christ, rising from the dead, enabled us to receive the life of the Kingdom of God. The story shows us that everyone is invited to receive this life no matter how far we may have strayed. He asks us to accept this invitation and embrace His Kingdom, in order to receive the waters of eternal life.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Friday of the 4th. Week of Pascha: May 28th., 2021

FRIDAY OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA MAY 28th., 2021

John 8:21-30          https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/15/2

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus throws out a warning: you will die in your sins if you do not believe Him! In the same address, He says: “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”

St. John the Evangelist, is emphatic in his Gospel that we have to choose the Kingdom of God, because the only alternative is the kingdom of death. Once again, in teaching the converts of his community, he is saying that the world of appearances is not of the Kingdom of God. It is part of the fallen world. The Kingdom of God brings life, even when they are confronted with physical torture and death. The fallen world is something that will pass and our physical bodies will also pass away. All Jesus asked of people was that they believe in Him. Those who cling to this fallen world, such as the Pharisees, who refuse to believe Him, will die with it. John is telling his people not to fall into that trap.

Again, in this passage, John makes reference to Jesus’ relationship to His Heavenly Father and to the question of judgment, which the Pharisees try to throw in His face. Jesus leaves the judgment to His Father. In the same vein, John is telling his people to do the same: focus on the Kingdom of God & leave judgment to our Heavenly Father.

Then, the real confrontation occurs between Jesus and the Pharisees is spelled out: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” The Pharisees and John’s converts knew exactly what the phrase to be “lifted up” meant, because the Romans wanted this image impinged in everyone’s mind: it meant the agonizing & grizzly scene of a crucifixion. They ruled their empire with the threat of this fate for anyone opposed it. Jesus was talking about His death, not exaltation, as might be the current use of the term. Again, John is showing his converts that Jesus gave them the example of laying down His life out of love for everyone. John is portraying the drama of the confrontation between Jesus and those who reject Him. In this passage, it is played out in words, but will soon be played out with actions on the Pharisees’ part, with hatred and violence. They hated Him so much that they wanted to kill Him.

We too, in our own lives have to make these choices:

  • to seek the Kingdom of God first and foremost;
  • to reach out to our Heavenly Father and not to fall into the trap of judging others;
  • to cling onto our relationship with our Father with all our might, because the fallen world will also hate us.

We are fortunate to live in a country that allows us to worship in peace and it is unlikely that we will be faced with the violence that John’s converts were threatened with but we must not become complacent. We must realize that there is no third path. We have to choose between either the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of death.

We must therefore be vigilant. For those of us at home, we must make careful choices about what we watch on TV or online. Are the programs we use in our spare time ones that make us seek the fallen world? Do we put aside time for prayer to commune with the Father, Son & Holy Spirit? Do we say our morning & evening prayers to place the day into Christ’s hands? Do we pray for the whole world in this time of difficulty or, have we become political commentators, looking to lay blame where we can on others during this pandemic?

For those at work, are you offering back to your Father all your efforts, so that they will be sanctified? Are you praying for your fellow workers, especially the difficult ones or those who do not pull their weight or even cheat at work? Are you offering your fatigue back to Him?

These are some questions to consider, remembering always that the Risen Christ did this out of love for us so that we could be partakers of His Heavenly Kingdom.

Thursday, May 27th of the 4th. Week of Pascha

THURSDAY OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA

John 8:12-20          https://www.oca.org/readings

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

These words of Jesus commence today’s Gospel from St John. Once again, when the Pharisees object, He says that they judge by appearances. John continues to teach his communities not to be tempted to be lured into the appearances of the fallen world. John goes on to quote Jesus making reference to His Father in heaven: "I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me."

John’s people knew from their baptism that the Father, Son & Holy Spirit now dwelt in them. John is telling them that, as a human being, Jesus’ relationship with His Father was central to His earthly life. This is who He communed with. This is who He depended upon at every moment, even when He was faced with death. John tells them that Jesus knew where He came from because He knew His Father. John is teaching them that this is also how they will know who they are and where they come from. This is the foundation of their lives because this is who they depend upon. Baptism was not simply a ritual to join a group that they may have admired. It is the gate through which they are embracing a new life for eternity. As quoted above, they have now received the light of life!

For us, whether we sit in our homes or, are engaged in activity during this time of the Pandemic, try to realize that reaching out to our Father in heaven is what will enable us to know who we truly are! Whether we commune with Him in silence like Jesus did in the wilderness or whether, when we endure the pressure of work as an essential employee, place each and every activity into His hands. Offer them back to Him. When we do, we follow the example of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Notice that Jesus says that the Pharisees judge according to the flesh, which is by appearances. Jesus then says that He judges no one. Why? Because He would leave that to His Father, who will judge at the appropriate time. John is telling his people that they should not judge either. The Jews at that time were certainly judging John's new converts. John is telling his people not to. Even though the Pharisees hated Him, Jesus would ultimately sacrifice His life because He loved them. John is teaching his people to follow Jesus’ example. We too, must not be tempted to judge others. Instead, pray for them and love them! Christians throughout the centuries have found it within themselves to love and pray for others, rather than judge them, much less hate them.

It is no coincidence that the Orthodox Church uses St. John’s Gospel during the Paschal season. Those gifts described above are based upon a profound truth: that the power of the Risen Christ has enabled us to receive them. It is for this reason that the Church uses this Gospel and says throughout this season:

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Wednesday, May 26th., 2021. The Mid-feast of Pascha

WEDNESDAY OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA

MAY 13TH 2020   MIDFEAST OF PASCHA

ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ

Epistle: Hebrews 2:11-18 Gospel: John 5:1-4

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Just before this passage, Jesus told his apostles to go on their own without him to the Feast of Tabernacles being celebrated at that time. He stayed in Galilee but went to Jerusalem a little while afterwards on his own. As he often did, he started preaching in the temple, astounding the people with his knowledge of the scriptures. As soon as people realize who he is, controversy erupts. When some complain that he heals on the Sabbath, he says that they do not mind circumcising on the Sabbath to bring someone into God’s chosen people, why then, do they complain when he heals someone on the Sabbath?

The message being given by St. John in this gospel passage to his people, is not to judge by appearances but to judge in righteousness. Righteous judgment is a big theological theme that would take too long to go into here. Suffice it to say that the Orthodox Church says not to judge our brother or sister.

What matters for us is that, like those people to whom John writes, outward appearances are something that will pass. Our relationship with Christ is what we need to focus on and it is something that the fallen world cannot take away from us. Only we can let it go. John’s disciples faced grave danger in keeping their choice to remain in Christ but in this passage, John was teaching them that such dangers will pass. Many early Christians clung on to their relationship with Christ so strongly that it would be a joy for them to have to give up their earthly life in martyrdom, if faced with it.

Jesus concludes in this passage that He did not come of himself but of the Father who sent Him. As we go through this current time of hardship and uncertainty, ask Christ to send His Holy Spirit so that all our actions will reflect what our Father in heaven wants of us. It is not too much to ask that we would gain perfection, not for ourselves, but for our Father. Jesus told us that He calls us to be perfect. We all know that we are undeserving of this perfection because we find ourselves falling from His likeness constantly but this is when we must strive with all our hearts to return back to Him. The more we do, the more we will know Him, just as Jesus knew Him.

Despite the urgency of the many tasks we must carry out each day, what use will they be in the Kingdom of God if we do not strive to offer them back to Christ, who will sanctify them? Use this time to make the most of this striving. Do not waste it!

Tuesday, May 25th., 2021. Tuesday after the Mhyrrhbearing Women

Epistle: Acts 10:21-33 Gospel: John 7:1-13

Archpriest Terence

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes to Galilee to be alone. The time is close to the Feast of Tabernacles but Jesus tells his apostles that, because His time has not yet come, He will not go among the people. He tells them to go without Him.

The context of this story for St. John is that, like Jesus, his own people are being rejected by the fallen world because they are disciples of Christ. Just as the world hated Him, it will also hate them. For Jesus’ apostles at that point, the world did not hate them because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. He did tell them to go out and proclaim the power of the Kingdom of God to others. Afterwards, He went also but stayed unnoticed among the crowds.

The sense of being rejected by the world, like Jesus, was very acute for John’s communities. They faced persecution and even death. He was teaching them to stay focused on the Kingdom of God because the things of this fallen world are transitory. The true reality is Christ and the Kingdom of God.

We all face difficulty and uncertainty today but like John’s disciples, we too must stay focused on the Kingdom of God. If we do, we will receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. but the world will also find a way to reject us. This is where we need to take up our cross and walk with Him. For many of us, now is a time for quiet, as we sit out this pandemic in our homes. For those who are still working, offer back to Christ every moment of hardship, fear of contamination, as well as satisfaction if you are giving help to those in need. Ask Christ to guide you, to act firmly and wisely without embarrassing or offending others. This, as you probably realize, is very much a gift of grace from the Holy Spirit. When you get those moments to pray, as the psalm says: offer those times up as if they are incense before God’s throne. They then become very treasured moments among the labor of work.

 

Monday, May 24th., 2021. Monday of the 4th. Week of Pascha

TODAY’S GOSPEL: JOHN 6:56-69

Monday, May 11, 2020

https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/05/11/8

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” This is the profound proclamation that Jesus makes at the beginning of this passage.

Unfortunately, at this time when we are all afflicted by this virus, we are not able to receive the eucharist in the way that Jesus has called us to. What we can do is to continue to stay focused on the Kingdom of God by prayer, asking that the Holy Spirit will remain in our hearts and that we will resist any temptation that would urge us to stray away from this treasure.

With all that the world offers, it is easy to lose focus on this purpose of our lives. It is a time, therefore for us to look at how we may renew our efforts to return to this focus. If we do not know how, Jesus said “ask and you will receive, seek and you will find.” He is there for us! He invites us! He wants to save us from the jaws of Satan! It may not seem easy to hear Him but I urge each of you in this time of pain, uncertainty and precariousness to seek Him with all your heart, soul and mind! When the time does come to be able to receive the eucharist in Church again, our preparation in the way I have mentioned will enable our hearts to be much more open.

St. John is teaching the communities he is writing to choose Christ in the face of the possibility of great persecution. The only way to go beyond the perils of this fallen world is through Christ. This is why we must stay focused on Him in this current time of peril.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus asks His apostles after many had rejected Him, whether or not they rejected Him as well. Peter spoke up “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Let us also make this same choice!

Archpriest Terence Baz

Sunday, May 23rd., 2021. The Sunday of the Paralytic

FOURTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA                       TONE 3
THE PARALYTIC

FATHER TERENCE BAZ

Acts 9:32-42 (Epistle)            John 5:1-15 (Gospel)

Dearly Beloved Parishioners & Friends,

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Today we have the Gospel story of Jesus healing the paralytic who was sitting beside the pool near the Sheep’s Gate. He had sat there many years in the hope that he would be healed when an angel would touch the water. Jesus was as much concerned that the man would sin no more as he was for his paralyzed state. It was a Sabbath. The authorities noticed the man was unlawfully walking with his bed on the Sabbath.

This is one of seven signs that St. John describes in his Gospel. Why did he take this approach? In the first place, the stories of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection were well documented by then. Anyone who wanted to learn about them could go to a local church community & be taught. Secondly, he wrote his Gospel in about 90AD, twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem & its temple and when the Jews & Palestinians had dispersed. By then, many non-Jews had become Christian. These people faced severe persecution because the Romans would not allow anyone to worship other gods besides the official ones. Thirdly, those who were Jewish & had become Christian were being pressured by other Jews to return to the old faith, not to mention possible persecution by the Romans. John used his Gospel to point the way to a mystical understanding of Jesus’ life in order to enable those whom he was writing to, to make the hard choice of staying faithful to Him in the face of torture & death.

In this context, St. John was showing his people that there is a reality beyond what we see in this world. With this story, the life giving healing that Jesus offered to the paralytic, was for St. John, something far more important than worldly security. For the paralytic, being physically strong meant everything to him. As important as that was, Jesus taught him that there was something much more important: the healing of his soul & the choice to keep it that way: “sin no more, lest something worse happens!” For the Jews, all that mattered to them was that he broke the Sabbath, not that he was healed, nor that the Kingdom of God entered into day to day history and touched somebody. St. John was teaching the people he was writing to that there is a reality that goes beyond what we face in this world: the mystery of the Kingdom of God. This is what we must choose. This is what we must seek. This is what we must immerse ourselves into. More than this, no matter what the fallen world may throw in our face, if we immerse ourselves in these realities, we will have the strength to refuse it if it threatens to take the Kingdom of God away from us.

In the Orthodox Church, we describe the sacraments as mysteries because, just as Jesus did simple gestures to bring the Kingdom of God to people in His earthly life, it too provides simple rituals or signs to bring us to the Kingdom of God. St. John points to the mystery behind his signs. This is why we also call these signs Mysteries. They point to a reality far more profound than what we see with the naked eye.

In the context of today, when we face isolation, hunger, sickness, even death & tragedy among our families & loved ones, it is important to focus on what today’s Gospel is teaching us. St. John says in his next chapter: seek first the Kingdom of God and your heavenly Father will provide for you. It is very important to stay focused in His Kingdom. The important thing is to stay focused on the Kingdom of God, because our Heavenly Father, who sees all that we do in secret, will reward us. Do not forget the example of the Russian grandmothers who kept praying when faced with Communism!

 

Friday, May 21st., 2021

Friday, May 21, 2021

Epistle: Acts 8:40-9:19          Gospel: John 6:48-54

Archpriest Terence

Today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus who had been intent on persecuting those who believed in Christ. In blinding light, Jesus Christ appeared to him and said:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

He was told to stop the persecution because, as the word ‘goad’ implied, it would not succeed. He was told to go to Damascus and wait there until Ananias would cure him of the blindness he got from the blinding light. Afterwards, he would be told what to do. Christ told Ananias that Saul would bear His name among the Gentiles. Later on, as an apostle, he would be named Paul.

This was a great calling from God but at the same time, he was warned that he would suffer much persecution because of his sins:

“For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Once again, God specifically intervened into history to carry out His plan. This time it would be through the apostle Paul. Paul saw himself as the least deserving of the apostles but through the grace of God, would bring more souls to Christ than any of them.

We never know what our heavenly Father may ask of us or how He may wish to use us. What is important, like Paul, is to pray for humility, knowing that only God can bring about good through us and unfold His plan for salvation. When we pray with humility and ask our Father to use us for His plan of salvation, He will listen to us and the grace of the Holy Spirit will guide us to know what He wants from us. We must also pray to have the humility to be open to the Holy Spirit to go where Christ’s Body, the Church, may direct us. Let us strive to be holy by serving Christ.

Today’s Gospel passage again continues the discussion between some of the 5000 people who were fed from the two fish and the five loaves of bread. They talked about Moses giving the Jewish people manna in the desert. Jesus told them in today’s passage that those people are dead but anyone who eats of “this bread” that is, Himself, will live forever. He told them:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

They said among themselves in response:

“How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

They were thinking in carnal terms but Jesus reaffirmed His command:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The very first words of today’s passage quotes Jesus, who said: “I am the bread of life.” St. John was challenging his readers to look beyond the carnal to the mystery of what Jesus was saying to them that if you believe that He is the Christ and believe His teachings, we can gain eternal life. Central to this is to eat His flesh and drink His blood frequently, not in the carnal sense but in the mystical sense, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to us.

The same challenge is there for us as well. Do we take the Eucharist for granted? Do we truly believe that we need it for eternal life and need it frequently? Do we truly believe the words that Jesus told those people and that John wrote for his own people? Are we truly prepared to live out that same command as followers of Christ?

Thursday, May 20th., 2021

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Epistle: Acts 8:26-39 Gospel: John 6:40-44

Archpriest Terence

Today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles is the beautiful story of the apostle Philip intercepting the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the book of Isaiah while returning to his homeland after being in Jerusalem. Philip interpreted what we now call the Suffering Servant Song in terms of Jesus Christ and how He had to suffer for the sake of all peoples. The Holy Spirit had urged Philip to go to the eunuch and gave Philip the words to interpret the passage in a way that he would understand.

St. Luke describes how the apostles interpreted the Old Testament in terms of the earthly life of Jesus, the Son of God made man. The Orthodox Church uses this same scriptural method when it celebrates its 12 major feasts. While the New Testament account is important with a story such as the Nativity of Christ, for example, the Orthodox Church believes that we must look beyond what the descriptive account gives in order to connect how such an event was part of God’s plan since the beginning of creation and for all eternity. This is why it includes Old Testament texts when it uses other services such as Vespers, the Vigil, the hours and Matins. Those readings will give the whole context of what happened with a particular event such as the Annunciation, Christ’s Nativity or Transfiguration. The Old and New Testament readings are also reflected upon in the prayers of the service. They have become part of the written Tradition of the Church. It is up to the priest to preach about those connections as well as connect them to the Faithfull’s daily lives. With prayer and faith, the community uses the Church, which is Christ’s Body, to seek the Holy Spirit, so that it too, can be guided like the Philip was when he interpreted the Word of God to the eunuch.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. John continues the discussion held by the people with Jesus after He had fed the five thousand. This part of the discussion happened on the second day. Jesus talked about His connection to the Father and that it was through Him that He could give them the Bread of Life. He said:

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The people rejected His claim because they knew His earthly family. So, they said:

 “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus refused to back down from it however and said to them,

“Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The question for the people was: “Who is this man Jesus, whom we know.” The other three Gospels pose the same question when Jesus went back to Nazareth and preached at the synagogue. When Jesus claimed He came from heaven, they rejected Him. John took a different angle with the question because it was brought up in the context of the feeding of the five thousand. The people did not want to see Him as anything other than an earthly man. In John’s account, Jesus told them that they were only interested in feeding their stomachs, not the source from whence the miracle took place. In other words, they were only interested in and earthly Jesus and only interested in earthly food.

John was telling his readers to not fall into this trap but that to gain eternal life, they must believe in Him first and foremost. Jesus told them in the Gospel of Matthew, Ch. 6:

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and all else will be given to you.”

We also today, must be careful not to let earthly things cloud our focus on Christ. Daily struggles will be with us until our souls depart from our bodies. The earthly things of this fallen world will not help us when that happens. To gain the Bread of Life for eternity, we must believe in Christ. Let us take the opportunity to reaffirm our faith in Him as often as possible and let us ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to keep His commandments.

Wednesday, May 19th., 2021

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Epistle: Acts 8:18-25 Gospel: John 6:35-39

Archpriest Terence

Today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles continues the account of the apostles who spread the Word of God and of brought the Holy Spirit to others. It also continues the story about a sorcerer, named Simon, who was fascinated by their miracles and requested to join them by offering them money. Peter told him that he could not access the power of God through money and told him to repent. Jesus, when he sent the apostles out to preach the Kingdom of God, told them that if people offered them money to accept it because “the workman deserves his keep.” In other words, if someone who does the work of God is offered a gift, it should be accepted graciously. Obviously, such people must remain detached from that gift. In the same instruction, Jesus also told the apostles to take nothing with them except themselves. The apostles continued this mission after Jesus had ascended into heaven, staying detached from earthly goods. The man Simon, as a sorcerer, had become wealthy from the works of divinization he had been doing and wanted to benefit from the power of the Holy Spirit that the apostles had been demonstrating. Anyone who wants to do the works of God for money only wants to do so for himself and needs to repent. In the case of Simon, Peter the apostle told him to repent because the works of divinization that he did were from the evil one and not from God.

If we do the works of God, we must also keep the balance about material goods that the apostles kept.

Today’s Gospel passage is the well known passage about Jesus describing Himself as the Bread of Life. He told the people:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

He went on to say that, even though He had just performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, they refused to believe His teachings. He continued:

“But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.”

He then told them that His mission was to do the works of His Father in heaven so that all men might be saved:

"This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”

For St. John, what mattered was not that Jesus was able to perform the miracle of feeding the five thousand but that this work was a sign that pointed to Jesus Himself. He continued the same message to his readers that to receive eternal life, we must look upon Christ and believe that through Him we will receive that eternal life. John also made it clear in earlier chapters that for his disciples to gain eternal life instead of the death of this fallen world, they must be baptized and be frequent partakers in the Eucharistic Meal. Today’s passage reinforced this message. John quoted Jesus as saying:

“Unless you eat My Body and drink My Blood, you will not have life in you.”

In the Orthodox Church, just before the priest distributes communion, we say the prayer:

“I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou are truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood…Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies… May the communion of Thy holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.”

In other words, make no mistake, the Orthodox Church believes that at the Divine Liturgy, this communion is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church uses leavened bread and wine, not unleavened bread, not grape juice nor some other substitute. It does not try to explain what this Mystery is, except that it is given by the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis just beforehand. It is a Mystery. The supper is a Mystical Supper. For Orthodoxy, any to attempt to explain it with philosophical terms such as “substance and accidents, transubstantiation (Rome) or consubstantiation (Calvin)” attempts to reduce this Mystery to earthly, human terms.

In the same manner, those people who accuse us of being cannibalistic because we believe it is the Body and Blood of Christ rather than only a symbol, make the same accusation made at Jesus by the people who would not believe Jesus when He told them that they must eat His Body and drink His blood. They said that “This is a hard saying.” They were thinking in carnal terms, not mystical terms. This is not a carnal transformation, it is a Mystical transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit and those who partake of it receive the Bread of Life that Jesus promised and that St. John told his readers to do in memory of Jesus. In Chapter 3 of St. John’s Gospel, Nicodemus also thought in canal terms when Jesus told him that he must be born again. Jesus replied that we must be born again by water and the Holy Spirit. St. John’s message is simple, it is through believing in Christ that we are born again and receive the Bread of Life through the Holy Spirit. Let us not complicate it.

Monday, May 17th 2021

Monday, May 17, 2021

Epistle: Acts 6:8-7:5, 47-60               Gospel: John 4:46-54

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage St. Luke relayed the story of St. Stephen’s martyrdom who was the Church’s first deacon. He had been working very powerfully among the people through his preaching and miracles. Some Jews who lived outside of Israel resented his teaching because they wanted to uphold the Law of Moses. They took their complaints to the elders and the scribes, who asked the deacon Stephen to give an account of what he taught. In response, he made the connection in God’s work between Abraham, Moses and Solomon, who built the Temple of Jerusalem. He pointed out, however, that God did not need a house built by human hands but wanted the Chosen People to instead to listen to His revelation that He handed down through His prophets. Stephen pointed out that rather than listen to God’s Word, they chose to murder them. In the same manner, when Jesus taught the people that same Word of God, they murdered Him by crucifying Him. Stephen told them that they were only interested in the building of the Temple, not the Word of God that was supposed to come through it! Upon hearing this, they all became enraged, took him out of the city and stoned him to death. Saul was among the witnesses.

Stephen was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he gave his address. He did not hesitate to speak God’s word and proclaim his belief in Jesus Christ. He spoke with boldness and confidence, not afraid of the reactions of other men and was only concerned to speak about the truth of what Jesus Christ had proclaimed. At the moment of his death, he also asked Christ to forgive them.

Those who refused to believe in Christ, chose the death of the fallen world instead. They resented being told about how to gain eternal life and chose to cling to the stones of the Temple. Let us not fall into the trap of being possessed by what is material. No matter how impressive, such edifices will ultimately come to an end.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. John, Jesus is asked by a nobleman to heal his son. Jesus complained that the people were only looking for signs and wonders. St. John makes it clear throughout his Gospel that it is not such miracles themselves that matter but belief in Jesus Christ. He is the way to gain eternal life, not by the witnessing of miracles. In response to Jesus’ comment, the nobleman implored Him to come and heal his son. Jesus could see that had faith and told him to go his way because his son was healed. The nobleman did not doubt Jesus’ word and while he was returning home, a servant came and told him that his son had recovered. The nobleman asked at what time did it take place and when the servant told him the hour, he realized that it was at the same time that Jesus said he was healed. This was the second sign that John described.

In writing his Gospel, John taught his readers that not only did the people need to believe but like the nobleman in this story, they had to act on it. The nobleman, because he believed Jesus, chose to walk back home. In similar manner, when in chapter three of his Gospel John relayed the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus told him that to gain eternal life, a person must not only believe in Him but look upon Him like Jews in the desert had looked upon the serpent that Moses made in order to be healed of the snakebites. For St. John, anyone who sought after signs and wonders only had a shallow belief, not the genuine belief of the nobleman. This does not mean that the miracles and signs performed by Jesus or by anyone else who uses His name are meaningless. Far from it but their purpose is to point to its source, who is Jesus Christ. That is what a sign does.

More than that, just as Jesus was persecuted because of those works and teachings, John was pointing out to his readers that they too, would be persecuted because of their faith in Him. By the time John wrote his Gospel, the Jews had expelled anyone who believed in Christ from their nation. Thus, they too faced the prospect of persecution because of their adherence to Him.

We need to realize that it is one thing to have been baptized and given the sacraments but do we have the type of belief in the teachings of the Church that the nobleman had? Are we prepared to act on our beliefs? Are we prepared to look upon the Cross of Christ as He has called us to, putting all our concerns before Him, to allow the Holy Spirit to transform them. The Christians of the early Church were prepared to even die for them. Are we also prepared to walk in the path of Christ like the nobleman did in today’s Gospel passage?

 

I will be attending a conference all day tomorrow so, will not be able to write a message for Tuesday.

Friday, May 14th., 2021

Friday, May 14, 2021

Epistle: Acts 5:1-11               Gospel: John 5:30-6:2

Archpriest Terence Baz

As in the passages from earlier this week, St. John’s Gospel continues the dialog between Jesus and the Jewish authorities after He had healed the paralytic on a Sabbath Day.

Prior to today’s passage, Jesus had clearly stated His oneness to our Father in heaven.

Here, Jesus connects John the Baptist and Moses to Himself. Both of those figures, together with the prophets and the great events that the Jewish calendar celebrated in its feasts, would be fulfilled in Him. He said that they testify of Him but they could not see how they do because they did not know the Word of God, even though it was their responsibility to be the custodians of that Word. The reason is that they refused to believe.

In other places, they had asked for signs to demonstrate the authority He claimed. John the Evangelist in fact lays out seven signs in his Gospel to demonstrate precisely this but ultimately, those whom he wrote to would have to choose to believe. As He said to Nicodemus about the pole with the serpent made by Moses, people not only had to believe in it but they also had to go to the pole to be healed. Jesus told Nicodemus that He would draw all men to Himself but they must look upon Him to receive eternal Life. For John, people not only had to choose Christ but also act on that choice.

In the context of the Christians of his time who were expelled from the Jewish temple, his readers had to choose to believe in Christ and be prepared to die for their belief. Thus, only seeking outward signs was not be enough for eternal life. Jesus replied to the authorities:

“You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?”

In John’s eyes, only those who chose to unite to Christ would know the truth. Others will search and study the scriptures but will never know the truth because they will not acknowledge that those scriptures can only be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. John was as much speaking about the Jewish authorities who refused to believe in Christ as to his own readers who had to face the same choice, not only to believe but to act on their faith in Christ. As mentioned earlier, they had to act firstly by being baptized and then to eat of the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. Anyone who refused to believe, however, would condemn themselves. The dialog concluded:

“Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you – Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

For us, we too must reaffirm our faith in Christ amidst all the choices we are faced with in today’s fallen world. We too must recognize that all the scriptures are fulfilled in Christ. We too must continue to receive the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. Christ’s Body, the Church continues to offers the blessings of the Kingdom of God so that we can frequently drink of the living waters that Christ offered through the Holy Spirit. It is through the Church that we can stay focused on Christ and act on our belief in Him.

Thursday, May 13th., 2021

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Epistle: Acts 4:23-31 Gospel: John 5:24-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke continued his account of St. Peter who healed the lame beggar and its aftermath with the Jewish authorities who warned them not to continue doing such healings. Peter and John went back to the assembly of believers in Christ and relayed what the authorities warned. In response, the whole assembly prayed earnestly asking for guidance. The account concludes:

“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

Some Christian groups, such as some Pentecostals, use this passage to claim that this is only true way to pray as an assembly and that somehow, the ways that other Christians use is inferior because they do not pray as the seminal Church prayed.

