Sunday, August 9, 2020
9th Sunday after Pentecost
The Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of Jesus
Sts. Matthias the Apostle and Herman of Alaska
Archpriest Terence Baz
As well as the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, today we also celebrate the Glorification of the Venerable Herman of Alaska. He had a big impact on the Orthodox Church in America. Go to: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives to read the full life of this Saint.
Briefly, as a young man, he felt a strong calling to be a monk and went to the monastery of Valaam in Russia. While there, he was afflicted with an abscess on his throat that was very painful. He expected to die but he prayed earnestly to the Theotokos to give him strength to endure it. He fell asleep exhausted on the floor but when he woke the next morning it was gone, except for a small mark where the core had been. The doctors said it was impossible for it to go away without bursting first. St. Herman knew what had happened. If anyone wants an example of how to pray in times of great difficulty, one could do no better than this one.
Eventually, with his elder, and 9 others, he travelled to Alaska to set up a mission. They all showed great love to the natives, protecting them from the Russian merchants. Many thousands of them listened to their teachings and converted to Orthodoxy. They also set up a school to educate the children, particularly orphans. Tragically, on a return trip to Russia, the ship that all of them were on except St. Herman, sunk in a storm on the Pacific Ocean. He continued to work on tirelessly serving the people whether in prayer or growing crops to feed the people or caring for the children. It is interesting at this time that a pandemic afflicted Alaska at one point in his ministry. He never hesitated to assist, comfort and pray for those afflicted, often being by their side when they passed away.
He died at his hermitage on Spruce Island. He was very much loved and admired for his holiness and left a lasting impact on the whole population of Alaska. Miracles have also been attributed to him. We are grateful that we are part of this heritage, which saw so many inspiring and holy monks bear fruit in their service to the people.
Much more can be found about his life on the website mentioned above. We have an icon with a relic of St. Herman in our church that was obtained for in commemoration of the parish’s 75th Anniversary in 2010. It resides on the right hand side of the nave for veneration. Today it is placed on the central table.
The readings for today are those for Saint Herman.
Friday August 7, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is a crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew’s account, this occurs right after Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey with the people calling out “Hosanna!” In the liturgical calendar of the Church, it commences the celebration of Holy Week. For Matthew, it is the turning point where the Jewish authorities dislike for Him turns into straight out hostility. Not only does it hit a raw nerve for them because He interfered in their economic prosperity but because it was at the temple of Jerusalem. The spectacle of Him being adulated by the people was too much for them. Who was He to undermine their policies and administration of the Mosaic Law?
The reality however was very different from their perception of themselves. This is brought out in the second part of the passage. It does not say it here but in St. John’s account, the discourse about the temple being destroyed and then raised up again in three days, predicted the very destruction of the temple with the end of its worship and sacrificial offering as they knew it. Jesus warns that those who refuse to believe in Him will not bear fruit and will be cut down to be burned.
Matthew is also warning his own people not to fall into that trap. It is also a reminder for us to not take the spiritual gifts given to us by the Church at baptism for granted. We must allow them to bear fruit. We must continue to choose Christ, humbly follow in His footsteps and remain part of His Body, the Church. The world will try to entice us to ignore our commitment to Christ. We must be on our guard to not fall into its trap.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul cautions about the gift of praying in tongues. To be sure, the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills and there are a number of instances where we read of people in the early Christian communities praying in tongues.
Even at this early point however, it was getting out of hand. It did so mostly because the Corinthian people were used to the pagan cultural practices of the time. Some continued to practice those so called pagan ‘spiritual’ practices. Much of it was demonic but in their yearning for the divine, the pagan people would turn to ‘divination’ practices. Some in communities such as the Corinthians tended to mix the two practices up. They would get very emotional, even hysterical.
Paul was cautioning that there is no point to praying this way if no message could be gained from it. The main way such prayer was interpreted was by the gift of ‘prophecy’ but he says in this passage that even the ‘prophets’ need to be evaluated. He says in another part of the letter that any gift should only be used to serve others. If others cannot understand it, it is not serving anyone. Another point he makes in this passage is that there should be order in any prayer service.
In yesterday’s readings for the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, the Orthodox Church uses a passage from this letter to point out that what really matters is the spreading of the Word of God. If the Word of God cannot be interpreted in the praying of tongues, it is not serving this missionary task.
The early Church had to grapple with this problem. Both St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine mention that the practice had passed away by their time. The Church came to the conclusion, for the reasons I mention above, that it was not good to practice this gift in regular prayer services. What they decided was that if anyone wanted to continue to pray in this way, it should be done in monasteries where it could be kept under control. It died out quickly after then. What did develop in monasteries was the praying of the psalms and the discipline of scheduled prayer and fasting. This has been the case ever since.
What is called the prayer of the heart is seen as a very important part in the Living Faith of the Orthodox Church. Aside from our liturgical prayers and daily designated prayers, the Church encourages Orthodox Christians to use the Jesus Prayer constantly when able to:
“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”
This prayer is a very good vehicle to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives. The saints of the Orthodox Church have said that the Holy Spirit will respond to our needs if we use this prayer.
Thursday, August 06, 2020
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus
Archpriest Terence Baz
Please click onto or copy and paste this link to see the readings for today that I refer to: https://www.oca.org/readings. There are several of them.
For today’s celebration of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain (Mt. Tabor) St. Matthew gives his account of what happened (Matthew 17:1-9). It is a depiction of Jesus’ divinity, where He became brilliantly white, so intense that the apostles Peter, James and John could not look at it. A cloud descended upon them, Moses and Elijah appeared and our Heavenly Father spoke, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
In the services used to celebrate this event, the Orthodox Church uses readings from both the Old and the New Testament that pre-figure and highlight the continuity of the Father’s plan of salvation from eternity. Two visual images are connected in the readings.
The first is the presence of God in a mountain. Jesus often went to a mountain to commune with His Father but here, the dramatic scene of Moses going up Mount Sinai to speak with God (Exodus 24:12-18) is connected to what happened with Jesus. Moses asked to see God’s face. God told him he could only see the back side of Him, otherwise he would die. In the brilliance of Jesus countenance, the three apostles could not look at Him. The presence of God’s is often associated with a mountain.
The second is the cloud. A cloud descended upon the mountain. When Moses left those who came with him partway up the mountain (Composite 15 - Exodus 33:11-23; 34:4-6, 8), he left them behind and a cloud descended upon the mountain. Afterwards, when the Ark of the Covenant was carried by the priests with the Israelites across the desert, a cloud surrounded it by day and fire by night. The presence of God is also associated with a cloud.
A third association is with the Word of God. The Father speaks to the apostles about Jesus as His “beloved Son.” Moses also heard God’s voice and the Ten Commandments were given by God. When God speaks, His word is always true and will be enacted powerfully.
So, what the apostles had been seeing of Jesus as a human being was only part of the picture. He is also divine, the Son of God the Father. When God’ spoke to Moses, the prophets and other fathers in the Old Testament, it was the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who was speaking to them. The Church was to later on describe Jesus as “true God and true Man.” The glimpse they saw of Him as God was a foretaste of what they would experience for all eternity in the Kingdom of God. Nothing in this fallen cosmos, despite its beauty, can even compare to it.
The Orthodox Church also makes a connection with Elijah (Elias). God spoke to him as well as the other prophets. Like Jesus and Moses, Elijah was told to be alone for 40 days and nights on Mount Horeb (Composite 23 - 3  Kings 19:3-9, 11-13, 15, 16). This time, God did not speak to him by an overwhelmingly powerful demonstration but in a gentle breeze. Elijah still covered his face but God told him to pass on his prophecy to Elisha. This was a foretelling that the presence of God would not stop but continue in a gentle way. The Son of God Himself would be present among the people, not as all powerful but as a humble human being. The vision of Elijah by the apostles testified to this humble manner by which God was revealing Himself.
In today’s Epistle (2 Peter 1:10-19), St. Peter describes how he witnessed this event. In it, he tells his own disciples that they too have been given a mission to show the presence of the Risen Christ to others who had not heard of Him. Peter heard God speak. He saw His divinity in this transfiguration. He suggested in that vision to erect a tent, or dwelling place, to continue to be in the presence of God. He also listened to Jesus teach and preach as a human being. He spoke to his own people about what he heard. In his letter, he commanded his disciples to continue to speak that same message because it is a prophetic word. It is this message that is the tent in which the presence of God dwells and continues to be revealed. It is a divine mission, not spoken by a powerful demonstration but as like the gentle breeze that Elijah experience.
The Orthodox Church also uses a separate passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 20:17-28) to warn people not to lord it over others like the Gentiles do, exercising great coercive authority to prevail over them. This is not the way of Christ. Even though we reflect on the majesty of Jesus in today’s feast, we must be humble like He was. He told the apostles, after a dispute among them about who would be first that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” In this life, “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” The Church is telling us that we must be humble in following Christ. In other words, store the treasures up for heaven, not for this fallen world.
As I often say, Jesus has made it easy for us to reach to the Kingdom of God. If we believe in Him as the Son of God and choose to follow Him, He promised that He would never refuse us. We must be His followers, however, following His humble way of the cross to be a sacrifice for many. Today’s feast gives us a glimpse of what is awaiting us if we follow His teachings and commandments. Let us renew our longing to be His disciples, to continue to spread the words of His message as St. Peter has urged and to wish to live in the presence of God as the prophets did. Let us never be timid in telling of the wonderful things that Christ has done for us!
Wednesday August 5, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
It helps to put today’s passage from St. Matthew giving the parable of landowner who employed people for his harvest into the context in which he was relaying the parable to his own community. Debate had begun about whether it was proper and how non-Jewish converts should be brought into the Christian community. Ultimately, St. Paul’s view that the Gentiles who converted to Christ should be welcomed in freely, prevailed. This parable, therefore, was very applicable to that debate. Our Heavenly Father has invited everyone to feast in His Kingdom. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross opened the doors to that invitation. It also signaled that the ways of the Mosaic Law where only God’s chosen people would be invited had ceased. As Jesus said at the end of this passage:
“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.’”
For us, once again, the parable is a reiteration that the Risen Christ has made it very easy for us to accept this invitation. Anyone who believes in Him is welcomed. As St. John Chrysostom preached in his Paschal Homily about the Risen Christ:
“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.”
Let us not take this invitation for granted, however. Our choice to follow Christ is a daily one whereby we stay focused on it despite what troubles this fallen world might throw at us. This choice also means taking up our cross daily and offering it back to Him. This is what will test our faith and enable us to be the chosen ones. Nor, like some of those Jews in Matthew’s time who begrudged the invitation of the Gentiles, should we ever hesitate to invite others on behalf of Christ to invite others to Christ. Nor should we hesitate to challenge anyone who seems to be drifting from Christ. Their souls are at stake if they reject Him!
Today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is his famous one about love.
It would be well worth reading the whole passage. If you are viewing this message on the parish website, simply click onto the link at the top of this page. If you are reading it on Facebook, unfortunately, the link is lost but you can copy and paste it to your browser and it should come up.
Remember that Paul had been talking about the divisions among the Corinthian community, with their jealousies and boastfulness. He had firstly said that if he was going to boast, it would only be about the cross of Christ. Secondly, that they must use the talents they were boasting about to serve others, not for everyone to look at. In this teaching, he coined the phrase the “Body of Christ.” Only then will the community build because only then will it stay focused on the Kingdom of God, not on themselves or what this fallen world regards as being important. Thirdly, in today’s passage, regardless of their talents, whether they be spiritual or material, unless they are done in love then they are nothing. He specifically referred to the spiritual gifts of praying in tongues and prophesying. They will pass away and if they are not used to serve and done in love, they mean nothing. Finally, he compares the way of the love of Christ, to what the world says:
“love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity.”
In our own community, it is always important to lookout for people’s talents. Someone new may be able to offer a dimension or insight to a task needed to be done that had not been thought of before. It is easy for a Church community who has been performing a task in a certain way for many years to become inflexible, refusing to listen, because “we have always done it this way.” Any good idea needs to be considered and obviously not all would be good for the community. The important thing is to encourage people to use their talents to up build the Body of Christ.
I have talked about the need to pray for humility. The gift of love goes hand in hand with it so, do not hesitate to pray for it.
Tuesday August 4, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
The first verse of today’s Gospel is quoted at the end of the Orthodox Funeral Service, when the priest says the prayer of absolution for the deceased person. The priest does this in the name of the Church.
The next two verses concern praying together in Christ’s name. Again, the Orthodox Church uses this saying during the Second Antiphon of the Divine Liturgy. When two or three people come together and pray in Christ’s name He promises us that He will be there with us. That is how easy He makes it for us! All we have to do is believe what He promised and pray from our hearts. It is tragic that so many people do not take this seriously today. Christ’s presence is being offered to us freely. It is a gateway for our souls to enter into the Kingdom of God.
The next two verses concern the requirement of any Christian to forgive others. This can be very difficult at times but we must always strive to have the willingness to forgive. For the Orthodox Church, it is a pillar of the Orthodox Way. At the beginning of the season of Great Lent, we ask for everybody’s forgiveness and during that season, we use the Prayer of St. Ephraim to seek not to judge other people. Before the Great Entrance at the Eucharistic section of the Divine Liturgy, the priest turns to his people and asks for forgiveness from everyone. As Orthodox Christians, we must forgive and never judge others. The martyrs often asked for their executors’ forgiveness. When the Day of Judgment comes, our Heavenly Father will forgive us if we have forgiven everyone else.
For the rest of this passage, we read from St. Matthew how Jesus continued to powerfully bring the life of the Kingdom of God to others through His miracles and preaching. Matthew also repeats what he previously had written about Jesus calling the little children to Him. It is not those who are powerful in the eyes of the fallen world who will get to heaven but those who have humility like that of a little child’s. As I said yesterday, it is important to always pray for the gift of humility. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul. It is not something that will always come automatically to us and as such, it is something we must pray for from the Holy Spirit.
I did not comment on yesterday’s passage from St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians but today’s follows directly on from it. The community at Corinth were getting jealous of each other and forming factions, based on a particular apostle or disciple of all people. They fell into this trap because they lost focus on the Kingdom of God and started boasting about how good they were compared to others. The only one we should compare ourselves to is Christ. He is our only measure, no one else. When we do compare ourselves to Him, we soon realize that we fall short of what we could or should be and certainly not in a position to judge others. For this reason, Paul says that the only boasting he will do is about that of the Crucified Christ, something that is folly to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews who do not believe in Christ.
What Paul does do to counter their tendency to boast about themselves is to talk about how they can use their talents, not to boast with but to serve others. He presents the model of the body that has different parts which are needed to function properly as a whole. When any one part hurts, the whole body hurts. In contrast, when the members of the community join together to serve each other, just as the hands or feet do for the body, then the community functions properly and begins to thrive. In using this model, Paul coined the phrase the “Body of Christ” a phrase that is well known among all Churches. For the Orthodox Church:
- It sees this model of the “Body of Christ” as continuing today in its members
- The Holy Spirit is present among its members when they strive to serve each other
- As such, they bring the Kingdom of God into this fallen world
- The parish becomes the vehicle whereby the presence of God inserts itself into history
- When the parish functions in this way, the Church sees it as a continuation of the Communion of Saints and joined to it in the heavenly kingdom.
All of this is happening when we strive to serve the parish through the talents that we offer to this Body of Christ!
Paul is, of course, using it as an anecdote to the egotism or elitism that was rife in the Corinthisn community but it is important to realize that there is a huge difference between behaving as a clique or faction compared to those who wish to serve because they serve Christ, not themselves. One attitude panders to our fallen nature that will only end in death. In contrast, the way to Christ, gives us life, not only now but for all eternity among the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God. Let us pray for the grace to serve Christ, not our fallen selves.
Monday, August 03, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
The first part of today’s passage talks about humility. Jesus told his disciples that to get into the Kingdom of God we must have the humility of a little child. Jesus himself was very humble and spoke a lot about humility. He never sought the power of this world and was simply known as the carpenter’s son. St. Paul, in his letters, talks about us not being aliens or slaves but fellow citizens. As such though, we are children of the Kingdom. If we become arrogant, feeling we are entitled to be there, we will be rejected. Thus, it is always good to pray for the gift of humility because this will make us great in the Kingdom of God.
Note that St. Matthew, in this next section, quoted Jesus about scandals against children. It makes me suspect that there must have been talk about it among Matthew’s community. Given the patriarchal nature of society at that time, men had a lot of power and could get away with such scandals.
How timely this warning is for today! As a parent, I find it chilling that churches have protected such perpetrators in the past. For the OCA Archdiocese, strict guidelines are now in place to protect the vulnerable, not just in regard to sexual abuse but other types of abuses as well. Nor does it allow the church’s administration to give perpetrators protection. For instance, as a priest, I cannot give absolution to someone who wants to confess an abuse until that person goes to the authorities first to face up to their crime. Society has a responsibility to protect its citizens and the seal of confession is not over and above that responsibility.
The Orthodox Church does not look upon its Canons as being divine as the Vatican in Rome does. As such, a Canon like the seal of Confession must be looked at in the context of where it would be applied. The sacred responsibility that society has to protect its children from abuse takes precedence over a person’s right to confidentiality in this context. This does not mean that the Orthodox Church does not take the seal of Confession seriously but it is not an absolute in and of itself and cannot ignore the teaching from Jesus that:
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
The OCA also takes abuse by its clergy very seriously. If a priest is taken to a civil court, he will almost certainly have to face the Archdiocesan Ecclesiastical Court as well. Ultimately, all such judgments are left in God’s hands but it too has a responsibility to protect its parishioners and suspend a priest if it determines it is necessary.
The passage also warned parents and adults not to teach their children to sin. Children are a solemn gift from God. Adults have a responsibility to teach correctly what Christ and His Body, the Church teaches. Jesus warned:
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
Thus, let us remember this phrase:
“Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
It is not unreasonable to look at the sayings talking about cutting off limbs and plucking out eyes as metaphorical. We have no accounts in the early Church of Christians attempting such things. We too, do not talk in such violent terms today but one must remember that in St. Matthew’s time, such grizzly forms of punishment and revenge were not uncommon. The point is there, however, that to commit crimes against children will have dire consequences for such people on Judgment Day.
Sunday, August 2nd 2020
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew gives his account of the feeding of the five thousand men, plus the women and children, with the five loaves and two fish. Unlike the account in St. John’s Gospel, St. Matthew gives a simple description of the event.
Jesus was called by His Father in heaven to preach and reveal the scriptures to the multitudes. He was moved by compassion to heal their sicknesses but when all was done everyone was hungry. After getting them to sit down on the grass, Matthew wrote:
“And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.”
Jesus’ presence and works had already made it a holy day. Then, in this moment of need to feed the people, the blessing that Jesus gave for it to happen sanctified the fish, the loaves, the people who ate them, the grass and the earth they sat on as well as the disciples who helped to get the people organized. It was a moment when the life of the Kingdom of God was made powerfully manifest through the presence and blessing of the Second Person of the Trinity among them.
It was also an antitype or a herald of the Eucharist that we celebrate at the Divine Liturgy each Sunday. That moment at the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with His apostles, He commanded the blessing of the bread and wine into His body and blood to be done in memory of Him. It was this same Divine Presence that would foreshadow His presence in His living Body, the Church. It is in the Eucharist that this Divine Presence continues. More than this, the priestly offering of His body on the cross was passed onto those apostles. They were commanded to use His Priesthood in the works that they would do through the Holy Spirit among the peoples that they would preach to.
This is why the use of blessings is so central to the way of the Orthodox Church. It regards the sacraments as mysteries through which that same Divine Presence, which was manifested in the feeding of the five thousand, is also now brought to those who would receive them through an Orthodox bishop or priest. This Presence is not limited to the sacraments only, however. Any such blessing done by a bishop or priest in the name of Christ and His Body, the Church, brings the life of the Kingdom of God to others. Further still, the sacrament of Baptism that anyone receives in faith, enables him or her to intercede in faith on behalf of others. In gratuitously offering all the blessing and gifts He gave during His earthly life, He now continues to offer those same blessings done in the name of the Orthodox Church to us, through the Holy Spirit that He promised. Finally, just as Jesus not only sanctified the people at the feeding of the five thousand but also the food and the earth they were sitting on, the Orthodox Church recognizes that all of creation can and needs to be sanctified by us through gift of intercession that was given to us in our baptism.
The point is that this account from St. Matthew is not simply some nice sounding historical anecdote to be admired. It is something, for anyone who has the faith, to see that this same Divine Presence is with us here and now! For those who have faith, the Kingdom of God is in our hearts. The presence of God nourishes our souls through these gifts now offered by the Church. It is up to us to grasp it! It is up to us to say: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and invite Him to bring the Kingdom of God into our hearts. It is up to us to call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives. It is up to us to call upon our Heavenly Father to bring His Kingdom to us.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
So, never refuse a blessing when a priest offers it. Pray that we would have the faith to open our hearts to allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to flood into our hearts through it. Rejoice that Christ has enabled us to receive Him freely. Never be afraid to pray on behalf of others, this world and all of creation. The troubles of this fallen world can never prevent us from being in the presence of the Kingdom of God.
Friday July 31, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s passage, the disciples ask Jesus about Elijah (or Elias or Elia) because the scribes were arguing that Jesus cannot be the prophet because Elijah must come first. Jesus replies that the spirit of Elijah was in John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. The prophet Malachi said that the spirit of Elijah would return and this forecast would have been known to the scribes and Pharisees. The spirit of Elijah was given to Elisha when he left this earth on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 6:17).
It is interesting that the passage just before this (Matt. 17: 1-8) is the account of Jesus being transfigured on Mt. Tabor. The account of the transfiguration gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. In it, Peter also makes reference to seeing Elijah. Thus, Elijah’s prophetic calling is connected to the divinity of Jesus, who is the Second Person of the Trinity. Thus, Matthew sees the discussion in today’s passage about Elijah as being connected to Jesus’ transfiguration. Further, immediately after the discussion, a man who is possessed by a demon is brought to Jesus and Jesus expels it. Jesus also complains about those disciples who brought the man to Him who could not cast it out because of their lack of faith.
From St. Matthew, therefore, we are taught a number of lessons. Firstly, he was telling his people not to listen to the arguments of those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. Secondly, that entertaining such arguments will easily blunt their faith, as happened to those disciples who could not cast out the demon. Thirdly, both in this story and in many others, the divinity of Jesus is clearly displayed. Thirdly, that the Trinity certainly intended that the spirit of Elijah would come again and did so through John the Baptist. Fourthly, not only would the authorities reject this spirit but they hated John for it because of his outspokenness in preaching the truth. So, they had him executed. Finally, just as they hated John for this spirit and Jesus for His divinity, they may well hate and kill those to whom he wrote, who were followers of Christ.
These lessons apply to us as well. Note that the father of the afflicted man came to Jesus humbly asking for mercy in his suffering. We too not only need to keep our faith pure but we need to also pray in a spirit of humility as this father did. This is why the phrase “Lord, have mercy!” is so often used in our services. When affliction or difficult times come, as humans, it often takes time to absorb what has happened, especially if the pain is acute. It can take years for our bodies and our emotions to settle down. It can be a great challenge to stay focused on the Kingdom of God as the father in today’s story was able to. Always strive to reach out to Christ in times of difficulty with a spirit of humility, pouring out our hearts to Him. There will definitely be times that our faith will be tested but remember, when we are tempted to doubt or we fall, Christ will never refuse us when we come back to Him.
Remember the words of the Beatitudes that we say in our Divine Liturgy:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.
Jesus taught them to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God during times of hardship. Let us embrace them enthusiastically.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
If ever there was a passage that you wanted to learn off by heart from the Gospels, it is today’s. Most of us are at least very familiar with it. As Orthodox Christians, we celebrate the cross of Christ a number of times during the year in our liturgical calendar. Most Christians wear a cross around their necks. For us clergy, it is an honor to wear a crucifix, testifying to the great example and sacrifice that Jesus gave us.
