Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

apostles In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we gather to honor and celebrate the feast of the Holy, Glorious, and All-Laudable Apostles Peter and Paul. The Apostles had it rough – twelve men, along with some of the other followers of Christ during His earthly ministry – these few people with the task of spreading the Gospel to the world. Christ came into the world to reveal the fullness of the Truth about both God and man, and also to provide man a way to reach the potential for which he was created. We were created for relationship with God, to share with God, by His grace, in everything that He is. We were created with a very high calling. Christ came to remind us of that calling, and to show us how to exist in the way that God would have us be. It’s much more than just believing certain ontological facts, it’s much more than sensations and feelings – we are created for union with God in Christ.

It is this Gospel that the Apostles were called to reveal to the world. And there are several facets of the Gospel preached by the Apostles that are important for us to remember (and, according to our own calling, to emulate). 1 – The Apostles preached with words. They shared the teachings that Christ had entrusted to them, most especially (as St Paul says) they preach Christ and Him crucified. They preached Christ and His Kingdom to a world lost in sin and confusion. 2 – The Apostles also preached with their actions. In several of his Epistles, St. Paul calls on the people to be emulators of him, even as he is an emulator of Christ. Christ Himself, in His preaching, called on people not only to confess Him with their mouth, but also to do the deeds He called them to do. By the witness of their lives, the Apostles preached Christ and the Kingdom. 3 – Finally, the Apostles also preached by their spiritual fatherhood. It’s very interesting to see what some of our Saints have to say about the ministry of the Apostles. The Saints point out that real spiritual development takes place because we have an experienced teacher, who can lead us into that experience of Christ. The Apostles had the most intimate knowledge of Christ, and it was with this personal experience of the Godman that they were able to also lead others to have that same experience with the Incarnate Lord.

A point that I think is important to remember, especially in light of some of the things going on in our country and the way some Christian groups choose to respond to it – take special note that the Apostles preached Christ and the Kingdom, they did not lecture on morality. Look at the homilies of our Lord – He would call the Jews (the chosen people) to repentance and to account for their faith. But when He preached to the Gentiles, He preached the Kingdom of God. Look at the Apostles – to the masses they preached Christ and Him crucified, they called people to conversion and to salvation. In their letters, which were to the Christian Churches, they would call people out for their sin and they would preach morality and proper living. I think this distinction is important because, as St. Paul says, some people need milk, and others are ready for strong meat. Those who don’t know Christ don’t need to hear us condemning their actions – in fact, if they don’t accept Christ, then they have no reason to listen to us at all. Those outside of the Church need to hear about Christ. [And I’m not saying that we can never state what the Church teaches and believes; we must do that; but the focus of our ministry is to share the Gospel with the world.] We preach Christ to the world, and the meat we preach and share within the Church, with those who have already accepted Christ.

So today, we remember those few chosen by Christ to share His Gospel with the entire world. It’s amazing now, 2000 years later, to look around and see that Christianity (in all its various forms) is now the largest religion in the world. God blessed their efforts, and we are some of the fruit of that labor.

As a last word about how we join our work to that of the Apostles…We live our lives like the Apostles, and the Gospel shares itself! As we read in the Holy Scriptures, the early Christians were known by their love for one another – we’re also told to be salt and life and light for the world. If we live the Gospel that the Apostles preached, that may well be our greatest missionary contribution to Christ’s Holy Church.

By the prayers of the Holy, Glorious, and All-Laudable Apostles Peter and Paul, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us, Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

7th Sunday of Pascha

PantokratorActs 20:16-18, 28-36; John 17:1-13

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Our Gospel reading today comes from a larger section of St. John’s Gospel that we can refer to as the High Priestly Prayer of Christ. The Father’s teach us that man was created to be the prophet, priest, and king in the world – so here is the perfect Godman praying as the High Priest of all creation. It’s easy to see how this prayer parallels priestly prayer – the prayer is an offering of the work which Christ has done, and of the men whom he has gathered and taught and offered to the Father. It is a prayer of offering, and of thanksgiving. The theme, so to speak, of the prayer is the preservation of the Apostles. As the prayer says, our Lord manifested the name of God to the Apostles; He witnessed to God and to His own Messiahship and Godhead; He taught them, and they believed His words and followed His ministry. Now the time has come for Jesus to leave the world, so He prays that His followers be preserved in their faith, since by believing in Him they have truly become children of the Father. He prays again that His followers be preserved, and that they might be one, even as Christ and the Father are one. This prayer continues beyond our Gospel reading, with Christ continuing to ask that the Apostles be kept from evil and be kept separated from the world. He also prays several more times that they be one, united with one another in love, just as the Holy Trinity is united as one in love. Our Lord knew that the job the Apostles would be called to do after His death, resurrection, and ascension, would be a very difficult and trying task. They would be taking the Gospel, the Good News, the full Truth about both God and man, and they would be preaching this Gospel to an unbelieving people. They would be persecuted, hated, despised, tortured, and even killed in the proclamation of the Word of the Lord. So Jesus prays fervently for them, that they be one, strong in faith and love, sanctified, and preserved.

