THURSDAY EVENING BIBLE STUDY - Lesson 1

Thursday Evening Bible Study: Galatians

Background and Purpose of the Epistle:
Paul's preamble – and almost the entire epistle – is full of indignation (says St. Theophylact.) When students need correction, a good teacher does not always speak mildly. The Lord Himself acted in such a manner...Paul writes with severity both to the Corinthians and especially to these Galatians,* and for good reason: some of the Jews who had believed in Christ continued to cling to their ancestral Law, and made it a point of dogma. They were insisting that the Galatians be circumcised and observe the Sabbath and the New Moon festivals. Their rationale was that Peter's disciples did not forbid such practices. This was true, but Peter's disciples were not teaching these practices as doctrines. They were making allowance for the weakness of those Jews who had heard the Gospel and believed. But Paul was preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, who did not need such economy. When he deemed it necessary, Paul also used condescension: he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3) and himself went through Jewish rites of purification according to the Law (Acts 21: 17-26). But the false teachers – not explaining why Peter's disciples acted as they did – accused Paul of preaching inconsistently; sometimes he circumcised and sometimes he did not. They insisted that Paul NOT be obeyed, since he had not seen Christ and had never been His disciple, but was merely a disciple of the apostles. It was Peter's disciples, they claimed, who must be followed because they were eyewitnesses of the Lord's ministry. (Fr Basil notes that this error would raise its head again in the West in the centuries that followed). This is the reason for Paul's indignation in his letter to the Galatians; they have undermined his reputation by claiming that only the Twelve are Christ's disciples, and that Paul is merely a disciple of the Twelve.
* Who are the Galatians? Galatia was a Roman province in Anatolia (central Asia Minor, modern Turkey) which had been settled by immigrant Celts in the 270s BC and retained Celtic culture and language even in Paul's day. The individual churches are not named.

Date and Authorship

The universal witness of the early Church, the church fathers, and even modern scholars, is that this Epistle was written by the Apostle Paul. The date is probably somewhere around 55 AD.

Greeting

1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

Paul begins by declaring, right off the bat, that he is nobody's disciple. His call to apostleship came from Christ Himself Who called him on the road to Damascus. This letter is from him, and is to circulated amongst all the churches of Galatia. Why? Because this is where these false teachers have been spreading their doctrine, and it has caused many of the Galatian Christians to mistrust Paul's authority.

3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

While this may seem like a common Christian greeting or opening for a letter, the point that Paul is making with this greeting is that Grace and Peace do not come from the Law. He wants them to remember that these only come directly from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Law will not deliver (save) anyone from the fallenness of this age, but only Christ can accomplish this because of His voluntary death on the Cross.

Only One Gospel

6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,

Paul is astonished at the Galatians, whom he held in high regard, that they appeared to be turning away from the will of God the Father who had also called them by the grace of Christ, to a false teaching...and so quickly too!

7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

There are no alternatives to the Gospel. These Judaizing teachers in your midst are trying to add stuff to the Gospel that is not contained in the original, authentic gospel which the Galatians first received.

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The Greek word translated “accursed” is actually “anathema” ἀνάθεμα, which means to set-apart or exile. It means if I, or an angel from heaven, or anyone at all (meaning the Judaizers) preach some different teaching than what you heard from me, let them be exiled (ex-communicated) from the church as perverters of the gospel and a danger to people's salvation.

10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

Paul is about to begin his defense. But he is not testifying before them. He is making his defense before God. It is God Who will judge him, not his own spiritual children. He makes the point that he is God's slave, and is not about to be a pleaser of men in order to somehow rehabilitate his status, authority, or reputation before his accusers.

Paul's Call to Apostleship

11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds the Galatians of how he came to Christ. He had no intention of becoming a Christian, but it was Christ Himself that appeared to him in a miraculous way. (Look up Acts 9: 1-19). The Gospel which I preach is not one that came from men, was not something “invented” in order please men (meaning Jews who were reticent to abandon the Law). Was Paul not taught by anyone? Did he submit his teaching to the authority of the Church? We shall see as we go on.

13 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.

