On St. Luke’s Day

A homily given by His Holiness Patriarch Pavle October 31, 1996

From this Gospel reading (Luke 16:1-9), written by the Evangelist Luke, whose memory we commemorate today, we can and should learn much. It is about a certain steward who squanders his master’s property, and when the master decides that this man settle accounts and no longer be steward, he says to himself: “What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.” He thinks and then remembers, and calls the master’s debtors and tells them when they write down their debt to write less than they actually owe, so that when he is released from his stewardship duties, they can support him.

Things happen like this in the world, but the words that come later seem unclear to us at first: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrightoues mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home” (v. 9). It seems as though our Lord is seeking from us, or advising us, that in these ways stealing from others we allow ourselves to survive. However, the meaning is different according to the words of the holy fathers. With these words our Lord wants to tell us that all of us who have our salary or property, inherited, received, or begotten any other way, that we are only stewards of other people’s property, that is, God’s property. We can spend for our needs only for those things which are truly necessary. No luxury, no squandering, no thinking: it is mine and I can do whatever I want. I can do whatever I want but I will have to give an account, for it is not mine, it belongs to the Lord, it is God’s property. And I should not spend more than is actually needed, and this is not only for food, clothing, books, but also for the essentials. You know yourselves what is luxury and what is a passion, what is fashion, what is of this world, on such things we needn’t waste away. It is about the fact that we are, let me repeat myself, stewards of God’s property, as cashiers in this institution and every other. If a cashier takes one dinar more than belongs to him from his salary, he has stolen. So are we. How many die, and not only in far away places like Africa and South America and so on, but here we also have poor, not because they don’t like to work, or because they refuse to work, but they cannot during these unfortunate war and post-war sanctions. And if we spend more on ourselves for the sake of luxury, to please the world, for the sake of vainglory so that we might appear to others how we are able to [how wealthy we are – Fr. M], we are taking from them, those poor, for it is all God’s property and we are told how to act.

The Lord calls this extra, that luxury, unrigtheous mammon. And let me say also, He also says that is is not ours. “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteos mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches. And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (v. 11,12). For this reason does He say that we owe it to ourselves to prepare the eternal house through these unrighteous riches, with that which others spend on luxury, which others spend on fashion, senselessly, seeing how others live, our brothers and sisters who are not guilty, not because, as I said, they don’t want to work. In this way may we help as many as we can, how much ever is possible. There are a few of us here who can, but whatever is possible. In this do we prepare for ourselves the eternal riches which are in the Heavenly Kingdom.

May the Lord and His and our holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, help us to always discern that border, where things are really necessary, and where things are a luxury, which is unworthy of Christians: to take from those in need and give to ourselves not only for things that are not necessary, but, what’s more, things which are harmful.

Just recently I was reading in the paper how much is spend on drugs, in truth the mildest of drugs, nicotine, tobacco. I cannot remember the figures, how many thousands of Deutsch marks are spent daily in Belgrade only on tobacco and, understandably, how much harm they are doing to their own health and the health of their families and, of course, supporting themselves. Unfortunately, this has overtaken society in general. It is still said that our children in elementary school [and middle school – Fr. M], I think 45% of them smoke.  90% of girls and women in Novi Sad smoke. How harmful that is for ones health, not to mention the chances of cancer and other diseases.

When we stand before God, if we are faithful and even all those unfaithful, He will ask what did we spend His property on, which He gave us to take care of. May we always be aware of what we are doing, so that we might be worthy of the name which we carry, Orthodox Serbs, representing not only the Serbian people but also the Orthodox faith.

God bless you.

Complaining about the Church

Photo: Bishop Georgije (red mitre) in Jordanville attending the funeral for Metropolitan +Laurus earlier this year.

In an interview a few years ago Serbian Bishop of Canada +Georgije was asked about Holy Transfiguration Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Milton, Canada. His answer, among other things, included this little anecdote:

“….Disputes with our neighbors, whose properties or homes surround the monastery grounds, was painful and difficult, having to listen to all sorts of comments, such as: “I don’t like to see that ugly building”; “I don’t want to see the cross when I wake up in the mornings,”…God deemed it so that that first person ended up losing their business and was completely ruined, the bank ultimately repossessed their property so that that person didn’t even have to see “that ugly building.” Nick, who complained about the Cross, met a more tragic fate. He died of an infarction on the very day the Cross was being put on the dome….”

The Wellsprings of Divine Grace

On this day as we commemorate St. Longinus I offer one of Fr. Patrick Reardon’s Pastoral Ponderings:

In his description of the death of Jesus, Saint John is the only Gospel-writer to include the detail that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (19:34).

