TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM (19 November 2010)

Prophet Obadiah

Prophet Obadiah

Feast of the Prophet Obadiah – Obi..who? This might well be the reaction to this Old Testament prophet. Obadiah was a post exilic prophet, that is a prophet who spoke to the Israelites after the Babylonian Captivity.  You might also hear of Obadiah being one of the “Twelve Minor” prophets.  Minor? This needs an explanation.  These prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi as well as Obadiah. Why are they “minor”?   The are grouped in this way because their writings are short in length.  Actually, The Vision of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament – only one chapter. Why should we care?

To find the answer to this question we need to look in one of the Eothina (Dawn) Gospels.  It is a familiar scene after the Resurrection, which is related by St. Luke in chapter 24, 13 – 53.  The resurrected Christ encounters some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here we read: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (v. 27); not all the major prophets but all the prophets.  This is the what the Orthodox teaching tells us about the road to Bethlehem.  God prepared the world and most especially his people, the people of Israel.  This is the significance of Obadiah, he is one of the voices God chose to prepare for the Coming of Christ. Obadiah tells of the coming of a King to save his people.  The King is coming…are you preparing?

Traveling to Bethlehem (18 November 2010)

The Expectant Theotokos

The Expectant Theotokos

We have a neighbour who is expecting her new baby on December 23rd.  Last weekend, I saw her in her yard and asked how she was doing, she said she was a little uncomfortable, but was great and they were preparing for the new baby. This brief encounter started me thinking. What must have the Theotokos been thinking during this time in her life?   We celebrate the Annunciation in March then, we don’t think often about the Theotokos during her entire pregnancy, until we start to prepare for the Nativity.  Yes, there are other events that we commemorate in the liturgical calendar between March and December, but they are marking different times in Mary’s life.  What about the nine months that she carried the Christ child?  We know of only one incident; Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1, 39 – 56).  Out of that visit, we are given one of the most beautiful glimpses of Mary in the entire Bible.  The Magnificat, the Song of Mary. During this visit, this canticle is an expression of the love Mary (and the Church) for Christ.  Throughout the ages, Christians have expressed this love in prayer, hymn and music.

Μεγαλύνει ψυχή μου τν Κύριον

κα γαλλίασεν τ πνεμά μου π τ Θε τ σωτρί μου,

τι πέβλεψεν π τν ταπείνωσιν τς δούλης αυτο.

δού γρ π το νν μακαριοσίν με πσαι α γενεαί,

τι ποίησέν μοι μεγάλα δυνατός,

κα γιον τ νομα ατο,

κα τ λεος ατο ες γενες κα γενες

τος φοβουμένοις αυτόν.

ποίησεν κράτος ν βραχίονι ατο,

διεσκόρπισεν περηφάνους διανοί καρδίας ατν·

καθελεν δυνάστας π θρόνων

κα ψωσεν ταπεινούς,

πεινντας νέπλησεν γαθν

κα πλουτοντας ξαπέστειλεν κενούς.

ντελάβετο σραλ παιδς ατο,

μνησθναι λέους,

καθς λάλησεν πρς τος πατέρας μν

τ Αβραμ κα τ σπέρματι ατο ες τν αἰῶνα

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed;

For the mighty one has done great things to me, and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the holy;

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Even though the number of times we encounter the expectant Virgin are very rare; our humble reaction should echo Elizabeth’s exclamation.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM – (17 November 2010)

St. Gregory Thaumaturgos

St. Gregory Thaumaturgos

Today, the “star” that the Church holds up is a saint of the early third century.  This early father of the Church is known by quite a few names. Gregory of Pontus, Gregory the Miracle-Worker, Gregory Thaumarturgos and Gregory, Bishop of Neo-Caesarea. Gregory studied with Origen of Alexandria, who later baptised him.  An early vision was granted to St. Gregory. He saw the Theotokos shining like the Sun; she was accompanied by St. John the Theologian.  St John was dressed as a Bishop and at the instruction of the Holy Mother of God St John gave Gregory the text of what was to be his most remembered work, the Creed of Faith. This was a very early exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Listen to the words of Bishop Gregory as he declares who Jesus is:

“There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom

comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son

of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal

and Eternal of Eternal.”

