WHY THE REPETITIONS OF “LORD, HAVE MERCY”?

“Lord, have mercy!” (Frequent refrain in Byzantine Liturgy) Isn’t it somewhat morbid, how often we repeat, in our church-services, “Lord, have mercy” (Κύριε, ἐλέησον)? It is, if we misunderstand the word “mercy” (ἔλεος, eleos), limiting it to what it means in today’s English, a “withholding of punishment.” But the term means much more in patristic usage. “Mercy” is in and from our “merciful” God, as His way of being, and His way of acting. With respect to us, “mercy” (eleos) is an overflowing of God’s goodness, spiritual riches, and salvation, abundantly upon us, if we are open to it, like a soothing oil (ἔλαιον, elaion). That’s why, traditionally, “oil” is seen as a symbol of God’s “mercy.”

THE ONE CALLED TO OUR SIDE

“They will put you out of the synagogues (ἀποσυναγώγους ποιήσουσιν ὑμᾶς); but the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your benefit (συμφέρει ὑμῖν) that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Com

THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter (ἄλλον Παράκλητον), to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate (ὀρφανούς, as orphans); I will come to you.” (Jn 14: 13-18) The feast of the Ascension had a subtle note of sadness, because of Christ’s departure from us in the flesh. But He had assured us, as quoted above, that He w

EVERYONE HAS A “PLACE”

“’Let not your heart(s) be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms/dwelling-places (μοναὶ πολλαί); if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you (ὅτι πορεύομαι ἑτοιμάσαι τόπον ὑμῖν;)? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me…’” (Jn 14: 1-6) In Christ, nobody is excluded. He prepares a “place” for all of us, even

THE LORD’S ASCENSION, OUR ASCENSION

“…But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1: 8-11) Did our Lord “really” ascend in the flesh; in His resurrected, physical, human body? He did indeed. Of course, Christ didn’t “have

“WE NEVER EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT”

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptised?’ They said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ And Paul said, ‘John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19: 1-6)

WHAT ELSE IS NEW

“And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the visiting foreigners spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new (τι καινότερον, something newer). So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…’” (A

DIVINE WIT

“’My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’” (Jn 10: 27-32) When our Lord asks, “I have shown you many good works…; for which of these do you stone me?” – is He being witty, and even sarcastic? Yes, He is. That’s all I wanted to note about today’s reading; that our Lord Jesus Ch

SUNDAY OF THE BLIND MAN

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’” (Jn 9: 1-5) So the innocent suffering of a child born blind was not “because” of anybody’s sin, but for the works of God to be “made manifest in him.” Because the birth of a helpless, blind child calls the parents or caretakers of the child to extra-attentive service a

THEY SEPARATED FROM EACH OTHER

“And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’ And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement (παροξυσμός), so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15: 36-41) How very human is this

AFTER MUCH DISCUSSION

“But some believers who belonged to the party (αἱρέσεως) of the Pharisees rose up, and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them (the newly-converted Gentiles), and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the presbyters were gathered together to consider this matter. And after much discussion (ζητήσεως), Peter rose and said to them, 'Men, brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith…’” (Acts 1

DAILY ENTRANCES

“I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10: 9-10) “If any one enters by me…” – Enters what? Everything: every new day, every daily responsibility, relationship, conversation, online or face-to-face, or any situation, be it a business-meeting, an evening with friends, a blind date, a trip to the mall, a vacation, or just the daily traffic jam on my way to work. Christ invites me to “go in and out” of everything “by Him,” so I don’t have to do it alone, in meaninglessness and self-isolation. Everything has abundant meaning

A LITTLE IS ENOUGH

“Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to thos

APOSTOLIC HUMOR & DIRECTNESS

“But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them (Barnabas and Paul), seeking to turn away the proconsul (Sergius) from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13: 8-11) Now, the Apostle Paul is not “nice” to the magician, havin

THE FATHER WE CHOOSE

“Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you are not able (οὐ δύνασθε) to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer (ἀνθρωποκτόνος, killer of human beings) from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature (ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων, from his own), for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (Jn 8: 43-45) Here Jesus is talking to the non-believing Jews, – and to me, when I embrace lies, – about perspective. I become “not able” to hear truth, that is, the illuminating, life-giving way God s

MOTHER’S DAY

“Commemorating our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend (παραθώμεθα, предадим, place before God, hand over) ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.” (Great Litany, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) If you’ll forgive this personal note today, because it’s Mother’s Day I’d also like to “commemorate,” and “commend” or “place before” God, in praise and gratitide, the self-giving journey of my mother, Matushka Catherine. I’m remembering how she, a mother of four, made it possible for my father to be a full-time, ROCOR priest (which means a very low salary, insufficient to support a family). She went to

MY PAST, AN ASSET

“So the (Samaritan) woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the city and were coming to him.” (Jn 4: 28-30) The Samaritan woman’s encounter with the God-Man involved a conversation about her past, or “all that (she) ever did,” including the awkward fact that she has had “five husbands”; and another fact, from her more recent past, that the man she presently “had” was not, actually, her “husband” (Jn 4: 18). But her past, after Christ shed His life-giving light on it, became life-giving not only for this remarkable woman, but also for many others in her city. In c

A SPIRIT FULL OF SURPRISES

“While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10: 44-48) Those who came with Peter were not a little surprised, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out “even on the Gentiles.” But the surprising part for our Orthodox mentality today

LIGHT OF MY PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ The Pharisees then said to him, ‘You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true.’ Jesus answered, ‘Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh…’” (Jn 8: 12-15) What kind of “light” is Christ talking about? His kind. It is His divine, illuminating “testimony” or word to us, which gives me a proper perspective or “judgment.” Communion with Christ allows me to know “where I h

A THIRSTING SOUL

“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, / Fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness (εὐσεβείας, devotion, piety), as You did cry to all: / If anyone thirst let him come to me and drink! / O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to You!” (Troparion, Mid-feast of Pentecost) Today is the Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost (τῆς Μεσοπεντηκοστῆς, Преполовения). So, Pascha is exactly three-and-a-half weeks behind us, and we have exactly three-and-a-half weeks to go until Pentecost, or the Descent of the Holy Spirit. At this mid-point of our long, 50-day journey from Pascha to Pentecost, it is easy to lose focus, and slip away from any kind of “devotion,” forgetting both the feast behind us (Pasc

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