Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

When we take a close look at the gospel lessons prescribed for the first Sundays after Pentecost it seems that they all have one thing in common – they all deal with faith.

It is here, after all, among these readings, that we hear about the centurion who comes to Jesus asking that his servant be healed and Jesus is amazed at his great faith. We are given the reading of our Lord walking on water and St. Peter who fails because of his lack of faith; we read about the apostles’ lack of faith once again when they ask Jesus to send the multitude away because it was late and they should get something to eat and Jesus feeds them with only five loaves and two fish. Then there is the reading where we are told not to “worry about what we will eat or what we will drink…”. And so on.

However, when we hear this morning’s gospel reading we realize that a shift in themes has occurred. Indeed, this morning’s reading is not about faith, but undeniably about forgiveness. Perhaps this shift is not altogether coincidental and maybe, when we look at it again, it deals with faith after all. Although not directly about faith I would go so far as to suggest that this morning’s reading is connected with all of those we have heard in the previous weeks inasmuch as it’s message is that faith does not exist without forgiveness.

St. John says in his epistle: “If someone says ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (I John 4:20).

The gospel story this morning is just that, it’s a story, a parable that our Lord told. But more than just this it is also an answer to a question posed two verses before this morning’s reading begins. Namely, we read: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seven times seventy.” And then he begins His story, “the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king…”.

And in this parable is a reoccurring theme of the person who can’t pay his debt. First, it’s the king himself who is confronted by one of his servants who owes him a huge amount of money so that the king threatens him saying he will be sold, together with his whole family, unless he pays. The servant begs saying, “Just have some patience with me and I’ll pay you.” Not only was he given more time to pay the debt but the text tells us that the master, out of his compassion for his servant, “forgave him the debt”.

Later this servant goes to one of his fellow servants and demands that he repay him. We note two similarities: first of all, as was mentioned earlier, the fellow servant was unable to pay and secondly he begs in the same fashion as his fellow servant did saying, “Have patience with me and I will pay you back.”

This servant is not as merciful as the king was with him. Word gets around to the king who is so enraged that he sends him to the torturers.

Certainly we all believe that we will be judged and condemned for all of our sins but as we contemplate on this morning’s gospel reading we conclude that we will be condemned more so for not forgiving our neighbors their trespasses against us. After all, I would think that the similarities among the servants in the gospel story tell us, among other things, that we are in the same boat, so to speak, praying that God might have patience with us. This is why it is most appropriate for us, as Orthodox Christians, to sing “God grant you many years” on the occasion of birthdays, anniversaries, and such. Our prayer, after all, is the same as the servant in our Lord’s parable, that is, that God might be patient with us and give us some more time to repent.

St. John of Kronstadt says: Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.

May God give us the discernment to see the good in all people just as He sees the good that is buried deep beneath our weakness, faults and yes, sins; that we might fulfill His words and “forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Amen.

Serbian Nationalists Bash Joe Biden

Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Barack Obama, the Democratic Party’s candidate for US president, indulged in a campaign swing through Europe. His vice-presidential running partner, Joe Biden, if tempted to do the same, may as well avoid Belgrade.

Memories run deep in the Balkans, but among Serbian nationalists, uppermost on their minds is that long-term senator and foreign policy committee figure Biden was strongly in favour of the 1990s bombing of Belgrade.

Popular Serbian newspaper Blic reminded its readers on August 28 that Biden was one of those who proposed resolution on bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

“He also believes that all changes in Serbia are the result of pressure from Washington.”

The newspaper quoted Obrad Kesic, an analyst in the US of Serbian origin, as saying the choice of Biden was especially bad for Serbia.

“I am expecting Biden to be even more engaged in lobbying over Kosovo,” Kesic is quoted as saying. Biden was a “severe opponent” of Russia, which could affect Serbia indirectly in view of its traditionally close relations with Russia.

In contrast to media in Kosovo, where in Pristina daily newspaper Koha Ditore said ”a great friend of Kosovo will enter the White House along with Obama if he wins”, website Serbianna.com carried a report alleging that former US ambassador to Romania Jim Rosapepe had said that he witnessed Biden shout at Romanian officials from whom he was trying to get information on Serbia and its politics so that Biden could “inflict political and diplomatic damage”.

Rosapepe says that the most extraordinary meeting Biden and him had was with the president of the Romanian senate, Petre Roman, whom Biden met before but this time “Biden grilled him on Serbian politics” and Roman “helped defeat Milosevic in the 2000 elections”.

However, when Biden asked the Romanian delegation why Romania was seeking Nato membership, Biden was offended at the answer.

According to Serbianna.com, the Romanian said: “If we are in Nato, we won’t have to worry about Nato attacking Romania over our relations with our Hungarian minority the way you attacked Yugoslavia. Since Turkey has been in Nato for decades, you let them do what they want with the Kurdish minority”.

The website said that “Biden got visibly angry that former communist Romania had an existential reason for joining Nato, so Biden ‘rose from his chair, leaned across the table and said: “If that’s why you want to get into Nato, I’ll make sure you never do!’”.

