The Gift of Love

“The holy Apostle Paul teaches us that in all things we need to be servants of God, to be known and unknown, to be those who own nothing and have everything. The word ‘talent’ means gift, the greatest gift which every person receives from the Lord is the gift of His love. To bury one’s talent in the ground, according to the Holy Fathers means to waste one’s life in the transient things of time, thus the Lord does not punish the evil and lazy servant by sending him to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, but He simply allows him to continue his manner of life, towards destruction…..”

Bishop Irinej of Bachka

Gospel of the talents

“…There are five bodily senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The five talents represent the gift of the five senses, that is, knowledge of externals; the two talents signify theory and practice; the one talent signifies theory alone….”

St. Gregory the Great

Forgive sins

jesus_in-a-boat

We are approaching the 6th Sunday after Pentecost and the gospel we read is a continuation from the 5th Sunday. Namely, after Jesus had driven the demons out of the Gergesene demoniacs He was kindly asked to leave. So He “got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His city…” (Matt. 9:1). In fact, that verse is read both last Sunday and this coming Sunday. Last Sunday the gospel reading ended there and this coming Sunday that’s where the reading begins. Another healing is heard at the beginning of this chapter, this time in Capernaum and at the end of this gospel episode we hear a similar thing as last Sunday: “And he arose and departed to his house…” (Matt. 9:7). Unlike in the region of the Gergesene in Capernaum His healing was praised, except from the Pharisees. Another aspect is different: the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus says, “But that you might know that the Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins…” and then He forgives the sins of the paralytic. The Lord gives this same power to His Disciples, that is, He gives it to His Church. This is a very important thing to remember. We’re not going to face Jesus at the Judgement Seat in the afterlife so that we can prove to Him what good people we were so that He might forgive us our sins. In fact, we don’t have to prove to anyone we’re good at all. Good people don’t go to heaven, Saints do, was a saying a priest friend liked to repeat.

The point is this: forgiveness of sins happens on earth and not in heaven. Subsequently, while we are in this world we are to repent. Always. We say in our morning prayers, “Suddenly the Judge shall come, and the deeds of each shall be revealed: but with fear we cry out in the middle of the night: Holy, holy, holy art thou, O God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us”.

It is a human tendency and weakness to put things off. It’s laziness. Like everything else, however, we tend to rationalize it and so we fall in the temptation of putting off the remission of our sins. It’s something between us and God and God will surely do as soon as He sees us face to face in the afterlife.

What we ignore is that God has revealed Himself to us and promised us “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). This is what we refer to in Orthodoxy as the sacramental life. This is our salvation.

Why so much fear?

FullSizeRender.jpgSt. Justin Popovic says in a homily for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – which will be   this coming Sunday, “You’re a Christian but be careful that you are not a heathen according to your worries….”. For in that Sunday’s gospel we hear the Lord’s words: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?…For after all these things the Gentiles seek..” (Matt. 6:25,32).

Even when things are going good we worry that something bad is going to happen. There’s a story about how death was on it’s way to a city and a man it on it’s way there. Death told the man that it’s on its way to the city to take the lives of 100 people. The man was horrified and rushed to the city to inform the people. That evening the man met death again asked, You said you’d only take 100 lives, why did 1,000 die? Death replied, I kept my word. I only took 1oo. Worry took the rest.

Concern is not the same as worry. For that matter neither is to act responsibly. But often times those who act responsibly and want to take responsibility worry about everything. This worrying turns into fear which eventually cause us to lose all hope and, in the end, we lose our faith in God.

The opposite of not  worrying is to have peace. It’s worth nothing that the Divine Liturgy begins with this very prayer for peace: In peace let us pray to the Lord. But peace doesn’t necessarily mean that we all get along and we’re friendly with another. On the contrary, I’m praying for peace for myself so that in the midst of everything I have peace: I’m positive, I have healthy outlook on life, etc. If we spend all our time praying that peace finally come to the world that’s exactly what’s going to happen – we’re going to spend all our time – our whole life – praying for that. It’s not going to happen, there will always be things we need to take responsibility for and be concerned about, things that will make it difficult for us to be at peace. But peace doesn’t come from outside but from within.

In Psalm 23 David writes, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me….”. Ironically, many people don’t pray to the Lord “in peace” but when they’re in trouble, when they’re sick, when something bad has either happened to them or someone they love. How can such a person pray? How can such a person fear no evil when it’s not “in peace” that they are praying but in fear?

Christ doesn’t tell us not to worry because all we need to do is believe in Him and he’ll take care of our finances, our employment and everything else. He’s telling us something else, He’s saying: I am with you! Through our worries, however, we’re telling Him: Yeah, but I’m not with you.

The Spirit of Jesus

saint-paul-preaching-in-athens-3511-mid-735594

We’ve been reading through the Acts of the Apostles Tuesday nights. Quite appropriately as we began the Apostle’s Fast Monday. We read chapter 10-20 last night with little commentary from time to time. One particular place we stopped, however, I found a bit ironic.

