The Old Man is Ready

Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Luke 2.22-32

The old man was not dying. But he was old. And he was realistic. And so he lived as St Benedict described: Simeon desired eternal life with all spiritual longing, and so he kept death daily before his eyes. Not because he was morbid or depressed, but because he longed to see God. And how else does one see God, how else does one partake fully of the Divine Nature, how else do we attain the joy of our salvation unless we take the passageway through the grave? For it has been converted by Our Lord Himself from the gateway to Hades into the gateway to Heaven. In fact, by His resurrection Christ refashioned the tomb to be the gate of the Lord through which the righteous ascend to be seated in heavenly places.

Don’t be surprised, then, if old St Simeon had this prayer always on his lips and in his heart:

I shall not die but live / and declare the works of the Lord.
The Lord hath chastened and corrected me / but he hath not given me over unto death.

At least, not the death that is hopeless. Not the death that goes nowhere, or that drives us further from our Father. Rather, the Lord gives us over to abundant life, which is obtained after death.

Where do you go, then; where do you live, when all you want to do is see God? And where do you go, where do you live, while you’re waiting in hope, in anticipation, in expectation, in pious and heart-felt longing to attain the fullness of your humanity; the reason you were made—to have intimate communion with God, to see God?

Listen to the Psalmist: “We wait for thy loving-kindness, O God / in the midst of thy temple.”

That’s where Simeon is. In the midst of the Lord’s temple. Waiting for His loving-kindness. Waiting in hope while he prays, “I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for him / in His word is my trust.” And so trusting, with godly faith, confident that the Lord will make good on His word, Simeon sits in the temple day by day, expecting the consolation of Israel, because he was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

The old man waits. And yet the old man also does not turn over a thousand rocks, or look into a thousand eyes, or check out a thousand signs and omens, trying to figure out if this one is the one; or if that event or this moment announces the end of his waiting. The old man waits patiently; and so he waits knowing that when the Lord appears, it will be clear. Crystal clear. Because an inner-light, not the light of intuition but the light of life, will enlighten his mind and strengthen his conviction. And so Simeon dutifully waits, not wasting his time trying to figure out when or how; and not caught up in things that don’t edify, or things that distract, or things that he can’t take with him. Simeon passes his time in prayer, and in storing up heavenly treasures by practicing joyfulness, kindness, and love which refused to control another.

The old man waits patiently, faithfully, trustingly for the Lord, who is going to come suddenly into His temple. Suddenly, not like in a rush, with a flourish, out of breath. But suddenly, as in unexpectedly, at a time you least expect and in a manner that seems unlikely. “The one whom you seek, whom you delight in—behold, He shall come, says the Lord of hosts.”

Simeon does not wait in vain. And as soon as he sees the young woman, the one whom he saw grow from a child into a Bride, from faith to faith, into a Lady, into a Queen—when Simeon sees this woman whom he has loved like a father; when he sees her with her husband, and the radiant Child in her arms—then he knows that his wait is over; that he is now looking at and holding in his arms, the Lord’s salvation, the Lord’s grace, the Lord God Himself.

And now Simeon is ready to die. For to live is Christ, but to die is gain. And Simeon wishes to gain all that he’s awaited; all that he’s now seen. It’s not a death wish. It is rather the realization that nothing else in this life compares with the “light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the Lord’s people, Israel.”

For Simeon reasons, quite rightly, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” And he asks you, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” In fact, “who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?”

Having seen the Lord’s Christ, then, what is there worth seeing? And why not spend time in joyous conversation to His Father, to whom His Spirit leads you?

And so, the old man is ready to die. Or to be precise, Simeon is ready to depart in peace. He’s ready to go through that passageway of death and the grave in order to enter the realm where peace is palpable, where joy is intensely tangible, and where you can talk to Love Himself.

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I’ve described Simeon and his waiting and his reward because he shows us how we can respond every time we behold the Lord’s Christ on the altar, every time we get to carry Him not in our arms but in our heart, every time we get to taste the Lord Himself—His flesh mingled with our flesh, His blood mixed with our blood—every time we get to taste and see that the Lord is what goodness is. With the old man, we can say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

For that salvation, that seeing the Lord with other eyes—that is why we come into this temple. We wait in the midst of this temple, just like Simeon, waiting faithfully for the Lord’s loving-kindness, waiting to move forward from the darkening shadows, from the shade this life casts, into the calming brightness and radiance of the Lord’s glory.

St Michael Orthodox Christian Church, Whittier CA
2 February 2023

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Jesus, Us, & the Father’s Business

Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 2.42-52

Perhaps you could blame the Holy Mother for losing the Son of God. But Jesus was not lost. Neither was He trying to get some alone time away from family. He wasn’t peopled-out. He wasn’t looking to impress priests and rabbis. He wasn’t stretching His wings. He wasn’t sight-seeing. And He wasn’t trying to embarrass or show-up His parents.

So why was Jesus missing? Why were Mary and Joseph frantically searching for this precocious, 12-year-old, Son of God?

What does Jesus Himself say? He was about His Fathers’ business.

Too often we think the Fathers’ business is about being busy – busy proclaiming or witnessing; busy helping others; busy teaching or setting others straight.

Jesus didn’t go into the temple looking for a good conversation, trying to impress or win over the men who, 20 years later, would lead the shouts, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

To be sure, Jesus was in the place of sacrifice, talking to men who sacrificed, sitting in the middle like the sacrificial lamb He would be for the world. But that’s not why Jesus went into the temple.

He went into the temple to be with His Father. To stand in His Father’s presence. To commune in mind and spirit with His Father.

That’s the Father’s business. Not learning or teaching. Not hearing the preaching. We don’t come to Mass to be inspired or to be taught. The Father’s business is that we stand with the angels and saints, facing the Lord, praying to Him, basking in His love, knowing that we are in the safest place in the universe, the safest place of all time.