Although the evangelist does not name this soldier, Christian legend calls him “St. Longinus,” a name that one suspects is corrupted from logke (pronounced “lonki”), the Greek word for “spear.” A small feature of art history lends weight to this suspicion. A Syriac manuscript preserved at the Laurentine Library at Florence contains an illumination, by an artist named Rabulas, which depicts the death of Jesus on the cross. It includes the figure of the soldier in question, over whose head, in Greek letters, is inscribed the name “Loginos.” This appears to be the immediate source for the Latin name “Longinus.”

This manuscript illumination, which is safely dated to the year 586, is contemporary with our first records of the presence and veneration of the spear itself at Jerusalem. The later fortunes of that spear are also somewhat documented. The point of the spear, we know, found its way to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. After the crusaders’ sack of that city in 1204, it was taken to France, where it was enshrined, along with what was believed to be the Lord’s crown of thorns, in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. It disappeared in the chaos that followed the French Revolution.

The larger portion of the spear, which seems to have been remained at Jerusalem long after being deprived of its point, eventually found its way to Constantinople, apparently after the Fourth Crusade. What the Crusaders had started, however, the Turks finished. The shaft part of the spear fell into the hands of the conquering Turks in 1453. These, in turn, as part of a later arrangement with the pope (who happened to have in his control a person that the Turks very much wanted released) sent that longer part of the spear to Rome in 1492. It is preserved to this day in St. Peter’s Basilica, behind an enormous statue of St. Longinus, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Various kings over the centuries, Athelstan and Charlemagne among them, have claimed to have at least a part of that venerable spear, but these claims seem less reliable.

Given such exotic legends about his spear, it is not surprising that Longinus himself became the subject of legend. For example, according to The Golden Legend of James of Voragine in the 13th century, the blood and water from the side of Jesus cured Longinus of poor eyesight. That same work goes on at some length to describe the martyrdom of Longinus in Cappadocia, and to this day the church of St. Augustine in Rome claims to hold his relics.

What these latter stories have in common, of course, is their assumption that Longinus was converted to the Christian faith in the context of what he did to the body of Jesus on the cross. This assumption, which is scarcely unreasonable, was surely related to the fact that the deed of Longinus was done as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. It was in this detail that St. John saw enacted the words of ancient Zechariah, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” Thus, in opening the side of the crucified Jesus–in cleaving for all of us the Rock of ages–Longinus opened likewise the deep fountain of Holy Scripture.

Perhaps we may say, as well, that he opened the wellsprings of divine grace, inasmuch as the blood and the water, in which Longinus was the very first person to be bathed, have long been understood in the Christian Church to symbolize the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. It was this double flood of redemption that the Roman soldier brought forth to pour upon the earth. It was his spear that found its way into that source of infinite love which is the heart of Christ.

It is through Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, after all, that believers are united to the mystery of the Cross. They are buried with Him in Baptism (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12), and as often as they eat this bread and drink this cup, they proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). These two ordinances of the Church, summoned forth by the mystic spear of Longinus, make effective to believers the redemptive power of the Cross.

Thus, through the mystery of divine providence, the coup de grace given by a Roman executioner to a condemned criminal is transformed, by way of symbol, into a sort of sacerdotal act; it takes on the hieratic significance of a liturgical rite. It is certain that the Church sees it this way, something that is obvious in the prescribed rite preparatory to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. As the priest cuts into the bread that is to become the Body of the Lord, the Church’s rubric requires him to recite the appropriate verse of John: “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” We may note, in addition, that an image the spear of Longinus is customarily stamped on the loaf designated for the Holy Eucharist.

In short, Longinus, in opening the side of Christ, provided a path of faith, furnished a place for the hand of Thomas–along with the rest of us. It was of this wound inflicted by Longinus that Jesus says, “reach your hand, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Is There Life after Birth?

The following story is an allegorical representation of a discussion about life after death between a man who does not believe in God (person A) and a man who believes in God (person B).

Twins are having a conversation in the mother’s womb:

A: Do you believe in life after birth?

B: Of course, there must be something after birth.

A: That is nonsense. There is no life after birth. How would this life look like anyway?

B: I don’t know exactly, but I am convinced that there will be more light and that we will be able to walk and eat with our mouths…

A: That is complete nonsense. You know that it’s impossible to run and eat with your own mouth, that’s why we have the umbilical cord. I’m telling you, after birth there is no life.

B: The umbilical cord is too short. I’m convinced that there is something after birth. Something completely different from what we are living now.

A: But no one has ever returned from there. Life ends after birth. Besides, life is nothing else but existence in a tight and dark environment.

B: Well, I don’t know exactly how life after birth looks like, but we will, in any case, meet our Mommy. Then she will take care of us.

A: Mommy? You believe in Mommy? And where, according to you, would she be?

B: Everywhere around us, of course. Thanks to her, we are alive, without her, we would not exist at all.

A: I don’t believe it. I have never seen Mommy, so it is clear that she doesn’t exist.

B: Yes, it is possible, but sometimes, when we are perfectly still, we can hear her sing and caress our world. You know, I am convinced that life after birth, in fact, is only just the beginning.