See Acts 7:55 – 8:3

14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul was a staunch Pharisee, and had been a student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder. But Paul was more “zealous” even than Gamaliel his teacher. The Church considers Gamaliel a saint, honouring his memory on August the 2nd. His relics are enshrined in the Catholic Cathedral in Pisa, Italy, home of the famous “leaning tower.” This may be the only instance of an individual who was a leading Jew, who lived years after the resurrection of Christ, who defended Christians against persecution by Jews, (unlike Saul/Paul) and who remains revered by both Jews and Christians to this day. The Jewish Mishnah says of Gamaliel: “"Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time" (Sotah 15:18.)

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Paul is making the point here that he wasn't “made” an apostle by any human being, but that like others before him, he had been called to this even from the womb. Compare:
Isaiah
“And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength)” (Isaiah 49:5)

Jeremiah
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

John the Baptist
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)

Paul goes on to make the point that it was the grace of God that appointed him an apostle. He was not “made” an apostle by the other apostles. And his apostleship was to be different from that of the others, his apostleship was to be conducted primarily among Gentiles. He wasn't taught how to do this by anyone, but immediately went to “Arabia.” What does Paul mean by “Arabia?” Some of the fathers see this as referring to the eastern desert wilderness where he went to pray, fast, and be taught of God. Others suggest that he went all the way to Mount Sinai, the Mountain of God, in order to pray, fast, and be taught the New Law from Him Who had once delivered the ancient Law to Moses on that site. The Pre-incarnate Logos spoke to Moses here and gave him the Old Law. Jesus, the Incarnate Logos, speaks to Paul here, instructing him in the New Commandments, and appointing him as a new Moses to the Gentiles.

Contacts at Jerusalem

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)

After three years in Arabia, and returning to Damascus, Paul then heads south. He goes to “visit” not 'see' Peter. (The NKJV is wrong here). Then he “abides” with Peter (not “remains” as the NKJV says) for 15 days. The word “visit” means to show honour and respect. The word “abide” denotes a closeness, a communion of love. Paul does not present himself as someone superior to the elder apostles, nor even as their equal (although he IS!) But in humility he comes to Peter, the chief apostle, and to James, the Brother of the Lord and First Hierarch of the Jerusalem Church. In effect, he submits his revelation and his teaching to them, and they are pleased to release him to go forth and preach. Where? Gentile territory.

21 Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.

This means that Paul went to preach in the territories that would include modern Lebanon, Syria, and southern-most Turkey. He makes a point that he did NOT go to the Jews. He was utterly unknown to them except by reputation:

23 But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God in me.

While the Jewish-Christian churches of Judea had never seen his face, they were thrilled by what they were hearing about him. And Paul, in humility, doesn't take any praise for himself, but gives all the glory to God.

SUNDAY OF ST JOHN CLIMACUS 2020

Dear Ones,

I miss you! I can’t wait for us to be here together again and for things to return to normal. When praying and meditating about this pandemic which has effected us all so dramatically, I was reminded by the Spirit of these verses from Isaiah:

Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and there shall be gross darkness on the nations: but the Lord shall appear upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And kings shall walk in thy light, and nations in thy brightness.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold thy children gathered: all thy sons have come from far, and thy daughters shall be borne on men's shoulders.
Then shalt thou see, and fear, and be amazed in thine heart; for the wealth of the sea shall come round to thee, and of nations and peoples; and herds of camels shall come to thee, and the camels of Midian and Ephah shall cover thee: all from Sheba shall come bearing gold, and shall bring frankincense, and they shall publish the salvation of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered, and the rams of Nebaioth shall come; and acceptable sacrifices shall be offered on my altar, and my house of prayer shall be glorified.

When I was growing up we had a sheep, but we never had camels. I can’t wait for those! But being serious now, this 60th chapter of Isaiah sees the whole world as being covered in darkness, representing the time before the coming of Christ. Then, when the Messiah appears, all the people of God will be gathered together again; men and women, boys and girls. Everyone! God says through the Prophet that in those days sacrifices will be offered again on the altar, and God’s temple will again be glorified. How is it glorified? By the glory of God’s presence there and by the re-assembled people of God praying and worshiping there. And what about those treasures coming by sea, and that gold and frankincense, and those camels? Well originally they signified the riches of the Gentile world being brought to Jerusalem to be offered in tribute to the Messiah, but it is presented here in terms that imply rich and abundant trade. I see in this prophecy an image of God’s love and care for His people throughout the ages. Our world has been plunged into darkness right now too, but God promises that where He sees repentance, and where He sees love and devotion to Christ, He will bring the Light of His presence and the healing that ultimately comes only from Him. The churches will re-open, and we will all be here, together, once again. Maran atha! Come, Lord!