One must remember that the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills. One cannot presume to confine how and how not the Holy Spirit may speak to people. Often it is spontaneous, such as when St. Paul baptized and laid hands on a group who were disciples of John the Baptist and when they did, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. In the same manner, Jesus went into the desert to pray, as have many others since. God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, telling him of His mission to deliver the Jews. God spoke to the prophets in many ways. Jesus gave us the prayer of the ‘Our Father’ to pray. He also commanded us to break bread in prayer in memory of Him. The Orthodox Church, as the Body of Christ, also offers many ways for us to pray and bestows the blessings of the Holy Spirit upon us. We should also always respect the prayers of others, even of non Christians. We do not know whom the Holy Spirit may speak to.

Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of the dialog between Jesus and the Jewish authorities after He had healed a paralytic on the Sabbath. If the passage sounds familiar to Orthodox Christians, it is because we use it at funerals.

Jesus makes His relationship with His Father clear: all judgment has been given to Him. God continues the work of creation to this day, including the Sabbath and Jesus would continue to do the work of His Father whether it was on the Sabbath or not. This, of course, incensed the authorities because it was obvious that He was saying that He was one with the Father.

For us, one sentence summarized what we should strive for throughout our earthly lives:

“The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

If we choose Christ and keep His commandments, we will have been delivered from the death of this fallen world to eternal life. If, when we hear His teachings we reject Him however, we will have delivered ourselves to the condemnation of death instead of life. It may seem strange to those who strive to live a life in Christ that some would make such a choice but people do choose the glamour of the fallen world instead of Christ. Christ offers His life to all. The only alternative to Christ at the end of our lives, however, is the fallen world but all it can offer is death. We do not judge them and nor did Jesus during His earthly life but when the Day of Judgment comes, everyone will be called to account.

Wednesday, May 12th., 2021

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Epistle: Acts 4:13-22 Gospel: John 5:17-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage is the conclusion of the account of Peter the apostle healing the lame beggar. After Peter and John refused to back down about using the name of Jesus of Nazareth when healing the lame man, the authorities decided to warn them sternly not to continue such healings. They knew they could not arrest them for it but they could not stand that the name of Jesus was still being used. They refused to acknowledge the works of God being done through them.

Today’s Gospel passage is the sequel to Jesus healing the man at the Pool of Bethsaida. He healed the man on a Sabbath and the authorities resented Him for it. Remember that, in John’s Gospel, these events occurred after Jesus had driven out the money changers from the Temple of Jerusalem so they had already planned to kill Him. In this discourse, Jesus would not back down for them. He clearly stated that He was doing the works of His Father. Thus, He stated that as His Father, He was equal with Him. St. John was defining Jesus’ relationship with our Father in heaven and it is clear from the rest of his Gospel that John sees the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working as one and were One. Unlike the Jewish authorities, John clearly stated that Jesus was God and the Christ, or the Messiah.

As the Messiah, Jesus told the authorities:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

John repeated this same message many times in his Gospel, reinforcing his message to his readers that it is only through Christ that they can receive eternal life.

Monday, May 11th., 2021

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Epistle: Acts 4:1-10               Gospel: John 3:16-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

As mentioned in yesterday’s message, the authorities were very unhappy that Peter was performing miracles after they thought that they had gotten rid of Jesus. So, they assembled and confronted Peter and the people gathered with him, asking by what authority he did such things?

Whereas before, Peter, was ashamed to be associated with Jesus when He was put on trial; when he would not accept that Jesus would be handed over to the authorities and put to death and he reprimanded Him for saying such things; when he objected to Jesus washing his feet; when on the stormy waters of Sea of Galilee, became faint of heart and began to sink; now, with confidence and boldness, Peter stood up and was not afraid to proclaim the name of Jesus of Nazareth and that they had crucified Him. The Holy Spirit gave him the words to say in a forthright way, not afraid of the consequence of his words. This was a complete transformation of his heart, mind and soul! At the end of this passage, it stated:

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.”

Let us too, constantly pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon us in our weaknesses so that our hearts, minds and souls will also be transformed and become the disciples of Christ that our heavenly Father created us to be.

Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of the dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus about being born again. I wrote about the first part of the conversation last week on Bright Thursday, May 6th and you can read my message about it.

Today’s passage begins:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This is a very well known passage for many Christians. We must believe in the Son of God who became man to gain everlasting life. It is one thing to acknowledge this sentence in our minds but to understand it fully we must go back to the previous sentence where Jesus said:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus was referring to the Hebrews who were delivered from slavery in Egypt. When they went into the desert, they were confronted with biting snakes. Many got sick and some died. God told Moses to make a pole with a snake on it. If anyone was bitten but came to that pole and looked upon it, they would be healed of the snakebite. It was not enough to think about that pole, they had to go to it and look upon it. Jesus, at His crucifixion was lifted up. He said to the people that if He was lifted up, He would draw everyone to Himself and they would receive eternal life. St. John told his readers in this passage that if they wanted eternal life, they had to go to Christ and look upon Him. How could they do this? They needed the waters of Baptism and the bread of life of the Eucharist that were offered by Christ’s Body, the Church. John was teaching his readers that to receive everlasting life, they must gain the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Body, the Church. It was not enough for his newly baptized people to say, “I believe in Christ.” They also had to go to Him like the snake bitten Hebrews in the desert and receive Him in the Eucharist. It is not enough to acknowledge Christ. They had to act on it also.

Thus, if anyone tells us that they are Christian because they believe the words in verse 16 and many do, the question becomes: will they also look upon Christ through the Eucharist? That Eucharist can only come through the Church handed down by Jesus and His apostles. There is no getting around this: no Eucharist from His Body the Church and there is no eternal life. The Orthodox Church never judges anyone and it is not for us as Orthodox Christians to judge or disrespect the sincere faith of other Christians but St. John’s Gospel makes it clear that this question must be answered sincerely.

We must realize that this fallen world is the world of death, like the snakes in the desert for the Jewish people. To be delivered from death, we must continually receive the life of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus, as He says in this dialog, did not come to condemn the world but that through Him, it would be saved. The Son of God came to rescue us from this world of death. This fallen world is condemned already. Jesus also told Nicodemus that those who refuse to believe have condemned themselves. Jesus does not judge them but they choose to not be rescued, just like someone who is warned to evacuate from a fire, flood or volcano eruption but refuses to do so. They condemn themselves to the perils of that calamity. How does this happen in people’s lives? Jesus said that they prefer the darkness to the light because their deeds are evil. They refuse to give their evil deeds up! In verse 19, Jesus would soon say to Nicodemus that “everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest their deeds be exposed.”

In the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, at communion, the priest says to the people:

“With the fear of God, with faith and with love, draw near!”

The Church calls us to come to Christ who had been lifted up like the pole Moses made and look upon it to receive that same eternal life. Let us not be afraid of it and let us come to it as often as we are able to!

Monday, May 10th., 2021

Monday, May 10, 2021

Epistle: Acts 3:19-26 Gospel: John 2:1-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle from the Acts of the Apostle is a segment of the dialog of the people with St. Peter after he healed the lame beggar. Peter gave an outline of Salvation History in regard to the prophets, how Jesus was a prophet whom they killed. It was in the name of Jesus Christ and through the faith of the beggar that Peter was able to perform this miracle. They should realize what God continued to do even though they killed Him and they should repent.

Today’s Gospel passage is the famous story from St. John of the Wedding Feast at Cana at which Jesus turned water into wine. It is the first of the seven ‘signs’ outlined by John.

The story itself is straightforward and well known. What is not well known is the cultural background for the catechumens of the Jewish people. Wine was an essential part of their diet. It was also associated with a blessing from God when someone was anointed with oil for a sacred task, such as the appointment of a king or high priest.

John used this story to teach his readers about the contrast between Jesus Christ and everything or everyone else. The hosts in the story ran out of wine. When the guests tasted the wine that Jesus made from water, they complained that it was superior to what the hosts had first provided. In like manner, even John the Baptist could not provide the salvation that the Jews were looking for, only a foretaste of what was to come because he could not give the Holy Spirit. St. John the Evangelist was making the point that only Jesus can give the wine of the Holy Spirit. Only one person can provide this and that is the person of Jesus Christ, not political philosophers or scientists, not economic or social systems. A social gospel cannot provide what Christ offers either. John taught his readers that no worldly system or idea can provide what Jesus Christ can provide. Just as Jesus fulfilled the guests’ wishes at the wedding feast, He will fulfill the desire of our souls at the heavenly banquet. The catechumens that John wrote to would have been baptized and received the Eucharist. John taught them through this story that it is Jesus only who baptizes and gives the Holy Spirit to those who are baptized. John’s Gospel would now set out ways for his readers to be able to put Christ in the center of their lives and above everything else.

Bright Friday, May 7th., 2021

Friday, May 07, 2021

Bright Friday: Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Epistle: Acts 3:1-8     Gospel: John 2:12-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Luke describes St. Peter’s first miracle. He heals a lame beggar:

“Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them – walking, leaping, and praising God.”

Some important basic lessons emerge for us from this story. Firstly, it was Peter’s faith, freshly renewed from being re-born in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, that enabled him to confidently call on Christ to intercede. Note that he used the “name of Jesus Christ” to intercede for the beggar. Secondly, the beggar’s response was to praise God and leap for joy at the wonderful work that was done for him. Both dispositions are essential for an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father.

Today’s Gospel passage is the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple of Jerusalem. There are several differences between John’s account and the other three Synoptic (Mark, Matthew & Luke’s) accounts.

The first was the timing in Jesus’ public life as depicted in their Gospels. For the Synoptic accounts, it was before the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. In John, it was right after His entrance into Jerusalem in the last week of Jesus’ life or Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.

The second was the timing of the accounts. Mark’s was written about 64AD. Matthew and Luke’s, after 70AD, the year of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. John’s was written in 90AD, at the time that Rome decreed that anyone converting non-Jews to Judaism would be executed. The early Christians were still regarded as Jews by Rome at that time.

The third is that by the time John wrote his Gospel, Rome was executing Christians who were gaining converts to Christ. So, in response, the Jews expelled the Christians from their faith out of fear of more Roman oppression to them. Rome by then was also using the tax on the Jewish people to pay for the temple of the Emperor instead of what was the Temple of Jerusalem. For John, this edict was the new “beast” who had declared war on the Christians.

The fourth, therefore, was that Jesus’ confrontation at the Temple was not a cleansing as was in the Synoptic accounts but was a reckoning between the “beast” and Christ. A lot was written in the Synoptic Gospels about Jesus teaching and preaching in the Temple. The Temple at that point was regarded as indestructible. John, when relating the confrontation of Jesus with the Temple authorities, portrayed them as asking for a sign to show His authority. John wrote:

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.”

Note the last sentence. Again, John was not talking about the physical destruction of a building. He was looking to the deeper meaning for his readers who were converts. The Jewish authorities could destroy His body but in doing so, death itself would be destroyed. John was teaching his readers that Rome could destroy their bodies for believing in Christ and refusing to worship their pagan gods but if they did, they would receive eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus had confronted the Jewish leaders. His converts were confronting the powers of darkness represented by Rome and its temple worship. Thus, John concludes:

“Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.”

John was teaching them to look beyond the literal discussion. For John, the story was not so much about the stones of the building but more about the passing nature of earthly structures, no matter how imposing or impervious they may seem. What will truly last is the life of the Kingdom of God if they stay focused on Christ. Also, to the Jews of his time, John used the destruction of the Temple, that was fully completed by then, as an example of the ‘sign’ they were still asking for.

John called his converts to remain fully focused on Christ, whom they had come to believe in, no matter what the consequences. Let us also follow their example and always remain fully focused on Christ. In similar manner, the Orthodox Church uses today’s passage to call us to stay focused on the Risen Christ.

Bright Thursday, May 6th., 2021

Thursday, May 6th 2021

Bright Thursday: Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Epistle: Acts 2:38-43 Gospel: John 3:1-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke concludes the discourse St. Peter gave on Pentecost Sunday to those who gathered because of the wind they heard and of the apostles who spoke in tongues. He called them to repent from the sin committed by the Jewish people who crucified and put Jesus to death. Those who responded were then called to get baptized. About 3,000 did so and formed the core of the new Church. St. Luke concluded:

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.”

This was the birth of the early Church.

The Gospel passage continues with the Gospel of St. John. As mentioned early in the week, the Orthodox Church works through his Gospel until Pentecost Sunday. John’s goal was to enable his catechumens to enter into the Mystery of the Kingdom of God and not just know what happened in Jesus’ life.  St. John was not interested in giving a chronicle of the life of Jesus. His catechumens already knew about His life from the other evangelists and apostles. He wanted them to enter mystically into Jesus’ very life.

Today’s passage is that of the discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus who came to Him by night to try to understand what Jesus was teaching. John deliberately used ambiguous words to outline the discourse. One example is the word “birth” or “born.” It is clear from the discourse that Nicodemus thought of the term as an act of nature: giving birth to a baby. It is clear however from what Jesus said that what was required to enter into the Kingdom of God was a heavenly re-birth. We must be born again “through water and the Spirit.” It is only by a spiritual or mystical re-birth that we can enter into the Kingdom of God. We must be born again therefore of the Spirit. John uses several other ambiguous words to get across the same point but it would take too long to fully examine them here.

If we are born again, the Holy Spirit will dwell in our hearts. We will seek heavenly things and not earthly things. Our hearts, minds and souls will yearn for the spiritual gifts that can only come from the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that our hearts can enter into the life of Christ. It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we can be freed from sin and drink of the Living Waters and the Bread of Life that our souls truly seek after. St. John was calling his catechumens to long for these things after being baptized. In this way they would become true followers of Christ and be prepared to even give up their own lives for Him, just as He had done for us. When they did, the troubles of the fallen world could not touch the life they would gain, not even physical death.

By going through this Gospel at this time after we have just celebrated the Risen Christ, the Orthodox Church calls us to embark on the same journey that John called his disciples to embark on. He used the signs and the story of Jesus’ suffering to show them how to be His true followers. Let us also, when we read the scriptural passages from St. John’s Gospel during this season of Pascha, seek Christ with all our hearts, minds and souls so that we too can be better disciples through the Holy Spirit.

 

Bright Wednesday May 5th., 2021

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Bright Wednesday: Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Epistle: Acts 2:22-36 Gospel: John 1:35-51

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Peter preached to the people who had gathered in front of him after hearing the mighty wind from the Holy Spirit and the speaking of tongues by the apostles. He connected what happened to Jesus with the words of the prophets David (Psalm 15) and Joel (Ch. 2:28-32), showing them that what was being prophesized was all part of God’s plan to the moment they were witnessing. The prayers of the Orthodox Church also reflect on what Peter said in the Paschal verses it sings during this season and also in the Eucharistic Prayer of St. Basil. Christ could not be held captive to death and destroyed the power of death when death tried to overtake Him. Peter also told the people gathered before him that they crucified Christ and needed to repent of what they did. If one looks at this passage in an Orthodox Study Bible, these connections are spelled out and made clear. It is therefore worth reading.

In regard to today’s Gospel passage, I wrote at the beginning of the week that St. John wrote his Gospel to help the new catechumens of his Church communities delve into the mystery of Christ’s teaching and the Kingdom of God. Unlike the three synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, he does not give a descriptive chronicle of the life of Jesus. His goal is to get his readers to enter into that life and what He taught.

Thus, in today’s passage, we have the story of Jesus calling His apostles to follow Him. John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God.” Andrew and Peter followed Jesus after He spoke to them. Andrew also brought Philip and Nathanael to Jesus, whom Jesus called to follow Him.

Notice that Jesus initiates the conversation with Andrew and Peter. He asks: What do you seek?” In other words, “what are you looking for?” Peter responds: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” If someone asks us where we are staying, we tell them the suburb we live in or give them an address. John is not interested the practical question, nor does he quote Jesus as giving one. Jesus responds: “Come and see.” Nor was that first question intended to be practical. It was intended to be directed to their hearts, minds and souls: “What do your souls seek?” The second question followed in the same manner: “Come and see.” In other words, come with Me and your souls will find their true home.

This is the premise for the whole of John’s Gospel.

In the same manner, after Philip’s prejudicial remark about Galileans, Jesus lets him know that He can read into his thoughts and his soul by remarking about him being under the fig tree. In faith, Philip responds to Jesus: “You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” In seeing Philip’s simplicity of faith, Jesus describes to him a vision of the Kingdom of God:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

What John outlines with the public life of Jesus is an invitation for his readers to enter into the mystery of this same Kingdom. The seven signs he describes offer that same invitation. In the same way, the story of His passion is an invitation to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. They are directed towards leading his converts into the deeper life of the Gospel. As their apostle, John was bringing them into the depth of the Holy Mysteries.

For us, those Mysteries are to be found in the Church. It is one thing to know what they are but it is another to enter into them. The Mysteries, or sacraments, together with all the blessings that the Orthodox Church offers, are there for us to embrace and not simply to know about them. Note that the Orthodox Church uses the same response to those who are not Orthodox when asking about our faith. We respond: “Come and see!” The invitation to join us for Divine Liturgy and its other services is an invitation to seek for their souls a home in Christ’s Kingdom. It is only by their hearts embracing the Kingdom of God through the Church that those invitees will remain steadfast in the Church.

John had invited his readers to do the same but their choice to embrace the Holy Mysteries could have dire earthly consequences for them because the Jewish authorities and the Roman Empire were an ever present threat. Let us not therefore take what the Church offers us for granted but ask Christ to enable us to see His Mysteries like He had done for His apostles and disciples in today’s Gospel passage.

Bright Tuesday, May 4th., 2021

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Bright Tuesday. Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Epistle: Acts 2:14-21 Gospel: Luke 24:12-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage from the Acts of the Apostles is what Peter said to the people immediately after the Holy Spirit manifested Himself at Pentecost. That Epistle will be used on Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Christ’s resurrection. In this passage, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter quotes the prophet Joel:

“‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.”

The Lord their God had entered into and manifested Himself! Although the crowd spoke many languages, each heard what the apostles spoke as tongues in his or her own language. The need for the Tower of Bable was made irrelevant. Where mankind had been divided by language, now these people were united in hearing God’s message. Peter would call them to repent. Three thousand people responded and believed in Christ. This was to be the birth of the Church.

In today’s Gospel, we have the story of Jesus appearing to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were very downhearted because, as they said:

“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”

In the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 55, the prophet quotes God as saying to the Chosen People:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.”

These poor disciples did not understand what was going on after all had seemed lost. Jesus drew out from them their thoughts but then, He began to explain exactly what God had planned. They eyes were opened and their hearts burned within them. After Jesus went through all the scriptures to show them how what had happened to Him was God’s plan from all eternity, He showed Himself to them and then disappeared. They then realized it was Jesus Himself who had explained the recent events they had seen. More than that, they immediately ran to the apostles to find that Jesus had also appeared to the holy women and to Simon as well! He had not gone from their presence. His earthly death had not defeated Him. He had defeated death and was among them!

There are many examples of figures in the Old Testament where God tested someone to see whether or not their faith would remain steadfast. When everything seemed to be a lost cause, God would rescue them, answer their prayers or manifest Himself to them. What Jesus had done with these two disciples was to connect the dots that they could not see.

“Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Each one of us has to be tested like gold purified with fire. It is in this way that God teaches us His ways in contrast to our own. This is why we as Orthodox Christians have just gone through a time of intense prayer, fasting and giving alms. It is only those who strive to purify themselves through these practices that will be able to understand and hear what God’s ways are instead of our own. We have to be patient and ready to listen, however. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills and we have to be ready to listen to understand God’s ways. Look at the example of the holy priest, Simeon, when the baby Jesus was brought to him in the temple. He understood that God was fulfilling His Plan of Salvation and also fulfilled His promise to let Simeon see the baby Emmanuel (God with us) before his death. In the same way, if we remain focused on Christ and continually pray, the Holy Spirit will also guide us.

Let us rejoice in the Risen Christ and all the events that we have recently celebrated! Let us proclaim our faith in Christ. Let us ask Christ that we will remain faithful to His commandments and that His Holy Spirit will guide us. We have been given all this and it continues to live in our hearts. This is why the Orthodox Church says Christ is Risen because that same risen Christ continues to reign in our hearts and will do so until the day when He comes again to sit at the judgment seat. If we proclaim Christ, we will be invited by our heavenly Father to His eternal banquet. His victory is not something that happened once in history but continues thru to today and for all eternity. Let us rejoice in it!

Bright Monday, May 2nd., 2021

Monday, May 03, 2021

Bright Monday

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Epistle: Acts 1:12-17, 21-26              Gospel: John 1:18-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. John begins by describing the forerunner to the Son of God, who was St. John the Baptist. The forerunner’s lifestyle and preaching had already created a lot of attention so, some representatives of the Pharisees went to him to ask who he was. John described himself as:

“I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the LORD,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John the Baptist was calling the Chosen People to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God from one who was to come after him. He did so by calling the Chosen People to be baptized in the River Jordan and repent of their sins. In explaining to the Pharisees why he baptized people, he said:

“I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

John the Baptist was proclaiming that another person whom he did not know would come after him but who would bring the Light of the Kingdom of God to those people. John the Evangelist was heralding that the One whom the Baptist was not worthy to loosen the sandals of, could be among anyone who would believe that the person of Jesus was the Son of God. The Kingdom of God could be present in the hearts of anyone who would believe.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and the other apostles decided to go back to Jerusalem and wait for what Jesus had promised, the coming of the Holy Spirit. They, with Mary and some relatives went to an upper room and prayed constantly with supplications. They had one important task to deal with at that time: whom to replace Judas Iscariot with, who had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. Their method of deciding was to set a model for the Orthodox Church which it has kept ever since: they formed a council to pray about who was the right person to take his place. They chose two disciples whom had been with them from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

“And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Note that Peter took the lead by getting up in front of 120 people and said:

“Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.”

At the same time, He did not make the decision alone. He had the whole gathering of people pray and help to decide which two would be the most suitable. This is the Conciliar model of the Church. Peter, as the head of the apostles, took the lead by calling on the gathering to pray but he did not decide alone.

For today, the head of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Tikhon, would act in the same way if a decision about the Church had to be made. Neither he nor the Synod of Bishops would ever claim or try to make changes or decisions about doctrine. That is the reserve of an Ecumenical Council. Even so, whether it be on the level of doctrine, Church practice or disciple, the same Conciliar model is used to go through the process.

St. John it today’s passage was telling his people that the Kingdom of God is among them if they believe in Christ as the Son of God.

Holy Pascha. The Resurrection of Jesus.

Sunday, May 2nd 2021

Holy Pascha: The Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Epistle: Acts 1:1-8                 Gospel: John 1:1-17

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! It regards it as the Feast of Feasts and is the cornerstone of our belief. At yesterday’s Paschal Liturgy, I read the beautiful words of the Homily of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. Before the season of Great Lent, I had been writing messages on the Scripture readings of the day. I will continue from today onwards until I complete the yearly cycle in about 3 or 4 weeks that I had begun last year.

As well as celebrating this, the greatest feast in its Liturgical Cycle, the Orthodox Church appropriately begins the cycle of its scripture readings for the year. Thus, from now until the feast of Pentecost, 50 days later, the readings will work through the Acts of the Apostles written by St. Luke and the Gospel of St. John. Today’s Epistle and Gospel passages begin these two books.

The Acts of the Apostles describe the beginnings of the early Church from just after the Resurrection of Jesus our Lord and Savior or, as we call Him from now on, the Christ, to the end of St. Paul’s missionary journeys. In this opening passage, St. Luke outlines important themes: that Jesus appeared to His apostles and disciples; that He told them to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit; that when He comes, they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit and not merely by water as was the case with St. John the Baptist’s baptism. They also asked Him about when would the kingdom of Israel be restored but He said that their Father in heaven would reveal that at the appropriate time but in the meantime, they would receive power when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. It would only be after Pentecost Sunday that they would fully understand Jesus’ teachings and earthly life.

The Gospel of John commences with his Prologue. John’s approach to the writing of his Gospel did not use the historical approach of the Acts of the Apostles nor of the other three Gospels written by Mark, Matthew and Luke. It was written for catechumens who would have already been told about the details of Jesus’ life and teachings. His approach was to attempt to prepare those catechumens to enter into the mystery of God through the Holy Spirit in such a way that they could clearly choose Christ above all else, even at the expense of their own earthly lives. This was a very dangerous time for anyone who chose to follow Christ because the Jews were persecuting them, their pagan relatives were ridiculing and trying to manipulate them to weaken their faith, and later, through the edict of Emperor Claudius, faced torture and execution because they refused to worship pagan gods.

John therefore made references in this prologue to certain things: the beginning of God’s creation; the light that comes from the Godhead; to John the Baptist who had borne witness to that Light, the Son of God, who was to come after him; to the Light that the Son of God would reveal both in Word and actions; that Light would bear witness to truth and grace. It is easy to restate what John said in the prologue but to understand it one has to read the whole Gospel. St. John’s purpose was to enable his catechumens to enter into the mystery of the Light of the Godhead and to embrace it. It was only then, that they could be true followers of Christ.

The Orthodox Church wants us to also embark on this journey so that we can not only know the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but to also embrace what He taught through the same Holy Spirit that He promised to send to the apostles in today’s Epistle. Just as John’s catechumens could not embrace Christ without understanding the mystery of the Light of the Godhead, so too, we will not comprehend the profound depth of today’s Feast of Feasts without reading and reflecting on these two books which the Church calls us to embrace and follow.

I hope you will join me on this journey as the Church works through these two books.

Sunday, April 25th., 2021: Palm Sunday

Sunday, April 25th 2021

The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9      Gospel: John 12:1-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

The context for most Orthodox Churches on this Sunday is that there is an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement by the children to be able to dress up in their Sunday best, take a palm at the end of the Divine Liturgy and process around the church three times. With some good fortune, the weather will cooperate and the children will look their best in the splendid spring sunshine. For many families, it is difficult to focus when the Epistle and Gospel are read, on what they may relate and what the Orthodox Church may wish to teach through them.

We should be grateful in this country that we are able to celebrate and worship freely, to mark this joyous event but for the early Christians who would have listened to these readings around the time they were written, the context could not have been more different!

When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was facing execution, there were people who were neighbors or family members of the community who did not believe in Christ and were trying to undermine them. Paul was urging them in this letter to stay focused on Christ and His teachings despite their difficulties and to rejoice in everything He did for them. He urged them to always rejoice in the Lord, to not let their hearts be anxious and to find God in all the good and beauty of this world He created. Paul concluded by writing:

"The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

This Epistle passage may seem to express pleasant words for today in the context of a beautiful service but for those early Christians it was a call by St. Paul to stay completely focused on Christ despite great difficulties. In the end, through the Holy Spirit, that community would prevail and continue even to this day because of their steadfast faith.

The context of the Gospel story was even more ominous in the way that St. John portrayed it. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, yes the people became greatly excited at His presence and praised Him for His great works but Jesus knew that this exuberance was only a façade. The authorities would soon be able to turn their enthusiasm for Jesus into murderous anger. Jesus knew this and knew that His Heavenly Father had brought Him to this moment when He would confront the forces of darkness but never in the way that the fallen world would expect: as a humble man on a donkey, prepared to allow Himself to be turned over to His enemies who would torture and put Him to death in a most gruesome way. He would become a sacrifice for all of the Chosen People, all of the Gentiles, all of the world and for the whole universe, in order to free us from sin and for creation from subjugation.

It is fitting to follow those enthusiastic people by having palms blessed, to process around the sacred space of Christ’s Body, the Church, to take those palms home and to remember the wonderful works that Christ did for us. Both readings, however, show that the only way to transform this fallen world is to follow Christ’s example by being prepared to follow Him through our own cross so that we too, might be a sacrifice for all. The early Christian communities were prepared to follow Christ and suffer for Him even to the point of being put to death by the Roman authorities. St. John’s Gospel warned us that the fallen world will also hate anyone chooses Christ instead of Satan.

