Assumption of the Holy Virgin Church
Orthodox Church in America
Clifton, NJ
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

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s epistle reading from the Letter to the Hebrews continues the discussion about sacrifices in the Old Testament or Covenant compared to the one sacrifice in the New Testament. It reiterated that sacrifices needed to be made continually because they were imperfect. The sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross, however, was perfect and only needed to happen once. Thus, the Letter wrote:

“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”

Remember that Jesus told His apostles at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of Me.” Each time a priest says the words: “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” he remembers the words of Jesus at the Last Supper as well as the one sacrifice Jesus was to make on the cross. Notice that immediately after these words in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit. Notice too, in today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, it said:

“But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them”

As mentioned yesterday, the effect for us is that this perfect sacrifice washes away our sins. The Letter to the Hebrews continued:

“Then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.”

This does not mean, of course, we are then free to sin as we like. Earlier in this Letter, his readers were warned to not go back into the sinful ways of their past lives. What it does mean is that we die to those sins and passions and live in Christ. We are freed from the Old Law and are given the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us as we go on with our earthly lives. This is why we call upon the Holy Spirit at the ‘Epiclesis’ immediately after the ‘Consecration.’ We also need Jesus’ teachings, of which the Orthodox Church strives to faithfully preserve, to protect us from going astray. Thus, as part of the Body of Christ, we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to write God’s laws into our hearts and in our minds. This is something that the people of the Old Testament were never given.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark continued from yesterday’s story of the beggar that Jesus took outside of the city to heal his blindness. It reiterated the point that Jesus at that time was not ready to allow the people to address Him as Messiah or Christ. The discussion that followed between Peter and Jesus starkly shows the importance of this. After the healing, Jesus warned them that He would be rejected and killed by the Chosen People. It said:

“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter was not happy with this and rebuked Him but Jesus responded to His disciples:

“But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter still thought of Jesus as Messiah in an earthly or political sense, in that He would redeem Israel from the yoke of the Roman Empire. Nor could he understand that it was necessary for Jesus to be sacrificed in order for us to be free from the yoke of sin brought about by the sin of Adam and Eve. The former approach would do nothing for the salvation of the world. Just like in today’s world, where those who are affiliated with a political party that wins an election may rejoice at their victory, it may have made the Jews happy for a time but would only be temporary and ultimately would not free them or us from the sting of death. The ways of this fallen world will only lead to death. In contrast, the latter approach, as described above in the Letter to the Hebrews, where Jesus was to be sacrificed, would free all mankind and creation from the slavery of sin and the necessity of the Old Law. Peter would only understand this after Jesus rose from the dead and after the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles at Pentecost.

Jesus expected those who followed Him to follow His example. He continued:

“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

We are freed from sin and the sting of death and given the Bread of Life and the Living Waters through the Holy Spirit but we are expected to take up our own crosses and offer them back to Him as our sacrifice. When we embrace Christ and the crosses that we must bear, we are freed from the finality of death which is all that the fallen world can offer. We are also freely invited by our Heavenly Father to the banquet table of His Kingdom.

Tuesday, January 26th., 2021

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 9:8-10, 15-23         Gospel: Mark 8:22-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews continues the discussion about sacrifices in the Old Testament. They were always inadequate but they were necessary because God commanded the priests of the Chosen People to offer them for atonement of their sins. With the animal sacrifices, the blood that came from them was collected and sprinkled both on the book of the scriptures and on the people. This sprinkling marked the bond of the Covenant that God made between Him and His Chosen People.

“Not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

It was because of the inadequacy of the Old Covenant that a New Covenant had to be established. What remained necessary, however, was the requirement of the spilling of blood. The only one who could make a perfect sacrifice was God Himself. So, the Father sent His Son to be that very victim. In doing so, He would restore the righteousness present in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve fell from grace through their pride by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Jesus, the Son of God made man, had to spill His blood into the earth to make the perfect sacrifice. It happened right at the time of the Passover and after it happened, the curtain of the Temple of Jerusalem split in two and from then on, it served no purpose. Satan, who deceived Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s command to not eat of that tree, was unaware that Jesus’ sacrifice would restore the original righteousness of Adam and Eve. He was therefore more than willing to bring about the destruction of the One who refused to bow down to him in the desert. Little did he realize that his power over death and the gates of hell would be shattered because of it.

Through it, Jesus became both victim and High Priest, bestowed by His Heavenly Father who said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” From then on, that righteousness originally given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, was then freely given to all those who would embrace Jesus as the Christ or Messiah, not only to Jews but to all mankind. Jesus commanded His apostles to commemorate His Body and Blood in memory of Him just before his death. To follow His command, the apostles would institute bishops as their representatives and they in turn would institute priests to represent them as Christ’s Body, as the Church grew. Every time, therefore, a priest consecrates the bread and wine as Jesus commanded, that same perfect and mystical sacrifice is re-enacted. That same righteousness is given. That same Holy Spirit is bestowed upon those participating and that same Body and Blood is mystically consumed. So, because we have been given all that is described above, we sing and exclaim after communion at the end of the Divine Liturgy:

“We have seen the true Light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We found the true Faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us.”

When we move onto today’s Gospel passage, in which Jesus healed a beggar who was blind but before doing so, took him outside of the city and told him not go back into it to proclaim what He did for him, it now makes sense why Jesus did not want to proclaim His Messiahship at that time. He did not want to proclaim it until after His sacrifice! What Jesus did for that man was a wonderful and great miracle that uplifted his body and soul but only Jesus’ sacrifice would bring that same life to all mankind through His Holy Spirit.

We have been given all of this freely by Christ because we are His disciples through baptism. Let us not take it for granted! Let us embrace Him and His Body, the Church, through which we gain access to its blessings and the life of the Kingdom of God that it offers. Let us turn back to Him when we sin and stray, remembering that He took on not only our sins but the sins of the whole world! His love is greater than any sin we may commit. Like those whom He healed during His earthly life, let us always be thankful for what He has bestowed on us. Like Him, it will mean taking up our crosses to follow Him but remember that they are an opportunity for us to store up treasures in heaven and to also sanctify and transform those around us who are part of those crosses.

Monday, January 21st., 2021

Monday, January 25, 2021

St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:7-11           Gospel: John 10:9-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople among others. He was a pivotal figure in the Orthodox Church at a very crucial time when several heresies promoted teachings that were different from the Nicean Creed we still proclaim to this day at each Divine Liturgy. He guided the Church to remain faithful to what it had defined at Nicea in 325 AD. If you click onto or copy and paste the following link, you can read an excellent account of his life and how he guided the Church: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2021/01/25/100298-saint-gregory-the-theologian-archbishop-of-constantinople. I will also use today’s readings designated for St. Gregory.

The Epistle reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians describes how the Holy Spirit bestows different gifts to the various members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, to build up that body. Some preach, some teach, some prophesy. They are bestowed to build up the community to reflect Christ. He wrote:

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

St. Gregory’s spiritual gifts were that he was a great preacher and writer. He was able to concisely and effectively persuade the errors of those who had drifted from the true Orthodox faith and bring them back. He converted thousands of people as a result. He ultimately became Archbishop of Constantinople but retired when those who opposed him started using thugs to violently disrupt his work. He was happy to live a monastic life.

The Gospel from St. John describes Jesus as ‘the door’ and ‘the good shepherd.’ It quotes Jesus:

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”

The Orthodox Church, in following Jesus’ teachings, takes very seriously His command to remain faithful to them. It sees itself as the guardian of Christ’s teaching. To remain one with Christ, we must keep the commandments that He taught. St. Gregory the Theologian was a leading figure for the Church who remained faithful to that command. He was a great preacher and writer, who eloquently explained the nature of the Trinity, dispelling false teachings about the nature of Christ’s relationship to the Father as equal but begotten and of the divinity of the Holy Spirit who is also equal and proceeds from the Father through the Son. In our Divine Liturgy the priest prays for the Church’s shepherds or bishops right after the Consecration that they “will rightly divide the Word of Your Truth.” If the Orthodox Church was to stray from this, it would become lost and separated from Christ, its true shepherd.

St. Gregory also strongly confirmed the Nicean Creed’s teaching of the human and divine nature of Christ. The heresy of Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, was widespread at the time. St. Gregory enabled the teaching of the Nicean Creed to prevail in Constantinople and the surrounding regions.

For the Orthodox Church, those who deny Christ’s teachings are not true shepherds but like hirelings who are not prepared to stay and defend their flocks. As Jesus said:

“But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.”

In contrast, those who are prepared to “rightly divide the word of Your truth,” maintain their intimacy with Christ, are able to stand firmly with Him, will hear His voice, bring others to the flock and remain one with the Father in heaven. Jesus said:

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

Having been given all these gifts, the Orthodox Church must be prepared, like St. Gregory, to follow Christ by taking up its cross. It has subsequently been persecuted over the centuries because it has chosen to not to belong to the fallen world, which hates it like it hated Christ. Even so, like Jesus, it is always prepared to forgive its persecutors and pray for them. Let us pray for everyone: those who do not believe what we believe in Christ, those who are prepared to persecute us for those beliefs and for our enemies, confident that by dying in Christ, we will live with Him in the Kingdom of God for eternity.

Sunday, January 24th: Sanctity of Life Sunday

Sanctity of Life Sunday is January 24

Scripture Readings: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2021/01/24/3 

Epistle and Gospel:

Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon: 

https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/sanctity-of-life-sunday-is-january-24 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

To the Esteemed Clergy, Reverend Monastics, and Beloved Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,

Over the past year, Orthodox Christians have become urgently aware of the need to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. In the face of a global pandemic, it became necessary for the world and even our Church to take a series of extraordinary measures in order to safeguard the life and the health of the elderly, the infirm, the defenseless, and the weak. In doing so, we pray that we were given the grace to fulfill the prophetic word, the evangelical command, and the apostolic exhortation not only to show mercy to one another, but also to defend the well-being of all members of the Church and of the world.

In exactly the same spirit, as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, I take this Sunday – the Sunday that we as a Church dedicate to the proclamation of the Sanctity of Life – as an opportunity to reiterate unequivocally our commitment to the defense of the defenseless, and the protection of the most vulnerable, and thus our opposition to abortion. As Christians it cannot be any other way. Our Lord has taught us throughout the Holy Scriptures to be merciful as He is merciful, to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill His law, to defend the widow and the orphan, to welcome the stranger and the sojourner, and to love one another even as He has loved us. This essential message found throughout Scripture must be all-encompassing and extend to the precious lives carried in the womb. If we are to love even our enemies, as He has commanded us, surely we must also love, defend, and seek to protect precious lives being formed within their mothers’ wombs.

Beloved children in the Lord, following the example of our response to the pandemic, we can look to concrete ways in order to fulfill what our Lord has commanded us to do. In other words, the teaching of the Lord should inspire us to seek out ways to provide necessary support for mothers or families who might otherwise consider having an abortion. I, together with the members of the Holy Synod, exhort our clergy and faithful to consider different ways that we might be able to serve and assist pregnant mothers, especially within our own local communities.  To this end, we should extend the right hand of fellowship to these mothers and their families, provide material support when needed, and assist them in caring for the children who will be born of them. Above all, I believe, we should affirm to the world – to anyone considering an abortion, to anyone counseling someone to have an abortion, or to anyone who supports this practice – the lessons we have been taught by our Master: the ways of mercy, compassion, and love. In so doing, I pray that we will enkindle in their hearts and minds a change, so that they too will learn to walk in these same ways, and will be moved to protect and defend the most vulnerable among us.

May our Lord Jesus Christ inspire us to remain faithful to the vision of human life as a sacred gift, as we recommit ourselves to defending the lives of the unborn, to offering acts of mercy and kindness to struggling single mothers and families facing hardship, and to praying for the salvation of all of mankind. 

Sincerely yours in Christ, 

+Tikhon
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

 

Thursday, January 21st. 2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 7:1-6     Gospel: Luke 21:28-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

This passage from the Letter to the Hebrews is fundamental to the Church’s understanding of priesthood. In it, the Letter compares the priesthood of Melchizedek to that of Christ’s. After winning a battle to save his brother, Lot, Abraham went to the priest, Melchizedek, to give thanks to God and gave him one tenth of all the spoils of the victory as an offering. Although Jesus never referred to Himself as a priest, He became as such when He sacrificed Himself on behalf of His Heavenly Father for all of creation. In doing so, He superseded the priesthood of Levi, given at the time of Moses. At that moment of Jesus death, the curtain of the Temple of Jerusalem was torn in two. Later, the Temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans. Further, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, like Melchizedek, Jesus had no ancestry, as was the case with the Levitical priests, who all belonged to the Levi family or tribe. In contrast, the priesthoods of Melchizedek and Jesus were free from the need of an earthly lineage.

Just as Melchizedek of old blessed Abraham for his offering of a tithe or one tenth of the spoils, the Body of Christ, the Church, blesses those who do the same today. This blessing is given in the name of Christ, the antitype of Melchizedek and the new High Priest. Thus, priesthood is a central part of the life of the Church. Although there can be a community of believers, that community cannot receive Christ’s blessing without a priest who represents Him. Only a bishop, who represents Christ as a shepherd, can confer Christ’s priesthood to another through the laying on of hands in the name of His Body, the Church. The early Church was clear about this practice: there could be no priestly blessing without a priest and no shepherd without a bishop. The apostles would therefore institute shepherds or bishops for a community to bring Christ’s priestly blessing upon that new community. Those bishops soon found the need to ordain priests as their representatives because of the growth of the Church. It was physically impossible to sufficiently reach the flocks to provide for their sacramental needs by bishops alone so, men were ordained to bring Christ’s priestly blessing to the communities.

The Orthodox Church has continued that same early practice of the apostles to this day. There are Christian communities who say that they only need preachers to proclaim the Word of God. This is not enough. That community may have devout members of deep faith but they still are not able to obtain Christ’s priestly blessing given to His apostles and those whom they ordain. It is those same priests who confer the sacraments. It is through those sacraments and all the other blessings that the Church offers that we have a sure vehicle to the grace of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in our lives and stay close to Christ. It is also the vehicle through which we can turn back to Christ when we sin and be restored to the Communion of Saints.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus talked about the signs to see when He will come again. We know from other passages that only our Father in Heaven knows when that will occur.

Wednesday, January 20th., 2021: Inauguration Day

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 5:11-6:8                 Gospel: Luke 21:5-7, 10-11, 20-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

Most of you would know that today this country will swear in or inaugurate the newly elected President of the United States of America.

I have said all along that as Orthodox Christians the most effective thing we can do is to stay focused on Christ. In our services, we often pray for the President, the civil authorities and the armed forces. We also have the American Flag placed near the Iconostasis to remind us to pray for our country. This does not mean that we blindly follow them. The Orthodox Church strives to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the state by maintaining good relations with them, advising them when asked or needed but standing up to it when the Church believes that the state has taken a stand that conflicts with Orthodox Church teaching. The Orthodox Church has very carefully guarded the purity of the teachings of Christ and the apostles. It will never shirk from them, even in the face of persecution, something that it has endured many times over the centuries.

Thus, in the Divine Liturgy the priest prays for the President and the civil authorities several times. Thus, from the beginning of the Liturgy,

  • At the Great Litany he prays: “For this country, its President, for all civil authorities, and for the armed forces everywhere, let us pray to the Lord.”
  • At the Litany of Fervent Supplication: “Again we pray for this Country, its President, for all civil authorities, and for the armed forces.”
  • Immediately after the Consecration: “Again we offer unto You this rational worship for…all civil authorities; grant them, O Lord, peaceful times, that we, in their tranquility, may lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity.”
  • At the end of the Liturgy, at the Prayer behind the Ambon: “Give peace to Your world, to Your churches, to Your priests, to all those in civil authority…”

I also pray the same prayer during the Great Entrance.

This past Sunday, when talking about abortion, our Metropolitan Tikhon of the OCA said:

“If we truly want to do something about abortion, we, as the Church and individually, ought to turn to Christ again and again in prayer. By this action of prayer, we can ask our Lord to bring reason to all those who support abortions, and repentance and divine mercy to all those who have been involved in abortions.”

His Beatitude remarked, “Prayer is not simply a pious action that religious folk do, hoping for a miracle from God. The kind of prayer we engage in is not a retreat from social action, but is, in fact, the strongest expression of social action.”

If we remain focused on Christ, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us while striving to be holy, as our Heavenly Father has called us to, then when we pray “With all our hearts, with all our minds and with all our souls” as Jesus taught us, our prayers and concerns for the country will not go unheard.

Let us therefore pray for the incoming President, Joseph Biden on this day and for all the country for its growth, tranquility and prosperity.

Tuesday, January 19th., 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 4:1-13         Gospel: Luke 21:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews warned his readers to not lapse into unfaithfulness again. The reference to ‘God’s rest’ was about the Jewish people, who did not gain rest from wandering in the desert after they had been delivered from the Egyptians, because they abandoned their faith in God and instead built the golden calf to worship. The readers of this letter were being warned that they too, were not exempt from remaining faithful to the teachings of Christ. Just as the Jewish people were delivered from the seemingly impossible yoke of the Egyptians, the believers in Christ have been delivered from the seemingly impossible yoke of the sting of death. If the readers of this letter wanted to remain free from sin and death, they also had to remain faithful to Christ.

For us, Christ has made it easy to receive the rewards of the Kingdom of God that He proclaimed, by simply believing in His works and His teachings. The time will come, however, when we will need to account for our lives and whether or not we have been faithful to those teachings. This will happen when our souls separate from our bodies and we leave this world. Thus, the warning is pertinent for us too. Let us remain faithful to Christ through His Body, the Church, and let us keep Him centered in our lives. When we fail, let us go back to Him and ask forgiveness because, in the end, like the thieves on the cross, we will have to make a choice, do we embrace Him or will we be lured into the kingdom of darkness?

This segment from today’s Letter therefore concludes:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

That Word of God, brought to us through the teachings of Jesus Christ, as was written here, is “sharper than any two-edged sword!” As it pierces our hearts, let us ask the Holy Spirit to purify us so that we can fully embrace it. Let us not be lured into the ways of the world whereby we begin to be unfaithful to that Word.

Today’s Gospel account from St. Luke uses the words of Jesus to warn of what anyone who believes in Christ will in face from the wrath of the fallen world because we have rejected it. Jesus warned His disciples:

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.”

So, yes, these things will happen but if we remain steadfast in Christ, they may harm the body but they will not separate us from the Kingdom of God. Nor should we be afraid about what to say because,

“I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”

That wisdom will come from the Holy Spirit within us. Even so, some from our own families may reject us because of our faith in Christ. Some from society will even want to kill us. As advised in the Letter to the Hebrews, let us always remain faithful to Christ’s teachings.

Monday, January 18th., 2021

Monday, January 18th 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 3:5-11, 17-19         Gospel: Luke 20:27-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews is about the importance of his readers not wavering in their faith. It quoted Psalm 94:7-11, where the psalmist gave the example of the Jews who, after being freed from Egypt, were stiff-necked their hearts and rebelled against God. That whole generation was subsequently prevented from entering the Promised Land and wandered the desert for 40 years. The early Christians were also given the promise of the Kingdom of God but the Letter to the Hebrews warned them to remain steadfast in the face of persecution, lest they should be given a similar fate to those who were freed from slavery in Egypt. The lesson is there for us as well to remain faithful to Christ through His Body, the Church. The Jews in the desert fell into idolatry but for us, there may be any number of pitfalls that we could be lured into. While we are still on this earth, however, we can always return to Christ when we fall. He will never refuse us. Let us keep striving to stay focused on Him.

In today’s Gospel account from St. Luke, some Sadducees asked Jesus about the question of whether or not the body will be resurrected after we die. He concluded in His reply with an example from the scriptures:

“Even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” Then some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.”

The Christian faith is founded upon the Resurrection. When Christ rose from the dead, the power of death was destroyed. For those who remain close to Christ, we have nothing to fear from death, even though, humanly speaking it is hard to face. We bear our crosses during our earthly life but we have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus followed up this discussion with a corollary of His own. He questioned the title of ‘Messiah’ or the ‘Christ, as being the ‘Son of David.’ He made the point that the ‘Messiah’ was more than only a human being, like a ‘Son of David,’ because in the Psalms, David is quoted as addressing the ‘Messiah’ as his Lord. Therefore, the ‘Messiah’ cannot be only his son, as inferred by using the title, ‘Son of David.’ He must be the God of the Living. This was very different from their concept of a ‘Messiah’ as a political or earthly deliverer. Jesus was therefore pointing out that their Savior would not deliver them from Roman oppression but from sin and death. He said:

“How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David? Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”

The Son of God came to bring the life of the Kingdom of God to the Chosen People and indeed, to all the nations. For those who believe in Jesus’ works and teachings, He is both true God and true Man and the Giver of Life.

Sunday, January 17th., 2021

Sunday, January 17th 2021

Epistle: Colossians 1:12-18               Gospel: Luke 18:18-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

Happy Name Day to all those whose name is Anthony! If you would like to read the life of St. Anthony, please click onto or, copy and paste the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2021/01/17/100216-venerable-and-god-bearing-father-anthony-the-great

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we have his account of a rich man who asked Jesus how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus firstly replied that only one is good and that is God. He had addressed Him as ‘Good Teacher.’ Jesus was implying that He is not his judge, nor would He assess someone as good in comparison to another person by outward appearances. That Day of Judgment would happen at another time. Concerning his question, Jesus simply said to keep the Commandments. The man replied that he had lived them out all his adult life. In response to this, Jesus said:

“You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

The ruler was not expecting an answer like that nor could he accept it! He would have had significant property holdings, an impressive villa as a home, horses for transport, the finest foods and wine and the finest clothing. The prospect of forsaking all this and giving it to the poor was too much for him and he became sorrowful. Whether or not he respected Jesus, after this encounter, is not relayed but we do know from St. Luke’s Gospel that when Jesus attacked the wealth and corruption of the Jewish leaders, they not only rejected Him, they also wanted to destroy Him.

The stumbling block for the ruler in this account and for the Jewish leaders in general was that what mattered to them was their power and wealth, their security in this world. They were not prepared to give that up, even for “eternal life” as this ruler put it or, the “Kingdom of God” as Jesus proclaimed it. In doing so, they lost sense of their sacred purpose, which was to be the custodians of the Word of God given to His Chosen People.

In contrast, in today’s Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul outlines some of the wonderful blessings we have been given by believing in Christ and not rejecting Him like those Jewish leaders did. He expresses his thanks for:

  • Being partakers of the inheritance of the saints of the heavenly banquet
  • Being delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed to the Kingdom of love
  • For being redeemed through the blood of His sacrifice and given the forgiveness of sins

We have gained all of them because Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first begotten over all creation. By Him, all things were created that are in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether they be thrones or dominations, principalities or powers, because all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things consist. For the body of the Church to which we belong, He is its head and its beginning, because He is the firstborn from the dead.

