Traveling to Bethlehem (30 November 2010)

Sts. Andrew and Stachys

Sts. Andrew and Stachys

Today, we commemorate St. Andrew the Apostle. One of the titles by which we know St. Andrew is “the first called” (John 1, 40). The Gospels tell us that Andrew was a disciple of St. John the Baptist and that he joined Jesus at St. John’s direction.  This was the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Let’s take a minute to examine the word “called.” What is the implication of being called? Instead of using a dictionary to define the word “calling”, perhaps the best approach is to define the word by example.

Today is the patronal feast of our Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Patriarchate is our example, par excellent, of calling.  Patriarch Bartholomew is the 270th successor of Sts. Andrew and Stachys. It is his calling to be a confessor for the faith, a living martyr. Yesterday, we listed several spiritual traits that we should acquire to prepare for our journey to the manger. Look at this list and add the phrase “The men and women of the Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Bartholomew show us …..”  Each spiritual trait describes the calling of the Ecumenical Throne.

These people of faith keep the light of the Phanar bright, so that we Orthodox can truly understand calling.  Vocation is answering the call, dedicating one’s life to a higher expectation. These Orthodox souls keep vigil on our past, while looking to our future.  Today, we celebrate the rich heritage which we all inherited. Today, we commemorate St . Andrew who answered Christ’s invitation to change the world. Let us also celebrate our brothers and sisters in Constantinople, who have been called to be sentinels of the faith and bastions of Orthodoxy. Thank you and God Grant You Many Years!

His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew

Traveling to Bethlehem (29 November 2010)

Checking it Twice

Checking it Twice

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the focus naturally turns toward Christmas.  In the language of the Church, turns to the Nativity of Our Lord in the Flesh. Even though, we are beginning to concentrate on Christmas; what does it take to be really ready. This question doesn’t have anything to do with trees, decorations, gifts or menus. Are we really ready? It seems to me we are overwhelmed with things and we neglect to get our interior self ready.  The Christmas carol says Santa has a list and he is checking it twice.  What about a spiritual list:

CHARITY – are we concerned so much with ourselves that we forget our brothers and sisters?

LOVE – do we express Christian Love to our neighbours or strangers? Christ told us it is easy to love those who love us.

PATIENCE – with others and with ourselves.

HUMILITY – do we try to consciously check our ego, to be less prideful and understand our own sinfulness.

A PEACEFUL SPIRIT – do we seek to control our anger or rage?

FORGIVENESS – are we willing to forgive and FORGET?

SILENCE – are we able to shut out the hustle and bustle and seek tranquility of spirit?

FAITH – do we trust in GOD as we encounter our daily challenges?

Perhaps, we should make our list and check it twice!

Traveling to Bethlehem (28 November 2010)

The Cosmic Liturgy

The Cosmic Liturgy
The Blood of the Lamb

The Blood of the Lamb

** Continued from Nov. 26 Post…

Let’s consider the words: “Thine own of thine Own.”  What does this mean?  With these words, we acknowledge that all is God’s. He has give us the bounty, but there is an even more basic dimension.  God has given man wheat, water, salt and yeast. He has given us sugar and grapes. These are the raw materials for the bread and the wine, but it is not complete.  We have to add something, something only we can, our effort.  We must take God’s gifts and add our human effort to create bread and wine. We must work with the raw materials plus our effort.  But, now they are just plain bread and plain wine. What is the missing ingredient? …PRAYER.

As we include this essential ingredient, we also add our intention to dedicating this effort and these gifts to God.  This is symbolised by the Seal which we stamp on the bread. With this dedication and our prayers we bring the offering to the Church. Then God begins to interact with man, just as he did with His Incarnation.  He takes our offering and adds His Blessing.  Before, it can come to the altar as an offering; it must become more than the self centred gift of one person or one family. In the Service of the Oblation (the Proskomidi) our offering is expanded to include the entire cosmic reality of God’s world, this is what is on the Paten which will be brought to the Altar with the Chalice in the Great Entrance and offered to God.  “Thine own of Thine Own,” but what is the rest of it?  For all,  that is all of God’s creation and on behalf of all, each and every one of us. This is the ultimate Thanksgiving, this is the connection we have with all of God’s created world, the entire Christian family, both living and departed and the with  the Cosmos.  Ultimately, these gifts are not only blessed, they are consecrated by God’s Holy Spirit; which is send down upon ‘us and upon these Gifts here presented’  in  an Universal Thanksgiving for Salvation of the world by Christ Jesus. AMEN

Traveling to Bethlehem (26 November 2010)

Road to Emmaus

Road to Emmaus

** the next few posts are taken from a Homily given:

Nov. 28, 2010

In the Name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit…..

