DON’T DESPISE VULNERABILITY

“See that you do not despise (μὴ καταφρονήσητε) one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save (σῶσαι) that which was lost.” (Mt 18: 10-11) Here, at the beginning of Chapter 18 of the Gospel according to Matthew, our Lord is talking about small children, – and not only about small children, but about those among us who “humble” ourselves (Mt 18: 4), allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and in need of others, as small children do. What our Lord stresses here, when He mentions their “angels” in heaven, who “always behold the face of” God, is our underlying unity in our One Creator; of

WOMEN DIDN’T COUNT

“… Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children (χωρὶς γυναικῶν καὶ παιδίων).” (Mt 14: 17-21) Just a curious thought. As far as the disciples are concerned, including Matthew, the holy Evangelist, the “women” (and children) in this scene don’t “count.” And in our traditional texts, for example, in the text of our Byzantine prayer of the

THE KINGDOM WITHIN US

“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things to be observed (μετὰ παρατηρήσεως, with observation); nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you (ἐντὸς ὑμῶν).’” (Lk 17: 20-21) The “kingdom” Christ is talking about is one in which He is King; in which He is both our primary and ultimate authority. This “kingdom” already “is,” because Christ is already King. However, for this kingdom to “come” to us, and for us to inhabit it, it requires our response to His authority, in “obedience” to (from the Latin “ob-audire,” literally, “listen(ing) to”), and acceptance of,

“TRADITIONAL” HEAD-COVERINGS & LONG HAIR

“Judge for yourselves (ἐν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς κρίνατε); is it proper (πρέπον ἐστιν, is it becoming) for a woman to pray to God uncovered (ἀκατακάλυπτον)? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is a dishonor (ἀτιμία) to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory (δόξα αὐτῇ ἐστιν)? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other custom (συνήθειαν), nor do the churches of God.” (1 Cor 11: 13-16) This happens to be part of our Church’s reading for today, so let me reflect on it. Here St. Paul argues for propriety/decency in two areas of “custom,” concerning our external appearance, as men and women: 1. Women

LOSING & FINDING THE SELF

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself (ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν) and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life (ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, his soul) will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Mt 16: 24-26) What does the Lord mean, when He calls me to this “denial” of my “self” and the “loss” of my very “life” or “soul”? He means, turn away from, and “lose” the self-centered, God-less “self” that you are in your own head, according to your own lights, so you can find, in His light, the “s

THE BISHOP’S “OMOPHORION”

“Upon Your shoulders, O Christ, You have taken the lost nature and brought it to Your God and Father, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” (Omophorion Prayer, said as an “omophorion” is put on a bishop at the Vesting Rites of Byzantine Liturgy) The “omophorion” (from the Greek words, ὦμος, “shoulder,” and φέρειν, “carry”), the Byzantine equivalent of the Western pallium, is worn only by our bishops. Its symbolism is already articulated by our first literary witness to the omophorion, St. Isidore of Pelusion (+ ca. 435), if you’ll excuse the long quote: “The omophorion,” writes St. Isidore in the 5th c., “which the bishop wears on his shoulders, and is made of wool, not linen, signifies the s

THE “YEAST” OF MERELY-HUMAN TEACHING

“When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ They said to one another, ‘It is because we have brought no bread.’ And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’ Then they understood that he had not

BEING A TRUE FRIEND

“No one has (οὐδεῖς ἔχει) greater love than this, to lay down one’s life (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, one’s soul) for one’s friends.” (Jn 15: 13) Here is one of the salvific (salvation-bringing) virtues I don’t contemplate often enough, – being a true friend, willing to go all the way for my “friends,” even when this somehow jeopardises my “life” or “soul.” Our Lord values this kind of self-offering and self-forgetting “love,” above all other kinds. So let me not hesitate today, to be a real friend to my friends. The concept of being a “friend” may seem to be trivialised and denigrated today, on social media, where we have “friends,” for example, on Facebook, whom we don’t even know. But, to my mind, o

BLESSED ARE "THE MEEK"?

“Blessed are the meek (οἱ πραεῖς, кроткие), for they will inherit the earth.” (Mt 5: 5) "Meekness," a term we don't use all that much nowadays, is not exactly the same thing as humility, although the two do overlap. While humility is a state of being, like in a grace-filled fog, “meekness,” which we can demonstrate when we have humility as a foundation, is a way of responding. – That is, of responding to adversity or trouble or hostility. “Meekness” absorbs and/or softens the incoming hostility, with a kind or gracious word, or with benevolent silence, or even with feigned ignorance of what the “other” side really means. The opposite of “meekness,” I think, is self-righteous victimhood. It’s

THE CHERUBIC HYMN

“Let us, who mystically represent (μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες, mystically being icons of) the Cherubim and who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside every worldly care. So that we may receive (ὑποδεξόμενοι) the King of all, Who is invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.” (Cherubic Hymn, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) What is the “point,” one might ask, of likening ourselves to God’s invisible, bodiless creation, like the Cherubim and the angelic hosts? The point is, to re-affirm our unity with “all” of God’s creation, both visible and invisible, and give us a broader frame of reference than our merely-human one. In Christ’s One Body we’re

LIBERATED BY CHRIST

“And Jesus went on from there and passed along the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain, and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the throng wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.” (Mt 15: 29-31) Here we see our Lord Jesus Christ enabling the dumb to speak, the maimed to walk, and the blind to see, i.e., to do the things most people could do in the first place. He also liberates me to do the things I am supposed to be able to do in the fir

HUMILITY SLOWS US DOWN

“It is good for me (Ἀγαθόν μοι, Благо мне), that you have humbled me (ὅτι ἐταπείνωσάς με, яко смирил мя еси), that I may learn your statutes.” (Ps 118: 71, Septuagint-translation) It does me “good,” when God “humbles” me. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be “humbled,” and what kind of “good” does it bring? “Humility,” first of all, is one of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit. As such, it doesn’t come from “me,” nor can I muster it up or fake it. God, often unexpectedly, showers it upon us, both through our unexpected ups and our unexpected downs. Humility stops us in our tracks, making us take pause and slow down, reminding us of Someone Greater, and ever more powerful, than our

THE PRIEST’S "EPITRACHELION" (STOLE)

“Blessed is God, Who pours forth His grace upon His priests like ointment upon the head, which flows down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, which flows down to the hem of his garment.“ (Priest’s Vesting Prayer of the Epitrachelion; cf. Ps 132/133: 2) The liturgical vestment worn by priests and bishops around the neck, called “epitrachelion“ (from “ἐπὶ,“ on, and “τράχηλος,“ neck), is an equivalent of the Western stole. According to Late-Byzantine commentaries (of the early-15th c. St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and the 14th c. St. Nicholas Kabasilas), and according to today’s Prayer of the Epitrachelion, quoted above, which a priest says as he puts on his epitrachelion before the Divine Liturgy

THE “FIRST PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL”

“We give thanks to You, O Lord God of Hosts, Who has made us worthy to stand even now before Your holy Altar of sacrifice and to fall down before Your compassion, for our sins (ὑπὲρ τῶν ἡμετέρων ἁμαρτημάτων), and the ignorances/ sins of ignorance of the people (καὶ τῶν τοῦ λαοῦ ἀγνοημάτων). Accept, O God, our supplication. Make us worthy to offer You prayers, supplications, and bloodless sacrifices (θυσίας ἀναιμάκτους) for all Your people. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, make us, whom You have appointed to this, Your ministry (εἰς τὴν διακονίαν σου ταύτην), free of blame…” (Priest’s “First Prayer of the Faithful,” Byzantine Divine Liturgy) This “First Prayer of the Faithful,” read (silentl

A “PROPER TIME“ FOR BAPTISM

“Lord our God, Who dwells on high and watches over the humble, You sent forth salvation of the human race, Your only-begotten Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Look down upon Your servants, the catechumens, who have inclined their necks to You, and grant them at a proper time (ἐν καιρῷ εὐθέτῳ) the font of rebirth, the remission of sins, and the garment of incorruption. Unite them to Your holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and number them among Your chosen flock.“ (The Priest’s Prayer for the Catechumens, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) This Prayer for the Catechumens, "об оглашенных" (those still being instructed, or “catechised,“ in the faith, and not yet baptised), read by the priest, usual

“I BELIEVE” and “WE BELIEVE” (IN THE CREED)

“I believe (Πιστεύω) in one God, the Father Almighty (Παντοκράτορα), Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, Byzantine Liturgical Version) The text of the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed,” as it appears in our earliest witness to its full text (the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon of 451), begins with “We believe…” (Πιστεύομεν) rather than “I believe…” But for some reason, when this Creed was later inserted into our Eucharistic liturgies (in the early-6th c. in Constantinople and in the early-11th c. in Rome), in both East and West the “we”-form was replaced by the first-person singular (“I believe,” “Πιστεύω” in Greek and “Cred

WE ARE ALL WORKS-IN-PROGRESS

“For we are God’s fellow workers; 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 man is building upon it. Let each man 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) I find this so encouraging, to be called “God’s field,” and “God’s building,” in this whole messy business of life. What the great Apostle Paul is telling me here is that I am called both to growth and progress, through it all. We are all God’s precious works-in-progress, in this life. And, as it happens with any project in this life, it’s about

WHO ARE GOD’S “ENEMIES”?

“…O Son of God, receive me today as a partaker of Your mystical supper. For I will not speak of the mystery (τὸ μυστήριον) to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss, as did Judas. But like the thief, I confess to You: Remember me, Lord, in Your Kingdom…” (Prayer Before Communion, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) So who are the Lord’s “enemies”? For one thing, they are those who have repeatedly and explicitly refused to accept Him, like the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels, with whom Judas, nonetheless, “spoke” of The Mystery, i.e., of our Incarnate Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (cf. “…great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…” 1 Tim 3: 16). We don’t always know, befor

NOT FEARING CHANGE

“…And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon (Peter), ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were

THE APOSTOLIC WAY

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in it (ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι, become its communicant).” (1 Cor 9: 20-23) Today, as those of us on the Older Calendar celebrate the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I’d l

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