The Serbianna.com item alleged: “Biden has long been on the payroll of Kosovo Albanian extremists so that he can lend support for their desire to annex Serbian province”.

Another Serbianna.com item quoted Croatian priest Iliya Zivkovic as telling Croatian daily Jutarnji List that he was a friend of Biden and that he was a key figure that shaped Biden’s view that Serbs were exclusively to blame for events in former Yugoslavia.

“He [Biden] knew about Croatia… But I think that the most influential was my speech that I gave in Little Rock in front of the just elected Bill Clinton who called American minorities for a conversation,” Zivkovic was quoted as saying.

“In 45 minutes I explained why bridges must be bombed in Serbia, Belgrade… I believe that that it was very effective on Biden,” Zivkovic said.

As Democrats in the US observed the Republican attack machine spewing out against its candidates Obama and Biden, Serbianna had a hat-trick with an item online on August 29 – in the process managing to hit out at both Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

“Whether Obama wins or McCain, Serbs should expect that US will seek to destroy them, culturally, ethnically, physically, politically and diplomatically, tells us an analyst who fears to disclose his name because he will be witch hunted.”

The article continues by quoting its source as saying that for the past eight years, “Serbs in Kosovo have been killed like deer in season and US has approved every one of those murders because they’ve recognised such a state”.

“More Serbs are to die and the US will delight in the death of Serbs no matter who wins the presidency,” Serbianna quotes the source, which it describes as “close to government” as saying.

“No matter if it’s Obama or McCain, many more Serbs in Kosovo will die and all churches in Kosovo will be leveled but any of the two will say that Serbs are genociders,” the website said.

“One Thing is Needful…”

What’s the point of ecumenism?

According to Bishop Kallistos it’s to learn more about our own faith. He says in a recent interview in Lambeth:

As Orthodox, we learn, through talking with the Anglicans, to understand better what it is that we as Orthodox believe. And the reverse would be true – I think that Anglicans too, through listening to the Orthodox, learn more about Anglicanism. It has often been said that the purpose of travel is to come back to your home and to see it for the first time with new eyes. So the purpose of ecumenical dialogue is, among other things, to understand better our own home, who we are. And therefore through the challenges that are put to us by our fellow Christians, in this case the Anglicans, we understand better what we Orthodox mean by our faith. So the dialogue continues to mutual self-understanding.

This is taken from his response to the question of the Orthodox-Anglican dialogue and where it currently stands. He commented that some things have occurred in the Anglican community which were not foreseen. Namely, “the ordination of women and the understanding of homosexuality.”

If one learns more about oneself from such dialogue one would conclude that the ordination of women is not “us”. I suppose that’s what he’s saying.

Although there is no place for ordination there is certainly a place for women in the church. Ina Merdjanova, in an interesting piece draws upon just how great of a role women play in the life of the church; so much that the church’s view of their role is almost, in her words, “ironic”. Let me just say that she is more than correct. Women have a, liturgically speaking, minimal role in the life of the church, but what would happen (if anything) without them? Ina wants at least to begin discussion for a greater role for women in the church in her native Bulgaria but she confesses to being “less optimistic” about it.

The only thing I would comment, if I may, is that maybe instead of trying to find a place for women ordination in the church perhaps a re-discovery of the church would be more fulfilling. Ina begins her article stating, “When I returned to Bulgaria from….Oxford University…”. Maybe Bp. Kallistos is right, the purpose of travel is to come back to your home with new eyes, to understand better our home.

Church and Money

Everybody says, “If I would only win the lottery, Father…”. They say they’d give their money to the church but I’ve always had my doubts. Here’s a story of a man who actually did.

NY Church Gets $3M Lottery Ticket From Member

Of course, as is usually the case it’s not to a small, struggling parish but to  a 600+ member congregation. The Serbian Church in the States had a long relationship with bingo and gambling. I would say that the majority of our churches have now already done away with it but there are still a few parishes that, quite simply, refuse to do so.

My brother-in-law, who is a priest, went to his son’s school a few years back for career day which he, of course, also used to talk a little about the Orthodox Church. He says he gave a nice little talk about how the Orthodox Church is that ancient church from the time of Pentecost and so on. After his talk a kid raised his hand and asked, “Is your church the one down the road with the big BINGO sign in front of it?”

Greek Time

Do the Russians have Russian time? I know Serbs have Serbian time, the Greeks have Greek time, the Romanians….and so on.

It’s just a cute way of saying it’s okay to be late. You know, it’s our tradition and all that. I was thinking about it considering the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos and the role St. Thomas played. Namely, he was late. Three days late to be exact. And wanting to see the body he was led to the tomb where they had laid her to rest which, to their astonishment, was found empty. According to tradition an angel appeared announcing that her body had been taken to Heaven.

I would imagine when one considers St. Thomas’ characteristic tardiness (giving proof to the Resurrection and revealing the Dormition) one can conveniently find something Orthodox about it.