At the time that Jesus was on earth, the cross was a symbol of great fear. For those who suffered crucifixion, it was a message to everyone else to not challenge the ‘Pax Roma’ the so called Roman way that imposed ‘peace’ on its subjects. For those who underwent it, it was an unimaginably painful, agonizing and prolonged death that dashed any hopes of promoting oneself or one’s family’s ambitions.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross undermined Rome’s way to impose itself on others. Jesus was prepared to suffer it all for the sake of His Heavenly Father, for us and the whole universe. For those who believed in the Risen Christ, such torture was not to be feared but seen as a way to receive the gifts of His Heavenly Kingdom. Jesus had promised to send His Holy Spirit and it was that same Spirit who gave them the courage and strength to face up to any form of worldly torture that would threaten to destroy the body. Rome had no answer to this. Thus, more and more people embraced Christ’s way and eventually the Roman world itself turned Christian.
Today’s Gospel passage about the cross gives us an opportunity to renew our commitment to follow Christ. It could be easy for us to forget what the cross entails because television and social media rarely portray something about the Church’s teaching on the cross. It rarely, if ever, focuses on the lives of the countless martyrs who have followed the example of Christ and those of the early Church. Thus, we could be lured into thinking that ‘real life’ is separate from the Church’s devotion to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Such thinking would be a big trap. Remember that the only true life is that of the Kingdom of God. We must live it now. It is not something that we need only to worry about at the end of our life.
The ways of the fallen world will mean nothing in the end. What will matter is that we give Him our sufferings and struggles, offering them to Christ. If we do, we will also be empathetic to all those who suffer throughout the world, giving in charity to those less fortunate than us, when we are able. As Jesus said later in Matthew’s Gospel:
“I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick or in prison and you visited me.”
These are the treasures we need to focus on, not those of the fallen world. These are what will feed our souls for eternity. As Jesus said in today’s passage:
“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The community to which St. Matthew was writing, indeed all the early Christian communities, realized that the only way to gain true life, the life of the Kingdom of God, was to let go of their earthly life by following Christ. Again, Jesus said:
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
So, take the opportunity today, to offer all the struggles and sufferings we are presently undergoing to Christ, asking that the Holy Spirit would guide and strengthen us on our journey. Take the opportunity to give to others, where possible, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Wednesday July 29, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples not to call Him the Christ or Messiah. He was given many titles such as teacher or master but He did not want to be called the Messiah at that point. It was not time for that and importantly, the Jewish people were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver their nation from the Roman yoke. There were also times that He asked those whom He had healed not to spread around how it happened. Not that they did but Jesus knew what such news would head to: the people would start speculating that they type of Messiah they expected may have come.
In contrast, in this passage, Jesus teaches His disciples what such a title would really mean: which was to be sacrificed on the cross in order to save the world. When Jesus told them this, Peter could not accept it and started to remonstrate with Him. Jesus’ response was very stern:
“Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
The reason He was so blunt was that to acquiesce to the way the fallen world thinks would be to destroy His mission. It was not until after crucifixion happened that they finally understood what it meant. Jesus taught them here that, as His disciples, they will also be required to take up their own cross because the fallen world will reject them.
Matthew would have been very aware of the importance of this teaching for the community he was writing to. It too, had to face rejection and possibly persecution from both those Jews who would not believe in Christ and the Roman authorities.
We know, as Orthodox Christians, that the command to take up our cross is a central part of our teaching. It is not an easy one but as I have said often, we must offer our hardships and sufferings back to Christ each day. This is how we take up our own cross. It is always important to stay as focused as possible on the Kingdom of God when have to endure sufferings or when we pray for others going through suffering.
In today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warned them not to contaminate the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ that they have received, by also drinking from the cup of a Jewish offering or from a pagan sacrifice. It is likely that some of them were doing so.
For us, before we receive communion we always recite the prayer ‘I believe O Lord and I confess…’ At the end of that prayer we say:
“May the communion of your holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.”
Let us never take this awesome Mystery for granted.
Tuesday July 28, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s passage from St. Matthew follows on from yesterday’s one. In fact, the first sentence from today’s is the same one as the last one in yesterday’s. The apostles and disciples kept taking what Jesus literally. Thus, when He talked about leaven they thought He was talking about bread. He was using that image to describe what was in the Pharisees’ hearts. The leaven they had was not from God and was the opposite to the life of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was warning them not to be beguiled by them because they rejected that life which they saw in His miracles.
Jesus often used images from nature or basic life functions such as the birds of the air or the making of bread. This is because the Father’s revelation comes as much from His creation or nature as it does from the scriptures. What Jesus did was interpret these day to day images to show how they connect to the Kingdom of God. Note that He often says “the Kingdom of God is like” and then goes on to use such an image. St. Matthew was telling his people through these stories to be on their guard against those Jews who refused to believe in the Risen Christ. The way they argued may have sounded plausible but their rejection of Christ would only bring death.
The Orthodox Church has given us its liturgical calendar and set daily prayers as well as specific prayers for many needs. The OCA has composed a four volume set called ‘The Book of Needs.’ It also has abridged versions. These structured prayers help us to keep in touch with Christ during our busy daily lives and are important to use. At the same time and especially during the summer season, we all enjoy getting in contact with nature, whether it is by enjoying mountain views and streams or the seashore. Our diocese, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, has a camp on Oneida Lake in Central New York State for this very purpose. So, much of the structure of its summer camp program is intended for this.
For those who are not able to get away this summer because of the pandemic, we should still strive to pray about nature in our free time. While being in a nature setting will help prompt this, the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills. So, we should not be afraid to ask for the gift of seeing the Kingdom of God through His creation, which as Orthodox, we believe has not stopped but ongoing.
Returning to the Gospel passage, much of what Jesus taught was about seeing the Kingdom of God through these created signs. Make this part of your prayer because understanding nature in this way will bring us close to the Kingdom of God.
In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians, he warns that community to not indulge in their former pagan immoral practices. He does so by reminding them that the Israelites did similar things after being freed from Egypt and were punished heavily for it. He warns his community that they will fall if they do similar things.
It is also a timely reminder for us. We have seen on the news about young people reveling at parties. American culture largely ignores the danger of this type of behavior with the attitude to ‘work hard and play hard’ is okay, whether or not it is immoral. We are in a time when God’s laws of nature have imposed themselves through the Coronavirus. The consequences of undisciplined behavior have had deadly consequences by the spread of the virus. Try to warn any young people who talk about such parties that they are not from God. Instead of imbibing nature, they use it to revel in an immoral way. Such a way will only bring death. To imbibe the beauty of nature does the opposite. It enables us to get in touch with the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.
Yesterday, all of the Canonical Churches in North America recognized the ministry done by the Orthodox Christian Ministry Program. Please click onto the following link if you would like to learn more about what it does and would like to donate towards it: https://theocpm.org/
Monday July 27, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, the Pharisees ask for a sign from Jesus. Jesus had been doing signs all the time in the works He was performing. The Pharisees did not like what He was doing because it was not from them. Not only did they ‘nit pick’ about Him breaking the Mosaic Law because He would perform miracles on the Sabbath, they also claimed that His power came from the devil! They hated the fact that they could not control Him. The reason they asked at this point for a sign from Him was that they wanted to dictate the terms by which He would do them. They failed to recognize that they as chosen, created people could not control the creator. All they were interested in was a political savior not one who reflected the Kingdom of God. Politicians will always attempt to use anything they can to control and use something that will help them keep their power.
In dealing with the political world, the Orthodox Church seeks to have a symbiotic relationship with the government of the day. It recognizes that what is due to Caesar should be given to Caesar, as long as what the government does will not contradict the teachings of Christ. When it does, the Church will seek to correct. Thus, it will try to support the government where possible. Note that in our liturgical prayers, the Orthodox Church often prays for the head of state and its government. At the same time, the Orthodox Church sees itself as being separate from the state. The Church needs the state for good order and tranquility but it also believes that the state, if it wants to function correctly, needs the Church for its guidance. This is why the term ‘symbiotic’ is used to describe its relationship. It is not always an easy relationship and can be straight out hostile, such as when a Communist government is in power. It is also not uncommon for states to try to manipulate the Church to gain its ends.
For us, it is important to pray for the state. It is a good thing to bring our political concerns to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and protect you. In this country, however, in which everyone feels entitled to express their opinion, it is easy for us to lose focus on the Kingdom of God and get caught up in political movements. We have to be very careful about this if we want to have the Kingdom of God reside in our hearts. It is easy to see how Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ attempts to control Him. He called them hypocrites because their wish for political gain that had made them blind to very signs that God was showing them at that time in history. The sign that was offered to them instead was that of the prophet Jonah who lived in a whale for three days. This image was a foretelling of Him being buried for three days, the very opposite to their blinding political aspirations, aspirations which would see the Mosaic temple destroyed.
Jesus taught us that if we follow Him, we would also need to take up our own cross each day. It is only through His sacrifice on the cross that people’s hearts can change from being blind to being able to see the ways of the Kingdom of God. When we share in His cross, our efforts become transformed and bear fruit. Always ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to faithfully follow Christ.
In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, although he is referring to specific matters within their community in this passage, he strongly expresses later in the letter that he will only preach Christ crucified. Politics was rife in that community and the only boasting Paul would indulge in was Christ crucified.
Sunday July 26th 2020
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today we commemorate the Repose of Saint Jacob Netsvetov, Enlightener of the Peoples of Alaska. He was an extraordinary missionary for the Orthodox Church. At times, he endured terrible hardships but through it all he inspired the natives in the Yukon Valley and the Aleutian Islands. Thousands of them converted to Orthodoxy through him. He helped establish an alphabet for the natives with St. Innocent and established a school for their education. We too are going through difficult times because of the pandemic and social unrest. As I have said many times, the most important choice we can make is to seek the Kingdom of God in our struggles. One of the most inspiring aspects of his life was how focused St. Jacob remained on the Kingdom of God through all his great struggles. To read the full story from the OCA website, either click onto the following link or, if not possible, copy and paste it: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/07/26/102091-repose-of-saint-jacob-netsvetov-enlightener-of-the-peoples-of-al
This passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus’ works as He travelled about the countryside. It is a depiction of how the life of the Kingdom of God entered into history. In these stories we see that these moments transcended space and time. Many were healed. All that they needed to do was believe that Jesus was able to do these works.
It is interesting how Matthew depicts the story of the blind men. They call Jesus ‘Son of David.’ Because of their faith, they eyes were opened. It would not have gone unnoticed, by both the witnesses of this story and St. Matthew’s own people, the connection to the Messianic promise from Isaiah (Is. 35:5) that the eyes of the blind would be opened. The Messianic promise was that a Messiah would come to redeem Israel from its oppressors. It may be surprising to realize that Jesus did not reveal His identity to many people while He was performing these works. This is why He commanded the blind men that He healed not go around telling everyone how it happened. The reason for the concealment of His identity was that many of the Jewish people foresaw a political Messiah who would give them political freedom. They would not acknowledge that what Jesus was doing was not on behalf of this fallen world. Although this may be obvious to us in hindsight, these works were done by Jesus in the name of the Kingdom of God, not the fallen world.
Matthew is telling his people through these stories that the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom of God is very different from a political kingdom. Those who continued to adhere to the latter would endure the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans precisely because of their often violent political agitation. Such agitation is not the way of the followers of Christ.
We must remember this as we witness the reaction in this country to the pandemic by some, that directives to wear masks and other precautions advised by medical authorities are a violation of their free speech which is sanctioned by the Constitution. There are many good principles in the American Constitution but we must remember that it is a political framework that is designed to keep order for our country that is part of the fallen world, not the Kingdom of God. I have previously said that there are two books of God’s Revelation: that of the scriptures and that of nature. We must respect the laws of nature and our constitutional rights do not supersede them. I am not suggesting that scientific observation is infallible but when the consensus of the whole medical community is that it is better to wear a mask, we should respect this. This is why the OCA has been so cautious to adhere to the medical advice. In the meantime, remain focused on the Kingdom of God, not on political agitators who want to take advantage of these times to cause chaos. Such agitation can only end up in death.
In today’s passage, which is towards the end of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he gives some timely advice about how we should behave towards each other as we seek out the Kingdom of God:
“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is not always easy to live up to such ideals but as Jesus asked of those who came to be healed, do we believe in Christ enough to see that the grace of the Holy Spirit will prevail when we do?
Friday July 24, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In the first part of today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes about marriage and virginity. He says if a person wants to marry, let him or her marry. If someone wants to remain a virgin for the sake of Christ, let him or her do so because it is a better way.
For the Orthodox Church, sex in the right context is not a bad thing. The body needs numerous appetites to be able to function properly: drink, eat etc. Sex is one of those appetites. As with any of the appetites, if its power gets out of control, becoming a passion, it becomes sinful. St. Paul mentions that remaining a virgin & thus, living a celibate life, is a better way.
The Orthodox Church does not say however, that such a state should be connected to priesthood or ordination. Thus, it is normal for Orthodox Clergy to marry. What it does require is that a prospective priest should marry before being ordained. It is better to undertake this before taking on the responsibilities of priesthood or diaconate and pastoral ministry, for the sake of good order in the Church. For the same reason, a bishop should be celibate so that he can give his whole energies to the Body of Christ, the diocese in which he shepherds.
Returning to the question of celibacy, the Tradition of monks and nuns who dedicate their lives in prayer and service for the sake of Christ’s Body, the Church, has been there since its beginning. Some people feel called to live this life and they usually live in community in a monastery. This Tradition is a vital part of the Living Faith of the Church. They provide a perspective through their life of prayer that is needed by the Church.
Different people have different talents and thus, different callings. All these aspects of the Church make up the Body of Christ.
In today’s short Gospel passage, we see a vivid description of the life of the Kingdom of God being brought to the Jewish people by the Son of God. The people were obviously drawn to this life but the Jewish leaders as a whole were too arrogant to embrace it.
Thursday July 23, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew immediately follows from yesterday’s passage. I suggest you read what I said about it if you did not get the chance to. At the end of yesterday’s passage, Jesus says:
“Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
Jesus retorts that the adherence to the more important commandment of honoring our father and mother had been watered down by the scribes and the Pharisees but they still obsessed about the necessity to wash their hands before eating. They did not want to adhere to the heart of the Law, only the letter of the Law. Requiring people to wash their hands before eating meant nothing, if they did not also require them to keep one of the Ten Commandments. Thus, what they were teaching was false.
Jesus warns against this and tells Peter and His disciples that because they refuse to keep the heart of the Law, they have become blind. He says:
“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
The explanation of the saying that follows may well be one provided by Matthew himself to his own community. It serves two purposes: firstly, a warning to be very careful about absorbing what others outside of the Christian community might say; secondly, not to use such conversation as a means of gossip. Those early Christian communities were being attacked from all sides and Matthew was warning them not to be led astray.
For us, what matters is that we stay focused on Christ, seeking the Kingdom of God. Others in this fallen world may gossip about others but more often than not, it is the product of the evil that is in their own hearts. Such people are often very judgmental, denigrating others in order to gain power and assertion over others. There has also been a lot of discussion in recent times about the power that sexual predators exert, either in the home, at work, in educational institutions or care giving facilities. Pray every day for deliverance from evil for ourselves, our families, friends and work colleagues. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom each day to deal with whatever may come our way.
The Orthodox Church has come to realize in recent decades that it is very important to work with the authorities when someone confides with us about molestation, whether it be from a predator or a victim. Evidence needs to be acquired as best as possible to avoid misjudgment but at the same time, victims need to be protected. In the past, people have been shocked that a child would claim that a relative had been molesting them over time and perhaps, have used what Jesus says in today’s passage to conclude that such claims are evil thoughts. What matters is to gain evidence about such claims while at the same time, protecting the victims from reprisal or future abuse.
It is very important, therefore, to teach our families about how important it is to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. Pray that they will be delivered from such pitfalls that we hear about today. When we encounter victims, pray for their healing and for wisdom to know the best way to help and respond to them.
Wednesday July 22, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
I was asked yesterday to fill in for another priest to do a funeral. Thus, I was not able to write a sermon for July 21st.
Today is the feast of the Myrrhbearer and Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene. Please copy and paste or click onto the following link to read about her life: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/07/22/102070-myrrhbearer-and-equal-of-the-apostles-mary-magdalene. Note that the Orthodox Church says that before she repented, she was possessed by seven devils. There is no mention in the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles of her being a prostitute as the Western Churches say.
In today’s letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote about people who had converted but whose spouses still remained pagan. He says that they should remain married to that person. Their own baptism will sanctify their family and over time, they may convert. In her experience with dealing with Muslims, the Orthodox Church has found that people who marry a non-Christian will often be coerced to abandon their faith in Christ. For this reason, it will not recognize a marriage that is non-Christian because it is not blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the interest of the well being of the family, the bishop may use his discretion or ‘economia’ to allow a person who is in a non-Christian marriage to return to the sacraments if that person continues to commit to the community to which they belong. This is not an uncommon dilemma. In contrast, many in Africa and elsewhere have been prepared to give up their lives rather than choose to reject Christ. Further, those today, who convert to become Orthodox Christian, never do so lightly. It is much more profound than the simple action of turning on or off a light switch. Thus, going against this Church practice is taken very seriously by the clergy and hierarchs. At the same time, the Orthodox Church never judges but tries to gently teach and advise those who fall in love with a non-Christian. Always consult with the priest who will consult his bishop about the circumstances of the case.
In the latter part of the letter, Paul wrote about whether or not it mattered about one’s social status when being called by the Church to serve its community members. He says that it should not, even for slaves. The social context of that time in the Roman Empire was that slavery was acceptable, something that is not tolerated in our time by the western world. He did not attempt in the letter to challenge that social norm but he does say that, being united to Christ and His Kingdom is all that mattered. Such social practices of the fallen world will not continue in the Kingdom of God.
In today’s Gospel passage, when challenged by the scribes and Pharisees about why Jesus’ apostles do not wash their hands, Jesus calls out their own double standards about a commandment, honoring your father and your mother, that is much more important than about when one should wash one’s hands. They used their interpretation of scripture to water the commandment down, trying to exempt themselves from their responsibility towards their parents. He referenced Isaiah, claiming that they do not live out the heart of the Law, just as the Jews did not in Isaiah’s time. He quoted him, saying:
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
It is good to faithfully carry out the practices of the Church but if it goes to the level of judging others, then all that effort will be for nothing.
Then St. Matthew quoted Him with this famous saying. It is:
“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
When people only worry about the surface of the Law, they start judging and gossiping about others. Jesus warns about falling into such a trap because if we do we separate ourselves from our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom. People in our society are always giving their opinions, often different from our own. Always measure such opinions against what the Church teaches. Such debates will count for nothing when our time comes to pass from this life.
Monday July 20, 2020
The Prophet Elijah or Elias
- Composite 12 - 3  Kings 17:1-23
- Composite 13 - 3  Kings 18, 19
- Composite 14 - 3  Kings 19:19, 20, 21; 4  Kings 2:1,6-14
- Luke 4:22-30
- James 5:10-20
- Luke 4:22-30
- 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11
- Matthew 13:54-58
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today we celebrate the great prophet Elijah or Elias. I have included all the readings of the day. The first six are dedicated to the prophet and the last two towards Monday of the 6th Week after Pentecost. I recommend that you read them all but it would be too much to comment on all of them here.
In the Epistle from St. Paul to the Corinthians, the community is tackled for some of their scandals. In this passage, some have been taking their disagreements to the civil authorities. When any Church community gets to such a point, something is very wrong. Paul tells them so. Even today, this occasionally happens. It can have a lot of bad results. It is important to pray for the stability and well being of the parish community. If it stays focused on the Kingdom of God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide it under the direction of the hierarch, it will gradually develop according to God’s plan. Our own parish community is known to be a welcoming, loving community. It requires our effort but such gifts ultimately come from the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus is confronted by the skepticism of the local community in which He grew up. They saw themselves as better than Him because they knew Him as a boy. Despite His wise teaching, they brushed Him aside. Jesus comments:
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”
In St. Luke’s Gospel that is listed for today, we see another account of the same skepticism and rejection. This time, Jesus quotes the prophet Elijah:
“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
There are many seemingly innocent ways or attitudes that can hinder our faith. Many people today throw up many reasons for why they refuse to believe in Christ or His Body the Church. It may be socially acceptable in the context of freedom of speech that our constitution embraces but it is very easy to become confused by the many voices and opinions that are offered to us. It is very important to use the teachings of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Way as a standard by which other opinions are given. Why? Because at the end of our lives, all we will have are our souls. If we are not focused on the Kingdom of God, we can be easily led astray by Satan when our souls separate from our bodies. More than that, Jesus urged everyone to store up treasures in heaven, not while on this fallen earth. This is why the Orthodox Church teaches about the Orthodox Way.
The Living Faith or Tradition of the Church offers many tools for us to do so. The three fundamental tenants are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. There are many ways to pray: personal prayer, the daily prayers that the Church uses at various hours, Liturgical prayer, devotions to the Saints, Icons, the Jesus Prayer, reflection on the beauty of Creation and more. Fasting helps us to keep focused on the Kingdom and not be beguiled by the attractions of the fallen world. Almsgiving is very important in storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. We cannot take our money with us but we can use it to please our Heavenly Father.
6th Sunday after Pentecost/Tone 5
Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils
Sunday, July 19th 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils. Please click onto or copy and paste the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/07/19/50-fathers-of-the-first-six-councils. It gives an excellent description of what we celebrate today, why these councils were pivotal in defining what we believe as Orthodox Christians and how, through the councils, it has kept faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. We believe that the Holy Spirit will guide the Orthodox Church to define its doctrines through the structure of the Councils. The article, found on the website at: https://www.oca.org/, details the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church that is part of its Living Faith or Tradition as a whole.
Moving on to today’s readings, if you click onto or copy and paste this link: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/07/19, you will see that there are several readings listed that are covered by the various services that the Church offers for today’s feast. Some are for Great Vespers, others for an All Night Vigil and the last for Sunday’s Divine Liturgy. There is also provision to use the readings for Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils. I will focus on the Gospel and Epistle for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.
Today’s passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew is a story that succinctly sums up the confrontation between the Jewish leaders, in this case the Scribes, and Jesus. He was approached by a man who was paralyzed. Jesus realized that he was not only gripped by a physical disability but also by sins. Jesus offered him forgiveness. This is the first step for the paralyzed man to receive the life of the Kingdom of God. The Scribes then murmured that He was blaspheming. Jesus knew what they were accusing Him of blasphemy so, He confronted their thoughts. He put the obvious question: “which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” He then told the man to pick up his pallet and walk! They did not have to answer the question because the astonished crowd stepped in and “marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” The Scribes did not want to focus on the life of the Kingdom of God but only on the Law. They did not want to recognize what the crowd said, that God “had given such power to men” and that the divine had touched mankind. They refused to accept the extraordinary works that Jesus was doing. They refused to believe in the Son of God.
People today can throw up all sorts of excuses for why such stories are not relevant to them or that they are simply fables. When Matthew wrote his Gospel with all these stories, the works of Jesus were fresh in their minds. They had either witnessed them themselves or would have known a relative or neighbor who had witnessed them. They were not fables to them! They knew that they were faced with the same choice, either believe in the works of Jesus and embrace the Kingdom of God from which they came or, reject them. The Jews during Matthew’s time who refused to believe these stories also refused to believe in Christ. It is also easy for our current generation to use the excuse of time to say they are not relevant and reject them.
In today’s passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, he lays the foundation for what enables a Christian community to be truly members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Each person is unique in eyes of God. Each has unique talents or gifts to offer to the community. Paul urges each to use them lovingly for the benefit of the community. When they put love first, wanting to give to others rather than take, they build up the Body of Christ. In doing so, they will “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” He urges them to do good diligently with fervor of spirit in order to serve the Lord. He also urges them to be persistent by “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;” Finally, to always bless those who persecute them and never to curse back. This is how the Body of Christ is built up.
