SUNDAY OF THE BLIND MAN

Sermon for the Sunday of the Man Born Blind
May 24, 2020; John 9:1-38

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is Risen!

Dear Brothers and Sisters, today’s Gospel reading can basically be divided into three sections: #1 the discussion between our Lord and His disciples about why the man was blind; #2 the miracle itself and how it came about, and #3 the harassment of the formerly blind man and his subsequent encounter with Jesus. This morning I’m just going to begin speaking on the first section, the first 3 verses of chapter 9 of the Gospel according to St. John.

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (Jn.9:1-3)

Why would the disciples even ask Jesus such a question? Well, don’t be so quick to judge them. Many of the Jews believed that guilt and punishment for sins would be passed down to their children. Why? Because of the Second Book of Moses, Exodus 20:5 which says: “I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations to those who hate me.” (LXX)

The Lord Jesus utterly rejects this notion, as do the Church Fathers. St. John Chrysostom points out that even God Himself, through the Prophet Ezekiel refutes this idea when he says:

“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, what mean ye by this parable among the children of Israel, saying, ‘The fathers have eaten unripe grapes, and the children's teeth have been set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord, surely this parable shall no more be spoken in Israel. For all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son, they are mine” (Ezekiel 18:1-4 LXX).

And later in Ezekiel, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Children will not suffer because of the sins of their parents, at least not from God. This is the clear teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel. That’s not to say that children won’t be affected by the sins of their parents. St. Paul says: “Fathers, do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). St. John Chrysostom rightly asks: “How will you be able to correct your son…if you yourself behave so badly?” And in another place he says: “When harmony (between husbands and wives) prevails , the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down” (Homily 20 on Ephesians).

The truth is that our God is a loving God, and not One to torture us or wreak some cruel generational punishment upon us. In fact, quite the opposite is true. David, in Psalm 102 sings: “the mercy of the Lord is from generation to generation upon them that fear him, and his righteousness to children's children; to them that keep his covenant, and remember his commandments to do them” (vs 17-18).

And again: “If thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? For with thee is forgiveness” (Psalm 129:3-4).

No, the blind man was not guilty, his parents were not guilty, neither were his grandparents guilty. He was blind, but his blindness was not without meaning. His blindness that day was for the manifestation and revelation of exactly that, God’s abundant and merciful love for mankind.

The blind man was instructed to go to the pool named Siloam in order to be healed. Siloam means “Sent.” And why was he “sent” there? Because…

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

Amen.

SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN 2020

SERMON FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ is Risen!

The Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel is exposed as a very immoral person, isn’t she? The Gospel shows that it was Jesus Himself Who exposed her sinfulness when He “said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and return here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.’” Now notice that he didn’t expose her publicly. He didn’t reveal her sins in front of others. He was careful not to humiliate or embarrass her that way. Her boyfriend wasn’t there. Her children were not there. The disciples of Jesus were not there. The townspeople were not there. Notice too how he didn’t speak harshly or angrily with her. St. Paul, in our Bible Study chapter this week, admonished the Galatians to behave in a similar way: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any misstep, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

Jesus does not condemn the woman, and doesn’t judge her. He simply points out her sins. Why? In order to teach us to learn from His example. Each person, even if they appear to be immersed in their sins and fixed in their position, is nonetheless a child of God and is potentially a faithful member of the Church. This is, by the way, why many priests, including myself, will gladly offer prayers, moliebens, etc. for non-Orthodox, non-Christians, and even atheists. We are taught to view each person in hope, and to meet each person with love. This is what the Gospel demands. And why not? Notice the woman was not obstreperous, she did not react defiantly, but her heart drank in that “living water” of the Spirit like parched earth, didn’t she? Because her heart was open, because she allowed that “yearning for God” which every single human being is born with; because she allowed that yearning to bubble-up within her soul, she was able to receive Christ’s word of salvation, and was able to recognize Him as the Messiah, the Christ.

Even a word of correction, if it is delivered with love, can be received as a positive word, as a healing word. St. Paul said that we will know that we are maturing as Christians when we are “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). With these things in mind, I’d like to share with you two stories from my own life-experience. (If you’ve heard them before, as always, I beg your indulgence and your pardon.)

The first took place many years ago at Philotheou monastery on Mount Athos. Our small group of pilgrims were hoping to receive Holy Communion there at the Liturgy the next morning. The guest-master told us that the rule there was Confession before Communion, which we assumed would be the case. In the middle of the night, during the Kathisma of Matins I was tapped on the shoulder by a young hierodeacon who escorted me to a side chapel. I was shown a chair in the near total darkness. Seated across from me, barely visible in the dim candle light, was a small elderly monk wearing his priestly stole, epitachilion. The young hierodeacon, in perfect unaccented English, told me I could begin my confession. I asked him, “Does Father speak English?” He answered “No, but I will translate for you.” Well, I thought, this will be a first! So, I commenced my translated confession. The old monk listened, head tilted slightly, but didn’t say a word. When I was finished, it turned out...I wasn’t. The old man finally spoke, and through the hierodeacon, asked me about the sins I had forgotten to confess, listing them one by one, about ten or fifteen in all. I was dumbfounded, but not defensive. They were all true. All were accurate. But I did not feel condemned, I did not feel judged. I felt only peace and calm, like a spiritual warm embrace, and that’s exactly what it was, the forgiving and saving embrace of Christ. My sins were exposed, but my joy remained. This is speaking the truth in love. This is correction in the Holy Spirit. And of course later in the stay at Philotheou monastery it was revealed that the elderly monk who heard my confession was none other than Elder Ephraim himself, and the young hieromonk who helped me, is now the Abbot of St. Anthony’s in Arizona, Archimandrite Paisios.