His Body, the Church, also bestows many blessings on us to nourish and sustain us. Let us appreciate and be thankful, like St. Paul, for all that He has done for us. Let us not be like those Jewish leaders who forsook their sacred task so that they could hang onto their possessions. Let us not get caught up in the ways of the world and forget the Kingdom of God in the process! Not even a $750 million lottery prize or whatever it will be by the time you read this, measures up to the blessings of Christ’s Body, the Church; nor to those of the Kingdom of God that are offered to us for all eternity! If this Coronavirus ordeal has taught us anything, it is that our life on this fallen world is very fickle. It is a passing world. The Kingdom of God is eternal. The awesome thing is that it is given to us freely. All we have to do is believe in the works that Jesus did for us and accept His teachings, carried on to this present day by the Orthodox Church that strives to preserve those teachings in the way that the apostles gave them to us. As a free gift, we do not have to buy a lottery ticket to gain it! Nor are its blessing intended for only one but for all!

Friday, January 15th., 2021

Friday, January 15, 2021

Epistle: 1 Peter 1:1-2, 10-12, 2:6-10             Gospel: Luke 20:19-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage is the introduction of the First Letter of St. Peter. Peter set up Churches in Asia Minor. This letter was written sometime between 50 and 67 AD and probably written from Rome.

He made the point in this introduction that what was written previously by the prophets from the Old Testament was written for those who believed in Christ. There is continuity between the Old and the New Testaments and it is through Christ, the Son of God who became man and offered His life as a ransom for all mankind. Thus, for Peter, everything written prior to Christ was written for Christ and for those who believed in Him.

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.”

Peter also reiterated what Jesus said about those who rejected Him, which is that the stone which they rejected has become the cornerstone. He wrote:

“Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,”

They who were the custodians of the Law and the Word of God rejected the very author of that Word and for that reason, they stumbled. To those who do accept the teachings of Christ, however, he concluded:

“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.”

For us too, let us not forget the wonderful blessings we have been given from Christ, not only for today but for all eternity!

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, the spies sent by the chief priests to trick Jesus asked Him to whom they should pay taxes. Jesus replied:

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

This same separation of jurisdictions still holds today. When standing before Pilate, Jesus said that His Kingdom was not of this world and the authority Pilate had was given from above. As you know, this country has strongly believes in the separation of State and Church. The Orthodox Church agrees with this in so far as what the State requires does not contradict Church teaching. The Orthodox Church ideally likes to have a symbiotic relationship where it can advise the State but leaves the State to make the final decision. The Orthodox Church always prays for State authorities.

Thursday, January 14th., 2021

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Epistle: James 4:7-5:9      Gospel: Luke 20:9-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

The community that St. James was writing to had clearly been enduring divisions and going through difficult times. Some of them still had strong connections to those Jews who did not believe in Christ. The non-Christians would have been more than eager to discredit this new sect and judge it. Those Christians who had close ties with them, either as relatives or old village friends, could easily have been influenced by them. Many of the non-Christian Jews were wealthy at that time. Such people can become very arrogant. Jesus, in His time, had warned about such wealthy people with the words, “Woe to you who are rich!” and James also expressed the same thing. In an obvious reference to the wealthy non-Christians Jews he wrote:

“You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.”

In today’s passage, he wrote this advice to his own community:

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

As in yesterday’s passage, he wrote that God draws near to the humble but resists the proud. He wrote in this segment:

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

He also wrote about those who travelled from Jerusalem and gained wealth from the Roman Empire through their commercial dealings and boasted about them. He wrote:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

Some of the community was also judgmental of other members. He had strong advice for them too:

“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”

So, there was a lot going on to disrupt his community! Some were arrogant. Some were envious of those who were wealthy. Some boasted about their wealth through trade. Others were judgmental. To all of this, he urged his community to be humble and patient, waiting for the coming of the Lord. They had already been persecuted by the Jewish authorities and  were soon to be expelled because they were growing in numbers. They were outsiders and ostracized. They did not know then but it would not be long before Rome got fed up with the Jews and destroyed the whole state, including their magnificent Temple. They could not have seen that the coming, which James urged them to long for, would come in a completely unexpected way. It happened through the Romans, who destroyed the Jewish state and its Temple and scattered its survivors. The Romans would persecute the early Church too. James himself would be executed. Even so, the Christians communities not only survived but thrived. Ultimately, the cross of Christ would overcome the whole Roman Empire and it would end up embracing Him.

In the face of the above issues, St. James was very forthright and has given us important lessons to us as well. When the Church forgets the poor, it becomes separated from Christ. When it becomes arrogant, God withdraws from it. When it becomes judgmental, it loses its mission to bring others to Christ. It must always strive to be humble so that the love of God the Father will draw close to it. The Orthodox Church teaches this throughout the year and puts emphasis on it during Great Lent, when we pray to not judge others, for humility and, we are urged to give to the poor.

As a parish community, we too must heed these lessons. If, like St. James, we seek the coming of the Lord and stay focused on Him, the Holy Spirit will guide us through all trials. The moods and swings of the fallen world will come and go but all they can offer in the end is death. In instead, if we seek the Holy Spirit, we will pass from death to the life of the Kingdom of God. We have much to pray for in these troubled times!

James concludes this passage about patience with these words:

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke is the parable about the vineyard owner who, at the time of harvest, sought to gain its fruits. The vinedressers refused and ultimately killed the owner’s son to take the vineyard for themselves. The vinedressers were the Jewish authorities and the owner is our heavenly Father.

I wrote about this parable on Thursday, December 3rd. If you scroll down to that date, you can read what I wrote.

Wednesday, January 13th., 2021

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Epistle: James 3:11-4:6          Gospel: Luke 20:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Orthodox Church teaches that Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God. Tragically, when they disobeyed His command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, these two attributes were greatly damaged. We have inherited this sin. While to some extent we still have the desire to seek goodness and commune with God, our inclination to remain in likeness like God has been very badly damaged. Today’s passage from the Letter of St. James confronts this same contradiction.

The community which he wrote to believed in Christ. They had been freed from the Old Mosaic Law through baptism so that they might live a life of righteousness in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is obvious from this passage that some were not living up to their commitment to Christ. He wrote that, just as salt water and fresh water cannot come from the same spring, it is impossible to make the claim that they belonged to Christ but at the same time chose to live a life of envy and jealousy. He warned them against harboring evil thoughts in their hearts. He wrote:

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.”

As mentioned, our likeness to God has been greatly damaged. Thus, because we live in a fallen world, we easily fall into sin. Our body is easily inclined to envy and jealousy and if we succumb to it, we lose the grace of the Holy Spirit. James continued:

“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Thus, any outward conflicts among them originate from within their hearts:

 “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”

In contrast, those who live in the Holy Spirit will be people of peace. He wrote:

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

In other words, the same simple principle applied to them as it does for us: stay focused on Christ, strive to live His teachings and the teachings of the Church, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance so that we can control those sinful passions which may well up inside us. Always remember that the righteousness of Christ has conquered any such sinfulness and even when we fall, He will never refuse us. Further, when we humbly recognize and repent of such desires like St. Peter did after he denied Him, we will love Him all the more and the grace of His Holy Spirit will be even stronger within us. This is the cross that we must bear: striving to live in Christ while at the same time, confronting and rejecting any sinful passions within us. As St. Paul said in his Letter to the Romans:

“Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Let us humbly pray that the Holy Spirit will always reign in us despite our weaknesses. The Holy Spirit does not produce jealousy within us but humility. Thus, St. James concluded this passage with these words:

“Do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke is the one where the Pharisees ask Jesus where He gets His authority from. Jesus would not answer them because they would not say where John the Baptist got his from. They knew that if they did not say that his came from God, they would start a riot among the people. They were trying to trick Jesus to use His words against Him.

I elaborated more about this passage on Wednesday, December 2nd. Scroll back to that date to find it.

Tuesday, January 12th., 2021

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Epistle: James 3:1-10             Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Epistle of St. James can be summed up with the simple phrase: watch what you say! In it, he uses examples from nature and society to point out the power of the tongue and the words that come from them such as a bit to control a horse or the rudder to control a ship; we can tame all types of animals but who can control the tongue? We are capable of using it to bless our God and Father but we can also curse with it! For this reason, he cautions the community from having too many teachers.

It is obvious from several of St. Paul’s letters that he had to warn against gossip in his communities. St. James must have had the same problem come up with those whom he wrote to.

On page 1793 of the Morning Prayers of the Orthodox Study Bible, we pray each day:

“Teach me to treat all that comes to me 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.”

The Orthodox Church teaches that all the appetites given to us by God are good. That includes our power to express our thoughts in words. There have been many fine preachers throughout its history. For example, St. John Chrysostom was called the ‘golden mouth’ because of his eloquent preaching. The problem, as St. James pointed out, is that it can also be used for destruction. It can be very damaging to others if false accusations are made. We have to be especially careful with the gift of speech to not let it turn into a sinful passion because it can so easily happen! How many of us have regretted saying something we should not have said from the past? Almost everyone who goes to confession lists gossip as something they struggle with. Do not be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of being ‘golden mouthed’ like St. John Chrysostom. We may never reach his eloquence but let us pray that what we say will be pure.

The only way to avoid such pitfalls is to stay focused on Christ. This is also why the Orthodox Church says to never judge anyone. The only absolute Truth is Christ. When we adhere to Him, we are given the Holy Spirit and the gift of righteousness that He offers. If something serious comes up that we feel obliged to speak about, study what Christ’s Body, the Church teaches regarding it. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Gather as many facts as one can and make sure that any assertion made is backed up by reasonable evidence or witnesses. Otherwise, say nothing. Never, ever, judge an individual person and his soul. Leave that to the appointed time at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Just as Metropolitan Tikhon quoted from St. Paul, in the aftermath of the ugly violence on Capitol Hill last week,

‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor’ (Rom 12:9–10).

St. James simply wrote at the end of today’s passage about a poisoning tongue: “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” Let us pray that this will be so for us.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account about Jesus driving out the merchants in the Temple and crying out:

“It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

I have written about this previously. Please look back to my message on Friday, August 7th 2020 to read what I wrote.

Monday, January 11th., 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

Epistle: James 2:14-26           Gospel: Luke 19:37-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

In introducing the Letter of St. James last Friday, I wrote that he is the one who wrote: “Faith without works is dead.” Today’s passage spells this out very clearly and I recommend that you click onto the above link to read it fully. He concluded this segment by writing:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

The memory for the followers of Christ of his death and resurrection would have still been fresh in their minds. James wrote this letter no more than 30 years afterward. The bulk of those followers were Jews, steeped in Judaism. Until the time when they started to be persecuted by the Jewish authorities, who were afraid of Rome’s reaction to their growth, many would go to both the Temple and to a Eucharistic service that broke bread in memory of Christ. So, many of them were devoted, pious followers.

The city of Jerusalem was wealthy. The Temple was a very impressive complex. The High Priests and Scribes would also have been very wealthy but this led to corruption. Jesus had condemned it. James had already complained that some followers of Christ were very partial towards any wealthy visitors who would come to their services but would also push away the poor and the beggars. In today’s passage, he wrote to them to say that it is all very well to have faith in the Word of God but what is the use of it, if it is not backed up with works to show it? He caustically commented on their lack of action in regard to their faith by writing:

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!”

He continued by giving the example of Abraham and Rahab, who backed up their faith in God with action. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son at God’s command. Rahab, a prostitute in Jerico, recognized the power of God and harbored two Jewish spies working for Joshua. Her action spared her and her family and she converted. For James, here was a woman who did not live an admirable life but was not only prepared to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but was prepared to act on that belief at the risk of her life. Thus, to his early Christians community, James was saying it was one thing to be pious and devoted but of little use if it did not heed the example of these two Old Testament figures.

The Orthodox Church has used the Letter of James to teach us that it is always important to put our belief in Christ into action. At the height of the Byzantine Empire, such practice was often ignored despite the fact that the Orthodox Church has always taught it. This is why it puts strong emphasis on charity or almsgiving. It is part of the Orthodox Way. St. John Chrysostom preached about it constantly and chastised his people for failing to give generously to the poor. James’ letter is a timely reminder to us that the face of Christ is always in the poor. In America, we use the body, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), to serve people in times of crisis and need. It has a well earned international reputation for the good work that it does.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem when the people thronged towards Him, laid out palms in front of Him and cried out:

“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

The Pharisees complained, asking Him to stop them but He retorted:

“I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Jesus then went on to lament that the Jewish leaders were given the words of eternal life but they rejected it. This would be their downfall. Ultimately the Romans, whom they thought were their guardians, crushed them and destroyed the Temple. The Orthodox Church, in using today’s Epistle and Gospel, recognized that it is only by trusting in the Word of God and keeping it, that its people can be saved. The Jewish leaders, the custodians of God’s Word, failed to fulfill their calling to preserve it but a pagan prostitute, Rahab, did believe and acted on the Word of God and was saved. When someone in the crowd praised Jesus’ mother for nurturing Him, He responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Remember also, the parable of the sewer and the seed that fell on good ground rather than in thorns. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples:

“If you love Me, keep my commandments and my Father will love you and send you the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth.”

St. James warned his people to not stray from this commandment. We too, need to keep on our guard to not drift from it. Once again, let us always humbly pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us in keeping Christ’s commandments through His Body, the Church with its teachings. Let us never be afraid to act in a way that serves Christ and His commandments, each day in our lives.

Sunday, January 8th., 2021

Sunday, January 10th 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 4:7-13        Gospel: Matthew 4:12-17

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes about us using our talents for the sake of the Body of Christ.

Having been given the gift of righteousness through Christ and access to the Kingdom of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit through the washing of baptism and the anointing of chrism, freedom from the Mosaic Law and from sin, the many blessings from the Church such as the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, St. Paul taught the people that they were now able to do the work of the Church through the talents that Christ had given them. Thus, for:

“some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

So, instead of falling back into sin, they could now build up the Body of Christ to store up treasures in heaven by using the talents that Christ gave them to continue His work of proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all those around them.

This mission is still at the forefront of the Orthodox Church’s work today. We are still called to use our talents in what way we can to build up the Church. It is in this way that the life of the parish continues in the name of Christ. One important step to enable its work to be effective is formation. This is why those who feel called to be priests must go to a seminary and study the Living Faith or Tradition of the Church. They must know its Living Faith. To be educated in this way is necessary to be able to be effective ministers. St. Paul was a teacher and a preacher. All his letters advise and teach his people to live in Christ and bring others through them to Him.

It is also important therefore for us to continue with our own education in the faith beyond childhood. I write these messages, not only to encourage everyone to stay focused on Christ in these difficult times but also to teach about the Church. Just before the pandemic hit, I had begun Bible Study to help our faith grow. The more we know about it, the more effective we will be in living out the Church’s mission to bring people to Christ.

The other element is our closeness to Christ. This grows by us using the Orthodox Church’s Way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving throughout the Church’s calendar and liturgical seasons as well as by regularly using its sacraments of communion and confession. We should also avail ourselves of the many other blessings such as the water blessed for the Theophany that we just celebrated. These blessings of the Church help us to reach out to Christ in times of struggle and hardship. They are there to heal and strengthen us. We may not feel righteous in such times but it is through our very weaknesses, as St. Paul wrote, that Christ uses us most effectively.

We know that this has been a traumatic week in the politics of our country. There will be as many opinions as there are people about the ugly scenes of last week but remember that though there were groups in Jerusalem during Jesus’ public life, who tried to get Him to join them, He never acceded to worldly thinking. Instead, He went on the cross to sacrifice Himself for the salvation of mankind’s souls. As we pray in our morning prayers:

“You did become man and deigned to endure crucifixion and death for the salvation of all who rightly believe in You.”

Once again, the only effective way to make this country better is to stay focused on Christ and pray for ourselves, our families, our parish, our city, our state and our country. Pray for also for the salvation of the souls of those who lost their lives because of the incident, especially the police officer from our state. As Metropolitan Tikhon stated a couple of days ago:

“O Lord Jesus Christ, who have descended the waters of Jordan sanctifying the whole creation and offering us a new life, protect and keep this country and grant it peace, tranquility, and reconciliation!”

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew describes what I have been writing about. He wrote:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

This time of difficulty with the political unrest and the pandemic will pass. Pray for the country and its leaders, just as we do in every Divine Liturgy, not to bring it to our persuasion but instead, that the Kingdom of God will be established on earth as it is in heaven. The next words of St. Matthew are very pertinent:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Nothing has changed in regard to the fallen world as it was then in comparison to now. Stay focused on the Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed.

Friday, January 8th., 2021

Friday, January 08, 2021

Epistle: James 2:1-13 Gospel: Luke 19:12-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is from the Letter of James the apostle.

James was a kinsman of Jesus Christ and the first bishop of Jerusalem. He was martyred about 62 AD. This letter is probably the first written work of the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, Chapter 8, it describes how this Church was dispersed after the Jews began persecuting the community. His letter is pragmatic in many ways. It was he who wrote that “faith without works is dead” but he also wrote a lot of other important teachings.

In today’s passage, he wrote very bluntly that we do not judge anyone by outward appearances. There we some who were chasing rich people but despising the poor, especially those who were shabbily clothed. He wrote:

“If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”

He warned them to be wary of the rich and their motives. He continued:

“Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?”

He then quotes a basic commandment of the Law:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

In other words, once again, do not judge others. Further, he wrote that we should be “judged by the law of liberty” which is, of course, is Jesus Christ and not the old Mosaic Law.

Because we live a life in Christ, we should never judge others either on the surface by such things as clothing or by gossiping about a person’s behavior. Nor should we ever turn away someone from our church because we do not think that they ‘fit in.’ Thinking such as this would destroy the parish. We never know whom Christ may send to our community. We must always welcome and never judge. The Holy Spirit also ‘blows where He wills’ and He may send someone as a blessing to the parish even if we cannot see it on the surface.

This does not mean, of course, that we should expose the parish unnecessarily to danger. During this time of the pandemic, we have been told by our bishop to lock the doors of the church and only let those in who have called ahead of time. After this restriction is lifted, when the danger of the Coronavirus subsides, we will open our doors again to everyone. If then, a stranger comes to the church for a service, leave it to the priest to assess him or her. Our prime goal is always to bring people to Christ. If they are not Orthodox, the priest will talk to them about converting and joining the parish. This process necessarily takes time.

Thursday, January 7th., 2021. The Afterfeast of the Theophany and John the Baptist

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Epistle: Acts 19:1-8               Gospel: John 1:29-34

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, in the Orthodox calendar, we celebrate the Afterfeast of the Theophany together with the Forerunner, John the Baptist. A joyous and blessed Theophany to you all!

I had mentioned in a message at the end of last week a story in which St. Paul met some former disciples of John the Baptist. This very story is used in today’s Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul asked them:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

When asked how they were then baptized, they said with a baptism of repentance from St. John the Baptist. Paul then explained to them that John had predicted that one was to come after him who would baptize people with the Holy Spirit. He explained that it was Jesus who would do this and so, they agreed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The story continues:

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.”

Today’s Gospel uses St. John the Evangelist’s account of Jesus meeting John the Baptist. John preached to the people that one would come after him who would not only preach repentance like he did but that He would also baptize with the Holy Spirit.

“John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

This was all part of God’s plan for our salvation. The prophets spoke on His behalf. They were His messengers and almost always, the Jewish people either ignored or rejected them. Sometimes they killed them because they did not like the message. St. John the Baptist was the final messenger before Jesus and after the demise of the Temple of Jerusalem, there have been no others. God now speaks through Christ’s Body the Church. That promise of the Holy Spirit continues through it. The Church offers the blessing of the Holy Spirit in many ways but His initial blessing comes to us at baptism and chrismation. Yesterday, we had the Great Blessing of Water, a basic element of life. If we, like the disciples of John the Baptist described in today’s Epistle, believe in Jesus Christ and strive to keep His teachings, then the Holy Spirit will also come to guide and strengthen us.

God’s plan unfolded despite the resistance of the Chosen People and it will continue to unfold through Christ’s Body the Church, no matter how much it may seem to be oppressed. The task for us is to be prepared to take up our cross when Christ calls us to, so that we may sanctify the world around us. Let us rejoice at John’s witness and his call to repentance and let us like his disciples, humbly approach the altar in a spirit of repentance so that we will die to ourselves and live in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

The Theophany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, January 6th., 2021

The Cosmic Dimension of the Feast of the Theophany

On January 6th we celebrated the feast of the Theophany. We call it that because the Trinity manifested itself when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Our familiarity with this annual event might lull us into taking this feast for granted but what happened there was of momentous importance.

Firstly, the very creator of the universe entered into space & time, into our world, as a little babe, in very humble circumstances, survived Herod’s wrath & grew up as a child in Nazareth. Having come of adult age, he was about to set forth on His public mission, in obedience to His Father in Heaven. The first step was to be baptized by John in the River Jordan.

Secondly, when He took this step, the Trinity, the Creator of the universe, was made manifest: the Father spoke saying: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Then the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove & rested on His head. Many people throughout the centuries could not accept that the Son of God can be present on this earth as both true God & true man at the same time. Some say he is God but not fully human; some will say that he is a great man but not truly God. This moment shows that it was actually true & that the Truth we recite in the creed: true God & true man, accurately expresses what the event we celebrate today is about.

Thirdly, this manifestation was not just for our own edification but is much more. It is cosmic! The creator of the universe shows us that the whole of creation is included in this Truth. Until this point, all of creation groaned & was subject to futility, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. This was so because of the sin of Adam & Eve. This event, together with the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, his birth & the other related stories described in the New Testament, happened as part of the Trinity’s plan to right this wrong.

For this reason, in the Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus baptism with a Great Blessing of Water. In the blessing, it prays about the elements of creation that God has given us. It says:

“By your might You uphold all creation & by your providence You direct the world. You have fitly framed creation out of four elements; You crowned the circle of the year with four seasons. All the reasoned-endowed powers tremble before You. The sun sings Your praises & the moon glorifies You; the stars intercede with You; the light obeys You; the deeps shudder before You; the water springs serve You. You have spread out the heavens like a curtain. You have established the earth upon the waters. With sand, You have walled the seas. You have poured forth the air for breathing. The Angelic powers minister to You. The choirs of Archangels worship You. The many-eyed Cherubim & the six-winged Seraphim, as they stand round about & fly, cover themselves in fear before Your unapproachable glory.”

One can see from this prayer that the Orthodox Church connects the earth to the bodiless powers of heaven. Thus, heaven & earth are united at this event. The Church in its prayers reflects on God’s revelation through water. It says:

“You are our God, who through water & the Spirit, has renewed our nature, grown old through sin. Thou are our God, who with water did drown sin in the days of Noah. Your are our God, why by the sea, through Moses, did set free from slavery to Pharaoh, the Hebrew race. You are our God, who did cleave the rock in the wilderness, so that water gushed forth & streams overflowed, satisfying Your thirsty people. Thou are our God, who by water & fire, through Elijah, brought Israel back from the error of Baal.”

Because of this connection to water, it is the practice in the Orthodox Church for families to have their homes blessed from the water blessed in this great blessing. Where the weather is suitable, churches have the practice of blessing a body of water such as a lake or a sea, throwing a cross into it & for those able, to jump in & retrieve it. Plunging into water certainly connects creation with this feast.

Please note that, because of the pandemic, this year the Orthodox Church in America will not allow house blessings to be done until after Pascha.

