FOLLOWING GOD’S VOICE

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusale

AS GOD FORGAVE YOU

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 4: 30 – 5: 2) It’s simple, even if it isn’t easy: Forgive one another, “as God in Christ forgave you.” Why isn’t it easy? Because deep inside we often don’t believe, or don’t accept, the simple fact that God already forgave us, in Christ. But l

THE CROSS OF LOVE

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.’ Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time whic

“SEEING” IN FAITH

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things not visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him. F

GREAT MERCY

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy; and according to the multitude of your compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done this evil before you, that you might be justified in your words, and prevail when you judge.” (Ps 50: 1-4, Septuagint-translation) This Psalm opens me up to seeing my “transgressions” and “sins” and “iniquities” as God sees them, according to His “great mercy.” In God’s light, in the grace of His humility, that is to say, honesty, my “sin” can be both “ever before me,” and “cleansed” from me thoroughly,

PEACE AMONG PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL

“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ’Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people of go

THE WISE MEN DEPARTED ANOTHER WAY

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’’ Then Herod su

HE’S “WILLING” TO APPEAR

“Today the Virgin comes to the cave / to give birth to the Eternal Word. / Hear the glad tidings and rejoice, O universe! / Glorify with the angels and the shepherds / the Eternal God, who is willing to appear as a little child!” (Kontakion-hymn, Forefeast of Nativity) The “Eternal God” is “willing to appear as a little child.” He enters into our history, with all its changeability, and as one of us, with all our vulnerability to the phenomenon called “change,” to which He had not been exposed in His unchanging Being as the eternal Word of God. This is a mind-blowing fact of world history. Now, in Bethlehem, He “suits up and shows up” to us, into the messiness of our “time.” Today my ever-ch

THE THEOTOKOS, A “LAMB” OF GOD

”Rejoice, Bethlehem! Prepare yourself, O Ephratha! / The Lamb is on her way to give birth to the Chief Shepherd she carries in her womb. / The God-bearing forefathers will rejoice, beholding Him, / and with the shepherds, they will glorify the Virgin nursing Him.” (Kontakion-Hymn, Forefeast of the Nativity) We don’t often think of the Most Holy Virgin Mary as of “The Lamb” (that is led to the slaughter). Because Isaiah was talking about her Son, when he prophesied, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Is 53: 7) But this “lamb-likeness” the Theotoko

THE THREE HOLY CHILDREN

“You did not worship the image circumscribed by hands (χειρόγραφον εἰκόνα), / O thrice-blessed ones, / but armed with the uncircumscribed Essence (ἀγράφῳ οὐσίᾳ), / you were glorified in a trial by fire. / From the midst of unbearable flames you called on God, crying: / Hasten, O compassionate One! / Speedily come to our aid, / for You are merciful and able to do as You will.” (Kontakion-Hymn, Forefeast of Nativity) The “thrice-blessed ones” are the Three Holy Children, Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego, kinsmen of the Prophet Daniel in the tribe of Judah, led away together with him and other Jews into Babylonian Captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar had the three youths thrown into a fiery furnace, (i

FOREFEAST OF THE NATIVITY

“O people, let us celebrate the Forefeast of Christ's Nativity! Let us raise our minds on high, as we go up to Bethlehem in spirit! With spiritual thoughts, let us contemplate the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to the Lord and God of all! Joseph, as he contemplated the greatness of the wonders, thought that he saw only a human Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, but from all that came to pass he discovered the Child to be the true God, Who grants the world great mercy.” (Stichera-hymn of Byzantine Vespers, December 20) Today is the first day of the “Forefeast” (Προεόρτια, Предпразднство) of the Nativity (NC). The five days of the Nativity-Forefeast are traditionally a time o

FEAR NOT, THIS ADVENT

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks….” (Lk 12: 32-35) Fear not! – the Lord says to me today. Because it is our Father’s “pleasure,” nay, His “good pleasure,” to give us nothing less than His kingdom. T

LOVE and SUFFERING

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8: 35-37) Love somehow always involves suffering, in this world. Why? Because love is a God-given gift and power, a divine force or will, which strives toward oneness (with the beloved). So it comes up against, and is invariably opposed by, “other” wills and drives in this world, which strive for division and separateness. These “other” wills seek to destro

JUST FOR TODAY

”Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’” (Hebr 3: 12-15) “The” rebellion, to which this passage refers, is the one of the chosen people against Moses, in the wilderness (Num 16). But what is important for me just for “today,” as the author of Hebrews points out, is what was important to, and yet not recognize

THE “SPIRITUALITY” OF FASTING

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Gen 3: 1-3) As the Nativity Fast continues, I’m thinking about the “place” of concrete, physical food (and drink) within the “spirituality” of our Church’s tradition of fasting. Because one hears, sometimes, the opinion that it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, “really,” about food (and drink), but about “m

LETTING GOD BE GOD

“But he said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet, and invited (ἐκάλεσεν) many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and lead

CHRISTIANITY & “SACRIFICE”

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (θυσίαν ζῶσαν), holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (λογικὴν λατρείαν). Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed (μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12: 1-2) The term “sacrifice” is often misunderstood in Christian theology in general, and in liturgical theology in particular. Here St. Paul characterizes not only our liturgy (“logike latreia,” a term that the Byzantine tradition refers to the Divine Liturgy), but Christian life in general, as sacrificial

TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message! Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” (2 Tim 3: 16 – 4: 2) I want to be “equipped” today, “for every good work,” – and for that I need more than just a cup of coffee and a workout on the treadmill. (The coffee and the wor

STUPID, SENSELESS CONTROVERSIES

“In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for honor, some for dishonor. If any one purifies himself from the latter, then he will be a vessel for honor, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies/speculations (ζητήσεις); you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents in meekness (ἐν πραΰτητι). God

CRAFTY QUESTIONS

“So they watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. They asked him, ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, ‘Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it? They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him by what he said; but marveli

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