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.

SERMON LAZARUS SATURDAY 2020

SERMON FOR LAZARUS SATURDAY

Dear Ones, Great Lent is done. The journey has ended. And where has it dropped us? At the door of a tomb. It is a metaphor for the earthly life of each and every one of us--isn't it? But the great 40-Day Fast doesn't just leave us standing in front of that tomb in Bethany. It leads us to a feast--the raising of Lazarus, the very man who was lying dead in that tomb. The raising of Lazarus is a pivotal point in Jesus’s ministry in at least two ways. First, by raising Lazarus who had been dead four days, Jesus reveals to everyone his absolute power over death. The hymns of the Church tell us that this final manifestation of His power was particularly appointed to make it clear to His disciples that his own death would be voluntary. Having complete power over death, Jesus gives His life, no one takes it from Him. In St. John’s Gospel, this is further reinforced in the Garden of Gethsemane when the arresting soldiers fall down when Jesus identifies himself by saying, "I AM!" They cannot force Him to go with them, but He does so, willingly.

At the same time, the raising of Lazarus is also the pivotal act that forces the religious leaders to do something to stop Jesus. The high priest realizes that now all of the people will believe in Him, as we see manifest on Palm Sunday. The Gospel tells us that crowds had gathered because they had heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus. The religious leaders feared that the crowd’s enthusiasm for Jesus would upset the tenuous peace they currently enjoyed with the occupying Romans and, perhaps most importantly, their own position of power made secure by maintaining the status quo.

And so, in this divine act of raising Lazarus, Jesus both triggers the final chain of events leading to His arrest and crucifixion, and, manifests His authority over the whole process, even over death itself.

But isn’t this the nature of existence as we know it? The fruit manifests the tree, and within the fruit are the seeds of new growth, of new life. When Jesus the Life of All speaks, the fruit is life, even for a man four-days dead. And the seed of this fruit is His own death, which manifests even greater life – meaning that all those in the tombs shall arise! What did the Lord say in today's Gospel? "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live!"

In our own lives this too is what we experience. The actual fruit of our lives, as disappointing as it often is, manifests what kind of tree we are – fallen, sick, in need of transformation. Yet this disappointing fruit, our failures, our mistakes, our sins, bears the seeds of new life; for how we respond to our failures to a large extent determines our growth.

Jesus, the Life of All, enters our sad and fallen world as the ultimate fruit-bearing seed. He plants the tree of resurrection in the midst of the earth. This is the Tree of Life which grew in Eden of old, the Tree whose fruit we now eat as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. "O taste and see that the Lord is good" says Psalm 34:8.

This reference to a sweet taste allows me to diverge just a bit and say something about Lazarus himself. We all know that he fled from Palestine to Cyprus because the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem threatened his life. It says so in the Scriptures: “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were abandoning them and believing in Jesus”
(John 12: 10-11). We also know that the Apostle Paul consecrated him to be the first bishop there in the city of Kition, modern-day Larnaca. The Church's tradition tells us that Lazarus' experiences in Hades, the waiting place for the dead, made him a very serious person for the remainder of his life. He only laughed once, they say, and that was because he saw a man steal a clay pot and he remarked to those standing near him "Behold, clay stealing clay!" But did you know this - for the remainder of his earthly life St. Lazarus ate only sweets!

Because of the sweetness of his relationship with Christ, and because of his complete confidence in the sweetness of Christ's promises concerning the General Resurrection and eternal life, Lazarus' diet was a witness to and a foretaste of his faith. Hence, in many places in the Orthodox world, sweet treats are distributed on this day, not only to children, but to all the faithful who celebrate the wonderful feast of the Raising of Lazarus on this day.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” That is the sweetness of our Christ who goes to die for us. Soon he will descend the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem below like in the beginning when God’s “Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of (His) royal throne, into the midst of a land of destruction” as Solomon writes in Wisdom 18:15. Every word he speaks and every miracle he performs he does in order to assure us of his love and the sweetness of his word, as David sings in another place, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 118:103) and again, “more to be desired more than gold, and much precious stone: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10 LXX). Amen.