So, we will quickly pass from today’s moment of celebration to reflect during this week, firstly on whether or not our hearts are properly prepared to take up our cross at the Bridegroom Services, then to being offered by the Church at the to be anointed and healed with oil at the Service of Holy Unction, to recalling those terrible days when Jesus was put on a cross with the reading of the 12 Gospels, to His victory over death by death itself in His resurrection.

Let us strive earnestly to stay close to Christ in all these events to offer ourselves to Him. The apostles at the time did not understand what was happening, they fell asleep when He asked them to stay awake at the garden, they scattered instead of staying close to Him when He was arrested, Peter denied Him three times when challenged about Him and they felt shattered in their hearts because all that He did seemed to be a lost cause. The holy women agonized and wept over Him but with Joseph of Arimathea, also sought to give Him a dignified burial.

The Orthodox Church invites us to remember the above events. Let us pray that we will be transformed through this remembrance to become more like Him and turn from those things in our fallen selves that contributed to His being put on a cross and sacrificed. Let us be always grateful for these wonderful events, renewing our love for Him and strive to keep His commandments to demonstrate that love for Him. When we realize we have been forgiven much, we will also love much. To remember them is not simply a formula that enables us to get to heaven. It is also a call for us to embrace them and through our recollection, embrace our own crosses. When we do, we can truly exclaim:

“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”

Sunday, April 18th., 2021. The 5th. Sunday of Great Lent

Sunday, April 18th 2021

The 5th Sunday of Great Lent – St. Mary of Egypt

Epistle: Hebrews 9:11-14  Gospel: Mark 10:32-45

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Mark gives the account of Jesus foretelling and warning His apostles that He would be betrayed and condemned to death. The Orthodox Church used St. Luke’s account of this on Thursday, November 26th 2020 and I wrote about it that day.

Jesus gave this warning but James and John, the sons of Zebedee wanted to make sure they took the best advantage of what the future may have held. They would have seen what Jesus was capable of, what He had preached about regarding the Kingdom of God and the promises He made to His disciples about living in the mansions of His Father’s Kingdom. So, they went to Him and asked to be given the best that the Kingdom of God could offer. In response, Jesus asked:

“You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

They could not see a problem with that and they responded: “We are able.” They obviously had no real grasp of what Jesus was asking them and besides, He could not promise what the Father would allocate. He replied:

“You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”

When the other disciples heard this they became upset and jealous. Jesus then had to teach them what the Kingdom of God was really about. He told them that they must serve, just like He served them and all the people, to the extent that He was prepared to offer His life up as a ransom for many. He told them:

“Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

They had no way to understand this until Jesus showed them by the example of undergoing His own suffering, crucifixion and resurrection. Even when Jesus washed their feet at the Last Supper, Peter could not accept Him being their servant. It was not until after these things happened that they understood.

What it would mean was that all the precepts of the Old Mosaic Law would be swept away, that new wineskins would be needed for this new wine of the New Covenant. They were obliged to the Old Law no longer. They would be obliged to Jesus Christ instead. To do so, they would have to undergo their own crosses, be prepared to be servants to everyone whom they encountered for sake of their salvation and like Abraham, be prepared to sacrifice those things most precious to them for the sake of what Jesus had taught them. This was the cup that James and John would need to drink. Jesus concluded:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

The passage from the Letter to Hebrews in today’s Epistle affirms that not only was this ‘ransom’ necessary but was the only perfect way to reconcile with our Heavenly Father. He was the High Priest who entered the Most Holy Place through the Holy Spirit, offering His own blood as a spotless sacrifice. Only such a sacrifice could cleanse our consciences “from dead works to serve the living God.”

For us therefore, to truly be Jesus’ disciples, we must be prepared to embrace His teaching, take up our cross and follow His example. We must be prepared to put ourselves into Christ’s hands in order that we too can offer ourselves as a sacrifice for the sake of our Heavenly Father and His Kingdom. Let us give ourselves to Christ so that we can strive to drink the cup that our Heavenly Father has given us.

Sunday, April 11th., 2021. The 4th. Sunday of Great Lent

Sunday, April 11th 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 6:13-20       Gospel: Mark 9:17-31

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we have the story of the father who had a son with what he called a “mute spirit.” Jesus called it a “deaf and dumb spirit.” The father was obviously in great distress and agony over the plight of his son yet, he had the compassion to not abandon him. He was willing to do anything he could for him. Jesus told him that if he believed, all things were possible to him. The father immediately responded by crying out with tears: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Who knows how the son picked up this spirit? Did one of his cousins take him to some sort of spirit worship or ritual? Did someone seduce him to welcome an evil spirit to come into his heart?

Regardless of the cause, like the father, we can also sometimes be afflicted with something that is beyond our control. It does not even have to be within our own family. This year, we have been afflicted with a virus that has shut everything down, threatened people’s livelihoods, caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of people and terrible suffering to countless families. On the national level, many have not reacted well to the affliction it has caused. Sensible and simple precautions that the medical field has asked for in order to reduce its impact have often been rejected with suspicion and fear, even violently. Whether we have been affected by this plight directly or not, we have all felt something of the agony that the father in this gospel story felt. He was impacted by the presence of evil and so have we.

Yet, Jesus’ answer was a simple one, to believe. This would not have been an easy state of mind or choice to achieve given all the confusion and drama caused by his son. Jesus did respond and drove out the spirit. Notice that He did not attempt any form of negotiation. He instead, simply commanded it to come out of the son. It did not leave easily but convulsed the boy, causing him to cry out.

There are a few lessons to learn from the story.

Firstly, that the presence of evil spirits is not something to be taken lightly or written off as something that happened in primitive societies only. We have to be careful to not read into every affliction that it was caused by an evil spirit but we should also not discount the possibility. That is where we need the Church, which is the Body of Christ, to help.

Secondly, any type of worship that may induce the spirit of evil should be avoided and not taken lightly. This includes being present for séances, playing Ouija Board games, using Tarot Cards or attending Satan Worship services. They are all very dangerous! If we hear of anyone indulging in such things we should warn them about the danger.

Thirdly, we need to pray each day for the humility to stay focused on Christ so that we can ask the Spirit of God to safeguard and help us with such matters. If you believe you have come across a similar situation, always use the name of Jesus Christ to order out such a spirit. Do not ask but command it come out as Jesus did.

Fourthly, as Jesus said, when such afflictions are severe, we also need to fast to purify our belief. He taught His apostles when they asked Him why they could not cast the spirit out:

 “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

The Orthodox Church deliberately uses today’s Gospel story to urge us to keep up our fasting and prayer. These are the very things we need to do in today’s time of affliction because it is only the Spirit of God who can change people’s hearts to turn to Christ and away from the dangerous practices of the fallen world mentioned above.

The types of afflictions we have experienced in the past 12 months will not die down. Just as the son’s relationship with nature somehow got out of balance in today’s Gospel, if the world continues on its present path, society will become out of balance with nature.

It seems clear now that this pandemic came out of Wuhan, China, not from a laboratory but because the virgin forest is being more developed in that region due to the construction of roads and railways. People have come in contact with the bats in the area and the Coronavirus, that had always been present, was allowed to spread among people. Such viruses have spread from forests in Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America in the past. As the developed world continues to encroach on such virgin areas, it puts the global society at risk. We have been taught through God’s revelation that we need to take care of His creation. If this is ignored, His creation will rebel against us just as it did because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

As Orthodox Christians, we have a vital role to play through our baptism, by interceding and praying not only for ourselves, our families but for all of creation.

While creation is innately beautiful because of God’s divine energies, Satan is still prince of this world. Just like Jesus met Satan in the desert and the pigs stampeded in to the lake at Gennesaret, the presence of evil has also historically been felt in wilderness forests. While not ignoring the presence of evil, the challenge for us is to see the beauty of God’s divine energies in the created world we see around us despite what difficulties we encounter. Instead of finding the unity of all things in God, mankind has expediently but tragically destroyed everything it does not see fit for its purposes by burning and bulldozing virgin forests. This is not the way to care for creation. What we can do as Orthodox Christians is to constantly pray about the plight that creatures are experiencing because of mankind’s abusive practices so that our balance with nature will be restored. Nothing is impossible to God!

The more we are able to give our hearts and our minds and our souls to Christ in prayer, the more this will purify our faith and make our prayer more effective.  Remember, we are not called to pray only for ourselves and our wants but for all of creation. Let us therefore enthusiastically embrace this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that we can offer everything we do back to Christ.

Sunday, April 4th., 2021. The 3rd. Sunday of Great Lent & the Veneration of the Cross

Friday, April 02, 2021

3rd Sunday of Great Lent: Veneration of the Cross

Epistle: Hebrews 4:14-5:6     Gospel: Mark 8:34-9:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

Almost every person in the Orthodox Church wears a cross. As part of its culture, we see beautiful crosses everywhere in churches and in our homes. The Church has a long history of displaying crosses. On September 14th we celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross. The Emperor Constantine, who allowed Christians to worship without persecution in the Roman Empire, saw a cross in the sky the day before his battle with Maxentius in 323 at which he was victorious. Tradition says that his mother, Helena, discovered the true cross. Many theologians have written about the importance of the cross in our lives. Today, as part of our Lenten reflection, we venerate the Cross.

Further, as part of its culture, we see many beautiful icons, vessels, vestments and stained windows besides crosses in our churches. All these beautiful depictions help us focus on Salvation History and what God has revealed to us about His Kingdom. At the same time, we must remember that they are vehicles that point to a deeper reality. In the case of the cross that reality goes to the very heart of our lives.

For Orthodox Christians, we see ourselves as being freed from the Old Law because of the sacrifice of Jesus and the very cross that He was put upon. If we believe in Him, we are freed from the curse of the Law and death. But He commanded us to take up our own cross each day and follow Him. Thus, in today’s Gospel from St. Mark, He taught:

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Our cross is to choose Christ and His teachings each day instead of our tendency towards sin. This requires much more effort than doing the bare minimum by keeping the law. It requires faith in Christ during difficult times. It requires rejecting what the fallen world offers and putting on Christ. It requires even sacrificing our own lives if we are called to. This does not mean that we will not fail at times. Unlike the law, where we get punished if we break it, Christ is always ready to take us back if we turn back to Him. What will matter in the end is that we embrace Christ and our cross. This is what will free our souls from death and punishment from the Law. When our souls part from our bodies, all we will have with us is our souls, nothing else. Jesus continued:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

So the Orthodox Church calls us in the middle of this season of repentance to renew our commitment to Christ, His cross, His command to embrace His teachings and to acknowledge Him in front of all whom we meet. Jesus continued:

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews elaborates on the same teaching but emphasized that Christ is always there for us when we call out to Him to help us follow Him. Through His sacrifice, He became the High Priest but also, as a man who was tempted in every way like us, one can sympathize with our weaknesses. He will never refuse us. He also promised His Holy Spirit to be with us on our earthly life’s journey.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let us therefore deny ourselves, take up our cross, in order to embrace Christ. The Church calls us in this season of prayer, fasting and giving to the poor, to embrace our cross with all our souls, all our minds and all our beings so that we can be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and take on Christ instead of our sinfulness.

Sunday, March 28th., 2021. Second Sunday of Great Lent

Sunday, March 28th 2021

The Second Sunday of Lent: St. Gregory Palamas

Epistle: Hebrews 1:10-2:3     Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, we have an account of Jesus performing a miracle in the early part of His public ministry at Capernaum. The people had already heard about Him and were keen to see Him for themselves. They filled the house He was at and He began to preach the Word of God to them. It would not have been unusual for a teacher to speak to the people but Jesus had already amazed people in other parts of Judea by His words.

Things developed quickly, however. Some men brought a paralytic on a stretcher to the house but could not even get close to the door because of the crowds so, they decided to scale the thatched roof and get into the house from above. They chose to lower the man to Jesus through a hole they had made in the roof. To have made a hole in the roof would have been dramatic enough but then they hauled him up on the stretcher in order to lower him! Imagine the astonishment it would have created. So, they achieved their goal but all Jesus would do was to forgive him his sins. Words can be cheap but the scribes did not like His response and they started murmuring to themselves:

“Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and at that point, they thought of Him as only a man like them. They had no idea that the very presence of God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was among them. Did they even conceive that this same God could mingle among them as man like themselves and that He would come to them as the carpenter’s son? Jesus confronted those doubts:

“He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

This response astounded all of them and they said: “We never saw anything like this!” St. Mark does say that they all glorified God at witnessing such a miracle but as time went on, the authorities would sow more and more doubts among the people until the vast majority rejected Him and crucified Him.

Jesus responded to the paralytic and his family’s astounding faith by forgiving his sins and enabling him to walk again. They had no doubt that He was from God and that He could perform such astounding works. This story demonstrates what the presence of God will do, especially for those who have faith, when it enters history.

In today’s Epistle, the people are warned to remain steadfast in their faith because while everything else will pass away, the presence of God will never pass away. Even in the early Church, the people were tempted to doubt what they had been taught by Jesus and the apostles. Today’s Epistle urged them to not let go of those teachings because one day, we will have to account.

The Orthodox Church uses these two readings to urge us also to renew our faith in Christ and to examine where we may have faltered or doubted what it teaches in the name of Christ and the apostles. Let us pray to have the same faith that the family in the Gospel story had, in which they were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to act on it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven is like a pearl that one will search for until it is found. The paralytic family was not going to let go of the opportunity to seek out Jesus. Let us pray for that same enthusiasm to seek out Christ in His teachings and those in His Body, the Church. Let us also pray for the ability to grasp what a pearl the Orthodox Church is through its ability to heal and sustain us through its many blessings. Let us too, glorify God as the people did when they recognized the presence of God among them. Let us pray that the presence of God through the Holy Spirit will always live in our hearts.

The Annunciation of the Theotokos & Ever Virgin Mary. March 25th., 2021

Thursday, March 25th 2021

The Feast of the Annunciation

Srcipture Readings:

The Annunciation of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

Troparion & Kontakion

The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the earliest Christian feasts, and was already being celebrated in the fourth century. There is a painting of the Annunciation in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome dating from the second century. The Council of Toledo in 656 mentions the Feast, and the Council in Trullo in 692 says that the Annunciation was celebrated during Great Lent.

The Greek and Slavonic names for the Feast may be translated as “good tidings.” This, of course, refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation He brings. The background of the Annunciation is found in the Gospel of Saint Luke (1:26-38). The troparion describes this as the “beginning of our salvation, and the revelation of the eternal mystery,” for on this day the Son of God became the Son of Man.

There are two main components to the Annunciation: the message itself, and the response of the Virgin. The message fulfills God’s promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15): “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.” The Fathers of the Church understand “her seed” to refer to Christ. The prophets hinted at His coming, which they saw dimly, but the Archangel Gabriel now proclaims that the promise is about to be fulfilled.

We see this echoed in the Liturgy of Saint Basil, as well: “When man disobeyed Thee, the only true God who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from Paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself.”

The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee. There he spoke to the undefiled Virgin who was betrothed to Saint Joseph: “Hail, thou who art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

In contrast to Eve, who was readily deceived by the serpent, the Virgin did not immediately accept the Angel’s message. In her humility, she did not think she was deserving of such words, but was actually troubled by them. The fact that she asked for an explanation reveals her sobriety and prudence. She did not disbelieve the words of the angel, but could not understand how they would be fulfilled, for they spoke of something which was beyond nature.

Then said Mary unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).

“And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1: 35-38)

In his Sermon 23 on the day of the Annunciation, Saint Philaret of Moscow boldly stated that “the word of the creature brought the Creator down into the world.” He explains that salvation is not merely an act of God’s will, but also involves the Virgin’s free will. She could have refused, but she accepted God’s will and chose to cooperate without complaint or further questions.

The icon of the Feast shows the Archangel with a staff in his left hand, indicating his role as a messenger. Sometimes one wing is upraised, as if to show his swift descent from heaven. His right hand is stretched toward the holy Virgin as he delivers his message.

The Virgin is depicted either standing or sitting, usually holding yarn in her left hand. Sometimes she is shown holding a scroll. Her right hand may be raised to indicate her surprise at the message she is hearing. Her head is bowed, showing her consent and obedience. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon her is depicted by a ray of light issuing from a small sphere at the top of the icon, which symbolizes heaven. In a famous icon from Sinai, a white dove is shown in the ray of light.

There are several famous icons of the Annunciation. One is in the Moscow Kremlin in the church of the Annunciation. This icon appeared in connection with the rescue of a prisoner by the Mother of God during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Another is to be found in the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow (July 8). It was originally located in Ustiug, and was the icon before which Saint Procopius the fool (July 8) prayed to save the city from destruction in 1290. One of the most highly revered icons in Greece is the Tinos icon of the Annunciation (January 30).

The Annunciation falls during Lent, but it is always celebrated with great joy. The Liturgy of Saint Basil or Saint John Chrysostom is served, even on the weekdays of Lent. It is one of the two days of Great Lent on which the fast is relaxed and fish is permitted (Palm Sunday is the other).

Today’s message is taken from the website of the Orthodox Church in America.

Fr. Terence Baz

Message for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 21st., 2021

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sunday, March 21st 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2                     Gospel: John 1:43-51

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy in the Orthodox Church calendar. At the heart of this commemoration is the belief in the human and divine nature of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who became man. As the Nicean Creed states, He is true God and true man.

Those who do not believe the Nicean Creed, cannot accept that it is possible for God, the creator of the universe, beyond time and space, presumed to exist from all eternity, could enter time and space on this tiny planet earth and become man. This is the reason the Church uses the two scripture readings we have today’s Divine Liturgy because both give examples of those who were able to accept God’s revelation through the prophets and the scriptures. Without that belief, grasping how the divine and the human unite in one Person is impossible. Just as when Peter, when asked by Jesus who he thought He was, Peter responded “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied that his insight was given to him from above not from Peter. In the same way, Nathanael was promised, because of his belief, that great things would be revealed to him during and after Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus assured him:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The barrier between heaven and earth has been bridged by this one Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man who came upon earth.

The Orthodox Church calls us to steadfastly believe in this mystery. We see from the Letter to the Hebrews in today’s Epistle that the fathers of old had longed for the moment that the apostles witnessed. They were even prepared to suffer persecution and death for it! They believed in the promise and waited for it but they did not receive it because God’s plan was to invite all mankind into His Kingdom. Even so, it was their faith in God’s revelation that set the example for the apostles and for us today. The Orthodox Church calls for us to therefore express the same belief in God’s plan of salvation. We affirm that expression of faith during the procession of the icons at the end of today’s Divine Liturgy.

Why then, does the Orthodox Church celebrate the use of icons on this day? Again but in a different way, the iconoclasts could not accept the true depth of the mystery of the incarnation, that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. St. Athanasius had said that Christ, the God become human, is the visible, earthly, and corporeal icon of the heavenly Father, created by God himself. In contrast, Emperor Leo III (714 AD) would not accept the expression of this in images and ordered that all images in churches should be destroyed. It was not until the 7th Ecumenical Council (787 AD) that the Orthodox Church concluded: “How can we believe in a human Christ without human images?”

The council proclaimed:

"We define that the holy icons, whether in color, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor (timitiki proskynisis), but not of real worship (latreia), which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature, ... which is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands."

Icons in Orthodox theology are seen as a gateway to the mysteries of the Kingdom of God through the depiction of the major events of Salvation History, stories of the scriptures, both from the events and the lives of the saints in the Old and New Testaments or, the saints of the Church who followed. These images enable our hearts, minds and souls to focus on the promise of our Father’s Kingdom, in contrast to the myriad of images the fallen world offers whether it be from social media, news, advertisements or TV programs that clutter our minds.

In order to avoid excesses of devotion to images, the Council also stipulated that images of Christ, of scriptural stories and any of the Communion of the Saints should be two dimensional, not three; that they should not be pictorial but stylistic; that only certain materials should be used to draw them; that they should be done in a spirit of prayer in which the artist asks the Holy Spirit to guide his or her work; that the author’s name should not be written on the icon in order to focus on the story and not on the author.

Today, for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we proclaim the triumph of this belief over those who refuse to grasp the depth of the mystery of Jesus Church being true God and true man. At the end of the service we proclaim:

“As the Prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers have dogmatized, as the universe has agreed, as Grace has shown forth, as Truth has revealed, as falsehood has been dissolved, as Wisdom has presented, as Christ has awarded: thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the one hand worshiping & reverencing Christ as God & Lord; and on the other hand honoring them as true servants of the same Lord of all, and accordingly offering them veneration.

This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith which has established the universe!”

Great Compline Text for Thursday of the First Week of Great Lent

THURSDAY

ODE 1

 Choir (Irmos):A Helper and Protector is there unto salvation.  He is my God, and I will glorify Him; the God of my Fathers and I will exalt Him for He hath triumphed gloriously. (Exodus 15:2, 1; Psalm 117:14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of all, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction. (John 1:29)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I fall prostrate before Thee, O Jesus. I have sinned against Thee, be merciful to me. Take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Enter not into judgment with me, by recording my deeds, demanding an account of my words, and examining my motives and desires. But in Thy compassion disregard my terrible past and save me, O God All-Powerful.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

It is time for repentance. I draw near to Thee, my Creator. Take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have squandered in profligacy the substance of my soul, and I am barren of virtues and piety; but famished I cry: O Father of mercies, forestall and have compassion on me. (Luke 15:13, 17)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

By submitting to Christ's divine laws Thou didst draw near to Him, having left the unbridled craving for pleasure, and with all discretion thou didst achieve every virtue as one.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Superessential Trinity, adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Mother of God, hope and intercessor of those who sing of thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and as thou art our pure Lady, accept me who repent.

ODE 2

Choir (Irmos):Hearken, O Heaven, I will proclaim and praise Christ come in the flesh through the Virgin.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

"I have killed a man to the wounding of myself," said Lamech, "and a young man to my own hurt," he cried out wailing. But you, my soul, do not tremble, while polluting the flesh and defiling the mind. (Genesis 4:23)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You would have contrived to build a tower, my soul, and erect a stronghold for your lusts, had not the Creator confounded your plans and brought your schemes crashing to earth. (Genesis 11:3-4)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O how I have emulated that old murderer Lamech! By my pleasure-loving cravings I have killed my soul as the man, my mind as the young man, and my body as my brother, like Cain the murderer. (Genesis 4:23)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The Lord rained fire from the Lord of old, and burnt up the wanton wickedness of Sodom. But you, my soul, have kindled the fire of hell in which you are about to be bitterly burnt. (Genesis 19:24)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I am struck and wounded! See the arrows of the enemy with which my soul and body are pierced all over! See the wounds, the sores and the mutilations that cry out and betray the blows of my self-chosen passions!

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Thou didst stretch out thy hands to the merciful God, O Mary, when sunk in the lowest vices. And He Who by every means was seeking thy conversion, lovingly stretched out a helping hand as to Peter.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Unoriginate, uncreated Trinity, indivisible Unity, accept me who repent, save me who have sinned. I am Thy creation, despise me not, but spare me and deliver me from the fire of condemnation.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Spotless Lady, Mother of God, hope of those who run to thee, and haven of those in distress, obtain grace for me from the merciful One, Thy Son and Creator, by thy prayers.

ODE 3

Choir (Irmos):Establish, O Lord, on the rock of Thy commandments my wavering heart, for Thou alone art holy and the Lord.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You, my soul, have become like Hagar the Egyptian of old. You have become enslaved by your own choice and have a new Ishmael - stubborn self-will. (Genesis 16:15)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You know, my soul, of the Ladder shown to Jacob reaching from earth to Heaven. Why have you not clung to the sure step of piety? (Genesis 28:12)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Imitate that Priest of God and solitary King who was an image of the life of Christ in the world among men. (cf. Melchizedek: Hebrews 7:1-4; Genesis 14:18)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Be converted and groan, wretched soul, before the pageant of life comes to an end, before the Lord shuts the door of the bridal hall.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Do not be a pillar of salt, my soul, by turning back; but let the example of the Sodomites frighten you, and take refuge up in Zoar. (Genesis 19:26)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Reject not the prayer of those who praise Thee, O Lord; but have compassion on us, O Lover of men, and to those who ask with faith grant forgiveness.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Simple, uncreated Unity, unoriginate Nature praised in a Trinity of Persons, save us who with faith worship Thy power.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

O Mother of God, unwedded thou gavest birth in time to the timeless Son of the Father. And - O strange wonder! - thou remainest a Virgin while suckling Him.

ODE 4

Choir (Irmos): The Prophet heard of Thy coming, O Lord, and was frightened, that Thou should be born of a Virgin, and made manifest unto men, and he said: “I have heard Thy tidings, and was afraid of the glory of Thy power, O Lord.”

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Brief is my lifetime and full of pain and wickedness, but accept me in penitence and recall me to awareness of Thee. May I never be the possession or food of the enemy. O Savior, have compassion on me. (Genesis 47:9)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The opulent and righteous man, arrayed in royal dignity, crown and purple, abounding in wealth and cattle, was suddenly shorn of his riches, glory and kingdom and became a beggar.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

If he who was righteous and blameless beyond all did not escape the snares and nets of the deceiver, what will you do, my soul, who are sin-loving and wretched, if something unexpected happens to you?

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Boastful I am, and hard-hearted, all in vain and for nothing. Condemn me not with the Pharisee, but rather grant me the humility of the Publican, O only merciful and just Judge, and number me with him. (Luke 18:9-14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have sinned, I know, O merciful Lord, and outraged the vessel of my flesh, but accept me in penitence and recall me to awareness of Thee. May I never be the possession or food of the enemy. O Savior, have compassion on me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I am become my own idol, and have injured my soul with passions, O merciful Lord, but accept me in penitence and recall me to awareness of Thee. May I never be the possession or food of the enemy. O Savior, have compassion on me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have not listened to Thy voice, I have disobeyed Thy Scripture, O Lawgiver, but accept me in penitence and recall me to awareness of Thee. May I never be the possession or food of the enemy. O Savior, have compassion on me.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Though dragged down to the depth of great offences, thou wast not held there. But with better thought thou didst return by action to consummate virtue beyond all expectation, to the amazement of angel kind, O Mary.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I confess Thee to be undivided in essence, unconfused in persons, One Triune Divinity, co-enthroned and co-reigning. I sing Thee the great song thrice sung on high.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thou givest birth and livest a virgin life, and in both remainest a virgin by nature. He Who is born of thee renews the laws of nature, and a womb gives birth without travail. Where God wills, the order of nature is overruled; for He does whatever He wishes.

ODE 5

Choir:Enlighten him who earnestly seeks Thee through the night, I implore Thee Who lovest mankind.  Also guide me by Thy statutes and teach me, O Savior, to accomplish Thy will.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord. (Luke 13:11)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Though Thou art a deep well, O Lord, pour on me streams from Thy immaculate wounds, that like the Samaritan woman I may drink and thirst no more; for from Thee gush rivers of life. (John 4:13-15)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

May my tears be for me a Siloam, O Sovereign Lord, that I may wash the eyes of my soul and mentally see Thee Who art that light which was before creation. (John 9:7; Genesis 1:2-19)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Thou, all-blessed one, didst yearn with matchless love and longing to worship the Tree of Life, and thy desire was granted; make us also worthy to attain to the glory on high.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Thee, O Trinity, we glorify, the one God: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, Father, Son and Spirit, simple Being, Unity ever adored.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

From thee, O pure maiden Mother and Virgin, God Who created the worlds and ages was clad in my clay and united to Himself human nature.

ODE 6

Choir (Irmos): I cried with my whole heart unto the compassionate God, and He heard me from nether Hades, and brought forth my life out of corruption.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I am the coin with the royal image which was lost of old, O Savior. But light the lamp, Thy Forerunner, O Word; seek and find Thy image. (Luke 15:8)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites - illusive thoughts. (Exodus 17:8; Joshua 8:21)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

To extinguish the flame of the passions, O Mary, thou didst ever shed rivers of tears and fire thy soul with divine love. Grant also to me, thy servant, the grace of tears.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Thou didst acquire heavenly dispassion by thy sublime life on earth, O mother. Therefore pray that those who sing of thee may be delivered from the grip of passions.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I am the Trinity, simple and undivided, divided Personally, and I am the Unity, united in nature, says the Father, the Son, and the Divine Spirit.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thy womb bore God for us Who took our form. Implore Him as the Creator of all, O Mother of God, that through thy intercessions we may be justified.