That’s why we come into this holy temple. To be with God our Father. To let Him be to present to us, as we present ourselves to Him.

From that we gain strength. In standing here, hope becomes real and faith comes alive. As we stand in front of God, we see more clearly what matters most; and how love—not loving or getting loved, but the One who is Love—how love looks, and it’s true power.

The true power of God’s love for us is His willingness to sit with us during our scariest days, and then lay aside everything He is so that we can receive His Life in exchange for death, His forgiveness in exchange for our sin, His compassion in exchange for our selfishness, His humility in exchange for our pride, and His strength in place of our weakness.

It’s all here. In fact, it’s only here. For while God is everywhere, He is most surely, most graciously, most truly located here for you and me, to receive into the depths of our souls. Here, and only here, is where we taste and see that the Lord is what good is. And what love is. And what hope is.

The Father’s business is to lay aside all earthly cares, so that we can stand here, present to our Father, present with God the Father.

And that’s a sacrifice. It begins in sacrifices, it’s soaked in sacrifice, and it is what sacrifice is.

The Father’s business begins in sacrifice because living with less means trusting that Our Lord provides. Not just food and the stuff we need, but that the Lord provides especially the most meaningful stuff—the pledge, the oath, the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how awful things look; and most especially as we pass through the grave to the fullness of the life to come.

The Father’s business begins in sacrifice, asking us to be willing to sacrifice, so that we learn, with baby steps, how to trust.

And the Father’s business is soaked in sacrifice. Chiefly, the sacrifice of His Son. The sacrifice Christ Jesus makes by being tempted like us in every respect so that it looks like the Son of God, who knew no sin, becomes sin for us. Not that He sins, not simply that He takes on and battles our sins; but that He suffers our sins to death in His own body. Freely. Without any coercion.

Jesus sacrifices Himself to the point that He goes through our absolute worst day so that we might live within His never-ending day. That’s the Father’s business. A business that the 12-year-old Jesus is contemplating before debating. For on the third day Mary and Joseph find Jesus sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and speaking with them. But that’s the third day. The other two days, Jesus is with His Father, considering and conversing about the sacrifices He will love to do for us, and ultimately the sacrifice of being overcome with death in order to overwhelm death.

You see, hell comes for Jesus. Hell takes His body. But hell is destroyed as it tastes His flesh, just as we are enlivened when we taste that same flesh. What is bitter for Him is sweet for us. What kills death brings us to life.

A 12-year-old marveling, reflecting on, contemplating the magnitude of this sacrifice—that’s why Jesus goes in the temple. And He stays there three days to try out and get a feel for the three days of His greatest sacrifice.

Yet the sacrifice is not all about Jesus. You just heard, moments ago, that St Paul said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” How? Not by letting everything around you shape your tastes, your desires, your hopes, your fears. Not by being pressed into this mold. Instead, we sacrifice when we live completely for others through Christ; when we live as Christ lived – unafraid and undisturbed and unperturbed because we’re living within Christ’s sacrifice—the sacrifice that shows the meaninglessness of everything that calls for our attention, and also shows us the reality of real living in God’s presence.

This Father’s business—it’s not easy to describe, because it’s not anything like business as usual. This Father’s business is the business of living within the freedom of obedience, and the playground of trust, and the unlimited lavishness of grace.

As you hear Paul say that we need to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind,” you can also hear right after that, “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus.” Even when He was 12. When He lived for God’s house. For the temple. For the joy of doing the Father’s business.

That joy—that’s the “living” part in “living sacrifice.” And that joy is both what drew the boy Jesus to be with His Father in the temple, and what Mary pondered as they headed back home to Nazareth.

And it’s that same joy that we need to seek daily in this place where the Father’s business happens. How does the Psalmist say it? What is our prayer?

One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require; even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.

For in the temple, you will find Our Lord Jesus being about His Father’s business.

Through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God and of all the saints, may God be merciful to us and bless us; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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The Lesson of the Magi

The episode about the Magi visiting the infant God in our flesh is more about us, than the songs of the angels and the visit of the shepherds that we heard on Christmas day. St Gregory reminds us that the angels announced Christ to Jewish shepherds, but now we see men like us—non-Jews, coming from diverse backgrounds, walking by faith, pinning hopes to signs and sacraments, journeying to meet God where He is.

And look at how much these Magi are like us! They make life-changing moves, which friends and family question. They sound like Utopian dreamers, more interested in life with God than life on earth. And they talk about life as a journey in order to walk with God, and be with God, and talk with God.

And they’re more like us than we want to admit. For these Magi know that in order to change the world it is necessary to have power. Yet they mistake the power of governments and movements as the place of power, rather than Christ Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power so that Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. So not protests or demonstrations, not elections or policy makers, not working to make a difference with global concerns—none of these things are true power. True power is the gospel of Christ: for the Gospel He is, is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who has faith.

But like the Magi, we tend to get caught up in the power that everyone else talks about. And so these men of faith follow the wrong path, and steer themselves in the wrong direction; because they thought that a powerful child would be nowhere else but in a King’s palace. What they had to learn—and what we must never forget—is that humility, God in diapers, the Son of God in a rude cave, and above all else, this Child on the cross is foolishness to those caught up in speaking truth to power; but to us who are being saved these easily overlooked marks of humility and humiliation are the true power of God. For Christ comes into the world to fill His cross with the power that does more than empower the poor and disenfranchised—it empties tombs and lets us sit with God our Father in heavenly places!

At first, the Magi lost their way because they thought their journey was about seeking and partaking in new politics, a new world order, a new kingdom of God on earth. It is about that, but not like we tend to think. Only when we, with the Magi, see that the journey is an inner pilgrimage, something that changes us within our soul—only then do we see life differently. Only then do we see Life Himself.

So the Magi had to change their ideas about power. They had to turn away from powerful men and women, and instead seek the Life that empower you, me, and all humanity. The Magi had to stop looking at the trappings of power, and begin to see Christ, the Life of all the living; the One who says, apart from Me, you can do nothing; and unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.