The last story takes place on the Russian island named Talabsk (“Zalit” in Soviet times) in the middle of Lake Pskov, on the Estonian border. We were a small group of pilgrims, so we hired a fishing boat to take us out there, hopefully in time for Divine Liturgy, and hopefully to meet a renowned elder, a staretz, named Father Nikolay Gurianov.

I didn’t know much about this elder. I knew that he was a very aged parish priest and that he had suffered at the hands of the communists for years. He had been exiled, he had been sent to a work camps where his feet were ruined. I also knew that he was a church poet and a writer of ecclesiastical songs and hymns. So, we were going to meet him. But in my mind I asked myself, “Does one simply go to “meet” a Confessor for the faith? A staretz? I thought that I should at least have a question for him. But what question? It mustn’t be a stupid question, I thought. It must be profound yet humble. I don’t want to embarrass myself! So the Liturgy ended. Elder Nikolay was unvesting in a room off of the altar. It had a double curtain rather than a door, and I could see the elder looking out at me, or was it “us?” I couldn’t really tell. Suddenly, he bee-lined out of the little room right at me. He grabbed me in his arms and as he held me, he began to sing. I didn’t know what the song was, and I never did get to ask him a question. But later I was told by our Russian fellow-traveler what he was singing: “My soul, my soul, arise! Why art thou sleeping? The end is drawing near, and thou shalt be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare thee, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.” I asked no question, but I got my answer. I was corrected while I was being embraced; my sins were exposed, yet I felt nothing but love. This is what the Samaritan woman experienced on that day. That’s why she repented. That’s why she changed her whole life around, and that’s why she’s a saint on our calendar – St. Photini, the Samaritan Woman.

So dear ones, when we are tempted to react with angry words, or harsh and vengeful criticisms, whether directed at spouses or children, or co-workers, or the cashier, or the driver on the road, or your fellow parishioner or your relatives...stop. Remember the example of Christ with Photini. Remember the example of God’s holy ones. Stop. Take a breath. Let grace return to your soul, and when the time is right, speak the truth in love. Amen.
Christ is Risen!

SERMON ON THE HEALING OF THE PARALYTIC AT THE POOL "BETHESDA"

SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC
May 10, 2020

Beloved,
Christ is Risen!

This morning we heard the reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 5, concerning the paralytic who was miraculously healed by our Lord Jesus Christ. A few pages further, in chapter 9, we will read about the healing of the man who was born blind. On this occasion, that is the healing of the blind man, the disciples had asked the Lord: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” The Saviour replied: “Neither hath sinned this man nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” In other words, the affliction, or the blindness, was not a result of sins committed by the blind man, nor a punishment brought upon his parents because of their sins. This was simply a “natural” occurrence; natural in accordance with the nature of this fallen world. Neither he, nor his parents, did something, committed some offense, which resulted in God visiting blindness upon the son. I don’t want to say too much concerning this because we shall hear more about it two Sundays from now on the Sunday of the Blind Man.

But what about the paralytic in today’s Gospel? We heard that after his miraculous healing, the Lord went and found him in the Temple, and said to him: “Behold thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” What can we learn from this? Lots of things, but first of all we must come to grips with the reality that his illness came as a result of his sins. “Sin is a fearful thing,” says St. John Chrysostom, “fearful and the ruin of the soul. And oftentimes, in excess, it overflows and attacks men’s bodies also” (Hom.38 on St. John).

In Deuteronomy 28 we hear a chilling list of maladies that might afflict people who sin, who disobey God’s commandments. Some are: plague (oooh that sounds familiar!), tuberculosis, fever, inflammation, the boils of Egypt, hemorrhoids, festering sores, and “an itch, from which you cannot be healed.” We can see clear examples of this in the Bible too. For example, for the sins of disobedience, lying, deception, covetousness and avarice, Gehazi (Γιεζι), the disciple of Elisha, was covered with leprosy and forced to depart from the Prophet's presence (2 Kings 5:27). For the sin of disbelief, Zachariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, was struck dumb, unable to speak (Luke 1:22). For the sin of daring to touch the Ark of the Covenant, which the Law strictly forbade him to do, plus the sin of not trusting God’s ability to prevent the Ark from falling off the cart, Uzzah dropped dead on the spot. (2 Samuel 6:1-7; 1 Chronicles 13:9-12).

It’s not that God does evil things to us or wants to hurt us. No, not at all! He loves us. But sometimes God allows physical afflictions to bring about our repentance, a change in our minds. Thus, St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, turns the incestuous - adulterer over to Satan for the destruction of his body, that in the end his soul might be saved ( I Cor. 5:5). And happily, in Second Corinthians, we learn that the man repented and was, eventually, restored to the Church's communion (2 Cor. 2: 6 -7).

So we see by these examples that sometimes illness or infirmity can be a means for our deliverance from sin. This was surely the case for the paralytic in today’s Gospel. He was a wicked sinner in his youth, and as a result, he was afflicted with some type of paralysis for 38 years! What was he lacking? Repentance. After the Saviour healed the man, He later went out to show His disciples what became of him. And where does He find him? In the Temple. “This” says St. John Chrysostom, “is an indication of his great piety; for he departed not to the market places, or the promenades, nor gave himself up to luxury and ease, but remained in the Temple, in spite of being attacked and harassed there by so many. But none of these things persuaded him to depart from the Temple” (Ibid.).

But what was the nature of the paralytic’s sin? What had he done, that required such a strong medicine to effect his cure? The Gospel does not tell us. We only know that he sinned, and that Christ tells him to sin no more, lest something worse should come upon him. By worse He does not mean a worse physical affliction, but eternal damnation, the death that is worse than death.