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THURSDAY EVENING BIBLE STUDY

THURSDAY EVENING BIBLE STUDY

Galatians Chapter 2

More Background: Read Acts 15:1-29
The Council at Jerusalem. Peter didn't dictate anything ex cathedra. A council determined how Gentile Christians should be catechized and received.

Defending the Gospel

1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. 2 And I went up by revelation and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.

It's pretty amazing that it was 14 years that had passed between Paul's conversion, and his second visit to Jerusalem. What was he doing during all this time? He had been teaching and preaching in Syria and Cilicia, Gentile territory, and Paul's old stomping grounds (Tarsus.) We learned this in the last chapter. The first time Paul went to Jerusalem, it was to present himself before Peter and James. The second time, there has been a revelation. What does this mean? There was a dispute between the Judaizers and Paul and those siding with him. So what to do? A mini council, a council of the community. And with prayer, God revealed to them to send Paul, Barnabas, and the rest to Jerusalem, for a bigger council (See Acts 15:2). It was time to clarify once and for all the church's opinion on the relationship between the details of the Law of Moses and the new believers coming into the Church. He brings Barnabas and Titus with him. Barnabas is a Jew, and had been one of the Seventy. But Titus was a Gentile converts. Both come as his witnesses, or “exhibits,” if you will.

By “gospel” Paul means the message (good message, ev-angelos), that he preached among the Gentiles, which did not include any references to circumcision, dietary rules or other Mosaic restrictions. But first, privately, he ran it by the leaders, including Peter and James the Brother of the Lord, and their immediate disciples, to verify among them, that what he was saying wasn't off-base.

3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
Titus was a real Greek, not just a Jew whose mother tongue was Greek (Hellenists). And neither Peter, nor James, nor any of their disciples forced Titus to be circumcised. A sign that Paul was right, this is NOT a requirement for Christians, neither are the Mosaic dietary restrictions, etc.

4 And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), 5 to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

The “false brethren” ψευδαδέλφους , are those Judaizing ones, who snuck in and were present at the meeting, and who were hoping to get Peter's and James' support. They were allowed to present their arguments and objections, but “we” did not yield, meaning Paul, and his side, did not cave in at all.

6 But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.

It seems that the Judaizers were permitted to present their case, but that the leaders in Jerusalem (Peter, James, John) did not take an active part. They, after all, had permitted circumcision and the other aspects of the Law to continue among the Jewish converts, as a concession to their weakness, or as we Orthodox like to say: “Kat' oikonomian” by “economy.” It appears here that Paul shows some disappointment that they didn't actively support his case in the midst of the fight.
7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.

The leaders in Jerusalem had a kind of revelation of their own. It became clear, that Paul had been uniquely chosen by God to bring the Good News to the Gentiles, while they, for the time being, anyway, would evangelize the Jews.
“He Who worked effectively in Peter” “also worked effectively in me...” This is a poor translation. The root word in Greek is ἐνεργέω, to energize (our word comes from it), or more perfectly, it means to “empower.” “He Who empowered Peter...also empowered me...” The same Holy Spirit empowered them both to do what they were doing; Peter with the Jews, and Paul with the Gentiles.

The “pillars” of the Jerusalem church are James, Cephas (Peter), and John. Note the order. James is the Bishop of Jerusalem. Peter, although he is the chief Apostle, is NOT the bishop of the city. Hence, James' name comes first...because they were meeting IN Jerusalem.

“Right hands of fellowship” means the familiar, friendly gesture of handshaking, certainly. But it goes deeper. “Koinonia” means much more than “fellowship.” The word means “communion.” Even Strong's Dictionary includes the definition: “sharing in communion.” Full Communion (which is received in the right hand by the clergy, and originally by all) is only possible when everyone is teaching the same gospel.
Now this next section is hard to read. It seems like Paul is just ripping Peter. But don't be fooled with the way things appear on the surface. Sometimes people do a little “play acting” in order to prove an important point:

11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

Wow. The scenario is this: Peter in Jerusalem, as a concession to the weakness of Jewish converts, allowed the Law to be practiced. He, himself, would appear to follow it. But when he would visit Antioch, the primarily Gentile church, he would eat with the Gentiles and eat what they ate. But, if Jews from Jerusalem would show up, he'd scurry off and eat separately, eating Kosher, and with the Jewish converts. So Peter and Paul both knew that this cycle needed breaking. So they conspired to put on a little show. So when Peter came to Antioch, Paul, as pre-arranged, confronted Peter “to his face.” The Greek word is πρόσωπον, prosopon. It literally means: “I took a stand against his MASK.” The word “prosopon” originally derives from the word for a Greek actor's mask. So, in other words, I opposed his “character” because he was being criticized and blamed. Paul and Peter put on a didactical play. Paul played the tough leading character, Peter, the humble servant who takes his medicine with meekness. Jewish Christians show up from Jerusalem. Peter starts to withdraw from the Gentiles. The Jewish Christians “play the hypocrite.” Remember the meaning of the word “hypocrite?” It means “actor.” A better translation might be “the rest of the Jews “played the part” with him, including Barnabas.

14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
“Not straightforward” is οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν, “not walking uprightly toward the truth of the gospel.” That's the literal translation. They are walking away because they think that's how they need to behave if they are to remain righteous Jews. Paul says: You are walking away from uprightness, you're walking away from the truth of the gospel, which is authentic righteousness. “If you” he says to Peter, but really to everybody present, “if you, a Jew, can live (i.e. eat, associate with, etc.) with the Gentiles, why are you (plural) forcing the Gentile converts to live like Jews?”
15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Paul's basic doctrine (and the theme of this letter) is that the works of the Law (he means of Moses) cannot make anybody upright, it cannot make anybody righteous. Only faith in Christ can do that. Why? Because faith in Christ brings with it that same “empowerment” from the Holy Spirit that we mentioned earlier. Only divine grace justifies both the Jew and the Greek. The word “justify” can be confusing. It means to make just, or make righteous. It comes from the word δικαιόω/dikaio, or δικαιοσύνη/dikaiosyni, the state of being or doing right.
17 “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!
St Theophylact, speaking for Paul, simplifies it this way: “We the Jewish Christians who believed, sought righteousness in Christ. Therefore, we have abandoned the Law. Since it is a sin to do so, according to you Judaizers in Galatia, we must conclude that it is Christ Who pushed us into this sin. It's because of Christ that we stopped observing the Law. By your reasoning, Christ did NOT make us righteous, but rather He became the cause of our greater condemnation, because He convinced us to forsake the Law.”

“Certainly not!” or “God forbid!” Greek: “μὴ γένοιτο,” May it not be! In other words, your reasoning has lead you to an absurd conclusion.

18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

The Galatian Judaizers accuse Paul of being a transgressor because he isn't following the Law. He suggests to them that if he were to go back to the Law, which had taught him to abandon the Law, he would be a transgressor against both faith in Christ AND the Law.

19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.

It was the Law that taught me to look for Christ. When I found Christ, the Law taught me to put it aside and live to God, not to the Law.

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
In Christ we have all been made participants in the crucifixion. We put off the “old man” and we are clothed with the “new man” in holy baptism. As Paul says in another place (Romans 6:4), “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. When Paul says “it is no longer I that live” he means the fallen man of the earth that needs to be guided by the Law. But, he says:
“The Law is no longer my school master. I have matriculated to a higher education, a higher life, that is a relationship not with a written book, but a direct relationship, in faith, with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Russian theologian Alexeii Khomiakov wrote: “'We know that when any one of us falls, he falls alone; but no one is saved alone.” But here St. Paul wants everybody to understand that our love for Christ, and our gratitude to Him for all He has done and suffered for us, must come from each one individually. “We must clearly feel,” says St. Theophylact, “that Christ died only for me!”

21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

So I can't re-establish the Law of Moses as the principle of unity with God. God has re-written the covenant. in Christ! The covenant is now about grace. Righteous never has never fully matured under the Law, in fact, it could not. If one must dismiss grace and re-affirm the Law, then Christ came for nothing. Re-asserting the Law is to renounce Christ, ignore His death on the Cross, and renounce our own salvation.