His teaching is still pertinent for us today. Despite the restrictions being caused by the virus, we still need to strive to build up our own Christian Community, using what he says to enable the community to build up in strength. As with that early community in Rome, the Holy Spirit will guide us while God’s plan will unfold. Stay focused on the Kingdom of God, asking that our Heavenly Father will protect it, ourselves and all those whom we pray for.
Friday July 17, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew relays a number of other parables that Jesus taught the people with. They are images from everyday life that Jesus uses to illustrate about the importance of staying focused on the Kingdom of God. The need for this focus is so important that nothing else matters! Our earthly lives will pass quickly enough when the soul separates from the body at our death. At that point, we will have to account for the good we have done in our lives according to the teachings of Jesus and our commitment to Christ.
Thus, Jesus warns those listening that “at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
It is very important, therefore, that we choose the life of the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of death. The ways of the fallen world may seem like that it is the way to ‘live life.’ All it can offer, however, is death. Its ways may feel good at the time but they lead to death.
I have said this many times in the sermons that I have been writing since the time of the pandemic. In the stress and uncertainty of the isolation it is very easy to go astray. I have talked about the proper response that the Church offers: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Also, about the need to stay within Christ’s body, the Church, and what it teaches.
In contrast, while I can understand the younger generations frustration at being cooped up at home but look at what hundreds of thousands are now doing! They ignore the cautions of the authorities and choose to go ‘partying’ at beaches with all its associated alcoholic and drug addictiveness, not to mention the debauchery that many would indulge in. It sounds eerily similar to the debauchery that the early Christians faced in the pagan Roman Empire. It may look like a cool way to have fun in the sun during this season but it is this very type of behavior that brings death and destruction. The short term consequences have become obvious. The Coronavirus has exploded as a result, threatening whole segments of society, especially in Florida. Sadly, some of the state authorities have encouraged such behavior, alarmed that their tourist dollar income will evaporate if they do not allow such parties. Is this what Christ taught?
I have also mentioned before that the laws of nature must be respected. This is why the Orthodox Church has responded so cautiously to the dangers of this virus. Those who do not respect the laws of nature are acting out of arrogance and pride. As part of teaching the young about the Kingdom of God, we need to warn them not to fall into such pride. Medical science is there to protect us and should be respected. Science itself is subject to what the Church teaches but because of the Church’s experience and wisdom, it knows that we must lean on science at times to protect ourselves.
In today’s First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul also warned that community not to indulge in the sin of pride. Paul wrote that he deliberately wrote while he was away from them so that “that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.” They had become very boastful causing factions to develop. Paul could see the foolishness of their pride and in the last sentence of this passage, he mocks it: “You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us.” Such pride is the very opposite of the humility of Christ who suffered for them on the cross. Let us pray for humility!
Thursday July 16, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul is warning the community in Corinth that if they want to boast about themselves, then they are part of the fallen world and not the Kingdom of God. Paul says: “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” There was a strong message from the prophets of the Old Testament that God’s ways are not man’s ways. Paul will say a lot about this as the letter progresses. In this passage, he ridicules those who want to boast about a particular leader and warns them that this is not the way God thinks. Thus, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” He is, of course, writing about the wise in the ways of the fallen world. The cause for their straying from God’s ways was their pride. They wanted to be seen as being better than their fellow members. The anecdote to pride is humility. It is something we need to pray for constantly to avoid getting into such a trap.
There is a strong urge in this country to want to compete. When one does, it can bring out the best of our talents. It is also enjoyable and entertaining to watch a competition. Further, watching them can be a harmless way of relaxing after working hard during the week. Even St. Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete who trains to compete for a sport event to describe how we need to train in order to gain heavenly talents. We must realize, however, that such things are passing. Even if they go into the record books, they are not eternalized as sports commentators may claim. Our bodies grow old soon enough and one day they will die and separate from our souls. Jesus warns that we can exchange nothing for our souls. The point is that we have to be careful to not turn such entertainment into an absolute. Some people live for such competitions and nothing else. People often take sports so seriously because they gamble their hard earned money on it! The beauty of the sport is forgotten when people do that.
When we pray, we need to bring the good as well as the bad to Christ, offering it all back to Him. This is the way we can maintain a balance with such activities. It is when we forget Christ in the process and focus on such entertainment only that we fall into the world of pride that Paul talks about in today’s passage. Thus, our involvement in recreational activities requires a certain detachment from them whereby we leave them behind once we offer them back to Christ. They will not matter in the Kingdom of God and we need to keep telling ourselves this. Much more important will be the humility that Christ has given us because we have prayed for it.
For today’s Gospel passage, please scroll down to my message from July 14th. It was covered on that day.
I regret to relay that two of our well known families have suffered losses this week.
The first was Jane Gusciora, who was 92 and the mother of Sharon Korbanics. She died peacfully but please keep her in your prayers. Jane was buried at St. John Kanty this morening.
The second was the daughter of Anthony and Joan Ersalesi, who unexpectedly passed away from cancer treatment. She was 44. This is a great loss for them and their families. Please keep them in your prayers.
Please go to: https://www.shookfh.com/obituary to see further details.
Wednesday July 15, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we are given two more parables. They are once again taken from nature: the mustard seed and yeast. Sometimes, it is good to simply read such parables and dwell on them, not looking to see if St. Matthew gives an interpretation for the early Church community to which he wrote.
One thing that is clear from them is that they are about an increase of going from small to large. They are also connected to harvesting, as are others of Jesus’ parables. Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like” so, what does such increase have to do with the Kingdom? If one looks at many of the stories in the Old Testament, there are often references made to multiply to be as many as the stars in the sky or sand on the sea shore are. So, it is clear then that our Heavenly Father wants to see His creation multiply in His Kingdom. Not only inanimate nature but especially for us. He wants us to belong to His Kingdom. In all the examples in the scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament, the requirement for such an increase is faith. Specifically, the Gospels say to have faith in Christ. Jesus Himself says that if we but “have the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains.”
St. Matthew was encouraging his people to seek to have such faith. The example for everyone is the faith of Abraham. who was prepared to sacrifice his only son because God asked him to. When he demonstrated that kind of faith, God promised him that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the sea shore. Matthew’s people were under persecution and living in a dangerous time. The way through their uncertainty was through faith in Christ.
We too, must seek and have this kind of faith. We too, live in dangerous times. The only way beyond our uncertain times is through faith in Christ. When we have such faith, our prayers and efforts multiply. We therefore need to seek and pray for such faith each day, asking to be delivered from evil, as the ‘Our Father’ says. Let us pray, therefore, to have the kind of faith that is like a mustard seed.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it does not take long to realize that the atmosphere into which he writes is very different from that of the Roman Christian community. The Corinthian community was full of strife. It is also clear that Paul feels the need to write to them to correct them from their wayward behavior. They definitely do not have the kind of faith that Jesus teaches about in today’s passage from St. Matthew.
Paul does outlay in the first part of today’s letter that, for those who do have faith in the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will reveal the hidden things of the mysteries of the Kingdom, something that no person had ever been able to see. The pagan person does not see these mysteries because such teachings look foolish. In Athens, Paul started to preach about the crucified Christ rising from the dead and they laughed at him in response. They were blind to the ways of the Kingdom of God. Let us pray that we have the type of faith that will open to us the mysteries of the Kingdom of God and not seek the endeavors of the fallen world.
In the second part of the passage, he starts to remonstrate with them that he has not spoken directly of such mystical things because, like babies, they were not ready to receive solid food. He had to give them basic instruction first. Even then, they were not listening because, within their community, they were only focusing on political power. Thus, factions developed, where each one was vying to prevail over the other. This was the opposite from what Paul taught about the Crucified Christ. They could not let go of their old pagan ways.
It is very easy for any community to fall into the trap of becoming fractured. The state of our fallen nature wants us to control, imposing our will over those who differ from us. Such a community will not draw souls from outside to it because such prospects realize they are entering into strife instead of a place that will nourish their souls. The anecdote to this is humility. We need to pray for this gift each day. For us, the reality of the pandemic prevents us from socializing with each other except from a distance. It probably reminds us that our parish community is a treasured gift but it is still important to pray that humility will prevail among us.
Tuesday July 14, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
St. Matthew, in today’s passage, relays another parable that Jesus told. It is a second story about sowing wheat. This one is about seeds of weed that have been secretly thrown in among the wheat by an enemy. His servants noticed them once they started to sprout up.
Three important lessons come out of this parable. Firstly, Jesus is talking about Satan who deceived Adam and Eve. Ever since then, he has been beguiling people to choose evil instead of the goodness and life of the Kingdom of God. It is important for us to realize that Satan is still doing this.
Secondly, God allows those who choose Satan to grow with those who choose the Kingdom of God. Everyone is blessed by God’s life on this earth, even though it and we have fallen.
When our souls separate from our bodies, then we will await the reckoning. If we have chosen the Kingdom of God, we will be among the wheat. If we choose the kingdom of death, then our souls will be among the weeds and will burn. It is very easy to forget this so, as Jesus says elsewhere, we must remain alert, be on our guard to not drift away from the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to guide us on the right path. Christ is always there for us when we fall. He will never refuse us.
Thirdly, the parable is a reminder that what appears to be eternal on this earth is only temporary. It is the Kingdom of God that is eternal. If we choose to cling onto earthly things, we will forget about the Kingdom of God. God has blessed us with these earthly things but they are nothing if they do not help our souls focus on His Kingdom. We need to remind ourselves of this all the time. As St. Paul says, such people choose to worship what is created, not the One who created them. Also, when sufferings and setbacks occur, remember that they are temporary. When such things occur because of our belief in Christ, rejoice and be glad because our reward will be great in the Kingdom of God.
The Epistle passage today is the beginning and introduction to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In this segment, Paul lays out Christ’s relationship with the Father in heaven.
Monday July 13, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In the message I wrote on Friday, I talked about St. Matthew’s account of the parable of the sewer and the seed that produced many times over. In today’s passage, Matthew relays a discussion from the disciples where they ask Jesus why He uses parables. I had mentioned in the Friday message that the Church teaches that there are two books of God’s revelation: the book of the scriptures and the book of nature.
The first part of Jesus’ answer is that what God reveals is there for us to see in nature. He uses parables to bring out this revelation. Think about, therefore, the number of times He refers to the earth, to plants and trees and to animals. Through them, we can understand the ways of God but we have to have a pure heart to do so. A central part of Jesus’ teaching is to illustrate through parables and stories what the Kingdom of God is showing us.
The second part of His answer discusses our blindness because of sin. We find it very hard to see such teachings because of our sinfulness. In pointing this out, He quotes Isaiah:
“In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” (Isaiah: 6:9)
Our fallen state is dull to such teachings. It is not that God is deliberately causing people to be blind. They are already blind because of the sin of Adam and Eve. The only way for people to see God’s revelation is through believing in what Jesus was teaching them.
It is because His disciples believed in Him that Jesus said:
“Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” and “blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”
Matthew then goes on to explain to his community the interpretation for the Church about what happens to those who do not hear the Word of God. In contrast, those who do hear and believe will yield 30, 60 and even 100 fold. He is urging his people to remain steadfast in adhering to Christ’s teachings because ultimately, they will bear fruit.
I have said a number of times during this time of the pandemic that we must respect the laws of nature in dealing with the virus’ dangers. The Church has had much experience in dealing with such plagues over the centuries. This is why our archdiocese has been so cautious about taking measures to protect ourselves. This is not a time for us to complain about what state authorities may or may not be doing about it. It is a time for us to offer it up to our Heavenly Father. Jesus used nature a lot in revealing “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” as He describes it. Let us pray that His Holy Spirit will reveal to us what our Heavenly Father is teaching us through this plague.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul cautions about listening to those who wish to contradict the “doctrine which you learned.” In this country, freedom of speech is a tenant of the constitution. That maybe so but we will only find the teachings of the mysteries of our Father’s Kingdom through the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Be careful to no allow the academic sciences to encroach on them. They have their place but only in so far as they do not contradict the Church’s teachings. The Orthodox Church will not bend on this. It does not judge but it does stand firm with its teachings. Always measure the opinions of others, even other Christians, by what the Orthodox Church teaches on a particular matter. For those who disagree, always pray for them that the Holy Spirit will open their dulled hearts to the ways of the Kingdom of God.
5th Sunday after Pentecost/Tone 4
Martyrs Proclus and Hilary of Ancyra
Sunday, July 12th 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
There is a sentence in today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that Protestants often quote:
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
If you have been reading my recent daily sermons about the Letter to the Romans, you will have seen that I wrote about the importance of the context in which Paul was writing. This is necessary to be able to know how to correctly interpret such passages. Those people had made a very clear choice to become disciples of Christ in a hostile pagan world, right at the center of the Roman empire. Their acknowledgment of Christ had profound, socially threatening implications: they could be sent to the lions. Thus, their acknowledgment of the Risen Christ was much more than an intellectual opinion like stating that the earth was a sphere rather than flat.
Earlier in the letter Paul wrote about his fellow Jews. He wrote that, although they were the chosen people, they refused to believe in the works that their Heavenly Father had done through His Son, Jesus. They thought they were superior to Him. Paul wrote that, in clinging onto their arrogance, they forfeited the righteousness that was being offered by Jesus. They preferred to cling onto the Mosaic Law! Paul also wrote that, in order to gain this righteousness, they must have faith on a level that their Father, Abraham, had. God had asked him to sacrifice his own son. The Christian community in Rome had made a similar choice. In faith, they were prepared to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Paul said that those Jews who refused to believe in the Risen Christ did not have the faith of their Father, Abraham.
Returning to the Protestants, to be sure, there are many who are dedicated and sincere in their faith in Christ. There are many, however, for whom this belief is merely intellectual. They will quote what Paul says above as part of their credo and then go about living lives that ignore the teachings of Jesus. As Orthodox Christians, we too can fall into the same trap.
Certainly, in comparison with the time of the Old Testament, Jesus’ entrance into history and sacrifice on the cross has made that acknowledgement of faith easy for us to attain, especially those of us who were baptized as infants. The one thing Jesus asked when people came to Him to ask something of Him was: “Do you believe?” He asked very little else besides, except to sin no more.
Do we acknowledge our faith with our whole heart, soul and mind? Are we prepared to sacrifice our lives like the Roman community was, in the face of persecution? Are we prepared to make choices that adhere to Christ’s teachings instead of what society may urge us to? Do we dedicate what we do to the Kingdom of God at every opportunity we are able? For the Roman community, what Paul wrote above was profoundly deeper than merely a saying. Let the Roman community’s faith be an inspiration for our own faith. They are among the saints and we are part of that Communion. Allow the example of the Saints from all the previous centuries to inspire us. We are part of that family.
In today’s Gospel passage, we again see the familiar story of Jesus casting out demons from the man in the Gergesenes. Notice that when the people from the township come to Him afterwards they ask Him to leave. He does not argue with them but leaves. Jesus came to confront the powers of darkness and this is a dramatic example of it. In His teaching in the synagogues, He does tell people to repent but He only offers the life of the Kingdom of God when asked. The Orthodox Church does the same. As the Body of Christ that has been faithful to the teachings of Christ and His apostles, it offers itself to anyone who seeks to find the Kingdom of God. If people say ‘no thanks’, the Church does not condemn but like Christ, embraces them if they have a change of heart. They must, of course, return under the Church’s terms, not their own. Always have this same disposition. Never condemn or judge. Always offer and invite. Always pray and intercede for all, offering it all back to Christ for the sake of His Kingdom.
Friday July 10, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul addresses a number of people closely connected to him and the community of Rome. Much of what I write is taken from the footnotes in the Orthodox Study Bible on page 1548. Make sure you click on the link and read the Epistle passage listed above first to make sense of the following notes.
Phoebe was a leading Christian woman who was both a deaconess and involved in missionary work. St. John Chrysostom notes that Paul held her in the highest esteem, as he named her first. He recognized her as being a saint.
Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple, Jewish business people, and Paul’s coworkers (see Acts 18:18 & 26).
The word ‘prisoners’ is being used in a more general sense of his fellow sufferers. The Acts of the Apostles does relay that he was thrown in prison more than once. He had not been put into prison in Rome at this point, however.
The Gospel passage from St. Matthew is the story of the sewer sowing wheat and the varying results. Other accounts give an interpretation of what it meant for the communities to whom they wrote.
The parable itself is clear enough. Some of the seeds fell on the wayside, some on stony places and others among thorns. These did not bear fruit. The rest fell into good soil. It is those who produced thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold.
In other words, listen to what the God reveals and teaches. To interpret what is revealed correctly, listen to what the Church teaches, otherwise, in our fallen state, we could easily miss the mark in understanding it. Remember that there are two books of God’s revelation: the Book of Nature and the Book of the Scriptures. Notice that Jesus uses the Book of Nature to teach this parable. People forget this. Imbibing nature and reading the scriptures are both very important practices that we should do.
Thus, for us, it is important to not only read the scripture readings set down by the Orthodox Church each day but also, when possible, to go out and take a walk to enjoy the beauty of nature. Even sitting in the backyard or doing some gardening are healthy practices. Always dedicate both the reading of scripture and the enjoyment of the outdoors to Christ, asking that the Holy Spirit would inspire you as you undergo these practices.
Please note that on the previous two days, I spent a lot of time trying to improve the live streaming that we have been doing for our Sunday Divine Liturgy. This is why I did not write about the readings for that day.
Tuesday July 7, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew describes a major showdown that Jesus had with his enemies. In the first part it was against the powers of darkness controlling a man who was blind and mute. Then in the second, the Pharisees are once again trying to intimidate Jesus by claiming it was through Beelzebub that He was able to do this. Jesus retorts, how can a house divided among itself stand? “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” Then He warns His enemies, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” This was almost certainly a reference by Matthew to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Thus, Matthew is teaching his people that, despite them being persecuted by both the Jews and the Romans, adhering to the teachings of Jesus and in their own time, choosing Him as the Risen Christ, will protect them from the destruction of this fallen world. Those who refuse to will be scattered and this was poignantly borne out with the destruction of Jerusalem. For us in today’s world, no matter how dazzling our modern secular culture may seem, its outcome will be the same. In the end, all it can offer is death. On the other hand, if we continue to choose the Risen Christ, we will have the power of the Kingdom of God to protect our souls. This is what people need to realize. This is what we need to teach people, just as St. Matthew did.
In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul discusses the issue of fasting. If used in the right way, fasting is a good practice for the body and soul. The Orthodox Church encourages us to practice fasting at certain times of the year as part of our way of life. The trouble is, it is very easy to be tempted to compare what we do to what others do. When we do this, we start to judge one another. St. Paul warns against this. He goes even to the point of saying that it is better not to fast than to scandalize our brethren. If we cannot fast in a spirit of love, then don’t fast. If our fasting creates a grievance, then don’t fast. Another person’s soul is more important than the practice of fasting. Fasting is meant to help us reach the Kingdom of God, nothing more. Further, we should never judge others:
“let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
This is why, during the season of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, the practice of fasting goes hand in hand with our prayer to not judge our brethren. The Orthodox Church is emphatic about not judging others. In like manner, St. Paul says in this passage:
“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
Let us pray, fast and give alms as much as we can in this time of the pandemic and social unrest. Never judge others, either among ourselves, our families or society as a whole. Let us use these practices as a way to reach out to the Kingdom of God so that they will be like incense offered up to the Lord, who hears our prayers. Just as when Jesus cured the possessed man who was blind and mute, the power of God will shatter His enemies in His own way.
Monday July 6, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he urges the community to repay evil with good. The early converts to Christ were a small vulnerable counter-culture community who lived in a perilous, violent world. Besides refusing to worship the pagan gods, the Christians were known to greatly love one another. It was this love that drew strangers to it. Paul tells this community to never repay evil with evil and to overcome evil with good. Despite the pagan world, he told them to live as peaceably as possible with others.
This advice very much applies to us today. Social media encourages people to write vile things about others who differ from them. We see on TV acts of violence being committed against the vulnerable people all the time. Technology simply makes it worse, whether it be in the types of guns used, disguises invented to remain hidden from violent acts or using the media to slander others, one has to be on one’s guard not to fall into a trap. If we do get hurt by others, we must do as St. Paul says by trying to live at peace with others and repaying evil with good. Technology can also be of great benefit but ultimately, it needs to embrace the love of Christ to be truly beneficial.
Social media also makes it very easy to sound off our opinion about political or social matters. As disciples of Christ, we are not called to be political commentators. We are called as Orthodox Christians to pray, fast and give alms. We are called to try to bring the Kingdom of God to others, to intercede for others, to give painful news and incidents we hear about to Christ so that our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom will come! So, be careful about falling into the trap of worldly arguments and philosophies. St. Paul wrote a lot about this to the Corinthian community. He was emphatic that we only preach Christ crucified. We never hear of the Christian community in Rome getting embroiled in state affairs.
In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we read the story of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath Day. After pointing out how those questioning Him break the Law on the Sabbath by performing some everyday necessities, Jesus stands up against their murmurings by saying: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” All Jesus was doing was bringing good into the fallen world. The man had been afflicted by the fallen world from birth with a withered hand. Jesus healed it. Those in the temple were not interested in changing the fallen world. They were only interested in publicly keeping the Law! In private, they broke it anyway. They were not interested in trying to bring the Kingdom of God into the world in which they lived.
We must keep in mind that, as disciples of Christ, we too have the same task! Whatever situation we find comes upon us, we must do what we can to embrace the Kingdom of God first and foremost and enable others to see that, in the end, this is all that will matter. We may not be able to do what Jesus did but we can pray and fast on behalf of others, we can give alms to help the hungry, the unemployed, the hungry and the homeless. This must be the standard by which we gauge ourselves. We are not perfect in doing this but we can strive to. We strive because we love Christ and His Kingdom and because of this we love everyone, whether they be good or evil.
Referring back to today’s Epistle, this is what the early Christians in Rome did. St. Paul wrote to them:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Sunday, July 5th 2020
The 4th Sunday after Pentecost
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew gives us this story of a centurion who shows the type of faith that our Father expects from us. Matthew does not say if he was a Jew or not but I would be very surprised if he was. The Jews were very wary of the Roman soldiers and St. Matthew himself, a Jewish tax collector on behalf of the Romans, was resented by the Jewish people. Jesus makes it clear, however, that after hearing the centurion explain the comparison about the faith and obedience to orders that his own soldiers gave to him, this man had faith in Him. The centurion had no prejudice against Jesus about His abilities to do such works. He did not regard Jesus as inferior to him because He was not a soldier. He simply looked at the works that Jesus was doing and asked if He would do something for his servant.
“Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.”
In contrast, the Jewish authorities were too arrogant to think like this because they regarded themselves as superior to Him. They refused to believe Him.
Thus, Jesus connects the sort of faith that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had with this demonstration of faith from the centurion. He also warns those watching that even the chosen people will be cast out if they refuse to demonstrate the type of faith that the centurion showed:
“The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Today, we have been blessed to live in a society that allows freedom of worship and is largely Christian. Many however, in the name of freedom, choose to ignore the teachings of Christ and the Church we grew up with. Many also belittle or deny the stories and teachings from the New Testament written about Jesus. Just as the Pharisees, because they regarded themselves as superior to Jesus, refused to believe what He demonstrated and taught, many also today, in the name of secularism or other philosophies, refuse to believe. All Jesus asked was for people to believe Him. His Body, the Church simply asks for the same. This is the choice we are faced with. We cannot ignore it or walk away from it. We will be confronted with it down the road somewhere, even if it is at the Judgment Seat of God. We either choose Christ and the life of the Kingdom of God or, we choose the fallen world and the kingdom of death. Technological development does not enable us to escape from it.
St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, talks about this choice but in a different context. He writes:
“For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”
The ‘uncleanness’ is the loose living or licentiousness of the Roman pagans. Those who chose Christ, died to that type of living. Paul warns them that the fruit of such living is death. Now, however, “you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”
One cannot argue that teachings such as this were okay 2000 years ago but not relevant for today. Christ has said that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” This is something beyond space and time. It is not something that is subject to a mere 2000 years of development, a speck on the geological time scale. The Kingdom of God is completely beyond the physical realm, even though God created it. That Life which created it is the same Life we are given when we embrace Christ and His Kingdom.