This is the mystical teaching that Gregory received and passed on to us. This is one of the steps the Church reached on its way to our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.  The road of salvation history, which began with creation, travels through the Old Testament, to the cave of Bethlehem. That road continues, as the revelation of Christ as the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity and the Redeemer and Saviour of creation unfolds in time.  For us, this revelation has a dawn in a manger in Bethlehem, the same manger that we travel towards over the next forty days.

Traveling To Bethlehem (16 Nov 2010)

Tree of Jesse

Tree of Jesse

Now that our journey to Bethlehem has begun, it is amazing how the Church helps us on our road.  Today is the feast of St. Matthew, the Evangelist and Apostle. Matthew is surrounded by “firsts.” He is the first-called apostle, his is the first book in the Gospels and he begins the story of Jesus by first outlining Jesus’ family tree.  This is the Gospel pericope (a section of the Gospel designated for a liturgical reading) for the Sunday prior to Nativity of Christ. It is known as the Genealogy of Jesus.

Preparing to write this blog, I asked a very devote Church going couple, “What does this Gospel reading mean to you?” Their answer surprised me, “ A bunch of begetting and begotting and just a lot of meaningless names.” How should we who teach in the Church interpret this honest evaluation of a reading that is so familiar to each of us.  We need to start with the basics. Why does the story of Jesus begin in such a strange way?  What is its message?  What is the basic Christian teaching about Jesus? As Christians, we believe Our Lord Jesus Christ is both Human and Divine! We must believe in the two natures of Christ. This is the miracle of Incarnation, Christ taking on our human nature, becoming fully man and fully God for the salvation of the world. St. Gregory of Nyssa declared: “that which is not assumed is not healed(saved).”

This is the truth of the Gospel! This is also the reality of this gospel reading. Christ assumes our humanity, the good and the bad.  Look at the names.  What do they tell us?  Who are these people? First, the reading tells us that this is the family of Jesus. The son of a King named David and in the family of Abraham. David was not only a King, but also an adulterer and a murderer. Look at the names! That is the lesson of the reading.  Who are these people? They are human beings with human strengths, failings and weaknesses. They are murderers, adulterers, Gentiles, the chosen of God and sinners.  This is the human family that Jesus entered. He joined our condition by embracing them. By embracing them, he embraces all of us.  He wishes to save all of humanity, the righteous and the sinner. We are Christ’s family, He reaches out and embraces all of us; so that we can know His love. His humanity is soiled until He transfigures it with His Divinity. He incarnates perfect humanity so that we know our potential in Him. This is the reality of the genealogy of Christ that we read in St. Matthew’s gospel. True to God’s promise to Abraham, but always reflecting our human condition. The genealogy of Christ allows us to know that His love embraces all of us, no matter how sinful or lost.

Traveling to Bethlehem

Bethlehem

It is a strange feeling blogging again.  I got fairly used to the idea of “blowing it off.”  The sad thing is that when you get out of the habit, part of you turns off the creative juices.  The issue is not writing, but figuring out what to write.  That is where I was – then I looked on the calendar to see if there were any saints on which I could reflect.   The week of November 8th – 15th looks like who’s who of “saintdom.” If you wished, you could pick just about any Church era and talk about a saint who’s memory was commemorated in the last week. The question arises, which of these saints should I choose to blog about, but maybe that is the wrong question. What is the thread that all these saints, from the bodiless powers to a modern bishop, have in common? The Holy Archangels, St. Nectarios, St. Menas, St. John Chrysostomos, St. John the Merciful, St Phillip the Apostle all in one week, can they all have something in common? It seems to me that this is the only valid question.