These Magi truly hungered and thirsted after justice—and godliness, peace, meaning, truth—everything that is wrapped up in the word “righteousness.” They truly wanted to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; so that they could be renewed and reinvigorated to live now, toward the world to come. And so they left home and family, searching diligently for the newborn King, the Child they could lavish with not just expensive gifts but with heartfelt adoration.

What do these Magi teach us, then? To seek this King, we need to set off on a journey like theirs.

Deep within themselves they felt prompted to go in search of the true justice that can only come from God, and they wanted to serve this King, to fall prostrate at his feet and so play their part in the renewal of the world. They were among those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” This hunger and thirst spurred them on in their pilgrimage—they became pilgrims in search of the justice that they expected from God, intending to devote themselves to its service. (Benedict XVI, 2005)

In the same way, deep within our soul, where hope is palpable, where faith comes alive—in our soul we need to resolve to lay aside all earthly cares so that we can be true pilgrims who search for Life Himself, the wisdom and power of God, the vulnerable infant Jesus, the Jesus who comes down to sit with us in our darkest moments, the Jesus who speaks us into warmth and peace, and the Jesus on the cross who shows us that real power lies in living without fear because the tomb and the grave no longer control or dominate us.

That’s the example of these Magi.

They changed their ideas about power, about God and about man, and in so doing, they also changed themselves. Now they were able to see that God’s power is not like that of the powerful of this world. God’s ways are not as we imagine them or as we might wish them to be.

God does not enter into competition with earthly powers in this world. He does not marshal his divisions alongside other divisions. God did not send 12 legions of angels to assist Jesus in the Garden of Olives. He contrasts the noisy and ostentatious power of this world with the defenseless power of love, which succumbs to death on the Cross and dies ever anew throughout history; yet it is this same love which constitutes the new divine intervention that opposes injustice and ushers in the Kingdom of God. (Benedict XVI, 2005)

God is different—this is what the Maji come to believe. God is different—that is also what we are invited to see.

God is more different than we imagine Him; He is more different how we shape Him to be in our own minds. God is different because only God becomes who we truly are, especially in those moments when we hate ourselves. God becomes us, even then, so that we might be filled with a love that chases away self-loathing, anxiety, fear, and the need to control. God in Christ carries us, so that we now can carry Him just as the Holy Mother carried Him—in her heart as well as in her arms.

The Magi show us how different God is as they see Him nestling up to His mother, cooing at His St Joseph, unafraid and yet unable to scare. This different God now means that they themselves must now become different. They must learn God’s ways.

What saves the world is not policies or programs or even lifestyle changes. These things come about as a result—only after we adore and pin our hopes to the Christ Child in the manger. For what alone saves the world is a return to the living God, our Creator, who is the pledge of our freedom, and the sacrament of what is really good and true. “True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love.” (Benedict XVI 2005) And there is nothing else that can ever save us except the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord; to whom, with His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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The Gift of Authority

Our Lord’s grace, His gifts to us for our well-being, His compassion and goodness—all of that includes His authority. That’s part of the daily bread that we petition from Our Father. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we ask that our Father exercise His authority, using others, for our good. And when we implore Him to lead us not into temptation, we ask Him to lead us—by His strong arm, making use of various leaders. And when we beg Our Father to deliver us from evil, we ask Him to use whatever means and agencies are necessary to snatch us from the jaws of evil, and sometimes even our own self-destructive ways. To use authority to turn evil to good—that’s part of the Lord’s grace, His gift, His compassion, His love.

And today’s Gospel shows us how He does it. It gives us a clear look at how Our Lord exercises His authority. And how our leaders are to be His servants for our good, for our welfare. Using compassion. Measured words. Truth. Humility. And true justice which seeks both to correct the wrong and protect the most vulnerable.

How does Our Lord do this? What example does He set? How does He exercise His authority?

Consider the scene of our Lord’s coronation and enthronement. We see that

Forgiveness tamps down rage
Compassion overwhelms insult
Truth outshines indecisiveness
Love blunts hatred and converts indifference
Humility outlasts arrogance
The poor man outlives the greedy
The betrayed embraces the traitor
Weakness defeats strength

These are not the tools of rage politics. These are not the tactics of extremists who seek to squeeze the middle using anger and malice and violent speech. But these are the methods of Christ the King—methods He enjoins us to employ in our relationships and dealings.

Anger, forcing the agenda, demonizing your opponents, incentivizing meanness, and setting yourself up as the only true patriot—these will win in the short-term, but in the end they are always destructive. For this ethos and its values are inimical to God’s way, undermine Christ’s cross, and oppose the Spirit of unity and truth.

As He hangs on the cross, Our Lord refuses to see His opponents as enemies. For He wrestles then, and always, not with flesh and blood. He suffers for His opponents well as His fleeting friends. He pleads the Father’s forgiveness for those who are killing Him. Our Lord wrestles not with these men. He wrestles with the Deceiver, the Accuser, the Adversary and his minions—Satan and his devils who want to suck us into hell.

And so He employs not the weapons of division, but the strength of His mercy by which He will reconcile and return to Himself, and to His embrace, every living thing which He created.

Notice: Our Lord makes peace not by shedding the blood of others, but by shedding His own blood; not by sacrificing the lives of others, but by sacrificing His own life; not by making the vulnerable and those with no voice to pay the price, but by ransoming Himself.

In this way, Our Lord seeks much more than relief from economic distress, or bad policies, or corrupting ways. Our Lord’s way—His goal—is to deliver us from all of the powers of darkness and then translate us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.

The coming of that kingdom is announced by the sign that hangs over His head. The dead one on the cross—He is the King of the cosmos. The man oppressed, tortured, stricken, smitten by God and afflicted—this man of sorrows because He endures our every sorrow—He is our Emperor and Monarch, just as His clothing declares.