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”  Luke 24, 28 – 32.

This quote was taken from this morning’s Eothinon Gospel, the 5th. Dawn Gospel which was the reading in the Orthros (Matins) service.  I thought to myself what an interesting coincidence that on the week of Thanksgiving, we should be hearing of Christ sitting down to eat with some of his disciples.  We even read what was on the menu – bread.

Our own tables last Thursday were so different, all of us had such abundance.  No doubt, at most Thanksgiving Tables, there were the traditional foods: turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberry and all types of pies.  We in North America, the US and Canada, are the only countries which officially celebrate Thanksgiving. But, let’s look at our customs.  Thanksgiving tables in our homes do have similarities.  We gather as families or with a few close invited friends.  The people we invite are like ourselves and they are carefully selected.  Each Thanksgiving table is surrounded by the familiar: familiar foods and familiar people. This is the comfort of the holiday, the fact that we can be with the people close to us.

But there is another Thanksgiving Table, one older than the table by which we remember the Pilgrims.  It is the table, we gather around each time this family comes to give thanks.  This table is open to all races, nationalities and peoples. It too is surrounded by a group of chosen friends, chosen by Christ to share in His bounty, His love and His life.  Let’s examine the word’s St. John Chrysostomos uses to focus on the Gifts brought for God’s Holy Spirit bless and sanctify: “Thine Own of Thine Own in all and for all”

This centres all of us on what? A piece of Bread? A Cup of Wine? Not these things, but the ultimate Thanksgiving, the body and blood of the lamb of God.

Traveling to Bethlehem (24 November 2010)

The Lord of the Dance

The Lord of the Dance

I can’t tell you how perplexed I have been by all the “hoorah” concerning the “Dancing With The Stars.” You know it doesn”t make sense. Don’t we have anything better to think about? I will say it did remind me of one of my favourite Christian songs.

“I danced in the morning when the world begun. And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun.

And I came down from heaven and I danced on earth.

At Bethlehem I had My birth.

Dance then wherever you may be….

I am the Lord of the Dance said He:

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; And I’ll lead you all in the dance said He.”

LORD OF THE DANCE

This is the star we should all dance with. The star leads us all to a manger and there is the leader of the greatest dance, the dance from Bethlehem to our salvation. The Lord of the Dance is ultimately the Lord of All.

Traveling to Bethlehem (23 November 2010)

Protecting the Theotokos

Protecting the Theotokos

As I related last week, the hardest aspect of the forty days of blogging is not the writing, but the thinking about what to write. In today’s Wall Street Journal (online) there is a comment on a blog written by theologian Stephen Prothero decrying the lengthening of the Christmas season.  If you’re like me you noticed Christmas creeping into September. Very subtly, there were isolated aisles of decorations and Christmas “glitch” right next to Halloween costumes.

Why – to sell things, of course!  I don’t want to pound a dead horse, but it seems to get earlier each year. I don’t want to be trite and pound the “put the Christ back in Christmas” jingle, but the shorter Christmas season might not be a bad idea. Say forty days…oh goodness, the Church already figured that out.  Isn’t it amazing how attuned to human nature the Church is? We do need preparation and time to recover, so it is build into the ecclesiastical calendar.  Even the Gospel lessons, offer us an opportunity to think over concepts so that we can prepare for the coming Feasts.  Lessons concerning the glory of the Theotokos, the correct perspective towards money, charity to our neighbors, then the fullness of Christ within the “Law and the Prophets” and God’s preparation of humanity for coming of the Christ; all  provide spiritual and intellectual opportunities for us to prepare.  Do we look at these weeks as a time to spiritually prepare?  Or, are we too bogged down with the hype allowing that cynicism to overshadow every chance we have to block out the commercialism and focus on the real gift?