So, beloved, “let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us,” as the Apostle says (Hebrews 12:1). Let us be alarmed at our weakness and our susceptibility to its infections. Let us take courage in the healing words of the Saviour and “sin no more.” When we are once again permitted, let us run continually to the Temple and meet Christ here, and gain healing, salvation, and eternal life from Him.

Christ is Risen!

SERMON: SUNDAY OF THE HOLY MYRRHBEARERS

SERMON: Sunday the Holy Myrrhbearers
May 3, 2020

On the third Sunday after Pascha, the Church celebrates the first witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection — the women who came to anoint His body with fragrant oils, the “Myrrhbearers” — along with the men who took Him down from the cross and buried Him, St. Joseph of Arimathea & St. Nicodemus the Righteous.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday — the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) and the day before the Jewish feast of the Passover. When He died, it was imperative that He be buried before the Sabbath, because it was against the Law to work on the Sabbath. Ss. Joseph & Nicodemus took His body down from the cross, hastily anointed the Lord with aloes and spices, and wrapped Him in a shroud made of linen. They placed Him in a new tomb, intended for Joseph originally, and sealed it with a massive stone.

While Peter and the other male disciples slept, the women disciples of the Lord bought more spices, fragrant oils and myrrh. They went to the tomb as soon as it was beginning to dawn, to finish the job of preparing His body. As they walked, they discussed how they could even get into the tomb, sealed by that huge stone that was too heavy for them to move.

When they arrived, the tomb was open, and He was gone! He had risen, as He foretold. They made several trips back and forth to Jerusalem, telling the disciples the good news, leading them back to the tomb, and searching for His Body to confirm the Resurrection the angels proclaimed. Thus, the Holy Myrrh-bearing women were not only the first disciples to witness the resurrection, they were also the first disciples to proclaim the resurrection!
But for a moment I would like to back-track. I’d like to back-track to that walk in the pre-dawn morning. We’ve talked before about this walk of the myrrh-bearing women in terms of their courage. It’s worth repeating. To recap: Both the Roman and the Jewish authorities were on the lookout to arrest and try any of the disciples of Jesus that they could catch, yet the women walked on. The temple leaders also feared that some of Jesus’ disciples might try to steal His body and proclaim that He had risen. That’s why they set a guard. They were a band of soldiers, and their job was to prevent anyone from approaching or opening the tomb, yet the women walked on. The men were hiding. The men were sleeping, yet the women walked on. Now that’s what I call courage, courage fueled by faith!

But now I want to reference another aspect of this walk. What is that? Well, it’s a walk that all of us are supposed to take every Holy Saturday night. We were prevented this year, but next year should be different, I pray! This the meaning of that sacred triple circumambulation we take around the temple. We are supposed to be imitating the Holy Myrrh-bearers. Isn’t that why we carry lit candles signifying our faith in the one Who is the Light of the World? Isn’t that why we sing “Thy resurrection O Christ our Saviour, the angels in heaven sing, enable us on earth, to glorify Thee with purity of heart.” Isn’t that about us, imitating the holy myrrhbearers, and singing about the resurrection in anticipation of the resurrection? Yes! Yes it is! And what about “purity of heart?” Doesn’t that refer to all of our efforts during Great Lent, all of our sacrifices, all of our repentance, all of our labors to change our lives, change our habits, change our attitudes and the way we deal with other people? Isn’t it all done so that we, as St Paul says, might become “a sweet perfume of Christ to God to those being saved; and to those who are perishing?” (2 Corinthian 2:15). And what does Yeshua ben Sira say? “Listen to me, my faithful children, and blossom like a rose growing by a stream of water. Send out fragrance like incense, and put forth blossoms like a lily. Diffuse your sweet aroma, and sing a hymn of praise; bless the Lord for all his works” (Sirach 39: 13-14).
So, dear ones, as we remember the Holy Myrrh-bearers today, let’s not forget that their walk of faith and courage needs to be an example for us for our whole lives. First: Always walk toward Christ, always seek Christ even though evils and dangers surround you. Even if others tell you He is dead, keep on walking. Never hide from Him or run away from Him. Second: Always carry with you in your hearts the flame of faith that recognizes that only Christ is the Light of the world and no one else. Only He can vanquish the darkness. Only He can conquer death. Third: Always make sure that you are striving to be a myrrh-bearer, a sweet fragrance of Christ in the world. Always seek to acquire the virtues and to shed the evil passions, then the Holy Spirit will lead you, lead you to that place where angels will await you, where Christ Himself will greet you, where things too heavy for you to move or too hard for you to bear will be rolled away forever, where the tomb is always empty, and death is no more. Amen. Christ is Risen!

THURSDAY NIGHT BIBLE STUDY

THURSDAY NIGHT BIBLE STUDY

Well, I thought I might be able to do this "live-streamed" tonight, but I'm sorry, it didn't happen. Maybe next week. Here's the text at any rate. I hope you find it instructive, edifying, and perhaps consoling as we remain in our bunkers. "Bring my soul out of prison that I might confess Thy Name!" (Psalm 141/142:7 LXX)

Galatians Chapter 4

1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father.

This means that a child, even though he may be an heir to a kingdom, is subject to the provisions set down by his father prior to his death. He has regents, and guardians, all of whom speak for him and have authority over him until he comes to the appointed age. He's really no different than a slave even though he is, in potential, the master of all who are ruling for and over him. The Greek word used for “child” here is “nipios” meaning an infant. Figuratively it is also used for someone who is simple or lacks understanding.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.