In today’s Gospel, the Sunday Gospel, we hear about a young man whose whole existence was plunged into darkness. He can’t speak, he falls down on the ground, he foams at the mouth, he gnashes his teeth, he becomes rigid, and he tries to harm himself. Some modern scholars try to explain away these symptoms as referring to a disease which we understand today, but which the ancients misunderstood as the actions of demonic forces. Poor ignorant ancients. Poor ignorant God-man Jesus. He too is apparently fooled. Then there is the Church’s understanding, the patristic understanding, the apostolic understanding, Christ’s understanding; the young man was demon-possessed. Period. The demons often afflict people with symptoms that mimic diseases. Did you know that? Yes, it’s true. Why would they do that? So that modern, intelligent people who don’t want to believe in God can disbelieve in demons too. Clever, right? “Imagine there’s no heaven,” John Lennon sang, “it’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.” But I digress...

These symptoms of demon-possession can have a broader application as well. Do you remember when Jesus said: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me?” Who was He talking to? His disciples who failed to cast out the demon? No way! The people standing around? Nope. He says it to the father of the boy. Why? Because this boy had been afflicted by demons from the time he was a child! He picked up this demon or these demons at home! His own father didn’t even call Jesus “master” or “rabbi.” No He calls Him “teacher,” “Διδάσκαλε.” He doesn’t confess Jesus as the Christ as others did who were looking for miracles of healing. This father also confesses that he suffers from lack of faith, when he asks the Lord the help his “unbelief.” Let’s look at the symptoms of the demon-possessed boy and see how they might relate to the father.

1. He is mute. Mute means he doesn’t speak. The father didn’t speak either. He didn’t confess any faith. Jesus has to tell him to have faith. “If you can believe, all things are possible” he says to him. We can fall in this trap too. Sometimes we are embarrassed to confess our faith or demonstrate our Orthodoxy, aren’t we?
2. The son is cast to the ground. Sinning, in the Scriptures, is often referred to as “falling.” We can assume that if the boy “got” demons at home, the father must have been a great sinner. We fall too, don’t we?
3. He foams at the mouth. When we think of foaming at the mouth we usually think of two things: rabies and poison. Right? Rabies are associated with wild animals, and therefore refers to animal appetites and our beastly behavior towards others. Poison means the deadly drink of heretical thinking. St. Ignatius of Antioch says: “I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from foods of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those that are given to this, mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are harmful, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of it greedily consumes, with fatal pleasure, leading to his own death” (Epistle to the Trallians). The father doubtless embraced false ideas and the reasonings of demons. We can be caught by this snare as well, embracing worldly thinking rather than heavenly, heretical ideas rather than divinely revealed truths.
4. The boy gnashed his teeth. Gnashing of teeth is usually connected to a place, hell or the Lake of Fire. Jesus, in Matthew 13 says: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (13: 41-42). And as we know from elsewhere, only those who choose to be far away from God are the ones who end up in the Lake of Fire. The father must have been guilty of this deadly choice as well. How easy it is to forget that we are the children of God rather than the offspring of this fallen world!
5. The boy became rigid. This means that his body became stiff like a board. Rigidity can also describe a personality trait, can’t it? We say that someone is rigid when they are convinced that their opinion about something is right. Perhaps this describes the boy’s father as well. Perhaps he held a number of wicked opinions and no one was going to disabuse him of them. It reminds me of a quote by the late Congressman Earl Landgrebe (+1986) who famously said, "Don't confuse me with the facts. I've got a closed mind.”

In today’s Sunday Gospel we see a boy who is saved from demons and has his health restored. He is delivered and he is healed. In the process, his father was delivered and healed as well. Levi the tax collector, later known as the holy apostle and evangelist Matthew, saw it all and later wrote it down so that we, too, might be delivered and healed too. Thanks be to God!

Let us pray to the Lord!

