The First Called

holy_apostle_andrewAndrew, the First Called
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
H/T: here

If a Bible reader takes the care to notice him, the Apostle Andrew is among the most attractive individuals in all of Holy Scripture. A certain measure of careful attention is necessary to lay hold of this fact, nonetheless, for Andrew does not really “put himself forward.” He does not come bounding forth impetuously from the biblical page, so to speak, like a David, a Moses, or a Paul. Indeed, this disinclination to draw explicit attention to himself is one of the very features that render Andrew so attractive.

To appreciate this quiet, self-effacing aspect of Andrew it may be useful to contrast him, in this respect, to his bolder, more emphatic brother, the Apostle Peter. Peter most certainly does draw attention to himself, which may be one of the reasons that he is invariably named first when the original apostles are listed (cf. Mark 3:16–19; Acts 1:13, etc.). In the memory of the early Church, Peter would have been extremely difficult to overlook. He appears in Holy Scripture very much as an in-your-face apostle, if the term be allowed. It was he, after all, who flung himself into the lake and swam toward the risen Jesus, while the others came rowing to shore in their boats (John 21:7f.). On that occasion Peter was at least swimming toward the Lord and not attempting, as he had earlier done, to walk to him on the surface of the water (Matt. 14:28–31).

Even though Peter often served as a spokesman for the others (cf. Matt. 19:27; Mark 1:36), one has the impression that he sometimes went out of his way to distinguish himself, to set himself apart from the rest of the apostles—“Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29). A consummate alpha personality, Peter simply cannot be overlooked; like the very sun, a boisterous giant rejoicing to run his course, there is nothing hidden from his heat.

In his brother Andrew we find none of this. Andrew, on the contrary, appears not to draw attention to himself but serves entirely as a conduit for others to come to the Lord. Even in that scene that prompts the Church to remember him as the first-called, he immediately went to share his blessing with his sibling. It is no wonder that he was known among the first Christians simply as “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (cf. John 1:38–42).

As the first-called of the Church, then, Andrew was apparently recognized to enjoy a kind of special access to the Lord. Thus, when the Greek-speaking visitors to Jerusalem approached Philip (besides Andrew, the only other apostle with a Greek name) saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” Philip went first to Andrew so that the two of them might together facilitate that meeting (John 12:21f.). Evidently Philip felt the need to have the helpful, accessible Andrew by his side at that time.

In all of the Gospels, however, there is one scene that seems most clearly to reveal this trait of friendly, relaxed availability in Andrew, and that scene is in John’s narrative of the multiplication of the loaves. Of the six New Testament stories on this theme, only John tells us of the special role of Andrew: “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” (John 6:8f.).

Now, the attentive reader of Holy Scripture should be asking a question of the text at this point, namely, just how did Andrew know that there was a little boy present who was carrying those particular pieces of food? It is unlikely, after all, that a small boy would be holding all seven items in his hands at the same time. The five barley loaves and two little fish must have been carried in a sack of some sort. The lad was part of a large multitude that had been with Jesus for some days (Matt. 15:32), and his mother had packed him several meals in a lunch bag. By now, he has already eaten most of that food—the fresh fruit and sweets are gone, for instance. All the lad has left in that sack are five barley loaves, possibly a tad beyond their prime, and a couple of salted fish.

So how did Andrew know what was contained in that little boy’s bag? Surely the answer is obvious. He noticed the child standing near him, maybe alone, perhaps a bit distracted, and he simply asked in a cordial, engaging way, “Say there, son, what all did your mama pack for you in that bag?” From such friendly inquiries are missions and ministries begun, and miracles born.

Feeling Love

corn (800x350)From the Pastoral Ponderings of Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It may be the case that we have heard the plainest words of Holy Scripture so often that we no longer really hear them. A long but shallow acquaintance with the Bible’s most obvious teachings may serve sometimes to deflect, if not actually to dull, even the keen double-edged sword of God’s Word. We assume that the point of the divine will has already pierced its way into our hearts, whereas in truth we may have spent much of our lives dodging and deftly parrying the thrust of the blade.

Take, for example, the simple mandate to love our enemies. The thing could hardly be plainer: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . . But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . . And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”

Some of us assume we have heard this injunction, whereas it is likely that we have merely stepped aside to let it pass by. It is certainly the case that a modern prejudice makes the command to love our enemies a thing hard to understand.

Because in contemporary speech the word “love” rather frequently refers to feelings, there is a prior social disposition that prompts us to interpret this dominical command in a mainly emotional sense. We imagine ourselves directed to entertain kind and benevolent sentiments towards our enemies, so as long as we are blessed with the inner dexterity to throw these emotions prominently on our mental screen, we fancy that we really do love our enemies.

Regarded more closely, however, the Sacred Text says something quite different. It does not tell us how we are to feel toward our enemies. Indeed, it shows not the slightest interest in how we feel about our enemies. The love the Bible commands has about it, rather, a completely positive, active and practical sense.

The meaning of the verb “love” is illustrated by its context. Three times in the passage cited above the injunctions to “love” and to “do good” are set in parallel construction, creating what grammarians call a hendiadys, a rhetorical device in which a single idea is conveyed in two forms. Thus, the commands to “love” and to “do good” mean exactly the same thing, the second being simply the explanation of the first. That is to say, a lover is by biblical definition a do-gooder.

In the original Greek text, in fact, this hendiadys is strengthened by a play of parallel sounds: ei agapate . . . ean agathopoiete—“if you love . . . if you do good.”

Now it may happen, surely, that by doing good to our enemies, our emotions may change. We may in due course come to feel differently about those enemies. Well and fine, but this is not the intent of the Lord’s command, which is directed to our activity, not our sensitivity.

Now in respect to this matter, we are burdened with a deep modern bias that takes “feelings” as the valid test of what is real. Thus, we judge those things to be most genuine that we feel most deeply, as though spontaneity creates authenticity. Our poor nervous systems are pressed into service as barometers of reality.

Consequently, when duty—even divinely imposed duty—obliges us to do things we do not necessarily feel, the current culture disposes us to regard ourselves as phony and insincere. This is surely nonsense. I submit that this completely bogus presupposition of contemporary culture is a great impediment to hearing and doing the Word of God (cf. James 1:22-23).

Doing good to our enemies is of a piece, of course, with forgiving them, a thing the Lord repeatedly commands. Once again, it is important to observe exactly the nature of the mandate. We are not enjoined to “feel forgiveness.” God seems not the least bit concerned how we feel on the subject of our enemies.

In this case too, it may happen that the cultivated habit of forgiving our enemies may actually lead, down the road, to subjective sentiments of forgiveness. Well and fine, but it is the act, not the feeling, which is commanded.

The martyred Stephen may have felt rather bitterly about those enemies, “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,” who were violently taking his life. If so, it is a matter of no moment. The important thing is that Stephen really forgave them (Acts 8:51,60).

The Weather

photoWe watch the evening news to know what’s going on in the world around us, to find out what’s happening not only in distant places but in our own backyards. And while some are more interested in politics, others only care about sports or they’re more concerned with celebrity gossip I find it peculiar that just about everybody will listen up to the guy who isn’t even always right: the weatherman.

Though it is subtle, weather plays a role in the Bible story as well. In the book of Job we read: “For He says to the snow, be on the earth….He directs His lightening to the ends of the earth” (Job 37:3,6). In Psalms 96:4 we read: “His lightening enlightened the world. The whole earth saw and trembled.” He directs the weather to help us and thus in Genesis we read: “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock with him in the boat. He sent a wind to blow across the earth and the flood waters began to recede” (8:1-2). There are many mentions of natural phenomena attributed to God throughout Scripture and they include snow and rain and hail and earthquakes and so forth.

Of course it’s not all bad weather in the Biblical forecast. Let’s not forget that it was our Lord, while walking on the waters as the disciples’ ship was being tossed to and fro, who calmed the storms. In the end, however, the weather doesn’t have to be any sort of indication of God’s disposition. As our Lord tells us: “For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).

These past few autumn days have been unseasonably warm. Winter is on its way but before it arrives the often unreliable weatherman has advised us to enjoy these extra days of summer; and rightfully so! While this weather has truly been heavenly we offer our thanks and give praise to God not for giving us another summer day. It is, instead, that He has given us another day, period.



Found this practical tip in a church bulletin….

When reading books on Orthodoxy, writings of the Fathers, lives of Saints, and the like, it is often (not always, by any means) a good idea to skip the Introduction! Be particularly wary of it if it is long. There seems to be a fashion for giving books introductions which are intended to give a certain slant to the main text which follows. Such slants are best avoided, and it is preferable to simply let the text speak for itself. As a precaution, at least always read the text before reading the introduction.

A Thankful Heart

H/T: Greek Archdiocese (here)

Rev Andrew J. Demostes

Almost thirty years ago, I happened to attend a banquet to which then Mayor Nicholas Mavroules of Peabody had also been invited. Since it was an election year, the Mayor used the opportunity to visit from table to table, shaking hands and soliciting votes. He stopped at a table, not far from where I was standing, at which a family was sitting, each member of which I knew the Mayor had helped in one way or another. When he told the father he would appreciate his vote and support in the coming election, he was promptly told “We’ll be voting for your opponent this time around.” “Well”, said the Mayor, “I appreciate your honesty, but may I ask why you won’t vote for me?” “Because”, the father replied, “you ain’t done nothing for us lately.”

That episode never left me, and has often reminded me of the scriptural story of the cure of the ten lepers. After they had been made well, only one returned to offer thanks, leading Christ to justifiably ask “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:17). The nine lepers of scripture were even more ungrateful than the man at the banquet. They had just been cleansed from their new found health and freedom and were never seen or heard from again. Only one leper returned to Jesus to express his gratitude and devotion.

How could the nine have been so unappreciative? How could the man have been so ungrateful to the Mayor who had helped him so many times? To find the answer, all we need to do is look into our own hearts. When we do, we see how quickly we, too, forget that everything we are had have comes from God. We must continually nurture the grace of gratitude in our hearts, and be eternally vigilant lest a sense of entitlement makes us into one of the lepers rather than the one who returned to express thanksgiving. We must never forget that while God chooses to give us everything, he owes us nothing.