Friday July 3, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s letter to the Romans, St. Paul described how the plan of God’s salvation unfolded. Because the Jewish people rejected Jesus’ teachings and miracles, they were blinded and rejected by God. Because God promised, however, that He will ultimately save His chosen people, this rejection is not in vain. In this rejection, God opened up the door to the Gentiles, through the sacrifice of His only Son that happened because of their rejection, God’s mercy has been given to all peoples. The sacrifices that the Jewish people offered were never adequate. Only the sacrifice of His only Son would make up for the deficiency of the Jewish sacrifices. St. Paul concludes:
“God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”
Further, in seeing the mercy offered to the Gentiles by God, the Jews could realize that they too, who had rejected His Son, could also obtain mercy despite their rejection when Jesus was with them. Sadly, many Jews would also reject this insight and continue to reject Christ.
Even so, our Heavenly Father’s plan will ultimately unfold in a way that only He knows and the Jews will be brought into the fold of His Kingdom:
“Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew describes how Jesus had an argument with the Pharisees because He and his disciples were picking corn from a field on a Sabbath Day. In response to their complaint, Jesus gives some examples of their double standards when it comes to applying the Law. They regarded Jesus as inferior to them. It did not matter to them that He was performing astounding miracles in front of them. All they worried about was the Law, despite the inconsistencies in their application of it that Jesus pointed out. He also made the point that, in fact, because of the demonstration of His miracles, He was the very one who gave them the Law! Pointing out this truth would have made them even more insecure and resentful. They did not want the Truth. They wanted to maintain the power that the Law gave them.
Then Jesus quotes a teaching from that was used by the prophets all through the Old Testament:
But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
The Pharisees claimed they were justified because they kept the Law but throughout the Old Testament as well as with Jesus, the message of mercy was given to them time and again. They rejected this message.
We can also see in today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that he understood very clearly what Jesus was saying in regard to mercy. Paul was a ‘blind’ Pharisee but Christ in His mercy showed him what was needed to gain true righteousness.
We need to keep this in mind when we see troubles throughout the world and in the country. This is why the Orthodox Church does not judge. It is why the word ‘mercy’ is used so often in our worship. We pray for others so that they may acquire God’s mercy in order to save their souls. Society may judge but the Church leaves that up to the judgment seat of God. Being judgmental is the easy way out. It is easy to condemn so that we can move on and forget about what happened. It is much more painful and difficult to intercede on behalf of offenders, as well as the victims. When we do, we enter into their pain and their blindness, praying that the Light of Christ will reach their hearts.
The Sunday for Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry will be celebrated in all the Orthodox Churches at the end of this month on Sunday, July 26th. This ministry is very effective in this country because the Orthodox Chaplains have touched the lives of thousands of prisoners. Its desire to heal souls and not to condemn them is the reason for this ministry's effectiveness. The offering of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ goes to the heart of Orthodoxy. Not condemnation.
I have often said during this difficult time of the pandemic and social unrest that the most effective way we can respond is to live out the Orthodox Way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One very good way to give alms is to support the Orthodox Prison Ministry. I will give details of how to when that Sunday comes up in a few weeks.
Thursday July 2, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s Gospel passage is very apt during this time of stress and hardship. Firstly, the only way for true life is through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The sciences can describe and analyze but they cannot offer rest for our souls. They cannot give us true life. That can only come through faith in Christ. There is a place for the sciences, where people can be helped with medicines and psychology but they must be carefully and prayerfully administered. They are never enough on their own.
For those who do believe in Him, however, He made it disarmingly easy for us to be given that life:
“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 of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This time of self quarantine and isolation is an opportunity to pray to our Heavenly Father in the quiet of our rooms, to commune with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. For those of us who have to stay home, it is one of the best ways to store up treasures in heaven. We also have an opportunity to pray and intercede for all those we care about. This will give us true wisdom and true life. Treasure greatly what the Holy Spirit offers us.
Sadly, the secular world today will try to offer non-Christian answers, luring people away from Christ. It will claim that sayings like the one above are for a less enlightened time and place. It claims that the numerous sciences only will give society the right answers. This is a very dangerous lure for the younger generations because, in the end, the only thing that the secular world can offer is death. In their quest, their souls will search around endlessly looking for the home it needs but never find it.
So, pray for your children and grandchildren. Do not be afraid to tell them about Christ and His Body, the Church. They may get annoyed but as the years go on, they will see the wisdom of your advice.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul continues his discussion about the Gentiles. He describes them as the newly grafted branches from those that were broken off. He warns them, however, not to take it for granted because if our Heavenly Father is capable of casting aside the chosen people who rejected His Son, He is also capable of casting aside the Gentiles who are the newly grafted branches. In other words, for those who are attracted to the Word of God but lose interest after a while, like the seed that falls on barren ground, thus ignoring their invitation to be members of the Kingdom of God, they too, will be rejected at the Judgment seat of God.
Keep reaching out for the Kingdom of life, pray to be protected from the lure of the kingdom of death. The forces of the fallen world are always lurking about. Keep reading the scriptures and the psalms so that our hearts will yearn for the Lord and not for things that will bring death.
Wednesday July 1, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Both the Epistle and Gospel today discuss the issue of the Jews who arrogantly reject Jesus’ teachings and miracles. Not only did Jesus have to deal with this but so did the early Church. The reckoning of their arrogance will come at Judgment Day and it will come down very hard on them. Not only did the Jews in Jesus’ time know or hear about His miracles, the Jews in St. Paul’s time about 20 years later would have heard about the miracles performed, in Christ’s name by the apostles, as related in the Acts of the Apostles.
Arrogance is one of the great stumbling blocks to having the type of faith shown by Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his son by God. It was a big factor then and has always been right up until today. To those who want to argue about the existence of God, the Orthodox Church says that belief in Christ is in a completely different realm. The Trinity is beyond space and time and thus, not subject to the laws of nature. It was God Himself who created these laws and He is not subject to them. All we can do is accept the mighty works of God, the beauty of nature that He created and accept from the revelation of both the Book of Nature and the Book of the Scriptures that the Trinity created everything we see.
We have been blessed by science to look right into the sub-atomic level as well as out to the furthest realms and origins of the universe visible to us. Arrogance steps in when people conclude that, because we are able to view and analyze these things, it is us who control them, not their creator. Our lust for power always lurks in the background. Let us be humbly grateful for all the blessings our Heavenly Father has given us, including our ability to see His beauty in all the ways that we can observe today. Let us not arrogantly say that, because we have discovered or observed them, we control them. Remember the Tower of Babel? They arrogantly wanted to be equal with God by building a tower to the heavens. The Jews rejected Christ’s works and teachings because they said that He was merely one of them. Therefore, no matter how awesome those works were, they were still superior to Christ!
Jesus concludes at the end of the Gospel passage:
“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”
When we do humbly acknowledge Christ, however, we are brought into the invisible realm of the Kingdom of God. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to receive the blessings of that invisible realm. Not only does He protect and guide us. He also gives us the creative ability to use our talents to the fullest in a way that will glorify the Kingdom of God and not ourselves. If we want to be effective, the way to do it is to humbly submit and offer everything back to Christ so that it will be sanctified. Then it becomes acceptable offering of sacrifice to the one who created us.
The Twelve Apostles
Tuesday June 30, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the 12 Apostles. If you click onto the link to St. Mark above, you will see that he lists them in today’s passage. Note also that I have chosen the Gospel passage for the feast instead of the one for Tuesday of the 3rd Week. Yesterday, we celebrated the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. If you look at my message from yesterday, you can read what I wrote about them and the Orthodox Church. It is very fitting that the Church celebrates all of them today, the day after, because they all did great missionary work for the early Church.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Jesus called these twelve apostles. For a long period of time, He formed them and trained them to be true disciples. They rebelled a lot. Peter, being the most outspoken conflicted with Jesus a number of times. Tragically, Judas Iscariot would betray him and commit suicide. For the rest, they eventually received the Holy Spirit to continue proclaiming the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught them to. They continued this mission very powerfully. This is why we celebrate them. Each, in their own way, set up communities in many parts of the known world, even beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. It was their teaching and formation that became the foundation of the early Church. There was no Church without them.
The work of the Holy Spirit did not end there, however. As the Church grew, they had to make decisions to facilitate the growth. The model used to do this was the Church Council. The whole community would assemble in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide them to make the right decisions. This conciliar model has been handed down to the present day. It was not a democracy. Any decision needed to be blessed by the apostle (or bishop later on). Thus, even though the whole assembly was included, it was a hierarchical model rather than a democratic one. Further, the apostles would also appoint their own disciples to help them in their missionary work. They too would be formed and trained. After a couple of centuries, some of the clergy rejected the teachings of the early Church and a council had to be declared to eject these false teachers.
The Orthodox Church has been faithful to this model right through the centuries. The Vatican in Rome was to later on claim hegemony over this apostolic model but the Orthodox Churches have strongly rejected its attempt. Further, the Protestants also rejected Rome’s claim but many, in doing so, also rejected the apostolic conciliar model that was established from the very beginning. The Orthodox Church says that you must involve the whole community in any decisions but it must use the conciliar model set up in the beginning. It is a hierarchical model, not a democratic one, whereby one may vote to set up one’s own church on one’s own without a hierarchical blessing.
This is why today’s celebration of the apostles is so important. The Orthodox Church rejects the Protestant claim that the inspired Word of God stopped from the time of the New Testament letters. Rome had separated the scriptures from its tradition, claiming in the process that the Vatican Curia was the only body who could faithfully interpret and proclaim the scriptures.
The Orthodox Church never acknowledged such a separation because the inspiration of the Holy Spirit continues on in the life of the Church in all its dimensions! From the beginning, the disciples of the apostles wrote letters. Theologians such as Ploycarp and Irenaeus continued the practice of writing letters. The liturgical worship of the Church continued and was refined. Theologians such as Basil, John Chrysostom and Gregory wrote seminal works that formed the Church. Church art inspired the devoted and iconography continues to this day. The canons of the Church were seen as pastoral principles, not laws, to define what was true worship and teaching within the Church. The lives of the martyrs who shed their blood because of their commitment to Christ, inspired the saints then and continue to today. The liturgical calendar was established to keep the memories of holy people alive. The liturgical prayers are at the very center of our liturgical worship in which they teach and inspire us to faithfully follow Christ.
The Protestants also rejected the Vatican’s claim but in doing so, threw out ‘the baby with the bathwater’ because they inherited that separation of scripture and tradition. They saw the institution of the church as corrupt and therefore rejected it. The solution is to realize that the two aspects of the Church, Scripture and Tradition, are intimately connected in the way described above and are a continuum. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit continues today in the Body of Christ, the Church, founded by the apostles whom we celebrate today and will continue until the second coming of Christ at the Last Judgement.
Monday June 29, 2020
Apostles Peter & Paul and End of the Fast
Archpriest Terence Baz
As we continue with St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he gives the same message as before, namely: that God planned to include the Gentiles with the Jews to be saved from death. This was a big question for the early Church. There was debate about whether allowing the Gentiles to become part of their communities was a good thing or not. Paul’s position was very clear and he states it in today’s passage.
For him, neither the Jews nor the Gentiles could find righteousness from the laws they had. Yes, even the Mosaic Law, because “Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.” Their righteousness and that of the Gentiles, depends on the mercy of the Lord and our faith in Him. He says: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” Thus, practicing the Mosaic Law was not enough. One had to have the faith of Abraham to be pleasing to the Lord. Everything from the past has changed, however. The sacrifice of Jesus has given us access to the type of faith that Abraham had, not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. Paul thus quotes a number of sayings from the Old Testament to show that God’s ultimate plan was for all peoples, not only the chosen ones. It is faith in the Risen Christ that enables us to attain righteousness, not the Law. Ultimately, Paul’s view would prevail.
Today, as we celebrate the two great apostles, Peter and Paul, the Orthodox Church chooses the passage from St. Matthew, Chapter 11, to continue the missionary theme discussed above.
The forerunner to Christ was John the Baptist. In today’s passage, John’s disciples approach Jesus to ask who He was. Jesus tells them to observe what is happening in His presence:
“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
John the Baptist would realize from this that the Kingdom of God was being proclaimed!
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles, spearheaded by Peter and Paul, would continue to proclaim and manifest the Kingdom of God. They also proclaimed the crucified and risen Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who guided them. Everywhere the apostles went, they established communities of those who, after their preaching, chose to follow Christ. St. Peter and Paul were the two greatest evangelists, although all of the apostles played their part. They both described these communities as the living Body of Christ. Their assemblies or ‘ecclesia’ were the early Church and they were led by the apostles.
In most Orthodox churches (note the small ‘c’), you would see as you enter one of them, icons of Saints Peter and Paul because they are recognized as the leaders of the Orthodox Church. Similarly, on top of the iconostasis, all twelve apostles are usually depicted in icons. Their leadership in the Church enabled us to seek and know Christ. They are very much part of our Living Tradition or the living faith of the Church. This Tradition is holy and the Greek equivalent of the Latin word ‘traditio’ is ‘paradisio.’ The apostles led the way for all who follow Christ to the Kingdom of God or, to paradise.
Note that the Orthodox Church does not separate scripture and tradition as the western Churches do. The scriptures are part of a continuum that is with us and continues to this day, together with all other aspects of the living faith of the Church. It is not something from the past. It is present with us and inspires us to proclaim the Kingdom of God as they did. Their example and teaching are the bedrock of our faith, together with the books of the Bible. We do not shirk from proclaiming the Truth that our Heavenly Father revealed through their lives to us by depicting them in icons!
In like manner, there is no such thing as ‘sola scripture’ in the Orthodox Church. God’s revelation and work did not end with the formation of the canonical books of the New Testament. It continues on in the Living Body of Christ, the Church, founded on the apostles. This is where the Kingdom of God continues, not simply in a written English translation of the Bible. This is why we have liturgical services throughout the year to celebrate all aspects of the Orthodox Church’s Living Tradition. They are a link for us to the heavenly bodies or Communion of Saints. When we celebrate with the Orthodox Church, we are part of that family. We are connected to paradise no less than the thief on the cross was when Jesus invited him.
This is why we celebrate these two great apostles today. We have much to be grateful for because of them. Let us be heartened by their example. Let us ask them to intercede for us and inspire us in our proclamation of the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom resides in our hearts and in Christ’s Body, the Church.
3rd Sunday after Pentecost Tone 2
Sunday, June 28th 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, to understand it, we must look at the community to which he was writing. Jews were converting to Christ in this community at the capitol of the mighty Roman Empire. Also, pagans were joining it. They met in secret and belonging to it would not have been easy. They would soon be targeted for persecution. Yet the love that these people had for each other was undeniable and it was getting attention. They had all also made a very firm choice to follow Christ and were eager to hear the Word of God, especially from apostles like Peter and Paul. St. Paul knew this when he wrote and met them. It is not surprising then, that he writes:
“we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
In previous chapters he talked about righteousness that Christ gave them in comparison to those who relied on law to seek to be justified. The latter could never live up to those laws because of the sin that lives in them. In contrast, those who take on Christ are given the gift of righteousness that the fallen world could never give them. It was the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promised, who gave them the tools to enable them to continue living in their pagan world. This is what they clung onto. This is what gave them confidence. This is what gave them the love, joy and peace that the world cannot give. This is what made them be noticed by the pagans.
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
For modern day readers, however, it is easy to misinterpret this passage because its true context is often ignored. This was a community started by the apostles. They saw themselves as connected to the Communion of Saints because of their faith in Christ which was given to them by the apostles. This was the living Body of Christ, the ‘ecclesia’, the Church assembly. Yes, the Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit can speak directly to any person, whether it be through the written Word of God, the Book of Nature or through any person. As Jesus said “He blows where He wills.” However, for any such interpretation to be authentic, it must belong to and be blessed by Christ’s Body, the Church. Simply reading something from the Bible and then making claims about what it may personally mean is not enough. Christ not only sent the Holy Spirit to be with us on our journey, He also gave us the Church to give us the tools to nourish us as we live in the world each day. The Orthodox Church believes that it has faithfully followed the teachings of the apostles, right up to this day. It does not judge but it does proclaim what are the true teachings that the apostles gave us. We cannot choose to ignore them. If we do, we are off track.
Paul concludes this passage by reassuring them that whatever power sin had over them before, the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the righteousness that it offers us is immeasurably greater. By following Christ, we gain the life of the Kingdom of God. As mentioned, however, that this life can only be authentically gained through the Church.
In the beautiful Gospel passage from St. Matthew, he concludes about our daily needs:
For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
There is much that we could worry about in today’s world: the dangers of the pandemic, the social unrest, the well being of our families, children and grand children, not to mention our own health; many are currently without work, wondering if they can feed their families or keep their homes.
The community to which Matthew was writing had plenty of issues of its own: social upheavals, the threat of persecution from the Roman and Jewish authorities, isolation from some of their relatives. The ‘Pax Roma’ was anything but peaceful in that part of the world.
St. Matthew gives the profound teaching from Jesus to seek first the Kingdom of God and not to worry about our material needs. Jesus gives examples from the Book of Nature: the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields to compare our importance for our Heavenly Father. He says earlier in the passage:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Yes, we must work. We must care for our families. We must put a roof over our heads. If, in doing so however, we forget the Kingdom of God, all our efforts will be for nothing in the end. We will have lost everything because our souls will have been lost. Further, in not seeking the Kingdom of God, greed and other passions will take over because of sin which lives in us.
In the Orthodox Church, we not only talk about Christ’s teachings, we also talk about the Orthodox Way. As the Body of Christ, it gives us tools to keep focused on our Father’s Kingdom. The practices of the Church are the Way of the Body of Christ. We should always keep in mind three central practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are currently in a period of fasting: the fast of St. Peter and Paul which will end on Monday. We should be fervently praying for the social unrest and pain in this country because of the Coronavirus. Finally, in this time of economic hardship we should endeavor to give what we can to food banks and reputable charities. These tools should not be underestimated! While almsgiving is practical, the other two are just as important. Use them enthusiastically. Further, they help us store treasures in heaven, which Jesus urged the Jewish people to do many times. Let us follow His teaching and let us stay focused on the Kingdom of God, not on material possessions.
Friday June 26, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
With today’s Gospel passage, we must remember that St. Matthew is teaching his people about how to respond to the hostile forces of the Jewish society at that time. They were confronted daily with persecution and rejection, not only from the Roman and Jewish authorities but also from their own family members who did not approve of their conversion to Christ. He is warning his people through the teachings of Jesus that their choice to seek the Kingdom of God may well bring strife to their very own families!
We know that a fundamental principle of this secular society and of the American constitution is separation of church and state with the right to freedom of worship. Family strife may well happen because of a family member’s beliefs but it is not the threatening issue it was for St. Matthew’s community. Issues such as domestic violence and vandalism of places of worship still happen in our society but I would venture to say that it is mostly not as acute as it was for the early Christian communities.
What does apply to us as much as it did to St. Matthew’s community is that we should never deny Christ in front of others. Movements and philosophies can disparage or manipulate our belief in Christ and His Body, the Church so, always be on guard to never let this happen. It is one of the things we should pray for every day.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes to the Roman Christian community about the eternal Word of God. We may not understand God’s plan for salvation but Paul is pointing out that it will happen. He uses some examples from the scriptures to make his point. In the context of the whole letter, he is teaching the Romans that because they believe in Christ, they now can acquire the righteousness of the Kingdom of God. Before this, whether Jew or gentile, they were still “children of the flesh.” The Jews were God’s chosen people but their covenant with Him was incomplete. For the gentiles or pagans, they had the natural law of God within them but few could control their passions to allow that law to work in them. In contrast, because of the sacrifice of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, everyone is now given the key to righteousness by believing in Him. For those who questioned whether it was fair for the gentiles to be allowed to have access to God’s Kingdom, Paul says “He has mercy on whom He wills.” The one thing that became clear is that it was God’s plan to bring all people into the Kingdom of God, not only the Jews.
We too, are part of that plan. It is important to not forget this privilege that God has given us. Always be thankful for it. Always acknowledge that it was only because of God’s love for all of creation that we have been given the privilege of being part of the Communion of Saints. Never belittle Christ’s Body, the Church. It is human and not perfect but we should pray for its protection each day so that Christ would transform it to be like the Kingdom of God. Further, the Orthodox Church has striven all through the centuries to remain faithful to the teachings of the apostles. It is our home, our rock to turn to in our journey of life. Let us be grateful for it.
Thursday June 25, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
The first verse of today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans mentions that “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Verses 19-21 also talk about creation, that is has groaned and been “subjected to futility” because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Life’s troubles are constantly with us and we know that all is not as is should be. We sense this futility as we go day to day in our tasks. Thus, we too groan within ourselves because we share this futility. It is important therefore, when we pray for those dear to us, to also pray for our nation, the whole planet and indeed, all of creation. To only pray for ourselves is not our mission. To only practice our devotions and prayers for ourselves is not our mission. I have said in previous messages that we have an important role to play as we endure this pandemic to pray for others. The current social unrest is also another international issue that we need to pray for.
One false teaching that is confusing peoples’ understanding of creation is the Calvanistic belief that because creation fell with us, the world is now bad. Much abuse has been inflicted on creation because of this form of Protestant theology. God called Adam and Eve to care for creation. After they sinned and creation became subject to futility, it rebelled against us and does not cooperate with us. “Cursed is the ground in your labors.” As if life is not futile enough, the planet is now in a very precarious state because of the way it has been abused. Creation will rebel and many will suffer as a result.
As Orthodox, we say in contrast that creation is still good, even though it has fallen with us. Further, that the Holy Spirit continues His work of creation. At the beginning of our prayers, we pray:
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 of from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.
It is very important therefore, to not forget to pray for creation. Just as when Jesus suffered and died, His disciples felt very sad, our Heavenly Father had a plan for salvation which would soon unfold. He also has a plan for this current time. We do not know what it is but it will happen. We must respect and care for creation in every way we can.
Thus, Paul goes on to write:
“Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”
And when feel unsure what to pray for, Paul says:
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
In other words, there will be times that we are unsure what to pray for. This is why we must stay focused on the Kingdom of God, calling upon the Holy Spirit to help us in our prayers. Paul concludes:
“Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
The Orthodox Church strongly believes in this Communion of Saints. When we seek the Holy Spirit in the name of the Orthodox Church, we become part of the Communion of Saints.
In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew is warning his people that as followers of Christ, they too can expect persecution. He instructs them: “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Do not to fear those who may want to destroy them because our Heavenly Father sees all, knows each one of them, even the hairs on their head.
We too, can take heart that our Heavenly Father knows us. Never be afraid, therefore, to proclaim the Kingdom of God to others, even if people ridicule us.
To use the prayers for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, please click onto the following link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-VESPERS---NATIVITY-OF-ST.-JOHN-THE-BAPTIST.pdf
Please click onto this link to see the readings for the feast: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/06/24/8
Wednesday June 24, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul lays our very clearly the choice we have to make for our lives: do we choose the life of the Kingdom of God or the death of the kingdom of this fallen world? If you had been following my commentary on the Gospel of John during the Paschal season, you would remember that he also put the same choice to those whom he wrote to, repeatedly. Like John, Paul says that
“to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
For St. Paul, it is a rhetorical question because one can see from the general context of the whole letter that the community in Rome was clearly committed to Christ. They were living in a pagan world, met in secret but were spreading the Word of God to many.
Paul also writes:
“And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
He had outlined in previous chapters of the letter that we can only be righteous by dying to our carnal passions and living in Christ. We cannot be righteous on our own but when we choose to be baptized and chrismated, Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be righteous. If we make this choice, we will live our lives in a way that will align with the Kingdom of God. We will not care about pursuing the attractions of the fallen world. We will only care about living the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is what gives us true life. He writes:
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
This is what gives us strength from day to day. The troubles of this life will come and go, sometimes very painfully and acutely but in the fullness of time, what will matter is that we have used all such tests in a way that they are given to Christ so that He will sanctify them. The Holy Spirit is there to comfort, intercede and strengthen us on the journey.
