Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
THE LITURGICAL PREPARATION for the feast of Christ’s Nativity intensifies today with the Sunday of the Genealogy, which commemorates those who were Christ’s physical ancestors.

The Sunday of the Genealogy accelerates the countdown to the feast of Christ’s Nativity. During the Nativity Fast we celebrate the memorials of several Old Testament prophets – Obadiah (Nov. 19), Nahum (Dec. 1), Habbakuk (Dec. 2), Zepheniah (Dec. 3), Haggai (Dec. 16), and Daniel (Dec. 17). Today we reflect on how the entire Old Testament period has been a preparation for Christ and how we are called to be ready for His ultimate triumph.

Prophecies of the Messiah

It is appropriate today to reflect on what the Scriptures tells us preceded the Incarnation. The following timeline and reading guide may be helpful in doing so. All the dates older that 1000 BC are approximate.

Before Time – The Word was with God before anything material came to be (John 1:1-4). It is through this eternal Word that our material creation comes into being.

The Pre-History of the Israelites before 4000 BC – The creation of our universe, the human race falls away from communion with God, life on earth as we know it begins (Genesis 1-3). Genesis actually contains two creation stories. The first (Genesis 1:1-2:3) is a version of an older Babylonian myth re-edited to teach that creation is by the will of the only true God, not the result of warring gods and demons. It is cast in the form of a single week to promote the character of the Sabbath as a day of rest. Its narrative (creation begins with a burst of light followed by the creation of the planets, etc.) harmonizes with the modern Big Bang theory and subsequent discoveries.

Genesis, continues with the story of the creation and the fall of Adam and Eve. This tragic story concludes with these words addressed to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Many Fathers saw this as the first heralding of the Messiah’s victory over sin and death (the “proto-gospel”). Satan’s seeming defeat of Christ on the cross is but a striking of His heel while Christ’s striking at his head is His ultimate defeat of Satan. It would take countless generations – from the beginning of humanity, through the years of both Old and New Testaments and the subsequent history of this age – for this event to be fulfilled.

Before 3000 BC – Sin prevails and increases, illustrated by Cain and Abel and Lamech, Noah and the Great Flood, (Gen 4-9). According to Jewish tradition, God makes a new covenant with Noah after the flood. Man is committed to observe the seven Noahide Laws prohibiting idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, blasphemy, and the eating of meat with its blood (i.e. while the animal is still alive). They are also enjoined to establish courts of law.

The Prophets Read in the Church

At the time of the Hebrew kingdoms (the six or seven hundred years before Christ) prophets were periodically calling the people to trust in God despite the troubles of their nation. Despite conflicts with the Philistines or the Assyrians, and even in the midst of defeat and exile by the Babylonians and occupation by the Romans, the prophets encouraged the people to trust in God who would provide a deliverer.

After the death and resurrection of Christ the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit came to see these prophecies fulfilled in a decisive way by Jesus Christ, who delivers all mankind – not just the Jewish people – from its ultimate enemies, sin and death, not just foreign oppressors. Around the Old Testament prophecies of a deliverer, the apostles built their preaching of the true Messiah (Anointed One) of God, Christ Jesus the Savior. What we call the Old Testament was the Bible for the early Church as well as for Judaism and its prophecies shaped the presentation of the incarnation in the New Testament. As the following quotations show, the apostles considered these prophecies as clearly pointing to the coming of Christ:

His Conception (Isaiah 7:14, cited in Mt 1:23) - “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”

The Place of His Birth (Micah 5:2, cited in Mt 2:6) - “Bethlehem…out of you shall come a ruler…”

The Flight into Egypt (Hosea 11:1, cited in Mt 2:15) - “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The Slaughter of the Infants (Jeremiah 31:15, cited in Mt 2:18) - “A voice was heard in Ramah…”

His home in Nazareth (possibly Judges 13:5, cited in Mt 2:23) - “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Other prophecies were frequently cited as pointing to Jesus as the Messiah:

• Numbers 24:17 - “a star shall come forth out of Jacob…”

• Isaiah 11:1 - “There shall come forth a shoot from the root of Jesse…”

• Isaiah 60:5-6 “…they shall bring gold and frankincense”

While there are no verbatim quotations of prophecies in Luke’s infancy narratives, there are allusions to Old Testament scriptures throughout. In Luke 1:17, for example, John the Baptist is described by the angel as going “before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.” This alludes to Malachi 4:5-6: “Behold I am sending to you Elijah the Thesbite before the great and notable day of the Lord comes.”