We do well, then, not merely to hear about this King, or to take comfort for a few moments in this story, or to wish others would hear these words. We do well when we actually imitate and follow this King—by taking up our cross daily. Which means, by sacrificing our notions, seeing the good in our opponents, living true humility by refusing to control outcomes, and by seeking real justice with the actual forgiveness that tamps down rage, with the heartfelt compassion that meets insult, and with the love He graciously gives us at this altar—His sacrifice which is able to blunt our hatred and convert our indifference.

As we follow and imitate this King, then the truth Our Lord speaks to Pilate may begin to sink down into our being: we are children of a King whose kingdom is not of this world, whose servants do not fight for material advantage, whose kingdom is not from here. And for that reason we need to strive, each one of us, to have compassion for one another, to love as brothers, to be tenderhearted and courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this: that you may inherit a blessing—through Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, to whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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O Give Thanks

On the day the temple in Jerusalem was dedicated, when King Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven to consume the innumerable sheep and oxen offered in sacrifice, and then the glory of the Lord filled the entire house of the Lord—so much so that the priests could not enter. (2 Chrn 5 & 7) But they were not afraid. They were overwhelmed. Because, after Solomon’s prayer of dedication, after the King dedicated the Lord’s house—then everyone knew that the Lord’s glory was not terrifying. Rather, it was merciful. The holy place radiated a mercy so kind and gracious, so good and benevolent, that the people prostrated in reverence because they knew, deep down, that the Lord was drawing them into Him.

Gratitude caused them to fall to their knees and cover their faces. The Lord determined to come into the house they built, and inhabit their temple, and promise always to hear and to help. And so gratitude inspired their worship.  Not fear that He might crush them; or the obligation to obey; or a sense of fair play—but gratitude. Heart-felt appreciation. Thankfulness.

The Lord’s love moves Him to reach out to us, even when we pull back from Him. The Lord never pushes us away, even when we think little of Him. And the Lord will always lower Himself to us, even when we think He owes us a favor. His compassion for you—that evokes true thanksgiving.

Now those who enter the Lord’s house can say: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28.17) Because when the Lord descends onto this altar, when His Spirit enables us to see that Christ is in our midst—then He lifts up our hearts, He embraces us and draws us into His own self, and He invites us to sit with Him in His heavenly place.

That’s the Lord’s mercy. Not pity, but unending empathy, and overabundant generosity, and limitless benevolence.

That’s what the healed Samaritan perceived. He didn’t just see that he was healed or that Christ had completely turned his life around. The other nine knew that much. But the Samaritan saw more. He believed that the Lord Jesus was making him whole so that he could stand, with God, alongside anyone else. And so, he was grateful. “With a loud voice he glorified God, and fell down on his face and Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

Groveling gives way to joy. Heartfelt love displaces fear. Love expands the sense of duty. And grace satisfies and fulfills all hope.

Compared to the Samaritan, we have been given a great deal! We have more than enough! And not just material things, but much more than that. We get to have Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, make His home in our own bodies and souls. By the gifts and grace of the Spirit, we commune with God, and partake more and more of His love. So even if you are poor according to others, you are rich! For we have the fullness of God!

Whenever we empty our souls by confessing our sins, He fills them with the riches of His righteousness. Every time we confess our sins to the priest, our Lord is faithful and just to give us generously His absolution. Remember: this is the same Lord who chooses the weak of this world to shame and astound those who think they are mighty. He used a fisherman named Peter to begin the eventual conquest of more than one Empire. So, certainly, He can raise us up.

Thanks to Our Lord’s mercy, thanks to His grace, we get to give thanks. But it’s not really a repayment, is it? For what can we really give to the Lord for all the goods that He has given to us? How can we repay Him for our life, our food, our ability to approach Him, and our hope in the world to come?

Our Lord does not create, or help, or save us because He wants to be rewarded. He reaches out regardless of our impiety and lack of devotion to Him. He searches for us when we do not look for Him. He finds, redeems, and liberates us from the clutches of the devil and our own oppressive addicting passions. He draws us to Himself in order to purify us by Christ’s faith, which then releases us.

But if we choose to go our own way—if we kick against the goads and push aside Our Lord’s attempts to embrace us—He will not fight us. He will not restrain those who won’t have Him, and who do not wish to be cleaned by His love. Our Lord lets haters revile, mock, and accuse Him of not caring. But this does not change Christ’s attitude toward them. Or do we not see that, when these curses are uttered, they fade away like so much noise; but the Lord’s blessing and mercy lives forever?

In truth we give Our Lord only what He has first given us. And we can give Him what He asks—that we receive, with a sincere and true heart, His salvation offered in the Holy Eucharist. He gives Himself. And we give thanks by receiving, here together, the gift of Himself at this holy altar.

That is why Metropolitan PHILIP consecrated this altar, and dedicated this church 32 years ago. Now we, and those who follow, can give thanks by gathering in this sanctified space within the loving embrace of our holy mother the Church. She is our strength so that we may be strong. She warms us when our faith grows cold, and when our hope wavers. She alone makes us wise by feeding us with divine Wisdom

Let us love our Lord God by loving His Church. He is our Father, she is our Mother, and we are their children. The Church is weaker whenever one of us is absent; and she is unable to help us when we are distracted by other pleasures. So, if we say, “I believe in God the Father,” then we shouldn’t neglect our Mother.

This is the place, then, where we get to give thanks to Our Lord God—by confessing our frailty, imploring his mercy, and then receiving the gift of His flesh and blood. In truth, the Lord’s mercy anticipates us. He is good enough not only to guard us and restore us. He is also good enough to increase His gifts or benefits, which come both from His kindness and, even more so, from His own being. For Our Lord is the only One who truly gives us Himself; Who, with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns: world without end.

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Dormition or Assumption?

The Feast has two different names. It’s the same feast, just with two different names. Some call it “The Dormition of the Theotokos” and some call it “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Why the two names? Is there are difference? Is one better or more correct than the other?

