EMPOWERED BY FORGIVENESS

“And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man (Ἄνθρωπε), your sins are forgiven you (ἀφέωταί σοι).’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But tha

BLESSED BY REJECTION

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of/because of the Son of man (ἕνεκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου)! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Lk 6: 22-23) How can we know when we’re “hated” or “excluded” or rejected in some other way, specifically “because of the Son of man,” and not for some other reason? We know this is happening “because of the Son of man” when we are rejected specifically for being ourselves, according to our “vocation”; I mean, according to our response to Christ’s call to us personally, to be and to act an

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

“We bow down before Your Cross, O Master, and Your holy Resurrection we glorify!“ (Byzantine Hymn, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) Why the cross? Why would God choose a “cross,“ of all signs, as the sign of His (and our) victory; as the instrument by which He trampled, and we, in Him, continue to trample, death and darkness? For one thing, when I make the sign of the cross, I become bigger than myself. Because the cross branches out, extending beyond me. As Chesterton noted in his brilliant comparison of the (Buddhist) circle and (Christian) cross: “The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.“ Inde

THE LORD & THE SERPENT

“…And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him…” (Jn 3: 14-17) So here our Lord is “reading” an Old Testament-passage in light of the New; in light of His cross. He is referring to an event in the Book of Numbers: When the people had spoken against God and against Moses in the wilderness, grumbling about the food-situation, God sent “fiery serpents” that bit them, “s

WILLING TO BE “DISCIPLINED A LITTLE”

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them… Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his chosen ones.” (Wi

GOD IS NOT ANGRY WITH US

“And you, who were dead (ὄντας νεκροὺς) in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath/anger (τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς), just as the others, – God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, made us alive together with Christ (συνεζωοποίησεν τῷ Χριστῷ), even when we were dead in trespasses. By grace you have been saved…” (Eph 2: 1-5) Here St. Paul is telling us about

THE IMPACT OF FASTING

“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” (Lk 1: 13-17) Th

BLESSING vs. CURSE

“Your Nativity, O Virgin, / Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! / The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, / Has shone from You, O Theotokos! / Having annulled the curse (καὶ λύσας τὴν κατάραν, и разрушив клятву), / He bestowed a blessing. / By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.” (Byzantine Troparion-Hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos) What is meant here by the unpleasant word, “curse” (κατάρα, клятва)? It refers to our human state of affairs before the stepping into our shoes of God’s Only-Begotten Son. Now, according to Merriam-Webster, a “curse” is: “misfortune or evil that comes as if in response to imprecation (a malediction) or as retribution.“ But the above-qu

GROWING IN GOODNESS

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh (εἰς τὴν σάρκα ἑαυτοῦ) will of the flesh reap corruption (φθοράν), but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Gal 6: 7-9) Here the word “flesh” does not mean my body. It means my lower, carnal self, in body, soul and mind. And by “lower” I mean the self, isolated from its “higher” meaning and purpose, communion with God. This “self” is an entirely subjective construct, insofar as it is built on our “own,” infertile soil. Because on our own, i

FREEDOM vs. LUST

“For you, brethren, have been called to/for freedom (ἐπ᾽ελευθερίᾳ); only do not use freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Gal 5: 13-17) This passage is all about the bondage of self-seeking “lust,” which can deprive me of the freedom

HE MADE YOU ALIVE

“…and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 1: 22 – 2: 2) Is St. Paul alleging that we, members of “the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all,” no longer “sin” or “trespass,” – hence we are “alive”? No, the Apostle knows that we are still works-in-progress, who still “sin” and “trespass” on occasion, fall

WALKING THROUGH DOUBT

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning / my transgressions? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” (Ps 21/22: 1-2) There is nothing new about having “doubt” in the whole business of our relationship with God. After all, it is in the Psalms, as quoted above. And it is in the words of this precise Psalm that our Lord gave voice to the human experience of doubt, when He cried out from the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Mt 27: 46). The word “doubt” comes from the Latin “dubitare,” which means “to hesitate, to question, to waver in opinion…” It is part, really, of all my relations

THE WAY OF THE CROSS

“Then Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur; they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ And he cried to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Ex 15: 22-25a) This passage is from the first reading at Vespers on the great feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated today (NC). What does this passage have to do with the feast? The “tree” that Moses throws into bitter water, and t

LEAVING THE RESULTS TO GOD

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers (μέτοχοι) in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the Αpostle and High Priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in his house. Yet Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by some one, but the builder of all things is God.” (Hebr 3: 1-4) Here’s a simple, but liberating, thought. As we go about our vocations, as “partakers in a heavenly call,” we participate in the building of our own “house,” in light of God’s life-giving word. We go about our daily responsibilities, trying to do the next right thing, growi

GOD IS “BETTER” THAN US

“He went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works (δυνάμεις τοιαῦται) are done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.’ And he could do no mighty work (οὐδεμίαν δύναμιν) there, except that he laid his hands up

BEING OPEN TO LIGHT

“Glory to You, Who has shown us the light! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among people. We praise You. We bless You. We worship You. We glorify You. We give thanks unto You for Your great glory…” (The Great Doxology, Byzantine Matins) Traditionally this is the way we greet the first light of the rising sun, every morning at matins, by praising God for “showing us the light.” This traditional, light-embracing approach to a new day is particularly helpful to me this morning, on September 11, when difficult memories fill my heart, not only as a native New-Yorker, but also as an Orthodox Christian on the Older Calendar, commemorating the Beheading of St. John the Bapt

LET HIM DO THE SOWING

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold…” (Mk 4: 3-8) In this parable, the Lord is talking about Himself (a “sower”), and His word (the “seed”), and all of us (various “soil”) who hear it and then

SMALL ACTS OF KINDNESS

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Mt 10: 40-42) By “these little ones” Christ means anyone who happens to come to Him, or be brought to Him by others, – even little children, who may not even understand that they are being brought to Him, or Who He is, or what He is all about (cf. Mt 18:

THE NATIVITY OF THE THEOTOKOS & US

“By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, / Joachim and Anna are freed from the reproach/disgrace of barrenness (ὀνειδισμοῦ ἀτεκνίας); / Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. / And we, your people, freed from subjection to sin (ἐνοχῆς τῶν πταισμάτων), celebrate and sing to you: / The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!” (Byzantine Kontakion-hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos) The services of the great feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, celebrated this Sunday (NC), are full of difficult theological concepts, like “corruption of death” and “subjection to (liability for) sin,” referring to our human state before Christ. Even more perplexing, perhaps,

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE GOD

“And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care if we perish?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’ And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” (Mk 4: 36-41) They didn’t know “who,” exactly, He was, this “teacher” i

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