O God our Saviour, Thou hope of all the ends of the earth and of all of us who are separated from one another; be merciful, O Master, regarding our sins, transgressions and iniquities, and have mercy on us; for a merciful God art Thou, and the Lover of mankind, and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

Blog: Today's Reading from the 6th Hour

The Reading for the 6th Hour

I love the service of the Sixth Hour, especially during the Great and Holy 40 Day Fast. It’s because of this that I had originally scheduled the 6th Hour to be served here at St. Nicholas on many days during Great Lent. (Sigh.) I love hearing or the reading of the Kathismata from the Psalter. I love the lenten prayer of the 6th Hour with its prostrations: “O Thou Who on the sixth day and in the sixth hour didst nail upon the Cross Adam's daring sin in paradise, do thou also tear asunder the handwriting of our sins, O Christ God, and save us!” I love the reading from “The Ladder.” Of course who can forget the wonderful readings from the Prophet Isaiah? Today’s reading begins with this verse:

“The Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men” (Isaiah 29:13 LXX).

These words should sound very familiar to us because the Lord Jesus repeated them in reference to the Scribes and Pharisees: “Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15: 7-9).

What does this mean to honor with lips but not with hearts? Well, have you ever heard of “lip service?” Lip service means to say what we think people want to hear, but internally we think, or believe, the opposite. Jesus is accusing the Scribes and Pharisees of being “pretenders.” He calls them “hypocrites” which is the Greek word for “actors.” Actors are pretenders, right? The Scribes and Pharisees pretended that they alone were the only true practitioners of Judaism, whereas in reality, they were totally focused on the religious minutiae invented by themselves. They made up their own “law,” rather than practice the actual God-given Law. This is why Jesus is constantly pointing out to them where they deviate from the divine teaching in favor of their own newly invented “religion.”

The lesson for us, really, is to realize that people who are focused on themselves all the time, are not focused on God. Those whose hearts are filled with “self” don’t leave any room for God. Their hearts are far from Him. To acquire hearts that are close to God, we have to love Him with all of our heart, not just a microscopic corner of it (cf. Matthew 22:37). To avoid hypocrisy, we must speak only that which is truly true, not what WE think is true or what we want to be true. We avoid hypocrisy by being Christians, not just with our lips, but in our lives. We avoid hypocrisy by manifesting Christ in the world.

THOUGHTS FOR TODAY

Some Thoughts for Today, Thursday March 26, 2020

Beloved Brothers & Sisters,

In Ecclesiastes 4:8 it says:

“There are people who are all alone. They have no children or other family members. So there is no end to all the hard work they have to do. Their eyes are never satisfied with riches. They never ask themselves why they are working so hard and depriving themselves of good things. Even this is pointless and a terrible tragedy.”

Solomon understands that family life, community life, is something essential to human life. In the Church, too, we recognize that almost all of us are called to be part of a family, either a domestic family living in the world, or a monastic family living in a monastery or a skete. I say “almost” because a few, a very few, are called to live in the world as a single persons,* and even fewer are called to live as anchorites, like Mary of Egypt, who live alone in the “desert” to which God has called them. Like Khomiakov says, we are saved together but we fall alone.

St. Paul has not missed the importance of family and community in the Church. In today’s epistle reading (Hebrews 2:11-18) he writes:

“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly** I will sing praise to You.’ And again: ‘I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me’(vs.11-13).

Being in the Church means that we are always part of a family, God’s family! All of us that have joined the Church have been adopted as full family members, being brothers and sisters of Jesus Himself. The Apostle, again, wrote:

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5).

What a joy! We always have a family, and this family supports and effects our salvation. Even when we are physically isolated from each other, as we are under this current epidemic, we are all still closely united spiritually. So don’t forget to pray for each other, care for each other, and take the time to check in on each other, especially the sick, the isolated and the elderly.

* I’m not referring to widows/widowers here. That’s a different topic.
** Literally, in Greek, “in the midst of the church (ἐκκλησίας) I will sing praise to You.”

ANNUNCIATION 2020

HOMILY FOR ANNUNCIATION 2020

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

In this morning's Gospel we heard these words:

And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS....Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be..?”...And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.....For with God nothing is impossible.”