The word “dormition” means “falling asleep.” Specifically, it denotes the death or passing away of the Holy Mother of God. With that word, then, we confess that the Virgin Mary truly died, as did her Divine Son; and then was raised from the dead as Christ raised the little girl when He said, “The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

The word “assumption” refers Mary being taken up, in her body, into heaven. This is similar to the ascension of her Divine Son. Although he ascended by His own power, the Holy Mother was aided in her going up—just as the prophet Elijah went up to heaven, not under his own power but in a ‘fiery chariot.’

These two words, then, focus on two different aspects of this gracious act of the Son for His Mother. She was raised from the dead (dormition), and she was raised in her body (assumption) to be seated “in heavenly places.” (See Ephesians 2.4-7)

In no instance does the Orthodox Church teach that the Blessed Virgin did not die. Like her Son, she tasted or experienced death. But also like Him, her body was glorified and transformed so that she might be with Him, at His side.

Our Lady did not endure an extended rest in the grave. According to St John of Damascus, after she fell asleep in the Lord, Mary’s body was buried in a coffin in Gethsemane

where for three days the singing of the angelic choirs persevered relentlessly. After the third day, those songs having ceased, the attending apostles opened the coffin at the request of Thomas, who was the only one who had been away from them, and who, on the third day, wanted to venerate the body that had [given birth to] God. But … they found only the funeral dresses put there, from which an ineffable perfume emanated that penetrated them, and they closed the coffin. Overwhelmed … here is the only thing they could conclude: the one who in his own person deigned to incarnate in her and become a man, God the Word, the Lord of glory, and who kept her mother’s virginity intact after his birth, had still wanted, after his departure from below, to honor this virgin and immaculate body with the privilege of incorruptibility; and with a translation prior to the common and universal resurrection.

Source

Therefore, the Lord honored His Mother by raising her on the third day, and then transporting her in her glorified body to heaven.

Yet, the Dormition or Assumption is not just about Mary. She enters heaven to show us that our mortal bodies, made of the same earth, can also be joined to heaven; that the lowest person can sit with God; that her prayer to be exalted by humility has been answered. For the woman was despised by her own kin, nearly disowned by her own spouse, and closeted by so many Christians. Yet in the Assumption, she exalted and literally lifted up to be what she always was: the best of all humanity.

-Fr John

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Our Lord’s Desire

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 8.1-9

Our Lord’s desire for the crowd drew them to Him. His compassion moved them to stay put for three days. They forgot to eat; they lost track of time; they were caught up in being with Him as much as hearing His voice and chewing on His words – because of His love, His empathy, His desire for them.

Our Lord’s desire leads to His compassion for the crowd primarily because they have not eaten. They have entered a three day fast, and may faint on the way home. But the fast and the fainting that concerns Our Lord—that makes plain His desire—is not simply about lack of food for the body, but also being deprived of food for the soul. Not only have they not eaten. They have not sat down and banqueted with God, as He designed them to do. And so, just as they are drawn to Him, He desires them to eat with Him.

Seven loaves and a few small fishes—that’s more than enough. For the point is not what and how much. The point is that they dine with their saving Lord – with the Jesus who will give His all for them. Making little more than enough, then, is easy when compared with laying His life down. A broken body and shed blood—that is the all that Christ gives, and not just for them, but for the life of the cosmos. And so, for the moment, in a deserted place, Jesus provides more than enough. Yet He is anticipating the time when His desire will be to feed with Himself as many as desire Him.

Our Lord desires that the crowd—and that we all—truly encounter Him. Not just see His miracles and hear His words. Not just be soothed by His teaching or find truth in His way of life. And not just be uplifted with His stories or inspired by His example.

A true encounter with the Lord Jesus means that everything Our Lord is and does is not all used up in that past time. A true encounter means that the newness of the Word made flesh never grows old. God in our flesh is always new, always enlivening and revitalizing our flesh.

So what you’ve heard happens then is not just about then. Our Lord still desires us to eat with Him.

‘We may not even be aware of it, but every time we go to Mass’ we are there first of all because ‘we are drawn there by his desire for us.’ We are drawn by His desire for us to be with Him, inseparable from His body. We are drawn by His desire for us to be in the always now and never ending present – in Him and the life-saving event that He does and is.

Our Lord desires us. Each one of us. Regardless of our struggles, or fears, or disordered passions. He desires us even if no one else does, even if we don’t really desire our own selves. He desires us, most especially when we are hurting and broken, or feel unseen and place-less, or are overwhelmed with sadness or apathy.

Our Lord desires us. He desires you as an individual, and me as another, so that with all His own we may be all be ‘us’ in Him. Jesus desires you, so that He might embrace you in an ‘us’; and by embracing us, let us intimately commune with and in Him; and by communing, transform us to be, all together, the version, the image, the person, the likeness, the humans He designed us to be in Him.

Our Lord’s desire for us draws us to this Mass. And when are truly present in this Divine and sacred work—then we are aligning our desire with His desire; our will with His holy will. And then we are making the most of our love, since our love is authentic and real only when it is tied to His love for us.

This desire for Our Lord, drawn by His desire for us; this alignment of our will with His will—this is the foundation of true asceticism, and demands more than any self-restrain or fast or discipline or habit. For His love moves us to give up what we love, and what others say is most important. And Our Lord’s care for us leads us to a true self-care which is located, not in how we improve ourselves, but in what Our Lord offers in order to convert and better us. When we surrender to this love, this compassion and care and desire of God for us, then we are in line and participating in His Spirit and His desire.

From the very beginning, the Spirit has enlightened the Church to perceive and believe that Our Lord’s desire is fully realized not in a mental construct or an emotional experience. Rather, Our Lord’s desire centers around food. In fact, you can say that God created the world as a fruitful garden so that we would eat with Him. For eating with the Holy Trinity is both Our Lord’s desire for us, and the way He honors and nourishes our dual nature of body and soul.