 

Kontakion, Tone 6:

My soul, O my soul, awaken!  Why sleepest thou?  The end draweth near and thou must needs be troubled.  Arise, therefore, that Christ our God may spare thee; He who is present everywhere present and fillest all things.

 

ODE 7

 

Choir (Irmos):We have sinned, we have dealt unlawfully and unjustly before Thee.  We have neither kept nor done what Thou didst command us.  Yet cast us not away at the last, O God of our Fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

My days have vanished like a dream on waking. Therefore weep on my bed like Hezekiah that years may be added to my life. But what Isaiah will come to you, my soul, except the God of all? (IV Kings 20:3; Isaiah 38:2)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I fall, down before Thee and bring Thee as tears my words. I have sinned like the harlot, and transgressed as no other on earth. But have compassion, O Lord, on Thy work, and recall me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have buried Thy image and broken Thy commandment. All my beauty is darkened and my lamp is extinguished by my passions, O Savior. But have compassion and restore to me, as David sings, joy. (Psalm 50:14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Return, repent, uncover what is hidden. Say to God Who knows everything: Thou knowest my secrets, O only Savior; but have mercy on me, as David sings, according to Thy mercy.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

By crying to the immaculate Mother of God, thou didst repel the rage of passions which once violently harassed thee, and didst put to shame the enemy tempter. But now grant me, thy servant, also help out of trouble.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

He Whom thou lovest, He Whom thou desires, He on Whose track thou camest, mother, found thee and granted thee repentance, for He is God Who alone is compassionate. Implore Him unceasingly to deliver us from passions and adversities.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O Trinity simple and undivided, of one essence and, one nature, Lights and Light, three Holies and one Holy, God the Trinity is hymned. But sing, my soul, and glorify the Life and Lives, the God of all.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

We sing of thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, O Mother of God, for thou gavest birth to one of the inseparable Trinity, the one Son and God, and to us on earth thou hast opened the heavenly realms.

ODE 8

Choir (Irmos): Him Whom the Hosts of Heaven glorify, Whom the Cherubim and Seraphim dread, let every breath and creature praise, bless, and magnify unto all the ages.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The alabaster jar of my tears, O Savior, I pour out on Thy head as the perfume, and like the harlot I cry to Thee, seeking Thy mercy. I offer prayer and ask to receive forgiveness. (Matthew 26:7; Luke 7:38)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Though no one has sinned against Thee as I, yet accept even me, O compassionate Savior, repenting with fear and crying with love: Against Thee only have I sinned. I have done wrong, have mercy on me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Spare, O Savior, Thy own creation, and seek as Shepherd Thy lost sheep; snatch the stray from the wolf, and make me a pet lamb in Thy sheep pasture. (Psalm 118:176; John 10:11-16)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

When Thou sittest as Judge and in Thy compassion showest Thy dread glory, O Christ, O what fear there will be then, when the furnace is burning and all shrink from Thy inexorable Tribunal! (Matthew 25:31-46)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

The Mother of the unwaning Light enlightened thee, and freed thee from the darkness of the passions. So now thou art admitted to the grace of the Spirit, enlighten, O Mary, those who faithfully praise Thee.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Beholding in thee a new wonder, O mother, divine Zosimas was truly amazed. For he saw an angel in a body and, filled with utter astonishment, he praises Christ for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, co-eternal Son, gracious Comforter, Spirit of Truth; Father of the Divine Word, Word of the Eternal father, living and creative Spirit, Trinity Unity, have mercy on us.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

As from scarlet silk, O spotless Virgin, within thy womb the spiritual purple was woven, the flesh of Emmanuel. Therefore we honor thee as in truth Mother of God.

 

ODE 9

Choir (Irmos):Inexplicable is the Nativity of conception with out seed.  Incorruptible is the fruit of the spouseless Mother.  For the birth of God reneweth nature.  Wherefore do all generations right-gloriously magnify thee, as Bride and Mother of our God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Have compassion and save me, have mercy on me, O Son of David, Who didst heal with a word the demoniac. And let Thy voice of tender compassion speak to me as to the robber, "Truly I tell you, you will be with Me in Paradise when I rise in My glory." (Luke 9:38-42; 23:43)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

A robber accused Thee, and a robber confessed Thee to be God, for both were hanging on a cross with Thee. But open even to me, O most compassionate Savior, the door of Thy glorious Kingdom as to Thy faithful robber who acknowledged Thee to be God. (Luke 23:32-42)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Creation was in anguish; seeing Thee crucified; mountains and rocks were split with fear, the earth quaked, hell was emptied, and the light grew dark in the daytime; beholding Thee, Jesus, nailed to the Cross in Thy flesh. (Matthew 27:51-53; Luke 23:44-45)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Do not require of me fruits worthy of repentance, for my strength is spent in me. Grant me ever a contrite heart and spiritual poverty, that I may offer these gifts to Thee as an acceptable sacrifice, O only Savior. (Matthew 3:8; 5:3; Psalm 50:17)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O my Judge and my Light, Who alone knowest me and art coming again with Thine Angels to judge the whole world, regard me then with Thy merciful Eye and spare me, O Jesus. And have compassion on me who have sinned more than all mankind. (Matthew 25:31-32)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Thou didst astonish all by thy strange life, both the Orders of Angels and the councils of men, by living immaterially and surpassing nature. Then treading firmly the waves like an immaterial being, O Mary, thou didst cross the Jordan an.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Intercede with the Creator on behalf of those who praise thee, holy mother, that we may be delivered from the sufferings and afflictions which beset us on all sides, that being delivered from our temptations, we may unceasingly magnify the Lord Who glorified thee.

Holy father Andrew, pray for us.

Venerable Andrew, thrice-blessed father, shepherd of Crete, cease not to pray to God for those who sing of thee, that He may deliver from anger, oppression, corruption, and our countless sins, all of us who faithfully honor thy memory.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Let us glorify the Father, exalt the Son, and faithfully worship the Divine Spirit, inseparable Trinity, Unity in essence, as the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, giving life and light to the ends of the earth.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Protect thy city, spotless Mother of God, for in thee it faithfully reigns, and in thee is made strong, and through thee it conquers and routs every trial and temptation, and spoils its foes and rules its subjects.

Choir (Irmos):Inexplicable is the Nativity of conception without seed.  Incorruptible is the fruit of the spouseless Mother.  For the birth of God reneweth nature.  Wherefore do all generations right-gloriously magnify thee, as Bride and Mother of our God.

 

 

Great Compline Text for Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent

GREAT COMPLINE: First Wednesday of Great Lent

Priest.  Blessed is our God, always now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Reader. Amen.  Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee!

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings, and Giver of life: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us! (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Amen.

O all-holy Trinity, have mercy on us.  O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. 

O Master, pardon our transgressions.  O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

All.   Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

Priest.  For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

Reader.  Amen.  Lord have mercy (12x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


O Come, let us worship God, our King!

O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God!

O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God!

 

Psalm 69 (70)

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O LORD!  Let them be ashamed and confounded who seek my life; let them be turned back and confused who desire my hurt.  Let them be turned back because of their shame, who say, “Aha, aha!”  Let all those who love Thy salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified!”  But I am poor and needy; Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.

 

Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

 

WEDNESDAY

 

ODE 1

 

Choir (Irmos):A Helper and Protector is there unto salvation.  He is my God, and I will glorify Him; the God of my Fathers and I will exalt Him for He hath triumphed gloriously. (Exodus 15:2, 1; Psalm 117:14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

From my youth, O Christ, I have rejected Thy commandments. I have passed my whole life without caring or thinking as a slave of my passions. Therefore, O Saviour, I cry to Thee: At least in the end save me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

In old age even, O Saviour, do not cast me out empty to hell as I lie prostrate before Thy gates. But before my end in Thy love for men grant me release from my falls.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have squandered in profligacy my substance, O Savior, and I am barren of virtues and piety; but famished I cry: O Father of mercies, forestall and have compassion on me. (Luke 15:13, 17)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I am the one by my thoughts who fell among robbers, and now I am all wounded by them, full of sores. But stand by me, O Christ my Savior, and heal me. (Luke 10:30)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The priest saw me first and passed by on the other side. Then the Levite took a look at my sufferings and disdained my nakedness. But stand by me, O Jesus Who didst dawn out of Mary, and have compassion on me. (Luke 10:31-33)

Holy mother Mary, pray unto God for us.

Grant me that illuminating grace from on high given thee by Divine Providence that I may escape the darkening of the passions and fervently sing of the thrilling achievements of thy life, O Mary.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Superessential Trinity, adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Mother of God, hope and intercessor of those who sing of thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and as thou art our pure Lady, accept me who repent.

 

ODE 2

 

Choir (Irmos):Hearken, O Heaven, I will proclaim and praise Christ come in the flesh through the Virgin.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have slipped and fallen like David through lack of discipline, and I am covered with filth; but wash me too, O Savior, with my tears. (II Kings 11:1-4)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

No tears, no repentance have I, no compunction. But as God, O Savior, grant me these.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have lost my first-created beauty and comeliness; and now I lie naked, and I am ashamed.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Close not Thy door to me then, Lord, Lord; but open it to me who repent to Thee. (Matthew 25:11)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Give ear to the sighs and groans of my soul, and accept the drops of my eyes, O Savior, and save me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O Lover of men, Who wishes all to be saved, in Thy goodness recall me and receive me who repent. (1 Tim. 2:4)

Most holy Mother of God, save us.


Spotless Mother of God, only all-hymned Virgin, pray intensely that we may be saved.

Most holy Mother of God, save us.

See, see that I am God, Who rained manna and made water spout from the rock of old for my people in the wilderness, by My right hand, and by My strength alone.

Most holy Mother of God, save us.

See, see that I am God: give ear, my soul, to the Lord Who is appealing to you, and tear yourself from your former sin, and fear Him as the Avenger, and as your Judge and God. (Deuteronomy 32:35; Hebrews 10:30)

Most holy Mother of God, save us.

Whom do you resemble, O most sinful soul? Surely the first Cain and that wicked Lamech. For you have stoned your body with evil deeds, and you have murdered your mind with irrational appetites. (Genesis 4; 4:23)

Most holy Mother of God, save us.

Running through all who lived before the Law, my soul, you have not been like Seth, nor imitated Enos, nor Enoch by translation, nor Noah. But you are seen to be bereft of the life of the righteous. (Genesis 5)

Most holy Mother of God, save us.

You alone have opened the cataracts of the wrath of God, my soul, and have flooded as the earth all your flesh and actions and life, and have remained outside the Ark of Salvation. (Genesis 6-8)

O Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

With all eagerness and love thou didst run to Christ, abandoning thy former way of sin. And being nourished in the untrodden wilderness, thou didst chastely fulfill His divine commandments.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Unoriginate, uncreated Trinity, indivisible Unity, accept me who repent, save me who have sinned. I am Thy creation, despise me not, but spare me and deliver me from the fire of condemnation.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Spotless Lady, Mother of God, hope of those who run to thee, and haven of those in distress, obtain grace for me from the merciful One, Thy Son and Creator, by thy prayers.

 

ODE 3

 

Choir (Irmos):On the immovable rock of Thy commandments, O Christ, establish these my thoughts.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You have not inherited Shem's blessing, wretched soul, nor have you received that vast possession like Japheth in the land of forgiveness. (Genesis 9:26-27)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Come out, my soul, from sin, from the land of Haran! Come into the land of eternal life flowing with incorruption which Abraham inherited. (Genesis 12:4)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You have heard, my soul, how Abraham of old left the land of his fathers and became a nomad. Imitate his resolution. (Genesis 12:1)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

At the Oak of Mamre the Patriarch entertained Angels, and inherited in his old age the spoil of the promise. (Genesis 18:1)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Knowing, my wretched soul, how Isaac was mystically offered to the Lord as a new sacrifice and holocaust, imitate his resolution. (Genesis 22:2)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You have heard of Ishmael (be watchful, my soul!) who was driven out as the son of a slave-girl. Beware lest you suffer something similar by your lusting. (Genesis 21:10)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

I am hard pressed by the waves and billows of my sins, mother. But now bring me safely through, and lead me to the haven of divine repentance.

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

In offering a fervent prayer at this time to the compassionate Mother of God, O Saint, by thy intercession open to me the divine right of entry.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Simple, uncreated Unity, unoriginate Nature praised in a Trinity of Persons, save us who with faith worship Thy power.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

O Mother of God, unwedded thou gavest birth in time to the timeless Son of the Father. And - O strange wonder! - thou remainest a Virgin while suckling Him.

 

ODE 4

 

Choir (Irmos): The Prophet heard of Thy coming, O Lord, and was frightened, that Thou should be born of a Virgin, and made manifest unto men, and he said: “I have heard Thy tidings, and was afraid of the glory of Thy power, O Lord.”

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

My body is defiled, my spirit is sullied, and I am all covered with sores. But as the Physician, O Christ, heal, wash, and cleanse both body and spirit with repentance, and make me, my Savior, purer than snow.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Thou didst lay down Thy body and blood for all, O crucified Word: Thy body in order to renew me, Thy blood in order to wash me, and Thou didst surrender Thy spirit, O Christ, in order to bring me to the Father.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Thou hast wrought salvation in the midst of the earth, O merciful Creator, that we may be saved. Thou wast voluntarily crucified on the Tree: Eden that was closed is open; things on high and below, creation and all peoples are saved and worship Thee. (Psalm 73:12)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.


May the blood and water that wells from Thy side be a font for me and a draught of forgiveness, that I may be cleansed, anointed and refreshed by both as with drink and unction by Thy living words, O Word. (John 19:34; Acts 7:38)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The Church has acquired Thy life-giving side as a chalice, from which gushes forth for us a twofold torrent of forgiveness. and knowledge as a type of the two covenants, Old and New, O our Savior.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I am bereft of the bridal hall, I am bereft of the marriage and supper. My lamp has gone out for want of oil, the door has been locked while I was asleep; the supper is eaten; and I, bound hand and foot, am cast outside. (Matthew 25; Luke 14:7-35; Matthew 22:1-14)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I confess Thee to be undivided in essence, unconfused in persons, One Triune Divinity, co-enthroned and co-reigning. I sing Thee the great song thrice sung on high.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thou givest birth and livest a virgin life, and in both remainest a virgin by nature. He Who is born of thee renews the laws of nature, and a womb gives birth without travail. Where God wills, the order of nature is overruled; for He does whatever He wishes.

 

ODE 5

 

Choir:Enlighten him who earnestly seeks Thee through the night, I implore Thee Who lovest mankind.  Also guide me by Thy statutes and teach me, O Savior, to accomplish Thy will.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

How heavy in character I have become, in soul and body, like Jannes and Jambres in Pharaoh's bitter service, and my mind has sunk low. But help me, O Lord. (Exodus 7: 11; 2 Tim. 3:8)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I, wretch that I am, have rolled my mind in mud. But wash me, O Lord, in the bath of my tears, I pray Thee, and make the robe of my flesh as white as snow.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

When I examine my actions, O Savior, I see that I have gone beyond all men in sins; for I have sinned with knowledge consciously, and not in ignorance.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Spare, spare, O Lord, Thy works. I have sinned; forgive me, for Thou alone art pure by nature, and apart from Thee there is none without defilement. (I Peter 3:21)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Being God, for my sake Thou didst take my form, and didst work miracles, healing lepers and bracing paralytics; and Thou didst stop the flow of blood of the woman with hemorrhage, O Savior, through the touch of Thy hem. (Phil. 2:6; Matthew 4:24; Luke 8:43-48)

Holy mother Mary, pray for us.

Having crossed Jordan's stream, thou didst find rest by giving a wide berth to the deadening pleasure of the flesh, from which deliver us also by thy prayers, O saint.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Thee, O Trinity, we glorify, the one God: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, Father, Son and Spirit, simple Being, Unity ever adored.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

From thee, O pure maiden Mother and Virgin, God Who created the worlds and ages was clad in my clay and united to Himself human nature.

 

ODE 6

 

Choir (Irmos): I cried with my whole heart unto the compassionate God, and He heard me from nether Hades, and brought forth my life out of corruption.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites - illusive thoughts. (Exodus 17:8; Josh. 8:21)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Pass through the flowing nature of time, like the Ark of old, and take possession of the Land of Promise, my soul: It is God's command. (Josh. 3:17; Deuteronomy 1:8)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

As Thou savest Peter when he cried, "Save me!", forestall and deliver me from the beast, O Savior; stretch out Thy hand and raise me from the depths of sin. (Matthew 14:25-31)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I know Thee as a calm haven, O Lord, Lord Christ; but forestall and deliver me from the innermost depths of sin and despair.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I am the Trinity, simple and undivided, divided Personally, and I am the Unity, united in nature, says the Father, the Son, and the Divine Spirit.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thy womb bore God for us Who took our form. Implore Him as the Creator of all, O Mother of God, that through thy intercessions we may be justified.

 

Kontakion, Tone 6:

My soul, O my soul, awaken!  Why sleepest thou?  The end draweth near and thou must needs be troubled.  Arise, therefore, that Christ our God may spare thee; He who is present everywhere present and fillest all things.

 

ODE 7

 

Choir (Irmos):We have sinned, we have dealt unlawfully and unjustly before Thee.  We have neither kept nor done what Thou didst command us.  Yet cast us not away at the last, O God of our Fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You have piled up sins like Manasseh by deliberate choice, my soul, setting up your passions as idols and multiplying abominations. But now fervently emulate his repentance and acquire compunction. (IV Kings 21; II Chronicles 33)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You have rivaled Ahab in defilements, my soul. Alas, you have been a lodging-place of fleshly pollutions and a shameful vessel of passions. But groan from your depths and tell God your sins. (III Kings 16:30)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Heaven is closed to you, my soul, and the famine of God has reached you, for you have been disobedient as was Ahab of old to the words of Elijah the Tishbite. But be like the woman of Sarepta, and feed the Prophet's soul. (III Kings 17)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Elijah once burned a hundred of Jezebel's flunkeys when he had destroyed her shameful prophets as a proof and rebuke for Ahab. But avoid imitating these two, my soul, and master yourself. (IV Kings 1:10-15; III Kings 18:40)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O Trinity simple and undivided, of one essence and one nature, Lights and Light, three Holies and one Holy, God the Trinity is hymned. But sing, my soul, and glorify the Life and Lives, the God of all.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

We sing of thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, O Mother of God, for thou gavest birth to one of the inseparable Trinity, the one Son and God, and to us on earth thou hast opened the heavenly realms.

 

ODE 8

 

Choir (Irmos): Him Whom the Hosts of Heaven glorify, Whom the Cherubim and Seraphim dread, let every breath and creature praise, bless, and magnify unto all the ages.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Just Judge and Savior, have mercy on me and deliver me from the fire and the threat which I shall justly incur at the judgment. Forgive me before my end by virtue and repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Like the robber I cry, "Remember me!" Like Peter I weep bitterly, "Release me, O Savior!" I croak like the publican; I weep like the harlot. Accept my lamentation as Thou once did the Canaanite woman. (Luke 23:42; Matthew 26:75; Luke 18:13; Luke 7:37-38; Matthew 15:22-28)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Heal, O Savior, the corruption of my debased soul, O only Physician. Apply the compress to me, and the oil and wine - works of repentance, compunction and tears. (Luke 10:34)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Imitating the woman of Canaan, I also cry, "Have mercy on me, O Son of David!" I touch Thy hem like the woman with hemorrhage. I weep like Martha and Mary over Lazarus.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, co-eternal Son, gracious Comforter, Spirit of Truth; Father of the Divine Word, Word of the Eternal Father, living and creative Spirit, Trinity Unity, have mercy on us.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

As from scarlet silk, O spotless Virgin, within thy womb the spiritual purple was woven, the flesh of Emmanuel. Therefore we honor thee as in truth Mother of God.

 

ODE 9

 

Choir (Irmos):Inexplicable is the Nativity of conception without seed.  Incorruptible is the fruit of the spouseless Mother.  For the birth of God reneweth nature.  Wherefore do all generations right-gloriously magnify thee, as Bride and Mother of our God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Christ the Word healed diseases, preached the Gospel to the poor, cured cripples, ate with publicans, conversed with sinners, and He brought back the departed soul of Jairus' daughter by the touch of His hand. (Matthew 9:11; Mark 5:41-42)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The publican was saved, the harlot was made chaste, but the Pharisee through boasting was condemned. For the first said, "Be merciful," the second, "Have mercy on me," but the last boasted and cried, "O God, I thank Thee," and then some foolish words. (Luke 7:36-50; 18:9-14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Zacchaeus was a publican, but yet was healed, and Simon the Pharisee was disappointed; but the harlot received the release of full forgiveness from Him Who has power to forgive sins. Obtain His forgiveness yourself, my soul. (Luke 19:1-10; 7:36-50)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You, my wretched soul, have not emulated the harlot who took the alabaster jar of perfumed oil and anointed with tears and wiped with her hair the feet of the Savior, Who tore up for her the handwriting of her old accusation. (Luke 7:37-38; Colossians 2:14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You know how the towns to which Christ offered the Gospel were cursed. Fear this example, my soul, do not be like them; for the Lord compared them to the Sodomites and condemned them to hell. (Luke 10:13-15)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Do not let despair make you worse than the Canaanite woman, my soul, for you have heard of her faith through which her daughter was healed by the Word of God. Call to Christ like her from the depth of your heart, "Son of David, save me." (Matthew 15:22)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Let us glorify the Father, exalt the Son, and faithfully worship the Divine Spirit, inseparable Trinity, Unity in essence, as the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, giving life and light to the ends of the earth.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Protect thy city, spotless Mother of God, for in thee it faithfully reigns, and in thee is made strong, and through thee it conquers and routs every trial and temptation, and spoils its foes and rules its subjects.

Holy father Andrew, pray for us.

Venerable Andrew, thrice-blessed father, shepherd of Crete, cease not to pray to God for those who sing of thee, that He may deliver from anger, oppression, corruption and our countless sins, all of us who faithfully honor thy memory.

Choir (Irmos):Inexplicable is the Nativity of conception with out seed.  Incorruptible is the fruit of the spouseless Mother.  For the birth of God reneweth nature.  Wherefore do all generations right-gloriously magnify thee, as Bride and Mother of our God.

 

 

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And immediately, the following Hymns:

Reader: The day is past; I thank Thee, O Lord: Grant me, I entreat Thee, that this evening and this night I fall into no sin; and save me, O Saviour.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. The day is past; I sing praises unto Thee, O Master.  Grant, I entreat Thee, that this evening and this night I may be without guile; and save me, O Saviour.

Now, and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen. The day is past: I hymn Thee, O Holy One.  Grant I entreat Thee, that this evening and this night I may be assailed by no temptation; and save me, O Saviour.

Reader:With unceasing songs the Bodiless Powers of the Cherubim glorify Thee; the six-winged beings, the Seraphim, with perpetual voices extol Thee exceedingly.  With thrice-holy songs, all the Host of the Angels laud Thee.  For Thou art the Father before all worlds, and hast with Thee Thy Son, who also is from everlasting; and hast also the Spirit of Life, coequal in honor, and showest forth the Trinity Undivided. O most holy Virgin Theotokos, and you eye-witnesses and servants of the Word, with all the company of the Prophets and the Martyrs, who have attained unto life immortal:  Prayzealously for us all, for we are in dire distress; that, being delivered from the wiles of the Evil One, we may loudly sing the Angelic Song: Holy, Holy, Holy Thrice-Holy Lord, have mercy upon us, and save us. Amen.

The Creed

All:  I believe in one God, the Father almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages.  Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.  And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried.  And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.  And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Intercessions

Priest &Choir: All-Holy lady Theotokos, pray for us sinners!

All you heavenly hosts of holy angels and archangels, pray for us sinners!

O holy John prophet, forerunner, and baptizer of our Lord Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners!

All holy and glorious apostles, prophets, martyrs, and all saints, pray for us sinners!

All you righteous and God-bearing fathers, pastors, and teachers of the universal Church, pray for us sinners!

O holy Tikhon, Confessor and Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, pray for us sinners!

O holy Innocent, Evangelizer of the Aleuts and the Apostle of America, pray for us sinners!

O holy Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska, pray for us sinners.

O holy Apostles Peter and Paul, pray for us sinners.

O invincible, unconquerable, and divine power of the honorable and life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners!

O God, cleanse us sinners!      

O God, cleanse us sinners!

O God, cleanse us sinners and have mercy upon us!

The Prayer of St. Ephraim

Priest: O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. (Prostration)

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. (Prostration)

Yea, O Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own transgressions and not judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

O God, cleanse me a sinner. (12x)

O Lord and Master of my life!  Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own errors and not judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)


Trisagion

Reader: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us! (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.  O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions.  O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

Priest:For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Reader:Amen.  Lord, have mercy (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Prayer, To our Lord Jesus Christ, by Antiochus,

a Monk of the Monastery of the Pandect.

Reader: And grant unto us, O Master, as we lay us down to sleep, repose both of body and soul, and preserve us from the gloomy slumber of sin, and from every dark and nocturnal sensuality.  Calm the impulses of carnal desires; quench the fiery darts of the Evil One which are craftily directed against us.  Assuage the rebellions of our flesh.  Still our every earthly and material anxiety; and vouchsafe unto us, O God, a watchful mind, a chaste reason, a sober heart, a gentle sleepfree from every vision of the devil; and raise us up again at the hour of prayer, strengthened in thy precepts, and holding steadfastly within us the memory of thy commandments.  Grant that all the night long we may sing praises unto thee, and that we may hymn, and bless, and glorify thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.O exceeding glorious, ever-virgin Mother of Christ-God, bear our petitions unto thy Son and our God, and implore him that, through you, He will save our souls.

Another Prayer, by St. Ioannikius.

The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector.  O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. (3x) Father Bless.

And immediately the Priest says, aloud, while we kneel humbly:

Priest: O Master, great in mercy, Lord Jesus Christ our God: Through the prayers of our all-pure Lady, the Birth-giver of God and ever-virgin Mary; through the might of the precious and life-giving Cross; through the prayers of the honorable Bodiless Powers of Heaven; of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles; of the holy, glorious and gloriously triumphant Martyrs; of our venerable and God-bearing Fathers; of the holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all thy Saints:  Make our prayer acceptable.  Grant unto us remission of our iniquities.  Hide us under the shadow of thy wings.  Drive far from us every foe and adversary.  Give peace to our life.  Have mercy upon us and upon thy world, O Lord, and save our souls, forasmuch as thou art merciful and lovest mankind.

Pray for me brethren. Pardon me a sinner.

 


Litany

Priest.  Let us pray for His Beatitude Metropolitan ______________; for His Grace/Eminence Bishop/Archbishop _____________, for the honorable Priesthood, the Diaconate in Christ, and for all the clergy and the laity:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For our civil authorities and for our armed forces everywhere.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who hate us and who love us.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who are kind to us and who serve us.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who have enjoined us to pray for them, unworthy though we be:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For the release of prisoners.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For our departed fathers and brethren.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For those who travel by land, by sea, and by air.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who lie in sickness.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. Let us pray for the abundance of the fruits of the earth;

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. And for every soul of Orthodox Christians:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For Orthodox Bishops, and for the parish council of this holy Church.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For our parents and brethren, and for all Orthodox believers, departed this life before us, who here, and in all the world, lie asleep in the Lord:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.Let us say also for ourselves.

Choir.  Lord have mercy (3x)

Priest. Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us.

Choir.Amen.