As I read the Gospel, and the Epistle, I was reminded of the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The Apostles had abandoned all for that Pearl which was valuable beyond all reckoning – they abandoned all for the sake of following Christ. So our Lord prays that they be given grace and strength to keep that path of seeking the One Thing Needful. Our Lord prays in the Gospel, and St. Paul offers a warning in the Epistle. There’s the beautiful image St Paul uses of the leaders shepherding the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood. He then warns these leaders of the Church of Ephesus that after he left, savage wolves would come from the outside and attack the flock. He also warns that people will rise up from within the flock, and speak perverse things, false teachings, trying to draw people away from the Church and gather disciples themselves. Our Lord prayed for the preservation of His followers, and St. Paul warns them about some of the dangers which might be coming their way. The flock is attacked both from the outside, and from false teachers that rise up within the Church. Today we remember the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council, a council which was called to deal with people inside the Church who were spreading false teachings about Christ and trying to draw disciples away from the Church and to themselves.

Both of these things St Paul mentions have happened throughout the history of the Christian Church; She has suffered both from persecution and from heresy and schism. We continue to see these things happening today. Just as our Lord prayed for the preservation of the flock, we also should pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering persecution in places like Syria, Egypt, Middle East in general, and also places like China and N. Korea, Iran, and the list goes on. These parts of the world are filled with people who literally risk their lives every single day to be followers of our Lord and Saviour. The Fathers tell us to live in such a way that we’re ready to die at any moment; this is the only way to survive when your physical life is threatened daily just for being a Christian. We also continue to deal with attacks from inside the Church, from schism and heresy. Whether it’s bishops breaking away from one another for various reasons, or leaders and people in the Church teaching false doctrine, or especially tempting today is the struggle between the changing morals of society (from abortion to homosexuality to syncretism and beyond) and the steadfast Truths proclaimed for over 2,000 years by the Church. There will always be those attempting to destroy the Church of Christ – our Lord says it, and history has demonstrated it time and time again.

As I always like to ask – how does this impact me today? Here are 4 simple things for our daily lives to help us do what Christ has prayed we able to do, and avoid what St. Paul has warned us to avoid.

1 – we follow Christ’s example and we pray for those suffering persecutions in the world (that we all may be one);
2 – we continually strive to follow Christ with the fervor of the persecuted, with the ardor and the love of the Apostles and of all the Saints (repentance – turning our back on the world and constantly reorienting ourselves toward Christ);
3 – we reinforce both our spiritual life and our understanding of our Faith by the regular reading of the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers/Mothers/Saints of the Church;
4 – both individually and as a community, we stand strong in the Faith and we don’t let ourselves be swayed in the wind by various fads and the constantly fluctuating morals of our society.

God is the same today, yesterday, and forever – and we’re called to follow Him. As our Lord prayed to the Father – may we be kept in His Holy Name, following in His footsteps, both working out our own salvation in fear and trembling before the Lord, and also spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Post by Matthew Jackson

“Give Me to Drink” – The Water of Life (John 4:5-42)

sunday-of-the-samaritan-womanIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

This morning I would like us to begin with the first thing that our Lord said to the woman of Samaria – “Give Me to drink.” He then uses that simple request to offer her the water of eternal life. In our society today, so many people are so lost, oftentimes ourselves included. As human beings, we’re searching constantly for something to fulfill us. And so we fill our lives with whatever we can find to bring momentary peace and happiness – but many of those things just lead to a greater feeling of emptiness. This “lack,” this feeling of needing something more, is, in a sense, driving our generation nuts. People want something, need something, but they don’t know what it is. We need desperately to see Jesus as He is, and to allow Him to fill that existential gap in our soul. As we’ll see this morning, He doesn’t force Himself on us, our free will always remains intact, but Christ offers Himself to us. And only in accepting that offer (and everything “accepting” entails) can we be made whole, and partake of the living water of eternal life.