This ‘eating with God’ reaches its highpoint in the Eucharist. ‘That which was visible in Jesus, that which could be seen with the eyes and touched with the hands, his words and his gestures, the concreteness of the incarnate Word — everything of Him had passed into the celebration of the sacraments’—and most specifically, into the Eucharist.

Let us come to see, then, that the Mass guarantees an unparalleled encounter with Christ.

In the Eucharist, Our Lord’s entire being enters into our entire being—both our being as individuals who consume Christ, and our being as those tied together into His one body, the Church. In this way, He bears our burdens as He becomes literally one with us; and we bear one another’s burdens since we all partake together of the one bread and one cup of His body.

The Mass, then, is not some vague memory or commemoration or reminder of the Last Supper all those millennia ago. That kind of historical remembering does us no good. We need the remembrance that draws us into Christ; that places us at the foot of the cross; that immerses us in the full effects of His resurrection.

The remembrance that does us good, then, is His remembrance – where Our Lord sees us and truly desires us, and brings us into His mind and His ever-now, so that we join the Holy Apostles at the Lord’s table.

‘We need to be present at that Supper, to be able to hear his voice, to eat his Body and to drink his Blood. We need Him. In the Eucharist and in all the sacraments we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering the Lord Jesus and of having the power of his Paschal Mystery reach us. The salvific power of the sacrifice of Jesus, his every word, his every gesture, glance, and feeling reaches us through the celebration of the sacraments.’

Then we can say, ‘I am Nicodemus; I am the Samaritan woman at the well; I am the man possessed by demons at Capernaum; I am the sinful woman pardoned; I am the woman healed of hemorrhages; I am the daughter of Jairus raised from the dead; I am Zacchaeus with Christ entering my house; I am Lazarus called from death to life; and I am Peter.’ For like them, I am healed, raised from my dying body, pardoned, renewed, and given boldness, confidence, and fearlessness in the face of death.

Here, then, is the whole reason God became human—He fervently wants us eat with Him. The Lord prepares us to sit with Him by washing and purifying us in the blood which flows from His most sacred heart. And that same blood, together with His life-giving flesh, continues to pardon, to heal, and to save as we consume Him while His love consumes us.

So His desire is more than a heart-felt longing. He invites us to receive the offering of Himself which He Himself offers. This is now Our Lord love us concretely. This is the way He satisfies his own thirst for us, which existed from the moment we were conceived, and which took Him all the way through the cross.

Through the prayers of His saints, may we desire Our Lord as His desire draws us into Him and to each other in Him; to whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

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Holy Flesh

This homily is based on two paragraphs in St Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on Luke 4.

John 6.1-15

Dearly Beloved:

Observe the efficacy of Our Lord’s holy flesh. Notice how revitalizing and restorative is His blood. For It drives away diseases and a crowd of demons. Christ’s flesh overthrows the power of devils and is capable of healing a great multitude in one instance.

This is why the crowd followed Christ Jesus into the wilderness. And why they camped out at the bottom of the hill.

They followed Him because they had seen His miracles which He did on the diseased;

  • how He had healed the sick,
  • restored sight to the blind,
  • opened the ears of the deaf, and
  • chased away those whose addictions had made an opening for demon possession.

The crowd followed Jesus because they sought relief. For themselves and for their loved ones.

The crowd was camped out because they were desperate. They wanted help. Not a show, but real healing.

Since He is God, Jesus might have said to the crowd, “Fly away, every disease. Be gone, every affliction. Depart and leave, every sorrow.” But he adopted a different approach.

  • To show that His flesh possessed the power of healing,
  • to demonstrate that Our Lord’s human hand is actually the hand of God Himself,
  • to let us know without a shadow of doubt that His skin and bones are infused and interpenetrated with His Godhead so that it is impossible to separate, mentally or actually, His humanity from His divinity—

this is why Our Lord Jesus often reaches out His hand and touches those who are sick, even sometimes without words.

And so when He saw the great company of people, Jesus had compassion. Not just on their bodies destined for the grave. He saw their yearning for God, their desire to believe in Him, and most of all their soul-sickness.

So Jesus comes down to restore. And not just humans, but all creation—the entire universe. His mission is grand. And so it is not limited to human bodies. But it begins there—in a body like ours. A body that He does not put on as a persona, or some identity. But a body which He completely deifies—even as He desires to deify our bodies and souls but His touch, by His word, by His own flesh and blood.

By coming down to meet the crowd, to feed the crowd, to feed us—our Lord shows that His mercy is not just for the body, but also for the soul. His desire is not merely to relieve slight momentary afflictions, but also to seat us together at the table with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and in their fellowship, to also banquet with the saints and angels.

And so, in a precursor of His Supper, Our Lord took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them to His disciples, who then ministered this miraculous life-sustaining bread to those who desired it.

Yet the crowd, like us, have a hard time believing that God is in their midst; that the Son of God is feeding them. They simply thought that a godly human was helping them; and they saw God as a quick fix to their troubles. And because of this, the crowd sees Jesus as a politician, a lottery ticket, one of the superrich who could lower their prices and make easier this temporary life. And so they chased. They did not give thanks. They wanted to force Him to be their king. They did not receive the Lord and His gifts as the Eucharist that He is.

But consider this: If Jesus’ hand can heal the sick and multiply bread and fishes, think of what happens when we receive our Blessed Lord’s flesh and blood, His humanity and divinity, His body and soul, into our own flesh in the Holy Mystery of Communion. For when He enters us and we receive Him with a sincere and true heart, confident that the bread and wine have been changed and transubstantiated by the Holy Spirit into His life-saving body and blood—then He will quench the fever of unbefitting and distorted pleasures; He will raise us up to newness of life; and He will strengthen our minds and hearts, as well as our bodies, to see us through life’s hardness and sorrows.