Paul says: We Jews, because we were infantile in our maturity and understanding, were subject (literally enslaved) to the rule of the Law. We were not free. “Elements of the world” means things like New Moons, Sabbaths, cycles of the sun and moon, etc., elements of the Law.

Paul wants to shame the Galatians by comparing them to infants and simple people, at least those who wanted to adopt the Jewish Law.

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

The Law was the precursor to Christ. The Law was for people who were more simple, the Messiah came to save people...not only from sin and death, but from the Law itself, which kept people in servitude, and prevented them from becoming free and FAMILY. Remember what we read in the last chapter, in Galatians 3:13? “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law...” St Theophylact says: “Christ's incarnation accomplished two things: our redemption from the curse of the Law, and our adoption as sons.” Human beings were incapable of receiving it before because of their childish condition.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

How do we really know that we have been adopted as sons? St. Paul told us so earlier. Galatians 3:27 said what? “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” What does “putting on Christ” mean? It means being clothed in Christ. Do you remember the parable of the Prodigal Son? What happened when the youngest (read: most immature) son repented and was returning to his father's house? Luke 15:22 says that the father cried out to his servants: “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand...etc.” The son who was dead to the family was restored to the family. The robe stands for inclusion. Remember the man thrown out of the wedding because he failed to wear the wedding garment that was provided to him? He was summarily “excluded” from the event. The robe meant that you belonged there, that you were part of it, that you were included. The ring means a signet ring. It has an image or an inscription that means that the wearer belongs to a certain family, and bears the seal of that family. What do we say at every Chrismation that follows baptism? “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit!” In Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation we were restored to God's immediate family, and made “robe bearers” and “seal bearers.” So were the Galatians. If they were already children and heirs of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ by means of faith and Holy Baptism, why would the Galatians be tempted to go to the Law; something they never had before? It's an early example of new convert craziness...over-zealous to be the most correct, to be hyper-Orthodox, going way beyond what they were taught; imagining that they know better.

New Section: Fears for the Church

8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.

Paul is talking to those Galatians (the majority) which previously had been pagan idolators and had no idea about Who the true God was.

9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?

First Paul addresses them as those who “know God” but then quickly corrects himself to refer to them as ones “known by God.” Those who are known by God, but who do not “know” Him, are like inquirers, or like catechumens, who are as yet un-baptized. This is the position they have foolishly put themselves in because they want to adopt the Mosaic Law and the religious practices of the Jews. Instead of being enslaved to pagan darkness, they wish to adopt the weak and immature “elements” (he uses that word again) of the Law.

10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.
It is clear that the false prophets, the so-called “Judaisers” were preaching much more than circumcision. They were preaching the whole observance of Jewish feasts and fasts required by the old Law.

11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.

The apostle is concerned, deeply concerned for them. This apostasy can deprive them of their salvation. But he holds out hope for them (that's why he uses the word “lest”). That's the purpose of this letter – to snatch them back from the precipice of false belief and apostasy..

12 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all.

This sentence is a bit confusing, and the translation is an interpretation. Other translations say “be as I am, for I am as you are.” The gist of the thing is: “Imitate me, do what I'm doing now. I've been where you are.” In 1 Corinthians Paul says to them: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In other words, I follow Christ now, not the Law of Moses. Let's look now at Philippians chapter 3, verses 4b – 11 “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh (here he means being a Jew and living your life according to the Law), I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish (dung), that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

So Paul says that being a Christian cannot be about being a Jew and following the Law of Moses; it is about having faith in Jesus, and following and knowing Him.

“You have not injured me at all.” This is Paul's ointment on the wound. He has vigorously attacked their Judaizing direction, but he is still calling them brethren. They are still part of the family. They aren't yet hopelessly lost. They have not upset him beyond his love for them. His seeming harshness comes from love and concern, not hatred. After all, he is their father in Christ.

13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.

Paul is asking the Galatians to remember all that he suffered, but in spite of that, he continued to preach the Gospel to them. He does not explain the nature of his infirmity, but it may have had something to do with a terrible eye infection of some kind. It must have looked hideous, because he commends them on their reception of him in spite of it. The clue about the eyes is explained in verse 15, where he says they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him, if it were possible.

16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?

It's a rhetorical question. Has HE suddenly become their enemy because he denounces the teachings of those who seek to replace him as their father? No. It is the obligation of fathers to protect their children from harm no matter what stupid things they might do.

17 They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.

These false teachers are eager to convert you to their opinion, to their side. They want to divide you from me, so that you will more eagerly run to them.
They want to exclude you, shut you out, from the Orthodox (right believing) church as well, for this will be the result of your separation from me.
Remember, it's the devil who wants to divide you from me, not God. That's why he says “they zealously court you, but not for good.”

18 But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.

The Apostle reminds them how zealous they were for the truth, for the authentic Gospel, when he was with them, teaching them. He is reminding them of their original zeal. He implies that his absence has allowed this calamity of take place, but he is not at fault for this. True disciples will remain steadfast even when the master is absent.

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,

Now Paul takes on the voice of a loving Mother who is desperately concerned for the welfare of her children. You need to start over, be re-born in Christ. You do not need a new baptism, but you need to start over, with a radical change in your thinking. This is, after all, the meaning of “metanoia” repentance. It means change of mind. As he says in another place to the Romans: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

20 I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.

Letters, like emails, cannot convey body language, tone of voice, the appearance of the face and eyes. He wishes he could be with them so they could really see his anguish. The translation “I have doubts about you” is a little inaccurate. The Greek word translated “doubts” is ἀποροῦμαι. It means “confused” or “at a loss what to do.” According to St. Theophylact, what Paul means is: “How I long to be with you and to weep for you; for we often resort to tears when we are perplexed and confounded.”