These allusions, and others throughout the Gospels, reflect the early Church’s belief that the entire Old Testament leads us to see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Our Preparation Continues

From December 20 to 24 we observe a five-day “holy week” during which Christ’s birth seems ever closer. As we sing during those days, “Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth.”

This fore-feast of the Nativity culminates on December 24, the Paramony of the feast. Usually translated as vigil or eve, paramony actually refers to the uninterrupted nature of the Church’s prayer on this day. During the day, the lengthier Great Hours or Royal Hours are chanted, followed by the Typika and a more elaborate than usual Great Vespers, to which is attached the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil.

A special service of Great Compline with a Litia for the feast ends the day. Sometimes this leads directly into the Orthros and Divine Liturgy of December 25. In some countries of Eastern Europe it culminates with a Holy Supper prior to the Liturgy. The same cycle of uninterrupted prayer is also prescribed for the Feast of the Theophany on January 5.

Let us offer up a hymn to the fathers who shone forth before the Law and under the Law, and who, by their upright will, were pleasing to the Lord and Master Who shone forth from the Virgin, for they now delight in the unfading light.
Canon of the Forefathers, Ode 1
 
BEGINNING STUDENTS OF JOURNALISM or other disciplines involving research are taught the importance of the “Five Ws” in compiling information. Fact-finders must be able to answer the following questions on any subject they are investigating: Who (was involved)? What (happened)? When  (did it take place)? Where (did it take place)? And Why (did that happen)?

In reflecting on the incarnation of the Word of God, we focus on the last question: why did Christ become man? Our answer is that the reason He assumed our human nature – His incarnation – is to change us by making us partakers of the divine nature (theosis). As the Church Fathers never ceased to repeat, God became human so that man might be deified.

But the answer to that question brings us to ask another one: how do we become deified? The Scriptures give us a two-part answer: our deification results initially from being united to Christ at baptism. We maintain this gift of our deification by “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) in the way we conduct our lives.

We Have Put on Christ in Baptism

The hymn sung repeatedly at baptisms – drawn from St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians – affirms the teaching that we “put on” Christ at our baptism. As the Incarnation began with a concrete, physical act, the conception of the Lord Jesus, so our deification begins with the concrete, physical act of baptism. In this mystery, the earthly humanity of a believer is joined to the divinized humanity of Christ. The believer is organically united to Christ, immersed in Him, just as he or she is immersed into the water. The believer has clothed himself with Christ, a spiritual reality symbolized by the white baptismal garment.

St Paul frequently reminds his readers how their likeness to God has been restored in baptism through the image of “putting-off” and “putting-on.” He tells the Ephesians, “… you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). He tells the Colossians, “you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).  Their divinization is a restoration of their likeness to God which was lost in Eden.

According to the Scriptures, that “putting-on Christ” also connects us to the eternal God in a new way. As St Paul says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26, 27). A person renewed in baptism is, in fact, no longer simply related to God as creature to Creator; the baptized is now an adopted child of God. Because of our baptism it is realistic to call God “Father.”

We Must Put on Christ in Our Actions

In baptism we ontologically put on Christ. We are connected to Him on the level of our deepest nature. We must also put on Christ psychologically, on the level of our actions and perceptions. In other words, we must strive to think and act like Him. To do that, we must study the actions of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures and begin to know His mind.

Again, we must turn to St Paul, who gives us an entry into the mind of Christ, particularly in regard to the Incarnation. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

The why of the Incarnation, according to the Apostle Paul is our deification. The how of the Incarnation is what has been called the kenosis (self-emptying) of Christ: His voluntary putting aside of divine glory and putting on “the form of a bondservant” (our humanity). As man He further humbled Himself by submitting to all the circumstances of time, place and state of life which we find described in the Gospels. He put on the condition of a village carpenter who became an itinerant preacher, challenging the religious status quo of the Jewish establishment supported by Rome. Little wonder that His path led to the death of the cross.

When St Paul says that we should “let this mind be in you” as it was in Christ, He is echoing the Lord Jesus, who proposed humility as the hallmark of the Christian. After the Lord had washed His disciples’ feet, He told them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14, 15). The Lord was not proposing that His disciples be characterized by actual foot-washing, but by humble service to one another.

