THE MORNING-PSALM

“O God, my God, unto you I rise early at dawn… If I remembered you on my bed, at the dawn I meditated on you. For you have become my helper; in the shelter of your wings will I rejoice.” (Ps 62: 1, 6-7, Septuagint-translation) Psalm 62, which has been part of the morning-service of Matins (Orthros, Утреня) since our earliest witnesses to this service, reminds me of a simple, ancient wisdom: If I remember God “on my bed” or at bedtime, then my thoughts are drawn to Him again “at the dawn,” when I awake. Thus the key to a healthy, God-centered morning is a God-centered evening. It is also the key to letting God “become my helper” in my every day, choosing “the shelter of His wings” in His kind

GROWING OLD & SELF-GIVING

”…Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (Jn 21: 17-19) In St. Peter’s case, going “where he did not wish to go” in his old age, as the Lord foretells, meant the Apostle’s “kind of d

TRANSFERRED TO THE KINGDOM

“He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church…” (Col 1: 13-18) As the Apostle reminds me today, I’ve been “transferred.” From where? From “the dominion of darkness,” where one can’t see anything. To where? To a kingdom, whe

SHE SHOWS US HOW IT’S DONE

“I will receive the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.“ (Ps 115: 4, according to the Septuagint; cf. Ps 116: 13) This Psalm-verse serves as the “Communion-Verse“ chanted at Byzantine Divine Liturgy on feast-days in honor of the Mother of God. Why? Because the Most-Holy Theotokos received Her Son’s “cup,“ – and in bibical language that signalizes suffering – before anyone else did. And She showed us how this is done, calling upon the name of the Lord in Her brief acceptance-speech: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1: 38) She also experienced Pentecost before anyone else did, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Her; and She ex

SHE CALLS US TO UNITY

“Apostles, who have assembled here from the ends of the earth, bury my body in Gethsemane, and You, my Son and God, receive my spirit!“ (Exapostilarion-Hymn of the Dormition of the Theotokos) When the time came for the repose of Mary, the Mother of God, the Apostles were called back to Jerusalem from their places of preaching at “the ends of the earth“ and “assembled“ at Her deathbed. So in Her death, the Mother of Life draws into unity those who had been scattered. Just as Her divine Son did in His death, according to His promise: ”and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12: 32) As those of us on the Old(er) Calendar prepare to celebrate the great feast

SMALL SERVICES

“After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (Jn 19: 38-42) Befo

HIS GARMENTS

“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfil the scripture, ‘They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’” (Jn 19: 23-24) The “garments” of the God-Man, for which the soldiers ever-so-coldly cast lots, now seem like a meaningless piece of merchandise. And yet, these are the same garments that “became white as light” on the Mount of Transfiguration. And the whole business of casting of lots for them was prophesied cent

YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ASKING

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’” (Mk 10: 35-38) The request of the sons of Zebedee, for Jesus to do for them “whatever they ask” of Him, seems both naïve and outrageous to me, whenever I read this passage. But I am so grateful that James and John made this request, becau

EVENING CONSOLATION

“Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who shall stand? For with you there is forgiveness.” (Ps 129: 1-3, Septuagint) These verses are from a Psalm prayed every evening, wherever the daily service of Byzantine Vespers happens to be celebrated. So, whatever “spiritual baggage” I may have accumulated throughout any given day, I’m invited, by our great Tradition, to “cry out of the depths” at the end of it. However far I may have drifted from a God-centered focus, I can join the ancient “cry” of the psalmist, as many people have throughout the ages, who si

COUNT “IT ALL” JOY

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greeting. Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials (πειρασμοῖς, temptations), knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (ὑπομονήν). And let patience (ὑπομονὴ) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1: 1-4) Why does the Apostle James remind me of the obvious in my cross-carrying journey, – to “count it all joy,” including the discomfort of “trials” or “temptations”? Because I may tend to choose other paths, other responses to my trials, like self-pity and resentment. But these paths are fruitless, as well as blind. Bo

GOD’S BUILDING

“For we are God’s co-workers (συνεργοί); you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. Let each (builder) take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3: 9-11) How dignifying and exciting is this fact, when I have the ears to hear it: God has many “co-workers” and “builders” in His great and small works-in-progress, including me. I am called to growth and development, having been given the one reliable foundation, which makes true progress possible; “which is Jesus Christ.” Today let me embrac

SO THAT WE MAY BE ONE

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify (ἁγιάζω) myself, so that they also may be sanctified (ἡγιασμένοι) in truth. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…” (Jn 17: 17-23) Our Lord “sanctifies” Himself for us, that is, He dedicates Himself completely to us, m

HIS KIND OF JOY

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (Jn 16: 20-22) A life in Christ, a cross-carrying life, involves “sorrow”; the kind of sorrow a woman experiences when giving birth. “Because her hour has come.” Thus it happens with us, whenever our “hour” comes and we go through some kind of cr

SINS OF OMISSION

“Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain and are about to die, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.” (Rev 3: 2-3) There are so many helpful passages in Scripture against spiritual sloth and procrastination. But I happened to come across the above-quoted one this morning, which is part of a message to the church in Sardis, and it really struck me with regard to my “sins of omission.” That is, my tendency to “drop out” of contact with loved ones who live far away, neglecting to make a simple

TO SUCH BELONGS THE KINGDOM

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Mt 19: 13-15) What does it mean to be “such as these,” that is, children? It means being able 1. to play, and 2. to laugh, and 3. to learn new things every day. At least this is what springs to my mind, when I think of children and childhood. Today let me open to the God-given gifts so obvious in my childhood, but sometimes obscured in my adulthood: 1. Of taking time out for healthy “play,” rather tha

HER HOUSE

“Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who is without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness, and live, and walk in the way of understanding.’” (Prov 9: 1-6, read at Byzantine Vespers on Dormition) This intriguing passage is read at Vespers, on the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Why this passage? Because the “house” built by “Wisdom” is traditionally seen as an image of Mary, the Most-Pure Virgin

BEHOLD, YOUR MOTHER!

“But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (Jn 19: 25-27) St. John, the beloved disciple, already had a home, and a mother, in the usual sense. She was Salome, Zebedee’s wife, who was still alive and also present at the Cross (Mk 15: 40). The young John still lived in the house of his parents. But the Lord entrusts John to His own Mother, who was poor, not in the usual sense. At the

IT IS TRULY RIGHT

“It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, the ever blessed, and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, the true Theotokos, we magnify you.” (Byzantine Hymn to the Mother of God) I am praying this somewhat-surprising hymn today, as some of us prepare for the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Mother of God, and others of us on the Old(er) Calendar are just preparing to enter the two-week Dormition Fast. Do we “overdo it,” when it comes to blessing and magnifying this Woman? No, we proclaim in this hymn: “It is truly right…” Ἄξιόν ἐστιν ὡς ἀληθῶς…

DO YOU WASH MY FEET?

“…Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’”

WHERE DARKNESS ISN’T DARK

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I descend into hades, you are there. If I take up my wings toward the dawn, and settle at the farthest parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. And I said, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the night shall be as light to my delight,’ for the darkness is not dark with you; the night is as bright as the day…” (Ps 138: 6-11, according to the Septuagint) There is no physical place, nor any state of mind or heart, in which God absents Himself from me. So today, if I am reeling from a rejection or failure or loss of some sort

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