Priest.   Forgive, O Lord who loves mankind, those who hate us and those who have wronged us.  Do well unto those who do well.  Grant unto our brethren and our kin those petitions which are unto salvation and life eternal.  Visit the sick, and grant them healing.  Guide those who travel by land, by sea, and by air.  Journey with those who journey.  Help our civil authorities.  Unto those who have served us and been kind to us, grant forgiveness of sins.  Upon those who have enjoined us, unworthy though we be, to pray for them, have mercy, according to thy great goodness.  Have in remembrance, O Lord, our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, who have fallen asleep before us, and give them rest where the light of Thy countenance shall visit them.  Remember, O Lord, our brethren who are in captivity, and release them from all the difficulties which beset them.  Remember, O Lord, those who bring gifts, and the benefactors of Thy holy churches, and grant them those petitions which are unto salvation and life eternal.  Remember, also, O Lord, us, Thy humble, and sinful, and unworthy servants, and illumine our minds with the light of Thy wisdom, and guide us in the way of Thy commandments.  Through the prayers of our all-pure Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, and of all Thy saints:  For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.

Choir.  Amen.             

 

X

 

Monday, March 15th., 2021: Text for Great Compline of the 1st Week of Lent
Great Compline

GREAT COMPLINE

Priest.  Blessed is our God, always now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Reader. Amen.  Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee!

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings, and Giver of life: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us! (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Amen.

O all-holy Trinity, have mercy on us.  O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. 

O Master, pardon our transgressions.  O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

All.   Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

Priest.  For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

Reader.  Amen.  Lord have mercy (12x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


O Come, let us worship God, our King!

O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God!

O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God!

Psalm 69 (70)

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O LORD!  Let them be ashamed and confounded who seek my life; let them be turned back and confused who desire my hurt.  Let them be turned back because of their shame, who say, “Aha, aha!”  Let all those who love Thy salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified!”  But I am poor and needy; Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.

Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

MONDAY

ODE 1

Choir (Irmos):A Helper and Protector is there unto salvation.  He is my God, and I will glorify Him; the God of my Fathers and I will exalt Him for He hath triumphed gloriously. (Exodus 15:2, 1; Psalm 117:14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life?  What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Having rivaled the first-created Adam by my transgression, I realize that I am stripped naked of God and of the everlasting kingdom and bliss through my sins. (Genesis 3)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Alas, wretched soul!  Why are you like the first Eve?  For you have wickedly looked and been bitterly wounded, and you have touched the tree and rashly tasted the forbidden food.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The place of bodily Eve has been taken for me by the Eve of my mind in the shape of a passionate thought in the flesh, showing me sweet things, yet ever making me taste and swallow bitter things.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Adam was rightly exiled from Eden for not keeping Thy one commandment, O Savior.  But what shall I suffer who am always rejecting Thy living words?  (Hebrews 12:25; Genesis 3:23)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Superessential Trinity, adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Mother of God, hope and intercessor of those who sing of thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and as thou art our pure Lady, accept me who repent.

ODE 2

Choir (Irmos):Hearken, O Heaven, I will proclaim and praise Christ come in the flesh through the Virgin.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Attend, O heaven, and I will speak; O earth, give ear to a voice repenting to God and singing praises to Him.  Attend to me, O God my Saviour, with Thy merciful eye, and accept myfervent confession. (Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 33:15)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have sinned above all men, I alone have sinned against Thee.  But asGod have compassion, O Saviour, on Thy creature. (1 Tim. 1:15)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Having formed by my pleasure-loving desires the deformity of my passions, I have marred the beauty of my mind.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

A storm of passions besets me, O compassionate Lord.  But stretch out Thy hand to me too, as to Peter. (Matthew 14:31)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have stained the coat of my flesh, and soiled what is in Thy image and likeness, O Saviour.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have darkened the beauty of my soul with passionate pleasures, and my whole mind I have reduced wholly to mud.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have torn my first garment which the Creator wove for me in the beginning, and therefore I am lying naked. (Genesis 3:21)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have put on a torn coat, which the serpent wove for me by argument, and I am ashamed. (Genesis 3:4-5)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The tears of the harlot, O merciful Lord, I too offer to Thee.  Be merciful to me, O Saviour, in Thy compassion. (Luke 7:38; 18:13)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I looked at the beauty of the tree, and my mind was seduced; and now I lie naked, and I am ashamed. (Genesis 3:7)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

All the demon-chiefs of the passions have plowed on my back, and long has their tyranny over me lasted. (Psalm 128:3)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

I sing of Thee as one in three Persons, O God of all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Spotless Mother of God, only all-hymned Virgin, pray intensely that we may be saved.

ODE 3

Choir (Irmos):On the immovable rock of Thy commandments, O Christ, establish these my thoughts.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The Lord rained fire from the Lord, my soul, and burnt up the former land of Sodom. (Genesis 19:24)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Escape to the mountain like Lot, my soul, and make Zoar your refuge in time. (Genesis 19:22)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Run from the burning, my soul!  Run from the heat of Sodom!  Run from the destruction of the divine flame. (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I alone have sinned against Thee, sinned above all men.  O Christ my Saviour, spurn me not.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Thou art the good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect not me who have gone astray. (John 10:11-14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Thou art my sweet Jesus, Thou art my Creator; in Thee, O Saviour, I shall be justified.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I confess to Thee, O Saviour, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee, but absolve and forgive me in Thy compassion.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

O Trinity, Unity, God, save us from delusion and temptations and distressing circumstances.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Rejoice, God-receiving womb!  Rejoice, throne of the Lord!  Rejoice, Mother of our Life!

ODE 4

Choir (Irmos): The Prophet heard of Thy coming, O Lord, and was frightened, that Thou should be born of a Virgin, and made manifest unto men, and he said: “I have heard Thy tidings, and was afraid of the glory of Thy power, O Lord.” (Habbakuk 3:2)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Despise not Thy works and forsake not Thy creation, O just Judge and Lover of men, though I alone have sinned as a man more than any man.  But being Lord of all, Thou hast power to pardon sins. (Mark 2:10)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near!  But you neither care nor prepare.  The time is growing short.  Rise!  The Judge is near at the very doors.  Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes.  Why do we bustle about in vain? (Matthew 24:33; Psalm 38:7)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Come to your senses, my soul! Consider the deeds you have done, and bring them before your eyes, and pour out the drops of your tears.  Boldly tell your thoughts and deeds to Christ, and be acquitted.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

There has never been a sin or act or vice in life that I have not committed, O Saviour.  I have sinned in mind, word and choice, in purpose, will and action, as no one else has ever done.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Therefore I am condemned, wretch that I am, therefore I am doomed by my own conscience, than which there is nothing in the world more rigorous.  O my Judge and Redeemer Who knowest my heart, spare and deliver and save me, Thy servant.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The ladder of old which the great Patriarch saw, my soul, is a model of mounting by action and ascent by knowledge.  So, if you wish to live in activity, knowledge and contemplation, be renewed. (Genesis 28:12; Rom.  12:2; Titus 3:5)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Because of his crying need the Patriarch endured the scorching heat of the day, and he bore the frost of the night, daily making gains, shepherding, struggling, slaving, in order to win two wives. (Genesis 29:16-30; 31-40)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

By the two wives understand action and direct knowledge in contemplation:  Leah as action, for she had many children, and Rachel as knowledge, which is obtained by much labor.  For without labors, my soul, neither action nor contemplation will achieve success.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I confess Thee to be undivided in essence, unconfused in persons, One Triune Divinity, co-enthroned and co-reigning.  I sing Thee the great song thrice sung on high.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Thou givest birth and livest a virgin life, and in both remainest a virgin by nature.  He Who is born of thee renews the laws of nature, and a womb gives birth without travail.  Where God wills, the order of nature is overruled; for He does whatever He wishes.

ODE 5

Choir (Irmos):Enlighten him who earnestly seeks Thee through the night, I implore Thee Who lovest mankind.  Also guide me by Thy statutes and teach me, O Savior, to accomplish Thy will.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have passed my life ever in night, for the night of sin has been to me thick fog and darkness; but make me, O Saviour, a son of the day. (Ephesians 5:8)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Like Reuben, wretch that I am, I have planned an unprincipled and lawless act against God Most High, having defiled my bed as he defiled that of his father. (Genesis 35:21; 49:3-4)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I confess to Thee, O Christ my King: I have sinned, I have sinned, like Joseph's brothers of old, who sold the fruit of purity and chastity. (Genesis 37)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Righteous Joseph was given up by his brothers, that sweet soul was sold into slavery, as a type of the Lord; and you, my soul, have sold yourself completely to your vices. (Genesis 37:27-28)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Imitate, wretched and worthless soul, righteous Joseph and his pure mind, and do not be wanton with irrational desires, ever transgressing.  (Genesis 39:7-23)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

If Joseph of old also occupied a pit, O Sovereign Lord, yet it was as a type of Thy Burial and Rising.  But will I ever offer Thee anything like it? (Genesis 37)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

To The Trinity: Thee, O Trinity, we glorify, the one God: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, Father, Son and Spirit, simple Being, Unity ever adored.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

From thee, O pure maiden Mother and Virgin, God Who created the worlds and ages was clad in my clay and united to Himself human nature.

ODE 6

Choir (Irmos): I cried with my whole heart unto the compassionate God, and He heard me from nether Hades, and brought forth my life out of corruption.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I sincerely offer Thee with a pure intention, O Saviour, the tears of my eyes and groans from the depths of my heart, crying: O God, I have sinned against Thee; be merciful to me. (Luke 18:13)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You, my soul, have revolted from the Lord like Dathan and Abiram.  But with all your heart cry, "Spare!", that a yawning gulf of the earth may not swallow you. (Numbers 16)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Like a stampeding heifer stung to madness, my soul, you have resembled Ephraim.  Winged with action, resolve and contemplation, save your life like a gazelle from the noose. (Hosea 4:16)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Let Moses' hand assure us, my soul, how God can whiten and cleanse a leprous life.  So do not despair of yourself, even though you are leprous.  (Exodus 4:6-8)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

I am the Trinity, simple and undivided, divided Personally, and I am the Unity, united in nature, says the Father, the Son, and the Divine Spirit.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Thy womb bore God for us Who took our form. Implore Him as the Creator of all, O Mother of God, that through thy intercessions we may be justified.

Kontakion, Tone 6:

My soul, O my soul, awaken!  Why sleepest thou?  The end draweth near and thou must needs be troubled.  Arise, therefore, that Christ our God may spare thee; He who is present everywhere present and fillest all things.

ODE 7

Choir (Irmos):We have sinned, we have dealt unlawfully and unjustly before Thee.  We have neither kept nor done what Thou didst command us.  Yet cast us not away at the last, O God of our Fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have sinned, offended and rejected Thy commandment, for I have advanced in sins and added wounds to my sores.  But in Thy compassion have mercy on me, O God of our Fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have confessed to Thee, my Judge, the secrets of my heart.  See my humility, see also my distress, and attend to my judgment now.  And in Thy compassion have mercy on me, O God of our Fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

When Saul of old lost his father's asses, besides getting news of them he incidentally found a kingdom.  But watch, my soul, lest without noticing it, you prefer your animal cravings to the Kingdom of Christ. (I Kings 10:2)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

If David, the father of our Divine Lord, doubly sinned of old, my soul, when he was pierced with the arrow of adultery and struck with the spear of remorse for murder, yet you have a sickness graver than deeds in your will and appetites. (II Kings 11; 12:  1-23)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

David once joined sin to sin, for he mixed adultery with murder, yet he immediately offered double repentance.  But you my soul, have done things more wicked without repenting to God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

David of old composed a song, painting it as in a picture, by which he exposes the deed he had done, crying: Have mercy on me, for against Thee only have I sinned, Who art God of all.  Cleanse me. (Psalm 50)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

O Trinity simple and undivided, of one essence and one nature, Lights and Light, three Holies and one Holy, God the Trinity is hymned.  But sing, my soul, and glorify the Life and Lives, the God of all.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

We sing of thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, O Mother of God, for thou gavest birth to one of the inseparable Trinity, the one Son and God, and to us on earth thou hast opened the heavenlyrealms.

 

ODE 8

 

Choir (Irmos): Him Whom the Hosts of Heaven glorify, Whom the Cherubim and Seraphim dread, let every breath and creature praise, bless, and magnify unto all the ages.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

 

I have sinned, O Saviour, have mercy!  Awaken my mind to conversion,

accept me who repent, have compassion on me as I cry: Against Thee only

have I sinned and acted lawlessly; have mercy on me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Elijah the charioteer once ascended by the chariot of the virtues as to

heaven and was carried above earthly things.  Consider then, my soul,

this ascent. (IV Kings 2:11)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Elisha received double grace from the Lord when he took up Elijah's

sheepskin.  But you, my soul, have not shared this grace owing to

incontinence. (IV Kings 2:9)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Jordan's stream of old was made to stand still on either side by Elisha

by Elijah's sheepskin.  But you, my soul, have not shared this grace

owing to incontinence. (IV Kings 2:14)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The Shunammite woman of old with right good will entertained the

righteous man.  But you, my soul, have taken into your house neither

stranger nor traveler.  Therefore you will be cast out of the bridal

hall wailing. (IV Kings 4:8)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

You have always imitated the vile mind of Gehazi, O wretched soul.  Rid

yourself of his love of money, at least in old age; escape from the

fire of Gehenna by leaving your evil ways.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Eternal Father, co-eternal Son, gracious Comforter, Spirit of Truth; Father of the Divine Word, Word of the Eternal Father, living and creative Spirit, Trinity Unity, have mercy on us.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

As from scarlet silk, O spotless Virgin, within thy womb the spiritual purple was woven, the flesh of Emmanuel.  Therefore we honor thee as in truth Mother of God.

 

ODE 9

 

Choir (Irmos):Inexplicable is the Nativity of conception without seed.  Incorruptible is the fruit of the spouseless Mother.  For the birth of God reneweth nature.  Wherefore do all generations right-gloriously magnify thee, as Bride and Mother of our God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The mind is wounded, the body is feeble, the spirit is sick, the word has lost its power, life is ebbing, the end is at the doors.  What then will you do, wretched soul, when the Judge comes to try your case?

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have reviewed Moses' account of the creation of the world, my soul, and then all canonical Scripture which tells you the story of the righteous and the unrighteous.  But you, my soul, have copied the latter and not the former, and have sinned against God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The Law has grown weak, the Gospel is unpracticed, the whole of the Scripture is ignored by you; the Prophets and every word of the Just have lost their power.  Your wounds, my soul, have multiplied, and there is no physician to heal you.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I am bringing before you examples from the New Scripture, my soul, to lead you to compunction.  So emulate the righteous and avoid following the sinners, and regain Christ's grace by prayers, fasts, purity and reverence.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Christ became man and called to repentance robbers and harlots. Repent, my soul!  The door of the Kingdom is already open, and the transformed Pharisees, publicans and adulterers are seizing it ahead of you. (Matthew 21:31; 11:12)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Christ became a babe and conversed in the flesh with me, and he voluntarily experienced all that pertains to our nature, apart from sin; and He showed you, my soul, an example and image of His own condescension.  (Matthew 1:25)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Christ saved wise men, called shepherds, made crowds of infants martyrs, glorified old men and aged widows, whose deeds and life, my soul, you have not emulated.  But woe unto you when you are judged! (Matthew 2:12; Luke 2:9-12; Matthew 2:16; Luke 2:25-38)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

When the Lord had fasted for forty days in the wilderness, He at last became hungry, showing His human nature.  Do not be despondent, my soul, if the enemy attacks you, but let him be beaten off by prayer and fasting.  (Matthew 4:1-11; 17:21; Mark 9:29)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Let us glorify the Father, exalt the Son, and faithfully worship the Divine Spirit, inseparable Trinity, Unity in essence, as the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, giving life and light to the ends of the earth.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Protect thy city, spotless Mother of God, for in thee it faithfully reigns, and in thee is made strong, and through thee it conquers and routs every trial and temptation, and spoils its foes and

rules its subjects.

O Holy father Andrew, pray to God for us.

Venerable Andrew, thrice-blessed father, shepherd of Crete, cease not to pray to God for those who sing of thee, that He may deliver from anger, oppression, corruption and our countless sins, all of us who faithfully honor thy memory.

Choir (Irmos):Inexplicable is the Nativity of conception without seed.  Incorruptible is the fruit of the spouseless Mother.  For the birth of God reneweth nature.  Wherefore do all generations right-gloriously magnify thee, as Bride and Mother of our God.

 

And immediately, the following Hymns:

Reader: The day is past; I thank Thee, O Lord: Grant me, I entreat Thee, that this evening and this night I fall into no sin; and save me, O Saviour.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. The day is past; I sing praises unto Thee, O Master.  Grant, I entreat Thee, that this evening and this night I may be without guile; and save me, O Saviour.

Now, and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen. The day is past: I hymn Thee, O Holy One.  Grant I entreat Thee, that this evening and this night I may be assailed by no temptation; and save me, O Saviour.

Reader:With unceasing songs the Bodiless Powers of the Cherubim glorify Thee; the six-winged beings, the Seraphim, with perpetual voices extol Thee exceedingly.  With thrice-holy songs, all the Host of the Angels laud Thee.  For Thou art the Father before all worlds, and hast with Thee Thy Son, who also is from everlasting; and hast also the Spirit of Life, coequal in honor, and showest forth the Trinity Undivided. O most holy Virgin Theotokos, and you eye-witnesses and servants of the Word, with all the company of the Prophets and the Martyrs, who have attained unto life immortal:  Prayzealously for us all, for we are in dire distress; that, being delivered from the wiles of the Evil One, we may loudly sing the Angelic Song: Holy, Holy, Holy Thrice-Holy Lord, have mercy upon us, and save us. Amen.

The Creed

All:  I believe in one God, the Father almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages.  Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.  And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried.  And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.  And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Intercessions

Priest &Choir: All-Holy lady Theotokos, pray for us sinners!

All you heavenly hosts of holy angels and archangels, pray for us sinners!

O holy John prophet, forerunner, and baptizer of our Lord Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners!

All holy and glorious apostles, prophets, martyrs, and all saints, pray for us sinners!

All you righteous and God-bearing fathers, pastors, and teachers of the universal Church, pray for us sinners!

O holy Tikhon, Confessor and Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, pray for us sinners!

O holy Innocent, Evangelizer of the Aleuts and the Apostle of America, pray for us sinners!

O holy Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska, pray for us sinners.

O holy Apostles Peter and Paul, pray for us sinners.

O invincible, unconquerable, and divine power of the honorable and life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners!

O God, cleanse us sinners!      

O God, cleanse us sinners!

O God, cleanse us sinners and have mercy upon us!

The Prayer of St. Ephraim

Priest: O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. (Prostration)

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. (Prostration)

Yea, O Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own transgressions and not judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

O God, cleanse me a sinner. (12x)

O Lord and Master of my life!  Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own errors and not judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)


Trisagion

Reader: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us! (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.  O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions.  O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

Priest:For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Reader:Amen.  Lord, have mercy (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Prayer, To our Lord Jesus Christ, by Antiochus,

a Monk of the Monastery of the Pandect.

Reader: And grant unto us, O Master, as we lay us down to sleep, repose both of body and soul, and preserve us from the gloomy slumber of sin, and from every dark and nocturnal sensuality.  Calm the impulses of carnal desires; quench the fiery darts of the Evil One which are craftily directed against us.  Assuage the rebellions of our flesh.  Still our every earthly and material anxiety; and vouchsafe unto us, O God, a watchful mind, a chaste reason, a sober heart, a gentle sleepfree from every vision of the devil; and raise us up again at the hour of prayer, strengthened in thy precepts, and holding steadfastly within us the memory of thy commandments.  Grant that all the night long we may sing praises unto thee, and that we may hymn, and bless, and glorify thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.O exceeding glorious, ever-virgin Mother of Christ-God, bear our petitions unto thy Son and our God, and implore him that, through you, He will save our souls.

Another Prayer, by St. Ioannikius.

The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector.  O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. (3x) Father Bless.

And immediately the Priest says, aloud, while we kneel humbly:

Priest: O Master, great in mercy, Lord Jesus Christ our God: Through the prayers of our all-pure Lady, the Birth-giver of God and ever-virgin Mary; through the might of the precious and life-giving Cross; through the prayers of the honorable Bodiless Powers of Heaven; of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles; of the holy, glorious and gloriously triumphant Martyrs; of our venerable and God-bearing Fathers; of the holy and righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all thy Saints:  Make our prayer acceptable.  Grant unto us remission of our iniquities.  Hide us under the shadow of thy wings.  Drive far from us every foe and adversary.  Give peace to our life.  Have mercy upon us and upon thy world, O Lord, and save our souls, forasmuch as thou art merciful and lovest mankind.

Pray for me brethren. Pardon me a sinner.

Litany

Priest.  Let us pray for His Beatitude Metropolitan ______________; for His Grace/Eminence Bishop/Archbishop _____________, for the honorable Priesthood, the Diaconate in Christ, and for all the clergy and the laity:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For our civil authorities and for our armed forces everywhere.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who hate us and who love us.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who are kind to us and who serve us.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who have enjoined us to pray for them, unworthy though we be:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For the release of prisoners.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For our departed fathers and brethren.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For those who travel by land, by sea, and by air.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.  For those who lie in sickness.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. Let us pray for the abundance of the fruits of the earth;

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. And for every soul of Orthodox Christians:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For Orthodox Bishops, and for the parish council of this holy Church.

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest. For our parents and brethren, and for all Orthodox believers, departed this life before us, who here, and in all the world, lie asleep in the Lord:

Choir.  Lord have mercy.

Priest.Let us say also for ourselves.

Choir.  Lord have mercy (3x)

Priest. Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us.

Choir.Amen.

Priest.   Forgive, O Lord who loves mankind, those who hate us and those who have wronged us.  Do well unto those who do well.  Grant unto our brethren and our kin those petitions which are unto salvation and life eternal.  Visit the sick, and grant them healing.  Guide those who travel by land, by sea, and by air.  Journey with those who journey.  Help our civil authorities.  Unto those who have served us and been kind to us, grant forgiveness of sins.  Upon those who have enjoined us, unworthy though we be, to pray for them, have mercy, according to thy great goodness.  Have in remembrance, O Lord, our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, who have fallen asleep before us, and give them rest where the light of Thy countenance shall visit them.  Remember, O Lord, our brethren who are in captivity, and release them from all the difficulties which beset them.  Remember, O Lord, those who bring gifts, and the benefactors of Thy holy churches, and grant them those petitions which are unto salvation and life eternal.  Remember, also, O Lord, us, Thy humble, and sinful, and unworthy servants, and illumine our minds with the light of Thy wisdom, and guide us in the way of Thy commandments.  Through the prayers of our all-pure Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, and of all Thy saints:  For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.

Choir.  Amen.             

 

X

 

Monday of the First Week of Great Lent, March 15th., 2021

Monday of the First Week of Great Lent

Monday, March 15, 2021

Old Testament Readings: Isaiah 1:1-20; Genesis 1:1-13; Proverbs 1:1-20.

Archpriest Terence Baz

As we begin the season of Great Lent, we are given three readings today from the Old Testament by the Orthodox Church. Each of them is the beginning of their books, serving as an introduction to their messages.

The first one, from the prophet Isaiah, warned the people to change their ways. He told them that all their rituals meant nothing if their hearts were not pure. He wrote to them in contrast:

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

The Church therefore reminds us that, while the prayers and rituals of this season are good, their intention is to help us have a pure heart. Without the latter, the former is a waste of time.

The second reading is the account of creation from the Book of Genesis. The Church uses this to remind us of where we come from.

The third is from the Book of Proverbs. Its aim was to give:

“the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion – a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

Those who are wise will listen and those who are foolish will not:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The Church here warns us to not get lured into the attractions of the fallen world which are the ways of the foolish and will only get us ensnared in their greed and will bleed us dry:

“Do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird; but they lie in wait for their own blood, they lurk secretly for their own lives.”

The Church’s teachings are offered openly to enable our souls to come to Christ where we seek the life of the Kingdom of God, not the death of the fallen world. This reading concluded:

“Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares.”

The prayers and practices of the Orthodox Church at this season are therefore intended to nourish our souls, not create extra burdens. Let us embrace them. Did not Jesus proclaim the same message when He proclaimed at the beginning of His public life:

"Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

The message did not change then, nor has it today.

Sunday, March 14th., 2021. Forgiveness Sunday.

Forgiveness Sunday

Sunday, March 14th 2021

Epistle: Romans 13:11-14:4              Gospel: Matthew 6:14-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, the Sunday before the commencement of the season of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, is designated as Forgiveness Sunday. Before we embark on a 6 week journey of limiting how much we eat and abstain from certain foods, the Orthodox Church call us to examine ourselves to see if we have failed to forgive others or even allowed ourselves to foster divisions within our families or parish community. The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has the beautiful Service of Forgiveness. In it, the priest calls each parishioner forward to ask for their forgiveness, while the parishioner replies, “God forgives, please forgive me too, Father.” Every person does the same and in turn asks the person next to them to forgive them. The whole congregation does the same.

Another practice during the season of Great Lent that many of the people in our parishes use and goes hand in hand with it is the sacrament of Confession, so that they can to bring their sins before Christ. As has been mentioned, the priest is not present as judge but as a witness, while the penitent brings before Christ, what he or she is conscious of in regard to their sins. The priest then gives absolution in the name of Christ’s Body, the Church. The two practices, together with prayer, fasting and the giving of alms to those in need, help us to prepare for the great events of the last days of Jesus’ earthly life that the Church calls us to enter into during Holy Week. As the Epistle from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says, let us let go of our sinfulness and put on Christ:

“Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

In regard to Liturgical Prayer, please refer to the parish calendar that lists the services for this season. For this week, we will have three services of Great Compline with the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and for the following weeks, we will mostly celebrate the Pre-sanctified Liturgy twice at 5:00 PM. If we wish to receive communion, the Church asks us to fast from midday that day. Because of the pandemic, the services will also be live streamed so that you can see them. Parishes will not mix with other parishes this year, in order to minimize the potential spread of the virus. There are other services besides these so, please check the schedule.

In regard to fasting, St. Paul again cautions us in today’s Epistle to the Romans, to put fasting into perspective. It is a good practice to take on and the more we fast, the easier it gets but we should not judge others who may not fast as much as we do. We also need to take into consideration any medical conditions we may have. The Orthodox Church also encourages anyone who fasts to give the money saved from it to the poor and those suffering from hunger because of the pandemic. Our Church calendar lists that from after today, we should refrain from meat, fish, dairy and animal oil products throughout the whole season until Pascha. We are also asked to only have one major meal each day and to not eat between meals. Having listed the things we should refrain from, remember that fasting is for the body, not the body for fasting. Strive to do as much as you are able and do not judge yourself if you cannot do all of them.

More important than fasting is continuing to give to those who have less as much as possible. This is what we will be judged on.

Today’s Gospel teaches us to remember that the Father has forgiven us for our trespasses but He expects us to do the same.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This is why we have the service of forgiveness. When we do, we are freed from resentments and hurtful memories. The clue is to give those resentments to Christ and ask Him, through the Holy Spirit to help us be healed and freed of them.

Jesus also talked about fasting and what our attitude should be towards the practice. He told us not to boast about it but to offer our efforts up privately to our Heavenly Father, who sees all that we do. He taught:

“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

He also taught that we should use fasting as a way to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is why the Orthodox Church encourages us to give what we may have saved from our reduction in eating to those in need, especially to those who are hungry because of the pandemic. There are many ways, therefore, that we can strive to show our Heavenly Father that we love Christ, not only in word but in deed by keeping His commandments.

Friday, March 12th., 2021

Friday, March 12, 2021

Old Testament Readings: Zechariah 8:7-17 and Zechariah 8:19-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

As on Wednesday March 10th, there is no Divine Liturgy set for today so, two Old Testament readings from the prophet Zechariah are listed.

Zechariah announced that the time for punishment of the people of Israel and Judah was ending. God would restore those nations and it would be a time of peace.

A constant theme in the Old Testament is that God pruned the Chosen People when they turned away from Him leaving a remnant who would be true to His statutes and pure in their worship. Such a remnant is mentioned in the first of today’s readings:

“Now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, and the ground shall give its increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.”