As the Word of God exchanged His heavenly glory for the manger in a Bethlehem cave, His followers must learn to exchange their views of their own self-importance for the “form of a bondservant.” In this way, the humility of Christ rather than human “wisdom” will direct our actions.

In addition to humility, the mind of Christ according to the Scriptures is characterized chiefly by dependence on God and compassion toward others. Developing a mindset of humility, dependence and compassion is contrary to the way of thinking most people learn from the society and culture that surrounds us. It requires continual attention and effort to maintain our focus on the mind of Christ. “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and be holy in all your conduct … as He who called you is holy” (1 Peter 1:13, 15).

St Athanasios on the Incarnation

“What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it we might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? We could not have done it, for we are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.

“The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, … By surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, He abolished death for His human brethren ... Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all” (On the Incarnation 34, 35).
 
12/6/20
A WORLD-WIDE SYMBOL OF GIFT-GIVING and love, St. Nicholas (270-343) is more revered by the Church as a Wonderworker, both in life and in death. The earliest written source on the life of St. Nicholas we have comes from the early to mid-ninth century, almost 500 years after his death.

There was at least one earlier source which no longer exists. An otherwise unknown author, Archimandrite Michael, writing to someone named Leo, mentions an earlier work that has not come down to us, “Until now the spiritual program of this illustrious pastor was unknown to many people, as you yourself suppose, although some had knowledge of his grace from the lone Acts dedicated to him.”

The absence of earlier sources should not surprise us. Detailed biographies were not common in Asia Minor before the ninth century. We do find St. Nicholas mentioned in earlier writings as well as in prayers and iconography. Churches were dedicated to him, even in Constantinople, so we know that he was widely known and revered in the Greek Church. One telling point is that, while the name Nicholas was not common in the area before the fourth century, its use spread quickly after St. Nicholas’ lifetime.

Towards the middle of the ninth century, St. Methodios, Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote a Life of the saint, perhaps drawing on older sources. Then we have the early tenth-century Greek text of St. Symeon the Translator, who used all the available sources known to him to compile his Life. Finally we have the first Latin Life of St. Nicholas by John the Deacon, adapted from the text of St. Methodios.

The Life of St Nicholas

Nicholas was born to wealthy Christian parents in Patara, on the southwest coast of the Roman province of Lycia in Asia Minor. He was orphaned in an epidemic while he was still young and raised by his uncle, another Nicholas, the bishop of Patara. Of a religious disposition, Nicholas was tonsured as a reader by his uncle while quite young and eventually was ordained a priest. Obeying Christ’s words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his own inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.

As a prominent Christian, Nicholas was imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian and Galerius, which ended in 311. In response to his deliverance, Nicholas traveled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. While there he reportedly lived with a group of monks in what is today Beit Jala. However Nicholas was not called to the monastic life and returned to Patara. On the return voyage the ship was threatened by a powerful storm. The terrified sailors were amazed to see the storm suddenly subside at Nicholas’ prayers. This gave rise to the custom of praying to St Nicholas as protector of seamen.

In 317 Nicholas was chosen as archbishop of Myra, the provincial capital of Lycia. He was neither a great ascetic nor a martyr. His reputation rests on his pastoral concern for the people under his care, particularly the poor and the defenseless. The tenth-century life of St. Nicholas by Symeon the Translator tells of secret gift-giving to save an impoverished man’s daughters from penury. St. Nicholas secretly left money to provide a dowry for each of the daughters in turn. These stories and more became known in the West and Nicholas became a favorite saint throughout Europe.

Nicholas and Arius

In 325 Nicholas reportedly attended the First Ecumenical Council called by the emperor to combat the Arian schism prevailing in parts of the empire. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, taught that the Son was not equal to the Father but created by Him. The Holy Spirit, thought to be created by the Son, was subordinate to both. Arius’ teaching was spread throughout the Empire as an “earlier” form of Christianity than that of the official Churches. The Council, called by the emperor to restore peace and unity to the Churches, produced the first part of the Creed we use today. St Athanasius the Great, who was present at the council, wrote that 318 bishops participated. Only two finally refused to accept the Creed and it eventually became the standard of faith in all the Churches of its day.