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION ON TODAY'S READING

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION

I remember back in the days of my former “incomplete revelation,” we were taught how the Prophet Isaiah foretold and condemned the Roman Catholic Church because of her rituals, her sacraments, her fasting, her feast days, her incense, her priesthood, and on and on. It was a terrifying condemnation. They even had us read a little book called “The Two Babylons: Or the Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife.” They based this anti-Catholic teaching partly on Isaiah chapter 1 which reads:

“Of what value to me is the abundance of your sacrifices? saith the Lord: I am full of whole-burnt-offerings of rams; and I delight not in the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats: neither shall ye come with these to appear before me; for who has required these things at your hands? Ye shall no more tread my court. Though ye bring fine flour, it is vain; incense is an abomination to me; I cannot bear your new moons, and your sabbaths, and the great day; your fasting, and rest from work, your new moons also, and your feasts my soul hates: ye have become loathsome to me; I will no more pardon your sins. When ye stretch forth your hands (i.e. “in prayer”), I will turn away mine eyes from you: and though ye make many supplications, I will not hearken to you; for your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1: 11-15).

Now, my teachers had no idea of the Eastern Orthodox Church, or if they did, they pretty-much lumped it in with the Roman Catholic Church. But I digress... the point was that they sincerely believed that the RC Church was being foretold and condemned because it had rituals, feast days, fasting, incense, etc. But this is not a prophecy about the RC Church at all. It’s a prophecy that condemns the Jews. In the first verses of this same chapter 1, God condemns His own People, His own children, who “have rebelled against me.” He is unhappy with “Israel who does not know me, and the people who have not regarded me.” In other words, God is condemning His People who have become traitors to Him, they have forgotten about Him, they ignore His commandments and live their lives as though He didn’t exist.
It’s for this reason that He despises their religious observances. He is not condemning the observances themselves, but those who are performing them. That’s the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Today one of our Vespers readings comes from Proverbs. Solomon lived a long time before Isaiah, about 200 years. In Proverbs 21:27 LXX Solomon writes: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with wicked intent!” It’s the same thing, isn’t it? Pious-looking people who come to church regularly, give their tithes in a very public way, who make the sign of the cross with such a huge arch that they could go to work for a famous burger chain. They want to be seen. Yet they don’t love God. They ignore His commandments. They treat people badly. They commit secret sins as if God doesn’t see. These are the hypocrites. To them God says: “Don’t bother to come. I will not hear you. I will not count your offerings. Your religiosity sickens me. There will be no forgiveness for you because you don’t repent, and you don’t really think you need it.” Frightening words, to be sure. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” says the holy Apostle James (James 4:8). But the opposite is equally true. If we pull away from God, He pulls away from us. Lord have mercy!

God does not despise Orthodox ritual or liturgy or incense or sacraments, or fasting. He loves them. He Himself established them, first through His servant Moses and lastly through the all-praised Apostles. The other lesson to be learned is this: only rely on Scriptural interpretation which comes from the church herself; from the fathers (i.e. the “consensus patrum”*), from the services, from the councils, etc. Bible exegesis which is divorced from or antagonistic toward the Church’s traditional understanding is never to be trusted. That’s why St Peter wrote: “Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). In other words, you can’t just interpret the Bible on your own. It can only be interpreted through the source that produced it in the first place – the Church.**

* The notion of the “consensus patrum” (the consensus of the fathers) was was first formally defined by St. Vincent of Lérins (+c 445), but was applied much earlier as a principle during all seven Ecumenical Councils as a criterion for distinguishing true teaching from heretical. This principle does not mean that all Church Fathers agreed on all theological questions. What it does mean is that most Fathers, who were known for their holy life and, consequently, for deeper theological insights, agreed on the most important theological questions which were crucial for salvation.

**The Biblical Canon was not formally closed until the Council in Trullo, in the year 692, which universally accepted the local canons from the earlier 3rd Council in Carthage in 397. So which came first, the Bible or the Church? The Church is the obvious answer, by centuries. Hence, we Orthodox Christians do not talk about a “Bible-based Church,” but we do talk about a “Church-based interpretation of the Bible.”