Let us not forget therefore, the cosmic dimension of this feast. Let us also not forget that we have a responsibility to care for God’s creation in any way we can. Before they fell from Grace, God gave Adam & Eve the responsibility to care for His garden, to name the animals & the plants & to offer them back to Him. These themes are regularly mentioned in the liturgical prayers of the Church Calendar.

We should, therefore, always treat creation with respect & reverence and be on our guard to not abuse it. In these times when scientists are so concerned about mankind’s impact on this earth, especially from manmade global warming (with its rising sea levels & intensifying storms), pollution and the use of plastics and toxic chemicals, we should do all we can to not add to this abuse. The Orthodox Church’s practices of prayer, fasting & almsgiving put us on the path of caring for creation but we need to be alert to prevent unnecessary abuse by limiting our energy use, avoid using Styrofoam & being conscientious about recycling. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to guide in this task, so that when we come to such moments in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar, we can offer back to Christ and our heavenly Father all those efforts for their glory & honor.

Monday, January 4th., 2021

Monday, January 04, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 11:17-23, 27-31     Gospel: Luke 17:20-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle to the Hebrews continued the discussion about the importance of having faith in God to gain His favor. It gives many examples from the Old Testament where people’s faith was tested and who did not falter. The early Christian Hebrews were urged to follow their example. They kept their faith because of a promise from God. The early Christians had that promise by being given the Holy Spirit. There were many noin-Christians who tried to dissuade them but his readers were being urged to never turn back.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom would come. Jesus replied:

 “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Orthodox Church teaches that the phrase, “the Kingdom of God is within you” is central to understanding how we live out our life in Christ. We were promised the Holy Spirit during Jesus’ public ministry. St. John the Baptist also promised that He would be sent. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, on Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire and they began to speak in many languages. This was not the only time, nor was it the only way that the Holy Spirit manifested Himself after the resurrection. It was common practice in early Christian prayer services that they would pray in tongues. After St. Paul laid hands on some people who had been baptized by John the Baptist, they began to speak in tongues. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit blows where He wills.

Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to those who were born again by water through baptism. The Church has kept this practice up by baptizing people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Following the practice of the apostles, the Orthodox Church also anoints the person with chrism, calling specifically upon the Holy Spirit to come them. At the end of the service, that same person is given the sacrament of communion to receive the life giving Body and Blood of Christ in the name of His Church. From the first generation on, after the apostles, the early Church began to baptize infants.

Those who criticize the practice of baptizing infants do not know that the early Church began it. These are called the three sacraments of initiation. Unfortunately, the Roman Church split up these sacraments, often putting confession before communion. Even though the Protestants broke with Rome, they continued the same practice. So, Baptism and Chrismation, which Rome called Confirmation, falsely began to be regarded as sacraments of commitment rather than initiation. The three sacraments of initiation bestow upon the baptized person the Holy Spirit and the Life Giving Body and Blood of Christ, as Jesus promised in St. John’s Gospel.

Several changes made by the Roman Church unfortunately de-emphasized the phrase used by Jesus in today’s Gospel that the Kingdom of God is within us. The first was the insertion by the Roman Church of the “filoque” into the Nicean Creed. It therefore deemed that the Son of God shares with the Father the role of begetting the Holy Spirit instead of being begot through the Son. This placed Christ up ‘in the clouds’ distancing Him from the very people He came on earth to humbly mingle with. This mentality has strongly influenced the Gothic architecture of the Roman Churches where they reach for the sky as far as they can. A second factor is Rome’s claim that sanctifying grace, the grace of the Holy Spirit, is a created medium, thus preventing us from directly communing with the Trinity. The Orthodox Church believes that God’s grace comes directly to us from the Holy Spirit. It also claims that its manmade canon laws are divine and that people can only be justified in the sight of God by adhering strictly to them. The Orthodox Church does not believe that its canons are divine because they are manmade. Finally, for Rome, the sacraments were given by Christ to atone for not only the sin of Adam and Eve but also their guilt. The Orthodox Church believes that we only inherited the sin of Adam and Eve, not their guilt. These factors placed heavy burdens upon its faithful in their desire to be one with Christ.

For the Orthodox Church, the Holy Spirit is freely given to us at baptism and He journeys with us throughout our lives as a ‘paraclete’ or comforter, to guide us to the Kingdom of God until we leave this life. It believes that, with its guidance, baptized Orthodox Christians can commune directly with the Trinity. Instead of being used to atone for our sins, the sacraments are therefore seen as vehicles to enter into the mystery of the Trinity. Christ commanded us to celebrate the breaking of the bread in memory of Him so that we can commune intimately with Him and therefore the Trinity. The Orthodox Church sees itself as a hospital for its souls where it offers many many blessings to help us keep the Kingdom of God within us. Do not hesitate to use them!

 

Sunday, January 3rd., 2021

Sunday, January 3rd 2021

Epistle: 2 Timothy 4:5-8        Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from the Letter to Timothy, St. Paul gives a summary of his life. At this point, he knew that his earthly life was to soon come to an end. In his letters, he often wrote about being righteous in Christ and he concludes this letter with similar words. He wrote:

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

He had suffered a lot for his faith in Christ and had been given many heavy crosses to bear in His name. In the same passage he wrote:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Just like Jesus, his life was poured out to others, for their salvation.

Keep in mind that the crosses we bear also give us an opportunity to do the same. At the time, they can be difficult bear, sometimes very painful, but let us keep the larger picture in mind, that somehow they help to bring about God’s plan of salvation for us and for others. It is not that we look for suffering, but when it does come our way, let us offer it back to Christ for the “crown of righteousness” as St. Paul described it above. In that sense, it becomes a time of joy because it stores up treasures in heaven for us and others.

This same theme of joyfulness is the basis of the beautiful Encyclical that the Synod of Bishops of the OCA published for New Year’s Day. Please click onto or, copy and paste the following link if you would like to read it: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-synod-of-bishops-issues-an-encyclical-of-hope.

Today’s Gospel passage is the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. It starts off by writing about Jesus’ predecessor, John the Baptist and describes him as a prophet:

“As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’”

This is why the Orthodox Church describes him as ‘The Forerunner.’ Thus, Mark’s introduction continues:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

The passage goes on to describe how John lived and how he preached the Word of God. What distinguishes Jesus from him in this passage is that where John is able to preach a baptism of repentance and the immanence of the Kingdom of God, only Jesus could bring the Holy Spirit to the Chosen People and later on to the Gentiles.

“And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We know, as Orthodox Christians, that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to us when we are baptized. It is from that moment that we take up our cross each day and call upon the Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and guide us on our daily journey. We know that we have been given the fruits of the Holy Spirit to deliver us from temptation. We know that through the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the Kingdom of God which Jesus and John had preached about. We also know that it is through the Holy Spirit that we become part of the Body of Christ (the Church) and the Communion of Saints that St. Paul taught about and what the Orthodox Church continues to teach. These are the blessings that will give us eternal life and will nourish us day to day, especially through the Eucharist. Do not take these blessings for granted. No earthly blessing can come close to these blessings. They are given by God to us as the earth’s custodians but they mean nothing if the above spiritual gifts are not embraced or brushed aside because, unlike the world’s benefits, they are freely given!

Let us learn what true value means. It is the only Truth that will matter in the end, namely, Jesus Christ. Let us never lose sight of Him, what He taught and continues to teach through His Body, the Church. The Orthodox Church is very conscious of this mission and continually strives to be faithful to that teaching and that of the apostles.

Friday, January 1st., 2021

Friday, January 01, 2021

The Circumcision of our Lord and Savior Jesus ChristSt. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia (379). Martyr Basil of Ancyra (ca. 362).

Archpriest Terence Baz

Happy New Year!

The Gospel today is the same as it was a couple of days ago so, I will not comment on it. I wish everyone of you a blessed New Year. Difficult times still lay ahead but hopefully the pandemic will ease off by the latter part of the year. I urge you today to read the beautiful statement put out by the Holy Synod of  Bishops of the OCA. Please go to this link to read it:

https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-synod-of-bishops-issues-an-encyclical-of-hope.

I wish you all every blessing from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the coming year. You are all in my prayers!

Thursday, December 31st., 2020

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 10:35-11:7             Gospel: Mark 11:27-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle to the Hebrews continues the discussion about the difference the sacrifices of the Old Testament was compared to the one sacrifice of the Son of God, made man. The former falters but the latter enables us when we partake in the Eucharist in memory of Christ to reach the throne of the Kingdom of God. Having previously written about this, today’s passage discusses the importance of believing or having faith in Christ. Without it, such a service would be nothing more than a ritual. Further, we need to hold fast to Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the apostles. Otherwise, we will return to perdition. We must remember that there were people outside the early Christian communities who were trying to influence its members to return to their previous pagan ways or the Old Covenant (Law) ways or variants of them. The purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews was to warn early Christians not to take heed to their attempted coercion.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders of the Jewish people approached Jesus and questioned Him in regard to what authority did He have to teach the people. He knew what they were trying to do. If He had said from God, they would have accused Him of blaspheming and used it against Him with the people. So, He threw the question back to them concerning John the Baptist, asking by whose authority had John preached. They would not answer it because they knew they would get a backlash from the people if they said that John’s preaching was only from man and not from God. Jesus therefore did not answer their question of Himself.

These Jewish leaders knew they were the custodians of the Law and therefore, the Word of God. They were strict in applying the letter of the Law to the people but they never fully kept it. They only wanted to be seen as the upholders of the Law but broke the precepts that they did not like. Jesus accused them of this. Worse still, however, was that they were not at all interested in being faithful to their more sacred responsibility to be custodians of the Word of God, because that would have required them to restrict the wealth they gained from the Roman taxes or other unlawful income sources such as the rent from the merchants’ tables in the Temple. The Word of God was brushed aside for the sake of appearances. They did not want to be confronted about this so they tried to challenge His authority to do so.

For us today, our recent experience with the Coronavirus has taught us that as beautiful as our churches are, they do not go to the heart of our community. We experienced a time when all the parish churches were shut, including the most sacred times of Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha. We all reverted back to the Typica Services for prayer, even going without the Eucharist and Communion. This is obviously not a desirable situation but it did bring out that what are at the heart of our communities are us being a family of believers in Christ and the teachings of the Orthodox Church. As such, we are Christ’s Living Body on earth. We also learnt that we could continue on our mission through technology. It was not easy but we were able to broadcast our services, once we began again, by streaming them online. Some people still do not feel safe enough to attend but at least they can see and hear the service. They too are part of the Living Body of Christ. What unites us is our prayer and faith. The Jewish authorities rejected this truth because they were afraid of losing their power and wealth. What is important for us to remember, therefore, is that as beautiful, sacred and convenient as our churches may be, what matters to our Heavenly Father is that we remain faithful to His Word and the teachings that His only begotten Son gave us through Him. We have been blessed to be able to resume our Eucharistic Divine Liturgies and one of the reasons I write these messages is to help you keep in touch with the Word of God. I also hope that they help you to stay close to Christ and strengthen you in these difficult time

Wednesday, December 30th., 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 10:1-18       Gospel: Mark 11:22-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews continues the discussion about the profound impact of the Son of God coming to earth to sacrifice Himself on the cross. This sacrifice supplanted all previous ones.

“By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

I wrote yesterday that the priesthood offered by Christ to His apostles and thus to His Body, the Church, enables the priest to offer that same sacrifice back to our Heavenly Father in memory of Him. We also call upon the Holy Spirit in that moment to sanctify the bread and wine into that same Body of Christ, so that we too can be sanctified. To quote from today’s passage:

“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before.”

The Eucharist that we celebrate at the Divine Liturgy is the New Covenant which sanctifies us and frees us from our sins. Unlike the Old Testament, when the Chosen People constantly became cold hearted and stiffed necked, not taking the Word of God into their hearts, the command from Jesus to His apostles at the Last Supper, to do the same breaking of bread in memory of Him, will always profoundly write it on the hearts of those who participate. Again, today’s passage states:

"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them, then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

This is no magical ritual, however! Unless we participate with humility and purity of faith, it will only remain a ritual. It may be easy for us to take for granted the rituals and prayers of the Divine Liturgy but if we do, we brush aside the profound implications of what happens during it. The difference between the New and the Old Covenant is that when we do participate in the Eucharist with humility and faith, we reach the very throne of the Kingdom of God! Nothing could be more profound because the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could not do this.

When I wrote two days ago about St. Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus driving out the money changers from the Temple, I pointed out that we need to ask for humility and faith when we pray. St. Mark added a third pillar today: forgiveness. When we pray, we need to pray for the freedom to let go of hurts and grievances from others so that we can forgive everyone around us. When we do, we enable our souls to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. If we genuinely strive to forgive, pray with humility and have a childlike faith in Christ, our Father will hear our prayers. Jesus said:

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

We have to humbly wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to us in our hearts to give us the clarity to see how our prayers are answered.

Tuesday, December 29th., 2020

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 9:8-10, 15-23         Gospel: Mark 11:11-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the letter to the Hebrews discusses the Old Covenant where the spilling of blood was a necessary part of the rituals the Chosen People performed in an attempt to be redeemed from their sins. The author pointed out that such sacrifices of animals “cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience.” They were always in inadequate. Only the Son of God, who came on earth, could atone for our fallen nature from the sin of Adam and Eve and it was by the sacrifice of His blood that mankind could be atoned and made righteous.

It is for this reason that, in preparation for each Eucharistic Liturgy, the priest cuts out a cube from a loaf of blessed bread called the Lamb. Then, at the Consecration he says the words, “This is My body” and “This is My blood of the New Testament” and then, before calling upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify those gifts (the Epiclesis), he offers them back to our Heavenly Father with the words:

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

We do this with confidence, thanks to the sacrifice the Son of God made by His blood on the cross. Unlike the Old Covenant, when a priest today offers Christ back to His Heavenly Father, he does so in a perfect way, atoning for all the sins of this fallen world and all of creation. In contrast to what the Letter to the Hebrews said of the Old Covenant, the Eucharistic service that Christ commanded us to do in memory of Him, enables our conscience to do it perfectly. Through that commandment, Christ’s Body lives in on His Church that now enacts this bloodless worship in order to bring salvation to all the cosmos. He is the High Priest who appointed the apostles and those whom they would anoint to continue on His priestly work. We too have been freely given the enormous privilege of experiencing this heavenly sacrifice each time we attend and partake in the Divine Liturgy. Nothing else can take its place or even come close to it! This is what gives us Life. This is what unifies us with the Kingdom of God. The word ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving.” Let us always thank God for this privilege and the sacrifice His only begotten Son undertook to allow us to partake in it.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark is his account of Jesus entering the Temple and overturning the merchant tables, thus driving out the money changers. This story is given in all the Gospels and is central to Jesus’ confrontation with the Jewish authorities and the powers of darkness. It was from this incident that the authorities clearly decided to find a way to kill Him. St. Mark’s account also mentions the incident with the fig tree that had no fruit. Jesus cursed it and it died. It was included to show the real fate of the Jewish authorities who rejected Him. Contrary to what may have seemed to be the case on the surface, they were the ones who would really die for all eternity because they would not produce the fruit that God had commanded them to bear, which was to be the custodians of the Word of God. They not only ignored their task as custodians of it, they rejected it completely. The subsequent destruction of the Temple and all of them 40 years later happened because of their rejection.

Let us always embrace the all-powerful Word of God with humility and faith.

Monday, December 28th., 2020

Monday, December 28, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 8:7-13         Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage from the Letter to the Hebrews reflects on how the Old Covenant is inadequate thus, making the New Covenant with Christ necessary. The sacrifices of the Old Testament could never cover for all their sins. It points out that a new covenant would be made where the current one was inadequate. There is a sense of urgent compassion in the text where our Heavenly Father longs for us to truly be His people.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

He longed for a new era where everyone, great and small, could remain in His covenant.

 ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

That was achieved, of course, when He sent His only beloved Son, who poured out His life for all creation. By simply living “in Christ” dying to ourselves and taking up our cross, we are given a righteousness through the Holy Spirit that the Old Covenant could never give.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who called out to Jesus to heal him. The story has some important lessons for us. The first is that no matter what people may think of us or even what we think of ourselves, as long as we believe that Christ can heal us, He will. We may not see how but in the fullness of time, it will happen. The second is to never give up on our requests. Our Father loves us for crying out to Him like this when we recognize our inadequacies. The third is to never be afraid to be bold with our petitions. The disciples and others who followed Jesus thought that this man was not important enough to bother Him. In response, not only did he not follow their orders, he boldly called out all the louder! The fourth was that not only did he have faith. He reverently respected His authority when he used the words: “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”

The Orthodox Church recognized the importance of this type of intercessory prayer and so includes it in its services a lot. In the Divine Liturgy and most other services, the phrase “Lord, have mercy!” is used all the way through them. It also forms the basis of monastic and personal prayer when we use the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

Let us try to embrace these lessons, knowing that Christ will never withhold His Holy Spirit, when we cry out to our Heavenly Father in prayer. It is one of the great gifts given freely to us so that we can continue on in the trials of life.

Sunday after the Nativity of Christ, December 27th., 2020

Sunday, December 27th 2020

Sunday after the Nativity

St. Stephen the First Martyr

Archpriest Terence Baz

I am using the Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles today in memory of the Church’s first martyr, St. Stephen, the deacon.

The word ‘martyr’ means witness and this reading gives the story of how he was killed. It happened after Stephen had used the scriptures to teach the truth, that all of the witnesses of the past bore testament to the Son of God becoming man in the person of Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God and witnessed it through His miraculous works. Stephen accused the Chosen People from the past of murdering many witnesses, especially the prophets, because they resisted the Holy Spirit. He then accused the High Priests and Temple leaders in front of him of the same, pointing out that they had murdered John the Baptist and more recently, Jesus. The account wrote that “they were cut to the heart.” They hated him for his words and therefore took him out of the temple to stone him to death. As he was being stoned, he saw a vision of heaven and proclaimed:

“Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

The Jewish leaders may have won a material or earthly victory by ending Stephen’s earthly life but they condemned themselves as the custodians of the very teachings from the God they were supposed to represent. Stephen accused them of not listening to the Holy Spirit and their response was to take the violent action of stoning him, instead of asking whether their own relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was right or not. They chose to ignore warnings that Jesus had previously given them about the future destruction of the Temple because what He said threatened their earthly power and wealth. They chose cling onto the power of the fallen world instead of repenting as Jesus had called them to. They chose to cling onto a Temple built by human hands and Roman taxes, not the God it was supposed to represent. In doing so, they chose the only thing that the fallen world can ultimately offer, which is death. They also chose a Temple that would be doomed to destruction because its sacrifices were no longer acceptable to God. What they tragically failed to see was that the Spirit of God was victorious because Jesus rose from the dead. They may have killed Stephen in the body but his angelic witness shone forth, touching the hearts of countless others, even Saul, to be able to accept the Risen Christ as God’s only Son who had become victorious over death. This was the truth that Stephen was witnessing to, that it was only in the Risen Christ that they could attain righteousness and eternal life, not in our frail bodies or fickle material wealth.

The account concludes with a final witness from St. Stephan. It wrote:

“Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Even though Stephen had borne witness to the sins of the Jewish people just like the prophets had, he prayed for his persecutors. He did not need to avenge their action. He forgave them, just as Jesus did at the end of His earthly life. In the same manner, whenever the saints of the Orthodox Church have been martyred in the name of Christ, they never condemned their persecutors but often prayed for them. Let us never be afraid to witness to Christ just as our predecessors have.

Jesus also foretold of such witness in today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew. Jesus used a parable in responding to the Pharisees, to make clear how their predecessors had persecuted God’s witnesses, the prophets, before Him and were plotting to do the same to Him as well. They themselves became the accusers in how they responded to the parable. They said:

“He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

The passage concludes:

“Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

They rejected the Word of God but it would become the cornerstone for eternal life. Thus, their hearts became hardened and their eyes blinded to what God was saying to them. They were not interested in listening to the Word of God because of their arrogance.

The best antidote to such arrogance when we read the scriptures, is to pray for the gift of humility from the Holy Spirit. Even if we have pride within us that we do not notice, when we pray in this way, the Holy Spirit will cleanse it from us. Jesus had said,

“Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”

We must always listen with humility. This does not mean that we cannot talk freely to Christ by pouring out our hearts to Him but we need to ask that we remain humble. When we do, Christ will speak to us and we will eventually be able to hear Him.

Thursday, December 24th., 2020 the eve of the Nativity of Christ

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Old Testament Readings: Genesis 1:1-13; Numbers 24:2-3, 5-9, 17-18; Micah 4:6-7; 5:2-4; Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah (Baruch 3:35-4:4); Daniel 2:31-36, 44-45; Isaiah 9:6-7

Epistle: Hebrews 1:1-12                     Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

Archpriest Terence Baz

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

I want to begin by thanking all of you who read my daily messages! I write them to help encourage you and stay focused on the Word of God during these difficult times. I hope they are for you.

Today’s services, Compline and Matins, use numerous Old and New Testament readings to outline many of the aspects of God’s plan of Salvation until the announcement of the glorious news of the birth of the Son of God. They start from the Book of Genesis and work through several prophets who forecast His coming. You can read them for yourself by clicking onto each one or by copying and pasting the above links.

Today’s introduction of the Letter to the Hebrews describes the exalted and unique position that the Son of God has with His Father:

“being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

In the second part of the passage, the letter mentions the timelessness of His personhood who, even though He entered into time and space, unlike the earth that will perish, will reign for eternity and will be one of righteousness:

 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” And: “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.”

The Son of God enters the fallen world to bring light where there has been darkness.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. There was no room at the inn and so He was born in the cold air in a manger and swaddling clothes. The angels, the whole of creation and the shepherds, however were witness to this wonderful event and glorified God as a result.

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

Let us, too, praise and glorify God the Father whose plan for our salvation has been unfolding for all eternity. Let us rejoice at this wondrous event!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Wednesday December 23rd., 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 5:11-6:8                 Gospel: Mark 10:11-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

I will start today with the Gospel from St. Mark. In this passage, people were trying to bring children to Jesus for them to see Him but the disciples tried to stop them. Jesus became upset at those disciples:

“But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “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.”

I use the title “Our Heavenly Father” a lot, often because the scripture passage of the day bears this out but also because we have to see ourselves as children in the sight of God, trusting Him, just like children do with their parents. It is also a timely passage because we are soon about to celebrate the birth of the Son of God as a little child. The story of His birth is not only something to be admired but we also have to follow His example of humility. This gift has to be a pillar of our relationship with Christ and also His Body, the Church. Pride and arrogance are the opposite of humility. Humility builds up the Church, arrogance destroys it. Humility unifies its members, arrogance causes division. It is through humility that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. Arrogance hardens our hearts, deluding us to think we do not need the Holy Spirit, because we are completely self sufficient.

Always pray for the gift of humility. The Gospel passage concludes:

“And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”

Today’s Epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews warned that those who had committed themselves to Christ but turn away from His teachings, falling into sin again, would find it very difficult even impossible, to return to Christ. Once again, the context of those who read the letter was that the early Christians were under the constant threat of persecution from the Romans. If anyone wavered in their faith in Christ by worshipping idols, how could they return afterwards? They would have chosen the world, with its promise of death, instead of the Kingdom of God that gives eternal life. They were also being warned to have nothing to do with anyone like them or those who would say such a choice was okay.