Only a few fragments of the official acts of the council have survived. The lists of participants which have come down to us vary in the number of bishops named. Nicholas is named in a few of them and the story of his participation has become enshrined in the Church’s liturgy and iconography. Always a firm opponent of Arianism, Nicholas reputedly opposed Arius personally at the council. As John the Deacon described it, “Animated like the Prophet Elias with zeal for God, he put the heretic Arius to shame at the synod not only by word but also by deed, smiting him on the cheek.”

Nicholas, the account continues, was deposed as a result. His omophorion and Gospel Book, signs of his office, were confiscated and he was imprisoned. During the night the Lord Jesus and the Theotokos appeared to Nicholas in prison, restoring the items taken from him. When the emperor was notified of what had happened, he pardoned Nicholas and reinstated him.

Since the eye-witnesses at the council, St Athanasius and Eusebius of Caesarea do not mention any such incident in their writings, modern authors tend to discount it. Nevertheless, icons of St. Nicholas often depict his vision of Christ and the Theotokos returning his omophorion and Gospel.

St Nicholas became an increasingly influential public figure later in his episcopate. He successfully intervened to save three convicted looters who had been condemned to death, falsely accused of murder. When a famine struck the region in 333 Nicholas intercepted a ship laden with wheat bound for Constantinople. He persuaded the seamen to leave a substantial portion for the people of Myra. When the ship arrived at the imperial capital it was found that it still had its entire original cargo. Nothing was missing. Another often-repeated story tells how the emperor had levied a heavy tax on the people of Myra. St Nicholas went to Constantinople and pleaded successfully with the emperor to have the taxes reduced. Nicholas dispatched the decree to Myra immediately by sea so that, when the emperor had second thoughts about the tax cut, St Nicholas could tell him that it had already been enforced.

The “Manna” of St. Nicholas

Nicholas died in Myra on December 6, 343 and was buried in his cathedral. His tomb became a famous pilgrimage site, blessed with many miracles. The tomb exuded a sweet-smelling liquid called the Manna of St. Nicholas. As a result his relics were not disturbed and parceled out to other churches. After the Seljuk Turks conquered the area, Italian merchants in Venice and Bari sought to “rescue” the saint from the Turks. In 1087 seamen broke into the tomb and spirited away the saint’s body to Bari. It was enshrined by the pope in a great basilica built there in Nicholas’ honor. The Manna continued to exude from the tomb in Bari as it had in Myra. Every year to this day a vial of this fluid is extracted from the tomb, mixed with blessed water and given to the faithful.
 
"WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?" This question is posed by a young Jewish leader whom Jesus meets on His way to Jerusalem. At first glance it seems a reasonable inquiry, one that many people would still ask today. “Tell me what prayer to say, what shrine to visit, what project I can take on which will guarantee that I’ll get to heaven.”

Church Fathers, however, saw this as a trick question, seeking to trap Jesus into setting some new requirement not in the Law. The Lord does not give the young man another thing to do, adding to the list of precepts which devotees of the Torah felt set forth God’s will for them. Rather Jesus says that to be perfect you must “sell all you have” and commit yourself completely to Him. Perfection does not come from performing this or that isolated action, however good it may be. Perfection comes from entrusting one’s whole life to Christ.

In the Pastoral Epistles we see some consequences of this life in Christ as it was perceived in the apostolic Church. The “elect of God” (Colossians 3:12) have died to the world, been buried in Baptism and are now alive in Christ. Their way of life is to be Christ’s, embodying the compassion and forgiveness of Christ Himself. They are to bear with one another (after all, others are putting up with them). They are to build up one another’s faith “with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), thankful for the grace filling their hearts. This is certainly in stark contrast to the way of the world, where self-love, resentments, grudges, and slanderously tearing others down is the norm for many.

One of the first qualities of someone dead to the world mentioned in Colossians is humility, a virtue most associate with monasticism rather than life in the world. In fact, as the Church grew, perfection came to be associated increasingly with some kind of ascetic life. At first people like the “sons and daughters of the covenant” in the Syriac Church lived in the world, but somewhat apart from others, devoting themselves to prayer and good works. By the third century ascetics like St Antony and the Desert Fathers lived as hermits in the wilderness, completely apart from others. Monasticism brought like-minded people together to live in a community, where they could commend themselves and one another and their whole life to Christ God while being apart from the world at large.

But the Gospel is not addressed simply to monks and nuns; it is meant for all believers. How does a Christian in the world “sell all” and follow Christ? Is there a way for a believer to live in the world but not be of the world, as Christ enjoins? It is not wearing some distinctive dress that says “I am different.” It is rather living by a different set of principles, given by Christ.