Just as that human hand by which Christ heals the sick is, in truth, the hand of God—in the same way, by His Spirit, the bread which we consume and the cup from which we drink, is now the body and blood of that same Jesus whose hand absorbed diseases, whose feet walked on water, whose touch soothed the anxious and disturbed, whose mouth spoke mercy deep into the hearts of the troubled.

His same flesh and blood is the Living Bread which came down from heaven. His flesh is actually what fulfilling food is. His blood is actually what refreshing drink is. For when we receive it, we receive God Himself.

Let us then take hold not of this rite. Let us take hold of Christ in the way He gives Himself to us. Let us take Him at His word, firmly and devoutly believing that the Son of God, in His human flesh inseparable from His divine self, is being placed into our mouths.

And then let us live from this food. For that is why we limit how much we eat during Lent; and why we deny ourselves certain pleasures; and why we spend more time in church and in prayer; and why we give away what we have and work for. We do these things because we see that the Holy Communion is the food of all foods. And that we will never go hungry, if we have nothing else to eat except the bread with His Christ’s flesh and the wine which is His blood.

Let Christ’s hand, then, hold us. And let us take hold of Him in this place by means of the mystical Eucharist, giving thanks to God for this holy food. For it can free us from sickness of the soul, from the despair of the mind, from heartache and sorrow, and from the assaults of demons. The flesh and blood of Christ can free us—just as His touch helped the diseased. And, more than that, Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist will raise us up on the last day. For this is His promise: “Everyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise them up at the last day.”

To whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Into the Temple

A Candlemas Homily

Dearly Beloved:

The holy prophet Malachi urges us to be ready when “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.” But that day is not today. That day will come, but not today. Today Our Lord comes into His temple quietly, without fanfare, as an infant. To fulfill a law that does not apply to Him. And it does not apply to the Virgin Mother. Because Our Lord’s birth was not a cursed birth where the womb was opened with bloodshed. And so, both boy and mother do not need to be purified and sanctified. Our Lord with His holy mother enter the temple, then, not because they must, but because He wants to be seen as the light of God living in all humanity; that is, the salvation prepared for all peoples, languages, ethnicities, and nations.

So today, exactly forty days after His birth, the Blessed Virgin and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord. It is a joyful day, a day of thanksgiving. For Mary especially, the joy and thanksgiving exceeds the joy and thanksgiving of any other mother. For she holds in her arms God Himself in the flesh. She carries the One who will carry and bear and take away the sin of the world.

Yet notice how they celebrate—by killing animals, by sacrificing pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. What a strange way to show joy and give thanks! Yet the sacrifice is not just some ancient custom they mindlessly do. These sacrifices point forward to the way the Lord’s mercy, help, and salvation comes. By His later sacrifice and death, coupled with the putting to death and sacrificing of our ungodly desires, our fears and self-serving ambitions, everything that we think matters more than this tiny Christ Child—that is the path of our salvation; the way we will gain what we lost.

Into the temple, then, the Holy Family goes to perform a duty that is not required for them; a sacrifice that does not purify but that anticipates the purification of the entire world; a sacrifice that makes holy everyone washed in this Child’s blood. Truly, then, this is for us a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

And who is there waiting for Jesus and His parents? It is Simeon, a just and devout man. He was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Simeon is there because it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Notice the juxtaposition of the old man and the divine Child. Just as Our Lord Jesus comes to the temple, Simeon comes by the Spirit into the temple. God comes to the old man, and the old man goes to greet God. The old man will cradle God in His arms, just as God will embrace and hold fast the old man.

As Simeon enters, he is full of anticipation and expectation. For He eagerly looks forward to beholding not simply the fulfillment of some ancient promise, but the actual salvation and mercy of God embodied in this nursing infant.

Learn from old St. Simeon. He not only knows that the Lord sticks to His Word. Simeon also knows where that promise is kept, where his heart’s desire is given, where his longings and expectations come true, and where he can latch onto and cling to the God and Savior that he so desperately desires.

But don’t just learn from Simeon. Imitate his faith and confidence. For what Simeon hopes for and sees comes true today, right in front of your eyes. By entering His temple in this place, the same Christ Jesus stands before your eyes. Here, in this place, you also Behold the Lamb of God, you also behold Him that takest away the sins of the world. And so also, if you can believe it, if your mind’s eyes are opened to see this Light of the world—you also get to cradle here, in this place, that same Christ Child, that same God and Savior, not only mentally or emotionally, but really and truly as He speaks through His ministers, and even more so as His flesh and blood are placed in your mouth.

Imitate the eagerness, the longing and the joy of Simeon. He is moved to take the baby Jesus in his arms and bless God. Yet what a strange blessing Simeon speaks to God. He says, “Lord, now I can die in peace. For just as You said, my eyes now see Your salvation.” What does this mean? It is as Simeon is saying this:

“O Lord, no longer do I pin my hopes to a promise I cannot see or a wish I hope for. Salvation is now alive and real, before my eyes, in my arms, ready for me to partake. For salvation is this Child who is the only-begotten Son of God. And just as the priests prepare the Lamb for sacrifice, in this way Thou hast prepared Him before the face of all people. For He comes to the temple, the place of Holy Sacrifice, to be, for our salvation, ‘a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.’ So now I can rejoice that our Lord is here and that His sacrifice is eminent. And in His sacrifice, this Jesus is the light that reveals Thy grace and kindness to all nations. And in His blood, He shows that is the glory of Thy Israel, Thy Church. In Him, then, I greatly rejoice. For He is everything I hoped He would be, the salvation I have desired.”

What a blessing Simeon speaks. And in it, we see true worship. For Simeon takes the Lord at His Word. The old man does not know how it will all play out, but he is confident that this Child is the Father’s sacrifice prepared for the salvation of all mankind. And with that he is content—to the extent that he now longs for death. Not just because he has seen it all, but because he now holds in his arms the Life of the world. And when you hold to Christ the Life of all the living, death no longer has a hold on you.