Chapter 16:7: “After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them”.  We continued a few verses more when someone interrupted and asked the obvious, “Why didn’t the Spirit let them go?”

I quoted the simple answer given by the Orthodox Study Bible which noted that the Apostles did not question the direction of the Holy Spirit since “God does not always give reasons for His instruction”. This led to some discussion and it was suggested that perhaps the people of Bythynia were not worthy of the Apostles’ preaching, which is obviously not right. So what is the reason?

It seems to be the first time that the Holy Spirit stopped the Apostles from preaching. Indeed, it was the descent of the Holy Spirit which was the very driving force for the Apostle’s preaching and now all of the sudden we read it did “not permit them” to go somewhere. Whatever the case it’s the first time the Holy Spirit is described as determining the course of the Apostles.

Perhaps another interesting thing to note here is that in most newer translations of the Bible “Jesus” is added so that it’s not the Spirit but the “Spirit of Jesus” that did not permit them. I will not comment further other than to say in the Serbian translation it simply says “Spirit”.

But why I said ironic at the start of this post is that it seems to be a part of our nature not just to ask why but to want to know the reason. While we got an answer which was that sometime God doesn’t give answers the follow up was, Why? To which the answer is simply: Because. Would there be any value to our faith if God gave us the answer to all of our “becauses”?

How many times do we want to do something in life and the Spirit doesn’t permit us but we do it anyway. Why? Why not, is the reply. The Holy Spirit guided the Apostles, it guides the Church and it guides us as well. Why? Because God desires that we all be saved.

Fasting in the Orthodox Church

Bishop Maxim shared with me a blog entitled “Notes From the Council” [here]which, unfortunately, (for the purpose of me sharing the posts here) is mainly in Serbian. It is authored by His Grace (from what I gather). I wish more was in English but the following is a post I can share here regarding fasting:

The way we fast nowadays (when we only eat certain types of food and avoid others) has annulled all other kinds of fasting, which are found in the tradition of fasting and which demonstrate the creative nature of Christian fasting (for example, in our tradition we find: 1. complete abstinence from eating, 2. fasting until mid-afternoon, 3. eating less in order to save money for charity, or 4. abstaining not from food, but from favorite activities, etc.). What mattered was the reason for fasting, not the duration, which was directly dependent on that reason. Also, the real meaning of fasting lied not in the type of food, but on abstinence. But unfortunately, very often, delicious and luxurious dishes are welcomed by our Church as fasting food, provided they do not contain prohibited ingredients. In that way the Church enables rich Christians to be good Christians, who can fast for months using different types of very expensive food; while poor Christians become bad Christians because sometimes they take some cheese or eggs, if they cannot afford to eat Lenten foods for more than six months every year, or only two or three types of food that they can afford.

Another quandary for our Church’s actual understanding of fasting are vegetarians and vegans. What shall the Church do with vast number of vegetarians and vegans who do not eat meat anyway? According to Church rules concerning fasting, such people already fast all the time. So, our current understanding of fasting deprives them of the possibility to be, from time to time, engaged in the common enterprise of the Church, because the Church already sees them as fasting from particular foods all the time.

Also, fasting as we now understand it, with the fasting periods on which the Church insists (which is more than half a year),on the one hand, is not really possible for many categories of Christians (for example: the old and the sick), who, on the other hand, being Christians, want to fulfill the commandments of their Church. As such we create an inner conflict in these people without reason.

Furthermore, our Typikon is not in accordance with our fasting regulations. Let me take only one example: the Feast of Transfiguration of the Savior (6 August). One important aspect of the meaning of this feast is that it represents a sign of the final resurrection of all. But the way we practice fasting on that day (only fish is allowed, but not meat, cheese or eggs) contradicts not only the meaning of the feast, but also the principle that the feasts of Christ cannot be “subordinated” to other feasts. As you know, it was the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise (886–912) who abolished the festal character of the Transfiguration feast, banned meat, which was formerly allowed on this feast, and joined its five fasting days with the Dormition Fast. Yet we know that even after one century some continued to celebrate the Transfiguration properly, as a non-fasting day. Why wouldn’t we do this today?

Moreover, it is of special importance that, as late as in the 12th century, the Byzantine canonist Theodor Balsamon insisted that only the fasts of Wednesday, Friday, and the Great Lent were the obligatory ones, established by the Holy Canons, whereas all the others were not obligatory. Therefore, the history of our Church shows that multiplying and extending the fasting periods has never been a unanimous and unquestionable practice. Long fasting equally as “long prayers” are not necessarily a token of piety; they may well be reason enough for condemnation (suffice it to compare Christ’s words in the Gospel of Mark 12:40; and Luke 20:47).

Thank you for your attention.