The Orthodox Church recognizes that it is a Church of sinners. It is for this reason that it has this time of the season of Great Lent to remind us that, like the Chosen People of old, we need to face up to those sins, repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. Even so, it never wants us to delve into a state of self-condemnation and loathing. The Church does not judge anyone nor does it want Orthodox Christians to judge themselves. It is one thing to recognize our sins, it is another to judge either ourselves or others. What the Church does want therefore, is to use its sacrament of Confession to come before Christ, examine those sins, give them to Him, to pour out our hearts to Him in our struggles and through His Body, the Church, to heal us of them. Christ promised His Holy Spirit to help and strengthen us and we call upon Him to be with us as we turn to Christ. In this way, just as the Lord pruned the people of Israel and Judah to be holy once again, we enable ourselves through the Church to be pruned in order to come closer to Christ by ridding ourselves of those things that are not from Him. This passage concludes:

“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, says the Lord.”

In the second passage, Zechariah wrote about the importance of fasting and prayer:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace. Thus says the Lord of Hosts: ‘Peoples shall yet come, inhabitants of many cities;

“Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.’”

The Orthodox Church recognizes the importance of prayer and fasting. It therefore urges us to embrace this period of fasting and prayer that we will soon embark upon with joy, just like Zechariah had urged the Jewish people to in this passage. Let us embrace it joyfully.

Thursday, March 11th., 2021

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Epistle: Jude 1:11-25 Gospel: Luke 23:2-34, 44-56

Archpriest Terence Baz

As mentioned on Tuesday, March 9th, St. Jude had to address those people who had initially converted to Christ but became corrupted by other groups, specifically the Gnostics, who would not accept that Jesus was the Son of God made man. He urged the community to have nothing to do with them and remain steadfast in their faith in Jesus Christ.

In the second half of his letter, he addressed the behavior of those heretics in regard to their mingling among the community. They were coming to the Agape meals but, as far as St. Jude was concerned, they had no place being there. He wrote:

“These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves…These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.”

To the faithful community, he wrote:

“But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

The same principles also clearly pertain to us: remain steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings as well as those of the apostles; pray to the Holy Spirit to keep ourselves in the love of God, seeking Christ’s mercy for our weaknesses. The Orthodox Church takes this teaching from St. Jude very seriously. That is why it remains steadfast in upholding the teachings of the apostles, without changing them for the sake of convenience. It is accused by some Christians of being inflexible but who would want to change what St. Jude wrote here? Our earthly life is short but the Kingdom of God is eternal. This fallen world brings death but our adherence to Christ brings eternal life. Nothing in this world is worth exchanging for the life of the Kingdom of God.

For those who today think that the pressures from the changing times of this world should bring about changes in the Church, remember that the situation for the Christians of St. Jude’s time was no different. Those whom he wrote to were probably Jews living in Greece who converted to Christ. There were all kinds of philosophies influencing people’s ideas at that time, with some very influential thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. There was also the pagan world of the Roman Empire. The early Christians had to choose to remain faithful to Christ every day of their lives and as time progressed, many of them were prepared to die, rather than give them up. Let us remember their example when people try to confuse us. Remember what St. Jude said about them in today’s passage. Thus, the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ’s Body, the Church.

A similar warning is mentioned in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke who was giving his account of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. As He carried His cross to His crucifixion, some women wept at His plight. He told them not to weep for Him but for themselves. The rulers of the Jewish people thought that they had won a victory by His demise but it was to become their very downfall; indeed, Satan’s as well. St. Luke recalled:

“And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”

Once again, in using today’s Epistle and Gospel, the Church reminds us that the day will come when we, too, will need to account about how faithful we have been in keeping the commandments of Christ.

Wednesday, March 10th., 2021

Wednesday, March 10th 2021

Old Testament Readings: Joel 2:12-26 and Joel 3:12-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, as part of the preparation for the Great Fast until Pascha, we have two Old Testament readings from the prophet Joel. No Divine Liturgy is set down for today.

The two readings warned the Chosen People to fast as God commanded and if they do, God would reward them. We live in a different time, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, when even the thief on the cross would be saved at the last moments of his earthly life. Even so, the Orthodox Church reminds us that, just like the Chosen People of the Old Testament, there is a time and place for fasting. It wants us to take heed of Joel’s warning because the time will come when we will have to account for our deeds. A number of the prophets gave the same warning. Jesus told the Chosen People that there was a time and place for fasting and used Himself as an example by fasting in the desert. Fasting will not necessarily guarantee us salvation but if it is part of our way of living or as we say, the Orthodox Way, it will dispose us to be much more open to the Holy Spirit. Instead of our bodily appetites controlling our heart’s desires, our desire for the presence of God through the Holy Spirit will control how we behave and what we do.

Whenever Jesus went into the wilderness to fast, He also prayed to be in communion with His Heavenly Father. Prayer and fasting go together. This is why we see throughout the Church’s history, men and women went to isolated places so that they could do the same. For us who have to work and care for our families, the Orthodox Church intensifies its liturgical prayer life during the season of Great Lent. It offers extra services such as the weekday Pre-sanctified Liturgies, Vespers, Compline and Akathist services. The Church encourages us to attend them as much as we can. This season is given to help free our souls to be at home in the presence of God.

This year, because of the pandemic, every effort will be made to broadcast them through streaming. Please look out for announcements both on our parish website (holyassumptionclifton.org) and Facebook.

Do not be afraid, therefore, to embrace this season of prayer and fasting. All the practices of the Orthodox Church are intended to heal and strengthen our souls. Do not forget either, that as our souls grow closer to Christ, that gift of intercessory prayer given to us at baptism, will be all the more effective. We must pray in humility of course, knowing that without the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing because of our unworthiness. Even so, we are called to pray for others, both the living and the dead, not only for those close to us but for those not so close, even our enemies and indeed, all of creation. It is good to remember this when we find this season tedious. As the prophet Joel proclaimed to the Jewish people, if we respond with sincere fasting and prayer, God will reward us.

Tuesday, March 9th., 2021

Tuesday, March 9th 2021

Epistle: Jude 1:1-10               Gospel: Luke 22:39-42, 45-23:1

The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. St. Chad of Lichfield, among others.

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today the Orthodox Church remembers, among others, the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. If you would like to read the account from the OCA website, click onto or copy and paste the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2021/03/09/100706-40-holy-martyrs-of-sebaste.

If you look at your wall calendars, you will see that the Church also remembers the life of St. Chad of Lichfield. If you would like to read his life, please click onto or copy and paste the following link: https://orthodoxwiki.org/Chad_of_Lichfield.

In today’s Epistle, we have the beginning of the Book of Jude. St. Jude was the brother of St. James the Just and a relative of Jesus, not the Jude mentioned in Matthew 10:3 or in Acts 1:13. This relative of Jesus was probably writing to Jews who had converted to Christ somewhere in the Greek world. The theme of his introduction is similar to some of the letters of St. Paul and St. John, where some had converted but did not follow the teachings of Jesus or the Apostles. This group was probably an early form of Gnosticism. They believed that certain rituals would bring them salvation not belief in Jesus as the Christ or the Son of God made man. One can see from this letter that they also had a reputation for sexual immorality. Other Epistles also accused them of this.

A couple of points need to be made. Firstly, that the mystery of the Son of God being true God and true man is one that many have refused to accept or embrace over the centuries. Gnosticism was a serious threat to the early Christian Church but the Church ultimately prevailed in its belief in Jesus Christ. Secondly, that there will always be false teachers who challenge the authority of the Church. St. Jude, in today’s Epistle, urged them to stand firm against false teachers. Jesus had also warned that many false teachers would appear.

This is why it is so important to remain steadfast with the Orthodox Church which has steadfastly upheld the purity of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Education standards may have risen from the Church’s early times but in matters of salvation and doctrine, secular education must be subject to what the Church teaches if there are differences. The scientific method, for instance, observes and evaluates what it can physically evaluate but it cannot evaluate the matters of the soul and God’s revelation. They are two different realms. At the same time, it is for the Church to interpret the scriptures, not individuals, especially those who want to take the words of the Bible literally. They are called Fundamentalists. While the Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit can inspire individuals to respond to Christ’s teachings it is His Body, the Church which imparts that teaching, not individuals.

Today’s Gospel passage continues St. Luke’s account of Jesus betrayal, conviction, suffering and crucifixion.

Monday, March 8th., 2021

Monday, March 08, 2021

Epistle: 3 John 1:1-15            Gospel: Luke 19:29-40, 22:7-39

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is from St. Luke, as will be the case for the ones for tomorrow and Thursday. They are St. Luke’s account of the last period of Jesus’ life when He entered into Jerusalem, had His Last Supper with His apostles and then was arrested and condemned to death by crucifixion.

The Epistle today is of the Third Letter of St. John the Evangelist. John told them how much joy it gave him that they remained faithful to his apostleship and to the teachings of Jesus. They not only believe the truth of Jesus’ teachings, they also testified to it in the way they lived. He thanked Gaius for his love and support and urged them to continue following him.

In contrast, there was a person named Diotrephes who refused to accept John’s apostleship and authority. He seems to have been an elder from another community and he was spreading slander about John and Gaius. This was a classic case of an elder who became arrogant and only interested in promoting himself, not Christ. He refused to answer to John or any other authority.

We must remember that from the beginning, the Orthodox Church always saw itself as an hierarchical Church based the conciliar model. When, for instance, the early Church had to find a replacement for Judas, the community prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance in order to select someone suitable. They chose two to vote from and after electing Matthias, his authority was blessed with an anointing. Thus, while there was a process by which they voted, after the decision, chose person was expected to follow Christ’s teachings and those of the apostles. He was expected to follow the Church’s doctrines and authority. Any decisions about doctrine were done through a council. This principle still holds true today. Anyone who does not accept the doctrines of the Church is not part of the Church.

In the case of Diotrephes, he would soon be forgotten but through the Holy Spirit, the Church lived on and thrived. The teachings of the apostle and evangelist John prevailed then and are still treasured to this day.

The most important thing for the Church hierarchs is to be humble. It is through humility that the Holy Spirit can reside in a person’s heart, enabling that elder to bear fruit a hundredfold as Jesus spoke of in the parable of the sewer and the seeds. Thus, in each Divine Liturgy, the priest prays for our hierarchs after the Consecration and Epiclesis:

“Grant them, for Thy Holy Churches in peace, safety, honor, health, length of days, rightly dividing the word of Thy Truth.”

Today’s Gospel passage is timely because part of describes how a dispute arose among the disciples about who was the greatest among them. Jesus called them to Himself and said to them:

“And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.”

When we are humble, we rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide us and bless our efforts. When we are arrogant, we become like Diotrephes, relying only upon our own efforts in order to gain our own praise. Let us pray for ourselves and for the Church leaders to keep the gift of humility so that the Lord will bless our efforts and enable them to “rightly divide the word of Thy Truth.”

Sunday, March 7th., 2021 Meatfare & Judgment Sunday

Sunday, March 7th 2021

Sunday of the Last Judgment & Meatfare Sunday

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2                        Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today is Meatfare Sunday. The Orthodox Church calls us to fast and refrain from certain foods throughout the year but we now commence the most concerted effort in this task of the Orthodox Calendar. Orthodoxy strongly believes that we must keep a balance in what we eat thus, refraining from certain foods, if done properly, is good for both the body and the soul. The clue again is balancing this challenge according to our needs. If we have medical conditions, for instance, that require us to eat food in order to take our medicines or maintain chemical levels that keep our bodies healthy, we should adhere to those. Today’s Epistle from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians reinforces this principle from a spiritual point of view. I often say, fasting is for the body, the body is not for fasting.

At the same time, to never fast or ignore what the Orthodox Church asks with this practice would put both the health of our bodies and of our souls at risk. Not withstanding our medical requirements, the more we take on the Great Fast, the healthier we will be in both body and soul. If it requires some discomfort for our bodies, this is not a bad thing for a temporary period and we should not simply give in because it is uncomfortable. At the same time, stay safe! If you find yourself getting dizzy because of lack of food or water, definitely eat or drink something to alleviate such a condition. In the long term, however, the more we try, the more accustomed our body will become to it and we will be all the more healthy because of it.

Incidentally, the Orthodox Church does not talk in terms of Mortal Sin or Sin like the Roman Church does. It neither judges nor condemns because that is up to our Heavenly Father. It simply calls us to take on the practice of fasting in order to bring our souls closer to Christ.

So today, the Orthodox Church celebrates Meatfare Sunday. We enjoy a meal that has meat. From Monday on, we refrain from eating meat. The next Sunday, Chesefare Sunday, we celebrate the use of cheese. The next day after that, however, we refrain from cheese and dairy products as well as from meat and fish. This will continue right through to Sunday, May 5th, which is Pascha. For the feast of the Annunciation on March 25th and on Palm Sunday on May April 25th, we are allowed to eat fish. My best advice is to simply do your best. If such abstinence is too much for this long a period, try it two or three times a week.

As the title above says, today is the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We therefore read the famous Gospel from St. Matthew where Jesus said: “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…”

I often say, that because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His teachings, our Heavenly Father has required very little of us to enter into His Kingdom: to believe in Jesus Christ, His teachings and His Body, the Church while we take up our crosses and follow Him. One fundamental teaching that Jesus often stated was that we should strive to store up treasures in heaven. Today’s Gospel spells this out very clearly where we are expected to share our earthly blessings with those less fortunate. Not only are we required to love God with all our souls, with all our hearts and all our minds but to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, we are required to care for the poor. As you know, many people in our own country have gone hungry during the pandemic and I have called upon parish members and friends to respond by giving to Food Pantries to help out. The parish has also recently undertaken a charitable project through Sunday School to help someone with an illness. I commend everyone who has responded to these needs. Let us keep up this same spirit of giving without reservation and make it part of our way of life. In the first part of today’s message, I talked about the benefit of fasting for our bodies and souls. When we give to the poor, however, it covers a multitude of sins. Let us enthusiastically embrace this practice as we embrace the Kingdom of God.

What the Church reminds us from today’s Gospel is that the time of grace and forgiveness will come to an end. When our souls part from our bodies, we will go beyond time and space and when our Father is ready, He will have His Son sit on the Judgment Seat and it is then that we will have to account. It is then that we will be judged. Each Divine Liturgy we pray for:

“A good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.”

 

Let us not forget this as we go about our daily lives so that we will store up treasures in heaven as Christ taught us.

Friday, March 5th., 2021

Friday, March 05, 2021

Epistle: 2 John 1:1-13                        Mark 15:22-25, 33-41

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Mark continues his account of Jesus being crucified and dying on the cross in obedience to His Heavenly Father.

Today’s Epistle reading is the whole of St. John’s Second Letter. In it, he wrote to the community to remain steadfast in their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who became man. He told them that:

“He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.”

He felt compelled to write this letter because there were some who were originally Christian but later disputed the teachings of the apostles. The biggest group was the Gnostics who claimed that the Son of God did not come in the flesh. He warned them to have nothing to do with the group. John wrote that he wished he could tell them in person but the issue was so urgent that it was better to write to them immediately. At the same time, he was very heartened that the majority of the community remained faithful to his teachings. He also wrote that those who do remain faithful to it will be those who love one another. The false teachers wished to destroy them and were antichrists.

It is a timely warning for us also to hold onto those teachings faithfully passed down to us through the Orthodox Church. This has been a difficult year for everyone and confusion can set in about many issues. In times like this, it is even more important to cling to what the Church teaches in order to remain focused on Christ and not get distracted or disturbed about worldly news and events. This does not mean that we cut ourselves off from those events but always measure them by what Christ, His apostles and the Church currently may say about them. What matters in the end is that we store up treasures in heaven for when our souls depart from this life.

Thursday, March 4th., 2021

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Epistle: 1 John 4:20-5:21       Gospel: Mark 15:1-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Mark’s account of Jesus being tried by the Jewish authorities and after being found guilty, sent to Pontius Pilate. Even though Pilate tried to avoid Jesus death, it was inevitable that the Jewish people’s wish for Him to be crucified would be carried out.

In today’s Epistle passage, St. John continued his discourse about how to live in the righteousness of Christ. He firstly stated that,

  1. Anyone who believes in Christ must love his brother because Christ loved him first. Anyone or, any Christian community, who hates his brother or others, even enemies, is a liar.
  2. Those who believe in Christ should testify to their belief by keeping His commandments. That is, by faithfully following what He and His apostles have taught.
  3. These commandments are not burdensome like the precepts of the Old Law but we are instead given the power to overcome sin through the Holy Spirit.
  4. Jesus not only taught and performed miracles, He also bore the witness of Himself being sacrifice by the shedding blood and water.
  5. The Holy Spirit bears witness to this sacrifice by giving us the grace to choose Christ instead of sin. The Holy Spirit bears witness to this truth, by proceeding from the Father through the sacrificial witness of His only begotten Son. This is how St. John expressed it:

“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.”

  1. Our very belief in Christ also makes us witnesses to the Father and the Son and it is because of this belief, “that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” We can also have confidence in our heavenly Father:

“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

  1. In contrast, anyone who refuses to believe in Christ’s testimony is calling the Father a liar and they do not have eternal life in them.

St. John then moved on to the issue about those who believe in Christ but keep sinful practices. The last verse gives the clue to what he was writing about. There were those who converted to Christ but still kept some of their pagan practices, thus worshipping idols. This was not only a matter for the converts of his time but ever since, the Church often had to deal with it. St. John simply stated at the end of this passage:

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”

 Old habits die hard but besides this, there is much in us that wants to cling onto ways that are not of Christ. Facing up to them and letting go of them can be very hard but this is what is meant by taking up our cross to follow Christ. Outward practices required by the Church are given to help us stay focused on Christ but what will matter in the end is for us to be prepared to let go of our sinfulness so that we can be one with Christ. This goes to the heart of our journey to Christ. 

Wednesday, March 3rd., 2021

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Epistle: 1 John 3:21-4:6         Gospel: Mark 14:43-15:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Mark’s account of Jesus being arrested and falsely accused by the Jewish authorities while the apostles scatter in fear. Peter also denied knowing Him three times.

St. John sums up the essence of our faith in Christ in the first part of today’s Epistle passage.

“And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.

Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”

The context of this Epistle like those from other apostles was that these early communities were living in a hostile world, where those who did not believe in Christ either tried to make them sway from their faith in Christ as taught by the apostles or, were outright hostile to them, sometimes even persecuting them. St. John reminded his readers that Christ has conquered the evil one and so, they had nothing to be afraid of. He concluded:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.”

He told them that many will come who are false prophets, especially those who deny that Jesus Christ, the Son of God came into the world in the flesh. He accused such teachers of reflecting the anti-Christ:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

The Orthodox Church takes what St. John taught in today’s passage very seriously. It has striven, therefore, to remain as faithful as possible to the teachings of Jesus and those of His apostles. It has not strayed from the scriptures or the writings of the Fathers of the Church. One necessary and important way to remain in Christ, therefore, is to remain faithful to the teachings of the Orthodox Church and follow its seasonal practices. It is called the Orthodox Way. In we embrace them, we can stay close to Christ as we go about our daily lives.

Tuesday, March 2nd., 2021

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Epistle: 1 John 3:11-20          Gospel: Mark 14:10-42

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. John’s First Epistle, he wrote about the need for us to love one another. We have been given the gift of love because it comes from the righteousness of the risen Christ. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus before He rose from the dead. He warned them not to replace this with hatred.

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

Christ showed the example of true love by laying down His life for others. He urged them therefore to be prepared to do the same for their brethren. While not everyone is called to sacrifice of their lives for others, everyone is called to give of their goods to others who may be in need. Love requires acting and not merely using words.

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.”

Never be afraid, therefore, to give to others. As Jesus said, when we do, we store up treasures in heaven.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark is his account of Jesus with His apostles at the Last Supper and also of the Agony in the Garden afterwards.

Mark wrote his account of the words that Jesus spoke at that memorable supper:

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

He also described how Jesus announced that one of His apostles would betray Him. The apostles were dismayed of course but let us look at Judas, the betrayer, for a moment. Despite all that he had witness about Jesus, His miracles, His teachings, His recognition by the crowds that He was a prophet from God, Judas allowed pride to set into his heart, casting doubts on all that Jesus did. Nor could he resist the opportunity to gain prophet out of Jesus. Each of the evangelists wrote that he was a thief who used to pilfer the purse.

The lesson for us is to always be wary of being led astray. Jesus taught that, in order to follow Him, we too must take up our cross. This can be very hard at times and in our weakness, we can become confused. Pray to the Holy Spirit to guide, strengthen and protect us. This is what it means to have a pure heart. A pure heart chooses Christ instead of what our pride or doubts may suggest is better for us. Our heart is where we struggle with our sinfulness and where we do battle with the body’s tendency to turn its God given appetites into insatiable passions. In as much as we give it to Christ and choose Him, we have a pure heart.

The Orthodox Church uses today’s readings to help us prepare for the season of Great Lent, where we try to focus on where our hearts have gone astray. When we identify such sins, we repent and ask to turn back to Christ. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over the 99 who do not need repentance.

The Gospel passage continued by describing how the time had come for the prince of this world, Satan, would have his day. The apostles would be scattered, Peter would deny Him, thanks to the betrayal of Judas, Jesus would be arrested and falsely tried by the chief priests who had come to hate Him and who made the people turn into and angry mob against Him, had Him scourged and put to death by crucifixion. Judas would eventually hang himself. Even Jesus had great difficulty bearing what was to come at the Garden of Olives and struggled to abide by the will of His Father.

“He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

Even so, the Father’s plan would unfold and Satan would be defeated. Let us remember this time when we go through struggles. If we reach out to Christ, whom we know went through even greater struggles, our Father’s plan will unfold in us as well. As Jesus said at the end of His earthly life: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Monday, March 1st., 2021

Monday, March 01, 2021

Epistle: 1 John 2:18-3:10       Gospel: Mark 11:1-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. John makes several points in the passage given today from his Second Epistle.

Even in those times, a lot of ideas were swirling around claiming to be the one for people to follow. Some of them touched on what the early Christians believed, particularly about who Christ was. St. John wrote and told his people to ignore all of them because “you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.”

Note that this anointing comes from Christ and His apostles. It is only through them that this same anointing can be passed on. Today, it is passed on through the bishops of the Orthodox Church who had, in turn, had it passed on to them from their predecessors.

Because they were anointed, they were now children of the Father in heaven and as such, have been bestowed righteousness. He called upon them to cling onto that anointing and not be led astray by others:

“Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us – eternal life.”

In contrast, those who claimed that Jesus was not the Christ were liars. He wrote:

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

He told them that they are able to know the truth about someone from the fruits of their behavior. Thus, for those who were righteousness, he wrote:

“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” 

In contrast, those who live in a sinful way cannot have the righteousness of the Father in them. Such a choice can only ultimately lead to their destruction:

“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

He concluded:

“Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”

Let us remember John’s teachings as we go about our lives. Let us stay focused on Christ and His Body, the Church. In this way, we can strive to live as He did, living in righteousness.

Sunday February, 28th., 2021: The Prodigal Son

Sunday, February 28th 2021

Prodigal Son Sunday

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20                       Gospel: Luke 15:11-32

Archpriest Terence Baz

As part of the period of preparation for the Season of Great Lent, today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in the Orthodox Liturgical Calendar. In the Gospel, St. Luke portrayed this beautiful parable from Jesus where He describes our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

There are three main characters in the story, the father, the older son and the wayward younger son. The younger son became so self assured that he wanted to break off from his family when he came of age and start out on his own. His father did not stop him. For a short while, he was popular because he kept throwing his money at people but his popularity suddenly ended when his money ran out. He found himself groveling in order to survive. Then he came to his senses and decided to return to his father. It would be better to work for him than to be at the mercy of strangers. The older son was obviously unimpressed and would rather disown him than endure all the embarrassing rumors swirling around about him, not to mention the loss endured from the family estate because of his wastefulness.

None of these things mattered to the father. He had been looking out for him every day and when he heard he was returned, he ran out to embrace him. He was overjoyed that he came back and put on a feast to celebrate it.

It may seem incomprehensible that our Father in heaven would want us to be part of His Kingdom and invite us to His feast. Here is the unapproachable creator of the universe, beyond time and space, inviting us, His creatures, to be part of His Kingdom even though we do not deserve it! For this to happen, He had to send His only begotten Son to be sacrificed for us to gain access to that Kingdom and attain its righteousness. In reflecting on this mystery, the priest prays the following prayer right after the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy:

“In the tomb with the body and in hell with the soul, in paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, O Christ God, you are uncontained, filling all things!”

Our Father does not look upon our sinfulness at this time but simply asked us to believe in His Son’s works and teachings, embrace the life of the Kingdom of God and follow His Son by taking up our own crosses. He accepts everyone, whether the first or the last. Jesus simply taught the Chosen People to repent because the Kingdom of God was at hand. He also gave us the prayer, the ‘Our Father’ to relate to Him intimately. Such is His desire for us to be found, like the prodigal son was found, in the parable. This is our relationship with our Father!

The older son’s reaction was more akin to what the Old Law would require. You would be punished for your misdeeds. The older son was also resentful that the father reacted in the way he did, but the father pointed out that everything he had, now belonged to his older son. What mattered was that the younger son was found again after being lost. For our Heavenly Father, it is not about claiming justice but that all of His creation would be embraced into His Heavenly Kingdom. Like the Prodigal Son, He allows us to make that choice right to the very end of our earthly lives when our souls will have to make a final choice of whether we accept His invitation or whether we reject it by choosing the kingdom of hell instead. Jesus said there is more rejoicing in heaven over one lost sheep being found than over the 99 who are safe. In other words, it is incomprehensibly painful for our Father who created us to see us go astray.

For these reasons, we should never be afraid to turn back to Him. We should never be afraid to ‘come to our senses’ like the Prodigal Son did. We should never think that, as a lost sheep, we have no right to turn back or do not deserve to be forgiven. Jesus never refused anyone who sought His life giving power. After His earthly life, Jesus offered His Holy Spirit to help us as well as His Body, the Church, to heal and reunite us with Him through the sacraments, especially Confession. As simple as this offer to be one with our Heavenly Father is, it is a life or death offer. Let us embrace it with our whole hearts, minds and souls to enjoy the feast of His Heavenly banquet. Despite our weaknesses, let us enable our Heavenly Father rejoice over our returning to Him like the Prodigal Son in today’s parable.

Friday, February 26th., 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021

Epistle: 1 John 2:7-17 Gospel: Mark 14:3-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

For St. John the Evangelist, one of the markers of being a follower of Christ is to love one another. In today’s Epistle passage, he wrote to his people:

“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”

In contrast, those who say they are in the light but hate their brother, are in darkness. There were many at the time who hated the Christians because they loved one another and continued to grow in numbers. John went on to assure them:

“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.”

He commended them for choosing to live in Christ. He spoke specifically about the fathers of the community, those who were young and those who were little children. To the fathers, they have therefore known the Father in heaven; to the young, because they had overcome the evil one by living in Christ; and to the children, because they see the Father in their own fathers.

What John says here is the motivation today for those who live in parts of the world who are hostile to Christians. One can only admire those Orthodox Christians who live in such parts. They choose to live in a way that Christ did so that the Holy Spirit will enables them to reach the presence of the Kingdom of God. They are prepared to give up everything else to have this, like the pearl that Jesus spoke about when describing the Kingdom of God. We, who live in a free country, should be prepared to make similar sacrifices if we are called to. If we remain focused on Christ, this would not be a difficult choice if faced with it.

John continued:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

He is talking about the fallen world, of course but we must always keep in mind, that although God created it and the Holy Spirit continues that work of creation, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, Satan is sill the prince of the world. What the Orthodox Church says about things such as “the lust of the flesh” as John wrote, is that our appetites are good because they were created by God but our sinfulness can easily take over and turn them into uncontrollable passions. In the pagan world of St. John’s time, bodily passions were the norm. He also wrote in today’s passage that the darkness of this world has blinded their eyes. The early Christians could see this but they chose to live in the light of Christ. Let us choose to do the same.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark is his account of a woman who came to Him and poured perfume over His feet to anoint them. He does not write anything about her sins, as the accounts of the other evangelists had, only that she came in and anointed Him.