Taken from the “Spring of St. Petka” newsletter from St. Petka Church in Troy, Michigan

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Photo: Two of our younger “Sisters” serving the Slava kolach and Koljivo to guests seated at the head table yesterday at the St. Paraskeva Slava celebration of our Circle of Serbian Sisters.

I would imagine there are people out there who don’t completely believe in the lives of the Saints. Perhaps it’s the same part of the brain that tells us that fairy tales aren’t really true, which, in this case, will question the validity of some of the stories heard about such and such a person actually living in the desert for a long number of years or actually going to such extreme lengths to show their love and dedication to God. I would imagine that the distorted tales regarding the Saints do not help either. For example, since St. Nicholas was known to give gifts he has been tied with Santa Claus; we’re given the image of St. Patrick going throughout Ireland teaching the people the mystery of the Holy Trinity using a shamrock and so on.

What keeps the stories of the Saints of the Church alive from one generation to another is not the stories themselves – and certainly not the distorted version – but, quite simply, its their lives. What is the life of a Saint other than their following of Christ’s commandments? There is a place in the gospels which describes how a certain woman raised her voice from the crowds and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You.” [To this our Lord responded] ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27,28).

Where is the greatness of the Saint other than in their obedience to God’s holy commandments, their keeping the word of God? In the gospel this morning (Luke 6:31-36), is described how our Lord was teaching the multitude, telling them they are called to love one another, even their enemies. We note that Jesus makes no mention of us having to ‘like’ our enemies. Liking someone is a feeling and feelings are subject to change, feelings come and go. We can make the choice, on the other hand, of loving someone, respecting them and, most importantly, remembering them in our prayers.

Tomorrow we will be celebrating the feast day of the Holy and Venerable St. Paraskeva. Just as our church is dedicated to St. George and we honor his memory each year, our women’s group, the Kolo Sestara, will be having their Slava celebration today in honor of this great Saint of our Church, the protectress of their organization.

And how did the story of St. Petka spread so that her memory is celebrated not only among Serbs but Greeks, Romanians and so on?

She was born in the city of Epivat of wealthy parents who were devout Christians. In fact, her brother, Euphymius, became a  monk and later a bishop. He was actually well known bishop. His sister, Paraskeva, on the other hand, was not so famous. Her only desire in life was prayer to God. When her parents passed away she made her way to the wilderness of the Jordan where she is said to have lived for a number of years. She was there in the wilderness until she had a vision, an angel of God appeared to her telling her to return to her homeland. “It is necessary,” the angel said, “that you render your body to the earth there…”

So she returned to her home town of Epivat and two years later she passed away. When she died she was given a funeral service but was not buried in the main cemetery but further away, as if she were a foreigner, in an unmarked grave. It seemed that as if this was the end of the story of this beautiful saint but God, as it seems, had greater plans for His faithful servant.  Years after her repose, the body of a dead sailor washed ashore. It had already begun to decay and gave off such a horrible stench before a stylite saint nearby detected it and asked the villagers to bury it. They unknowingly dug the grave right over the relics of St. Petka. That night, one of the grave-diggers, a pious man by the name of George, had a dream. He saw a queen seated on a throne, surrounded by a glorious company of soldiers.  One of them said to him, “George, why did you disdain the body of St. Petka and bury a stinking corpse with it? Make haste and transfer the body of the Saint to a worthy place, for God desires to glorify His servant on earth.” Then St. Petka herself spoke: “George, dig up my relics at once. I can’t bear the stench of that corpse.”  And she told him who she was and that she was originally from Epibata.  That same night, a devout woman, Euphemia, had a similar dream.

On being told about these dreams the next morning, the villagers took lighted candles and went to the cemetery, where they dug down and discovered St. Petka’s relics, fragrant and incorrupt. The relics were taken to the church of the Apostles Peter and Paul, where, by the prayers of the holy ascetic, many people were healed of various diseases and the blind received their sight.

What a beautiful example of a woman who showed such great love, so much zeal for God. Her entire life was dedicated to Him and when she died no one knew anything about her (nor did they probably even care).  After all, they were not the ones who cared about her story. It was God who cared. Indeed, it is God alone who truly knows our life stories. This is, after all, this morning’s gospel message: if we do good to those that do good to us, or love those who love us or even lend to them from whom we expect to receive back what thanks can we expect? We might receive a reward from people but it could never substitute for the one we truly seek. The only true reward worth anything is the one which comes from above. Our reward, then, is in heaven since our calling is not to be merciful like other people but ‘merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’ (v 36). We needn’t worry that our good deeds go unnoticed, unrewarded.

It was God, wanting to glorify His servant, that gives us the story of St. Petka. It was a story He gave not only to the villagers of Epivat, so they might know who it was they buried; it is a story He tells me and you, not like a father telling his children fairy tales but God telling His people of the rewards and eternal blessedness of keeping the word of God. Amen.