Dear ones, one of America’s Founding Fathers and Leading Lights was a man named Thomas Paine. In December of 1776 he wrote a pamphlet entitled “The American Crisis” which began with these words: “THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Just a few weeks ago, none of us imagined how serious and how disconcerting this war against the COVID19 pandemic would become. In the beginning we didn’t even know what was happening in Wuhan China. Then, as it began to spread, we took notice but didn’t really think it would come here or effect us. And then...it did. We were shocked, weren’t we...aren’t we? We were horrified, weren’t we...aren’t we? These are, indeed, times that try men’s souls! We ask, “How can this be?” Our first instinct is to question it, deny it. Like summer soldiers and sunshine patriots, now that the crisis has become acute, we are tempted to run away, or to become disheartened, or to become depressed, but we mustn’t! The president and the nation and the state and the doctors, have all called upon us to fight, to join in the war effort against this plague, this invisible enemy. So, here we are, doing our best as Orthodox Christian citizens, doing our part, saying “yes” to our leaders, yes to our government, yes to the medical experts, and yes to our father and Hierarch Archbishop Benjamin.

Young Mary was given some shocking news in the Gospel today. She was given terrifying and confusing news. She asks: “How can this be?” She receives one, very simple answer: “Nothing is impossible with God.” And for her, this answer is sufficient. She hears the word and she will obey. No thought of running or denying. No despondency, no denial, just “yes.”
Her response is amazing and a miracle in itself. How is it possible that this young maiden can so easily say “Yes?” Whatever will the neighbors think?What a scandal! What cultural and societal suicide! Who will believe it? Who will believer her? I can't help but think of the words of Isaiah the Prophet: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1) Indeed. Who will believe? To whom will God's power be revealed?

In this present age we hear a lot of “no.” Jimmi Hendrix sang: “I've got my own life to live...so let me live my life the way I want to” (Song: “If 6 Was 9”). We say no to what is uncomfortable or unpleasant. We say no to getting old by means of chemicals and surgery. We say “no” to the will of God by pretending that He isn't there. We say “no” to an unplanned pregnancy by “taking care of IT.” This is the voice of this present age. This is the voice of the fallen world. This is the voice of the gaping maw of hell. But Mary didn’t listen to it. Mary rejected it. Mary heard a different voice, the voice of an angel. When Mary asked: “How can this be?” she recognized in the angelic answer the voice she had come to know so well growing up in the Temple – the voice of God. Because of her purity, because of her love for God and for everyone, she was able to discern that voice that said to her: “Don't be afraid, Mary. Nothing is impossible with God.”

I will conclude with some words from my late Seminary Professor, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann:

“We rejoice with delight and wonder, for this image of Mary, the most-pure Mother of God, is always with us as comfort and encouragement, as inspiration and help. We rejoice because in gazing at this image, it is so easy to believe in the heavenly beauty of this world and in man’s heavenly, transcendent calling. The joy of the Annunciation is about the angel’s glad tidings, that the people had found grace with God and that soon, very soon, through her, through this totally unknown Galilean woman, God would begin to fulfill the mystery of the world’s redemption.”*

*(From, “Celebration of Faith: Volume 3, The Virgin Mary,” published by Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press.)

IN YOUR PATIENCE SAVE YOUR LIVES!

IN YOUR PATIENCE SAVE YOUR LIVES!

All of us are sad, very sad, that we have been prevented from celebrating services and offering sacraments in our St. Nicholas Church like we are used to. The worst part is, we have no idea how long this crisis is going to last. I have been contacted by a few parishioners, friends, and family members who have asked:

DOES THIS MEAN THAT WE MIGHT MISS HOLY WEEK AND PASCHA???

Well, we don’t know, do we? I will tell you this, however, it is certainly possible! I hope not. I pray not. I’m praying very hard that we will be blessed to salvage, at least in some way, Holy Week and Pascha, but it may not happen. I’m sorry. My heart breaks at this thought. You may ask, “Is there anything we can do to improve things?” Absolutely! First of all PRAY! Pray in your domestic church, your home, for the epidemic to lift and the churches to open. This should go without saying. “What else?” 1. Wash or sanitize your hands often. 2. Put distance between yourself and others. 3. Stay home if you are sick, or are ordered to do so by the civil authorities. 4. Cover coughs or sneezes with tissues or by using the inside of your elbow. 5. Wear a face mask if you are sick. 6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. These are vital directions given to us by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and others. “But surely there must be something more that we can do?” Yes there is. Please consider the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19)

This literally means that by exercising the virtue of patience, we will be saving our lives! If the disciplines of quarantine and loss of divine services prompts feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness, etc., then we lose our spirit of peace within, and literally endanger our lives. Listen to what the “Shepherd” says:

“Be patient and understanding” he (the Shepherd) said, “and you will overcome all evil works and will accomplish all righteousness. For if you are patient, the Holy Spirit that dwells in you will be pure, uncontaminated by some other, evil spirit. Living in a comfortable space, the Holy Spirit will rejoice and be glad with the vessel in which he lives...but if an irascible, angry tempter draws near, immediately the Holy Spirit, who is very sensitive, is distressed because he does not have a clean space in which to live and he will depart...For the Lord dwells in patience, but the devil lives in in an angry, irascible temper” (The Shepherd of Hermas, c.100 AD, Mandate 5:1-3).