For today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, it is important to see the context in which he was writing to his people. They were mostly Jews who had chosen Christ. As such, they were persecuted by both other Jews and the Romans. The possibility of a relative, neighbor or former friend reporting their beliefs to either the Jewish or Roman authorities was very real. They were living in precarious times. Matthew was urging them to take courage. Others, such as St. Stephen the martyr, had shown how they spoke boldly before the authorities, even to the point of death. He concludes this passage with these profound words:
“But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
For anyone who seeks the Kingdom of God each day, such people will not be abandoned by our Heavenly Father. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find.” The Holy Spirit has been sent to us to guide us.
There will be times when our faith will be challenged by others. There may also be times when we are discriminated or persecuted for it. Remember that whenever we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us, He will be there. Be careful to stay focused on the Kingdom of God and not be trapped into thoughts like wanting to take revenge or getting angry at those who do not agree with us. We live for Christ, to please Him, not the fallen world. Ask that today will be holy and that whenever we fall, turn back to Christ and ask him to sanctify us.
Please note that it is also the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. If you wish to look up the readings for today's feast please click onto this link: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/06/24/8
Tuesday June 23, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s passage, we hear the account from St. Matthew of Jesus instructing his disciples about how to proclaim the Kingdom of God to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. Jesus tells them to offer the peace of the Kingdom of God. If they refuse it, however, their refusal will be remembered on the Day of Judgment. St. Matthew was telling his people to not hold back in proclaiming the Kingdom of God and nor should we. This is something we should not be afraid to do. In these difficult times, people are looking for answers. Conspiracy theories abound. Many, with the vehicle of social media, presume that they are entitled to be expert political commentators. Do not fall into this trap!
As disciples of Christ, this is not our task. Our task is to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, it is so sacred that when we do, we speak on behalf of the Kingdom and those, as Jesus warned above, who ignore it, will be remembered at the Judgment seat of God. Always reach out to our Heavenly Father and ask that the Holy Spirit will guide you in speaking His Word to those whom we encounter each day.
In today’s beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he talks about the law of sin that lives in him. This is not his true self but, like all of us, he is afflicted by the sin of Adam and Eve. It is something he struggled with every day.
“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
He was not perfect, nor are we. This did not stop him, however, from carrying out his mission to proclaim Christ crucified and the Kingdom of God. In fact, he writes in other letters how God prefers to use us in our weaknesses because when the Kingdom of God touches others through us, it is clear that it is not us that is doing this but the power of the Holy Spirit working through us as “earthen vessels.” In other words, do not be discouraged by your weaknesses. God’s grace is incomparably more powerful than our weaknesses. This does not mean that we ignore our weaknesses and give up the struggle to control them. Remember that when Jesus was on the cross, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” He did not walk away from His burden. He called upon His Heavenly Father to strengthen Him. We must do the same.
Returning to St. Paul, he goes on in this passage to say,
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
It is Christ who rescued him and it is Christ who rescues us! He offered His Holy Spirit to guide so, be encouraged in this mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Nor let us not forget that, as St. Paul says elsewhere, we are part of Christ’s Living Body, the Church. It is through His Church that we can be guided to stay on the right path. The Orthodox Church has faithfully adhered to Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the apostles from then until today. To be able to adhere to the scriptures and to our mission, stay close to the Church. It is there to nourish and support us through its many blessings in our journey of life.
Monday June 22, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul again talks about law, whether it is our conscience we have from the law of nature or the Mosaic Law. He makes the point that it is sin within us which condemns us in the eyes of the law. Both types of law make us think of what it would be like to not live according to it and “all manner of evil desire” within us causes us to break it. For those who have chosen to live in Christ, this bondage is lifted because we now have the power to avoid such sin. We are dead to sin and now live in Christ. The law makes us think of what our inward desires are missing out on but when we give ourselves to Christ, what we seek is the life of the Kingdom of God, not what our fallen bodies would like. We prefer to do what Christ would have us do from day to day, moment to moment. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, not our sinful desires.
In the Gospel, Matthew lists the twelve apostles and relays the command that Jesus gave them to proclaim the Kingdom of God to everyone. It was a very special moment because they too like Jesus, were given the power to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” It was a time of great power because the bridegroom was with them.
For us, even though the bridegroom has left this earth, we were promised the Holy Spirit and He was freely given to us. It is also a time where we are not judged and should not judge others because we too have the mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God to everyone we meet. What is important is that every day we call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us His fruits so that we can meet the challenges of life. We have to be like the wise virgins who made sure they had oil for their lamps in order to be ready for that moment when they are called. Christ may call us to be present for someone in need or to help them back on the path to the Kingdom of God, but ultimately, when that moment comes for us to part from this life, we also need to be ready for the Kingdom of God. Always encourage others to follow this same path.
Christ’s Body, the Church is also there for us to seek the tools we need for this task. It is a reminder that we belong to the Communion of Saints. It is a light in the darkness of our fallen world. While we may not feel it, it is a sacred place where the Kingdom of God breaks into history, enabling our hearts to offer back all the concerns and hardships we meet each day. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a pearl that we search out when we feel we have lost it. Let us seek that pearl by returning to the Church to give our lives to Christ.
Sunday, June 21st 2020
Epistle: Romans 2:10-16 (2nd Sunday)
Gospel: Matthew 4:18-23 (All Saints of America)
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul talks about law. All the law can do is to try to protect us, whether it be with the Mosaic Law or today’s civil law. It seeks truth but is not the Truth. Instead, it is a set of rules created by a society to determine what behavior is acceptable or not. Even the Mosaic Law had inconsistencies that society tolerated, such as not watering a donkey on the Sabbath. Only Truth that comes from the divine is pure truth. The reason is that we have inherited the sin of Adam and Eve which has caused us to largely lose touch with the divine.
Thus, Paul writes about the Mosaic Law, civil law and natural law. Clinging to any law brings about judgment. If we brake it, we stand judged by it. Thus, for the Jews, they are judge by the Mosaic Law. For pagans, they are judged by the civil law that the Roman Empire created but they are also judged by what their conscience inwardly tells them. The trouble is that we all sin. Thus, no one is exempt from this bind.
The context of this discussion is that Paul has been talking about living in righteousness through Jesus Christ, who offers His righteousness as a free gift. Because of the sacrifice He made, He also offered the Holy Spirit, who gives us the ability to go beyond the law. When we live in Christ, we also live in His truth and are fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Today’s Gospel passage is the one set for the feast of All Saints of America. These saints were icons or witnesses to us of people who gave their whole life to Christ. The grace of the Holy Spirit enabled them to live in a way that St. Paul teaches about in today’s Epistle. Thus, the famous passage of the Beatitudes we use at every Divine Liturgy is also very appropriate to celebrate these saints. Jesus Christ taught this in His Sermon on the Mount. The people were stunned at His teaching because they had never heard it interpreted in this way before. They were used to the Law, focusing only on the minimum required to stay within the framework of Jewish society. What Jesus was teaching them was how to reach the Kingdom of God through their lives. As Paul says, without Christ, it is impossible but with Christ, all things are possible.
It is very appropriate to pray this teaching at Divine Liturgy because it is through other mysteries such as the Word of God and the Eucharist that we can seek the Holy Spirit to help us live them out. The first seven traits described as ‘blessed’ are ones that He tells people to seek. The next two will be what happens to those who do portray these traits of blessedness. They will be persecuted, not only because they portray a light in the darkness but also because the source of that light is no other than Him! They would be persecuted because of Him.
All the saints of America were eventually treated like this. Most of them were martyrs, becoming beacons of light for the Truth. Their lives are an inspiration for us to also seek lives of blessedness; to seek that living water or true light for us to be part of the Kingdom of God. Thus, let us pray to become poor in spirit, like those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers. We seek these traits because we cannot attain them on our own. They are from our Father’s Heavenly Kingdom, not from the fallen world. Christ is offering them to us. Let us drink from them.
I urge you to click on the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/06/21/49-synaxis-of-the-saints-of-north-america from the OCA website, to read about their lives, praying that they will intercede for us as we reflect on them. We are part of that same family, that same Communion of Saints. Let us stay focused on this Cloud of Witnesses as we journey along in this troubled world. Dangers may come along because we give ourselves to Christ but let us stay firm to never let Him go. Let us rejoice in their witness because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Friday June 19, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is challenged by the disciples of John the Baptist about fasting. Jesus explains that because He is with His apostles, this is not the time for them to fast but it would come. This time was for Jesus to form and teach His apostles in the ways of the Father. That was the priority. Jesus goes on to use the metaphor about wine skins. The time comes for them to be changed. Old wine skins are not suitable for new wine.
It is important for us to know that this current time, when God is all forgiving and asks the same of us, will not go on indefinitely. The time for judgment will also come. That is why we pray in the Divine Liturgy for “a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of God.” We will be judged on how much we have stored treasures in heaven, not earthly treasures. Everything that Jesus taught is for us to understand what these treasures in heaven meant.
In this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he continues the theme he discussed previously, that the righteousness offered by the sacrifice of Christ is far stronger than the condemnation brought about by the sin of Adam and Eve. Sin is never greater than Christ’s righteousness within us. At the same time, he warns that this is not an excuse to cling onto sin. If we die to sin in baptism, we cannot go on living in it.
For us, this means that we strive to let go of our faults, giving them to Christ. Obviously, this can be very hard to do for some but the point about Christ’s righteousness being much greater than the condemnation of sin is that we can always come back to Christ and ask for the gift of repentance and for the grace to let go of it. When we fail, we pick ourselves up again and present ourselves back to Christ. St. Paul talks about himself in this context in this same letter to the Romans. He was given a “thorn of the flesh.” No one knows what that was but he concludes from the affliction that it is Christ who will provide the strength for us to live with our own afflictions. As long as we give our faults back to Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit will enable us to move forward in Christ.
Thursday June 18, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s wonderful passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is the story of Jesus calming the waters on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was tired from the previous day and was sleeping when the storm came up. Some observations can be made about the story.
Firstly, the Jewish leaders would not believe the works that Jesus was doing and they tried to discredit them. Secondly, fear of perishing from nature is not the response that Jesus wanted from them. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” He wanted them to have faith and not be afraid. Thirdly, the story was a lesson for those people to whom St. Matthew was writing. Yes, storms will come our way and they were certainly living during a precarious time. There was the constant threat of persecution from the Jewish authorities and the Romans, not to mention the usual dangers of robbers and thieves who could be violent. Matthew was teaching them not to be afraid but to have faith in the Risen Christ. The apostles who witnessed this, questioned: “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” He who could control the elements could also take care of their lives. Fourthly, we are also going through dangerous and turbulent times but like the readers of St. Matthew’s Epistle, we must not be fearful but have faith in the Risen Christ, who has power over nature and the storms of life that we go through. We may not always avoid their impact but what matters is staying focused on the Kingdom of God in which we have been invited to be part of. If we love His Kingdom with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls, our Heavenly Father will take care of all our needs.
St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, discusses the implications of the sin of Adam and Eve verses that of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Firstly, he describes Adam as “a type of Him who was to come.” Paul uses such typology quite a lot in his letters. They are linked, because what Adam did impacted all of us but the same holds true of Jesus Christ. When Adam and Eve sinned, we also all became subject to sin. When Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, however, we were freed from the power of sin. Whereas formerly, we had become enemies to God because of their sin, now we are reconciled and saved by His life. Thus, we can rejoice because we have been reconciled.
Secondly, Christ’s sacrifice of reconciliation had an incomparably more profound impact on us than the sin of Adam and Eve had. This gift of reconciliation is given in abundance to everyone and through it, we can all be justified. Even though we are still prone to sin, the gift of reconciliation is constantly offered to us because of our faith in Christ.
We must remember that it is through Christ’s living Body, the Church, that we acquire this reconciliation. Not that the Holy Spirit is confined to the Church for He blows where He wills, but it is through the sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist and Confession that we gain this reconciliation. Without faith, of course, these gifs are nothing more than rituals. If we must seek the Kingdom of God in our hearts, however, that same Spirit will offer us His fruits to continue our daily lives and not go astray.
Wednesday June 17, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In the Gospel passage for today, St. Matthew makes an important distinction between keeping the Mosaic Law and doing the will of our Heavenly Father. Adhering to the Law only fulfills outward appearances. Matthew is telling his people that the Jews who do not choose to believe in Christ, likewise choose only to live outwardly the precepts of the Law. They will therefore not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Thus, he is telling his people not to waver in their choice to be followers of Christ. Our Heavenly Father will recognize this choice, not the choice to only live out the old Law. Matthew knew that this choice could be a life or death choice for his people. Keeping to it was not something to be taken lightly.
St. Paul, in today’s Epistle to the Romans, is echoing the same thing. The mark of circumcision is not sufficient to please God. What pleased God about Abraham before that was his faith in God, in which he chose to do the Lord’s will above all else. Paul says that it is this same faith that will make us righteous. The first sentence summarizes the whole passage:
“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
For the Romans whom Paul was writing to and for us as well, our belief in the Risen Christ, is what will make us righteous, just as it did for Abraham. His righteousness
“shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”
Later in his letter, St. Paul also talks about the living Body of the Risen Christ, the Church. In order that we do not stray from this faith, we must also adhere to the teachings of the Church handed down from the apostles and the Fathers of the Church. Committing ourselves to Christ and to His Body, the Church, go hand in hand. This is what will bring us righteousness.
The Church has many tools to guide us along the path of righteousness. We call it the living faith or Tradition of the Church. Using these tools and striving to live by them is called the Orthodox Way. It has the:
- scriptures, which it wrote and compiled for us to read the Word of God
- offices of the Church: bishops, clergy and laity to keep order and minister to the Church
- monastic tradition, whose prayers and way of life give us a model to live by as much as we able and to intercede for us
- sacraments to nourish and bring us back to Christ
- Canons of the Church to teach us and guide us what is true and righteous
- Liturgical Cycle for us to celebrate the important events of the Old and New Testament and the lives of the Saints
- liturgical services and prayers to walk us through the Liturgical Cycle
- prayers, devotions and gestures to help us reach out to Christ and His blessed mother
- icons which help us through its imagery to reach the divine and remind us that we are part of the Communion of Saints
All these aspects make up the Orthodox Way. This way of life keeps us faithful to our Heavenly Father. Use them as much as possible to remain close to Him and the Kingdom of God. We have been restricted because of the pandemic but our parish and many others are now using online streaming services to help us connect and keep in touch with this Living Faith. Our parish and diocesan websites also provide the weekend liturgical prayers and services for us to pray.
Tuesday June 16, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s passage, it is important to put what St. Matthew is quoting of what Jesus teaches into context. He is writing to Jews who have converted to the Risen Christ from the ancient Mosaic Law. Their decisions would have created a lot of controversy, just as Jesus did while on earth. Matthew is warning them to beware of false prophets and not just the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There were many branches of Judaism, as there are today and some were advocating political violence.
Matthew tells his people that it is by a person’s fruits that they will know them. Thus, are they proclaiming the Kingdom of God as Jesus did or, are they advocating the Mosaic Law? Are they advocating the overthrow of the Roman oppression? He has been using the teachings of Jesus to show them that to follow Christ requires more than the outward practicing of the Law but a willingness in their hearts to follow Christ even in the face of danger.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
This is why it is important to follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church. It has been faithful to the Old and New Testament teachings from the very beginning, right through to today. Just as was as the case in those times, there are many philosophies and beliefs being promoted today to follow. Some of them, such as Pantheism which claims that the earth is god, still persist. They may look appealing but the only way to embrace life is to strive to do the will of our Heavenly Father through the teachings of Jesus Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is Christ’s living Body, the Church that is the gateway to that life. In contrast, all that other philosophies can do at best is analyze and describe but such surface knowledge will not give life to our souls. St. Paul, in one of his Epistles, when discussing philosophy, said the only thing he will preach is Christ Crucified.
In today’s letter to the Romans, he discusses the questions of righteousness, faith and circumcision. These questions pertain to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was a circumcised Jew. It was a mark of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What Paul is saying in this segment is that faith is separate from the outward sign of circumcision. Even Abraham was not circumcised until well after God blessed him. It was because of his faith, even to the point of sacrificing his son, that God promised and made His Covenant with him. Further, King David was both blessed and forgiven by God because of his faith. He too had been tested when he was young.
While God asked His chosen people to undergo circumcision as a mark of their faith in Him, Paul is saying that anyone who puts their faith in Him will also be blessed. This is because, in Christ’s life and death, we have been given the way to truly adhere to that faith and this is how we attain righteousness. A conversion of the heart is required, not an outward practice.
Again, one must be careful to follow Orthodox Church teaching about this because it is easy to misinterpret what Paul writes in this passage. For Orthodox, what is needed is to cooperate with God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. As we grow in this journey of cooperation, we become more and more like God. The Church has a specific word to describe this: theosis: to become like God. It is only God’s grace that can draw us to become more like Him. The more we do, however, the more we see our unworthiness to receive this blessing and it shows this unworthiness to be in stark contrast to the majesty and otherness of God. Thus, when we pray the antiphons during the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays this prayer:
"O Lord our God, Whose power is incomparable, Whose glory is incomprehensible, Whose mercy is immeasurable, and love for man ineffable, do Thou, O Master, according to Thy goodness, look down upon us and upon this holy temple, and show us and those who pray with us the richness of Thy mercy and Thy compassion."
We all need to seek and pray for this but it is important to remember that each one of us is different. Christ will lead us to holiness in the way that best suits us. Let us commend ourselves to Him that He will sanctify this journey.
Monday June 15, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
St. Paul, in today’s passage from his Epistle to the Romans, writes about those who do not live righteously, whether they be pagans or Jews. God’s law is written within us but our fallen nature usually means that we do not live it out. Nor is it sufficient for Jews to claim that, because they are circumcised, they are therefore righteous. They too, sin! What matters for Paul is the circumcision of the heart, not appearances or the outward practice of the Law. As a former Jew, he could testify to this. That is what he thought until the Truth, Christ, confronted him. It is from this perspective that he makes these assertions. Thus, the only way we can truly live the law of God in our hearts is through Christ. He is the only way that can enable us to live in Truth. Those who reject Christ reject the Truth and live in sin.
For us, it means we need to always reach out to Christ whenever we get the opportunity. We need to give what we do from day to day to Him. We need to ask Him, through the Holy Spirit, to sanctify our efforts, giving us the wisdom to make righteous choices throughout the day.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel passage, he tells his people not to worry about material things. Our Heavenly Father will provide them. The message of seeking first the Kingdom of God above everything else is one that all the Gospels and Epistles keep repeating. It is not easy with all the cares and worries of this world, not to mention the current big issues like the Coronavirus and social unrest that we see and have to deal with. Even so, it is very important to keep our hearts focused on the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that we neglect doing what we can to care for our families and loved ones. It means to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and protect us for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The Orthodox Church has told us to live the Orthodox way of praying, fasting and almsgiving. These are tools for us to use in our journey of life in order to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God.
It is important to say the prayers that the Church provides each morning and evening; to pray at meals and during this time of self-isolation, to use the prayers provided by our diocese while we are home on Sundays or for important feasts. We also need to pray for everyone, not judging them but interceding on their behalf before the throne of God.
The practice of fasting is also important. If used wisely and properly, it will be good for both our souls and bodies. While we are in control of our bodies and their appetites, they will serve us in the way that will bring us closer to the Kingdom of God instead of deadening our souls. No one is denying that it can be difficult but it can be done and if we strive to Christ will always welcome us back when we fail.
Today starts the fast of Saints Peter and Paul, the apostles. It is a time to refrain from meat, and dairy. Take the opportunity to refrain from these things until June 29th, which is their feast. If it is too difficult to refrain from them fully, strive to do part of the fast. If you have medical conditions, requiring pills, make sure that the fast does not jeopardize your health. Doing so would defeat its purpose.
Thirdly, many people are hurting at this time because they have lost their jobs from the virus. If you know of reputable charities or food banks that you can give to, do so happily. As St. Paul says: “God loves a cheerful giver.” Don’t forget of course, your responsibilities to the parish. It too, has to pay its bills!
All in all, keeping these three practices will help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God. The many distractions of the fallen world will be a lot easier to avoid if we keep them up enthusiastically.
1st Sunday of Pentecost. Sunday of All Saints
June 14th 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
The First Sunday after Pentecost is also the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Liturgical Calendar. Last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, is seen as the birthday of the Church. The Orthodox Church strongly connects what happened that day to all those who have faithfully followed Christ since. For this reason, it is called the Sunday of All Saints.
Any time you enter into an Orthodox Church you will see icons. These images include stories and significant figures from the Old and New Testament, as well as the saints who came afterwards. In the dome of most Orthodox Churches, you will see the icon of Christ the creator of the universe. This and all the other icons present a summary of Salvation History, where heaven and earth meet. God’s plan for Salvation did not stop at the Book of Revelation. The Holy Spirit continued to work after Pentecost, right up to today and will do so until Christ comes again in glory.
Part of that History includes the lives of the saints after the time of Jesus and the apostles. We are invited to be part of that Communion of Saints. We are invited to be part of the family of those already in the Kingdom of God. When we accept Christ into our lives through His Body, the Orthodox Church, we too, become part of the Communion of Saints. We know we are not perfect but Christ will never refuse us when we turn back to Him. He always welcomes us. The Church teaches us to embrace this wonderful vision, which, through the Holy Spirit, enables us here and now to receive in our hearts the joys of our Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. This is why the Feast of All Saints is held right after Pentecost Sunday in the Orthodox Liturgical calendar. We are connected to that day of Pentecost through the Holy Spirit.
At the time that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel, those who chose to follow Christ were very vulnerable. Those Jews who did not choose Christ had been persecuting them for years. There was also the threat of political instability and violent movements to rebel against the Roman authorities. Matthew, in today’s Gospel passages, warns his people to stand firm in following Christ. There was no alternative or compromise to this choice, either proclaim Him to others or reject Him.
Jesus warns those whom He preached to, that if they reject Him, He will reject them when He comes in glory. He also warned them that, as His followers, they too will have to embrace the Cross in the context of their own lives. More than that, He teaches that we too have to make the Kingdom of God the first priority in our lives, even if it means leaving “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake.” Yet, while this may lead to rejection and loss in this life, we will receive rewards a hundred fold in the Kingdom of God.
These were not merely pious teachings for St. Matthew’s people. Many of them faced rejection from their families, their synagogues, their communities and ultimately persecution from the Roman authorities by choosing Christ. When we also embrace Christ in our lives, we embrace His Cross and the possibility of rejection from the fallen world.
The passage from today’s Letter to the Hebrews looks back on those saints before Jesus time who were faithful to God’s teachings. The prophets especially suffered persecution because they strongly proclaimed God’s word. The Orthodox Church does not see them as separate from those saints who came after Christ. They too, are part of the Communion of Saints, often giving brave witness to their calling from God. This is why they are called a ‘cloud of witnesses.’ Unlike us, they did not see what was being promised as we have, because the Son of God came on earth as a man and revealed the Kingdom of God to us in a way that they could never see. Their work and witness was for our benefit!
We therefore have much to be grateful for, not just for their witness but also because we have been given the Kingdom of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It was the Kingdom of God that they longed for and is what is being offered to us as we embrace this wonderful vision of being part of this Communion of Saints. Do not let go of it! Do not let it fall away because of the cares and worries of this world. It is a treasure that nothing else compares to. Let us rejoice in it.
Friday June 12, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew continues a discourse from Jesus in which he has been challenging his own community of Jews who follow Christ, to look beyond the Mosaic Law and seek to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It requires a purity of heart that will be reflected in our actions.