So back to our reading from the Gospel of St. John – we find Jesus alone, sitting at a well in Samaria while his disciples have gone to buy food in the city. As a particular woman comes to draw water, our Lord makes a request that ultimately changes her life – “Give Me to drink,” He asks. She’s initially overcome by shock, because the Jews and the Samaritans don’t have anything to do with one another; Samaritans were considered unclean by the Jews, so Jesus speaking with her was very unusual. Also unusual, very different from the pattern we normally see in the Gospels, our Lord speaks very plainly and very directly with this woman, telling her that if she knew who He was, she would ask Him for living water. I think we should take note of how directly our Lord speaks with her, not veiling His speech as He normally does – it shows us that He approaches each person in the way that’s best for that individual. The Samaritan woman is confused by this talk of Christ giving her water, since He has no way to get water from the well. He then explains: “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

The Samaritan woman then makes the critical request: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst.” She makes the request, even though she doesn’t fully understand what her request entails, she makes the request that Christ share His life with her, since He is the living water which quenches every thirst. Jesus then moves to open her eyes, to help her understand Who He is, and what this living water is really all about. In the course of the dialogue, our Lord not only tells her all about her own life, He also prophesies about the future, and at the end of the conversation He reveals to her that He is the promised Messiah. This meeting with Christ changes something in the Samaritan woman – she returns to her town and tells everyone that she has met a man who told her all she ever did, and she invites them to come and see the Christ/Messiah/Saviour. Our Lord then has a very similar conversation with the Apostles, reminding them again that the bread which satisfies every hunger is the bread which comes from God. This water and this bread are not physical, but are the deeply satisfying things of the spirit, ultimately, Christ Himself.

After the rest of His conversation with His Apostles (which we won’t look at today), we see the Samaritan woman returning with many people from her village. The fact that our Lord had been able to tell her all about her own life was enough that “many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him.” The begged him to stay on and teach for two more days, and we read that “many more believed because of His own word. ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world’.” The people heard of Christ, then they desired to meet Him themselves, and they were converted both by what was said about Him, and by their actual meeting with Him as well.

So how does this tie back in to where we began? Just as this Samaritan woman had a hole in her spirit that she was constantly trying to fill with things of this world (in her case, men/sex, with five husbands behind her and the man she was with not even being her husband), so also many of us and those around us have this hole. There is a part of our life (and really, all of our life) that only God can fulfill – we are created in His image and in His likeness, so our fulfillment can only be in and through Him. We can trace the path of our fulfillment in Christ, of our purification and salvation, by looking at the conversion of the Samaritan woman.

Here we see three basic steps: she heard Christ, she met Christ, and she followed Christ.

1st – as with the people of the town, the first step is always hearing about Christ. The townspeople heard about Christ, heard what He had said and done, and many believed. We have many opportunities to hear Christ – we hear in Him in the reading of the Scriptures, we hear Him in our holy services, we hear Him in our daily prayers, we hear Him in our reading of the lives of the Saints and other spiritual books. The other side of hearing Christ, of course, is sharing Christ, just as the Samaritan woman did. She shared what she had seen and heard, which starts this process of introduction to the Lord with a whole new group of people.

2nd – we meet the Lord. The life changing event for the Samaritan woman was meeting the Lord. When the people of the town heard about Christ, they desired to meet Him, they went to Him, and many more believed because they’d met Him. The Fathers of the Church teach us very clearly (as do the Scriptures) that it is not enough to know about Christ, or simply to hear about Christ. We also have to meet Him face to face – we have to experience the presence of Christ. Of course, we experience God in many of the same ways that we meet Him – Scripture, services, prayer, reading. The difference is that we learn cognitively in hearing, we learn by experience when we meet Him.

3rd – we find our fulfillment in Christ by following Him. All three of these steps are so tied together – we hear our Lord in those same places where we meet Him, and it is really only by following Him that we’re offered the chance to meet Him. How do we know that the Samaritan woman followed Christ? By her immediate response to Him. How do we follow Christ? We love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, we begin to follow God by doing those things He has commanded us to do. This is the ascetic life of the Church – denying ourselves and our own will, and doing those things that are pleasing to God. And we join to the ascetic life our life of prayer, because it’s really our life of prayer in God where that relationship is built up and sustained. We pour out our hearts to God, we ask His forgiveness and His healing, and after we learn to sit and to be quiet and to be with God, then we become material that He can work with, that He can speak with and mold and fill with His Holy Presence.

As St. Seraphim of Sarov was so famous for saying – this life is given to us for the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit. This life is all about God, and it’s only by keeping our Lord firmly in front of us, as our only hope and our only gain and our only desire, it’s only by keeping Christ as our aim that we can ultimately be fulfilled in this life, which means being what God has created us to be.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Post by Matthew Jackson

Sent by Christ: Sharing the Gospel with the World

Great CommissionActs 5:12-20
John 20:19-31

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

This morning, I’d like us to consider the question, “What has Christ called/commanded us to do as His followers?” And even more specifically, I want to look at one aspect of that question: “What has Christ called us to do in relation to those people around us who are not members of the Body of Christ?” We have just celebrated, and will continue to celebrate for the next 40 days, THE central event in all of human history – the death and resurrection of our Lord, so that we might become part of His Body and be saved.

We bear His name, the name of Christian, and bearing this name comes with responsibility. It’s not just a name we take on so that we get to go to heaven – being a member of the Body of Christ means that there are things which we need to do. Our Lord mentions one of those things in the Gospel reading today; He answers the question I want us thinking about, “What has Christ called us to do in relation to those people around us who are not members of the Body of Christ?” We just heard from St. John’s Gospel: “Peace be unto you! as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (v21). Obviously, He is speaking to the Apostles, but His words apply to us all. What is Christ sending us to do? St. Matthew’s Gospel spells it out in more detail, when the Lord tells the Apostles to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Apostles, and we by extension, are being sent into the world in the name of Jesus to share the Gospel and to teach the nations the Truth.

Not only did Jesus send the Apostles into the world, He blessed them, “receive ye the Holy Spirit.” They are not sent out to fend for themselves, they are sent in the strength and grace of God. In another place in St. John’s Gospel, our Lord tells His followers “verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). How is the Gospel, the Good News about both God and man, how is the Gospel to spread throughout the world? Those who believe are called to share the Faith. We are sent, as the Apostles were sent by the Lord. In our Epistle reading this morning we see an example of this brought to life. The Apostles went out to share the Gospel, and in Acts we read “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people…[and] the people magnified them and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” (Acts 5:12-14) The Apostles went out and shared the Gospel both by their preaching and working miracles, and many people were converted and added to the Body of Christ. Further in the reading we also hear about more people being brought and being healed by the hands of the Apostles through the grace of God.

So how does this come down to us today, in 21st century America? We are still sent by Christ – we are sent from this gathering into the world to share the Gospel of Christ. A few ideas on what this might look like…1 – In order to share Christ, we first have to work on ourselves. In plain English, this means we have to work on our sinful lives, ever decreasing our sin and growing more like Christ. We can’t witness to Christ if we’re following the way of the world. We’re supposed to be a light on a hill for the world to see, salt to properly season the world; we’re called to be in the world but not of the world. If we are loved by the world, and if we love the world, then sharing with others the Cross of Christ becomes very difficult if not impossible. I can’t call you to a new life if I’m not living that new life already myself. 2 – Secondly, and directly related to the first, our lives of prayer and sanctification have to be healthy in order to share the Gospel with the world. Remember that even the Apostles couldn’t always heal – there was the instance of the possessed boy who Jesus healed, and told the Apostle that this could only be done through prayer and fasting. As understood by many of the Saints, our relationship with Christ is built on prayer. Our lives are supposed to be lives of prayer, filling as much time as possible with calling on the name of the Lord. We follow the commandments, we pray, we fast, we live lives dedicated to Christ, and slowly we become ever more like Him.

Then what happens? Then being sent can begin to bear fruit. People should know there’s something different about us just by observation. This gives us a chance to tell these people about Christ. And there are countless opportunities in our daily conversation to share Christ on some level, whether by not participating in certain conversations, or by offering something from the Bible/Fathers in conversation…we have a lot of opportunity in conversation to bring out our faith and share at least a glimpse of the Gospel. Then there’s the ageless suggestion which we see even from the time of the Apostles, to invite those around us to “come and see.” As the Apostle Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see the Lord, we can make that same invitation to those people around us. Come and see – and in the context of the holy services of our Church, God’s grace is present and ever-working. We have the responsibility to bring others with us, to introduce them to the fullness of the Truth found in our Holy Orthodox Church. But no method of sharing will bear fruit if our lives don’t also convict others of the Gospel. May God give us strength to walk the narrow path, and by following the way of Christ, my our lives also be used to call others to the brilliance of life in Christ.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Matthew Jackson

Mount Athos: A Visit to the Holy Mountain

Christ is Risen!

There are so many wonderful videos available on YouTube, and I feel like making a few more of those videos available to people here on my blog. These two videos make up the 60 Minutes story on Mt Athos that ran last Easter season. There are multiple interviews with monks, as well some of the incredible sights and sounds of the Holy Mountain. Watching this piece really took me back to my time at this holy place. And, all in all, it’s a decent piece. Enjoy!

 

 

Post by Matthew Jackson

Elder Ephraim on ‘The Spiritual War’

I have seen this video before, but came upon it again today and have greatly enjoyed seeing it again. In it, the Elder speaks to a parish in Pittsburg about living the Christian life, which is often discussed in terms of spiritual warfare both in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. I think that watching this video on the heels of Pascha is wonderful timing – reminding us of our high calling from Christ, bestowed upon mankind by His Holy Death and Resurrection. Let us hold tight to our dear Christ, and wage the warfare by His mercy. Christ is Risen!

In the video, there is an introduction by the parish priest, then Elder Ephraim will speak a bit in Greek, and the priest will translate into English. I love watching the Elder speak…his body language brings to my mind the word guileless. A delightful video which I hope you enjoy.

Post by Matthew Jackson

Veneration of the Cross/St. Tikhon – 3rd Sunday of Great Lent

crossMark 8:34-9:1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today, on this middle Sunday of the Great Fast, we have two magnificent commemorations set before us. We have the usual remembrance for the Third Sunday of Lent – the Veneration of the Holy Cross. We also remember today the life and miracles of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Russia and Apostle to America.

The Fathers give us the Veneration of the Cross today as a consolation. We’re going through the rigors of Lent – the fasting, ascetic discipline, services, spiritual reading and prayer – and we’re reminded today of why we undertake these things. This is the only time during the year that full prostrations are prescribed for us as we walk into Church on Sunday morning. We fall down before the Cross in worship, as the troparion says, glorifying the Holy Resurrection. The Cross reminds us not only of the suffering Servant, but also of the Risen Lord. It’s not like we’re trying to perfect ourselves of our own power, rather we are trying to make ourselves better receptacles for the grace of God. We soften ourselves, we become more like Christ, and that opens us to receive the grace and the presence of the Creator. Remember what the Scriptures say about Christ – He emptied Himself, and took the form of a servant, for our salvation. And now we empty ourselves – we rid ourselves of sin and all that stands between us and God – and we prepare ourselves to be filled with His presence. We practice what we just heard from the Gospel of St. Mark – we deny ourselves, take up our Cross, and follow Christ. And it’s in this lifestyle of putting the things of God in the first place in our lives that we finally find peace and fulfillment in our lives. Our homiletics professor at seminary always told us to remind people that the best life possible is life in Christ. In sin we become slaves, unable to control our desires and even our actions. We become what we’re created to be by willingly setting aside our wants and accepting the Cross of Christ.
What is this Cross? Fr. Thomas Hopko says it very well in one of his talks on the Cross: he says that our Cross is whatever obstacles we face in this life. So whether we born with certain struggles, acquire them in our youth or old age, have them forced upon us by others, chase them with all our might – any struggle we face in this life is the Cross that God has allowed on our shoulders. We carry it faithfully by always offering our lives to Him, by walking without complaining or self-pity, and by seeking our life’s salvation in that place where we actually are. Fulfilling the purpose of our creation is the best we can possibly do in this world.

We see this played out, “proven,” in the lives of the Saints. The Saints accept whatever God allows to come their way, and their lives are fulfilled, and they grow to be holy men and women by simply carrying the Cross of Christ. I encourage you with every ounce of encouragement I can give – read the lives of the Saints! Their lives stand as guiding lights for us, we can draw such inspiration for our own life in Christ by reading the lives of the holy men and women of God who’ve gone on before us. Today we remember St. Tikhon – a perfect example of a man taking up the Cross. St. Tikhon was sent to North America to be her Archbishop – he left home, family, and country, traveling across the world to spread the Gospel in a foreign land. I love the concreteness of the missionary saints leaving their home and traveling to another place; it’s a very visual example of taking up the Cross of Christ. Of course, we’re called to live in this place with much the same detachment – being in this world but not of this world; living in this place and participating in the Kingdom at the same time. St. Tikhon was eventually brought home to Russia, and elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia during an incredibly difficult time for the Russian Orthodox Church. His time as Archpastor of Russia was fraught with struggles – pushing back against the godless authorities, dealing with the Living Church, dealing with traitors within his own Church – and in the midst of this all, he had to find a way not only to live his own life in Christ, but to lead others to that same experience as well. Through all of the turmoil, St. Tikhon was a beacon of light for Christians. He was a true man of God, doing what needed to be done in order for the Gospel to be preached, and for people to grow in their relationships with Christ.

So today we have some consolation. We remember the Cross, we remember the Resurrection, and we remember the great St. Tikhon – all three of these recalling for us the goal of our labors. We don’t fast to fast – the demons never eat, as the Desert Father reminds us. Our goal is always Christ. May our Lenten journey make us soft, so that the presence of Christ can penetrate our hearts, and we can become truly children of the Father.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson