PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST

“And as he spoke, a certain Pharisee asked him to dine with him. So he went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.’” (Lk 11: 37-41) In the oral tradition of the Pharisees, an elaborate series of ablutions, accompanied with special prayers, was required before sitting down for the main meal of the day. The original reason for this

DO WE KEEP "THE SABBATH"?

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us (ὑπεναντίον ἡμῖν). And he has taken it out of the way (ἦρκεν ἐκ τοῦ μέσου), having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance/body is of Christ (τὸ δὲ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ).” (Col 2: 13-17) The “substance“ of the Old-T

FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD

“This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6: 50-51) What kinds of “life” and “death” is Christ talking about here? The kinds that begin already here, in this world. The Son of God has come “down from heaven,” has inserted Himself into our physical world, in the flesh, to share with us true life, in Him. He offers us communion/participation in His physical Body and Blood, that we may, already here, “have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10: 10). He share

"LET US ATTEND!"

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him (more) will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” (Lk 8: 16-18) It is important, the Lord is telling me here, not only “that” I hear His word, but “how” I hear it. Even when I don’t quite understand it, He calls me to patient and persistent exploration of His divine wisdom, in humble and prayerful teachability. “For nothing is se

CONNECTED IN THE SPIRIT

“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” (Col 2: 1-5) How important are these words, in our Internet Age, when we ar

WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE DIE

“But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age. There was one who pleased God and was loved by him. He was taken up, lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s gr

“SUCCESS” IN PRAYER

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Lk 11: 9-13) I was recently asked whether the “success” of our prayers depends upon our “righteousness.” No, as the Lord explain

I CAN DO ALL THINGS

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4: 10-13) I have learned “how” to abound/be full, says the Apostle, and “how” to be abased and to suffer need. How, exactly? Through the strength of Christ. So, the “how” of going through both the ups and the downs in life is someth

THE RICH MAN & LAZARUS

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side…” (Lk 16: 19-23) The “rich man” in this parable has no name, while the “poor man” is dignified with a name, Lazarus. Why? Because Lazarus has an identity, having become himself, and self-aware, thr

THE COMMANDMENT TO REST

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and the son of your bondmaid and the resident alien may be refreshed.” (Ex 23: 12) Setting aside the disputed issues of the Sabbath-commandment and its status in Christianity (e.g., how or whether it relates to Sunday), I’d just like to reflect on its motivation, in its above-quoted version. We are commanded to rest, not primarily for our own sake, but out of consideration for our dependents, including animals. So, if we do not heed the commandment to rest, and are “on” non-stop, as many of us are (at least to some degree) in our 24/7 Internet-culture, we are over-burdeni

PRESSING TOWARD THE GOAL

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal (κατὰ σκοπὸν) for the prize of the upward call (εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως) of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3: 12-14) Keep going, and keep growing in Christ, also today, St. Paul is telling me here, lest I become a complacent and/or self-righteous Orthodox Christian. We often talk about the Church as the “fullness” of Christ, or the “fullness” of gr

GOOD IS DIGNIFYING

“Vouchsafe (Καταξίωσον, Сподоби, make/deem us worthy), O Lord, for us to be kept (φυλαχθῆναι, сохранитися) this evening without sin…” (Prayer, Byzantine Vespers) A puzzling choice of words, isn’t it? The first word of this prayer, ”καταξίωσον,” most often translated as “vouchsafe,” involves this idea of us being made/deemed “worthy,” that is to say, “esteemed” and “dignified.” So, “to be kept without sin,” to make the healthy choices this evening, in God’s light, rather than the unhealthy ones, is dignifying. And we all know this to be true, from experience: If, this evening, I choose to over-eat, or over-drink, or under-sleep, say, if I binge-watch some Netflix-series until late into the ni

FROM DEATH TO LIFE

”Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment/condemnation (εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται), but has passed (μεταβέβηκεν) from death to life.” (Jn 5: 24) Here is the choice my Lord places before me: 1. I can ”come into judgment/condemnation,” which means sitting in my own “debt” or death-bringing guilt, without embracing God’s mercy and God’s way forward, or 2. I can “hear” His word and embrace faith, moving forward through the ups and downs, on the life-bringing way of the cross, in humble forgiveness of myself and others. Thus I can “pass from death to life,” walking through things in the light and lightness of God’

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER EXPLAINED

“Now the parable is this (Jesus explains): The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on a rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patienc

YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT

“Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, ‘Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.’ And they did so, and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And a

GOOD ADVICE vs. BAD ADVICE

“Blessed is the man that has not walked in the counsel (ἐν βουλῇ) of the ungodly…” (Ps 1: 1) It’s tricky to discern what is “the counsel of the ungodly,” particularly when it is offered to us by friends. This often happens at times when we are especially vulnerable and disoriented by our own shortcomings, like a long-standing resentment against a problematic colleague, boss, or relative, or like a long-standing obsession or frustration with some person or thing. Our friends might step in, at such times, to “support” us with advice that is, actually, “ungodly.” I’ve observed that this happens not primarily because they, our friends, are “ungodly,” but because we, in certain states of delusion

ENVY & RIVALRY AMONG CHRISTIANS

“…and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1: 14-18) So there’s nothing new about the phenomena of “envy” and “rivalry” among those who “preach Christ.” It’s not surprising, because we do tend to

THE WAY OF GROWTH

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (αἰσθήσει, sensitivity), so that you may discern what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ, in Christ)…” (Phil 1: 9-13) Whatever happens to us today, both the ups and the downs, the Apostle is saying, let it all be “to the glory and praise of

“RIGHTEOUS” MEN & “SINFUL” WOMEN

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and took his place at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’” (Lk 7: 36-39) This Pharisee is considered a

LIFE-BRINGING TEARS

“Soon afterward he went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.” (Lk 7: 11-15) I don’t know if this will make any sense to anyone, but here’s what this passage brings to my mind: Life-bringing tears, as opposed

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