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.

“With Fear of God with Faith and Love… ”

The Cup of Faith

The Cup of Faith

During the Divine Liturgy we are called to partake of Christ with the “Fear of God, Faith and Love… ” The fear of God is not the type of fear that means we are petrified and so terrified of God that we quake and live in horror; instead this “fear” is awe, reverence and veneration.  We know the holiness of God as Trinity and our separation from Him caused by our own sinfulness. This awe requires us to look at ourselves honestly and to understand the great gulf between us and Our Lord.  But, there is more to the invitation to the Chalice than fear. There are two more phrases that we need to consider.

With faith!  How can we approach God without faith?  We understand the great gulf between us, but faith can overcome this separation.  Faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord becoming one of us; truly God and truly Man.  His love for His Creation is so great that  He put on our humanity through the Theotokos by the Holy Spirit to allow us to relate to Him. He assumed our nature to decrease the separation between us.  This mystery is beyond our understanding. The result of His love for us is to lessen the “fear” we have for Him. How can we fear one of our own?  Can we live in dread of someone who is there waiting for us to reach out so that His strength supports us in our weakness? With faith, we are certain that he is the gentle shepherd who will search us out when we’re lost and carry us on His shoulders when we’re too tired to walk to Him. This faith is a faith in God’s love for us. This faith is an assurance of Christ’s continued presence among us, His People.

When we realise Christ is there in the Chalice waiting for us, there is only one response – Love.  Love for God, a burning desire for Him to be the centre of our life.  By the invitation of the Church, we are called to partake and become one with Him. Not only are we summoned to join with Christ, but also to become one with all who share in this Cup. This is true love, to become part of each other. Christ became one of us and shared our nature because of His love. By sharing Him, we share each other. It is a miracle of His love that we enter into an intimate relationship with each other as a community.  As we partake of Holy Communion “with the fear of God, Faith and Love,” not only do we draw near to Christ; but equally to each other. The closeness of this bond is the unity that makes us the Body of Christ with one head – Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Answer the invitation!  Let us meet Christ and each other at His Cup of Love.

Who are our friends?

Last February, I wrote on this same subject, but his coming Sunday the Church commemorates two feasts that interest me enough so that I will discuss it once more. The first feast is All Saints Sunday.  In our lectionary and movable calendar, All Saints is always the Sunday after Pentecost.  The Western churches mark this feast on the day before Halloween.  Honestly, the connection has become lost in all the Halloween nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween for toddlers and pre-school children…they’re really cute all dressed up, but after that it goes down hill fast.  The whole thing has lost its dimension.  Never mind that now, All Saint’s Sunday has been set aside to commemorate all people enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  The beauty of this feast day is that the Church remembers those souls who are unrecognised saints.  What? Those persons who we do not recognise as saints, but who have known God and whom he knows.  This group of people has lived in all times and places, and has reflected Christ in their lives. Each of us have known such people of faith and have said to ourselves: “He/she is a real saint.”  Well, the Church sets a side this Sunday to commemorate them. Don’t think the rest of the year these people are forgotten. At every liturgy, immediately after the consecration ,the celebrant prays for a group of saints who have been ‘well-pleasing to God’. Each function they have provided the Church is listed from ancestors, to apostles, to teachers, the last phrase spoken is “every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.”  Again, we are called to understand that we can’t recognise everyone who is righteous, only God has this insight.  This Sunday we take time to acknowledge our own limited perceptions.

St. Methodios, Patriarch of Constantinople

The second commemoration we observe this Sunday is taken from the fixed calendar book of the months.  The Menaion for June 14 celebrates St. Elijah the prophet and St. Methodios I, Patriarch of Constantinople.   Methodios is someone extremely special to me.  You see, he was the subject of my doctoral studies.  I spent time getting to know Saint Methodios.  I could go on for many pages about this saint of the Church.  Reading my book (See link below) I would like to point out that Patriarch Methodios started out as a complete stranger, but the real man came to life as I studied him.  I understood his humanity, moreover I became aware of his sanctity and the contribution he made to the Church. Each of us need to know a saint, really know him or her. They are more than names on a calendar or a figures in an icon, they are people who struggled and overcame their humanity to become a reflection of Christ.  Holy Saints of God Pray for Us!

Discerning the Signs of the Times (Part 2)

The two chapters, which we will look at today, center on two very diverse topics.  Beginning with Chapter 3, Mme Behr-Sigel discusses a lifelong passion of hers.  The title of this chapter reveals her focus, Orthodoxy and Peace.  Rightly, the beginning of this chapter deals with the liturgical aspect of peace. Even though it is not always emphasized, this should be the crux of any discussion of the theology of the Church.  I once read a statement from a well known Orthodox theologian who endured the Communist repression of the Church in the last century.  He said that Church was striped of all her riches, schools, and influence; as long as the Liturgy was served, the Church would survive.  This was the reality of persecuted Orthodoxy; liturgy is the heart of the Church and fed the soul of the faithful.  Behr-Sigel chose to begin her essay with this observation.  She points out the central place of peace within the Divine Liturgy.  The deacon begins the Great Litany asking that “peace” be the entire bearing of the participants in the liturgy.  

Peace Unto All
Peace Unto All

The priest blesses and calls for “peace for the congregants and they respond asking for his spirit to be peaceful.  Clergy exchange the Kiss of Peace.  With the exception of the personal pronouns “we and us,” peace is the single most often used word in our liturgy.  After focusing on the centrality of peace in the liturgy, Elisabeth then discusses the effect that nationalism and national identity influence the Church and its mission to strive for peace among nations.  No doubt, complex geopolitical issues affect the closely knit church-state relations in many Orthodox countries.  Behr-Sigel points out areas of concern to Orthodox peoples; Serbia (note the date of the article), Palestine, and the cooperation of Constantinople, Russia and the WCC and peace efforts.  Never the less, the increased presence of Orthodoxy in the west should help provide a catalyst for a pan-orthodox peace movement.  For further information link to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (http://www.incommunion.org)

Chapter Four discusses a theological theme which is dear to my heart.  The topic is the concept of kenosis.(see post Standing by) The scriptural heart of this principle is not only Philippians 2, 5-7 as pointed out in the essay, but also all of salvation history. 

Extreme Humility
Extreme Humility

The kenosis of Our Lord is at the center of Orthodox theology.  God humbling Himself to take on flesh, so that He could identify with us His creation is the essence of His salvific mission in obedience to the will of the Father.  The hymns, poetry and art of the Church bear witness to this tenet.  Behr-Sigel describes the prevalence of this concept in Russian theological thought and literature.  The monastic vocation is a true reflection of this theological concept and has been since its inception in the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts.  Modern Greek theologians Zizioulas, Nellas, and Vlachos; in addition to many familiar Russian theologians have written about this aspect of Orthodox theology.  Dr. Behr-Sigel masterfully weaves the theme of kenosis and its imprint on the soul of Russia and her people.