Thus, the Mosaic Law says that they should not swear by the altar but Jesus says we should not swear at all. Taking such oaths reflects our own pride in not wishing to be seen by others as imperfect. “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
The Hammurabi Law says ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Those who follow Christ must have a heart that is full of love, always trying to good even for those who would harm us. All the Orthodox Martyrs bear witness to this! Jesus says: “I tell you not to resist an evil person.” For those who follow Christ, material things do not matter. Do not waste your life, therefore, in seeking material possessions. Yes, we need to pay our bills to care for our families and yes, we need to protect them and ourselves from those who would seek to do us harm but if a circumstance arises whereby it is out of our control, we must put it in Christ’s hands, forgive, intercede and love those people. Our Father wants them to be rescued from the kingdom of death as well. Pray for them.
At the beginning of today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes about the natural law written into men’s hearts. He is talking about the Gentiles. We all have a natural inclination to good, to help someone in need when it is required. Such people, who have never heard of Christ, will be judged according to such works in the end, because God knows the thoughts and actions of every person every day.
St. Paul also writes about the Mosaic Law. He says that the Jews will preach about that law but they do not practice what they preach. A true Jew is one “who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Their concern about outward practice is really about their pride, seeking to look good in front of men, not God.
It is easy for us too, to forget that our Heavenly Father wants us to be repentant in our lives so that His mercy will raise our hearts and souls to be like Him. We say constantly in our prayers: Lord, have mercy! This is what it means. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can raise our minds, hearts and souls to be like the Father. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can have the Wisdom to live our daily lives as our Father would have us live. So, it is important not to lapse into only thinking about what we do and not why we do. If we fall back to only being worried about keeping laws and doing our tasks correctly, without looking into our hearts to examine whether we do them to please God then, what is the point of them? Are we doing them to please the State, the Church or our friends because we only worry about what they think of us but not God?
Always, therefore, pray for a purity of heart. A heart that never wishes to do evil, even not to swear, because we want to offer what we do to our Heavenly Father, not to men.
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes about those who do not know Jesus Christ. Their lives are generally de-based and they live immorally. On top of this, they also make laws that they expect others to keep which they themselves do not. He writes mostly about the pagans but he also makes reference to those Jews who refuse to believe in Christ. He is saying that until someone repents and embraces Christ, they cannot know the truth. Jesus, in St. John’s Gospel told Pontius Pilate that He came to bear the truth. Pilate was very direct when he replied: “What is truth?” He knew that truth was such a murky idea for him that he had no illusions about claiming that he had the truth.
Thus, manmade laws without Christ are artificial. In St. John’s discourse of Jesus with His apostles at the Last Supper, Jesus talked about this. He said the world would be judged when He rose from the dead and it would be judged because it rejected the truth of God’s revelation through Him in His teachings and works.
The same principle holds today. We live in a secular country that has innumerable secular laws. Yet, we also see from the eruption of today’s social unrest, they are applied inconsistently, often according to the color of one’s skin. They are artificial because they are not based on Christ. It is important to respect civil law as it aims to protect society but it is by no means perfect and can never be because they are secular laws.
It is important to mention that Canon Law in the Orthodox Church is viewed very differently from the Western understanding of it. The Orthodox Church is only interested in the healing of an offender’s soul, not in atonement or reparation to society. The word Canon means the written application of a pastoral principle to do deal with sin. Thus, with the sexual immorality that St. Paul refers to in today’s passage, the Church in its Canons, may proscribe a penalty such as barring an offender from communion but its intent is to give the soul time to repent, to be reconciled with Christ and receive communion wholesomely. It is not intended as a punishment. Only our Heavenly Father is our judge, not society.
In today’s Gospel passage, Matthew is challenging the people he is writing to, not to simply fall back onto the Mosaic Law that they grew up with. Living a life in Christ requires a change of heart that seeks to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. He talks specifically about adultery and divorce. Neither is pleasing to our Heavenly Father, even thoughts in our hearts about another woman or seeking the prospect of separating to live a life with another person. Regarding the instruction to pluck out one’s eye or to cut off ones arm, we must remember that they lived in a very violent world at that time. I do not know of any instance when someone in the Church carried out these metaphors nor does the Orthodox Church condone violence in any form.
The Orthodox Church’s approach to dealing with such painful questions is again, to guide a person to be one with Christ. It does not condone divorce but for the sake of the soul and for the sake of peace for all parties concerned, it will allow it under certain circumstances. The persons involved have to live with their choice and our Father in heaven will be their judge.
In the next chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” Treasure the gift of your family, your marriage, asking the Holy Spirit to preserve these God given blessings and not be caught up in the attractions of this fallen world that can only promise death. Not only to treasure it, but live it in a way that Christ would want us to.
Wednesday June 10th 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today’s Epistle and Gospel, both St. Paul and St. Matthew make comments about dealing with some issues of the day in the communities to which they write.
In the Epistle, St. Paul comments on the sexual immorality of the Greeks. He had set up missions in that part of the Roman Empire and had to write a number of times to those communities about new Christians needing to let go of their past pagan practices. That also included idolatry.
He makes a comment about God revealing Himself to everyone but that it has been hidden by the fallen world where those that do not know Christ become attracted to sin and forget about God’s revelation. There are two books of God’s revelation: the Book of Nature and the Book of the Word. He is referring in this passage to the Book of Nature, where not only have pagans hidden God’s revelation through nature but because of sin have made nature itself a god by the creation of idols. He says that they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
While the issue of sexual immorality continues to this day, the Book of Nature is being ignored and forgotten by many. The abuse of the environment by exploiters is putting great pressure on the current stability of the planet. People forget that nature is not benign. It rebelled against mankind when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and chose to eat the fruit of knowledge. If mankind continues to abuse exploit and nature instead of caring for it, it will rebel again. This will leave future generations with a terrible legacy.
St. Matthew, writing to the Jews who have committed themselves to Christ, gives them instruction on how to live in Christ and not the old Mosaic Law.
“unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Thus, murderous thoughts of anger, accusing someone of being worthless (Raca) or a fool, holding grudges and refusing to forgive before going to the altar are not the way to act for the followers of Christ. Remember that these people grew up knowing and practicing the old Mosaic Law. For Matthew, they must exceed those practices.
The context of life in the USA is very different when it comes to resolving disputes. There is a separation of Church and State and a legal process to use when one is aggrieved. What has not changed is our relationship with Christ and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that He has offered for us to be able carry on in our day to day lives. It is these fruits that will enable us to act wisely and not vengefully in dealing with those who harm us. Place yourselves in the Holy Spirit’s hands each day to strive to live it without sin. On page 1793 of the Orthodox Study Bible, where is has the Morning Prayers, it says:
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming of the day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me in throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And, Yourself, pray in me. Amen.
Please click onto the following link to view this very well produced summary of what the various Orthodox archdioceses have posted in response to racism in the USA. The Orthodox Church has been very consistent about this over the years. Copy and paste if it does not automatically come up: https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:ed849bf9-073c-48c1-8f75-98fd069862fd
Tuesday June 9, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is one of his most beloved and well known passages, the Beatitudes. We recite it at every Divine Liturgy because it can be a great guide and strength to assist us in our daily lives. Make sure you click on the link above and read it. For me, the sayings in this passage are too profound for me to add to. It is simply a matter of trying to live it out each day. Jesus warns that if we do not strive to live this teaching, we will become like salt that loses its flavor.
The media often exalts those with great wealth and power. It drools over items purchased that are far beyond our resources to purchase. In the end, however, such things will not matter. They may give their children the material legacy but all they can take with them is their souls. This type of living is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes. If anything is to be stored, it has to be treasures in His Heavenly Kingdom. The Beatitudes will lead us on that path. It will enable us to only treasure what Christ wants for us, not the material wealth that the fallen world offers.
Today’s Epistle is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In it, he states clearly what the Orthodox Church summarized in the Nicean Creed we recite at every Divine Liturgy. Paul writes of Jesus as both human, through the line of David, and divine as the begotten Son of God born as a man of the Spirit. Thus, he describes the human and divine nature of Christ and clearly states the Trinity, in which he offers a blessing:
“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul also describes himself as being a “bondservant” with Christ who goes where He wants him to go and does what He wants him to do.
In the last 4 verses, Paul reflects on the blessings of his experiences in Greece, Judea and among the barbarians.
Paul was the great early missionary of the Church. He was not one of the original apostles but became one of them by the calling that Christ gave him. Aside from the extraordinary missions that he underwent, he taught this same message of being a servant of Christ. He established communities in many places he went. He taught them to die to themselves and live in Christ. He showed them that Christ crucified was the way to the Kingdom of God.
We too, are Christ’s disciples. Let us strive to live our own calling out as fervently as we can.
Monday, June 08, 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
After the great feast of Pentecost, the Orthodox Church’s liturgical cycle returns now to the daily cycle it was progressing through before the season of Great Lent began. Thus, we leave the readings of the Gospel of John and St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. St. John taught his community to stay focused on the mystical Kingdom of God, not on the surface attractions of this world.
Today’s Epistle expresses a similar message but in more practical terms. This Epistle, from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, is part of a list of instructions he gives to that community to help them continue to live in Christ. St. Paul wrote his letters earlier than when St. John wrote his Gospel and Epistles. Christians were less well known. Thus, many of his letters are instructions similar to this passage where the focus is for them not to keep their pagan ways.
So, this passage starts off with a reference to the fruits of the Holy Spirit: goodness, righteousness and truth. Then, however, he warns them against falling back into darkness. He specifically mentions drunkenness but obviously there were other types of behavior that some were indulging in. Paul says:
“Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
The saying is in quotes so, was probably an early Christian one but the point is obvious: let go of the former ways of darkness. He continues:
“But be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,”
The reading of the Psalms is a practice that the Church continues to this day. It is easy to drift away from the practice, falling into the same darkness that St. Paul warns his own people about.
St. Matthew in today’s Gospel passage also gives instructions on how to live as a community that follows Christ. Those to whom he writes are mostly Jews who believe in Christ but still consider themselves as belonging to the Jewish faith.
- Do not despise little ones, for they are seen to be like angels
- Seek after those who have been lost for there is more rejoicing in one lost sheep than the other 99 who are in the fold
- Instructions were given on how to solve disputes within the community
- The presence of Christ in a group that asks Him to intercede, even with only 2 or 3. Our priest prays this same prayer during the Second Antiphon at each Divine Liturgy,
In today’s world, when young people especially are faced with a bewildering number of choices every day that could lead them away from Christ, it is very important for us to continue to pray and intercede for them. Just a Matthew says, they have guardian angels who try to care for their souls. Our intercessory prayer is very important for them.
With the social unrest and the history of racism in this country, young people can lose focus on their own soul’s salvation. They can get wrapped up in the strong political currents currently swirling about. Pray for them, the issues involved, for the country, indeed the whole world and the universe. Intercessory prayer is a very precious blessing given to us at our baptism.
Sunday, June 7th 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
On this 50th day after the resurrection of Christ, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the event of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire and with the sound of a mighty wind.
The Epistle, Acts 2:1-11 tells the story of this awesome event at which the apostles found the courage to speak out confidently about the revelation of God and then be heard in whatever language the person who was listening would speak. It was a moment when the Trinity profoundly broke into human history and made it Salvation History. It was the fulfillment of all the prophets. It became the culmination of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Jesus, when He was among His disciples, promised that this moment would happen and that they would receive great joy because they now understood all the things He taught them. It was a moment at which the divisions of language and culture among peoples would be overcome and where the people were uplifted by the Kingdom of God. 3,000 people who witnessed it were converted that day.
This is truly a day to remember and rejoice in! God, in His own way and own time, fulfilled His promise to save His people. It is a heartwarming reminder to us that we, too, have been offered the rewards of the Kingdom of God, perhaps in a different way, but in no less a profound way and with as much certitude as what the apostles realized what they were being given, at that moment. Like the apostles, we too face the dangers of a fallen world, wondering where God might be in all this uncertainty. Like them, however, we have been promised the certainty of receiving the Holy Spirit and that He can be in our hearts if only we believe in the teachings of Jesus and His Mystical Body, the Church. When we imbibe the Church, our souls are at home. No one can take this from us except ourselves.
The Gospel, John 7:37-52, 8:12, reflects what St. John has been teaching his people about how to enrich themselves in the Kingdom of God. In referring to the Spirit, John quotes Jesus as saying: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Thus, those who embrace the Kingdom of God will never thirst.
In this passage, those Jewish people who recognized something profound in what Jesus was saying conflicted with the Scribes and the Pharisees, who only wanted to focus on the point that He came from Galilee. They kept looking at the surface observations, not how Jesus’ works pointed to the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father. They arrogantly accused anyone who went beyond the surface, to what it pointed to, as being accursed, even at Nicodemus who was one of them. Jesus would not acquiesce to their refusal to believe and see. He simply proclaimed:
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
John, throughout his Gospel, constantly teaches his people to follow Christ, the Light of the world, thereby embracing the Kingdom of God. In doing so, they received all the blessing of that Kingdom gave through the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Church uses today’s passage to teach us the same message. We too must embrace the Kingdom of God to receive these blessings. We celebrate today the event of the Holy Spirit powerfully coming upon the apostles. We also rejoice that the same Spirit is with us. Thus, throughout the year as we begin our prayers we say or chant:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, cleanse us of every impurity and save our souls O Good One!
Friday June 5, 2020
Gospel: John 17:18-26
Archpriest Terence Baz
In this segment of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus prays directly to His Heavenly Father. Up to this point, John almost always has Jesus talking about His Father, the works that He was sent to do, His relationship with His Father and what our Father is teaching us through His Son.
Now, he has Jesus praying directly to Him and some important point comes out.
Firstly, that Jesus’ disciples would be sanctified in the Truth and not only them but anyone who believes in Him through their own teaching. Specifically, in his own Gospel, John is telling his people that Jesus commissioned him to teach what he had learnt. If they believe these teachings, they too, will be sanctified in the Truth.
Secondly, that they may be one as He and His Father are one. It is this gift of unity that gives John’s people the strength to choose the Kingdom of God day by day. The Romans said of the early Christians that they loved one another. They could not deny it. Jesus prays here that “the world may believe that You sent Me.” It was the disciples’ gift of unity and love that showed the fallen world that they had something the world could not give.
Thirdly, He prays that they will be glorified, just as Jesus is glorified by His Father. The word ‘glorify’ is used a lot in John’s Gospel. For the fallen world it meant demise because it brought about Jesus’ crucifixion. John’s point, however, was that from a mystical point of view, it would become a victory whereby Jesus would enter into hell, destroying its power of death. His true glorification can only be seen in the Kingdom of God. The power of oneness and the power of love is something that the fallen world cannot give. Jesus prays that they may have that same power and be glorified in it.
For us today, as John told his own people, we too can have all of this if we believe in the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught us to. Let us, therefore, pray for oneness in the Risen Christ and that through this we will be sanctified in the Truth. In this sanctification, we too will become one with the Father, just as Jesus is.
This is an extraordinary message to grasp! Just as Jesus is true man and true God, He is enabling us to reach the divine in the Kingdom of God. It is not something we can attain on our own. We have to believe in Christ and we have to be given the grace of the Holy Spirit to receive it. Let us pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts!
This weekend, we will celebrate the wonderful event of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles in tongues of fire, enabling them to speak many languages. It also marks the birthday of the Church. Let us pray and believe that that same Spirit will come upon us in these difficult times. The Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in us in a way that He wants to but in believing in the way that St. John taught his own people, we are no less playing our part to manifest the love and unity that Jesus prayed to His Father about.
Let us rejoice in the oneness Christ has offered to us. The apostles rejoiced in it. The disciples rejoiced in it. Those who have lovingly followed Christ as His disciples throughout the centuries have rejoiced in it. Indeed, the whole Communion of Saints has rejoiced in it. We have become part of this family of the Kingdom of God. Let us keep our eyes on that family, not judging the sinfulness of the fallen world but praying for its sanctification that it too, can rejoice in the Kingdom of God.
Thursday, June 4th 2020
Gospel: John 16:23-33
Archpriest Terence Baz
St. John has been building up a picture in his Gospel about Jesus’ relationship with His Father. He has also taught his people that they are invited to be part of that relationship. Today’s segment is part of the discourse that Jesus held with His apostles at the Last Supper. For those who believe in Him, accept His invitation and choose His Heavenly Kingdom, He says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” One must remember that it took years for the apostles to get to a point when they could embrace this with purity of heart. Jesus had to form them and train them. Many at the feeding of the 5,000 walked away from Him and even at the end, Judas would betray Him. There were times that Peter and the other apostles argued with Him but by this moment all, except Judas, believed in Him in the way that He asked them to.
Jesus told them that because they now believed in Him, they also love their Heavenly Father. Jesus says:
“for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.”
Then He says:
“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”
This is the first time John spells out Jesus’ mission in this world in some type of chronological context. The reason he has not done so before is that he wants his own converts to be totally focused on the choice that they have to make each day, which is to embrace the Kingdom of God and not that of the fallen world. The former gives them eternal life but the latter can only offer death. Having explained this in many ways through the signs (miracles) he portrays and through the teachings of Jesus that he writes, only then will John put these stories a chronological context. His disciples reply:
“See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”
Jesus immediately retorts that they will soon be scattered:
“the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”
In adding the last sentence, John is reasserting to his people that knowing the chronology is not important. What is important is to know that the Father is with us.
John is reaffirming to his people that by choosing the Kingdom of God in following Christ, they will receive all the blessings that Jesus’ disciples received. The first given after His resurrection, as St. John relays here, is His peace.
We, in like manner, must continue to choose the Kingdom of God, even in the face of persecution. We will be given the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the first being His peace, a peace that the fallen world cannot give. Let us pray for that today in these troubled times. Let us pray that when the time comes for us to be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we will be embraced by the light of the Heavenly Kingdom. Let us pray that our hearts will always cling onto the fruits of the Spirit as we move on in our daily lives towards the day when our souls will arrive at home in the Kingdom of God.
All Orthodox Christians in America have been asked to join in for a minute of silence in their homes to pray for the country and its social unrest. Please join in for this moment.
WEDNESDAY June 3, 2020
GOSPEL: John 16:15-23
ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ
Christ is in our midst!
In this passage, Jesus tells His apostles that He is going to the Father. He also foretells that they will weep but in a little while, they will be full of joy. This confuses some of them but He is foretelling of His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. After His resurrection, they will be full of joy.
St. John, in writing this Gospel, is telling his people that they can expect the same thing. Whether or not they die like Jesus did, they can expect the joys of the Kingdom of God, not only when they pass from this earth but also here and now because they have the Holy Spirit.
For those afflicted with acute suffering, he uses the analogy of a woman in labor. It is painful at the time but when the baby is delivered, the suffering is forgotten.
This time of the Coronavirus and the social unrest is causing all of us pain. For some, it is more acute than for others, depending on their circumstances. What we have been promised, however, is that we will ultimately be full of joy because we choose the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of this fallen world. No one knows how quickly we will find a vaccine for the virus nor can anyone predict how long racism and the social unrest emanating from it will last but neither of them can take away the peace that the Holy Spirit has given us. What is clear is that, in the pain we feel, we pray earnestly to our Heavenly Father that, in His mercy, His Kingdom will come. Also pray for ways in which we can constructively help improve the situation.
Today, the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North America has asked all Orthodox Christians to pray from our homes in a minute of silence for those suffering from injustice in this country. I ask you to join in for this moment, knowing that every other Orthodox Christian in this country has been asked the same. Please God the peace of Christ will prevail and thus enable people to seek the Kingdom of God.
TUESDAY June 2, 2020
GOSPEL: John 16:2-13
ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ
In today’s passage, St. John makes a specific reference to being persecuted for choosing to believe in Christ. It seems that his Gospel was written in the late 80’s after the birth of Jesus. In AD 85, an edict from the Emperer Domitian, forced the Jewish authorities to evict any Jews who decided to follow Christ. Up until then, many of the Jews would go to the Synagogue on Saturday and then to a Church service on Sunday. This edict stopped that. Such Jews were banned. One notable martyr was the bishop, Antipas, whom it seems that some Jews reported to the Roman authorities. He was subsequently put in an iron ball and roasted to death. As I have mentioned often, John taught his followers that choosing Christ could well mean facing death by the authorities.
It is appropriate that as we come near to the feast of Pentecost, we read verse 7:
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
St. John reassures his people that despite the persecution they face, Jesus’ departure meant they would receive the Holy Spirit to strengthen them against adversity.
Then, he goes on to talk about three profound truths. The Holy Spirit “will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”
1.“of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus asks many times for people to believe in Him. In refusing to, they choose to live a disconnected life of what they do from what they were created for. We are given free will to make that choice. Their sin is to want to go their own way, not the way God made them for.
2. “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more.” Human beings have refused to live in a manner according to the image and likeness of God. So, they establish their own standards or laws to keep order in society. This is a lie because their standards are artificial. Then they judge others according to it. This is why we say in the Orthodox Church to never judge others. Pray for them instead. True righteousness occurs when how we live and what we say is in accordance with the image of God within us.
- “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Because we live in contradiction to our true selves, we live in death. This was caused by the sin of Adam & Eve. It is not a punishment but the result of us living the lie mentioned above. If we choose to live according to this fallen world we constantly face death. Death is the only future it has to offer. Christ rising from the dead judged that for what it was. He did not come to condemn us. He came to free us from death. “Come, take the light that is never overtaken by night.”
At the end of the passage, the discourse refers back to the Holy Spirit, who
“will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
You are well aware that we live in disturbing, troubling times. All the fallen world can offer is death. We see it in the context of St. John’s times as well as when Jesus was here on earth. As I keep saying, in the difficulties of living in our own times, always place these concerns before our Heavenly Father. He sent Christ to teach us what truth is. He sent us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us on our journey in this life. When we choose the Kingdom of God, we choose the life that Jesus offered us. We have to live out our daily lives and work in our jobs to care for our families. We have to live in civil society which, in this country, offers us the freedom to worship without harassment but when we see its imperfections and wonder when the current chaos will stop, always offer it back to our Heavenly Father. Pray for all those concerned. As you well know, there are many.
We may not have much political influence on the powers that be but remember that the early Christians had much less! Even with that, God transformed the Roman Empire within 250 years. The most powerful choice we can make is to use the priesthood from our baptism to intercede and pray for everyone. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are there for us: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Cling onto them, knowing that the Kingdom of God is in our hearts.
Assembly of Bishops’
Calls All to Prayer for Justice and Peace
during Nationwide Civil Unrest
Monday, June 01, 2020
We, the members of the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the U.S.A., express our strong concern and deep sorrow for the recent unrest throughout our beloved country.
We stand in unequivocal solidarity and peaceful protest with all those who condemn racism and inequality, which betray the spirit of democracy in our nation, i.e. “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. The unjust and unjustifiable murder of Mr. George Floyd, as well as so many before him, is deplorable as anti-Christian and immoral.
At the same time, we denounce all expressions of violence and revenge, including those despoiling and detracting from peaceful demonstrations. Peaceful marches of protest are a distinctive hallmark of American freedom and progress. “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all … so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:17-18).
Violence is a horrible and tangible manifestation of the reign of sin in our world. It is expressed in many faces, all of which seek to deny the image and likeness of God in each human person, in whom God has placed an irreducible dignity and sacredness.
Thus, as Orthodox Hierarchs, we condemn all actions and words that promote hatred and racism, but also all acts of violence and destruction.
Moreover, in a gesture of collective appeal, on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 at 12:00 PM EDT, we invite all clergy, faithful, and people of good will – of all traditions, faiths, and walks of life – to participate in a moment of silence and solidarity for all victims of racial violence followed by prayer for peace and reconciliation in this country.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Therefore, as we kneel, invoking the coming of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, let us offer up our prayers to our loving God for the victims of hatred and racism, to safeguard us all from such prejudice, and also vengeance and destruction, as well as preserve unity and peace in our country, our common home.
MONDAY June 1, 2020
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 full statement follows:
“We, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, mourn the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd on May 25, 2020. We too have looked with horror at the footage of this episode, and condemn the brutal actions that caused his violent death. We look to the civil authorities to bring to justice those who participated in this senseless tragedy.