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?

Now that Paul has assured them of his heart and his love, he now begins to show them what the Law and the Old Covenant are really all about. “Answer me!” he demands, “you who want to be under the Law, do you really understand what the Law says?”

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.

He instructs them using Genesis, the very first Book of the Law. (You should read this story so as to better understand the reference: Genesis 16: 17-18.)

23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise,

Meaning Ishmael was the result of a biological union from a slave, and Isaac was born from a miracle and promise of God from a free woman.

24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

Meaning: Ishmael stands for the Old Covenant.

26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Isaac is the child born of the Promise, whose mother is free. Jerusalem above stands for the Kingdom of Heaven. This refers to the vision of Ezekiel chapters. 40-48; and re-presented in Revelation 21:1-4 and beyond...(Read it)

27 For it is written:
“Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.” [Isaiah 54:1 LXX]

Paul reveals another type from the Old Testament. Who are the “barren” here? Who are the “desolate?” The Gentiles. They gave birth to no prophets, no children of God. Yet Isaiah prophesied that more children of God would be coming from them than from Israel who Has a husband” i.e. God.

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.

By “we” here, St Paul means the Church, and specifically, the Gentiles who were then flooding into the church. He again makes the point that it is those who believe and who love and follow Christ, who are the new Chosen People, the new Children of God, the New Israel.

29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him 30 who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. (Read Genesis 21: 8-21)

Ishmael mocked Isaac – that is bullied, belittled, and yes, persecuted the younger Isaac. He and his mother Hagar are cast out from the family of God. They are the Gentiles. But God does not forget them, and promises, in the end, they will be a great nation. The fathers see in this the promise of the church and especially the Christian Roman Empire. But the apostles, and the early church see this persecution as the persecution of the Church, the children of the Promise, by the Jews – now regarded as the people of the flesh (in bondage to the dictates of the Law), and who have now become, themselves, the new Gentiles.

30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

The unbelieving Jews, who had always identified themselves with Abraham and Isaac, are now being compared to Hagar & Ishmael by Paul. They are no longer in the Family of God. They are outside. The Law will not save them. One cannot inherit the Kingdom of God by the works of the Law.

The Apostle is saying to the Galatians: Never mind that the Jews are persecuting the Christians right now. In the end, YOU are the children of the Promise. Accommodating the Judaizers will not placate the unbelieving Jews. In fact, if you continue to do that, you will find yourselves “outside” with them.

Thoughts on Today's Gospel Reading

FROM TODAY’S GOSPEL READING

John 5:17

“My Father works hitherto, and I work.”

What “work” does the Father do, that the Son likewise does? Some heretics believe that the Father doesn’t work at all. They quote Genesis 2:2 where in the Septuagint it reads: “And God finished on the sixth day His works which He made and He ceased on the seventh day from all His works which He made.” They claim that once God completed the creation of the universe and of man, He simply stepped back, stepped away. They liken Him to a kind of “cosmic clockmaker” who built the clock, wound it up, and let it go. But to traditional Christians, this is simply an “argumentum ad absurdum,” and is ridiculous on its face. St. John Chrysostom offers this lovely first salvo against such foolish notions:

“If any one says, And how does the Father 'work,' who ceased on the seventh day from all His works? let him learn the manner in which He works. What then is the manner of His working? He cares for, He holds together all that has been made. Therefore when you behold the sun rising and the moon running in her path, the lakes, and fountains, and rivers, and rains, the course of nature in the seeds and in our own bodies and those of the animals, and all the rest by means of which this universe is made up, these will teach you the ceaseless working of the Father. For He makes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45.) And again; If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the fire (Matthew 6:30,) and speaking of the birds He said, Your Heavenly Father feeds them.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, #38).

I like to tell people that if it were not for God’s involvement in our world, our very molecules would not be held together. The truth is that throughout history, God has always been very intimately involved in the lives of His children. He is not distant. He is not unconcerned. Why? Because “God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:8-9).

The biggest example of God’s “work” for us was demonstrated when He become a man, and died on the Cross for us so that we might have eternal life. This wonderful passage is a recap of what the Apostle John wrote so powerfully in his Gospel, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

SERMON ON THOMAS SUNDAY 2020

Homily for Thomas Sunday 2020,

In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ is Risen!

Today is the Sunday after Pascha. Most of us know it as Thomas Sunday. In the West, among the Latins and Anglicans, (and maybe others) it’s known as “Low Sunday.” The origins of this are uncertain, but I’m sure it has something to do with the sharp contrast in attendance between Easter Sunday and the following Sunday. This year, however, in the time of the Covid19 pandemic, the contrast has vanished altogether; only my family and Reader John attending both. In Russia, though, they call it the “Sunday of the Belief of Thomas.” I like that a lot! It’s positive, it’s uplifting, and best of all, it’s true! The Gospel today, in spite of what we might think, is NOT about Thomas’ doubts, but it’s about his faith.

The Holy Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, writes: “Now faith is the assurance of things that are hoped for, and the proof of things unseen.” Now Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared. When they told him that they had seen the Lord, he was unconvinced. Why? I’ve told you this before, but it’s worth repeating. The Lord Jesus Himself had taught His disciples saying, “At that time, if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe it!” (Matthew 24:23). So Jesus appears again, and this time Thomas is present. Remember, Thomas had insisted on “touching” Jesus. Right? Why do you think he insisted on that particular proof? Because demons could appear in many forms, but they could never confess that the Messiah, the Son of God, came in the flesh. The Holy Apostle John verifies this when he writes: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1John 4: 2-3). Jesus here, Himself, is proving that He is no demon counterfeiting His likeness, and even offers the proof of “touch” that Thomas requires. So what then is the result of that touch? Thomas, probably crumbling to his knees declares Jesus as: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 28).