The popular book, Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander, affirms that our “wealth” is nothing less than our self-centeredness. “Take a look at yourself and see how bound you are by your desire to humor yourself and only yourself. Your freedom is curbed by the restraining bonds of self-love, and thus you wander, a captive corpse, from morning till eve. ‘Now I will drink,’ ‘now I will get up,’ ‘now I will read the paper.’ Thus you are led from moment to moment in your halter of preoccupation with self, and kindled instantly to displeasure, impatience or anger if an obstacle intervenes” (p. 5).

Colliander stresses that asceticism is the only path to victory over our self-centeredness. He gives some practical suggestions for living an ascetic life in the world. Like St Paul, Colliander begins with meekness and humility. He contrasts true humility with the desire to be perceived as humble: “We notice the person who is forever bowing and fussily servile, and perhaps say, ‘How humble he is!’ But the truly humble person escapes notice: the world does not know him (1 John 3:1); for the world he is mostly a ‘zero’” (p. 26).

Humility is rather a matter of not always putting forth one’s own will. Colliander teaches that following the Church’s tradition for fasting is the most basic school for obedience. We fast when the Church says to, we do not fast when the Church says not to. We fast not to be “righteous,” but to be obedient.

Ordinary life provides countless other occasions for us to develop a humble spirit through obedience. Colliander notes, “Your wife wants you to take your raincoat with you: do as she wishes, to practice obedience. Your fellow-worker asks you to walk with her a little way: go with her to practice obedience. A novice in a cloister could not find more opportunity for obedience than you in your own home. And likewise at your job and in your dealings with your neighbour” (p.44).

To “sell all one has,” then, ultimately means to give up one’s own will to follow Christ. Along with a certain simplicity of life and chastity appropriate to one’s marital state, we attain what St Tikhon of Zadonsk called “interior monasticism.” We put aside the values and pursuits of the world to follow Christ along the way of perfection in whatever state of life we find ourselves.

From the Commentary of Theophylact

It is better if we give away all our wealth; and if not all, then at least let us share it with the poor. Thus the impossible becomes possible. For though it is impossible for the man who does not distribute all to be saved, yet through God’s love for man, even a partial distribution brings a partial benefit.

In response to this, Peter asks, "Lo, we have left all. [What do we have to give to the poor?]" He does not ask this for his own sake alone, but in order to find some consolation for all the poor. Peter asks his question for fear that only the rich have the good hope to obtain much because they despised much, and that the poor have little hope because they had little to give away and thus can expect only a little reward.

Peter asks, and hears the answer, that everyone who despises, for God’s sake, whatever goods he may have, even if they are few, shall receive his reward both in this age and in the age to come. Do not consider those goods to be few; rather, for that poor man, his few things are his whole life. Just as you, the rich man, expect to pass your life with your many and great possessions, the pauper, likewise, expects to pass his life with his belongings, no matter how few and small they may be.

Though his belongings are few, I will say that a man’s attachment to his possessions is even greater when he owns little. This is clearly shown to be true with parents. The attachment of a parent to his only child is much greater than that of a parent to his many children. Likewise, the poor man has a keener love for his single house and single field than you have for your many houses and fields. And even if it is the case that a poor man is attached to his possessions to the same degree as a rich man, then, at a minimum, the loss is the same for each.

Even in this present age, those who give of the little they have receive their reward many times over, as did these very Apostles. For each Apostle left his own hut, and now each one has magnificent temples in his name, with lands and triumphant processions, and, instead of a single wife, many women bound to him in fervent faith; in short, for everything they gave up, they have received many times over. And in the age to come they receive, not a multiplication of fields such as these and other tangible rewards, but eternal life.
 
IT'S PROBABLY SAFE TO SAY that most people would prefer to read a story than an academic treatise. Both forms might be conveying the same point, but a narrative is likely to be more compelling – and more memorable – than a dissertation.

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, the Great Feast we celebrate today, rests on such a narrative. The story is found in The Protoevangelion of James, a second-century telling of the birth and infancy of the Theotokos. We know that in the first and second centuries ad a number of books were written about Christ and His Mother. Some were accepted by all the local Churches as presenting a true portrait of the Messiah. Others were rejected because the Christ they portrayed was not the one who had been preached by the apostles. In some He was a Gnostic philosopher, in other a magician. We call these “apocryphal gospels” and do not see them as the voice of the Holy Spirit to us. Still other books, The Protoevangelion of James among them, were revered by the Christians of their day but not considered canonical Scriptures because their content was not at the heart of the apostolic proclamation or the early Creeds. Their subject matter treated things like Jesus’ physical appearance or the early periods of Christ’s life not covered in the Gospels. They may be true but not central to our faith.