Imitate, then, the worship of St. Simeon. Take to heart the Word Our Lord speaks and gives to you. Take in the Christ Child as He places His own flesh and blood within your flesh and blood. Receive Him as He comes to you, as He makes good on His promise, as He keeps His Word. And then relax, knowing that the Lord has made known to you also His salvation, and revealed to you the glory which is His sacrificed Son; to whom with the Father in the Holy Spirit belongs all glory, honor and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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The Gift for God

An Epiphany Day homily
Matthew 2.1-12

The day when God pulled off the greatest wonder of all time by interweaving and interlocking and interpenetrating our flesh with His divinity;

the day when a virgin—think of that, a virgin—became the Mother of God and, at the same time, retained her virginity forever;

the day when the God the Word became a speechless infant;

the day when the Creator made Himself a creature;

the day when the Messiah promised for centuries finally arrived in our world;

the day when the Governor and Monarch of the entire cosmos was found lying in a manger;

the day when the Almighty became a vulnerable baby capable of suffering and death;

the day when the Mediator between God and human beings bridged the unbridgeable gap by becoming completely human while not laying aside an ounce of His divinity—

that day; that glorious day; that day that exceeds all days in joy and gladness—

that day is so revered that its celebration cannot be confined to just one day; or eight days; or twelve days.

Our celebration must now be extended another week so that we can both ponder and rejoice in this mystery that not only brings our redemption, but also lets us be the humans we were designed to be—women and men capable of receiving God, containing God in our soul, and approaching God with boldness and confidence.

And so, the Feast of the Epiphany prolongs our joy of Christmas, even as it reveals to us another aspect of Our Lord’s extraordinary incarnation.

What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if God has all, why offer Him anything?

Part of that aspect is that experts who point out where God in the flesh is to be found—in Bethlehem of Judaea as written by the prophets—these experts refuse to believe their own truthful testimony, and the prophets who told them; and so they stay put while the Magi venture forth to find the One revealed by a miraculous star.

Yet not just these experts, but also a king—who is so afraid of his own demise, afraid that someone might take away all that he has, a fool whose soul will be required after he had a chance to prepare—this king will also lie about wanting to following the Magi, not to adore Life Himself, the Living Bread come down to heaven, the King of the Angels; but rather to murder and destroy Him—incredibly believing that he alone can do what no Satan could do—that he, as a puppet king of the Romans, can somehow kill God.

But the Magi—they are unmindful of inconvenience or threats or evil machinations. They are single minded in both reaching the star’s destination, and in adoring the baby who was promised to other people, yet prophesied as savior of all nations.

And what do these Magi wish to do? Treat a stable as if it were a king’s palace. Approach a manger as if it were a throne. Kneel before, and adore, and worship a cooing infant as if he had issued life-altering proclamations. And then present the King of heaven and earth with a few precious gifts—precious and costly and dignifying to them, but meager and inconsequential to the Lord they adored.

Remember what the Lord says: the whole world is mine, and all that is therein. Thinkest thou that I will eat bulls’ flesh, and drink the blood of goats?

So, what do you give to the almighty who holds all things in His hands, and who has no need for anything, and who can create from nothing everything He wants? What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if that is the case, why offer God anything?

And the Magi know this. You can see it in their relentless pursuit of the star. You can see it in their belief in the Scripture prophecies from the scribes. And you can see it in the gifts they offer—especially the frankincense. For the Magi know and believe that they are bowing not before the up-and-coming King of the Jews. They know and believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.

The Magi believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.

Yet they still offer Him meaningful gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh—all for the Child that they are proclaiming, by their gifts, is God the King come in the flesh in order to die for the redemption and salvation of not just people, but particularly for those three.

The greatest present, however, is their presence. For they know that God has all that exists, and that an infant can do nothing with what they give. But their kneeling, their adoration, they determined faith, their trust in the star’s preaching—that is their truest, most authentic, and best offering, sacrifice, and gift.

And this should be a relief to us. For God has given us all we have, even our life itself, not to take it back; but so that we might know that He is the giver, and thereby adore Him with the gift of ourselves—in His church-temple, kneeling before His Eucharist-tabernacle, adoring the Word made flesh made the Bread of Heaven into to transform us into His own dear brothers and sisters.

What shall we give, then, to the Lord for all that He has given to us? Shall we not imitate the Magi? We should. We must. And so, like them, we should offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. And we should receive the cup of salvation. And we should call upon the name of the Lord.

And as we revere the mysteries devoted to our salvation—the mystery of the Incarnation, and the mystery of Christ before you in the Mass and placed in you in the Eucharist—as we reverse these holy mysteries, let us not be content merely with showing up and giving thanks with our lips.

For the Magi did not simply offer themselves, their worship, and their gifts. They also “went home by another way.” Spiritually, that other way was a changed heart, a mind set on the things of God, a fearless desire, and a faith, hope, and love aimed not at what benefited them here and now, but at what aided others and assisted their salvation.

The worship of the mysteries, the adoration of Christ in His sacraments—that also should urge us to “go home by another way.” As the Magi turned away from Herod and the selfishness he shows, we can heed St Paul and abstain from carnal desires—pride, wrath, greed, lust, envy, despondency, gluttony—which wage war against the soul. Yet it is not enough to turn aside. Like the Magi, our hearts should be filled with love for the chaste life, since Christ is the Son of a Virgin. And we should be as little children with respect to wickedness, because the Lord of glory conformed himself to the infancy of mortals. And we should earnestly pursue true humility—the humility we see both in the Christ Child and in the Magi. And finally, like the persistent and unwavering Magi, we should clothe ourselves in patience—as well as fearlessness, not letting anxiety overwhelm us, but praying that the Lord increase in us faithful perseverance and godliness. (from St Leo the Great Epiphany sermon, paraphrased)

In this way, we offer such sacrifices to God as are well-pleasing. And, above all else, we will increase our joy on this glorious feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; to whom, with His Faither, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

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