Today is the beginning of the Nativity fast. Again, we begin to centre our thinking the miracle of the Incarnation.  Superficially, this should be helped by the nonstop barrage of Christmas decorations and reminders that are everywhere around us.  Reflecting on the real essential message of Christmas gets more difficult each year as the commercial hype gets louder and more shrill.  Over the next forty days, that is what this blog will focus its attention, the essential message.

Returning to the question of the day, what do these saints have in common? They allowed Christ to be born in their lives. They welcomed Him and allowed Him to live in them, so that the people of their time could see Christ alive.  It is fitting to start our journey to Bethlehem guided by not one star, but a galaxy of bright stars.  Saints point the way even when the fog of our everyday life clouds the road. Hopefully over the next forty days, we will help to point the way. Please join in the journey; visit often and comment. Thank you.


Personal Note

Below is my first new post in almost a year. I suspended blogging, now I am resuming. I hope you will enjoy it and will return frequently. PLEASE PRAY for me and my family.  Thank you.

My Sons – The Doctors

Sts. Cosmas and Damian the Unmercinaries

Sts. Cosmas and Damian the Anagyri

This rather stereotypical phrase is descriptive of a proud parent speaking of the accomplishment of their children. Even today, we express great joy when our sons or daughters reach that lofty position of becoming a physician.  The place of doctors has always been one of respect and admiration. Throughout history, the dedication of healers has usually brought prestige, social status as well as financial reward.    This is true today and it was true in antiquity.  This brings us to a series of saint-brothers who shared their given names and were all physicians.  The brothers commemorated November 1st. are the first in this remarkable grouping.  We have become familiar with their stories.  As Christians, they shared the conviction that the gifts which God had given them and which they had nurtured through study and hard work should be given back to those whom they served.  Physicians who served and asked nothing in return, but why?  First and foremost, these men were raised in an environment which allowed them to put their gifts and abilities realistically.  Their upbringing allowed them to look at their talents as “on-loan” from God.  Each of us are given gifts to nourish and develop; most do this wither it is by education or practice or both. What many of us forget, in the process, is the source of our gifts.  These three pairs of brothers knew that God had given them their gifts, the development of these gifts was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and most importantly, the use of them was directed by Christ and His message of Love.

The greatest gift all these doctors have shared with us is not the gift of healing, as profound as it is, nor the example of giving as admirable as we know it to be; but the lesson of perspective. They knew the source of all gifts and thanked God by developing them and offering them back to God through His people. What are your gifts? What are you doing with them? How do you look upon them: as your right or the gift of a generous God?

The Blood of Martyrs

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen

It is the end of a year, the twilight of December and these few days in the Church’s calendar could be called the Days of the Innocents.  Starting on December the twenty-seventh, our Holy Orthodox Church commemorates a series of feast days remembering the blood of martyrs shed for Christ.  The first day, we commemorate the Protomartyr Stephen. The Deacon Stephen is remembered in the Church as the first Christian martyr, which is technically correct in that he was stoned to death after Pentecost (Acts 6 & 7). St. Stephen spoke to the people of Israel summarising the fulfilment of the promise of God in the person of Jesus, who had been crucified.  Stephen was forthright and pronounced Jesus “the Righteous One of Israel”, identifying Him as the Messiah.  The enraged the crowd attacked Stephen and stoned him.  With his eloquence, St. Stephen used Jewish history to confirm Jesus as the Anointed One.  It is declaration of faith and his sacrifice, which we commemorate some two thousand years later.

Lost in the celebration of Saint Stephen are two martyrs of the Iconoclastic Controversy.  Sts. Theodore and Theophanes Graptoi, who first suffered branding on their faces with a poem ridiculing their support for icons. They knew that Christ had lived as truly God and truly Man here on earth. They endured because they affirmed Christ’s Incarnation by their support of the Holy Icons. Imprisoned with St. Methodios the Confessor, the brothers died because of the belief in Christ Born for humanity.