The Source of This Feast

The prayers and icon of this Feast focus on two elements of the Protoevangelion story. In the first, Mary at the age of three is presented to God in the temple at Jerusalem accompanied, as the text reads, “by the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled.” There “the priest received her, kissed her and blessed her.”

The second vignette is shown in the upper right hand corner of this icon. There Mary sits in the innermost sanctuary of the temple, the Holy of Holies, ministered to by an angel. According to Jewish Law, no one entered the Holy of Holies: “only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance” (Heb 9:8). It is unthinkable that a child would be not only allowed there but actually live there as the Protoevangelion avows.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are given a reason why no one was allowed into the Holy of Holies: “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning” (Hebrews 9:9). By placing Mary in the Holy of Holies, the Protoevangelion is saying that the way into the Holy Place – the presence of God – now is disclosed. It is Christ, who would be incarnate in the womb of this same Mary the Theotokos. For this reason the story and its celebration have been embraced by the Tradition as affirmations of the Gospel.

Mary’s coming into the temple is portrayed as an “Entrance” on this feast in the Christian East rather that as a “Presentation” as in the West. This term puts us in mind of things like the “Great Entrance” at our Divine Liturgy or the Entrance Procession in the Western rites. Her coming is not the blessing of an insignificant child given in a “side chapel,” as it were, but a festive “prelude” or “overture” inaugurating the main event, the New Testament itself.

Our celebration of this feast focuses on Mary as the temple of the incarnate God, the one for whom the Jerusalem temple was only a prefiguration. After their entry with Christ into Jerusalem His disciples came up to Him to call His attention to the temple and the buildings in its compound. Jesus replied, “’Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Matthew 24:2). This feast celebrates the fulfillment of His prophecy. God’s people will no longer reach heaven via Jerusalem; rather the heavens have been opened to us and God’s temple, the Theotokos, is become for us the way to heaven through her childbearing.

“Hail, Full of Grace”

Perhaps the most popular hymn of this feast is the kontakion, O katharotatos naos, which summarizes in a few lines the theology we have been presenting. It reads: “The most pure Temple of the Savior, the most precious and bright bridal chamber – the Virgin, sacred treasury of the glory of God – enters today into the Temple of the Lord, bringing with her the grace of the Most Holy Spirit. Wherefore, the angels of God are singing: ‘This is the heavenly Tabernacle!’” In this hymn two teachings are affirmed. Mary is proclaimed by the angels as “the heavenly tabernacle.” The tabernacle, we know, was the portable holy place which the Hebrews brought with them in the desert until they reached the promised land. It was rendered into a more permanent form as the temple. Now Mary, not any building, is the holy place where God dwelled.

Secondly we are told that Mary entered the temple “bringing with her the grace of the Most Holy Spirit.” People went to the temple to encounter God, to receive His blessings. Mary, instead, brings God’s grace with her. She is proclaimed as “full of grace,” even as a child, by the angels themselves. This feast is thus for the Eastern Churches what the Immaculate Conception is to the West: a celebration of the holiness of Mary, sanctified from her earliest days by the Most Holy Spirit who dwelt in her.

As we have said it was unthinkable that a child, or anyone for that matter, should enter the Holy of Holies. But it is Mary’s rightful place as the woman full of grace who would contain within her innermost self the Uncontainable One. There she remains in the Holy Places of our churches: the Platytera between earth and heaven, the foremost worshipper of the Lord whom she bore.

The “Nea” Church The sixth-century Byzantine Emperor Justinian saw himself as a new Solomon, destined to outdo the Hebrew king of that name in building magnificent temples to the Lord. He rebuilt Jerusalem’s church of the Resurrection and, gave us the Great Church of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia.

Justinian also built a vast church complex in Jerusalem on the highest point in the city, the New (Nea) Church of the Theotokos. Of unprecedented size itself, it was surrounded by many buildings: accommodations for pilgrims, a hospital and a monastery. The principal historian of that age, Procopius, described it as “a shrine with which no other can be compared.” Antoninus of Piacenza, who visited it in 570, spoke of “its great congregation of monks, and its guest houses for men and women. In catering for travelers they have a vast number of tables, and more than three thousand beds for the sick.”