The people who were present complained because they knew that the perfume was very expensive and said that it could have been sold to give the money to the poor. Jesus rebuked them and told them to leave her alone. It may on the surface seemed a little arrogant of Jesus to have ignored the poor for Himself but He makes the reason for the rebuke clear:

“For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.”

No one can ever tell when the presence of God might insert itself into history. Given all the miracles and His astonishing teaching, which is why they kept clamoring for Him, they took for granted that this was a uniquely divine time when that very presence was among them. They took it for granted and presumed it would stay for a long time. Little did they know that, according to St. Mark’s account, He would very soon be departing. This is why Jesus mentioned that it was an anointing for His burial. It was not simply a figure of speech but that His burial would soon happen. In other words, if they wanted to reach the presence of God through ministering to the poor, something that Jesus did teach about, that opportunity would never disappear but He would be gone from their midst within days.

At this time of year, when the Orthodox Church prepares for the season of Great Lent, it wants us to reflect on how we may have become inattentive to the presence of God around us. When we do, we become vulnerable to the passions of the fallen world. It wants to remind us that we need to turn back to Christ when we stray. He is always there for us through His Body, the Church, to turn back and regain His eternal light and life so that we may keep the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and the Kingdom of God close to us. Let us enthusiastically do so.

Video of Archbishop Michael's Sermon on Sunday, February 21st., 2021

If you would like to watch the sermon given by Archbishop Michael last Sunday, February 21st., 2021 at Holy Assumption Church, please click onto the following link: https://nynjoca.org/news_210225_1

Fr. Terence Baz

Thursday, February 24th 2021

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Epistle: 1 John 1:8-2:6           Gospel: Mark 13:31-14:2

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, we have a passage from St. John’s First Epistle. He made a number of points about Christ’s commandments and sin to his readers. The first was that those who claim that they have no sin are lying to themselves. We all sin. It makes it even worse if we cannot recognize it! Secondly, he assured them that, in acknowledging their sins, they have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” When we confess our sins, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Thirdly, we will know Christ, if we keep His commandments. In like manner, those who say they know Him but do not keep His commandments are liars. The truth is not in them. Finally, for those who do keep his Word, “truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”

If, therefore, we stay focused on Christ and His Kingdom, strive to keep His commandments through His Body, the Church, we live in Him, dying as we did at our baptism. As His disciples or followers, we strive to walk as He walked on earth.

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of being ready for when the Day of Judgment comes. If we strive to follow Christ’s teachings and stay focused on Him, when that day comes, this world will be shaken to the core but because we live in Christ, we will be spared of the calamity that awaits it. In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus proclaimed:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”

He then warned them to not be caught out when it does come. The Orthodox Church puts a lot of emphasis on this warning. Its yearly cycle of events is intended to help us stay on track in being prepared for it. None of us knows when it will happen. Those who claim they know when the end of the world will come are deceiving themselves and others. We cannot play God! Once again, the message is simple: stay focused on Christ and the Kingdom of God; use the Church’s teachings and its liturgical calendar to stay in focus; call upon the advocate or comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide us; when we fail or go off track, turn back to Him through the sacrament of Confession because He will never refuse us; His Body, the Church is intended to be a healer of souls and is there for us when we need it.

Today’s Epistle from St. John’s Second Letter reinforces these principles.

Wednesday, February 24th., 2021

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Epistle: 2 Peter 3:1-18           Gospel: Mark 13:24-31

Archpriest Terence Baz

Given the dramatic events that had happened in recent years of the preaching and teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, Jesus’ miracles, His death on the cross and His resurrection, His appearance afterwards to the apostles and the event of Pentecost at which the Church began, it is not surprising that the early Christians would have expected that Christ’s coming again, which He had foretold in today’s Gospel, was to happen soon. We can see from the early Epistles that the apostles and their communities pondered this question. Today’s passage from the Second Epistle of St. Peter also discussed it. Peter realized that the date for this event was unknown. To the detractors of the early Christians who were waiting for Christ’s second coming, he wrote:

“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night”

To his community, he wrote, urging them to remain steadfast:

“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Another common element in both of today’s passages are their references to creation. Creation was often spoken about in those times as part of Salvation History. This may sound odd, living in today’s industrial world but for the Church, creation is ever present. It was described in the Book of Genesis and referred to all throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms. The creation of the universe is an expression of God’s Word and Wisdom. The current utilitarian thinking of Western Europe views this planet and the universe as a whole as something expedient for our betterment and security. In so far as it is taken for granted because it has served us well, such thinking forgets that it was God who created it and that we were not placed on it to serve ourselves only. God has taught us through His Word how to use it the way He intended. The earth and God’s creation, as we know it, will not be here forever. Jesus warned that it will come to an end and Peter warned his community to remain steadfast to Jesus’ teachings. Peter also made reference to St. Paul’s teaching on the end times and living a life in Christ.

Paul often told his communities to live in Christ because this fallen world will not lead to eternal life. God created it but because Satan is still the prince of it, to rely on it solely for our benefit will only lead to death. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, this current world must come to an end. The only way to escape its realm of death is to repent and die to our bodily selfishness and live in Christ. Paul also taught, however, about a “new heaven and a new earth.” When the “Day of the Lord” does come, God’s creation will not be destroyed but transformed. In the same way, our bodies, now doomed to die, will also be transformed. The universe and this planet as we know it will be shaken to the core but it will be transformed, not destroyed. Both Peter and Paul therefore taught their communities to remain steadfast, because if they live in Christ, whenever that Day occurs and in whatever way it happens, they will be united to the Kingdom of God and not face the calamity of what the fallen world will succumb to. In the same way, the Orthodox Church has not forgotten its relationship to God’s creation and is why it is referred to throughout its liturgical prayers.

While we must always remain focused on the Kingdom of God, it does not mean that we shun the world. God has given us its earthly blessings for us to enjoy. Nor should we ignore the social issues it faces today. Nothing could make this clearer than what we have had to endure during this pandemic. Denying serious social issues ignores Jesus’ teachings about justice for the poor. In the same way, denying concerns for the wellbeing of planet earth ignores our responsibility to care for the ongoing act of creation which, as Orthodox, we believe the Holy Spirit continues to this present day. Once again, if we look to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, we will keep a healthy balance in regard to living in this world but at the same time, staying focused on the Kingdom of God.

Let us, therefore, strive to remain faithful to Christ’s teachings as the early Christian communities did and through His Body, the Church, continue to live ‘in Christ’ so that when the time comes for our day of reckoning, we will have the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf. As we pray in the Divine Liturgy:

“For a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of God.”

Tuesday, February 23rd., 2020

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Epistle: 2 Peter 2:9-22           Epistle: Mark 13:14-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both the Epistle and Gospel today warn us about the time of retribution that will come to those who refuse to believe in Christ. St. Peter’s Second Letter warned that it will be bad enough for the pagans who offend God because of their lustful practices but even worse for those who had committed to Christ but fell back to those pagan ways or to other groups which do not act in the way that the followers of Christ faithfully do. In the same way, Jesus warned about the destruction of Jerusalem because the Jews refused to believe in Him and follow His teachings. Jesus also warned to not be swayed by false teachers. He said:

“If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

This is why it is so important to stay close to the Church. The Orthodox Church has carefully striven over the centuries to remain faithful to Jesus’ teachings and those of His apostles. As soon as people start changing them to make something more convenient or easier to live by, they start heading down a perilous path. Such wavering has arrogance as its basis. St. Peter wrote in today’s passage:

“They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and in might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.”

Pray instead for humility so that the Holy Spirit will reside in us and enable us to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. In this way, we will not be led astray.

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

Monday, February 22, 2021

Epistle: 2 Peter 1:20-2:9        Gospel: Mark 13:9-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Orthodox Church believes that we are able receive the Energies of God directly, that the we are able to hear what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us, that we can receive grace directly from  God. We also have to keep in mind, however, that because of the sin of Adam and Eve, our ability to listen to God’s Word is clouded. Further, what we may think is from God might be from the evil one instead. Thus, unlike the Vatican, the Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit can speak to us directly without the Church as an intermediary. At the same time, unlike most Protestants, it also believes that when someone thinks they have heard God speak to them, he or she needs Christ’s Body, the Church, to verify that it is from God and not the evil one. The conflict between Rome’s demand that only the Vatican can interpret the Word of God in the Bible but not lay people and that of the Protestants, who believed that God could speak to them without the Roman Church’s interpretation, was a major reason for the split between them and Rome. The Orthodox Church believes that the two needs, namely: God inspiring people directly through the Bible and the Church’s role to guide them in that interpretation, are not mutually exclusive.

Today’s passage from the Second Letter of St. Peter addressed this issue. He wrote:

“No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The early Church, during St. Peter’s time, was being pressured by pagan practices with their loose morals, by Jews who would not accept Jesus as the Christ and by a new emerging sect, the Gnostics, who claimed that they had a special knowledge that would bring them salvation, not Christ. The Church would later declare them to be heretics but Peter had to address this belief even at such early time in the Church. He continued:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

They were jealous of the growth of the Christian communities established by the apostles. He continued:

“By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

For the rest of this passage, he warned his readers that, like of old, such false teachings would not go unnoticed by God. Like the fallen angels and like the debaucherous people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the day of reckoning would also come to those false teachers of Peter’s time. Even so, God would protect the righteous who remained steadfast in their faith in Christ and His teachings. St. Peter encouraged them by concluding:

“The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.”

In regard to us today, it is always important to stay focused on Christ. He has offered us His Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and strengthen us in times of hardship and confusion. In order to prevent ourselves from becoming confused and led astray, however, we need Christ’s Body, the Church, to make sure we do not slip away from Jesus’ teachings. Through His sacrifice, He has made it simple for us to attain righteousness: by being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, by believing in Him and His teachings, by turning back to Him when we fail. He gave us His Holy Spirit to enable us to. What we need to remember, however, is that our time of reckoning will come too, when the soul will separate from the body and we pass from this life to the next. If we go astray and not choose Christ, the only alternative is the kingdom of death, where Satan reigns. Let us make sure we remain steadfast in our focus on the Kingdom of God and seek to store up treasure for it instead of this fallen world that will come to an end.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus also told His disciples to listen to the Holy Spirit when confronted by their persecutors because, with His guidance, they did not need worry about what to say. St. Mark wrote:

“But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

So, Jesus Himself said that the Holy Spirit can speak to us directly but in order to protect us from our weakness with its proneness to confusion, we need to allow Christ’s Body, the Church, to guide us in staying faithful to Him. Confusion will certainly abound, as Jesus warned:

“Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

St. Mark’s community was in the midst of persecution and threats. He drew upon Jesus’ words to teach his people to remain steadfast because those things were bound to happen. Just as with the communities established by the other apostles, even though they too went through persecution, they ultimately prevailed and are still with us today. Let us therefore take heart that Christ will enable the Orthodox Church to prevail as well, as long as we remain focused on Him. Neither the gates of hell, nor the ways of the fallen world can prevail against it.

Friday, February 19th., 2021

Friday, February 19, 2021

Epistle: 2 Peter 1:1-10           Gospel: Mark 13:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, we have the introduction to the Second Letter of St. Peter. Some important theological themes for the Orthodox Church come through in this passage,

Firstly, he begins with familiar principles. He is a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ and through the precious gift of faith, has obtained righteousness. This righteousness is a knowledge given by God through Jesus Christ and from which we gain grace and peace.

Secondly, he moved onto a theme that the Orthodox Church strongly embraces. He wrote:

“Through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, [and] by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

We are “partakers of the divine nature,” not only in the sense that we taste bread and wine but that in our knowledge of Jesus Christ, we take on the nature of God. Thus, St. Athanatius wrote: “God became man so that man might become God.” The Orthodox Church uses the term “theosis” to describe what St. Peter wrote in this letter.

St Peter had already warned his people in Rome in his first letter to not fall back to the ways of the pagans. So, the third point he made was about living a virtuous life. If they instead stayed focused on Christ and His Kingdom, by,

“giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

These are the gifts of the Kingdom of God and he urged them to cling onto them:

“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

Note that the “call and election” is for us to become disciples of Christ by being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. For Christians today, we are called to live out our baptism each day of our lives by dying to ourselves and putting on Christ. The more we do this through Christ’s body, the Church, the more we become “partakers of the divine nature.” Infant baptism was a practice that was done from the first generation of Christians. Some

Protestants have confused baptism and chrismation (which is done with it) as a sacrament of commitment. It is not. These two sacraments initiate the baptized person into the Body of Christ. The life-long process of “theosis” then begins. They should not be separated as the Church of Rome does. Some also regard themselves as “elect” because of the blood of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This is a misinterpretation of what St. Peter wrote about here, who was distinguishing his people from the pagans. The blood of Christ is not some automatic passage to the “elect.” We must choose each day to take up our cross and live in the way Peter taught his people to continue in order to to become “partakers of the divine nature.” The Orthodox Church says that the Kingdom of God is within us so long as we strive to live the Church’s teachings and call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we remain focused on Christ and His Kingdom.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, the disciples discussed with Jesus the magnificence of the Temple of Jerusalem. God had called His Chosen People to build a temple for His presence to reside. In the same way for us, Church buildings are important as places of worship and where the presence of God resides through Christ. Jesus pointed out however that all such things will ultimately come to an end. He was specifically talking about the immanent fall of Jerusalem but the early Church soon learned that what is lasting is faith in Christ. We have also learned this during this time of the pandemic. Through Christ, the fallen ways of this world are surpassed and the presence of God remains with us. Many of the practices, even the services, have had to be curtailed for reasons of safety but our faith endures. Let us rejoice when we will be able to come back to church freely without fear of viruses but in the meantime, let us remain steadfast in our faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is there to strengthen and guide us.

Friday, February 19th., 2021

Friday, February 19, 2021

Epistle: 2 Peter 1:1-10           Gospel: Mark 13:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, we have the introduction to the Second Letter of St. Peter. Some important theological themes for the Orthodox Church come through in this passage,

Firstly, he begins with familiar principles. He is a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ and through the precious gift of faith, has obtained righteousness. This righteousness is a knowledge given by God through Jesus Christ and from which we gain grace and peace.

Secondly, he moved onto a theme that the Orthodox Church strongly embraces. He wrote:

“Through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, [and] by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

We are “partakers of the divine nature,” not only in the sense that we taste bread and wine but that in our knowledge of Jesus Christ, we take on the nature of God. Thus, St. Athanatius wrote: “God became man so that man might become God.” The Orthodox Church uses the term “theosis” to describe what St. Peter wrote in this letter.

St Peter had already warned his people in Rome in his first letter to not fall back to the ways of the pagans. So, the third point he made was about living a virtuous life. If they instead stayed focused on Christ and His Kingdom, by,

“giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

These are the gifts of the Kingdom of God and he urged them to cling onto them:

“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

Note that the “call and election” is for us to become disciples of Christ by being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. For Christians today, we are called to live out our baptism each day of our lives by dying to ourselves and putting on Christ. The more we do this through Christ’s body, the Church, the more we become “partakers of the divine nature.” Infant baptism was a practice that was done from the first generation of Christians. Some

Protestants have confused baptism and chrismation (which is done with it) as a sacrament of commitment. It is not. These two sacraments initiate the baptized person into the Body of Christ. The life-long process of “theosis” then begins. They should not be separated as the Church of Rome does. Some also regard themselves as “elect” because of the blood of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This is a misinterpretation of what St. Peter wrote about here, who was distinguishing his people from the pagans. The blood of Christ is not some automatic passage to the “elect.” We must choose each day to take up our cross and live in the way Peter taught his people to continue in order to to become “partakers of the divine nature.” The Orthodox Church says that the Kingdom of God is within us so long as we strive to live the Church’s teachings and call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we remain focused on Christ and His Kingdom.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, the disciples discussed with Jesus the magnificence of the Temple of Jerusalem. God had called His Chosen People to build a temple for His presence to reside. In the same way for us, Church buildings are important as places of worship and where the presence of God resides through Christ. Jesus pointed out however that all such things will ultimately come to an end. He was specifically talking about the immanent fall of Jerusalem but the early Church soon learned that what is lasting is faith in Christ. We have also learned this during this time of the pandemic. Through Christ, the fallen ways of this world are surpassed and the presence of God remains with us. Many of the practices, even the services, have had to be curtailed for reasons of safety but our faith endures. Let us rejoice when we will be able to come back to church freely without fear of viruses but in the meantime, let us remain steadfast in our faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is there to strengthen and guide us.

Please note that this weekend, Archbishop Michael will be visiting our parish for his annual visit. He will preach for the Divine Liturgy but will post it within a couple of days afterwards. When he does, I will post it here for you to read. Both Great Vespers and Divine Liturgy will be streamed for you to watch.

Thursday, February 18th., 2021

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Epistle: 1 Peter 4:12-5:5        Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

It is obvious from today’s passage from the First Letter of St. Peter that the people he wrote to were enduring persecution. Given that it was the center of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising. St. Peter encouraged them to endure these sufferings just as Jesus did on the cross. Criminals may suffer for their wrongdoing but for the Christians in Rome, their sufferings were not something to be ashamed of. Quite the opposite: they should rejoice in them because they endure them in the name of Christ.

“Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.”

In the last sentence of this quote, “their part” refers to the Roman pagans. Note like St. Paul, he mentions the Holy Spirit rests upon them and He will guide and strengthen them. He continued:

"Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”

Peter would continue that:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

For these early Christians, Peter included, they imagined that Christ would return soon. Given the precariousness of these fledgling Christian communities, it is understandable that they hoped Christ would come again soon but Jesus Himself said, when asked about this by His apostles, that no one knows the dates or times set by our Father in heaven. Little would this tiny community imagine that a globally known basilica would be erected in honor of St. Peter and the faith of his community in Rome. “Who can know the mind of God? Who can understand His ways?”

Even so, he then gave instruction on how this Christian community should conduct itself while they waited. To the elders, he wrote:

“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

To others in his community, he wrote:

"Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

These same instructions hold true for us today. He urged them to embrace the crosses that came their way, to remember that the Holy Spirit was there for them to sanctify those sufferings and finally, to be humble because “God resists the proud.”

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus gives an example of putting humility into action. He observed that the wealthy were contributing a great deal to the Temple treasury but then He saw a widow put in a tiny amount. He told those around Him that what she gave means more to the Kingdom of God that all the other contributions combined. She was poor but gave of all she had, the rest only gave from their surplus. He had also just commented on the scribes who liked to show off their fine clothes. He said:

 “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”

Once again, arrogance and pride are despised in the Kingdom of God but the grace of the Holy Spirit is given to those who are humble. Let us always pray for humility when we ask for strength in our trials and crosses. When we do, the Holy Spirit will certainly be with us and our Heavenly Father will hear our prayers, just as Jesus observed when He noticed the two mites that the poor widow put into the treasury. Let us humbly offer up ourselves as incense before God so that we will be sanctified.

Wednesday, February 17th 2021

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Epistle: 1 Peter 4:1-11           Gospel: Mark 12:28-37

Archpriest Terence Baz

I got my first vaccine yesterday! It was Moderna. That appointment, with other errands I had to do, prevented me from posting a message yesterday. My apologies.

A couple of factors need to be kept in mind when reading today’s passage from the First Letter of St. Peter. The first is that when Jesus called him to be an apostle, his first response was to tell Jesus to depart from him because he was a sinful man. It is likely that his comments about those who live sinful lives were as much a reflection of his former life as anything else. Secondly, he was likely in Rome when he wrote this letter so, was living in a pagan world where idolatry and debauchery would have been seen everywhere. He was warning his disciples to not get involved with any of that. The Roman people would have noticed that the Christians lived differently from the rest of their society. This would have created suspicion and rumors. When Nero needed a scapegoat for the burning of Rome, the Christians would have been an easy target. In response to the sufferings inflicted by the Roman people, Peter taught them to rejoice in those sufferings because eventually, everyone would be judged, both Christian and non-Christian, living or dead. He wrote:

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”

He therefore told them to strive to live up to the teachings of Christ and to love each other:

“Be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

This way of living will prepare them for the Kingdom of God that will come to them before very long.

This is why, in the Orthodox Church, we talk about “the Orthodox Way.” Through our liturgical calendar, our prayers, our services and devotions, through the presence of icons, through fasting and almsgiving, especially at certain seasons, the Orthodox Church provides a way of life for us that keeps us focused on the Kingdom of God. We should not be afraid to embrace these practices. The early Christian communities faced the same challenges. It was the Holy Spirit who guided them through their sufferings and in the end, the Church, the Body of Christ, prevailed. Let us embrace those saints and offer our lives up as incense before the heavenly throne so that we too can transform and sanctify those around us through our suffering.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus gave us some important doctrinal teachings. A scribe had come to Jesus and asked which was the greatest of the commandment. Jesus’ first reply was to state the oneness of the Godhead:

‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Thus, there is one God, not many, as the pagans believed. Jesus then went on to say:

“And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe replied:

“Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

This man’s response was in stark contrast to what Jesus had to encounter from the Pharisees, who were only interested in the letter of the Law and not the heart of it, performing sacrifices and becoming wealthy in the process. In contrast, this scribe had grasped what the Revelation of God was truly about. So, Jesus responded to his answer:

 “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Note that they both talked about the makeup of who we are, as God created us: the heart, soul, mind and strength. The heart is where the struggle is between not allowing our bodily appetites take over, becoming uncontrollable passions, and allowing our souls to search for God, where it will find its home. This will, at times, take all our strength. The mind is the intellect, where our reason, imagination and memory reside and we must choose to allow it to seek God and not succumb to the passions of the flesh. This is a lifelong journey. Christ gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in this journey, together with His Body, the Church. When we truly seek God in this way, the second commandment comes easily. Instead of seeking to build up earthly wealth for ourselves, we wish to please God by giving our earthly blessings to others because we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Monday, February 15th., 2021

Monday, February 15, 2021

Epistle: 1 Peter 2:21-3:9        Gospel: Mark 12:13-17

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage is from the First Letter of St. Peter. He begins this segment by portraying Jesus as the Suffering Servant, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, calling his people to follow Christ’s example. He wrote:

“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.”

This is the call that Jesus taught the Jewish People, to take up their cross daily and follow Him. They did not understand at the time but after His death and resurrection, those that believed in Him would realize that, through His sacrifice, they were freed from the Law and sin, gaining eternal life. St. Peter reminded them of this:

“For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

He then went on to give some ‘pointers’ to living a life in Christ. For wives, rather than seeking external beauty, seek “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” For husbands, “dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife.” Finally, to live a life in Christ as a community:

 “All of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

These teachings are the standards of any true Christian community. It was not easy then, nor is it today, to live up to them. The Orthodox Church embraces these teaching as the way to bring harmony to our families and our communities. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will protect and guide us to live up to do so faithfully.

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, we read the account of some Pharisees and Herodians trying to catch Jesus out with a question about taxes:

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”

They introduced themselves by trying to flatter Him but He knew that they disliked Him intensely. This was no idle question, however. Both the Pharisees and the Herodians had become very rich from the arrangement Herod had made with the Roman Empire to have the taxes pay for the Temple of Jerusalem. Given Jesus’ popularity among the people, what He answered would have a big impact. They got a completely unexpected answer:

“But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.”

Jesus never sought or claimed a political or earthly kingdom, only a heavenly one. He separated Himself from any claims to state affairs. Later on, when the Christian communities began to grow, they kept this distinction between the affairs of the Church and the affairs of the state. The only time they would resist the state is when it tried to make them worship other gods and not Christ. For this, they were prepared to die.

Ever since the time of Jesus’ earthly life, during which some were trying to get Him to identify with their political movements, innumerable groups have attempted to drag the teachings of Jesus’ and His Body, the Church, into their realm. The Orthodox Church has been very careful to distance itself from such attempts. Ideally, it likes to stay close to the state but never be part of it and it will clearly take a stand against any policy that would threaten its teachings. The same holds true today.

Specifically, in America, the Orthodox Church did not create the American Constitution and even though it respects and supports many of its principles, it will also say when it disagrees with any of them. More importantly, anyone who tries to use the teachings of the Orthodox Church to claim that the Church is one with them, has blurred the distinction between church and state. In the same way, if any political leader attempts to manipulate the Church to change its teachings to their way of thinking, is doing exactly what the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to do with Jesus over the question about taxes. The Orthodox Church concerns itself with the Kingdom of God, not with “the things that are Caesar’s.”

Nor should priests, as servants of Christ’s Body, get involved with politics. Sometimes, statements have to be put out or a stand has to be taken because of an injustice but the Hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the USA have demonstrated that they are more than capable of speaking out when necessary. If, as a lay person, you decide to get involved politically, that is your right as a citizen but one must always remember the distinction mentioned above. Further, as Orthodox Christians, we do not judge those with opposing views. One clear example of this balance has been Metropolitan Tikhon’s stand on abortion. He has clearly stated the Church’s views on this tragedy many times but he has never judged anyone involved. As Orthodox Christians, we take up our cross and pray for those who oppose us, not judge them.

Let us continue to live in Christ, care for our families using the teachings of the Church and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us and others to stay focused on the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, February 14th., Zacchaeus Sunday

Sunday, February 14th 2021        

Zacchaeus Sunday & 36th Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:9-15      Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Archpriest Terence Baz

We now enter into the period in the Orthodox Liturgical Calendar of the five Sundays during which we prepare for the season of Great Lent. Today is the first of those Sundays.

The Gospel used today from St. Luke is the account of Jesus spotting Zacchaeus who, because he was short, climbed up into a sycamore tree to get a sight of Jesus.

He was not a person who was liked by the Jewish people because he was a tax collector who worked on behalf of the Roman Empire. Rome’s way of getting its taxes was to offer the position to the highest bidder, who had to make sure he paid them what he offered. He could keep anything over and above that amount that he obtained. He had the backing of the Roman army to make sure people paid their taxes. No one likes to part with their hard earned money to pay the authorities and a tax collector such as Zacchaeus would inevitably become like a lightning rod for all their economic and political grievances. He was a Jew working on behalf of their enemy, the Romans.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the people murmured when Jesus invited Himself to dine with him. Jesus knew his heart, however, because He knew that he was longing for salvation. Jesus had come to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus responded to the murmurs with these words:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

In the meantime, in response to Jesus’ request to dine at his house, Zacchaeus was more than willing to repent and state it to all the people. He said:

 “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

There are several lessons as Orthodox Christians we can learn from this story. Firstly, that we do not judge others because we do not know what is in their hearts. When we see wrongdoing from others, we pray for them, not judge them. Secondly, Christ will never refuse us if we turn back to Him. We repent at our wrongdoing but we do not condemn ourselves either. Jesus did not condemn Zacchaeus, nor the woman caught in adultery, nor the thief on the cross. We do not condemn ourselves but like them, we repent. Like Zacchaeus, we face up to our sins, ask for forgiveness and seek to abandon our sinfulness and live in Christ instead. Thirdly, the Church uses this Gospel story at this time to remind us that repentance is the way to salvation and so, calls us to also repent. It offers the sacrament of Confession at this time for that reason. In the Orthodox Church, the priest is not the judge but a witness on behalf of Christ to help the person to choose to repent. Fourthly, through Christ’s Body, the Church, we are invited by our heavenly Father to partake of His table. We, who are lost, are invited to join the Communion of Saints and dine with Him.

The bishops of the Orthodox Church in America realize that, during this time of the pandemic, there are risks involved in what is usually a close setting for the sacrament of Confession. For this reason, they currently offer Confessions to be heard over the phone. Remember that as always in the Orthodox Church, this is an invitation, not a demand. What it does say is that the reward to be part of God’s Kingdom is incomparable to that of any earthly benefits or pleasures. Let us not be afraid, therefore, to take up this invitation over the next few weeks in preparation for the season of Great Lent.

In today’s Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul briefly reflects on his own experience of turning from the Old Law to Christ to become part of the community of saints on earth, to whom he preached. He too, repented and accepted the invitation to be saved and preach on behalf of Christ. He wrote:

“We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

We do not know what Christ may have in store for us to witness also about His forgiveness and love to us.