We need to be patient -- patient with our government, patient with our hierarchs, patient with our priests, patient with our family members and with everyone in general. Cultivate patience because patience will make us whole. Don’t forget what St. James the Brother of God says:

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith produces patience. But let patience complete its work, that you may be perfect and whole, lacking nothing” (James 1: 3-4).

ON THE SHELTER OF THE CROSS

This Sunday is the Veneration of the Holy Cross, 3rd Sunday of the Great Fast. While we won’t be gathering in the temple due to the pandemic, I’d like to offer you this sermon for your prayerful consideration:

Homily On The Shelter of the Cross
by Archpriest Basil Rhodes

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!

I'd like to begin this morning, by reading a few verses from Psalm 90 in the Septuagint
(91 in the Hebrew.) In the first verses, David speaks. In the last verses, God Himself speaks. Listen:

1. He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven.....4. With His shoulders will He overshadow thee, and under His wings shalt thou have hope....14. For he hath set his hope on Me, and I will deliver him; I will shelter him because he hath known My name. 15. He shall cry unto Me, and I will hearken unto him. I am with him in affliction, and I will rescue him and glorify him. 16. With length of days will I satisfy him, and I will show him My salvation.

Whenever I have read Psalm 90, about being under the “shelter under God's wings,” I have always had in my mind the image of the hen and her chicks; an image which I suppose I got from the Gospel:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! (Luke 13:34)

And I suppose I have always had the same mental image when chanting the concluding Great Prayer of Intercession at the Litiya:

“...make our prayer acceptable, grant us forgiveness of our trespasses, shelter us under the shelter of thy wings, drive away from us every enemy and adversary, give peace to our life, O, Lord. Have mercy on us and on thy world and save our souls, for thou art good and lovest mankind.”

This mental image is certainly a correct one. “Shelter beneath the wings of God” implies our protection, our safety, from the harmful elements and dangers of this world. This would imply rescue and protection from many things: sin, despair, hopelessness. All these things are named specifically in the Psalm. As long as we are resting beneath the wings of God, we will find help, hope, deliverance, and ultimately, salvation. Another thing specifically mentioned in Psalm 90, is our protection from demons
(foes and adversaries). But perhaps the most important implication from the 90th Psalm is that resting beneath the shadow of the wings of God, is deliverance from death. “With length of days I will satisfy him.”!

Maybe that's why when I was preparing this homily, a section from Matins, from the Menaion to be precise, jumped out from the page, and tweaked my mental image in a whole, new direction. Here's the sticheron, from the Afterfeast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a composition of Andrew of Jerusalem:
“Today the holy words of David have received their fulfillment; for lo! We manifestly worship the footstool of Thine all-pure feet, O most compassionate one, and cry out to Thee, placing our trust in the shelter of Thy wings: Let the light of Thy countenance be shined upon us! Exalt Thou the horn of Thine Orthodox people through the elevation of Thy Cross, O greatly merciful Christ!” (“Now and ever” from the Aposticha at Matins for September 16.)

Never, ever, had I thought of the “wings” of God as being the arms of the Cross! And, once the shock and surprise of the moment passed, I smiled to myself, relishing the grace, and the light. Maybe everyone else already knows this. Maybe this is old news. But for me, I felt like a child at Christmas, filled with wonder and delight.
Amen.

SHELTER IN PLACE - COVID19 REQUIREMENTS

Beloved Faithful and Friends of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church,

Today the County of Santa Clara has issued a "Shelter in Place" order for ALL INDIVIDUALS.

Santa Clara County & The Archbishop have ordered all parishes CLOSED in the Bay Area for the time being.

May God deliver us from this pernicious virus. I love you and am praying for all of you!

Fr Basil