Archeologists have shown that the Nea was designed to be twice the size of the Jewish temple. Like the temple, the Nea was adorned with cedars of Lebanon. Also like the temple, its entrance was flanked by two elaborately carved red marble columns. As the Theotokos, the new temple, was the katharotatos naos, so the Nea would be the ultimate temple built by the new Solomon.

Like the Jewish temple, the Nea would not survive the first millennium, destroyed in wars and earthquakes. The Theotokos, however, remains our heavenly tabernacle in whose womb Christ took flesh.
 
WHEN PEOPLE READ THE SCRIPTURES they can often easily grasp the basic meaning of the passage. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, for instance, Christ is clearly exalting the compassion of the Samaritan over the lack of concern on the part of the priest and Levite. The enmity that existed between Jews and Samaritans is also generally known, so people easily comprehend Christ’s point that your enemy is your neighbor when he is compassionate. We can also easily – if grudgingly – realize that we are called to imitate the Samaritan, even in dealing with people not like ourselves.

When passages are not so easily explained, however, people turn to others for help. People may turn to their pastor or another clergyman or instructor. Many will surf the net to see what others say on the subject. As Eastern Christians we have another – and preferred – source for guidance in reading the Scriptures. We look to the tradition of the Church Fathers to explain the sacred texts.

Since the rise of academic, rather than pastoral, theology in its Middle Ages, the West has preferred contemporary scholarship to the Fathers’ insights on the Scriptures. Academic scholarship first stressed the context of the Scriptural texts and then sought proof of their historic origins to determine their original literal meaning.

One of the approaches favored by the Fathers but out of favor in scholarly circles has been allegory, which sees many passages as a kind of extended metaphor for the entire Gospel. Allegory was virtually universal throughout early Christianity, which inherited from Judaism. It seeks to draw our attention through many well-known Scripture passages to the universal condition of mankind and the all-embracing love of God. It was used in various ways by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and John Chrysostom in the East, as well as Ambrose and Augustine in the West.

Chrysostom on the Good Samaritan

Using this method St John Chrysostom (feast: November 13) was able to help us see through this text God’s constant and all-embracing love for us. This parable becomes a word-picture of the entire mystery of salvation:

A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho – Adam, by trusting in himself instead of God, descended from Paradise into this world. Jericho, at 825 feet below sea level is the lowest city on earth, as far down as you can get.

He fell among robbers – Mankind apart from God is beset by the band of demonic powers led by the ruler of this age.

They stripped him of his raiment – the robe of immortality.

They departed, leaving him half dead – he was reduced to the half-life of this earth, subject to sin and death.

It happened that a priest …and a Levite came that way, but passed by on the other side – The people of Israel kept to themselves and did not aid mankind.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine – Christ, not from this world, who was accused of being a Samaritan (John 8:48), is that compassionate stranger. He doctors mankind by His teachings (the bandages), His anointing with the Holy Spirit (the oil), and the Eucharist (the wine) by which He begins our healing.

He set him on his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him - Christ joined mankind to His own human nature, brought him to the hospital of His Church and continued to minister to him as the divine physician.

When he left on the next day he gave the innkeeper two dinars and said, ‘Take care of him’ – After His ascension Christ entrusted mankind to the Apostolic Synod personified by its great apostle to the Gentiles, St Paul, and “through Paul to the high priests and teachers and ministers of each church,” saying: “Take care of the Gentiles whom I have given to you in the Church. Since men are sick, wounded by sin, heal them, putting on them a stone plaster, that is, the prophetic sayings and the gospel teachings, making them whole through the admonitions and exhortations of the Old and New Testaments.” So according to St. John Chrysostom, Paul is the one who upholds the churches of God “and heals all men through spiritual admonitions, distributing the bread of offering to each one...”

And when I come again I will repay you’ – At my second coming I will reward you.

In his important work, Orthodox Psychotherapy, the contemporary Greek Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos expresses the life of the Church in terms of this imagery. “So in the Church we are divided into the sick, those undergoing treatment, and those – the saints – who have already been healed. … The Fathers do not categorize people as moral and immoral or good and bad on the basis of moral laws. This division is superficial. At depth humanity is differentiated into the sick in soul, those being healed, and those healed. All who are not in a state of illumination are sick in soul... It is not only good will, good resolve, moral practice and devotion to the Orthodox Tradition which make an Orthodox, but also purification, illumination and deification.” These stages of healing are the purpose of the Orthodox way of life.”