The calendar then calls to our attention, the “Twenty-Thousand Holy Martyrs of Nicomedia.”  In 302 A.D. these devout Christians celebrating the Feast of the Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ were burned to death within their church. Can you imagine, twenty-thousand willing to die at one time for their faith. For us the number is mind boggling, yet we have experienced greater numbers of martyrs in the last decades; we have witnessed unknown Christian martyrs in the gulags and Communist prisons across Eastern Europe.  Last week, we saw His All Holiness, Bartholomew 1 and his dwindling flock in Constantinople, revealed as living confessors for the faith. Nonetheless, twenty-thousand martyrs at one time still evokes wonder and awe in our hearts.

There is no more poignant feeling in the hearts of humanity than the thought of children suffering.  Each of us have been touched by the vision of one child in pain or one child needlessly afflicted.  Just a few days ago, we celebrated the birth of one Holy Child for whom the world had waited for generations.  This little child born, in a cave, is born for the world’s salvation. With His coming, the world has discovered Light, but darkness is stubborn; and does not retreat willingly.  The blood of fourteen-thousand innocent children in and around Bethlehem is testimony to this darkness.  These babes, martyrs for Christ, were a glimpse into Christian history. The Church is watered by the blood of innocence. Only a short time from the joy of His Birth, we are faced with bitter weeping of so many deaths.  This dichotomy has been repeated all to many times in history.  The lives lost for the Saviour are beyond counting.  In each age men, women and innocent children have followed His footsteps, taken up their cross and obeyed His commandment of love.  “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ( John 15, 13)  Additionally, we celebrate the commemoration of all the Christians who have died of starvation, of thirst, of cold, by the sword and by every other kind of violent death. The memory of these Christians, who died from hunger, thirst, by sword and freezing is remembered even though, we don’t have record of their names; God knows these martyrs . Their synaxis is served in the temple of the Theotokos in Chalcopratiya (in Constantinople) where the holy ark with the sash of the Most Holy Theotokos was placed.  As we see across the ages, millions of Christians have looked to the heavens and uttered the prayer of St. Stephen: “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.” (Acts 7, 59)

So as we begin a new year, we do so with the examples of the martyrs to give us courage so that we can face the unknown. Yet, this unknown will not have darkness, because the Light of the world has been born in a cave and banished darkness for all time! Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!!

The Slaughter of the Innocents

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Ecumenical Patriarch Talks Candidly

The Great Church in Captivity

The Great Church in Captivity

It seems to me that this is even more fitting now!  Please click on the  link below and watch His All Holiness Bartholomew I interviewed by CBS News.

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/60minutes/main3415.shtml

ISTANBUL – There are two front gates into the walled compound that protects the home of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Visitors enter through a door secured by a guardhouse, locks and a metal-screening device. They cannot enter the Phanar’s main gate because it was welded shut in 1821 after the Ottoman Turks hanged Patriarch Gregory V from its lintel. The black doors have remained sealed ever since.

A decade ago, bombers who tried to open this gate left a note: “We will fight until the Chief Devil and all the occupiers are chased off; until this place, which for years has contrived Byzantine intrigues against the Muslim people of the East is exterminated. … Patriarch you will perish!”

The capital of Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. Yet 400,000 Orthodox Christians remained in greater Istanbul early in the 20th century. That number fell to 150,000 in 1960. Today fewer than 2,000 remain, the most symbolic minority in a land that is 99 percent Turkish. They worship in 86 churches served by 32 priests and deacons, most 60 or older. What the Orthodox urgently need is an active seminary and patriarchate officials are convinced the European Union will help them get one, as Turkey races to begin the formal application process

The Door of Tears

The Door of Tears

Pray for the Patriarchate !!!

Christ is Born!

Glorify Him!

Note

NEXT TIME THE IMAGE WON’T BE AS SMALL!  EACH TIME I LEARN… gpb