By physical proof the righteous skepticism of Thomas was allayed, but what about faith? Where is Thomas’ exercise of faith, “the assurance of things that are hoped for, and the proof of things unseen?” Pope St. Gregory I, the Dialogist, writing in the late 500’s
said: “It is plain to us that faith is the evidence of those things that are invisible. For things that are visible do not result in faith but in knowledge...Thomas saw one thing, but believed another. Divinity could not be seen by mortal men. Nevertheless, Thomas saw a man but confessed God, declaring Jesus to be both his “Lord” and his “God!” St. Augustine of Hippo wrote: “He saw and touched the man, and acknowledged God, whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed” (St. Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Tractate CXXI). This is the bold declaration of the faith of Thomas, this is why we call this day “the belief of Thomas!” It is this same faith that has been passed down from him to us every time we sing from Psalm 117 (and declare) at every Matins (Morning Prayer) service: “The Lord is God and hath appeared unto us” (Psalm 117:27 LXX). Amen.

THURSDAY NIGHT BIBLE STUDY (Late)

Oops! I forgot Thursday Night Bible Study. So here it is...on Saturday.

Chapter 3

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

In Matt. 5:22, Jesus says that if anyone calls his brother a fool is in danger of hell fire. Is St. Paul transgressing the commandment of Christ? No. The particle “without a cause” carries throughout the verse. The real problem is when you call a person a fool, you are implying his personhood, his humanity. Paul here is not calling them fools, he accuses them of BEHAVING foolishly. Also note this, the Greek word translated as “foolish” is ἀνόητοι, which means “mindless.” You were not mindful, O Galatians. You were not being attentive to the truth you received.

“Who has bewitched you?” Gk. Ἐβάσκανεν to cast the spell of the evil eye out of jealousy. The fathers make a strong point here. It was not for their own good that the Judaizers were trying to steer the Galatians away from Paul and his teachings. It was out of jealousy. They were suffering from “lust of power.”

“that you should not obey the truth” The “Truth” is more than just right teaching; the Truth is God Himself. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). What was the first sin in the Garden? Disobedience by Adam & Eve, to the commandment of God, after an appeal to their own reasoning, by a creature lusting for power. This connection is not lost on the Galatians.

“before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” Were the Galatians present at the crucifixion of Christ? What do you think Paul means here? The crucifixion of Christ put to death the effects of the ancestral disobedience. Do they wish to abandon their salvation? They received the Gospel with pure faith. Do they question it now?
The word “portrayed” is προεγράφη, from pro and graphó, beforehand and written. Of course “grapho” is also the word used later on to designate the “writing” or painting of icons. Is St Paul possibly referring not only the image of the Crucified One in teaching, but also in iconographic portrayal? It would be wonderful, but I don't find a case for it in any patristic commentary. We'll just have to leave that as a theological curiosity.

2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
St Paul questions them rhetorically: How did you Gentile Galatians receive the Holy Spirit, along with His gifts and signs? Was it by following the Law of Moses, or by hearing me and my fellow teachers?

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
This is a bad translation. It should read something like: “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being brought to an end by the flesh?” In other words, instead of growing, these teachings are causing you to regress, and even worse, they are causing your spiritual demise.

4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

The Galatian Christians had suffered as a result of their faith in Christ. Since they were now diverting to a different teaching, was all that suffering in vain? He hopes that it is not in vain, that they will repent and return to Orthodoxy.

5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—

So, when you first believed, God worked signs and wonders among you. Did He do it because of the works of the Law (which you were not doing), or because of your response, in faith, to our teaching about Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world?

6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Paul is quoting Genesis 15:6. His point: Circumcision in the flesh is NOT the sign of righteousness: the works of the Law are NOT the signs of righteousness. Paul proves his point by using the very Scriptures that the Judaizers are trying to utilize.

7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.
The Galatians understand the relationship between God and the Children of Abraham. They want to ensure their membership in the family of God's People. Paul says, it isn't the Law that makes you a child of Abraham, (after all, the Law came WAY AFTER Abraham), it's your faith in the Son of God for Whom he waited. Blood no longer applies. Jesus Himself in one place says: “And do not think to say within yourselves, We have Abraham as our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9)

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”

Paul is saying: The same Bible that the Judaizers among you are trying to beat you over the head with (O.T., Torah), is the same Bible that predicted that Abraham's FAITH would righteousness to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ. This prophecy is the Gospel before the Gospel, and predicting the Gospel.

9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
The Galatians worry, that if they do not fulfill what is commanded in the Torah, that they will be cursed. (Read Deuteronomy 27:26). Paul gives the example of Abraham, because the Torah calls him righteous, even though he doesn't follow the Law (which came much later.) So there was a time when the Law was not in effect. Those who lived between Moses (who received the Law) and Jesus were bound by the commandments of the Law. But when Jesus came, a new Law was put into effect...the Law of Faith, the Law of Grace, the Law of Truth – meaning a relationship. (John 1:17)

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”

If you think that you will be under a curse because you do not follow the old Law, think about this: you are cursed because you DO follow it! Why? Because no one can fulfill ALL things which are contained in the Law. Paul says, this is the real meaning of it. We were all cursed because no one could legitimately “continue in all things which are written in the book of the law.”