In today’s world, many people do not take the true meaning of this festive season seriously. It has been greatly commercialized and secularized. The hardship of the pandemic will make this year’s celebrations more restrictive and less extravagant but we must still be on our guard to not waver in the Church’s teachings on why we celebrate the Nativity of Christ. Let us humbly pray that we will always remain faithful to the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His Body, the Church.

Pastoral Letters re the Nativity of Christ from Met. Tikhon and Arch. Michael

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

If you would like to read Metropolitan Tikhon's message for the feast of the Nativity of Christ, please click onto or copy and past the following link: https://www.oca.org/holy-synod/statements/his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon/nativity-of-our-lord-2020

If you would like to read Archbishop Michael's Archpastoral Letter for the feast of the Nativity of Christ, please click onto or copy and paste the following link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/ap-letters/Archpastoral-Letter-for-the-Nativity-2020-12-19.pdf. or got to the diocesan website: nynjoca.org. It will be there on the front page.

Archpriest Terence Baz

Tuesday, December 22nd., 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 4:1-13         Gospel: Mark 10:2-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews talks about the importance of having a day of rest. God took rest on the 7th day after His work of creation and His Chosen People were expected to do the same. For Christians, their day of rest is the 1st day of the week, Sunday, in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. Many people, because of economic pressures, are forced to break this commandment because they have to work to pay their bills. Business leaders, who will not allow their employees to take a day of rest as God commanded, will have to face the Judgment Seat of God about this break when Christ comes again.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus taught about the question of divorce. He said to His disciples:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Therefore, the Orthodox Church, in following Jesus’ teaching, is against divorce. It will, however, allow a person to marry a second time, even a third time, for the sake of what it calls ‘economia.’ A priest can present such a request but only a bishop can decide on it. I would not presume to judge anyone facing such difficult choices, especially given complexities like domestic violence and substance abuse. Sometimes, a person who suffers domestic violence or other blatant forms of violation should definitely get out of such a situation for their good and the good of the children.

The other major principle the Orthodox Church holds up is the eternal nature of their union. For Orthodoxy, marriage is not defined by a contract as the Western Churches do, where the bond ends when one of them dies. Because such a union should be in Christ, it becomes a union bonded by the Holy Spirit and, as such, will remain so for all eternity. The couple is crowned in the name of Christ’s Body, the Church, becoming a model or icon in the same way as the Church is to Christ Himself. Thus, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, they become princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God. The Orthodox Church never wants to break such a bond.

Monday, December 21st., 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 3:5-11, 17-19                     Gospel: Mark 9:42-10:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both of today’s passages warn their readers to hold steadfast to the Word of God and to the teachings of Jesus.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, its readers are warned not to become rebellious against the teachings of Christ. It quotes Psalm 94(95) as a warning from the Holy Spirit not to become like the rebellious Jews who were delivered from Egypt but were left to wander in the desert for 40 years and die there. They had built the golden calf as an idol, breaking God’s commandment to not make other images to worship them. The Epistle to the Hebrews warned that the same fate would come upon those who strayed from and became rebellious against the teachings of Christ. The early Church was threatened by persecution from both those Jews who did not believe in Christ and from the Roman authorities. This letter was probably written around the time of the fall of Jerusalem so, they were very uncertain times. Its readers were being urged to stay steadfast in Christ as the only path to certitude.

The Gospel’s warning to remain faithful was even starker in its imagery. St. Mark used the teachings of Jesus to tell his readers that it was better to cut off part of our body than be unfaithful to His teachings. While the Letter to the Hebrews used an historical argument to warn its readers, Mark gives stark images to depict the consequences of allowing themselves to become unfaithful to Christ. If they did, they would face the unceasing and unquenchable fires of hell or the rottenness of paralytic worms, or become like salt that loses its flavor. He warned that they should expect that “everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” While the image of cutting off someone’s limbs may seem grizzly or barbaric to us, we must remember that such images were a reality in their time. If you refused to bend to Rome’s wishes, such afflictions could well happen.

The point with both passages is that the consequences of ignoring or becoming unfaithful to the teachings of Christ are unthinkable. The darkness for those who choose the fallen world rather than Christ is unthinkable. Look at the two thieves on the cross with Jesus at the time of His death. One realized that He was a righteous man and asked if he could join Him in His kingdom. Jesus immediately accepted his request. The other thief, however, even though he was rejected by the fallen world in the name of the Roman Empire and also put on a cross, still chose to remain part of that fallen world! He rejected and scoffed at the other thief’s request. He rejected the Kingdom of God, even in those dire circumstances. This is the tragedy of those who refuse to accept our Father’s invitation or scoff at it and many do, even today. In the same way, Jesus wept for Jerusalem at their rejection of Him. St. Paul also lamented their refusal to follow Christ. People have to make a choice when presented with the teachings of Christ and they have to live with that choice.

So the Orthodox Church deliberately uses the Letter to the Hebrews and St. Mark’s Gospel in this time before the Nativity of Christ to remind us to stay on our guard against drifting from Christ. We celebrate His Nativity because it heralded a new era where the Kingdom of God was made accessible firstly to the Chosen People and after His return to heaven to all of us as well. We rejoice because our Heavenly Father has invited us to His banquet and all we have to do is believe what Jesus taught. For the Orthodox Church, it is also simply a matter of choice. We will receive an abundance of our Father’s blessings if we accept His invitation but at the same time, it is a warning for us to remain faithful to those teachings. Today’s Letter to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 94 as being words from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who will enable those blessing to dwell in our hearts. Let us never refuse Him. Christ also gave us the Church as His Body to eat of the banquet that His Father invited us to. It is there to also nourish us on our journey to that Kingdom.

The Virgin Mary accepted the angel’s invitation, allowing God’s plan to blossom. Let us also accept our Father’s invitation to embrace Christ, receiving His blessings through the Holy Spirit, whereby allowing the Father’s love to bear fruit in others.

Sunday, December 20th., 2020, the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ.

Sunday, December 20th 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40                    Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

In last Sunday’s Gospel, we read the parable of the ruler who invited friends to a feast that he was preparing. All of them made excuses about why they could not come. So, in response, the ruler invited strangers to come in and even after that his house was still not full so, he instructed his servants to go into the highways and byways and invite anyone they met to come to the banquet. Such is the love of our Heavenly Father who wants everyone to come to the banquet of His Heavenly Kingdom!

In today’s Gospel and Epistle passages, we see how our Father prepared for the time when we too, could be invited. God made promises to Abraham and Moses from of old that His people would be numbered like the stars in the heavens.

In the Epistle from the Hebrews, we read an outline of those who remained faithful to the promise of His Word to the Chosen People, even in the face of terrible persecution. They knew, however, that a better time was coming when the feast of the Kingdom of God would be made available to everyone in which they could drink of its Living Waters and eat of its Life giving Bread. The Eistle to the Hebrews concludes at the end:

“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”

St. Matthew’s Gospel depicts through his genealogy that same continuity of our Heavenly Father’s plan, that from of old, He would invite all to His Heavenly Kingdom with the intent that those who would accept His invitation would be as numerous as that stars in the heavens or the sand on the seashore.

The one thing He does expect from us, just as those of the Old Testament had given witness to, is our faithful cooperation, our belief that all things are possible through Him. An angel had appeared to Abraham, to rescue his son, after he was willing to follow God’s command to sacrifice his only son. An angel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit. Her response was “Let it be done according to your word.” In today’s Gospel passage, an angel appeared to Joseph to assure him that the child she was bearing was from the Holy Spirit and that child had been prophesized from of old by Isaiah with his words:

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’”

He then commanded Joseph to name Him ‘Immanuel’ because God was with Him and He would save people from their sins. Joseph believed the angel and did as he commanded, taking Mary to be his wife.

When God’s Word is spoken, it is fulfilled. When God chooses to intervene into human history, its impact is profound, causing the course of history to change accordingly. When those who believe His Word cooperate, they are blessed by the role that they are called to play in His plan.

Let us always ask that we too, will be faithful when He calls us to fulfill His plan. Let us too, rejoice as Mary did at the wonderful blessings He bestowed on her. Like her, let us always forthrightly proclaim His wonderful works on earth, with all the blessings that His created universe offers to us. Let us too, proclaim:

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…”

Like the Virgin Mary, who is the Theotokos or God-bearer, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will come upon us so that God’s Word will also be fulfilled in us, as we rejoice in His wonderful blessings. In today’s Divine Liturgy, the Kontakion prays the words,

Today the Virgin comes to the cave

to give birth to the Eternal Word.

Hear the glad tidings and rejoice, O universe!

Glorify with the angels and the shepherds

the Eternal God, Who is willing to appear as a little child!

Let us accept our Heavenly Father’s loving invitation, humbly asking that we would be made worthy to enjoy His Heavenly banquet!

Please Continue to Pray!

As you know, the numbers of deaths and infections from Covid-19 virus continue to be very alarming. Our whole nation is suffering from it. Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from the loss of loved ones, from sickness, from isolation, from fear of losing their businesses, from being laid off from work and from hunger. Further, this Christmas season will be very diffucult for countless people, not just in our country but throughout the whole world.

I have said previously that this is a time for us to call out to our Heavenly Father from our private rooms and intercede for those who suffer. Those of us who are house bound are especially called to do this because of our baptism. We have the gift of intercession. I urge you to use such an opportunity  as best as you can, as painful as it may be, . He will never refuse our prayers, no matter how small. What He does ask from us is that we believe in the works His only begotten Son did on His behalf and the teachings He gave us while here on earth.

If I may, I humbly urge my fellow priests to use their priestly gift of intercession as much as possible during this time of difficulty. There is no better way to live out our priestly mission during this difficult time. When we serve the Divine Liturgy over the next few weeks, such intercessory prayers can be offered back to our Heavenly Father at His holy dwelling place.

Father Terence Baz

Friday, December 18th., 2020

Friday, December 18, 2020

Epistle: Titus 1:15-2:10         Gospel: Mark 9:33-41

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to Titus, St. Paul continued his instruction. He had just written about the qualities needed for someone who wished to be a bishop. In today’s passage, he moved his instruction to how the community members should behave so that they are seen to be above reproach. He was effectively telling them that they should always strive to set a good example. Anything less would open them to criticism and threaten the Church. He gives advice to older men and to older women; to younger women and to younger men. Click onto the above link, if you would like to read what he wrote. In regard to teaching Church doctrine, he wrote:

“In doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”

Much of what he wrote is still relevant advice for us today.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark talks about one of the pillars necessary for any Church to remain fruitful and one that I have discussed before, namely, humility. St. Mark gave the story of the apostles who were squabbling about who was the greatest among them. Jesus realized this and called them together to teach them:

“And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Jesus taught them that our Heavenly Father calls us to be holy as He is holy but the only doorway to do this is to be humble, just as Jesus was humble. Jesus came on earth as a little babe in a cave among the animals. He did not mix with the very wealthy and the powerful but with the downtrodden and sinners. The reason is that for our Heavenly Father, every soul is precious to Him and more than that, every minute detail in creation is precious to Him. Jesus was not sent by Him for us only but for all of creation, even to the most lowly aspects of it. The response wanted by our Father is to always be thankful for His love to us and for all the goodness that surrounds us, despite that this created world is fallen because of the sin of Adam and Eve. He has invited all of us and all His creation to be part of His heavenly Kingdom. When we realize this, we can only have an attitude of humble gratitude for all the blessings we have each day. When we believe in Christ with an attitude of humility, He offers for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We become part of the Communion of Saints that dwells in the Kingdom of God. Note that the saints who are truly holy are always humble, wanting to be the least of those around them.

The opposite of this is pride and arrogance. If a Church becomes arrogant, boasting about how great it is, just like with the parable in which the Pharisee boasted of himself in the Temple in comparison to the Publican, it will die and collapse in on itself. The Church will become an empty shell, devoid of the Holy Spirit. This is why rivalries between Church leaders, either clergy or lay people alike are very unhealthy for any community. Let us always pray for the gift of humility. That humility led Jesus to the cross and as His followers, it will lead us as well to our cross but as Jesus said, fear not those who can persecute the body only, fear those who may try to take our souls. When we cling to Christ, the Holy Spirit will sanctify our hardships, turning the hatred of the fallen world into the love of our Heavenly Father.

Thursday, December 17th., 2020

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Epistle: Titus 1:5-2:1 Mark 9:10-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Yesterday, I had to cook the Prosphora or Holy Bread that we use for the Divine Liturgy. It takes a whole day and so, I could not give my message.

Today, we have the Letter of St. Paul to Titus. Titus was a convert to Christ and went to Crete with Paul after his first arrest in Rome. This letter was written to Titus after Paul had left Crete and put Titus in charge of its Churches.

This passage was a set of instructions given to Titus on how to select a bishop for the various communities established in order to continue their sound growth. If ever there was a set of teachings that would determine the standards of what a prospective bishop should have in the Orthodox Church, this is it. As we have seen in Paul’s other letters, the early communities faced challenges such as some falling back into their pagan ways, others influenced by outside philosophies, some who wanted to take over the communities by gossiping a lot about its leaders. Thus, to protect his communities, he wrote:

“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”

In the Orthodox Church today, bishops do not marry because it has found that the dual responsibilities of looking after a family and caring for his flock are too much to handle. Usually, a bishop today is selected from a monastery but that is not always the case. Our own bishop, Archbishop Michael, was widowed after his wife tragically died in a car accident just a few months into his marriage. The Orthodox Church in America did not take long to decide that he had the qualities of a bishop. His tireless work and loving dedication have shown that he was a very suitable choice.

Please note in this passage that Paul warned against people who speak negatively. He wrote:

“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.”

He was referring to those who gossip. If we stay focused on Christ with our day to day dealings, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us, we will not feel the need to judge and denigrate others because we know that we have a pearl incomparably more precious than any hardship we may have to face because of the faults of others. That pearl is the Kingdom of God but we need to remember Christ expects us, like Him, to also take up our cross. This does not mean that we stay blissfully blind to the wrongs of others but it does mean that we will pray for them and ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify the circumstances surrounding the wrongdoing. We can also pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in how to respond to it. If we really believe in Christ as He asked us to, we will be prepared to suffer for His sake. Once again, we have a very apt prayer that the Orthodox Study Bible includes in its daily morning prayers on page 1792. It states:

“Remember, O Lord Jesus Christ, Your mercies and loving kindnesses, which have been from everlasting, and for the sake of which You did become man and deign to endure crucifixion and death for the salvation of all who rightly believe in You. You rose from the dead and ascended in to heaven, and sit at the right hand of God the Father and regard the humble prayers of all who call upon You with their whole heart. Incline your ear and hear the humble entreaty of me, Your unprofitable servant, who offer is for an odor of spiritual fragrance for all Your people.”

Let our thoughts and prayers be like a ‘spiritual fragrance’ and not full of defiled hatred.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus is asked about the prophet Elijah (or Elias) in relation to the revelation from God that he will come to announce the coming of the Messiah. Jesus answered that Elijah had already come. He was talking about the spirit of Elijah residing with John the Baptist. He said:

“Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”

Further along in the Gospel, Mark wrote about the death of John the Baptist. John said to Herod that: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” His wife, Herodias, hated John for it. She ultimately schemed to have him beheaded. Herod was king of the Jewish nation and as its head, like many before him, he destroyed a prophet from God because he did not like what God was saying to him.

In both the Epistle and Gospel today, the importance of sound teaching for the Church comes through strongly. St. Paul wrote about it when outlined the qualities needed from a bishop. Although Jesus did not judge others because He left that to His Father, He did not shirk from speaking the truth about God’s revelation, even the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. For both Jesus and Paul, it is not enough, however, to merely quote the Law. One must live by the spirit of the Law. In other words, in the way God intended it to be used.

For us, to understand the teachings of the Gospel, we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us live it day to day but we also look to the teachings of the Orthodox Church to provide for us that sound teaching.

Tuesday, December 15th., 2020

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Epistle: 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4               Gospel: Mark 8:22-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul reminded the people to whom he was writing, to steadfastly listen to the Word of God he had preached for the sake of,

“doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

He also told them to not hesitate to preach his teaching when appropriate. He had previously warned them not to get involved in disputes and arguments from those outside his communities but when the time was suitable, to not hesitate to teach and preach what Christ and he had taught them. This was not only for those outside who may want to listen but also to correct anyone within the community who may be straying from it.

When he wrote this, he was not talking about the Mosaic Law but the scriptures as interpreted and given by him through the inspiration of Christ who appeared to him. Jesus had taught many things from the scriptures and interpreted them so that His listeners could understand how their Heavenly Father was revealing Himself to them. It is His Body, the Church which can now teach what Christ taught. The Orthodox Church has always striven to remain faithful to Paul’s instruction on this matter. It is through the Church that the words of everlasting life can be found.

St. Mark, in today’s Gospel passage, wrote about how Jesus had compassion on a blind man, took him out of the city and gave him back his sight. In this account, Jesus told the man not to publicize it but to go home and not tell anyone about it. Jesus’ time to reveal Himself as the Messiah or the Christ had not yet come. This would only come after His sacrifice on the cross and after He rose from the dead. God would only then reveal His plan of Salvation to those who believed in the works and teachings of Jesus. It would only be to them that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes to understand the scriptures. It was to only them that the gates of the Kingdom of God would be opened.

Monday, December 14th., 2020

Monday, December 14, 2020

Epistle: 2 Timothy 2:20-26                Gospel: Mark 8:11-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage in our Liturgical Calendar goes to St. Mark, having finished with St. Luke. Both it and the Epistle warned against simply looking at what is on the surface and not in the soul or the heart.

In St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, he warned them not to get into disputes with the Gentiles. I have mentioned before that the communities Timothy and he served were being influence by groups in society who did not believe in Christ. Paul warned them not to get involved with their arguments. If such people sought the truth, they would come to them. That was the time to offer what Jesus and Paul preached. He also warned them that they were not dishonorable, despite what the Gnostics claimed, because they had been made righteous in Christ. They had been freed from sin by living in Christ and should not revert back to those lustful practices that the other groups indulged in. They were freed from that because their hearts, souls and minds were given to Christ, who in turn, offered them the Holy Spirit, to enable them to live the life of holiness that our Father called us to. Outward practices such as those of the Mosaic Law or the rituals of the Gnostics would not bring them righteousness.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees were also looking for an outward sign, as if the countless miracles He had done were not enough. The trouble for them was that they wanted a sign on their terms, not God’s. They were looking for a political Messiah who would enable them to remain in power. If anyone sought the Kingdom of God in their hearts, they would look beyond what they could see on the surface. Even the apostles, after all that they witnessed Jesus feeding the multitudes, did not grasp this. The leaven of the Pharisees and that of Herod was the sin of the fallen world, not that of bread. They did not understand this at that point in time.

There are many ways that we too, can be beguiled into seeking after that which is on the surface but not what will bring us to the Kingdom of God. Whether it be material things such as a flashy car or jewelry, a luxurious home or other items that the very wealthy have. Perhaps it is to seek other philosophies that are not centered in Christ and there are many of them. Perhaps it is the latest fad or cult that looks attractive. St. Paul’s world was simpler in some ways but those early Christians also had to face the choice of perusing the attractions of the fallen world or Christ, just like us. If whatever we are offered is not centered in Christ, ignore it. It is only by living in Christ that we will attain righteousness. When we do, He will offer the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. He is the one who will enable us to live in righteousness.

This does not mean that we do not need to work in the world to support our families. We are expected to use our talents and have the right to benefit from them. In doing so, however, it is important to remember that all the blessings we have come from our Heavenly Father and when we offer them back to Him through Christ, we sanctify that work and do not allow the corruption of the fallen world to cause us to drift away from Christ.

Sunday, December 13th., 2020

Sunday, December 13th 2020

Epistle: Colossians 3:4-11                 Godpel: Luke 14:16-24

Sunday of the Forefathers and the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today is the Sunday of the Forefathers, commemorated in preparation for the Nativity of Christ. These righteous saints include: the Priest Aaron, Benjamin, Deborah, Ezra, Isaac, Jacob, Judith, Miriam, Nathan, Nehemiah, Noah, Rebecca, Sarah, Solomon, Susanna, Ruth and Mary. If you wish to look up the lives of any of these Righteous Forefathers, please visit: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/13.  

The Orthodox Church also commemorates today the Repose of Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of all America. I recommend that you visit: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/13/103530-repose-of-venerable-herman-of-alaska-wonderworker-of-all-america. to read about his saintly life. We also have a relic and an icon of him in our church which will be shown on our central table.

In today’s Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul instructs his people on how to live wholesome Christian lives. The community of Colossae and those from other cities were being influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ, by the Gnostics and by pagans. Paul had to warn them to not live like them. Their lifestyles would only lead to death. The only way to save our souls was to die to the passions he described and live instead in Christ. It is only in this way that they could gain eternal life. The last point he made was that because we live in Christ, we do not distinguish ourselves from one another like the world does, either by color or social status or by nationality. We are all one in Christ. He wrote:

“There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”

We too must be on our guard against such divisions and the influences that the fallen world would like us to lure us into. Once again, stay focused on Christ. Pray to the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us. Use Christ’s body, the Church to drink of His living waters. Be careful about adhering to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, otherwise, we may drift away from Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus used a parable to show how our Heavenly Father’s invitation to join in His feast at His Kingdom was turned down by the Chosen People who would not believe in His only Son. As a result, those out in the highways and the byways would be invited instead. In other words, that invitation would be given to the Gentiles. For anyone who would believe in the teachings that Jesus and His apostles gave, that same invitation stands. That same promise of the Kingdom of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit would be given to them, as it was to the Chosen People.

A lot is made at this time of year about the beauty of the story of the Nativity of the Son of God. We all know the phrase: “This is the most wonderful time of the year.” Secular society tries to stop us from talking about what this season is really about, which is the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Society likes to talk about getting together as family, having parties, exchanging presents and decorating our homes to celebrate it. For us Orthodox Christians, right now is a time of preparation for this momentous event in Salvation History, not a time of celebration. We prepare by prayer, fasting and almsgiving and when December 25th arrives, we will celebrate.

Returning to today’s Gospel passage, let us not forget that we have already been given the invitation to feast in our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom. We have already been offered its incomparable beauty, something that no earthly Christmas tree, decoration or light could even approach. We have been offered a life free of suffering, pain, pandemics and hardships. We have been offered its heavenly bread by which we will never hunger, its life giving waters by which we will never thirst. Our Father’s forgiveness breaks down all enmity, division and strife. We can embrace this here and now in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit, and keep this treasure for all eternity.

Friday, December 11th., 2020

Friday, December 11, 2020

Epistle: 2 Timothy 1:1-2, 8-18                      Gospel: Luke 21:37-22:8

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today we have the beginning of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. In this introduction, he wrote about how Christ called him to follow Him and preach His words so that those whom he preached to would have the opportunity to embrace the Kingdom of God. As is often the case, he clearly outlined his understanding of the Trinity as was given to him by Christ when He appeared to him in a vision.

He encouraged Timothy to hold fast to what he had preached and not be ashamed of it. They brought life instead of death but they also brought to Paul the Cross of Christ, something that he embraced. He wrote:

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”

He also noted that not everyone in Asia was prepared to accept his preaching of Christ’s teaching but he was grateful to those who did and who ministered to him. Paul suffered severe persecution in Asia because of his preaching by those who did not like it. He was able to hold steadfast because he knew that Christ was beside him. He knew too, that the Holy Spirit strengthened and guided him. This introduction was intended to encourage Timothy and those who read the letter to also remain steadfast in Christ in the face of persecution.

Today’s Gospel passage describes what Jesus did just before the Passover in Jerusalem. He preached in the Temple of Jerusalem where the people flocked to hear Him. He then told the apostles to prepare for the Passover which was soon to happen. Judas knew His movements and when Satan had entered him, he began to plot with the chief priests and the scribes to kill Him. This was the calm before the apocalyptic storm. This was the beginning of the sacrificial confrontation with the powers of darkness. This is the moment when the chief priests and scribes used the powers of darkness to stir the people up against Jesus so that He would be the scapegoat for the nation, by having Him crucified. This was the moment when the Jewish people would embrace Satan and Caesar as their king instead of the One who had preached repentance and the Kingdom of God. It was the beginning of the end of the Temple of Jerusalem.

Let us always pray that we will never be lured into making the same mistake as the Jewish people did. Let us always have a spirit of repentance in our hearts so that we will embrace the Kingdom of God, instead of the powers of darkness, which are as much here today as they were at the time of Jesus. Let us, just as Paul said above, remain steadfast in our belief in Christ and the words that He and Paul preached. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us today and every day towards the life-giving waters of the Kingdom of God. We will be given our crosses but they can be used to sanctify the fallen world, just as Jesus did when His blood and water spilled into the earth at His crucifixion but like Him, let us say what Jesus said those last moments of His earthly life:

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Let us also use the weapons that Christ gave us through His Body, the Church, to hold steadfast to that Kingdom: its teachings, its sacraments and many blessings, its icons, its devotions, its communion of saints with its celebration of them through its liturgical calendar. These are what will give us life. These are what will enable us to hold steadfast against the storms of this world.

Thursday, December 10th., 2020

Thursday, December 10th 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 6:17-21                Gospel: Luke 21:28-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage is the conclusion of St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy. Just prior to this, he warned about not seeking after the riches of this world and in this passage, he exhorts those who are rich to use their wealth to serve others.

“Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

His final words are written directly to Timothy. He strongly implores him to not let all the confusion he wrote about in the letter impact the communities he leads. Such confusion occurred then and continues today. Let us too, be on our guard. The Orthodox Church strives to keep safe the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, not wavering from them. In this way, it has striven to avoid confusion.

Today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel was about the end times with their cosmic and apocalyptic manifestations. What Jesus forecast will certainly happen but no one knows when it will. The question for the early Christians was whether or not it would be soon, within their own generation. Luke did not attempt to answer this question but we know from hindsight that we still await that time.

The answer to responding to such climatic events was and is still the same: to put ourselves and our lives into Christ’s hands; to use His Body, the Church, to sustain us on our journey and through it to call upon the Holy Spirit to fill us with His gifts, so that we can be strengthened and comforted as we bear our crosses; to follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church so that we do not go astray. If we do, such speculation will not bother us because we will have what is most important, the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 9th., 2020

Wednesday December 9, 2020

Epistle:  Timothy 5:22-6:11   Gospel: Luke 21:5-7, 10-11, 20-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul had to guide the communities in his Letter to Timothy through all the confusing external and cultural influences that surrounded them. He had to warn them not to be influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ and also about the philosophy of Gnosticism. There were pagan widows and others who wanted to join his communities because they heard that they supported widows but who were not interested in following Christ. Some in these communities were tempted to indulge in loose living while others were tempted to follow after the riches of the Roman Empire. Some of the leaders or elders of were being criticized and gossiped about by those who would like to take control of the communities. Culturally, Paul had to guide those who were slaves or bondservants about how they should respond to their masters.

In all of his advice, Paul always held up the cross of Christ as the cornerstone to guide them. It was only in Christ that they could overcome these influences to remain steadfast in their faith in Him, in order to build up treasures in the Kingdom of God for all eternity. This same advice holds true for us today. There are countless outside influences that could cause us to stray. Each day, we must reach out to Christ to guide us through His Holy Spirit. In focusing on the Kingdom of God, we have access to a treasure that cannot be taken from us. There will always be enticements offered to us by the fallen world but those many expressions will come and go. They will be of no benefit when our souls have to leave this earth but as long as we stay focused on Christ, the treasure of the Kingdom of God can never be taken from us.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke describes the warning that Jesus spoke about concerning the fall of Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities had clung on to Rome instead of the Kingdom of God and that choice was to their peril. Luke probably wrote his Gospel between 70 and 80 AD in Greece or Asia Minor, which was after the Roman army had destroyed it but this does not mean that Jesus had not predicted its fall. Jesus wept over their rejection of the Kingdom of God and the impending destruction it would bring. Luke could write about it from afar but this would not have lessened the impact of the shock that this terrible event would have brought on all of Asia Minor. This was Rome’s way of imposing its ‘peace.’ If anyone went against it, he or she would face the same fate. At the same time, Luke was assuring his communities not to fear those who destroy the body but only those who would destroy the soul. It was the courage given to the early Christians by the Holy Spirit that Rome had no answer to. Even they noted: “See how these Christians love one another!” It took about 300 years but even Rome succumbed to the power of the Holy Spirit in the end.

Even the might of the Soviet Union could not withstand the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember about the grandmothers who continued to pray for their families? Do you remember how St. Tikhon told his priests not to get involved in the politics but to pray for everyone? All the Christians had to take up a terrible cross but the love of Christ prevailed in the end. It too, fell after about 80 years. There are still many heathen nations who persecute Christians today. It is important to pray for them ernestly. For us who are able to worship unheeded in peace, is part of our mission. In the morning prayers of the Orthodox Study Bible on page 1792, it writes:

“Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon the old, the young, the needy, the orphans and the widows, and on all that are in sickness and sorrow, in distress and affliction, in oppression and captivity, in prison and confinement. More especially have mercy upon Your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep and comfort them, and make hast to grant them, by Your power, relief, freedom and deliverance.”

Let us earnestly pray for persecuted Christians, especially the Orthodox, throughout the world. Let us pray for the same courage and fervor that those who have been or are persecuted have. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to allow us to always move forward on the path to the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, December 8th., 2020

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 5:11-21                Gospel: Luke 21:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

I had to deal with a matter in NYC yesterday and therefore did not have an opportunity to write my daily message.

In yesterday’s Epistle, St. Paul wrote about how to treat widows with dignity. In today’s passage he continued the same discussion. I had mentioned last week that some of the women kept up their pagan practices of old. It also seems that they were mostly widows. One must remember that life expectancy for them was a lot less than ours. Given the context, it seems that “those who really are widows” as Paul wrote, dedicated their life to Christ by prayer and supporting those in need by visits and other good works. Paul wrote in yesterday’s Letter that the community should only accept to allow someone to join into “the number” who met several conditions.

Word would have got around among pagan women that the Christian community would support them if they joined. There lay the trouble. He therefore wrote to the community that those who have children and grandchildren should not be supported. Nor should younger widows automatically join this sisterhood in case they wish to marry again. St. Paul is generally against people marrying a second time but he seemed to be make an exception in this letter.

“Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”

The trouble was that some of the younger ones started to indulge in loose living, causing gossip and scandal among people in the city. They were also going from house to house gossiping and spreading rumors. He also told his community to put out anyone like this to protect it from scandal.

He also wrote that the elders of the community should be supported in their work. It is in this passage that he wrote the well known phrase:

“You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

He told the community to treat them with respect, especially when it came to gossip, something that seems to have been plaguing the community.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke used the words of Jesus to describe what Christians should expect after they committed to Christ. They would become free from the Law but they would have to take up their Cross just like Jesus did. He encouraged them to have patience and trust in Christ. Luke encouraged them implicitly to rely on the Holy Spirit within to give them the words to say when they were confronted by the authorities for their faith in Christ.

“Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”

Many early Christians gave testimony to Christ in this way. They were not afraid to speak out of their belief in Christ in front of others. Nor were they afraid of the consequence of being persecuted.

Let us also never waver in our belief in Christ, nor our belief in His Body the Orthodox Church, which has always striven to faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Let us pray for the purity of faith that will enable us to express our faith clearly and with confidence. Let us, like the early Christians, use any such challenge as “an occasion for testimony” as Luke wrote in today’s Gospel passage.

Sunday, December 6th., 2020

Sunday, December 6th 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 5:9-19                  Gospel: Luke 17:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians because some who did not believe in Christ, whether they be Jews or the newly formed cult called the Gnostics or the pagans, were trying to influence those who had become Christians. Some of the new converts were also still secretly participating in their former pagan practices. He had to write to warn them to stay away from all of them. Because they believed in Christ, they now walked in the Light and should avoid the things of darkness:

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.”

He also told them to be awake in case those outside influences destroy the community:

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

Thus, they should behave as those who walk in the light and not the darkness:

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; 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.”

We too, need to be on our guard. There are many influences in today’s fallen world that can lead us astray. Some of the Ephesians were being led astray but the Orthodox Church in Ephesus is still there today. Those who drifted into other ways are long gone. Searching for new fads will lead nowhere. As Paul said at the end of this Epistle, singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” is the way to stay focused on Christ and to allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, thus enabling us to remain as part of the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures the ten lepers who cried out to Him for mercy but only one of them, a Samaritan, came back to thank Him. The Jews, who did not take the trouble to return to thank Him, took what He did for granted.

It is always important to have a disposition of gratitude and praise for what God has given us. We should thank and praise Him every day for all the blessings we receive, even in times of hardship. In this way, we lessen the chance of temptation coming to us which will deaden our souls. When we thank God, the Holy Spirit dwells with us.

Vespers for December 6th., 2020, the Feast of St. Nicholas

Vespers for Sunday December 6th 2020

Composite 2 - Proverbs 10, 3, 8; Proverbs 10:31-11:12; Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

This evening is the Vigil for the Feast of St. Nicholas. Please click onto the following link to read about his life: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/06/103484-saint-nicholas-the-wonderworker-archbishop-of-myra-in-lycia. He was known for his holiness and kindness and this inspired many people pray to him for intercession because he worked many miracles during his earthly life.

He was also a very important figure involved in a defining moment for the Orthodox Church. It was at the Council of Nicea that he repudiated the priest Arius who claimed that Jesus was a man but not God. It was a defining moment because through that council, it became clear that unless one acknowledges that Jesus is true God and true man, one cannot say that one is a Christian. The Son of God became man, lived as a man but brought the Kingdom of God to the Chosen People. He united heaven and earth. These truths are defined in the Nicean Creed that we recite at every Divine Liturgy. When Peter acknowledged that He was the Christ, the son of the living God, Jesus replied to him that this understanding did not come from him but from above, given by the Holy Spirit. To understand that Christ is true God and true man can only come from God, not our selves. It can be easy to take it for granted because most of us were given the gift of the Holy Spirit when we were baptized and we grew up with the Church’s teachings. Let us not neglect the treasure of this teaching.

The readings given by the Church at Great Vespers for December 6th talk about the importance of gaining the Wisdom of God in our lives. St. Nicholas, who devoted his whole life to Christ from childhood, is a great example of someone who profoundly gained the gift of God’s Wisdom. As well as admiring his example, let us also pray for the gift of Wisdom. It comes directly from the Holy Spirit. It is a good thing to pray for this every day as we are confronted with decisions and choices to make. Christ offered the Holy Spirit to us and having Him in our hearts is a wonderful treasure. Let us make sure that we wisely make choices to for Him to remain present in our hearts.

Friday, December 4th., 2020

Friday, December 04, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:4-8, 16              Gospel: Luke 20:19-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, the question about what is acceptable food to eat was discussed by St. Paul. This question had also come up in some of his other letters. He asserted that all things were created by God and were therefore acceptable. What does matter is that what we eat,

“is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

This is why the practice of saying Grace before Meals is used. Through our baptism (or if present, a priest), we have been given the responsibility and the ability to of intercession. When we give thanks to God for our food, we sanctify it. It is therefore important that we do not neglect to do so.

The second matter he discussed was making sure that we teach sound doctrine. He had taught them sound doctrine from the outset. He had to deal, however, in Macedonia with the false teaching of the Gnostics and those Jews who would not believe in Christ. Some of the communities were also engaging in pagan rituals. Paul had to defend his people from such false, confusing teachings. The Orthodox Church takes his instruction very seriously and strives earnestly to teach what Jesus and the apostles taught. It is very rare that it will diverge from the scriptures and any teaching that someone presents must make sure it aligns with what the Church teaches.

The moment had come, in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, when the Pharisees and others were trying to trap Jesus in any way they could to discredit and ultimately destroy Him. He had attacked them for their love of money and corrupt practices. They hated him for it but, as this passage said, they were afraid to apprehend Him out of fear that it would start a riot from the people. Today’s passage relayed the famous saying that Jesus retorted with to their question about taxes to Caesar.

 “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

There is nothing wrong with a separation between Church and State. The Church will not always agree with the State and should speak out against it when deems necessary but for the Orthodox Church, it likes to see its relationship with the State as ‘symbiotic’ in that it be allowed to guide the State in its decisions but leave it to the State to decide the final outcome. This fits in with the saying quoted above from Jesus: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

Today also happens to be one on which the Orthodox Church celebrates four martyrs: the Greatmartyrs Barbara and Martyr Juliana, at Heliopolis in Syria (click on the link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/04/103472-greatmartyr-barbara-and-martyr-juliana-at-heliopolis-in-syria);  the Priestmartyr Alexander Hotovitzky (https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/04/103471-glorification-of-the-priestmartyr-alexander-hotovitzky) and Martyr John of Damascus (https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/04/103473-martyr-john-of-damascus).

All were confronted by the State. For Sts. Barbara and Juliana, they faced torture and death because they refused to worship pagan gods. St. Alexander, after much suffering and being falsely accused by the Soviet State, was finally executed. For the Martyr John of Damascus, he was tortured because he stood up to the iconoclasts.

Not all of us are called to witness to the Church in such an heroic way but as part of the Communion of Saints, we can pray to them and ask for their intercession. I urge you to read their life stories by clicking onto the links above and be inspired by the heroic courage to they displayed by defending the teachings of the Church.

Thursday, December 3rd., 2020

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 3:1-13                  Gospel: Luke 20:9-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his letter to Timothy, St. Paul discussed the qualities needed by someone who would aspire to be a bishop or a deacon. In the Orthodox Church today, bishops do not marry and are often selected from monasteries. For anyone aspiring to enter into ‘clerical orders’ (bishops, priests and deacons), as they are called, they must go through extensive formation, education and training at a seminary. As one can see from today’s passage, they are people who hold a public office in the Church and must have the temperament and character to uphold that office in the name of the Church. It is important to pray for such Church leaders, especially parish priests, for the good of the community and the Church at large.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus warned the Chosen people that it had a history of persecuting its prophets who were God’s spokesmen because they did not like to hear God’s Word. It was no different in His time. What they failed to realize is that their violence would lead to their own destruction because

‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone’? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

We will all have to face the Judgment Seat of God when Christ comes again. We will have to face the same question: did we hear the Word of God and put into practice its teachings? If we accept Christ, we will seek His words and His teachings. We will strive to follow Him by putting them into practice. Christ gave us the Church to be His Living Body. Let us strive to live by what it teaches.

In Orthodoxy, we talk about the ‘Orthodox Way’, by which each day we:

  • Pray our liturgical and private prayers and sing its liturgical hymns,
  • Listen to the Word of God through the scriptures it provides each day [and the reason why I write these sermons],
  • Carry out the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to live like Jesus did,
  • Follow its Canons to protect us from going astray with sinful practices,
  • Embrace its icons to remind us that we belong to the Communion of Saints, not just now but for all eternity,
  • Celebrate the feasts of its Saints because we are part of its Communion,
  • Receive its sacraments and many blessings to be able to imbibe the life giving waters that Christ offers us,
  • Welcome the Holy Spirit to guide us, give us wisdom and comfort us in our struggles as we offer them back to Christ because we willing take up our cross like He did.

Let us take the opportunity during the hardship of this painful pandemic to embrace Christ and not try instead to escape to into worldly pleasures. Let us ask Him to transform our difficulties from moments of pain to ones of grace through His Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 2nd., 2020

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:18-20, 2:8-15   Gospel: Luke 20:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

When reading today’s passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, we must place his instructions in the context for which he was writing. The prayer services were loosely structured. Much of the prayer was by praying in tongues. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians that praying in tongues without interpretation or prophecy was pointless because no one could understand what was going on. Not only was that happening with this community but some of the women were also going to pagan services. They were praying in tongues at those places too. They would often become hysterical in their expressions. We can only imagine what impact such behavior would have had on the Christian communities in Macedonia that Paul established. Their behavior was getting out of hand. He also instructs them to keep their hair styles simple. Again, such practices as braided hair, wearing gold and pearls came from pagan influence. Paul did not want those influences impacting his communities so he spoke out strongly about them.

For us, the important lesson is as with all things, to behave and present ourselves with moderation and not excessively. Even today, those people who have braids, wear gold and pearls are compensating for their inferiority complexes. We do not need such outward displays because the Holy Spirit is within us and nothing can ever replace the beauty that God has bestowed upon us. If we see that the Kingdom of God is within us, we will have the confidence to know that it is Christ who makes us beautiful. No one, nor any worldly gift can ever replace Him. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with deporting oneself in a dignified and pleasing way, as long as we are not excessive about it. Again, we measure ourselves in terms of Christ, not others.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into being accused of saying something blasphemous so that they could accuse Him of it. Jesus could see this and would not buy into it. He retorted with the question about John’s baptism. He knew that the people were thronging after Him and so did the Pharisees. They backed down because they did not want to face the people’s wrath. The mysteries of the Kingdom of God were kept hidden from them because they refused to believe in His works.

Tuesday, December 1st., 2020

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:8-14                  Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Letter to Timothy, St. Paul reflected on his former life before he committed to Christ. Before then, to try to live justly, he adhered to the Mosaic Law. He was aware that many Jews did not but instead lived lives of debauchery. The Law was supposed to make them live in the right way but they were not. Paul did not fall into those sins but he was still a long way from being righteous. He wrote:

“I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.”

He was not aware that he was so and wrote that God had mercy on him. He continued:

“but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”

He considered himself to be very blessed to be given the grace to find Christ and serve Him.

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”

So this passage is also a reflection about him. Christ offered His grace to Paul, who, although unworthy, repented and embraced it. Thus, he wrote about it to teach others how to obtain and keep that righteousness. Paul was reminding those who had repented and believed in Christ to not forget that the only way to keep hold of that righteousness was by staying with Him.

“The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

Christ offers Himself to us too and like Paul, we must also embrace and cling to Him in order to remain righteous. Nothing else can ever replace this. Do not ever be afraid, therefore, to accept the blessings that Christ offers to us. These are what will give us life both now and for all eternity.

In today’s Gospel, St. Luke gives his account of Jesus going into the temple and driving out those buying and selling merchandise.

I have mentioned before that the elders, the priests and the leaders of Jewish society were very wealthy. They had been allowed to by the Roman Empire because the taxes that Rome imposed were able to be used to pay for their enormous temple. As custodians of the temple, they benefited greatly from it. Another factor was that thousands of pilgrims would come to Jerusalem from different parts of the Empire for major feasts such as Passover and Tabernacles. These events brought in a lot of money the Jewish leaders who had no intention of disrupting their social order.

They knew what the prophets and the Old Testament scriptures said about giving to the poor and not becoming excessively wealthy but they were in no mood to listen to listen to such talk. They would have heard about what Jesus was teaching the multitudes in the Beatitudes and other sayings that condemned excessive wealth. They could tolerate words such as, “Woe to you who are rich!” because they knew it would not have much impact on them. Even when they realized He became popular because of His many miracles, as long as He did not cause trouble, they would not have been overly bothered by Him. It was clear that Jesus was not interested in a political movement because He only taught about the Kingdom of God. They would not have liked that He publicly attacked them, exposing their corruption but although worrying for them, it would have been tolerable.

It would have been alarming, however, that He entered Jerusalem on a donkey in such a dramatic way, watching the multitudes praising God because of His works instead of theirs. That is why they asked Him to tell the people to stop their praises. But in today’s account from St. Luke, He went straight to their own temple of Jerusalem and actually attacked the money exchangers by turning over their tables and driving them out with these words:

“It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

This would have really touched a nerve because it went to the heart of attacking their wealth! Even though He continued to teach the people in the temple, the priests and elders could not do anything for fear of the multitudes, who listened to His every word. They came to the decision that they had to find a way to destroy Him.

In the Gospel passage from yesterday , Jesus wept and lamented that they would not recognize what their Heavenly Father was trying to bestow upon them. They would not listen to His only Son! They rejected His teachings! As a result, they and their children would be tragically destroyed by the very ones who had enabled them to gain their wealth, the Romans!

It easy for us to see in hindsight how wrong they were but what we too must realize is that we could succumb to the same arrogance and pride that they fell into. In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reflected that he too, was arrogant or insolent. What we must do to counter our proneness to sin is to each day humbly come before our Father in heaven and ask Him to forgive us our own sins, “both voluntary and involuntary.” To solidify our sense of repentance, we should use the vehicle given to us by Christ’s Body, the Church, by going to the sacrament of Confession and presenting our sinfulness before Him. This is the best way to protect ourselves from such tragic arrogance in order to remain with Christ through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. The Orthodox Church regards the sacraments as mysteries and when we go before Christ in His Church, using His priesthood, we allow Him to transform those sins into His righteousness because His forgiveness and love are greater than any sin that we may succumb to.

Monday, November 30th., 2020

Monday, November 30, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:1-7                    Gospel: Luke 19:37-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Apostle Timothy. Happy name day to anyone whose name is Timothy!

Today, also, we begin St. Paul’s letter to Timothy. Both Timothy and Paul had been in Macedonia and Paul wanted Timothy to go back and stay with the community in Ephesus. Some members of that community were being influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ as well as by a sect called the Gnostics. Both groups were trying to get them to water down the teachings of St. Paul, in order to make them waver in their faith in Christ. They were also engaged in a lot of gossip and speculated about things that had no bearing on their soul’s salvation, such as genealogies. He sent Timothy to put an end to such confusion.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds were thronging around Him, rejoicing and crying out:

“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Their praise of the Lord was because of the many miracles that Jesus had done. The Pharisees did not like it, however. They did not want their power undermined, nor did they want the crowds to get out of their control. They told Him to stop them. They were blind to what was really happening, which was that the Kingdom of God was being made manifest through the works that Jesus had done. It was the Spirit of God who was causing them to cry out in thanks to the Lord, not an angry mob causing social unrest or anarchy. So, Jesus responded to them:

“I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

He also wept at the calamity that would overtake them because of their refusal to believe in His works and recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God through them. Thus He also said:

“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

It was the Spirit of God who had moved the people to cry out in thanks and praise at the presence of God. It was the Spirit of God who had descended in the form of a dove on Jesus’ head when He was baptized in the Jordan. It was the Spirit of God who led Jesus to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days. It was the Spirit of God whom Jesus proclaimed in the temple when He announced His public ministry to preach repentance and the presence of the Kingdom of God. Those Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were blind to all of this. They placed their security in the Mosaic Law from which they benefited greatly. They refused to believe in the works He had done. Thus Jesus said: “But now they are hidden from your eyes.” All that their Heavenly Father had wished for them would be taken from their grasp.

It is important for us to pray for the gift of humility. It can be a good thing when we graduate from our studies to get a degree or gain a promotion at work but it is important that we not forget that all our earthly blessings come from our Heavenly Father. It is important, therefore, to humbly give thanks to Him for the blessings bestowed on us. In the meantime, we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us those necessary gifts that will help us continue on with our lives so that we will remain focused on the Kingdom of God.

If we, on the other hand, forget His blessings, we can fall into the trap of arrogance where we think that Christ’s Body, the Church, is not important to us, causing us to drift from it. If this happens, we lose the perspective of why we are on this earth. We forget that the only true home for our souls is the Kingdom of God. When this happens, our souls keep drifting around looking for the latest sensation to grab onto but they will never be at rest. Christ promised us that it is in Him that we will find our true home and rest for our souls. All other alternatives will only lead to death.

When we are humble, God’s ways become clear to us. When we understand His ways, we realize how wonderful they are. The Spirit of God within us will cause us to give thanks to our Father and His Son for all that they have done for us. We will want to praise God every day, no matter what the fallen world will impose upon us. When we thank and praise God for His blessings, the presence of God will well up within us. Let us always treasure those blessings and like the people who recognized the presence of God through the works that Jesus did, let us too cry out and say:

“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Sunday, November 29th., 2020

Sunday, November 29th 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 4:1-6        Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a woman in the Synagogue on the Sabbath who had an affliction for 18 years but the ruler of the Synagogue became indignant because Jesus was supposedly working on the Sabbath Day.

The problem with law, even the Mosaic Law, is that it is manmade. It has been created to protect us where it can but it can never cover every circumstance and is often ignored or broken.

Jesus showed this up when He retorted with the example about those who would not hesitate to take their donkey to water it on the Sabbath. Animals need to drink and do their business. People knew this and for them, the easiest solution was to take them elsewhere to look after their needs, not in their own front yards. The underlying issue is that manmade law does not supersede God’s law. Society makes laws according to what it believes are acceptable behavior. They are necessary for our safety and security but this does not mean that they are always right or good laws.

As such, Jesus made the ruler of the Synagogue look foolish in claiming that such laws would supersede what was obviously a miracle from God. He was using the very laws created by Moses to please God by trying to stop God’s Kingdom from reaching them and the woman whom Jesus had healed in his own Synagogue!

The other unspoken issue was that the ruler was indignant because the people were acknowledging Jesus rather than him. St. Luke wrote:

“And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.”

The Orthodox Church does not look at law in the same way as those from Western Europe and the USA. For the Orthodox Church, its Canons are there to guide us when we are confronted with a confusing or complex issue. The Canons arose as pastoral principles to be applied in such situations. They were intended to protected peoples’ souls and if someone is penalized because of a sin they commit, the penalty is imposed to give that person time to repent. Ultimately, the bishop is the one who would apply the penalty and its length of time. In most cases it would mean refraining from the sacraments until the person is ready to change and repent from the sin. There is nothing here about paying restitution or ‘doing time.’ The Orthodox Church does not judge.

St. Paul often states that it is through Christ and His Body, the Church, that we gain righteousness, not the Law. So, always reach out to Christ in times of difficulty and confusion and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Only He can heal us. He will look after us in the long term.

Friday, November 27th., 2020

Friday, November 27, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18         Gospel: Luke 19:12-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul continued the discussion about the question of when Christ would come again. He had already told them that no one knows the answer to this question. If, however, they remain steadfast in their belief in Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church and call out to the Holy Spirit to guide and help them, they need not worry about that question. In today’s segment, he moved onto more practical matters. Some had used the issue as an excuse to stop working. Furthermore, they were taking advantage of the generosity of the community by getting fed by it. He told them that each person should earn their own keep and if not, to go back to work. He wrote:

“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”

He also wrote about the example shown by him and his helpers. He did not ask the community to support him even though they were entitled to it when he established the community. Thus, they used their work skills to support themselves.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus told a parable about labor but in a different context. He told the parable about the king who went away but entrusted his servants to look after certain cities in his absence. To one, he gave 10 minas, to another 5 and another 1. A minah was about 3 months worth of wages. You may be more familiar with the parable of the talents. As with the talents, Jesus taught them that our Father in heaven expects us to use them to the best of their ability, not hiding or wasting them. The context for this story was that Jesus was accusing the leaders of the Jewish people of not using their talents. They may have worked hard to earn earthly benefits or money but they squandered their positions of leadership and power by forgetting that they were there to help bring the Kingdom of God to the Chosen People.

Both the Epistle and Gospel give us a number of lessons. The first is that God expects us to work and to work to the best of our abilities. Our country has strongly espoused this lesson. Its structure is set up to reward those who work hard and to give opportunities to those who seek to be creative. This is not surprising, given that it was founded by people who were believers in the Bible. This is why it is a world leader.

Having said this, we must also keep in mind that the benefits we gain from our talents and work are not for ourselves alone. God wants us to use them for our families, as well as for people in need. but more importantly, for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. The Jewish leaders forgot this at their peril so let us not fall into the same trap. Everything we do must be for our Father’s glory and honor, not for our own. He gave us life and the talents that we have as well as all the blessings of His created world. Let us offer them back to Him and there is no better way to than during the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy, right after the consecration. Let us not neglect this.

Like St. Paul, there are those who dedicate their lives to serve the Church. Today, we have ordained clergy to do this. The three orders of ordination are deacon, priest and bishop. Put simply, a deacon is there to serve, a priest is there to offer intercession and bring Christ to people and the bishop is our shepherd. There is more to it than this simple sentence of course but it does go to the heart of how they build up Christ’s Body, the Church. They too, are called to work as hard as they are able by using what talents they have, to serve those who labor out in the workforce. The lay members are called to help their parish community by using their time, talents and treasures in what ways they can.

Likewise, some are called to live a life of prayer. These are the monks and the nuns. Prayer does not mean they sit around doing nothing. They use a structure of prayer to help them intercede on behalf of others but they also must use their talents to provide for their monastic community’s earthly needs so as not to put a burden on other parish communities.

As St. Paul wrote, we need to keep in perspective how we serve Christ to build up His Body, the Church. One day, we will be called upon to account for our talents. Let us work for Christ with enthusiasm. Let us be eager to serve Him, the parish community and those who may be in need in these difficult times when many suffer and face hunger. Returning to St. Paul, he wrote:

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.”

Paul then concluded his Second Letter to the Thessalonians with this blessing:

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

Wednesday, November 25th., 2020

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12         Gospel: Luke 18:15-17, 26-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s segment from his Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul continued his discussion about those wondering when Christ will come again. Today, he spelled out in more detail that no one knows when this will happen but it will only happen after the pride of Satan is revealed. He wrote:

“We ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.”

In effect, he told his community that to speculate about its timing is simply a waste of time. They have the gift of the Holy Spirit in their hearts because they believe in Christ. Others do not and will chase after such questions because Satan will offer lies speculating about it.

In more recent years, we have also seen people chase such questions. Some of the fads that we have seen are:

  • A surge of interest in the writings of Nostrodamus,
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses who keep claiming that the end of the world is coming, those who claimed that it had to happen in 2000 A.D.,
  • False accusations about the Orthodox Church hiding Apocryphal Books that predict when the end of the world will supposedly happen
  • Interpretations about the Book of the Apocalypse claiming to show that the end of the world will soon come.

The answer is always the same: if we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and we believe in Christ, we do not have to worry about such questions. St. Paul says the same thing in his Letter to the Thessalonians. There is a lull in such questions because everyone is currently so preoccupied with the pandemic that they have died down but they will resurface again at some point in the future.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus taught about humility. Unless we learn to become humble, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Pride and arrogance are the opposite of being childlike and if they creep into the Church, they can be very destructive. How we apply this humility in the needs of day to day life where we have to provide for our families, can only learned through the Holy Spirit. If we call out each day for His guidance, He will enable us to keep this spiritual gift intact but also carry out our business at work when we interact with the public. Jesus taught;

“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

Let us trust Christ, therefore that He will guide us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus often taught about putting the Kingdom of God above everything else. If we do, our heavenly Father will provide for all our needs. In the second part of today’s Gospel, he spoke about those who would dedicate their whole lives to Christ. It is the goal of those who join monasteries to live out this very teaching. He taught:

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Those who join monasteries deserve our respect if they are sincere and diligently seek this goal. Pious monks and nuns are often given a powerful gift of intercession as well as other gifts. So, their prayers can be a powerful assistance to us as we journey on in our daily lives. At the same time, Satan will trouble them with temptations as much as he can. So, our prayers and support for them is also very important in helping to build up Christ’s Body, the Church. After this pandemic ends, try to visit them when possible on open days and certain feasts. Such pilgrimages can be a great source of strength to us also.

Tuesday, November 24th., 2020

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 1:10-2:2      Gospel: Luke 17:26-37

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both readings today talk about the end times. I will start with the Gospel passage first.

In the first part of the Gospel passage, Jesus gave examples from the scriptures when people forgot about God’s commandments, living like the pagans but in the end, God’ destroyed them. He then warned the Chosen people that the same would happen to them if they did not repent.

St. Luke used Jesus’ teaching to warn his community not to fall into the same trap. While He was on earth, Jesus did not judge people but preached the Kingdom of God and healed people through its life. God was making it easy not only for the Jews but also the Gentiles to turn to Him to receive the life of the Kingdom of God. Luke wrote to his people, mostly Gentiles, not to fall into the trap of seeking the wealth of the Roman Empire which would only be temporary. This period of blessing will not last forever, however. When we pass from this life to the next, our souls will be called to account. Eventually, Christ will come again in glory to judge all of heaven and earth. Everyone will be called to account at that moment. This is what St. Luke was referring to with the warnings in today’s passage. He then quoted Jesus’ words about dying to Him in order to gain life:

“Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

The clue for Luke’s community and for us is to choose Christ and in doing so, live in Him rather than for our own selfish ends. As St. Paul wrote, it is only in Christ that we can attain righteousness. If we choose Christ, strive to live our His teachings and commandments through His Body, the Church, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, when that day of judgment comes, we will be welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

In the Orthodox funeral service, we use St. John’s Gospel where it says:

“Those who have done good, to the resurrection of life. Those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

Given the huge array of choices that are available to us, life today is surely more complex than in St. Luke’s time. Even so, they too had to face difficult choices, often life threatening.

St. Paul also wrote about the question of the end times in the passage of today’s Letter to the Thessalonians. He thanked and commended them for their continued commitment to Christ, despite the non-Christians in the city trying to manipulate them to water it down. Then he told them not to speculate about when Christ would come again. This was a difficult question for the early Christians. Jesus had only recently left them, within a generation, so, it would not have been unreasonable to expect that He would soon return. St. Paul does point out in the letter that no one knows when this would happen, except our heavenly Father. What does matter is the continuation of their commitment to Christ. He wrote:

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The same holds true for us. If we live a life in Christ, He will glorify Himself in us. He glorified His Father by taking up the cross. We too, may be asked to take up our cross for Him but in doing so He will bear fruit through us. We will die to our passions but the life of Christ will blossom in us instead like grains of wheat, white and ready for harvest. While that glory may mean bearing a cross for Him in this short life, we will gain all the blessings of the Kingdom of God for all eternity. Let us embrace whatever cross He may send us.

Monday, November 23rd., 2020

Monday, November 23, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10         Gospel: Luke 17:20-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today we begin St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians. He mentioned that Timothy and Silvanus had been laboring with the community to help build it up. He also commended them for their perseverance in the face of persecutions and tribulations. Those who persecuted them will be punished by God at the proper time but until then, he encouraged them to cling to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Even though the context is very different, the same message holds true for us as we endure the tribulations of this pandemic. The way to face it is by reaching earnestly out to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This Thanksgiving season will not be an easy for any of us. We cannot hold the same gatherings that we are used to. Many families are suffering from the loss of loved ones. Many others have lost their income and wonder how to put food on the table. There is generally an atmosphere of anxiety because of the uncertainty of wondering who has the virus and who does not. People have to endure long lines in frigid weather to find out the answers to such questions.

I have said since the outbreak of the pandemic that this is a time to go to our private rooms and intercede before our heavenly Father and pray for all those we are concerned about. I have also often said that the Orthodox Church does not only pray for those close to us but for everyone and indeed, the whole of creation. If ever there was a time when the whole world is suffering, it is now. Our Father calls us to pray for all of His creation. It will not last forever but while the Coronavirus is prevalent, we must remain steadfast in Christ, just like St. Paul urged the Thessalonians to. The Church in Thessaloniki is still with us today. If we remain steadfast in Christ, He will not abandon us.

Our shepherd, Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America, has posted a message of encouragement today on the archdiocesan website. I urge you to read it and here is the link for you to either copy and paste or simply click onto to read it: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/statement-of-his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon-on-surge-of-covid-19-cases

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the end of the world will come. Jesus replied,

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Orthodox Church puts strong emphasis that the Kingdom of God is within us. We need to look within ourselves to find it. It is not something that will be revealed when Christ comes again, sometime in the future. It is not up in the clouds nor in the starry heavens. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to each of us and it is in Him that we are able to find the Kingdom of God. All we need to do is to believe in Christ and as Jesus said: “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open to you.” What it does entail is that in believing, like Him, we will take up our cross. In the last verse of this passage, Luke wrote,

“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

We must expect that the same may happen to us also but it is through that suffering that the fallen world which caused it will be sanctified. Jesus taught, “Bless those who persecute you.”

Sunday, November 22nd., 2020

Sunday, November 22nd 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 2:14-22                Gospel: Luke 12:16-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage from St. Paul to the Ephesians beautifully brings together many aspects of the Trinity and its relationship to the Church.

He firstly wrote about Christ breaking down the barrier of the Mosaic Law that had brought enmity because nobody could measure up to it. That included those who diligently and piously tried to keep it all their lives. Even the sacrifices they offered could not bridge the gap. It was only when the Son of God came on earth and sacrificed Himself that this enmity would break down.

“Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

Secondly, he wrote about what this Son of God did while on earth,

“And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

In other words, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God and demonstrated its life giving power through His miracles.

The second sentence of this last quote brings out an important aspect of the Trinity. We say in the Nicean Creed,

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.”

St. Paul says it right there: “for through Him [viz: the Son of God] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

We do not say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son like the Roman Church claims. Their claim has no scriptural basis. It created a lot of theological and pastoral confusion because it put Christ up in the clouds with the Father. This is why their Gothic cathedrals are so tall. Christ is not in the clouds but in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The third aspect Paul wrote about was what the bridging of this gap meant for us. We are not outsiders but part of the Communion of Saints. Paul wrote:

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”

The icons in Orthodoxy vividly express that we belong to the family of the Communion of Saints. When we repent and believe in Christ, we become part of that Communion or family. For Orthodoxy, there is something strangely askew about those Protestants, especially some Baptists, who hate images. Why do they shun from expressing this fundamental aspect of the Church which is the Communion of Saints?

Fourthly, because Christ bridged the gap between heaven and earth, Paul then wrote about the earthly aspect, which is the Church. Christ is the cornerstone and the foundation is apostles and the prophets. He wrote:

“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”

Finally, he returned to the theme that we are temples of the Holy Spirit because we believe in Christ. We have become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. In the last sentence of the passage he wrote:

“You also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

When our souls separate from our bodies, we will be welcomed into the home of the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus warned about setting our hearts on becoming secure by storing up treasures on earth for ourselves. They may help our children but they will not help us. The leaders of the Jewish people were becoming very wealthy because Rome had given them the privilege putting their taxes towards the building of the temple. Luke quotes Jesus a lot about the dangers of wanting to become rich. He was not only speaking to the Jews who read his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, he was also writing to the pagan converts. He was warning them not to set their hearts on becoming rich through the wealth of the Roman Empire.

We know in these difficult times of the pandemic that many people are struggling. Many have lost their jobs. Even businesses find themselves in dire straits. It is important we remember, as St. Luke wrote, that the earthly blessings we have from God are not for ourselves alone. It is important therefore that we give to those needing food to give what we can. Seek to find reliable charities that will give to those in need and not towards their own wages.

Let us effectively use this time, when we also prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, by living out the Orthodox practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as best as we can. For us in America, this is a pretty and decorative time, when we normally gather as families to celebrate Christ’s birth. Do not forget, however, the way in which He was born. He was born in a manger, among animals and rustic shepherds in a cave. The materialism and commercialism of our fallen world is the very opposite of the way Christ was born and the way that the early Church celebrated His birth. We do not serve Christ by falling into the materialistic ways of the fallen world. Let us instead join in by worshiping Him with the angels and the shepherds and God’s created world because of His wonderful condescension. As the Orthodox Kontakion for the Nativity of Christ prays:

“Today the Virgin cometh unto a cave to give birth to the Word Who was born before all ages, begotten in a manner that defies description. Rejoice, therefore, O universe if thou should hear and glorify with the angels and the shepherds. Glorify Him Who by His own will has become a newborn babe and Who is our God before all ages.”

Friday, November 20th., 2020

Friday, November 20, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:9-13, 23-28                     Gospel: Luke 16:15-18, 17:1-4

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from Chapter 5 of the Letter to the Thessalonians, are its concluding verses. In its first section St. Paul called them to love one another and to respect those who labored for them, especially liturgically. This is made clear by the following verses. They actually gave a basic liturgical structure that would have been the model for later liturgical services. I have included verse 23 (not given in today’s calendar) to bring this out. It reads,

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I have included it because it is a liturgical blessing or benediction that would have been used at the beginning of the Liturgy. Next, there is an intercessory prayer, followed by the practice of a holy kiss. They would have held the holy kiss right before the reception of communion at the end. Finally, it mentions the public reading of the scriptures that would have taken place before the holy kiss and communion. It then gives another blessing at the very end.

Thus, this passage outlines the liturgical practice used by the very early Church and is therefore significant. That same structure can be found in our own liturgical service of the Divine Liturgy.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, which has two separate segments, Luke again used the words of Jesus to warn about chasing money like the Pharisees did. Such a practice is “is an abomination in the sight of God.” Jesus told them that they had the prophets to teach them up until John the Baptist but now the Kingdom of God was being preached and being accepted by everyone. In other words, the Gentiles have stolen the Kingdom of God from them. Even so, God’s precepts still stand. One thorny question at that time was that of divorce. Luke uses Jesus’ words to restate to his people that divorce is not acceptable in God’s eyes.

In the second segment, two more questions were discussed. The first was the question of leading little ones astray. St. Matthew had also dealt with this issue in his Gospel. Like Matthew, Luke is very clear. Jesus says,

“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

I discussed the question of child abuse when it came up in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Orthodox Church’s position is also very clear, especially if it involves a priest or someone else who works with children in the Church, such in Sunday School. Any person accused of such an offense must be suspended immediately and the matter be given to the civil authorities. Always pray for the protection of the Church.

The next question was about forgiveness. Any disciple of Christ must be prepared to forgive no matter what the hurt may be. Remember that others can hurt our bodies, our reputation and even those we love but they can never hurt our souls if we choose to not let them. This is why we must forgive. In doing so, we take up our cross and follow Jesus’ example of being put on a cross. When we choose to let go of the hurt by forgiving we are also given the opportunity to pray for the offender’s soul as well as our own. We can also pray for anyone else who may have been impacted by the offense. This is the way of Christ. This is the also the way of His followers. When we embrace forgiveness, we embrace the cross of Christ. We can transform through Christ what is a bad situation into one filled by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we become holy as our heavenly Father is holy. Always therefore strive to forgive others and ask the Holy Spirit to help us to when it is difficult.

Thursday, November 19th., 2020

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8                       Gospel: Luke 16:1-9

Fr. Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul returned to the question of when Christ would come again. As Jesus said after His resurrection, no one knows the times or dates set aside by our Father in heaven. Paul reaffirmed this by saying, “the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” In other words, nobody knows when it will happen. What he does tell them is to remain awake by not wallowing in sin such as drunkenness. They are alive in Christ so they have nothing to fear in regard to such questions. They live in the light, not in darkness. At the same time, their protection will be the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as “the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

The Orthodox Church puts strong emphasis on our need to “stay awake.” We stay alert by striving to focus on the Kingdom of God. Thus, during Holy Week, we hold 3 Bridegroom Services in which we reflect on the parable of the 5 wise virgins who were properly prepared for the wedding feast compared to the 5 foolish ones who were not. One of the service's hymn says:

“Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant He shall find vigilant; but unworthy is he whom he shall find neglectful. Beware therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down by sleep, lest you be given over to death and be closed out from the kingdom; but rise up crying out: "Holy! Holy! Holy are You our God; through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us."

Pastimes such as following sports or engaging in hobbies or other social activities are not bad in themselves and can help us not to drift into sin but they must be put into perspective. If they become all-consuming then they have replaced Christ as the center of our lives. We will lose sight of the Kingdom of God. We will have become like those foolish virgins who were not prepared and fell asleep.

Many of our social activities have been curtailed because of the Coronavirus. Thus, these are not easy times. As I have said before, pray that the Holy Spirit will comfort and strengthen us during this painful time. When we do, we transform a bad situation into one in which we embrace the Kingdom of God. This is the challenge we need to take on. We can all intercede because of our baptism before the Kingdom of God. In doing so, let us repent of the actions that prevent us from being holy and ask the Holy Spirit to make us whole. Let us also pray for our families, our friends, our communities, our state, our nation, all the peoples of this planet and indeed the whole universe. As followers of Christ, this is our mission. Do we have the faith to believe that Christ has enabled us to do this? As this virus confronts us, we can face its pain by calling out to Christ with all our hearts to save all of His creation. Peter cried out to Him on the stormy waters when he was sinking. We can do the same.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke quotes what Jesus said in a parable about how, in effect, we can ‘steal’ the Kingdom of God. Jesus said,

“The master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.

If what Jesus said in today’s passage about ‘stealing’ the Kingdom of God seems puzzling, we only need to look at the example of the thief on the cross when he asked Jesus to enter His kingdom or, the woman caught in the act of committing adultery but whom Jesus forgave and simply said to sin no more or, the sinful woman who came weeping at Jesus’ feet when she repented of her sins or, of Peter who wept bitterly after denying Jesus, to understand what He meant by this parable.