“We categorically reject racism in any form. Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and was created to exist (Wisdom of Solomon 1:14). We are all, each of us, “one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).” As such, there should be no hatred, no enmity, no hostility between us, but reconciliation.
“In the face of civil unrest, we call upon the members of the Orthodox Church in America, and to all the communities they live in, to engage in the service of righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit. We exhort everyone to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:17, 19).”
Finally, we offer our prayers to God for Mr. Floyd, his family, and to those communities that are experiencing anxiety, sadness, and despair, because they have seen destruction of life and property.”
7TH SUNDAY OF PASCHA
HOLY FATHERS OF THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL.
AFTERFEAST OF ASCENSION.
May 31st 2020
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 ASCENSION May 29, 2020
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.
May 28, 2020
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 suffered as well but the Holy Spirit will continue 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 OF OUR LORD & SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
Wednesday May 27, 2020
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 OF THE 6TH WEEK OF PASCHA
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 the converts he was writing it for. 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. 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 is also teaching 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 well. 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 I have described above, ask that the Holy Spirit would descend upon us too.
Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!
SIXTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA: THE BLIND MAN
SUNDAY, MAY 24TH, 2020
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 May 22, 2020
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 May 21, 2020
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!
LEAVETAKING OF THE MIDFEAST OF PASCHA
Wednesday May 20, 2020
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.
In this extraordinary time, we are not able to be physically present to attend the Divine Liturgy or take communion. If, however, we have the Kingdom of God within us, we will sorely miss our ability to be physically present. We will miss the presence of God that comes upon us during that moment when we become part of the Liturgy.
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 May 19, 2020
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 18, 2020
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 FIFTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA
THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
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!
For those who wish to upload the Typica Service for Sunday, May 17th., the 5th. Sunday of Pascha, please click onto the following link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/TYPIKA-SERVICE-SUNDAY-MAY-17-2020-5th-Sunday-of-Pascha---Samaritan-Woman-3.pdf
THURSDAY OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA MAY 15TH 2020
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 OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA MAY 14TH 2020
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 OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA
MAY 13TH 2020 MIDFEAST OF PASCHA
ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ
GOSPEL: JOHN 7: 14-30
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 OF THE 4TH WEEK OF PASCHA MAY 12, 2020
GOSPEL: JOHN 7: 1-13
ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ
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.
Tomorrow, I will post a link to the mid-Paschal season vespers and typical services. Try to upload them and use them as a framework for your daily prayers.
Please know that you continue to be in my prayers, that Christ will strengthen and bless every moment of your daily routine.
TODAY’S GOSPEL: JOHN 6:56-69
Monday, May 11, 2020
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
Archpriest John was a very significant person in the OCA archdiocese, especially at St. Vladimir's Seminary, where he taught. If you would like to read about his life as a priest, please click onto the following link: https://www.oca.org/in-memoriam/archpriest-paul-lazor
To download the Vespers Service for the 4th Sunday of Pascha, which is celebrated Saturday evening May 9th., please download this link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-VESPERS-SATURDAY-MAY-9-2020-4th-Sunday-of-Pascha---Paralytic.pdf
To download the Typica Service for the 4th Sunday of Pascha, Sunday morning May 10th., please download this link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/TYPIKA-SUNDAY-MAY-10-2020-4th-Sunday-of-Holy-Pascha---Paralytic.pdf
FOURTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA TONE 3
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 (even now with infants) 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. Many today are expressing a lot of opinions on what should or could have been done. Our day to day lives must go on as best as possible and hopefully, society will not forget the lessons we learn from the crisis. What I ask of you as parishioners is to stay focused on prayer for everyone & everything. Try to help where you can because many are going hungry & even though we celebrate Christ rising from the dead at this time, perhaps we can go without a little to help those in need. 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!
The Church has faced plagues, persecution and hardship many times in the past. One of the practices it has learnt & taught others is good hygiene. The British learnt the methods of good hygiene from the Knights of St. John (of the Byzantine Empire) and used the Cross of St. John (the Maltese Cross) to form the Red Cross. Currently, our OCA archdiocese is using the Church’s experience to tread cautiously in its response to the Coronavirus. We must respect the laws of nature, created by God! It has recently put out a statement (https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-synod-issues-pastoral-letter-and-directives) from the Synod of Bishops concerning principles to be used by parishes to open up when the time is ready. You will also hear more about this for our parish in the future.
Once again, please know that you are in my prayers, especially the sick.
I urge you again to refer to the OCA website (https://www.oca.org/) our diocesan website (https://nynjoca.org/) and our parish website (http://holyassumptionclifton.org/) to read any updates, to download any services and keep in touch with your Church.
Finally, I wish to offer congratulations to all the mothers, grandmothers & great grandmothers a very blessed and happy Mother’s Day! I will be praying especially for those of you who will not be able to celebrate with your families because of the virus. As I said above, keep focused on the Kingdom of God, offering all the hardships, all of your families back to Christ. Your Heavenly Father, who sees all that is done in secret, will reward you!
Listen to this beautiful recital of the Oikos of the Myrrhbearing Women by clicking onto this link: https://www.facebook.com/100009827944160/videos/1128252000845721/. Copy & paste if the link does not open up.
3rd SUNDAY OF PASCHA: THE MYRRHBEARING WOMEN
Mark 15:43-16:8 (Gospel) Acts 6:1-7 (Epistle)
Archpriest Terence Baz
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
We can see in hindsight that Christ’s rising from the dead is a triumphant moment in Salvation History. When we read today’s gospel story, however, we realize that for Joseph of Arimathea, it was a very sad time. The one whom he admired and respected had suffered a terrible death. In his sorrow, he must have thought to himself: what is the proper thing to do for his burial? He realized he had a burial tomb, his own, and decided to use it for this. The gospel says: he took courage and went to Pilot to ask for the body. He took the body and (out of respect for him) wrapped it in fine linen and placed him in the tomb.
This unsavory moment in which Joseph found himself, has comparisons to what many in our region, in fact, throughout the world currently find themselves. We hear a lot of very sad stories of people who have lost their loved ones to the Coronavirus and are then confronted with how to do the right thing for their burial, even though they are required to keep their distance. Those who have not been confronted with such a painful loss are still being required to maintain social isolation, with all the uncertainty & economic hardship that it entails.
So, we undergo our chores & work where possible. Even for those who work in essential jobs, the circumstances in which they continue are not easy. Take heart in the example of Joseph of Arimathea. His task was very straight forward: bury the body in a dignified way, even though the circumstances were very difficult. Prayer brings clarity and Joseph must have been praying constantly & earnestly to come to that decision. Take his example and try to do everything, no matter how routine, in a spirit of prayer, offering back your tasks to Christ so that he will sanctify them. As Jesus said, our Heavenly Father will see our efforts.
Neither Joseph nor the Myrrhbearing Women were aware that those common place tasks of placing a body in a tomb & anointing it afterwards, would be done at the very moment the most profound divine intervention in human history was happening! The women were alarmed & trembled with fear when they saw and heard the angel and they fled from the place!
The point is that we do not know how our Heavenly Father will use our tasks and prayers but we should always place them before Christ to be sanctified in the Kingdom of God. We believe that Christ’s rising from the dead has enabled everything that we do to be presented back to him to be sanctified. Even though we are still not able to come together in our church, we can join together by our prayers from our homes for our families, relatives, friends, the parish community, our cities & states, our country and, indeed, for the whole world!
This is why we say: Christ is Risen, because that event lives on in our hearts and, if we believe as he asked us, our daily routines can be completely transformed, even in today’s dangerous times.
The epistle also shows that the administration of Christ’s Body, the Church, needs to be done & carried out in a proper way. The matter came up for the early community that the widows needed to be fed at the Agape meal after praying the Eucharistic Prayers and distributing communion. They held a Council and decided to pick seven people to serve them. The word ‘diakonia’ means to serve. Thus, these young men were called Deacons. They were then ordained to do their work. We must also strive to do the work of our parish in a prayerful way, always offering it back to Christ as if it were ‘a sweet smelling fragrance.’ Even though much of the parish’s work may seem routine, never forget that the Kingdom of God is always present. Christ, by his resurrection, has enabled us to be part of the Communion of Saints and is ever present in our hearts.
You may recall in the Baptismal Service the prayers that paraphrase St. Paul who said that we must die to ourselves so that we may live in Christ. This time of isolation is, in many ways, a dying to ourselves. Make the best use of it in the way I have described above. For most of us, all it takes is simply sitting in our homes!
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
Please click onto the following link to use tomorrow's Typica Service for the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing, May 3rd, 2020: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/TYPIKA-SERVICE-SUNDAY-MAY-3-2020.pdf
Please click onto this link to upload this evening's Vespers Service for the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women, the 3rd Sunday of Pascha: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-VESPERS-SATURDAY-MAY-2-2020.pdf
I urge everyone to use this morning's Typica Service to pray for Sunday. The link is: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/TYPIKA-SERVICE-SUNDAY-APRIL-26-2020-St-Thomas-Sunday.pdf
To be able to read today's Scripture readings please go to this link: https://www.oca.org/readings
Antipascha: St Thomas Sunday
Dearly beloved parish members & friends,
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
The title of this Sunday, ‘Antipascha’ may sound odd but it means ‘in place of Pascha’ where, from now on, we celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday. The Russians call the day of Sunday, ‘Resurrection’ and the Greeks, ‘the Lord’s Day.’
One of the Church’s cycles is the Octoechos or, 8 Tones. It starts with Tone 1 on April 26th. You may have noticed these tones in the Sunday bulletins. We work through the tones week in & week out. Once we get to Tone 8, we revert back to Tone 1 and then the sequence repeats itself throughout the year. When one attends Saturday evening Vespers regularly, this cycle is plain to see. The choir works through these tones every weekend.
This Sunday is also called St. Thomas Sunday, when we hear the gospel story about Jesus appearing to the apostles a second time, when Thomas is present. He wants to see evidence! He proclaims: ‘My Lord & My God’ after seeing Jesus’ wounds.
Notice that, in the first part of the story, Jesus offers his peace. Despite the joy of seeing him again, these were very uncertain & dangerous times for the disciples. Jesus does not take away the dangers of this fallen world. In fact, as the months were to unfold, they were persecuted from many sides, with the Deacon Stephen becoming the Church’s first martyr. What Jesus does offer is his peace, a peace that the world cannot offer. This is the gift that would see them through their troubles and enable them to have the Kingdom of God continue to reign in their hearts. Later on, the apostles & disciples testify that the Holy Spirit would send many other gifts to them, especially at Pentecost. We read in today’s epistle that they boldly proclaimed Christ’s message right in front of the authorities despite being imprisoned.
The current unexpected onslaught of the Coronavirus has reminded us that, despite the world’s boastful claim that modern society is invincible, we are indeed still very vulnerable, that these too are dangerous times just like the past and that society is barely coping with the task of trying to responsibly put into place measures that would protect us.
Jesus offered the gifts of the Kingdom of God, the first being ‘a peace that the world cannot give.’ Christ offers that same gift today! We can either accept or reject it and only we can keep it or let it go. In this difficult time of self isolation, it might be easy to escape into thoughts or activities that allow us to drift away from this peace through the TV shows we watch or what we search on the internet.
The purpose of Christ’s Church and its priesthood is to pray on your behalf to cling onto this peace. You can also use some tools that it is offering. You can use:
- the times of the day when we can pray, such as first thing in the morning or at night and praying before meals.
- the Liturgical Calendar that you were given by the parish to read the scriptures listed for the day.
- The online links that the diocese offers to watch the streamlined services or the Reader’s Services that are being sent by email
These steps will help us to not be led into temptation, as we pray in the Our Father.
Having said this, our Orthodox bishops have instructed us to prudently take the safety measures that society directs us to do, especially with social distancing. It is society’s job to keep its members safe and, despite the inconvenience, the Church is not opposed to temporary prudent measures. One has to remember that the laws of nature are part of God’s creation and so, we must respect them. We must handle them accordingly.
The Orthodox Church has gained much experience over the centuries to deal with plagues. Our modern knowledge of hygiene was developed from the Byzantine Empire. It was their navy of the Knights of St. John who taught the Maltese military the principles of good hygiene. When the Muslims tried to invade the islands, it was not military strength that withstood them. After a stalemate ensued, disease broke out in the invader’s camp & they eventually withdrew. After that, the Maltese people took on the emblem of the cross of St. John, which is known as the Maltese Cross. Later on, the British learnt of these methods and formed the Red Cross.
When we pray, we should not just pray for ourselves. In this time of great hardship, pain & loss for so many, we should be praying for all of those who are suffering because we know that we have Christ’s peace. We are also realizing that this planet is interconnected on many levels so, we need to continue to pray for the whole planet! Is it not ironic that pollution levels have dropped during this time of social isolation?
Finally, when St. Thomas entered the house and got the evidence he was seeking, Jesus responded: ‘blessed are those who do not see but believe!’ It may not be easy at a time like this to keep focused on the Kingdom of God or to believe that our prayers are important but Jesus emptied himself, dwelt among ordinary people and gave up his life for us. Remember he said that if we have the faith of the mustard seed, we can move mountains. Our prayers will be heard if we stay focused on Christ. Do not doubt that those prayers will be very powerful! We do not know in which way or when they will be answered but they will be.
These thoughts lead us back to the same truth that we celebrate at this time that:
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has posted a message for Earth Day. Please click onto this link to read it: https://www.goarch.org/-/ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-earth-day-2020?fbclid=IwAR2pZH_NW86E2y6Y8joHekDh4ljSX0p_abE__HJZjWqDJWnv9m1pbaExfFs
To read Metropolitan Tikhon's Paschal Message, please click onto: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/metropolitan-tikhons-2020-paschal-message-now-available-live-stream-of-holy-pascha?fbclid=IwAR3lOlvlhpH-qJ2kyNTyaBVXcZy9g83iyTRD4keBILVQ_pG61ZfTrfYcpi4
Christ is Risen: to learn how to say it in different languages, click onto this link: http://web-extract.constantcontact.com/v1/social_annotation_v2?permalink_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fmyemail.constantcontact.com%2FHoly-Pascha.html%3Fsoid%3D1124728825897%26aid%3DXUM_ys5uJ_M&image_url=https%3A%2F%2Fmlsvc01-prod.s3.amazonaws.com%2F928ef0fd501%2F00562ee2-0b1c-445f-96e3-fcc48820ad14.png%3Fver%3D1587136346000&fbclid=IwAR24LdZFG_PKh-YgWHPhSDq4IcGyyuCRlMRyzn13-MhG9dcrO8mpD4Wvdmo
To hear Let God Arise & His Enemies will be Scattered in English, click onto this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m079-WYfwko&fbclid=IwAR1pjbGA6nhDuhDEmKvwx7cU4lQH7waN5OFm09ZG0jkvvc9vLJnCfAFEQvM
To listen to these beautiful children singing Christ is Risen! please click onto this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu3R6LpUS44&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3RACCBkD1ODlq_iX-pgQQXrrp58aQyNM-1TBmUvyMh6-1_F5FNtSTcyKM
PASCHAL MESSAGE 2020
ARCHPRIEST TERENCE BAZ
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
During this difficult time when we are all impacted by the Coronavirus, causing our services to be done behind closed doors, forcing us to stay home instead of enjoying family during this joyous season, saddened to hear the news of many from all walks of life who have passed away from it, we may wonder how to make sense of it all during this Paschal season.
From our first parents, Adam & Eve, we have been afflicted by the many ravages of this fallen world. As if we do not have enough difficulties to deal with day to day, now we are afflicted with a pandemic!
As we read in our Eucharistic prayers during this season, our Heavenly Father has not ignored our plight. He sent His only Son to show us the way through these troubles. We have remembered throughout this Holy Week the sufferings that He endured: the rejection, torture, mocking, hatred, wish of death and the estrangement & isolation He experienced (something we can currently identify with), from those who refused to believe His teachings.
Please therefore, do not think that we are being ignored during this time of difficulty! Reach out to Him instead, asking for the patience & strength to endure our difficulties but more importantly, to pray & intercede for those who are being afflicted much more than us. Each time we see the terrible news, pray for them, give them back to Christ, just as we do in the Divine Liturgy when we say at the Consecration: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee!”
He taught while on earth that those who think they see, will not see. Instead, those who acknowledge that they cannot, will be the ones who see! Those who rejected Him became blind in their souls. Nor will those, who today refuse to believe His teaching, be able to see what He did for us. They will never understand that following His way of the Cross will bring us to eternal salvation. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians: to the Jews, it was a stumbling block and to the Greeks, foolishness.
We affirm in our profession of faith that, while He did suffer those things, died and went into hell, He also rose from the dead, destroying the power of death. We also believe that these troubles are passing, that our bodies will pass away with this world but that in putting on Christ, we will gain life eternal, sustained by the living waters that He offered us. Let us use our time on earth to concern ourselves with ways that will help us & others to reach the Kingdom of God by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The time for fasting in our Liturgical cycle has ended for now but there is plenty of opportunity to practice the other two.
Finally, we believe that Christ’s rising from the dead was not simply an ancient historical event but something that has profound impacts us for today. Nor is its impact only meant for the end of time when Christ will come again. We believe that the Kingdom of God is within us and that because we choose to put on Christ, we enable the Holy Spirit to reign in our hearts. It impacts us here & now! Thus, we do not say that He rose from the dead, we proclaim a truth that is incomparably more profound than what we may encounter in this current fallen world: Christ is Risen, truly He is Risen!
The OCA website is offering live streaming for the Holy Week services if you would like to make use of them. Please click onto this link to see the details: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/the-media-office-of-the-orthodox-church-in-america-announces-live-stream-schedule-for-palm-sunday-holy-week-and-pascha
If you would like to download this evening's Bridegroom Service to pray at home, please click onto this link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-BRIDEGROOM-MATINS-FOR-HOLY-WEDNESDAY-Tuesday-Night-2020.pdf
Dearly Beloved Parishioners & Friends,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I hope you are all okay during this time of trial as we sit out the impact of the Coronavirus. Both Matushka & I are doing well.
After much thought, as well as discussion with Archbishop Michael and others, I have regrettably decided that, for the safety of the parish community, it is better that I stay away from the church building for this weekend and most of Holy Week. I will review the situation later next week to decide what services I may do at the end of the week. I do not want to endanger anyone, especially those who are able to assist me.
Today, I did a Typica and Memorial Service for everyone, including the names of those who asked me to pray for their deceased family members on this Lazarus Saturday. I also prayed for those who have died from the Coronavirus, especially those afflicted by it in nursing homes.
Again, I encourage you to refer to the archdiocesan website (https://www.oca.org) or the diocesan website (https://nynjoca.org/) or our parish website (http://holyassumptionclifton.org/) to read any updates from the archdiocese or diocese or, to use the prayer services at home while our church is closed. For instance, you can go to: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/TYPIKA-SERVICE-Lazarus-Saturday-.pdf to do the Typica Service for today. Many services will be posted this week and next week.
If you want to watch a service from a neighboring parish, please look up their websites to see if they are streaming it. Our neighboring parishes are: Paramus, Wayne, Passaic and Saddle Brook. You can find their websites through the diocesan website.
Please know that I will be praying for all of you that Christ will protect you.
Yours, in Christ
Archpriest Terence Baz
Dear Parishioners & Friends:
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
So you know, I had some trouble last week accessing the Site Manager of this website. For some reason, the password would not work. I think I have resolved the issue & so, will be able to give more up to date information. Please keep your social distancing during this precarious time of the Coronavirus. Please know that you are in my prayers.
Archpriest Terence Baz
Christ is in our midst!
I want you to know that during this time of uncertainty & concern, as we are shocked each day by the numbers of those infected by Covid-19 and sadly, those who because of it have passed away, you are in my prayers. Please adhere to the directives being given out by State authorities in order to minimize the virus' impact. Remember, it does not move about, we move about. If we don't move, nor will the virus and it will eventually die.
In regard to Holy Assumption Church, unfortunately, we have to keep the doors locked. The virus numbers in NJ have not peaked yet. In regard to the Lenten services for April, Archbishop Michael will send instructions in the near future.
For those who have a key to the church doors, please do not go there until further notice. Exceptions are for those who are scheduled for cleaning and administrative purposes. Please note that the school from Passaic County is closed until further notice.
This Sunday, a 40 Day Memorial Service is scheduled for our dear late friend, Olga Grib, requested by her daughters. Kathy, Karen & Kristine and their families I ask all of you to pray for her and the family at this time.
Finally, please go to our parish (https://holyassumptionclifton.org/) , diocesan (https://nynjoca.org/) and archdiocesan (https://www.oca.org/) websites for updates and prayer services that you can use while the church doors are closed. There is a wealth of information on these sites.
Yours, in Christ
Fr. Terence Baz
Archbishop Michael has issued new guidelines regarding the diocese's response to the Coronavirus. Please click on the link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/covid-19/UPDATED-DIOCESAN-GUIDELINES-CORONAVIRUS-NYNJ-2020-03-21-FINAL.pdf to read them.
Yours in Christ,
Archpriest Terence Baz, parish priest
Christ is in our midst!
As I have mentioned, tomorrow's Divine Liturgy will be said behind locked doors. It will not be said at the regular time. Please do not come to Church tomorrow.
I plan to set up a streaming service for the following Sunday, March 29th., to enable you to watch the Divine Liturgy online. Given the terrible unfolding of this virus, I may have to restrict who comes to the Church for that Sunday as well. I will let you know.
Please know that I will be praying for you tomorrow.
Yours, in Christ,
Archpriest, Terence Baz
Dearly Beloved in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
You have all been hearing about the perilous time we are currently in concerning the Coronavirus.
After consultation with the OCA Diocese of New York & New Jersey, I have decided to take the drastic step to close the doors of the church for the weekend. Further, given that it is being predicted by authorities that the crisis will worsen, they will remain closed until it eases.
This is being done to minimize the risk of contamination to our parish members, especially for the elderly and medically susceptible. There will also be NO Coffee Hour.
On Sunday morning, if I have someone to assist me, I will do the Divine Liturgy with that person, in order to pray for our parish members. If I have no one to assist me, I will do an Orthros Service instead, for the same purpose.
One further note: our parish family over the decades have worked very hard and given very generously to this parish in order to keep it in the beautiful state that we have it. Please keep up this spirit of giving by continuing your contributions either by the use of your envelopes or by PayPal.
Please know that you are in my prayers at this very difficult time.
Yours, in Christ,
Archpriest Terence Baz
Parish Priest. March 18, 2020
If you go to the Orthodox Church of America webpage, you will find that His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon has written an encylical about God's creation for the commencment of the New Liturgical Year. Or, click onto this link to read it: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/encyclical-metropolitan-tikhon-beginning-ecclesiastical-new-year-day-prayer-creation
Fr. Terence Baz
HOMILY for the NATIVITY of CHRIST 2018
There is much that the scriptures and liturgical prayers associated with the Nativity of Christ teach us.
Firstly, it is common for Christians to follow the example of the Three Wise Men by offering gifts to one another. Some, as an expression of charity, will offer to those who have no family or friends at this time, to share in their family meal or even serve at soup kitchens. It is our belief in the birth of Christ that prompts us to put our faith into action by doing such good works.
Secondly, the scriptures make it very clear that the king, whom the Wise Men seek out, does not belong to this world. Not only do we see this from the circumstances surrounding His birth: the cave or manger, the shepherds and animals, the rejection by the world for any suitable, much less a luxurious accommodation, for the birth. If we look at Jesus’ teachings, he warns against seeking any type of treasure that cannot be stored in His Father’s heavenly kingdom.
Thus, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, the Spirit of God prompted her to proclaim in the Magnificat that God's “mercy is upon those that fear Him.” She says in contrast, He has “put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly.” When Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount, He made the message about the Kingdom of God very clear: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Again, in contrast, in His parable about the sewer in the field, He said that those who would become consumed by “the pleasures and cares of this world, would not bear fruit.