11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

So Pharisees and the Judaizers who are their offspring are very concerned that they appear righteous before men in their observance of the minutiae of the Law. But Paul makes it clear, that before God, no one is made righteous this way. He then pulls in a prophetic quote from Habakkuk (Avakkum) 2:4, in which the prophet says “the righteous SHALL (indicating a future time after the Law) live by faith.” Theophylact says: grace came to reveal faith as a gentler path by which we may be blessed and made righteous.” (Chapter 3, page 51). Paul suggests that if you insist on living by the old Law, you are NOT living by faith, and are subject to that very curse you feared. If you have believed in Jesus as your Lord, you cannot put the Law in His place.

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
The reason Jesus came was to precisely free us from the curse. He took the curse upon Himself at His crucifixion. It was predicted in Deuteronomy 21:23 which Paul quotes.

14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

In Old Testament days, children could inherit two things from their parents: property and a blessing. If your parents had three children, then on their death their property was divided four ways (one more than the number of living children). The eldest child generally received two portions and the remaining children received one portion each. Along with the double portion, the eldest child generally received a blessing from his father. The blessing was a prophecy about his future and the future of his descendants. When a child received the blessing, he was then made the head of the family after his father's death.

Most of the time the double portion went to the eldest child, but sometimes the father might choose to give it to another child. The blessing also might not be given to the eldest child because the child displeased his father in some way.

Abraham was given a special tripartite blessing from God (see Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-14). As long as Abraham's descendants remained faithful to God, they were allowed to pass that three-part blessing on to their children. The first blessing was that Abraham's descendants would become a mighty nation. The second was that his children would inherit the land of Canaan. But the third was the most important blessing of all - a promise of a descendant through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed (in other words, Jesus Christ. See Genesis 22:18). Because Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, was faithful to the end, He, in turn, fulfills the prophecy and applies the blessing of Abraham upon all peoples, all races, all nations who believe.

15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.

First, in discipline, St Paul calls them “foolish” but now he becomes tender with them, as any parent might, and he calls them “brethren.” It's, of course, a family reference. We are all brothers and sisters in a single family, if you will only allow it to remain so.
“I speak in the manner of men” means, means “I'm going to illustrate my points by using an everyday example drawn from life.” If a contract is made between two people, nobody else can come along later and change it or erase it. The covenant between God and Abraham stands. The covenant with Moses came later, but it does not set-aside the covenant with Abraham. Get it?

16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.
Paul demonstrates how the language of the covenant with Abraham testifies to its fulfillment in Christ, because God makes the promise to Abraham and his SEED (singular), not “seeds” plural.

17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

The covenant with Moses, which came 430 years after that with Abraham, did not nullify the former. The first covenant made with Abraham demanded faith, not observance of the Law.

19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.

Why did God make a second covenant? The Law was given because of the increasing sinfulness of the people, and it was in effect until the coming of the Seed. When Christ, the Seed of the Promise to Abraham arrived, the Law was no longer needed. Another important detail, the covenant with Abraham was made by God Himself directly. The covenant with Moses, and the giving of the Law was done through the intermediary efforts of angels. How do we
know that? Well, look at Deuteronomy 33: 2-3. And now, look at Acts 7:53.
And again Hebrews 2:2.

This continues as a Jewish tradition today. Look at this, from the Jewish Virtual Library, on Torah:
It was one of the very few real dogmas of rabbinic theology that the Torah is from heaven; i.e., the Torah in its entirety was revealed by God. According to biblical stories, Moses ascended into heaven to capture the Torah from the angels.
And who is the mediator? Probably Paul means Moses. But Moses represents only the party of the People, not the party of God. A covenant between God and man, brought together by a mediator, must represent both. This must obviously be the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.

Paul makes plain what he says above. The angels represent God, Moses, the human beings.

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.
So first there was the Promise to Abraham, next comes the Law. Is the Law opposed to the Promises? No. But the Law could not give life. If it could have, God would have replaced the Promises with the Law. But it couldn't, so they remained parallells, both in force simultaneously, until Christ fulfilled both the Promises and the Law.

22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The Law could not free people from sin. It could only reveal sin. That was it's value, it makes us aware of our powerlessness against sin, forcing us to run to the only source of deliverance: Jesus Christ.

23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

I like cop shows, I confess. Sometimes on those shows the accused is left to sweat a bit in the interview room in order to think about what he has done, and hopefully to get him
to confess when the cops come back. Well, the Law was like that. Because sin had increased so much on the earth, God provided the Law as an incentive to get us to recognize what sin is. But it didn't get us out of jail. There was no freedom, no forgiveness, no life. Christ comes as our advocate, our attorney. He tears up the handwriting of accusations against us, sets us free, and gives us life. (I know, a very flawed analogy)

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul re-iterates what he said above. Don't worry about being part of the people of God, don't fret about your adoption as one of the children of the Promise, the children of Abraham. You ARE. Not because of the Law, but because of your faith.

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Paul reminds them of the hymn that they doubtless heard at their baptism when he first preached among them. Your baptism, based on your faith, was your new birth into a new family. A baptismal robe is an essential part of the Mystery of Baptism, and has been since apostolic times. Remember the Prodigal Son? When he returned home, what did the father do after he embraced him and kissed him? He put a robe on him and a ring on him (Luke 15:22). The robe signifies that his position as son was being restored. It was an immediate demonstration of complete acceptance, love and mercy as well as protection - major benefits of being a son. The ring? Long ago, like today, presenting a ring to someone was a sign of great affection, but it was
frequently also a symbol of being placed in an office of authority; among the rich it was a sign of wealth and dignity. Pharaoh removed his signet ring and put it on Joseph's hand when installing him into office in Egypt (Genesis 41:42). In the book of Esther, the King took off his ring, the royal signet by which the decrees of government were sealed in wax, and gave it to Mordecai (Esther 8:2). The ring showed Pharaoh's affection for Joseph and the King's affection for Mordecai and transferred to them all power and authority necessary for the promotions they received, one as Governor and the other as Prime Minister. These all have to do with being publicly seen as part of the family, sharing in all that they were and had.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
This doesn't mean that these things disappear or have no significance. It just means that all people are one, all are united in Christ. There is no advantage to being a Jew any more. All are invited to become members of the household of faith.