Friday, February 12th., 2021

Friday, February 12, 2021

Epistle: 1 Peter 1:1-2, 10-12, 2:6-10            Gospel: Mark 12:1-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Gospel passage from today is the parable of the landowner who left his servants in charge of his assets while he went abroad. It is the same parable from St. Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 20: 9-19. I wrote about it on January, 14th 2021. Please scroll back to then if you wish to read it.

The Epistle is part of the beautiful introduction to the First Letter of St. Peter, though taken from different segments. The letter began by listing the communities to which he was writing:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

The first point he makes is that what they are receiving was searched carefully by the prophets from of old. Secondly, they realized through the Holy Spirit that the Christ would suffer and be glorified. They had prophesized about this. Thirdly, that the revelation they received was not for them but for those who believed in the present time. Thus, it was foretold in the scriptures,

 “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame (Is. 28:16).”

Fourthly, even the angels desired to look into these things because, while they could behold the uncreated light of the Godhead, seeing that same God as human was new to behold.

Fifthly, while this cornerstone is precious to those who believed in Christ but to those who rejected it,

“The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone (Ps. 122:17),” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (Is. 8:14).” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”

Those who were the custodians of the Word of God, stumbled and became disobedient because they rejected it.

Finally, Peter addressed them directly, writing that, because they believed in Christ,

“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

Where before in the Old Temple, the priests offered incomplete the sacrifices of dead animals, now through the perfect sacrifice of Christ, this new people is a temple of living stones, a spiritual house and a royal priesthood that is united to the Kingdom of God.

We too, belong to that same early Church and its communities to which Peter was writing. We too, are the living stones of the Body of Christ, which is His Church. We too, have been united to the Kingdom of God through the perfect sacrifice of Christ. We too have been given that same Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts to enable us to remain in Christ. We too, have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Let us renew our commitment to Christ by calling upon His Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us on our journey. Each day in our morning and evening prayers, we therefore chant or read this prayer to the Holy Spirit:

“O Heavenly King, the Comforter the Spirit of Truth, who is everywhere and fills all things, the Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us, cleanse us of every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.”

The prayer can be found on page 1791 of the Orthodox Study Bible. Do not take His presence for granted. When we sin, turn back to Him in repentance, being grateful for the ever-present forgiveness of God as we forgive others their trespasses.

 

Thursday, February 11th., 2021. The Righteous Theodora

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Epistle: James 4:7-5:9                        Gospel: Mark 11:27-33

Righteous Theodora, wife of Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast

Archpriest Terence Baz

As was the case yesterday, these two readings were listed earlier in the Orthodox Liturgical Calendar. To read what I wrote about today’s passage from the Letter of St. James, please scroll back to January 14th 2021. For today’s Gospel passage, scroll back to December 31st 2020. If you cannot find them in Facebook, go to the parish website at: holyassumptionclifton.org and you will find them under Letters from Father Terence, under social.

Today is the feast of the Righteous Theodora, the wife of the Emperor Theophilus, the Iconoclast. Please click onto or, copy and paste this link to read her life: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2021/02/11/100504-righteous-theodora-wife-of-emperor-theophilus-the-iconoclast. She was an important figure in the Orthodox Church because she restored the veneration of icons after her husband died, restoring peace to the empire after great turmoil.

Wednesday, February 10th., 2021

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Epistle: James 3:11-4:6    Gospel: Mark 11:22-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

I had already written about today’s passage from the Letter of St. James on January 13th 2021. Please scroll back to then to read it if you would like. I had also written about today’s Gospel passage on December 30th 2020. Please scroll back to then to read what I wrote.

Tuesday, February 9th., 2021 - Leavetaking of the Presentation of the Lord

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 7:7-17         Luke 2:22-40

James 3:1-10              Mark 11:11-23

The Leavetaking of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.

Archpriest Terence Baz

All of today’s readings were used recently.

The first two were used for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd  2021. Please scroll back to that date to read what I wrote about the feast.

The reading from the Letter of St. James was used on January 12th  2021. The reading from the Gospel of St. Mark was used on December 29th 2020. Please scroll back to those dates to read what I wrote.

 

Monday, February 8th., 2021

Monday, February 08, 2021

Epistle: James 2:14-26           Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter of St. James was also listed in the Orthodox Liturgical four weeks ago, on January 11th. Please scroll back to then to view my message on it. It contains his famous phrase: “Faith without works is dead.”

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark is the beautiful story about the blind man, Bartimaeus, who heard the crowd with Jesus as He was departing Jerico, and cried out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” After being warned to stay quiet, he cried it out even louder. Jesus heard him, stopped and asked him what he wanted. He replied: “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” The story continued:

“Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.”

This healing took place, in Mark’s Gospel, just before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Just prior to this, Jesus took the apostles aside and told them that He would be handed over to the chief priests and be condemned to death. The apostles’ response was typified by the sons of Zebedee, James and John, who asked for the best seats in the Kingdom of God. They still did not comprehend what Jesus’ mission was about. They instead tried to push away a blind man who asked to be healed, just after they were squabbling about who would get the best seats in the Kingdom of God! Jesus had to teach them again that in this fallen world, “The first will be last and the last first.” Jesus demonstrated that He was the last because He gave His life as a ransom for many. He was rejected by the fallen world. He would be the sacrifice but from it, the mercy of God would prevail.

Therefore, in today’s story, he who had been blind, was healed. According to St. John’s Gospel, we read more than once Jesus teaching that he who claimed he could see would remain blind because He did not come to minister to the healthy but to the sick. The apostles would understand this after Jesus went through the cup that the Father in heaven had given Him by suffering and dying on the cross and then rising from the dead. Just before today’s story from St. Mark, Jesus had asked James and John:

“Are you able to the drink the cup that I shall drink and are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They did not understand at that point what this would entail but they did after it happened to Jesus. What they would learn was that Jesus’ sacrifice would free them from the Mosaic Law but they would still have to undergo their own baptism. In other words, they would have to take up their own cross.

Once again, the lesson for us is clear: in order to be His disciples we must, as He taught us, take up our cross daily, so that we will die to our sinfulness but receive the life of the Kingdom of God in our hearts. This is what baptism means for us. At the same time, we gain eternal life and can also pray or intercede for others to gain that same life. In so far as we embrace our daily crosses and like the blind man have the faith to believe that our Heavenly Father will hear our prayers, we too can impart the life of His Kingdom to those whom we pray and intercede for. Do not be afraid to cry out to Him just as the blind man cried out to Jesus!

Sunday, February 7th., 2021. The 35th Sunday

Sunday, February 7th 2021

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:15-17                Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s two passages center on the theme of the mercy of God.

The Epistle is short but St. Paul concisely summarizes his relationship with God. He wrote:

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

He also sees himself as an example of how God has used him to show His mercy.

“For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”

In other words, if we simply believe in Christ, He will be “longsuffering” in regard to our unworthiness as well. Our Father in heaven is always ready to be merciful but for us who believe, Jesus also called us to be merciful to others. We should always therefore be grateful for His mercy.

It is for this reason that the word ‘mercy’ is used so much in all of the liturgical prayers of the Orthodox Church. The response, “Lord, have mercy!” is used throughout the Divine Liturgy and in other prayers. Remember, however, that once we leave when a service is over, to be on our guard to not be harsh to or judge others. How can we expect our heavenly Father to be merciful to us if we act in the opposite way? Remember what Jesus taught: “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.”

In the Gospel from St. Matthew, we have a Samaritan woman who begged Jesus to deliver her daughter from a demon that possessed her. Jesus’ mission was only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was not yet time to minister to the Gentiles. Further, He did not want to be declared as the Messiah or the Christ at that time. He was therefore not interested in responding to her request and He bluntly stated so:

“It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

She respected His reason and responded:

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Here is the central point to the story: throughout the whole of the Old Testament when we read of God revealing Himself, the one thing He asked for more than anything, was for those whom He spoke to demonstrate their faith. The great example was Abraham who in faith was even prepared to sacrifice his only son. Nor was Abraham the only one who showed great faith. Unfortunately, there were also many who doubted God’s Word and they were punished. In this story, here is a woman who understood that and who also knew that if she had complete faith in the life giving power of Jesus, there was no boundary that could stop the works of God, even if it was Jesus’ own mission to the house of Israel! This is why she had the confidence and the strength to ignore the resistance of the disciples and was prepared to worship Him as ‘Son of David’ and beg Him for help. Jesus responded:

 “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

The prospect of not seeing her daughter healed was unthinkable to this woman. She must have struggled with her affliction for years, causing her great agony. She was not going to lose this chance and she had the faith to seize it.

We know that our life’s journey also involves many struggles and disappointments and can often be beyond our control. It is in such moments that we are tested. It is in such moments that we must strive to keep our faith in Christ with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds. Jesus promised us His Holy Spirit. Let us cling onto Him with everything we have. Even when we lose someone close to us or they pass from this life to the next, let us reach out, praying to the Holy Spirit to remain with us, to give us the strength and guidance to not lose faith in Christ. He is our Comforter, our Paraclete. Let us also not forget that we have the Communion of Saints to intercede for us, especially Christ’s mother, the Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary. We can take heart, knowing that we have this heavenly family and that we are not alone.

The Orthodox Church provides these two readings today in its Liturgical Calendar to remind us that, despite our unworthiness and difficulties, the mercy of our heavenly Father is always there for us. Let us like St. Paul and the woman in the Gospel story grasp onto it with everything we have as we give ourselves to Christ.

Friday, February 5th., 2021

Friday, February 05, 2021

Epistle: James 2:1-13             Gospel: Mark 10:23-32

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Orthodox Church Calendar used today’s Epistle passage from the Letter of St. James on January 8th. Please scroll back to then if you would like to read what I wrote then.

In the Gospel passage from St. Mark, after Jesus saw the rich man turn from His call to leave everything and follow Him, He commented that it was very difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Then Peter spoke up and said: “See, we have left all and followed You.” Jesus, in turn, responded:

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

This is the promise Jesus gave to them and us: eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We are fortunate in our society we can worship and believe in Christ without recrimination. This was certainly not the case for those who belonged to an early Christian community. They were under constant threat and for those apostles, all but one suffered a martyr’s death. Indeed, many Christians throughout the world today suffer at the hands of heathen nations. The challenge for us is to not take what Jesus has offered us for granted in our free society. We must be on our guard against complacency because, although freely given, if we get lured away from it, the consequences will be catastrophic for our souls. Let us humbly pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us each day and not be afraid to use the blessings of the Church to refresh our souls.

Thursday, February 4th., 2021

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Epistle: James 1:19-27           Gospel: Mark 10:17-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage is again from the Letter of St. James the Apostle. I wrote about this same passage on January 7th of this year so, please scroll back to then to read it.

The Gospel passage is St. Mark’s account of a young man who came to Jesus to ask:

“Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

Jesus told him to keep the commandments, to which, the man replied that he had from his youth. Jesus therefore challenged him unexpectedly. He said:

 “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

The man could not do that and walked away sad. Jesus warned those present:

“Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is not that we should not use our natural talents, work hard and receive the earthly benefits due from them. Jesus also gave the parable about a master giving talents to his servants while he went away. It is also important for us to use our talents to raise our families. In using those talents, however, we must never lose sight that what we have is given from above and that whatever we strive for should ultimately be for the glory of our Father in heaven. Jesus also wrote several parables about the foolishness of those who like to store up earthly treasures. They will pass and anything we treasure in this fallen world can only lead to death. All this world can offer is death. When we benefit from our earthly talents, it is important that we share them when we can with those around us and in this way we will also store up treasures in heaven.

 

I wrote about this same story recently when the Orthodox Church calendar used St. Luke’s version.

Wednesday, February 3rd., 2021

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Afterfeast of the Presentation

Epistle: James 1:1-18 Gospel: Mark 10:11-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is the beginning of the Letter of St. James. His central theme for the beginning of the letter is to remain steadfast against temptation. He wrote:

“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

He wrote that trials can bring us to perfection so, let us be patient, realizing that they can help purify us. Let us also ask God for wisdom who will give it in abundance. The reference certainly seems to be in regard to the Holy Spirit. In other words, let our faith be without doubt because those who do doubt are like waves blown by the wind or like a flower that blossoms at daybreak but then burns up in the morning sunlight. Thus, he warned them to not be unstable or waver in their minds. He then posed the question: does God cause these temptations? His answer is no. He wrote:

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”

We have to remember that the early Christians James was writing to were enduring difficult times. They faced criticism and persecution from the Jews who did not accept Christ and constantly faced persecution, torture and death from the Romans. It would have been very easy to doubt or waver. This is why he was warning them. Having given the above teaching, he wrote:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.”

These two sentences are paraphrased in our Divine Liturgy. The first, when the priest prays in front of the Ambo at the conclusion of the service:

“For every good and perfect gift is given from above, coming down from You, the Father of lights.”

The second is right between the Consecration and Epiclesis, when the priest prays on behalf of the people:

“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all for the sake of all.”

We offer our faith and our life to our Heavenly Father as our first fruits to Him. Immediately following, the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify these gifts and us as well.

At least in this country we do not face persecution because of our faith in Christ or desire to worship. Even so, we obviously face difficulties. Let the faith of those early Christian communities James wrote to inspire us. It was many years ago but insofar as we have to resist the ways and lure of the fallen world, our choices are not so different. Let us call upon those saints as we pray to the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf that we too will remain steadfast in our faith.

One of the pillars needed to remain steadfast in our faith and close to Christ is the gift of humility. Today’s Gospel passage is about humility. The disciples had tried to push away the little children who were coming to Jesus but He became greatly displeased and told them to let the children come. He taught His disciples:

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

Our Heavenly Father has invited us to His banquet. He has called us to be holy just as He is holy. He sent His Son as a sacrifice for us so that His Holy Spirit would be given to us. He enabled us to address Him directly as His Father in the prayer, the ‘Our Father.’ What He has offered to us is dumbfounding, so much so, that many could not accept it! How could the Son of God become like a little child, still remain God and bring us to salvation? We believe in Christ and have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us through our baptism. These are tremendous gifts! Let us never forget, however, that our relationship to our Father is that of being His children. This aspect will never change. When we embrace this relationship, we choose to be humble. Let us pray that we will not be lured by the ways of the fallen world to become arrogant with pride. It is the opposite of who we are. Always, therefore, when praying, ask for the gift of humility.

Tuesday, February 2nd., 2021 The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

Archpriest Terence Baz

Listed below are the readings for this feast. Click onto or, copy and paste them, if you wish to read them. I will summarize a number of the main points that come from them.

Composite 6 - Exodus 12, 13; Numbers 8; Leviticus 12

Isaiah 6:1-12

Composite 7 - Isaiah 19:1, 3, 4-5, 12, 16, 19-21

Luke 2:25-32

Hebrews 12:25-26, 13:22-25

Mark 10:2-12

Hebrews 7:7-17

Luke 2:22-40

The practice used to ‘Church’ children in the Orthodox Church, before they are baptized, comes from these Old Testament readings. In the first reading, which is a composite, the Jewish people were required to circumcise the child 8 days after birth and then, on the 40th day, present the child with the mother to the priest. St. Paul made it clear that, in the New Testament because of Christ, there is no longer any need to circumcise a child but we do keep the practice of presenting the child to the priest 40 days from its birth.

If we skip down to the Gospel passages, we read that the holy man Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple and there he received the baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary brought with them two turtle doves to offer sacrifice to God, as the Law required. When Simeon received them, he blessed God and uttered these words:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

When the priest presents a newborn baby on the 40th day in the Orthodox Church, he says these same words. If there is a choir or chanters, they will sing them as a hymn as the priest walks up the aisle and presents the child at the altar. As was the Old Testament practice, he will then bless the child and its mother.

The reading from Isaiah the Prophet is the account of God calling him to be a prophet. In the vision, Isaiah stands before the throne of God when a seraph takes a burning coal and places on Isaiah’s lips to purify him. God then asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah responds: “Here am I! Send me.” Right before this moment, Isaiah described how the seraphim flew about the throne of God, singing hymns:

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.”

When Isaiah is commanded to speak the Word of God to his people, God says to him:

“Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”

God did not want them to understand Isaiah’s words because they had disobeyed Him. This same dullness of perception is reflected in the second composite reading for today from the Book of Isaiah. It says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and so foolishly refused to let the Jewish people go, until the first born of all their families were destroyed. Only then, could Moses lead them across the Red Sea. Pharaoh could not perceive the Word of God. The Jewish people at the time of Isaiah could not perceive it either. The point of including the reading here is to remind us that the power and majesty of God is always there. Jesus Himself had warned the Jewish people that their hearts could not understand the Word of God because they had abandoned it and when Jesus preached it, they hated Him for it, just as they did for Isaiah and the other prophets. Their rejection of the Word of God would be their downfall.

The Orthodox Church therefore, connects that same presence of God, when He called Isaiah to be a prophet and when He sent His only begotten Son as the child Jesus. In both cases, God entered into history but in a humble way. Only the humble and those who listened to the Word of God would recognize God’s presence in this way. At the same time, the awesome majesty of God is never diminished. It is simply not manifested at that time. When God is ready, He will manifest it in an awesome way, just like He did to the Egyptians and Assyrians. In both cases, the Angel of Death came and destroyed them. In other words, our Heavenly Father’s plan will unfold when He is ready to and it will unfold very powerfully.

We rejoice in this moment in Jesus’ earthly life because the presence of God in the Temple of Jerusalem and that of His Son who was presented in the Temple, meet in the same place. The Old and the New Testaments were made one at this moment. We must also remember that Jesus’ mother Mary, as the God-bearer or ‘Theotokos’ cooperated in His plan, placing her in a unique role in God’s plan of salvation. The Orthodox Church rightly rejoices in her role and what she has done for all who embrace Christ in the Church. So long as we live in Christ, we have a powerful advocate in her and Christ’s Body, the Church. We have much to be grateful for.

The Orthodox Church also recognizes that same presence of God in each one of its Eucharistic Divine Liturgies. This is why it uses incense and uses the words quoted by Isaiah when he was called by God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” at the beginning of the Anaphora. Thanks to Christ’s Body, the Church, God’s presence is never far from us. Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice, our Heavenly Father has invited us to His Heavenly Banquet. All we have to do is accept it and attend the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy. The Holy Spirit will purify us if we open our hearts to Him, just as the prophet Isaiah was.

Monday, February 1st., 2021

Monday, February 01, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 11:17-23, 27-31     Gospel: Mark 9:42-10:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews uses once again the example of important Old Testament people, in this case Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Rahab, to show that by believing and acting on God’s commands, they were given God’s promise. In the same manner, God will not fail us if we remain steadfast in His commands, in this case, the teachings of Jesus and His apostles that have been passed down to the Orthodox Church to this day. Those Old Testament figures could have chosen to ignore God’s plan but they did not. They followed them. We too are called to do the same.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus warned the people to not let any part of their body cause them to sin, especially if it,

“causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”

We have seen in recent years the scandal caused by clergy and others in power who have indulged in child abuse. Jesus specifically warned about such behavior. Subsequently, the state has had to impose many guidelines to protect children from such abuse. Children themselves are taught these days about this danger, how to be on their guard and to protect themselves from it. Adults must take precautionary measures to assure parents that their children’s involvement in parish activities is safe. Tragically, the issue of child trafficking is also still a serious one today.

Christ gave us protections against such dangers. He promised us the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts so that we would not fall into a temptation to abuse others. He has given us His Body, the Church with its many blessings, to keep us on the “narrow path” as Jesus described it.

This is why the Orthodox Church:

  • offers the sacraments to keep us close to Christ;
  • gives us its daily scriptural calendar to nourish us with the Word of God;
  • has the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to control our appetites and stem them from becoming sinful passions;
  • provides its Liturgical calendar to inspire us through the lives of the saints to stay faithful like they did;
  • uses icons to give us visible images to ask for their prayers and intercessions;
  • offers devotional prayers such as the Acathist Hymns to pray to Christ and His saints in heaven;
  • has given us its teachings, passed down from Christ and His apostles, to protect us from becoming confused and led astray by the glamorous ways of the fallen world.

They help us to stay focused on Christ and serve others in a selfless way. They not only help to moderate our own behavior but help the world at large, because they help us to fulfill God’s command to us to care for His creation. In other words, do not be afraid of them. We sometimes need to put in a lot of effort with them but such effort will help us stay focused on Christ. The Holy Spirit will strengthen us if we strive to serve Christ through His Church as best we can. Once again, if we fail, Christ will never reject us when we turn back to Him.

Returning to the Gospel passage, while Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has made it simple and easy for us to enter into the Kingdom of God, we must remember that our day of reckoning will come too. Jesus kept teaching the people to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth and we must heed that teaching. The consequence of taking the path towards hell for all eternity is far graver than any physical bodily harm we may endure in this present life.

Sunday, January 31st., 2021 the 34th. Sunday

Sunday, January 31st 2021      34th Sunday

Epistle: Colossians 3:12-16   Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

The context for today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is that by the time this parable is being told, the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities had been brewing for quite some time. So, this story about using one’s talents properly was directed to them, about how they had squandered their responsibility to be the custodians of the Word of God for the Chosen people. They had squandered it through the corruption of wealth. So, although Jesus used the example of gaining profit from a large sum of money, in this case a ‘talent’, given to them by their ruler, He was actually talking about spiritual talents. That ‘talent,’ as mentioned, was to be the custodians of the Word of God. Jesus was warning them that a day of reckoning would eventually come and when it did, it would hit them hard. Jesus mentioned at the end of the parable that even the little they may have maintained by adhering to the Mosaic Law, would also be taken from them and given to those who would faithfully adhere to the Word of God.

St. Matthew was, of course, writing to the early Christian community and the lesson was just as pertinent to them as it was for the Jewish leaders whom Jesus had been warning. Those early Church communities often faced the prospect of persecution, so their need to adhere to the teachings of Jesus was a choice they would often be faced with. It was not a time to look for a comfortable or wealthy life like the chief priests, scribes, lawyers and Pharisees had. For those who do listen to and keep the Word of God by using their talents to stay focused on the Kingdom of God, the rewards of the banquet of that heavenly Kingdom will be given to them in abundance. Jesus concluded this parable with these words:

“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Jesus used other examples and parables such as the sewer in the field sowing seeds to teach about the importance of adhering to the Word of God. He also said:

“Blessed rather, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”

The first talent we have, therefore, is to be able to listen to the Word of God. How effectively we use it will determine our reward in the Kingdom of God. If we squander it, even the innate gift we have to hear it, given because we are made in the image of God, will be taken from us when we are called to account. Remember too, in that parable about the sewer, Jesus talked about us bearing fruit, even a hundred fold.

We know that we cannot do this on our own. Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to help us hear God’s Word and to make up for any shortfall we may have because of our weaknesses and sinfulness. Another talent we are called to use is to live out the lessons from Jesus’ teachings and God’s Word in our lives. Again, we can call upon the Holy Spirit to help us to be faithful to it despite our weaknesses. There are many gifts and fruits that the Holy Spirit will offer us if we ask Him to help.

Today’s Epistle from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians bears this same message out. He urged the leaders of the community to embrace those spiritual gifts. He wrote:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

In the same way that Jesus taught about keeping the Word of God, Paul wrote:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

We can see from these two readings, therefore, that the use of our talents should be focused first and foremost on the Kingdom of God. We should use our natural talents as well, of course, through our work skills and education to provide for our families but we must also keep in mind that they will be worth nothing if we do not use them for the end goal of bringing ourselves and our families into the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God.

We may be tempted to think that this spiritual emphasis is all well and good but we need to pay our bills here and now. Thus, the Kingdom of God can wait until the end of our lives. This type of thinking is wrong. Yes, we must use our natural talents to support our families and other good causes but such usage is like an empty shell if they are used for nothing more. Christ has provided His Body, the Church, with its many blessings, to strengthen us in our daily lives. It is these blessings, along with the Orthodox Way of life, that will sanctify them and allow them to be used for the glory of our Father’s Kingdom, not for ourselves alone. Can we risk, like those Jewish leaders whom Jesus had warned, to be lured into the ways of the fallen world and fall into the sins of greed and arrogance because of our earthly blessings? This is why we need the Church, so that we can remain holy as our heavenly Father calls us to be.

Friday, January 29th., 2021

Friday, January 29, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 11:8, 11-16             Gospel: Mark 9:33-41

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews used the example of the faith of Abraham and Sarah, who had responded to God’s call by leaving their homeland to go to the land of ‘milk and honey’ that they were promised. They could have regretted or doubted their decision but because of their faith, they did not.

So, the readers of the Letter were being also urged to not look back at their former ways or doubt God’s promise to them of inheriting the Kingdom of God. From the standpoint of the fallen world, their decisions were precarious to say the least: the threat of Roman and Jewish persecution, the uncertainty of leaving the Mosaic Law and the foregoing of the riches of the Roman Empire offered to the pagans. If they held steadfast to their faith in Christ, they too would be blessed by God and be given the greatest inheritance for all eternity. Their former way of life may have seemed better but it was a passing life. Their new Life was eternal.

The same holds true for us. If we stay focused on Christ and the Kingdom of God, we too are offered a great inheritance for all eternity. The fallen world still offers us today not only distractions but many pitfalls. Always ask the Holy Spirit to give us His Wisdom to guide us so that we will not stray from Christ.

Regarding the inheritance of the Kingdom of God, in today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus teaches His disciples about how to truly store up treasures in heaven. The disciples had been arguing about who would be the greatest among them. When Jesus asked what were arguing about, they fell silent but He knew their thoughts. In response, he had a little child sit with Him and He taught them how to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. While doing so He said:

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

This teaching was the very opposite of what they had probably been taught as children. So, the first lesson was that they should regard themselves as the last, not wanting to be the first. The second lesson was how they should treat those they encounter each day. He said:

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

The lesson for us, therefore, is to be humble like a little child. If we stay close to Christ and recognize that the Holy Spirit is in our hearts, we will not need to try to make ourselves look great in the sight of other people. We will, in fact, shun from such conspicuousness. Further, we will realize that because each person is made in the image of God, we will treat them also as children of God no matter who they are and that they, just like us, are called to be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy. This may seem difficult and probably may be very difficult at times but this is what Jesus has taught us to be like. If we use the Morning Prayers in the Orthodox Study Bible each day, we will read on page 1792,

“Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me mischief, and do not let them perish through me a sinner.”

The Orthodox Church has always taught that when we pray, we not only pray for ourselves but for everyone, including our enemies. The cosmic dimension is part and parcel of our prayers. Let us pray with confidence but with humility that our Heavenly Father will always hear them, even if we do not know how He answers them.

Thursday, January 28th., 2021

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 10:35-11:7             Gospel: Mark 9:10-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews returns to the theme of remaining steadfast in faith. His readers are reminded that they received confidence in their salvation through faith in Christ:

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”

That confidence should also give them hope. The passage continued:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

He then gives the example of several ancient Old Testament figures who showed great faith: Able, Enoch and Noah, who listened to God’s commands and acted upon them.

It is also important for us to remain steadfast in our faith when life becomes confusing or difficult. We have had a very difficult 12 months because of the pandemic, social unrest and other factors. It is important for us to stay focused on Christ, to call out to the Holy Spirit to guide us, to ask intercession of the Theotokos or Blessed Virgin and the saints in heaven to help us in difficult times. There are times that we need to be tested as was the case for many in the Old and New Testaments. If we remain steadfast in that faith, our prayers will bear fruit in ways that only our Heavenly Father knows. Let us always remain confident that He will care for us. Remember that when Jesus taught the people to not worry about tomorrow, He said:

“Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.”

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus told His apostles that the spirit of Elijah (Elias) had already returned through John the Baptist. He made the point that, just like of old, they did with him what they willed. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. Because of our faith in Christ, we can all expect to also have a cross, not necessarily like John the Baptist, but when they come, let us embrace them and cling to Christ to help us through such times.

Wednesday, January 27th., 2021

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 10:1-18       Gospel: Mark 8:30-34