It was the cares of this world that caused King Herod to jealously guard his worldly power to the point of promptly slaughtering innocent babes in his quest to destroy Jesus. We, in response to the joy of this feast therefore, must be constantly on our guard not to allow our hearts to seek after the material pleasures that the world would have us chase, causing this feast to be reduced to an all absorbing consumerism. Further, we still have those with great worldly power who would willingly destroy anyone who would threaten it or, as it seems today, use society’s social structures to enhance their power at the expense of everyone else, causing great economic, environmental and social injustice. This is the complete opposite of what Jesus taught: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
Thirdly, we and all of creation can rejoice like the shepherds and the Wise Men in this wonderful event. There is a strong emphasis in Orthodox Christian liturgical prayers on linking the beauty of God’s creation, tangibly witnessed that night because of the earthy and discomforting cold they were experiencing, to the very creator Himself! More than that, from the Book of Genesis onwards, the scriptures make it clear that, though fallen because of the sin of Adam and Eve, the beauty of creation is fundamentally good and that the Spirit of God continues to sustain and re-create it to this day. Nor does God allow us to sit on the fence in regard to His creation. Either we align ourselves with God’s creation or, we align ourselves with the forces of chaos that war against it. In the same way, we either align with the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world.
Therefore, let us respect, love and pray for the beauty of all creation! The scriptures and the Church teach us much about how to do this well even in the face of the looming perils of a warming planet. Aside from the icon of the Nativity that is so beloved for Orthodox Christians, I leave you with another image that astronomers have been have been quick to point out this year. It is the 50th anniversary of that photo taken by the astronauts who first circled the moon, in which they saw the earth rise over the horizon of the moon. This stunning image put into perspective the beauty as well as the fragility of the earth together with all of creation and forever changed our perspective of the planet we live on. It was taken close to December 25th, the date on which we celebrate the mystery of Christ, the creator of the universe, being born as a simple babe in swaddling clothes in the humblest of circumstances but never compromising His closeness to this planet. How appropriate that those astronauts chose to read the creation story from the Book of Genesis to express their awe and wonder at what they were experiencing.
It is ironic, is it not, that astronomers are able to concur with astrologers (the Wise Men) about the significance of the timing of a birth and a former astronomical event concerning a star from the East? As we say in our Orthodox Divine Liturgy, Christ cannot be contained!
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Very Reverend Archpriest Terence Baz, D. Min. December 2018
Regarding the Liturgical Calendar in the Orthodox Church of America (oca.org) for the set feasts, including the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) we use the Gregorian Calendar. For the variable feasts including the Triodion (Great Lent-Pascha-Pentecost) it uses the Julian Calendar. Please remember this distinction when inquiring about our service schedule. I always have it updated on the Service Schedule Page that you can see right on the front page of this website.
Some people asked when we would be holding the "Russian Christmas." We held the feast of the Nativity of Christ on December 25th. using the above formula. Please keep this in mind.
Given that the Nativity of Christ falls on a Monday this year, this week becomes an extended weekend for most people. Thus, the busy preparations to be with family & friends will soon begin to wind down.
As we get together, do not forget the reason we make these efforts: we celebrate that Christ our Savior was born as a babe, revealing to the world that His Kingdom would be established on earth. The Word of God became flesh & from this point on showed the world how to recieve the love of God our Father & be transformed by it. God's plan would unfold in time & Jesus would teach us in His public life the way, the truth & the life that would give us this love.
For this reason we have much to celebrate. As family & friends discuss daily life when they get together on this day, do not be afraid to point out this basic truth & why we celebrate. The world cannot provide the answers to the evil we see around us but we can reaffirm our commitment to & faith in Christ to follow His way. As we do, we should strive to become like Him so that we can become like God & be transformed by Him. Let's rejoice that He has given us this Light & that through Him, we can touch the Kingdom of God.
There is no better way than by using the Mysteries that Christ's Body, the Church offers us: the services, the singing & praises in them, the sacraments of Confession & the Eucharist, the anointings to heal us & the joy of being together in fellowship with like minded people who also want to celebrate this great feast. We are part of the Communion of Saints with Christ & as St. Peter said on Mount Tabor: it is good to be here.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
On Sunday, October 15th., Matushka Barbara presented a short reflection to about 20 people on a way to "pray without ceasing" in our daily lives by using the "Jesus Prayer."
After a couple of enjoyable "ice-breakers," she shared how she was introduced to it as a teenager & the impact it has had on her since. She talked about its simple format but the effort it requires to make it a way of life. She also talked about the scriptural background for this prayer, its uniqueness as a way to meditate, compared to non-Christian, non-biblical forms of meditation. She specified a couple of techniques, such as the use of prayer beads & the need to breathe correctly while saying it.
The reaction from the listeners seemed to be very positive & a lot of them shared about the importance of prayer in their own lives. In an age when one can be constantly shocked by simply listening to the daily news, the Jesus Prayer enables one to redirect all that comes our way back to Christ.
Thus, it was enjoyable, informative & helpful at the same time! Thank you to Mat. Barbara.
The muscial, Joseph & His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, has been posted on our diocesan website! Please click onto: http://nynjoca.org/news_171007_1.html to see the report. We had a "cast party" yesterday afternoon at our church hall. About 30 of the cast & supporting adults turned up. We had a great time of fellowship. Look up our News & Events page to see photos of it. Thank you again to Matushka Barbara, all the supporting adults & cast for the great performances they put on at the end of September.
It is indeed with sadness that I have to post a message regarding the recent massacre in Las Vegas that has caused so much loss, pain & suffering. Please click onto the message given by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, calling us to pray everyone directly concerned & all of creation: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/metropolitan-tikhon-issues-statement-on-the-tragedy-in-las-vegas.
These are indeed troubling & dangerous times. As Orthodox Christians, we continue to proclaim Christ's message as clearly as possible but at the same time, judging no-one. We are called to follow Christ by loving everyone, including the killer, praying & interceding for all. Just last Sunday, we had the Gospel from St. Luke, Chapter 6, where Jesus said: love your enemies, do good. I urge everyone to have the faith that Jesus called everyone to have that our prayers will be answered in God's way & at God's time.
May the God of Peace continue to strengthen us all.
Fr. Terence Baz
When we turn on the news, we hear about a lot of threatening issues. This morning we woke up to hear that North Korea detonated a Hydrogen Bomb. Given the irrascibility of that country's president, such a prospect is indeedscary. This is by no means the only threat. We are well aware of the threat posed by ISIS & Al Qaida. Anytime we travel, we are aware of the possibility of an attack on innocent victims. We have recently seen the upsurge of Nazism in this country. We saw the ravages of nature in the latest massive Hurricane in Texas.
Ominous threats are nothing new. The question for us as Orthodox Christians is: how do we respond? There has also been a long standing call from the Church as well: prayer, fasting & almsgiving.
On Friday, September 1st., we celebrated the Indiction Service for the beginning of the Liturgical Year for the Church. This prayer service recognizes the worldly context given above. Thus, its prayers encompass all such calamities. Further, the Orthodox Church tells us that our intercessory prayers are very important in offering back to Christ all that we see & hear about. It is so important that there is no better way to respond to these issues than by prayer! Jesus taught us that true peace can only come from His Living Waters because it is a peace that the world cannot give. In today's world, people are offered any dazzling number of choices but for true peace & stability, the only Way, Truth & Life is Christ.
This message cannot be over emphasized so, don't be afraid to express it to your family members & friends who may ignore this calling from the Church, the Body of Christ. Many of the above issues seem to be beyond our control but to choose to intercede before Christ through His Church is definitely something we can choose & encourage others to join in.
The liturgical cycle also enables us to partake in the other practices: fasting & almsgiving. There are seasons for fasting. For almsgiving, after seeing the horrors of Hurricane Harvey, now is a very appropriate time to respond. Thus, I will be having a special collection next Sunday to give to this cause. The money will be channeled through the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), a body that has a well deserved international reputation for helping effectively.
Given that the whole Orthodox Church prays for God's creation at this time, it is worth making a couple of points about what the Orthodox Church teaches about creation. It has always taught that God saw His creation as being good. Further, that this is an ongoing event that continues today & will continue until the Second Coming. Like us, it was affected because of the sin of Adam & Eve but it is still good. On this point, we differ strongly from Protestant Christians, especially Evangelical Christians, who view the world as being bad because of the sin of Adam & Eve & believe that is not deserving of respect. Such groups also view the call to Adam & Eve to have dominion over the earth as an entitlement to plunder it, extracting what ever resources one can for one's benefit & pleasure. The Orthodox Church, in contrast, teaches that in having dominion over creation we must care for it & treat it with great respect. Orthodox monks dedicate their whole lives to prayer & care for creation.
More still, if we do not adhere to God's command to care for His creation, creation will rebel against us, even unleashing its fury against us. For this reason, we must take heed of the warnings that scientists are giving us about pollution, the destruction of the ecosystems & man made global warming, especially from the coal industry. Harvey is the third massive storm to hit this country in the past 12 years & this will not be the end of it! Scientists are also very concerned about the collapse of the polar icecaps because of evidence of increased melting. If this were to occur, the catastrophic consequences would be far greater than the massive storms we are currently experiencing. Those who claim that this is all a hoax, using it as an excuse to wantanly plunder God's creation place us & future generations in grave peril.
Please continue the practices that the Orthodox Church calls us to carry out with your hearts minds & souls lifted up to The Father, Son & Holy Spirit so that God will provide for our needs.
Yours, in Christ
Today, September 1st., the Orthodox Church celebrates the beginning of the Liturgical Year.
A special service, the Indiction Service is used this day to reflect on the past year & to pray for the year to come. We all have much to pray for & it is good to call on the Church to intercede for all these needs. When we call upon the Church in this way, we do not just pray for ourselves but the prayer extends beyond to the whole cosmos, embracing every level in between. If we pray with heartfelt repentence & faith, loving all those whom we pray for, even our enemies, our prayers will rise up like incense to the Heavenly Kingdom, on behalf of God's fallen creation. Thus, it becomes a wonderful moment in which we can fulfil God's command to Adam & Eve to care for what he has given us.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, Patriarch Bartholemew, in Turkey, has called on the whole Orthodox Church to pray for God's creation on this day & the Orthodox Church has responded. The Roman Catholic Church has also responded, with the Pope Francis beckoning the Roman Church & the whole Christian world to follow suit. Many Protestants Churches have followed suit, making this a world day of prayer for creation.
In an another development, for the first time in many centuries, the Patriarch Bartholemew & Pope Francis, as heads of the Eastern & Western Churches, have put out a joint statement today reflecting on what this moment means in this turbulent world.
We are not only called to pray, but act in charity where we can to those in need. This is obvious to everyone in this country as we have watched the horrors of Hurricane Harvey in Houston & its surrounding districts. If you wish to respond, you can use our own International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to do so. Any money sent to them will be well directed.
It should also be obvious that such massive storms are not simply rare events these days. We have now had 3 massive storms in the past 12 years: this one as well as Katrina & Sandy. The great majority of the scientific community has been warning us that man made global warming is putting us in great peril not only because of more dangerous weather systems but the threat of the polar ice caps collapsing because of evidence of accelerating melting in recent years.
Time will tell but the Scriptures are very clear: God does not give us the luxury of sitting on the fence in regard to His Creation: either we align ourselves with the Holy Spirit's ongoing act of Creation, which is fundamentally good, albeit fallen from the sin of Adam & Eve or, we align ourselves with the forces of chaos that war against it. We must do all that we can to avoid falling prone to those forces.
We will pray part of the Indiction Service on Sunday. If we use this service to make a heartfelt intecession to Christ for all of His creation, we will do what He has called us to do.
Yours, in Christ
After taking a vacation to see family in Australia, I am happy to say that I am back home.
Last week was certainly one for news! Even from across the other side of the world, everyone was talking about the Nazi car attack & the subsequent reactions to it. I knew that with an issue like this, I could not avoid saying something about it in my sermon. Sometimes, events encroach us so much that as a priest, I have to preach what the teachings of the Orthodox Church would say about it. I was relieved to see when I returned to the USA that two very clear statements were issued by the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the USA and the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church of America. It was also fitting that today's Gospel was the parable of the Servant who Owed Ten Thousand Talents & our need to forgive others. In contrast, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul was defending Barnabus & himself from the pettiness of the Corinthian community. Please click onto these links to read the responses and the scripture readings.
Please keep an eye on upcoming events that can be found on the calendar page. It will be updated as soon as new information is obtained. Fr. Terry
Aug 26, 2015
Prot. No. 851
By God’s Mercy
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church Grace, Peace and Mercy
From the Creator, Sustainer and Governor of All Creation
Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ
“All of creation is renewed by the Holy Spirit, returning to its original state.” (Anavathmoi, First Tone)
“Blessed are you, Lord, who alone daily renew the work of your hands.” (Basil the Great)
Brother concelebrants and blessed children in the Lord,
As everyone knows, September 1st of each year has been dedicated at the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – and recently also by the Roman Catholic Church – as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment. On this day, we especially beseech the supreme God to gladden His creation so that human life therein may be joyful and fruitful. This prayer includes of course the petition that the inevitable natural climate changes may occur and be permitted within tolerable levels both for human survival and for the planet’s sustainability.
Nonetheless, we humans – whether as individual groups or collectively – behave contrary to this very request. For we suppress nature in such a manner that unforeseeable and undesirable changes occur to the climate and environment, which are negatively affected in their normal functions with consequent implications for life itself. The cumulative result of actions by particular individuals as well as by corporate and state activities with a view to reforming the natural environment so that it might produce more resources for those who take advantage of it only leads to the destruction of creation, which was created good by God and thus functions in a balanced way.
Those of us who appreciate the danger of climate change that is only increasing by day for our planet as a result of human actions raise our voice to highlight this crisis and invite everyone to explore what could be done “so that life is not lost for the sake of greed.” (United Nations Declaration)
Therefore, as Ecumenical Patriarch, we have expended years of efforts to inform the faithful of our Church and all people of good will about the grave risks deriving from growing (ab-)use of energy resources, which threatens increasing global warming and threatens the sustainability of the natural environment.
Orthodox Christians have learned from the Church Fathers to restrict and reduce our needs as far as possible. In response to the ethos of consumerism we propose the ethos of asceticism, namely an ethos of self-sufficiency to what is needed. This does not mean deprivation but rational and restrained consumption as well as the moral condemnation of waste. “So if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6.8), as the Lord’s Apostle urges us. And after the multiplication of the five loaves and the satisfaction of five thousand people, excluding women and children, Christ Himself ordered His disciples to collect the remainder “so that nothing would be lost.” (John 6.12) Unfortunately, contemporary societies have abandoned the application of this commandment, surrendering to wastefulness and irrational abuse to satisfy vain desires of prosperity. However, such conduct can be transformed for the sake of creating resources and energy by more appropriate means.
Brothers and sisters, children in our common Lord and Creator,
Human beings have destroyed creation through greed by focusing exclusively on this earth and its earthly benefits, which we endeavor to increase constantly, like the “rich fool” in the Gospel parable. (Luke 12. 13-21) We ignore the Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being. This signifies that the response to the ecological crisis can only be successfully realized in the Holy Spirit, through whose grace our human efforts are blessed and all creation is renewed, returning to its original state, as it was created and intended by God – namely, “very good.” This is why the responsibility of humanity, as God’s co-creator endowed with free will, is immense for any proper response to the ecological crisis.
This earth resembles “an immense pile of filth.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 2015) And impurity implies more than simply material things; it primarily includes spiritual things. There are the impurities that essentially stem from the passionate thoughts of humanity. With firm faith in the Pantokrator and Creator of all creation, we Orthodox Christians are called to carry out the work of an evangelist and missionary with regard to the protection of creation. That is to say, we are called to rekindle the joyful gospel message to the modern troubled world and awaken the sleeping spiritual nature of a humanity diversely and multifariously distressed in order to convey a message of hope, peace and true joy – the peace and joy of Christ.
This is what we believe and proclaim from the most holy Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne. And we invite everyone to soberness of life, purification of passionate thoughts and selfish motivations, so that we may dwell in harmony with our neighbors and with God’s creation. Finally, we pray with Basil the Great, “who extolled the nature of things”: “Blessed are you, Lord, who alone daily renew the work of your hands. Blessed are you, Lord, who created light and darkness, distinguishing between them from each other. Blessed are you, Lord, who created all things and constructed the shadow of death by blackening the day into night. Blessed are you, Lord, who created humankind in your image and likeness, who made the day for the work of light and the night for human nature to rest . . .” (Psalter and Prayer Book, Pantokrator Monastery, Mt. Athos, 2004)
This is our message, conviction and exhortation to you all: Let us stand well; let us stand in awe before God’s creation.
May the grace and boundless mercy of our Lord, the Creator of all creation, both visible and invisible, be with you all and with the whole world, now and to the endless ages. Amen.
September 1, 2015
+Bartholomew of Constantinople
Fervent supplicant of all before God
Beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year &
The Day of Prayer for the Creation
September 1, 2015
To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
On September 1, 1989, the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I issued the first message from the Ecumenical Throne on the environment. With his proclamation and the establishment of September 1, the first day of the Ecclesiastical New Year, as the Day of Prayer for the Creation, the Church again seeks to remind us, as Mary reminded Martha, of the one needful thing - life and unity with Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ. In that statement Patriarch Demetrios I reminds us that the holy fathers of the Church teach that, "Man is the prince of creation, endowed with the privilege of freedom. Being partaker simultaneously of the material and the spiritual world, he was created in order to refer creation back to the Creator in order that the world may be saved from decay and death."
In St Ephrem the Syrian's work "Hymns on Paradise" we are given yet another guide to how we might come into that unity and life in Christ. St Ephrem tells us that God's two witnesses, or pointers, are, "Nature, through man's use of it, [and] Scripture, through his reading it."
As the summer draws to a close and children go back to, or away to school for the first time, and begin again a new academic year ecclesiastical year, let us, being reminded by the pointers to Christ as mentioned by St Ephrem, take a moment to turn to the one needful thing in praise, worship and thanksgiving for the creation and all the blessing bestowed upon us by our merciful Creator.
It is my prayer that the parishes, Sunday Schools, Youth Groups and other organizations of the Orthodox Church in America will take up this time around September 1 to celebrate the Day of Prayer for the Creation. Our Department of Christian Education has prepared an excellent Study and Activity Guide for young people titled, "The Earth is the Lord's", which can be found at www.oca.org.
With my archpastoral blessings and love
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
The name of our Church is the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church and the link below outlines the description of this feast for your convenience.
Greetings in the name of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
We come to that busy time of year, once again, when we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of Christ.
As Orthodox Christians, we may be tempted to envy all the glamor of this season: the pretty lights & displays, the air waves filled with carols, one movie after another trying to tell us to be jolly & nice and even in the local streets, the visual impact cannot be ignored! I would never want to begrudge seeing the resulting smiles on children’s faces but we must realize that the Orthodox Christian understanding of the Nativity goes much deeper. Further, in comparison to many of the commercial messages forced upon us ours is the very opposite!
The story of the Nativity from the scriptures & our liturgical services is clear: the Virgin Mary, with the protection of her husband, Joseph, search for an inn & settle for a cave with the shepherds, the angels & the wise men to witness the birth of the child Jesus. The beauty of the story embraces heaven & earth as well as all people of “good will” with a promise of great hope & salvation. Even so, this story has another side. There was no time to wait around & celebrate, because the participants had to break apart as quickly as they came together, when they were told in dreams about the hateful intentions of King Herod. He ultimately vented his apprehension of the news on the innocent children of the local district by slaughtering them.
Beyond this story, God’s revelation has given us a background & context to it that the Orthodox liturgical services strongly bring out showing that the event has immense implications. To show how this is the case, let us examine the beginning of the scriptures.
The story of creation in the Book of Genesis compares the state of Adam & Eve before and after they fell from grace by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Before the fall, God saw that creation was very good (Gen. 1:4, 11, 13, 18, 21, 24 & 32). God created Adam & Eve in his image & likeness (Gen. 1:27), and they were created to be more spiritual than flesh, for the Lord God blew into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). Our fore-parents were on close talking terms with God (Gen. 1:26-28). They were given responsibilities such as tilling the earth & caring for it (Gen. 3:7), naming creation and reporting to God about their work (Gen. 2:19), being caring stewards of the cosmos and having dominion or being custodians over it (Gen. 1:28).
After their fall from grace however, they saw their nakedness (Gen. 3:7), their bodies became flesh-like or denser (Gen. 3:7), they became subject to the ravages of nature (Gen. 3:17) and they were driven out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:23-24). Thus, they lost their home and were separated from God. The Orthodox Church also believes that their very makeup was affected. In regard to their being in the image of God, they could still seek him and his goodness but it was much more difficult to be close to him. Worse still, their relationship to God as being in created in his likeness was damaged beyond repair. The effect of this change was that their appetites, such as eating and drinking, became insatiable passions, with greed often taking over (Gen. 4:1-16; Cain & Able). There was a tendency to seek created images instead of their Creator. Creation also fell because it was dependent on us (Gen. 3:17; Rom. 8:20), and it rebelled and was no longer benign & fruitful. We have to work hard for it to be fruitful (Gen. 3:17-19).
When we look at the birth of Jesus, we note that it is with the smelly shepherds & animals, in a manger, in a cave. In his life, Jesus is often seen in the context of his creation: going to the hills to pray, out on a lake where he calms the waters, going to the desert with the wild animals and the plants. In his teachings & parables, he spoke of himself as a shepherd (Mt. 25:32; 26:31; Mk. 6:34; 14:27; Jn. 10:1-16); he talked about the mustard seed full of nesting birds (Mk.4:31-32); rescuing an animal on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:11); him loving Jerusalem like the love that a hen has for her chickens (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 12:34); the sparrows are remembered by God (Lk. 12:6). At the end of his life, he used a donkey to enter Jerusalem and the earth shook & the rocks split (Mt. 27: 51-53). Thus, he was never far from his creation! Thus, there is a great deal to celebrate, not just for us but for the whole of creation!
For St. Paul, this creation & our salvation become one in Christ. Christ is the new Adam (Rom. 5:12-31; 1 Cor. 15:45), a new creation (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:4) and a new man (Eph. 2:15; 4:24; Col. 3:10) and this was planned since the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) as a mystery hidden for ages in God (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:10). Thus, the second creation is the culmination of salvation history, restoring creation and bringing it to a higher plain. Thus, not only is creation good (1 Cor. 7:31; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11; cf. also 1 Jn. 2:17) but something in which we can faithfully partake (1 Cor. 10:26; 1 Tim. 4:4; cf. Tit. 1:15; Rom. 14:14 & 20; 1 Cor. 3:21f.) through our life in Christ (Jn. 5:26; 6:48; 14:6; 1 Jn. 1:2; 1 Jn. 5:11).
This will be fully accomplished at the second coming of Christ but his nativity not only heralds all of the above implications but we are called in our own lives in Christ to strive to live in the way that God intended for Adam & Eve: caring for creation and offering it back to Christ through our baptism and priesthood. It is part of the reason we pray, fast and give alms in preparation prior to the celebration. Nor can we ignore the backdrop of those “elemental forces of this world” (Gal. 4:3) that war against it. It manifested itself in Herod’s hatred towards those innocents he slaughtered and we see many instances of hatred and destruction in these current times.
The same holds for those who because of greed, want to abuse and pollute this earth, causing chemical contamination in our food produce, health & water management issues for many societies, the destruction of forests & species, as well as the threatening melting polar ice caps that could cause sea levels to rise. We are called to respond by praying, interceding and doing all we can to make society respect and protect all aspects of God’s creation just as he called Adam & Eve to from the very beginning.
Thus, this season is much more than an interesting story with nice cultural trimmings. It profoundly affects our lives, all those whom we pray for, our whole community & nation, in fact, the whole universe!
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
Address of Metropolitan Tikhon on the Beginning of the Church Year
In a newly produced video, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, greets the faithful and offers much food for thought on the beginning of the Church Year on September 1, 2015.
View video on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=958578364180800
In related news, read the recently posted Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon on The Beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year & The Day of Prayer for the Creation: