Be zealous and repent

VespersphotoFather Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church is not only original, unique, and exclusive, it is also permanent. This gift is as irrevocable as the Incarnation itself. Much as the event of the Word’s enfleshment irrevocably links the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to the human race, the event of Pentecost joins the Third Person of the Holy Trinity permanently to the Church. Both conjunctions are irreversible.

The Holy Spirit will never abandon the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Although individual believers may make shipwreck of the faith (1 Timothy 1:19), the ship of the Church will never sink. And although individual churches may suffer the removal of their lamp stands (Revelation 2:5), the Church herself remains infallibly the dwelling of God with men.

Three things in the Church are inseparable: the Resurrection of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Church’s authority to forgive sins. Because the power of sin was destroyed by what God accomplished in Christ, the remission of sins pertains to the essence of the Gospel.

The Evangelist John made clear this inseparability when he described the first appearance of the risen Christ to the assembled Church:

“During the evening on that same day-day one of the week-when the doors were shut where, out of fear for the Jews, the disciples were assembled, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and side. Seeing the Lord, the disciples rejoiced. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you.’ And saying this, he breathed and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained’ (John 20:19-23).

The apostolic authority to forgive sins is presented here as pertinent to the very mission of the Church: As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

The Resurrection of Christ is proclaimed, therefore, not just as a past event but also as the source of an abiding power within in the Church. The forgiveness of sins is a present and permanent operation of the Holy Spirit, who is inseparably united to God’s People. It is the Holy Spirit who preserves in the Church the authority to remit—in God’s name—all the sins the Lamb of God took away by his Passion, death, and Resurrection.

In preaching what God accomplished in the death and Resurrection of Christ, the Church also summons sinners to the forgiveness made available by that accomplishment. The two things are, as it were, the two halves of the Gospel: “Thus it is written [1] that the Messiah should suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and [2] that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

When the Holy Spirit does descend on the Church, we see this juxtaposition exactly. The apostolic word first declares, “This Jesus God has raised up” (Acts 2:32), and then, as a moral necessary consequence, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38).

Because the Holy Spirit confers the authority to forgive sins, it is hardly surprising that the Holy Spirit also calls men to repentance. This summons of the Spirit appears in John’s letters to the seven churches:

To Ephesus: “Repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-unless you repent. . . . He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

To Pergamos: “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

To Laodicea: “Therefore be zealous and repent. . . . He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Advertisements

Against the Laws of Nature

bpPorfirije.bmp

“The Law does not exist, rules and God’s commandments do not exist for man to serve them. But the law and rules exist so that they might serve man, us. And so the Lord didn’t come to destroy the law and rules, but to fulfill them, that is, to give them meaning and fulfillment. For if rules and the law are the goal in and of themselves, then man becomes a frustrated and unhappy person, whose freedom and right to choose is restricted.  The law exists as an aid so that love would develop within us, that virtues develop, that we might do that which is good and in line with God’s will. The Lord shows us that love is above everything else. When love is in question and the need for us to do good to our neighbor, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ, then laws and rules do not exist which could or should constrain us. After all, the Lord Himself comes to this world against all the laws of nature in order to change the same. He went to the Cross and His suffering completely innocent. He didn’t ask for justice to come to His aid, He didn’t call the Law to His aid, but He went above and beyond that in order to witness and confirm love, to His very crucifixion.”

– Metropolitan Porfirije in his homily yesterday, the 27th Sunday after Pentecost.

A True Christian Parish

harvest-moon_4

In the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter says at one place, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (10:34). Yet, doesn’t Jesus say in the Gospels “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16)? How can God love us so much and not respect us at the same time?

The answer is simple: God’s love for man is equally great for all. He doesn’t treat the skilled physician better than the hardworking farmer, men over women, adults over children. No, God’s concern is for everyone, that all be saved. As St. Peter says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…. but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Just as God shows no partiality to bringing us salvation the same goes for our accountability before Him. And so St. Paul says to the Romans, “Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile” (Roman 2:9).

St. James goes even further in his epistle and call this “respecting of persons”, this “partiality”, a sin. He writes: “But if ye have respect to persons, yet commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:9-11). There is a reason we read Psalm 119 at the Lamentation service on Good Friday when we stand before the holy Plaštanica, the winding sheet. It’s the longest psalm. And in that psalm every verse speaks of the law, the commandments, the precepts of the Lord. And though man tries to keep God’s law, Jesus Christ is the only one who can perfectly pray this psalm.

In the end, just as God shows no partiality He expects us to do the same. Or, in the words of St. James, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).

That defines a true community of believers. A true Christian parish.

Are You Happy With Your Church?

Orthodox golden domes

I read somewhere, from a recent convert to Orthodoxy, how she is still being asked by her non-Orthodox friends whether she i “happy with her church”. Though it’s a common thing nowadays to shop around with churches it has never been a common thing to be happy with one’s church.

Even before the Church was established, in the Old Testament, we read about how Moses led the chosen people of God out of slavery and as they were traveling they were “murmuring” and complaining. Exodus 17:3 “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” For that matter, even Moses was known to complain (Exodus 5:22-23). Later, in the Acts of the Apostles, meaning the very beginning of the Christian Church after the Holy Spirit had descended on the Apostles, there was also complaining (Acts 6:1).

In other words, it’s always been there and always will be. As one saying goes, there is no such thing as  a perfect church for as soon as you join it, it’s no longer perfect. Yet, the gospels give us a response to this. Namely, we read over and over how the sick has come to Jesus begging Him for healing. Afterwards He would often say, “your faith has made you well.” With this our Lord reveals not only the power of our faith in God but also shows us that faith produces hope. Once we have faith in God we can never despair, never be downcast or pessimistic and, subsequently, never have anything to complain about. Faith in God and hopelessness don’t go together. One of the reasons the holy Fathers of the Church wrote about depression and despondency coming from the devil was to show how these things attack our very faith in God.

Although we believe that our Orthodox Church is perfect we, at the same time, confess that the members of the church (both clergy and laity) are not. For solutions to all church related problems we can only ask for God’s blessings and His miraculous healing.Though, as soon as things are remedied we can be certain that our Lord’s words “your faith has made you well” would apply to us as well. We can pray as long as we wish but the only way anything changes, both in the community and in our personal lives, is if we do something about it. After all, when the Lord says “let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16), He is saying that the glory and miracle working power of God can only be spread and made manifest through us: our faith, our love, our forgiveness, our “light” shining before men.

Being unhappy with our church can be a reflection of just how happy we are with ourselves. Ironically enough, all of us, regardless of what situation we might find ourselves in, can always and always find a reason to be happy: the doors of the church are always open to us, always inviting, always finding a place for us.

May we always find true happiness in the church and in the words of St. Paul “do all things without complaining and disputing” (Phil. 2:14).