Traveling to Bethlehem (22 November 2010)

First Steps of Christ

First Steps of Christ

The gaps…Have you ever wondered about the gaps?  What I mean by the gaps is our understanding or even our description of the years which are missing in the accounts of the lives of the Theotokos and Christ.  Yesterday, we celebrated to Presentation of the Theotokos. What happened from age three until the mid-teenage years when we know that the Annunciation took place?  In the life of Jesus, we experience the Nativity, the flight to Egypt and his teaching in the Temple at age twelve. Afterwards, we have a gap until His public ministry begins at age thirty. Does anyone, besides me, wonder about the gaps?

We know that some material concerning these years can be found in ancient writings, which have always been known to the Church.  These are materials that were not placed in the canonical sources.  Some non-Orthodox “experts” have called these writings the “lost books” or “new sources” They were never lost, nor are they new. Orthodox monastics and theologians have used these sources to expand our understanding of the lives of the saints and events in salvation history. The Protevangelium Jacobi (The Infancy Gospel of James) states: “Now Mary was in the Temple of the Lord like a dove being fed and she received food from the hand of an angel.” The hymnographers, iconographers and poets of the Church have drawn on these writings to enrich our liturgical and faith experience.  As we Travel to Bethlehem, perhaps reading some of these books could expand your understanding. We must know that the Church has not endorsed these writings as inspired by God, but looks on them as resources to expand and enhance our faith journey.

TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM (21 November 2010)

The Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple

The Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11, 27 – 28)

This is the conclusion of this morning’s gospel reading.  When you first hear this exclamation and Jesus’ answer, you think, how rude!  Is Jesus belittling the Theotokos?  One must truly read closely what Our Lord has said.  The unknown woman praises Jesus’ mother for having borne and raised such a son.  Christ further praises the Virgin not for her biological contribution, as significant as it was; but more importantly for the faith that she exemplified in doing God’s will.  Mary’s obedience in faith allowed God’s Holy Spirit to overshadow her and to bring forth the Incarnate Lord. Mary contributes our humanity to be perfected by Christ and to join with His divinity to Incarnate the Second Person of the Godhead. Fully God and Fully Man, but as we know God respected Mary’s free-will and did not impose His will on the Virgin.  She heard God’s will and kept it. The journey to Bethlehem takes a big step today in the tiny footsteps of a precious little girl. Up the steps of the temple comes the preparation of God. As we chant in the Canon of the Akathistos “Hail! O Blameless one, the Palace of the only King. Hail! O fiery Throne of the Almighty.”

TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM (20 November 2010)

Sts. Joachim and Anna with the Theotokos

Sts. Joachim and Anna with the Theotokos

Today is the Forefeast of the Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple. I am constantly amazed by how the Church gets ready for a celebration and then “unwinds” after a feast.  Today in the Apolytikion of this day we hear:

By blossoming forth the only Ever-virgin as fruit, today holy Anna doth betroth us all unto joy, instead of our former grief; on this day she doth fulfil her vows to the Most High, leading her with joy into the Lord’s holy temple, who truly is the temple and pure Mother of God the Word.

We hymn speaks to us about St. Anna. How her pledge to God was to be fulfilled She was preparing to take her little girl to the Temple.  Yes, had promised God; but it must have been very hard.  After all she was only three.  What faith and trust in God.  For a mom to know that her little girl was going to be cared for and nurtured. The hymn says that She is “betrothing us to joy.” We are joined to the Theotokos even at such a young age.  Joy is how she is described. Sts. Joachim and Anna had been enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit to realise that something special was going to happen to their little girl, but they didn’t know what was in her future.  They had promised God and their focus was to fulfil their pledge.  They thought that the temple was a holy place for their child, little did they understand she was to be the Temple herself.  St. Gregory Palamas describes this event in this way: ”in a strange manner the Mother of God changes her dwelling from the house of her father to the house of God while still an infant.”  She who is the Holy one enters the Holy of Holies.