With all this in mind, St. Paul asks: How can any of you who have been blessed by putting on the robe of Christ, by being made a member of His family and inheriting every blessing and every good thing from Him, how can you continue to cling to the hopelessness which is the Law?

THE FIRST THREE DAYS OF HOLY WEEK

THE FIRST THREE DAYS OF HOLY WEEK

The first three days of Holy Week are referred to in the Church as "The End." Jesus was walking into
the very midst of those who sought to take His life. He experienced deep anguish within Himself (John
12:27). Despite the triumph of the Palm weekend, which had confirmed the outcome of His Passion
even before it had taken place, the Lord had already told His disciples that:
...he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and
scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)
The moment of truth had arrived. No longer did Jesus speak to the people from boats or in the
countryside. He spoke openly in Jerusalem itself. He confronted His enemies and publicly refuted
them.

Addressing Himself to the religious leaders and students of the Divine Law, the Pharisees, scribes,
and elders, Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, murderers, and liars.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against
men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13).

He went directly to the Temple and cleansed it of the crooked moneychangers. He spoke to them
sharply: "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you make it a den of robbers"
(Matthew 21:13). He refuted all the questions which the leaders put to Him in order to "entangle him in
his talk" (Matthew 22: 15ff.) He condemned the fig tree which had not brought forth fruit. He spoke
and acted with great urgency:

“Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).

The moment of truth revealed that even in the supposedly most religious and righteous places, the
world was under the sway of evil. The Messiah came to inaugurate a New Age.

THE SERVICES OF THE BRIDEGROOM

On Palm Sunday evening the Services of Holy Week begin. Long Gospel readings on the first three
days divulge the entire content of the final discourses of Christ. In these discourses he is far from the
"sweet Jesus" of popular imagery. He speaks with clarity concerning the end of this age.
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but
the Father only... Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
(Matthew 24:36, 42)

HOMILY FOR PALM/WILLOW SUNDAY 4/12/2020

HOMILY FOR PALM/WILLOW SUNDAY 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today we stand at the threshold of a most solemn and fearful mystery. On the one hand we celebrate the most sublime joy of the Lord’s triumphant and glorious Entrance into the Holy City of Jerusalem; and on the other hand, we know that beyond this radiant and festive day, as we peer into the inky darkness beyond, there lurks the most heart-breaking and soul-crushing humiliation of our Master and sweetest Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Today the incarnate word of God enters Jerusalem leading cheering crowds of men, women, and children waving branches and turning their garments into royal carpets, but on Great and Holy Friday he will driven out, forcibly led out of the City, carrying a cross, bloodied and dishonored. Today’s entry is triumphal because Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfills the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, Righteous, and a Saviour; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal” (9:9). Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem reminds us of the victory processions of the ancient world when the population hailed the return of conquering heroes after a successful military campaign. Yet today is different. Normally, the victory parade would take place after the battle is won, but Christ’s fiercest battle lies ahead, the battle against death itself. It is a battle still to be joined. Because we have been here before, we know that victory lies in the future. This sticheron from Verspers at last night’s Vigil anticipates that future triumph of our glorious king:

Thou hast entered the Holy City, O Lord, riding on the colt of an ass,
hastening to Thy Passion, that the Law and the Prophets might be fulfilled. The Hebrew children greeted Thee with palms and branches, heralding Thy victorious Resurrection. Blessed art Thou, O Savior! Have mercy on us!

No surprise then that, on Great Friday, Our Lord’s departure from Jerusalem will be an event in marked contrast to his triumphal entry. His royal title will be mocked not celebrated. The crowd that accompanies him will be weeping rather than cheering: Lamentation rather than rejoicing will be on display. In the triumphal entry and the tearful leave-taking, the eyes of faith discern one continuous journey from the Mount of Olives to the place of the skull, and beyond -- to the empty tomb. For the entry into Jerusalem marks the opening scene of the final act of the drama of our salvation. He who was once hailed as king, for our sake, willingly allows himself to be enthroned on a Cross, and once his hands are stretched out upon it he will draw all men to himself (John 12:32). The humiliation of his being led out of the city only seems to erase the exaltation of his triumphant entry. The humiliation of his being nailed to the Cross only seems to erase his life from the earth. The truth is that even in his humiliation, he is always our triumphant king. Soon, very soon, the “crucified one” will be revealed as the King of Glory.

I want to end with a little prayer of thanks to God our King, coming from Joshua ben Sirach in the Old Testament. But before I do, I want to reveal a little gem hidden within it. This would be easier to read perhaps than to hear, but you can read it later, right? So here is the hidden gem in Sirach’s prayer that I want you to remember. The name “Jesus,” “Yeshua” in Hebrew and Aramaic is a compound word that includes the word for “God” and the word for “Deliverer” or “Saviour.” So the name Jesus means “God our Saviour,” or “God my Saviour.” Keep this in mind as I read the prayer:

“I give thee thanks, O LORD and King, I praise you, God my Savior! I declare your name, refuge of my life, because you have ransomed my life from death” (Sirach 51:1). Amen.