The Jews had become so accustomed to trying to adhere to the Mosaic Law and making sacrifices to God to atone for their sins that they forgot about the mercy of God. We too, in our society, are so used to striving to measure up in our work, our academic exams, to civic law, that we may forget about the mercy of God like the Jews in Jesus’ time. Society may teach us that we must earn our way to succeed but this is not the way of our Father in heaven. None of us can earn the blessings that our Father offers. He gives them freely. Even with the saints, the closer they got to Christ, the more they realized how unworthy they were to be given His grace. What our Father does want from us it to respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit when it is offered. This often happens when, as followers of Christ, we are ready to take up our cross and follow Him.

In other words, never be afraid, because of our sins, to come before Christ and ask His forgiveness. Never be afraid to ask His Body, the Church, for forgiveness through Confession and the other sacraments. The Church is there to heal, not to judge. Christ will ask, however, that we take up our cross by letting go of our sins. He will also ask us to focus on Him when we encounter difficulties and setbacks. He will always forgive no matter how often we sin. In replying to the Pharisees, Jesus said of the sinful woman who anointed His feet,

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”

 

The more we are forgiven, the more we will love. Let us embrace that love!

Covid-19 Result was Negative

Dear friends, Christ is in our midst!

I am happy to announce that the Covid-19 test I had to take on Monday gave a NEGATIVE result. 

Thus, I will be able to serve Divine Liturgy this coming Sunday.

Yours, in Christ

Fr. Terence Baz

Wednesday, November 18th., 2020

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12         Gospel: Luke 15:1-10

Father Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul, wrote about the need for the community to refrain from sexual immorality. Not only were pagans from the city attempting to influence or manipulate them but so too were the Gnostics. It may be surprising to know that this cult not only used practices from the Mosaic Law but they also were known to practice sexual immorality among its members. It is little wonder therefore that Paul took the trouble to write and warn about them. So, on the one hand, Jews who did not believe in Christ were trying to make Paul’s community go back to the old Mosaic Law and on the other hand, neighboring pagans and the Gnostic cult would have been trying to influence them to indulge in sexual immorality. In his letter Paul wrote and said that it is not the Law that makes us righteous but our belief in Christ, who frees us from sin. Further, that, being freed from the slavery of sin, he warned them to not go back to the sexual immorality of those who did not believe in Christ. Instead, his people needed to die to themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ. The Holy Spirit would give them the grace to be able to stay focused on Christ and His Kingdom, freeing them from their passions.

It should not be difficult for us to see how his teaching also applies to us in today’s world. There are many TV shows that effectively promote what the pagans had presumed was acceptable behavior in their society such as sex before marriage, spouse swapping, pornography etc. What they promote is not what the Orthodox Church teaches. Seeing these images on TV can make it difficult to make the types of choices that St. Paul asked his community to make. With the grace of God they could do it and so can we.

Concerning the need to repent, in today’s Gospel passage, Luke wrote that Jesus told the Pharisees there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 just people. For those who choose Christ to be in their lives and pray for the Holy Spirit to be in their hearts, there is more rejoicing in heaven over them than the multitudes that might be righteous. Remember the thief on the cross! Whenever we use the sacrament of Confession with a repentant heart, Jesus tells us that there is great rejoicing in heaven. Encourage others, therefore, to turn back to Christ and embrace the Communion of Saints to which they can truly be at home. That feast will be beyond space and time and last for all eternity! If there is rejoicing for us, how much more will there be for those who have not been living a Christian life but who choose to? Do not doubt the power of prayer to touch those whom we love to turn back to Christ.

Tuesday, November 17th., 2020

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13         Gospel: Luke 14:25-35

Father Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote about how dear they were to his heart and how he prayed for them constantly. In praying for them, he called out to the Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, to intercede for the community that they may grow in holiness and that this holiness would enable them to abound in love for each other through the love of Christ. Thus, by living in Christ, they could attain His righteousness.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”

Notice at the end, Paul made reference to the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” The early Christian communities expected that Christ would soon come again. This expectation was a tension for them at that time. They were threatened by persecution on all sides and outsiders were trying to manipulate them. Remaining steadfast in their belief in Christ would have been easy to doubt. Paul encouraged them to remain steadfast and we know that same community still exists today. The grace of the Holy Spirit was there to guide and comfort them and because of that, the community did not falter.

We realize in hindsight that “we know neither the day nor the hour” of when Christ will come again. Even so, in these difficult times, it would be easy to allow the pandemic and other social pressures to bring doubts into our minds about whether God is there for us. Remember that these early communities lived in very difficult times too but they held steadfast. The Church is there for us, offering through Christ, its Head, the many blessings of the Kingdom of God. If we reach out to Christ and ask His Holy Spirit to give us strength, that same Spirit who enabled the Thessalonians to continue as a Christian community to this day, will be there for us too. Use the sacraments to receive the ‘living waters’ of the Kingdom of God.

Paul wrote that he was praying for them constantly. He does mention in other letters that he would pray for them in ‘tounges.’ For us, we have the ‘Jesus Prayer’ to enable us to pray constantly. It is a prayer that the monks use as the foundation for their personal daily prayer.

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

The prayer is repeated over and over again. Not only will the Holy Spirit reside in our hearts through the use of this prayer, it can also be a powerful source of intercession for those whom we pray, as well as all for those concerns which currently impact our parish community, relatives and friends.

We have also just begun the Nativity Fast, where we refrain from meat, fish, dairy and wine. Do your best to walk this fasting journey. Not only is it good for our bodies, we know that in times of struggle, the Church has used the practice of fasting as another way to intercede before our Heavenly Father. A lot of people put emphasis in the Christmas season to give to others. This is a good thing. It is important to not get carried away in purchasing as many things as we can get hold of. The earthly blessings we benefit from are not for only ourselves but for others such as our families and those less fortunate. For Orthodoxy, a strong emphasis is put on the need to include the whole of creation, not just human beings. All of God’s creation is important. All of creation rejoiced at Jesus’ nativity. All of creation shares in the blessings of God. All the earthly blessings we receive also need to be shared by us with others. Once again, the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving make up the Orthodox Way. Let us embrace them to the full while we await that awesome day when Christ will come again!

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke gives important lessons for the early Christian communities and us to prepare for the Kingdom of God.

The first is that we must be prepared to forsake anything that would hinder us from making Christ the center of our lives. The early Christian communities had pressures on them to falter in their commitment to Christ, espeically the prospect of torture and persecution. For us in today’s fallen world, we have so many options to entice us to drift away from Christ. Let us remember that the pearl of the Kingdom of God is incomparably more precious than what the fallen world can offer.

The second was the warning Jesus gave the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the Mosaic Law of offering sacrifices was not what our Heavenly Father wants from us. He wants us to follow His Son, and like Him, take up our cross each day. It is by taking up our cross that Christ will become the center of our lives.

Thirdly, that what the fallen world offers will cause us to fail. When we pass from this life to the next, will we have put emphasis on what it offers or, will we have dedicated ourselves to Christ and the Kingdom of God? For those who chose the former, they are like an army which goes into battle unprepared and will subsequently be destroyed. They will be like someone who starts to build a house without a proper plan, who will be made to look a fool because he could not finish it. Finally, they will become like salt that loses its flavor, only to be thrown out and discarded. In other words, Luke was teaching his people to not be lured into thinking that the glamour of the fallen world would bring us benefit. The same holds true for us. What the fallen world offers will cause us to fail in the long term.

Jesus warns us to listen to His words so that we will remain focused on the Kingdom of God.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Monday, November 16th., 2020

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Feast of St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist

Father Terence Baz

I am using the Epistle reading for the day but the Gospel reading is for St. Matthew because it is his feast. I wish a Happy Name Day to anyone named Matthew. As well as the readings listed above, please click or copy and paste to the following link, to read the life of St. Matthew: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/11/16/103313-apostle-and-evangelist-matthewhttps://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/11/16/103313-apostle-and-evangelist-matthew.

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul wrote about the opposition he received when he preached in the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica. He wisely left the city, in case those who had accepted his teaching would also be persecuted. In this passage, he mentioned that he was pleased when Timothy, whom he had sent in his place, was received warmly by the community. He also wanted to encourage them to follow Timothy’s example. He wrote:

“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you – therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.”

Despite those difficulties, that same community exists today in that same city. St. Paul had steadfast faith in Christ, that through the Holy Spirit, his work would bear fruit.

In line with the Feast of St. Matthew, today’s Gospel passage is the story of Jesus calling Matthew to be His disciple. In doing so, Jesus broke many Jewish cultural norms. Matthew was a tax collector, despised by the Jews because such people had the power of the Roman Empire behind them. If they extorted people, there was nothing that could be done against them. Further, Matthew’s house was full of his friends who were regarded as sinners.

“Many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.”

The Pharisees complained to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus replied,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Matthew’s response was to repent and leave everything to follow Jesus. In contrast, the Pharisees believed they were righteous because they upheld the Mosaic Law. In other words, they did not believe that they needed to be healed. The Kingdom of God, however, was being offered to those who would repent and ask for God’s mercy. It was being offered to the humble, not to the arrogant.

It is easy to fall into the mindset that because we are good citizens, pay our taxes and are seen as good citizens that we must be ‘good’ in God’s eyes. It is then very easy to compare ourselves with others who do not live by our social norms and if they do not, to judge them accordingly.

To counter this temptation, we need to ask the Holy Spirit each day for the gift humility. It is only Christ who can make us righteous. Jesus was humble, not arrogant. When we find ourselves comparing what we do to others, we need to repent instead and ask the Holy Spirit to free us of it. Social laws or norms do not make us righteous. We have the Kingdom of God in our hearts because of our belief in Christ. He is our measure and we should not worry about what others will think of us because Christ and His Holy Spirit are with us. This does not mean that we disrespect civil law. As long as they do not contradict what Christ’s Body, the Church teaches, we should not be threatened by civil law and adhere to it.

 

Sunday, November 15th., 2020

Sunday, November 14, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 2:4-10                  Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, encourages his community to reflect on the many blessings they have received since having committed themselves to Christ. He had to recall them because their neighboring Jews and pagans were trying to influence them to drift away from the lessons they had learned from Paul when he had preached to them.

God had shown great mercy and love to them by making their souls alive, after formerly having been dead in sin. As a result, they were invited into the heavenly places with Christ. They have not earned this status through the Law or other practices that the Gnostics were trying to impose on them. Rather, Christ has given it out of His kindness to them as a free gift.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Our Father has created us to be holy as He is holy so that we will be enriched in a way that only He knows will make us one with Him. Paul uses the metaphor of workmanship to describe how God has created us to be holy.

This passage is a reminder that for us that, in Christ, we are being offered tremendous blessings that we cannot imagine here on earth. As for the Ephesians that Paul wrote to, we will be tempted to follow other paths besides Christ. They lead to nowhere except death. Our belief in Christ, on the other hand brings us immeasurable blessings.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we have the famous story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was asked: “How do I inherit eternal life.” Jesus asked him: “What is your reading of this?” The young man replied by quoting the two great commandments: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man then asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”

In answering him, Jesus went against many of the social norms of the time. He told the story of a man who was attacked by robbers. A priest walked by without helping, as did a Levite or lawyer. If either had touched a man who had been defiled and covered with blood, they too, would have been defiled. This would have created difficulties for them. Both would have had to isolate themselves, losing income because of it, especially the priest. The same even held true for the Samaritan but he had compassion on the afflicted man and went to a great deal of trouble to get him back on his feet. When Jesus asked the young man who was the real neighbor, he had no choice but to answer that it was the non- Jewish Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite.

Our Father in heaven has compassion on us and all of His creation. In like manner, if we want to be holy, we too must have compassion, not only our close relatives or those like us but all of creation. Our Father wants every living creature to be saved and be part of His Heavenly Kingdom. The Samaritan was detailed in his care for the man who was robbed. He saw to it that his task of caring for this man would be completed. We too, are called to care not only for those less fortunate but for all creation in any way we can.

As I have said before, this does not mean that we neglect our responsibilities to our families but we need to extend that care to everyone and everything. It is the Holy Spirit who can give us the wisdom to see how to best respond in any given circumstance and to maintain a healthy balance with them. We must remember that all we have is given by our Heavenly Father. It is not given to build up our own selfish ends. Our blessings and talents are given to serve others so that the treasures will be for the Kingdom of God and not for this earth. It is for these reasons that the Orthodox Church has always had a strong Tradition of philanthropy. It is part of the Orthodox Way. If we wish to embrace the Kingdom of God, we must embrace our calling to care for others by giving to them in need.

Friday, November 13th., 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-19       Gospel: Luke 13:31-35

Father Terence Baz

In both the Epistle and Gospel today, St. Paul and Jesus reflected firstly about the failure of the Jewish people to accept the Word of God and then to persecute those who believed in Christ because instead of embracing the Father’s revelation, they embraced the ways of the fallen world. Paul, at this point had little sympathy for them and Jesus warned that their rejection of Him would end up in their destruction. St. Luke’s Gospel was probably written after the destruction of Jerusalem. They also both lament what will happen to the Jewish nation because of their unbelief. Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

For us, this is a time in which we live in relative peace. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, our Father has also made it easy for us to embrace His Kingdom and receive its blessings through the Holy Spirit offered to us by Jesus. But we must also remember that our day of reckoning will come as well. If we follow Christ’s teachings through His Body, the Church, and strive to live them out as we seek the Kingdom of God, we will choose that Kingdom when our souls separate from our bodies and we leave this life. That does not mean, however, that Satan will not try to lure us away. Jesus warned many times about making such a choice, because the consequence will be catastrophic for all eternity. Thus, in our liturgical services, the prayer, “for a good defense before the awesome Judgment seat of Christ” is often used in our litanies. For now, our Christ is being merciful to us but this will end when our souls separate from our bodies.

Thursday, November 12th., 2020

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-14         Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

Father Terence Baz

Today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a beautiful address to his flock about their belief in Christ. He talked about how he labored to support himself while he was establishing the community. This letter was also one of his first Epistles, written about 50 A.D. Thessaloniki is still a prominent city and part of Greece today.

Paul’s mission was always to preach the Gospel. He also noted that while they labored, he and his disciples acted honorably like a good shepherd does with his sheep. More significantly, they listened to his preaching, not as a word from man but as the Word of God. Paul wrote that he was always thankful to God for their acceptance of his preaching. He also noted that they followed the example of churches that had formed before them and that, like them, those churches were persecuted by the Judeans because of their belief in Christ.

We can definitely identify with some of the struggles that his communities had to deal with. Influences from the outside were trying to make them compromise their faith. They would have been faced with the choice every day to stay committed to Christ and what Paul had taught. The pagan world around them was very different, often being corrupt and violent. They would have been looked upon with suspicion because they would have refused to worship the pagan gods and not attended the violent games that the Romans loved. We too live in a world that has very different beliefs and practices from us. Like them, however, we must love God by choosing Christ with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds but we must also love those who are different, no matter how repugnant the practices of some are. We must love our neighbors as ourselves.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus continued discussing the plight of the Jewish leaders because of their refusal to believe in Him. They had been the custodians of the Chosen People, a very sacred task but because of their refusal, they cut themselves off from God. Like the fig tree that does not bear fruit, they would eventually be cut down. He also warned that because of their sacred task, it would go harder for them at Judgment Day than for anyone else.

The key for us is to keep reaching out to Christ, to keep reaffirming our belief in Him, to continue to pray to the Holy Spirit to intercede, guide and protect us, to not drift away from the Orthodox Church, something that can be so easy to do, given the adverse social influences around us. Let us pray for these things so that we will be one in Christ, our Savior.

Wednesday, November 11th., 2020

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                       Gospel: Luke 12:48-59

Father Terence Baz

Both the Epistle and the Gospel passage for today have a common thread: how the Jewish people treated the early Christians.

St. Paul used to go into a synagogue to preach the Word of God but he always proclaimed Christ crucified. Often, the Jews did not like what he preached and some communities stirred up trouble in their cities and had him persecuted. So, in today’s passage, he made a reference to one of those incidents:

“But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.”

With today’s Gospel passage, we need to remember that St. Luke was also writing to an early Christian community. Jesus certainly confronted the corruption of the Jewish leaders during His public ministry. Here, St. Luke used that conflict to remind his readers that believing and following Christ would also bring persecution to them. It would also bring division. Luke quoted Jesus with these words.

“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Both Luke and Paul had to deal with internal divisions within their communities as well. Paul always wrote that they had to die to themselves and live in Christ. In doing so, they would serve each other in humility, building up the whole community instead of creating boastful factions and rivalries. Luke implicitly warned his community not to get to the point of taking such disputes to the civil courts! Such action would hardly help the community as a whole.

There is also a third dimension to these passages. The way the Jewish leaders would treat Jesus and the way that Jews later on would persecute His Body, the Church and its communities would have dire consequences at the Day of Judgment. Jesus warned them,

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

For us, we too, should not be surprised if we are persecuted for our beliefs. Like Jesus and St. Paul, we must be prepared to take up our cross as Christ’s followers. The important thing is to stay focused on Christ and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in order to stay focused on Him. Like Paul, however, if we can remain focused, especially in times of great difficulty, the Holy Spirit will enable us to bear much fruit. Jesus also taught,

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

Just as Paul never shied away from proclaiming Christ crucified, we too should not be afraid to proclaim that same message to others. If we have lived in Christ and borne our own crosses, people will see that we have lived it and not just talked about it. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. At the same time, if others persecute us for our belief in Christ, do not judge them, pray for them. Again, Jesus said, “bless those who persecute you.” Leave their judgment in our heavenly Father’s hands.

Tuesday, November 10th., 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10         Gospel: Luke 12:42-48

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus spoke about the bad stewardship of the leaders of the Jewish state. As leaders, they had the responsibility of wisely leading God’s Chosen People for the calling He had given them. Instead, they used their position to gain wealth and power because Rome had allowed them to use its taxes to build their temple. They could afford to have parties and get drunk. They could get away with being cruel to their servants. They could get away with amassing wealth and ignoring the poor. Thus, Jesus said of them:

“But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”

Having behaved like this, Jesus warned them that all their wealth and, more importantly, their sacred responsibility to care for God’s Chosen People, would be taken away from them. It was they who would be destroyed. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. In A.D. 70, the Romans got fed up with them and destroyed them and the city of Jerusalem with its temple.

And for the pagans, whom the above type of behavior was acceptable, they would also be given the chance to repent and follow Christ. Even if they did not, Jesus warned that their punishment at Judgment Day would be less because they were not taught God’s ways like the Chosen Jewish People were taught.

What it says for us is to always be on our guard not to let others entice us from drifting from Christ. As St. Paul says, if we believe in Christ, the requirements of the Mosaic Laws are lifted but it does mean that we must take up our cross daily to follow Christ’s teachings. For us Orthodox Christians, we have His Body the Church to guide us through the Holy Spirit in those teachings. Jesus also warned that we too, would be persecuted because of our belief in Christ. Satan will do anything he can to persecute us just as he did to Jesus and His apostles. Always cling to Christ, therefore, in times of difficulty.

In every Divine Liturgy and in other prayers, we pray for the Church hierarchs. Soon after the Consecration and Epiclesis, the priest says aloud of the hierarchs:

“Grant them for Thy holy churches in peace, safety, honor, health and length of days, to rightly define the word of Thy truth.”

They, like the leaders of the Chosen Jewish People, have a sacred responsibility to guide their flock in the teachings of Christ. As Jesus said:

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

We need to pray for them so that they may humbly fulfill this sacred responsibility. When they fail to do this, the Church suffers.

The Orthodox Church sees itself as conciliar. In other words, when it makes decisions, it always does so in the format of a council. In regard to doctrinal matters, it would not make any changes or additions until the whole Christian Church can do so. That cannot happen at present because the Orthodox Church believes many of them have drifted away from the basic teachings of Christ.

In regard to administrative matters, the various dioceses use the same conciliar format to hold synods. Our own archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America, just concluded one such synod. Through them, its hierarchs strive to fulfill their function described above. It is important that we pray for them so that the Holy Spirit will guide them to be faithful to that responsibility. On a broader level, all the Orthodox hierarchs of North America hold meetings through what is called the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of America, to discuss matters that affect all Orthodox churches in this country.

Monday, November 9th., 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5                       Gospel: Luke 12:13-15, 22-31

Father Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage begins St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul established this community in 50 A.D. He wrote this letter just a few months afterwards. The city is still there and is located in modern day Macedonia. Being written so early, it is likely to be Paul’s first letter to any of his communities. This community was made up mostly of Gentiles, not Jews. Some of the issues he wrote about were the continuation of pagan practices by some of them, the question of when would Christ come again, his advice about waiting for it to happen and how to remain steadfast in the faith in a violent, pagan world.

This introduction gives a Trinitarian welcome. He wrote,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A little further down, he continued,

“For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.”

Finally, he expresses his gratitude for their faith and love and also for the grace that God gave him to start their community,

“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.”

It is also a reminder for us that because we too have been given that same Holy Spirit which enabled Paul to carry out his missionary work. Therefore, we should not be afraid to embrace his missionary spirit. The Orthodox Church has striven faithfully over the centuries to teach those same teachings that the apostles taught in the name of Christ. Thus, we have the name, ‘Orthodox.’ It is the link between what was then and what is now. In the same way, therefore, being missioners of Christ is what we are as Orthodox Christians.

In North America, the Orthodox Church has set up a body called the Orthodox Christian Mission Center or OCMC. It strives to continue this work despite its limited resources. There is also much to be done in America so, never be afraid to talk about the beauty and benefits of our parish and the Orthodox Church as a whole to others. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke’s wrote the beautiful account of Jesus teaching the people not to worry about the affairs of their lives but to seek the Kingdom of God first. When we do, our heavenly Father will take care of us. This is another story in which Jesus used nature to describe our relationship to the Kingdom of God. He referred to birds, to lilies and to the grass of the fields. If our heavenly Father will provide for them, “Of how much more value are you than the birds?”  Jesus taught. Our heavenly Father knows what we need.

The context in which this story is introduced is that of covetousness and greed. The Jewish nation was given the privilege by Rome of being able to use their taxes to pay for the building of the temple. This enabled the leaders of the Jewish people to accumulate great wealth. It was their desire to cling onto this wealth that was the basis for their refusal to believe in Jesus and to accept His works. Jesus was clearly teaching in this story to not seek the material wealth that the Jewish leaders sought.

“For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.”

Jesus also taught that for all the seeking of preserving our earthly lives through material wealth, how can these things add to our stature or extend our lives? Leave these things our Father’s hands.

This year for us has certainly been unusual. The Coronavirus has forced us to limit what we can earn and how much we can pursue earthly materials. It has also taught us to wisely eat the type of food we consume to enable our stamina to better resist attacks from such viruses and bacteria.

One good practice that is part of the Orthodox Way is to fast sensibly. We do it to specifically control our bodily appetites but if done properly, it can help a lot to wash out toxins and reduce other substances that increase heart disease and diabetes. Do not be afraid of such practices because they will help us in the long term. One only has to look at our parish to see that these practices have helped because look at the number of our members who are alive and in their 90’s! The Orthodox Way has been surely good for these people. It will also help us to not blindly pursue the accumulation of material possessions but give rather to the poor. By doing such practices, we also store up treasures in heaven. So, instead of excessively buying gifts for our families this Christmas season, prepare for it in the Way that the Orthodox Church teaches by prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Finally, even though we are of much more value than the birds of the air, our heavenly Father has given us a sacred responsibility to care for His creation with all the beautiful things of nature that He has provided for us to enjoy. For the Orthodox Church, the celebration of the nativity of Jesus is as much about the celebration of nature as it is of the birth of the Son of God into this world. The Holy Spirit continues to always uphold and continue His work of creation. It is little wonder then that creation would celebrate with Jesus the heralding of the lifting of the yoke the sin of Adam and Eve inflicted upon us and it. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we should also celebrate the foretelling of the material world being free from that Original Sin. Let us, therefore, prepare for it accordingly.

Friday, November 6th., 2020

Friday, November 06, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 4:10-18               Gospel: Luke 12:2-12

Father Terence Baz

Today’s passage is the conclusion of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. He was in prison in Rome and he sent some of his disciples to bring his letter to the Colossians. He mentioned a number of his disciples. He also asked that the letter be read to the Laodiceans, who were not far from Colossae. The issue of Gnosticism must have been influencing that community as well. His last sentence is:

“This salutation by my own hand – Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.”

Knowing that he would never see them again in this life was a sad moment for him and the community. Despite this, there was no one who had more faith in the Risen Christ than St. Paul. He would pass away, but Christ was always with them. The Holy Spirit was there to comfort and support them with His heavenly Gifts. The community would survive and that belief in Christ would spread throughout the Roman Empire. They suffered persecution along the way but if, like them, we remain steadfast in our faith, Christ’s Body, the Church, will continue to grow in the present day.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus taught some very important principles.

The first is to not worry about those who would kill the body but those who would also be able to send us to hell. Only we can allow the latter to happen but people can lead us astray. We must be very careful not to drift from the teachings of Christ and His Body, the Church. Teachings different from the Church’s may not seem to be very significant but if they lead us from Christ, they will be profoundly shattering to our souls. Jesus warned us to be on our guard because they can come from any quarter. In the context of this passage, it was the very leaders of the Chosen People who were leading the people astray.

The second is that our Heavenly Father knows and loves every minute detail about us, we who are the interface between the material and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly. God is beyond space and time but knows each and every one of us intimately. Our Father is not some distant God above the clouds. The Kingdom of God is within us through the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

The third is that, if we believe in Christ and are prepared to acknowledge him before others, our Heavenly Father will also acknowledge us. Do not let others try to water down our belief in him like the Gnostics in the Epistles from St. Paul that we have been reading this week. In a diverse country like ours, be careful not to let others make us deny Christ.

The fourth involves the saying from Jesus that to sin against Him is forgivable but to sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. Orthodoxy believes that God’s creation continues on today through the Holy Spirit. Right from the Book of Genesis and throughout the Bible, the Spirit of God is there animating God’s creation. It would take too long to go into detail about what the scriptures say about this but to abuse the ongoing creative work of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, is what is unforgivable. Our responsibility to care for and respect God’s creation, therefore, is a fundamental responsibility for us to live out. If we abuse it, we abuse the Holy Spirit. To care for creation is a sacred and holy responsibility that we have to take very seriously. Just as Jesus taught above, we are either for God’s creation or we war against it. We cannot sit on the fence about God’s creation! The Orthodox Way of life centers around living out this responsibility. Let us not ignore it!

The fifth is that St. Luke, in writing to his people, was teaching them not to worry about what to say, no matter how ominous the intimidation may be because, if we stay focused on Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us and tell us what to say. St. Luke’s readers would have been very mindful of possible persecution because of their beliefs. Thus, he wrote,

“Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

It was a much more dangerous world for them than it is for us. Always ask the Holy Spirit to be with each and every one of us throughout each day. When we drift from Him or fail in our responsibilities to Him, Christ will always be there for us when we turn back in repentance. He will never refuse us. The words that Jesus proclaimed to the Jewish people also rings true for us: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

Thursday, November 5th 2020

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 4:2-9       Gospel: Luke 11:47-12:1

Father Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul specifically mentioned that he was in chains and he asked them to pray for him. He was also sending a couple of his disciples, Tychicus and Onesimus, to encourage them. It was obviously a sad time for both them and Paul, knowing that he would face execution but the grace of the Holy Spirit was with them. Despite the threat from the authorities, he told the community to always treat them graciously:

“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

Even though he was separated from them and that they would probably never see him again, Paul wanted them to stay close with him in their hearts.

“I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts,”

For us and our community, we may not have to face the type of separation that Paul faced during his time in prison but in some ways, we all have to face the moment when we become separated from our loved ones. For some, their battle with cancer may be ending. For others, it may happen unexpectedly, through a heart attack or even the terrible circumstances of losing the battle with the Coronavirus. For those who progress on in years through good health, they too, see the passing of those whom they were very close to in the past. None of these circumstances are easy. We also all have memories of those who were close to us.

Let the example of St. Paul strengthen us. He has given a lot of good advice in this Epistle about facing such circumstances in a way that does not defeat us. That way, of course, comes down to living a life in Christ. He has sent His Holy Spirit to comfort us but on top of this, having risen from the dead, has enabled us to be unified with those whom we love for the rest of eternity. He won for us the victory over death. Our lives here on earth are short and were not meant as an end in themselves. All the difficulties we endure would be for naught if it all ended there. We believe that, through Christ, this is not the case. As members of the Orthodox Church, we believe that we will rejoin the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God, which is already present in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Just as Paul prayed for unity with his community in Colossae, we too can pray for those in the past and those in the present, so that we remain one in Christ. Christ is there for us today and our Father in heaven wants us to receive His life and holiness for all eternity. Thanks to our Father’s love, let us embrace that Kingdom to receive the blessings it offers both now and for all eternity when our souls separate from our bodies.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continued His attack on the hypocracy of the Pharisees and lawyers. They refused to believe in the works that He had been performing because of their arrogance. St. Luke makes it clear that, given their reaction to Jesus’ criticism, they also refused to repent. At the end of this passage, Jesus warned the people to,

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

What may appear to be good on the outside may be full of filth on the inside. It is also a warning for us to not get carried away with what those, who seem successful in this fallen world, may present as success and respectability. Christ is the only one that we should use as a model, His teachings, His works, His sacrificial love, His humility, His compassion and kindness and His offer for us to receive the blessings and life of the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

Wednesday, November 4th., 2020

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 3:17-4:1 Gospel: Luke 11:42-46

Father Terence Baz

Whatever about the cultural norms in St. Paul’s day, he wrote to them that no matter what the circumstances, to do everything in the name of Christ. We live in a fallen world. Most of the time in our lives, our circumstances are anything but ideal or perfect. Remember what Jesus said in St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In handing our burdens back to Christ, we take up our cross and follow Him. In the same way, Paul is making the point that when we do live in Christ and give our burdens to Him, we live in the Holy Spirit and are free from sin. Always seek Christ out in difficult times.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus attacks the Pharisees and lawyers for their hypocrisy and their willingness to lay legal burdens upon others. Their day of reckoning will come, as it will today for anyone who does the same.

Tuesday, November 3rd 2020

Tuesday, October 3rd 2020

Election Day

Epistle: Colossians 2:20-3:3              Gospel: Luke 11:34-41

Father Terence Baz

Make sure you pray for everyone and the whole nation when you vote today. This is our priestly mission.

Today’s Epistle continues St. Paul’s rejection of the influence of Gnosticism upon some members of the Colossian community. When we live in Christ, we do not need worldly impositions. We do not need to create rules to make us feel justified or self-satisfied.

Having said this, it would be wrong to deduct from this that we can ignore our civic responsibilities. Today is Election Day and it is our responsibility to partake in our right to vote for whom we think will best suit us. The state has imposed restrictions because of the Coronavirus. We should also respect the state’s responsibility to keep us safe and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has firmly supported this. We should respect the advice of the medical community in wearing masks, washing our hands often and maintaining social distancing. We have learnt how dangerous this virus is and we should not needlessly put others at risk by defying these calls.

Remember that it was the Orthodox Church who compiled the Bible and the New Testament Gospels and Epistles were written by those who belonged to it in the early Church. It is the Orthodox Church who knows how to interpret it. Some Protestants may claim from today’s Epistle that they are not required to adhere to the state’s restrictions to protect us from the Coronavirus. They are false teachers and wrong in giving such an interpretation.

In the case of the current pandemic, the context is clear. This is a very contagious and dangerous virus. The context for the Colossian community was very different. The Gnostics were trying to impose self-made restrictions on the Christian community to make them feel superior. St. Paul made it clear in his letter that the very opposite was true. I said yesterday that the Orthodox Way has many rituals, prayers and liturgical requirements that it believes will help us to live a life in Christ better. They are not, however, intended as legalistic restrictions. A priest may tell one of his community to undergo a fast or a set of prayers but only to help that soul come back to Christ, not as a punishment or as a way to make atonement. Christ has already done that for us and this is what Paul was writing about to the Colossians in today’s Epistle.

It is interesting that the issue of washing ones hands when invited to someone else’s house comes up in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke. Once again, we need to look at the context. The first half of it gives the famous image from Jesus about the eye being “the lamp of the body.” When it is full of light, the whole body is full of light. In other words, when our eyes seek what is good, the body and its desires will follow. If they seek what is evil, our bodies will also follow. Watch, therefore, for what we seek. If it is goodness, it is light. If it is evil, then the whole body will be in darkness.

After being invited to a Pharisee’s home, the hosts became perturbed that Jesus did not wash his hands when He entered. Jesus retorted that what is the good of outwardly washing our hands if inwardly we seek darkness? The darkness that the Pharisees sought was to cling onto the Mosaic Law to make themselves justified rather than to believe in the wondrous works that Jesus had been performing among the people. They chose to cling onto the Old Law rather than seek the works and the life of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was preaching about. They were afraid of losing their wealth and power if they did.

“Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.”

The lesson that Jesus taught is that we should always seek the Kingdom of God first so that we do not seek the glamour of the fallen world and thus lose the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Always stay focused upon and cling to the Kingdom of God. Store up treasures in heaven by praying for all those who need to be strengthened in these difficult times. Give where possible to those struggling who have been laid off from work because of the virus. Finally, in a few short days, the Orthodox Church will call us to fast and pray in preparation for the Nativity of Christ. As mentioned, by doing this, it is hoped that we will better understand and partake in the mystery of the Son of God becoming man and being born a child. As always, the Orthodox Way is lived through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When the Kingdom of God is within us, our hearts and souls are full of joy. Not from our sufferings and limitations but because we see the beauty of the light of God’s Kingdom all around us. This world may be fallen but the presence of God still permeates it and gives it life. Our life gains hope when we see this. Our bodies may suffer at this time but our Heavenly Father wishes us to be holy as He is holy so that in His Kingdom they will be animated fully in His presence with immeasurable beauty and love. We will be what He created us for in as full a way as only He can make possible. Let us thank Him always for the holiness that He wants of us and let us seek it with all our hearts!

Monday, November 1st., 2020

Monday, November 02, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 2:13-20               Gospel: Luke 11:29-33

Father Terence Baz

I have mentioned that St. Paul had to address the influence of Gnosticism upon some of the community in Colossae. Gnosticism claimed to have a ‘special knowledge’ because of certain practices they imposed, some of which involved reverting back to the Old Mosaic Law. In this letter, he made it very clear that their claims were false.

He wrote in the first part of this passage about three rewards from believing in Christ. Firstly, that their former trespasses were forgiven. Secondly, that the old handwriting of the Law had been taken away and thirdly, that the principalities of sin had been disarmed. Thus, they were free of each of these things.

In the second part of the passage he advised them not to let these freedoms be taken away from them.

“Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”

He also told them not to let them force them to adhere to the old feasts and their requirements. They were done with such requirements.

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations.”

What dying with Christ did mean was that we need to take up our cross and follow Him. Those who wished to bind us to their earthly requirements would also try to persecute us when we refuse to. Let us always embrace our cross and not look to outward forms and appearances to justify ourselves. Do not let anyone try to separate us from Christ by saying that we must adhere to certain laws to make ourselves just in the sight of God. Did the thief on the cross adhere to laws? Did Mary Magdalene adhere to laws? My guess would be, no. What they did do was repent and believe in Christ. This is what brought them to the Kingdom of God.

The Orthodox Church has a lot of practices of discipline but they are never meant to be regulations whereby if you do not practice them you have somehow sinned or failed. They have been introduced to help our souls in the journey of our life focus on Christ. For instance, we have fasting practices but we do not fail if we do not fast. The Church encourages people to fast to help them focus on Christ but it is never an end in itself. Their  goal is to help us repent and believe in Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage, the Jewish leaders had been demanding a sign from Jesus to prove He was from God. He told them that the only sign they would get was that of the prophet Jonah, who went into the belly of a whale for 3 days. That image would be the sign given to them. Jesus would go into the earth for 3 days. The mission from His heavenly Father was to bring the life of the Kingdom of God to others and preach it, not to be a magician or performer of spectacles. In their arrogance, they refused to believe Him so they were made blind to the life of the Kingdom of God and it was not made manifest to them.

Let us always pray for the gift of humility from the Holy Spirit when we reach out to Christ. In doing so, we will see things as Christ sees them, not as the fallen world would entice us to.

Sunday, November 1st., 2020

Sunday, November 1st 2020

Epistle: Galatians 2:16-20                 Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul had to redress the influence of the Jews in Galatia who did not believe in Christ and were trying to influence some of his community to revert back to the practices of the Old Mosaic Law. He spoke out strongly against them. He wrote that the works of the Law cannot justify them in the flesh. The reason is that by doing so, they allow themselves to be subject to sin again. It is only by living in Christ that they can free themselves from this. It is only through Christ that they can find true righteousness. If they sin, it is only by returning to Christ that they can return to righteousness, not by trying to keep the Law. He pointed out that this is not an excuse to sin. He wrote: “Certainly not!” We have to keep striving, through the help of the Holy Spirit, to let go of our sinful selves and live in Christ. What we do have to do each day is take up our cross. So, we are free from the Law but we die to ourselves and live in Christ instead. He wrote:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

We therefore have to constantly choose to live in Christ and not according our passions. If we reaffirm our belief in Him, we can call upon the Holy Spirit to free us from sin and guide our lives. In this way, we remain part of the Kingdom of God and not of the kingdom of death.

Today’s Gospel is St. Luke’s account of the man who was possessed by a legion of demons in the Gadarenes. The demons begged Him to let them go to the pigs, which then stampeded in to the lake and drowned. The local people were not happy with this and asked Him to leave. The young man who was possessed asked to remain with Him but Jesus said to go and tell every one of the great works that God had done for him.

Just as St. Paul wrote about being freed from the bondage of the law, we have in this story a man who was terribly bound but became free. Jesus told him to go and proclaim among his people what the Kingdom of God had done for him and he did. We too, who live in Christ, should not be afraid to proclaim the wonderful works that our Father in heaven has done for us by sending His Son to give us this same freedom from sin. Let us keep affirming Christ in our lives. Let us always, as St. Paul did, rejoice in the wonderful things He has done for us. Let us seek the Kingdom of God instead of the death of this fallen world. Let us bask in the life of the Kingdom of God and shun the ways of the fallen world. Let us always humbly repent and turn back to Christ when we fail. He will never refuse us. Let us ask him, as He did for this possessed young man, to make up for our own weaknesses. Let us never be afraid to proclaim our faith in Christ together with His Body, the Church, which He has provided for us. We have much to be grateful for even with the sufferings that we have to endure.

Saturday, October 31st., 2020

Saturday, October 31st. 2020

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (Epistle)     Luke 8:16-21 (Gospel)

Father Terence Baz

During these difficult times of the pandemic when we have needed to curtail our social outings and family gatherings, today’s Gospel is a timely reminder for us to make the most of our isolation by reading and reflecting on the Word of God. Jesus taught this to the people in today’s passage. Reflecting on the Word of God is even more important than our blood relatives because the only way to the life of the Kingdom of God is by doing this. Our family is obviously important but if we want to remain with them for all eternity, we can only do it through Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh.

To help, I have been using the daily readings of the Orthodox Church’s liturgical calendar to write a short reflection on the Epistle and Gospel of the day. My purpose in doing this is to try to help our community do exactly what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. None of us are perfect and I certainly do not claim to have the perfect interpretation for each daily passage but I do hope that they encourage and help those who read them. I hope they bring its readers closer to Christ and help to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. For this reason, I encourage you to read them and pray about them.

It is also good to see the members of our community striving to be present for the Sunday Divine Liturgy in order to be nourished by its prayers, the beautiful singing and by the reception of the Eucharist. The Church is there to heal and nourish our souls. At the same time, it is an opportunity for all of us to pray for others who are suffering so that the Holy Spirit would touch their hearts. The one small comfort we have been able to re-introduce is to socialize with Coffee Hour downstairs afterwards in our beautiful hall. Whether we can make it to the Liturgy or not, try to make it a habit to reflect on these daily readings. Our souls are at home when they are one with Christ.

While what I have written above may seem straightforward enough, St. Paul, in today’s Epistle wrote about the profound impact of doing such practices for those who believe in Christ. Until Christ gave Himself for us as a sacrifice, no one could look upon the face of God. Moses had to put a veil over his face for the people after encountering God on the mountain. But for those who believe in Christ, this veil has been taken away and the blindness of our minds has been removed. He wrote:

“Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Not only can we now see but when we live in the Spirit of God, the image of God is put upon us. When we reflect on the Word of God and ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts, we take on more and more of the image of God. We go from ‘glory to glory’. St. Gregory of Nissa coined this phrase and it has become a very important theme in the Orthodox Church. It is called Theosis where we embark on a life long journey of becoming like God. As St. Athanatius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” Not in a pantheistic sense, but by being like the image of God. The holy saints would be the first to say that they saw their complete inadequateness and sinfulness before the face of God but it is in that very inadequateness that God makes them more like Him. The way the Orthodox Church views the path to holiness is that the Holy Spirit offers His grace for us in our hearts to move closer to Christ and when we respond, we are given that grace. It is a symbiotic relationship. God offers and we respond.

The clue for us when reflecting on the daily readings is to also pray for the gift of humility when we ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts. This is the best way to avoid succumbing to the temptation of pride.

Friday, October 30th., 2020

Friday, October 30th 2020

Epistle: Colossians 2:1-7       Gospel: Luke 11:23-26

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul once again reaffirms his love for Colossian community and his love in Christ. He gently but firmly reasserts that all things are done in Christ:

“For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”

Paul established this community and others near them. Thus, he was not simply one voice among many. He was their founder in Christ. They would have taken note of what he wrote as compared to what other pagans and Jews were saying to try and influence them to compromise their faith in Christ.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus taught about casting out demons. It is important to note that they still roam about in this world despite all the scientific technology we live with today. The Church has set prayers to exorcise someone who is possessed by demons and whoever has the task of doing this has indeed a heavy burden to carry.

A few comments need to be made. Firstly, it is important when praying to cast out a demon that we order it, in the name of Christ, to go back to Jesus Christ, otherwise what He taught in today’s Gospel passage could well happen. Secondly, we have to be very careful not to label someone as being possessed or ‘demonize’ them when their problem may be depression or another psychological symptom instead of spiritual possession. Thirdly, there are people out there who do worship Satan. It is tragic that such worshippers may influence others to join them. Anyone who is burdened with praying for someone they love who might be attracted to Satan has a great cross to bear. Remember the prayer that the Orthodox often prays:

“O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance! Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Thy cross, preserve Thy habitation.”

Once again, always try to stay focused on Christ. Always call out to the Holy Spirit to intercede and advocate for us and do not hesitate to call upon the Church to help and guide us. The Church is a physician of souls and it is there to help us heal in such difficult situations.

There are also those who have different beliefs than us such as Communists who may persecute the Church. We must pray each day for any Christian who is persecuted by others who do not agree with our beliefs. On page 1792 of the Orthodox Study Bible, for its morning prayers we say:

“More especially, have mercy upon your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep and comfort them, and make haste to grant them, by Your power, relief freedom and deliverance.”

We should never forget them. Some of our fellow Orthodox Christians are under great stress because they are persecuted by heathen nations. Always pray earnestly for them that they may be delivered from adversity. Remember that intercessory prayer is part of our priestly mission given to us at our baptism. Jesus suffered persecution from His fellow Jews. It was Satan who ultimately stirred up the leaders and the people against him to put Him on the cross. Given the chance, Satan will do the same to us today. Those who worship Satan have placed themselves under that same hatred prompted by him. Pray for them also that the Holy Spirit may prevail against him.

Thursday, October 29th., 2020

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 1:24-29               Gospel: Luke 11:14-23

Father Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul firstly talked about his sufferings and how he offered them up to Christ’s Body, the Church. He then wrote about how everything is summed up in Christ. I have mentioned in the past couple of days that this community was being influenced by outside ideas from some neighboring pagans and Jews through a new cult called Gnosticism. In emphasizing how everything can only be summed up in Christ, Paul addressed those influences. He pointed out that where previously they were before “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works”,

“yet, now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.”

It was this reconciliation that he suffered for them in the flesh. He was pointing out that there is no other way to be reconciled. His suffering was also an example of him bearing his cross for the sake of their reconciliation.

“To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”

Anyone who believes in Christ and chooses to follow Him must also take up their cross in order to bear fruit. Neither the pagans nor the Jews in Colossae could accept this. They tried to compromise the faith of the Christian community by claiming they had a ‘special knowledge.’ The idea of the cross was alien to them. Their philosophy was a false teaching that would soon fade away.

The lesson for us from this is to be wary of people who do not believe in Christ who also try to make us compromise our faith. Anything other than what Paul teaches in today’s passage is nothing but a passing fad that may separate us from the Holy Spirit who enables us to be members of the Kingdom of God. Do not be fooled by such false teachings.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus confronts the arrogance of the Jewish authorities who tried to belittle the wonderful works He was doing. Those works included the casting out of demons, the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead and by offering the life of the Kingdom of God that He preached about. No one had heard or seen anything like this. The Kingdom of God was little more than a distant hope compared to the suffering of their daily lives. The sacrifices that they offered to God in the temple were never adequate. Yet, here, they were seeing the manifestation of God before their very eyes!

The Jewish authorities who could not do anything like this, attempted, in their arrogance, however, to drag the very presence of the Kingdom of God down to the level of the devil! Their hearts were so hardened that they refused to believe that someone from God could do such works. Their imaginations were so stiffened that they could not tolerate seeing something that was beyond their own inadequate experience. Their memories were so clouded by their lust for power that it blinded them from recognizing who they were and why they were the chosen people. Their reasoning was so warped that they had to lower such works to the level of their corrupt lives. Jesus simply responded by reminding them that:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.”

In other words, what they were proposing was out of touch with reality. He then went on to warn them:

“But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Further still:

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

He was warning them that if they stood against Him, they would be destroyed because everything they wanted to cling onto, their power and wealth, would be taken from them. Forty years after His death, in 70 AD, this very prediction came true.

The lesson for us is to realize that what may seem to be as indestructible in this fallen world, like the great Jewish temple at the time, will pass. What will not pass is the life of the Kingdom of God that He offered to them and to us. All we have to do is simply believe in Him and hold steadfast to that belief when the storms of life com