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In another place St John Chrysostom taught that ministering to the spiritually ill in the hospital of the Church is for us all:

“Let us not overlook such a tragedy as that. Let us not hurry past so pitiable a sight without taking pity. Even if others do so, you must not. Do not say to yourself: ‘I am no priest or monk; I have a wife and children. This is a work for the priests; this is work for the monks.’ The Samaritan did not say: ‘Where are the priests now? Where are the Pharisees now? Where are the teachers of the Jews?’ But the Samaritan is like a man who found some great store of booty and got the profit.

“Therefore, when you see someone in need of treatment for some ailment of the body or soul, do not say to yourself: ‘Why did so-and-so or so-and-so not take care of him?’ You free him from his sickness; do not demand an accounting from others for their negligence. Tell me this. If you find a gold coin lying on the ground, do you say to yourself: ‘Why didn’t so-and-so pick it up?’ Do you not rush to snatch it up before somebody else does?

“Think the same way about your fallen brothers; consider that tending his wounds is like finding a treasure. If you pour the word of instruction on his wounds like oil, if you bind them up with your mildness, and cure them with your patience, your wounded brother has made you a richer man that any treasure could. Jeremiah said: ‘He who has brought forth the precious from the vile will be as my mouth.’ What could we compare to that? No fasting, no sleeping on the ground, no watching and praying all night, nor anything else can do as much for you as saving your brother can accomplish.”

St John Chrysostom, Eighth Homily against the Judaizers 4: 1-3
 
THE AMERICAN SHOPPING SEASON is at hand. Some people will spend it jostling for bargains; others will pass the ime lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. The Eastern Churches, on the other hand, encourage their faithful to prepare for this feast by increasing their involvement with the things of God. Please download this wonderful guide to help you prepare for the glorious coming of our Lord!
 
WE LIVE IN A SPEED-DRIVEN AGE. We look for faster ways to accomplish every task: in the office, in the kitchen, in the classroom. In our economy, speed is a source of competitive advantage. In the workplace, higher speed means greater efficiency. Today, “to build a better mousetrap means “to build a faster mousetrap.”

As a result, we are increasingly intolerant of slowness. Waiting becomes more and more difficult. If we encounter a long line in a store, a bank or a post office, our impulse is to leave and come back later. Our relationships to others may be scarred or shattered by our impatience with others. Our impatience with ourselves can make it impossible for us to rejoice in or even accept life in the present.

While people with chronic illnesses or handicaps have health services available to them as never before, their greatest suffering today may be psychological: knowing that they must live with their affliction day in and day out without hope of deliverance. Some advocate suicide or mercy killing as a way out of this impasse. The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have decriminalized mercy killing in certain circumstances to give people a “way out” of their hopeless conditions.

In contrast, we find the situation of the woman recoded in the Gospels whose hopeless condition exceeded anything prevalent in developed countries today. We are told that she had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. In the Torah, any contact with vital fluids such as blood rendered a person ritually impure and called for the sufferer to be avoided. “If a woman hemorrhages for many days not at the time of her period she shall be unclean as in the time of her period. Anyone who touches her shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening. When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days and after that she will be ceremonially clean”(Leviticus 15:25-28).

Since this woman was still hemorrhaging, it meant that she could not have experienced any intimate contact for twelve years.

Christ Alone Brings Healing

In Mark 5:26, we read that her attempts at finding medical help had been as fruitless as they were financially draining. She had no hope until she heard of Jesus. She approached Him secretly to void defiling Him or being rejected by Him, but touching the All-Pure One cleansed and purified her. Contact with the Long-Suffering One ended her long suffering.

In the New Testament physical healing and other miracles generally point to spiritual healing. Here the woman’s illness and her healing contact with Christ direct our minds to reflect on our own spiritual condition.

Most Christians today look upon the idea of ritual impurity in the Old Testament manner as antiquated and not part of our spirituality. Yet, each of us is unfit for contact with the Holy One because we share a nature scarred by sin and subject to death. We need to touch the hem of Christ’s garment for our broken nature to be restored.

For us who live in the time after Christ’s resurrection, the “hem of His garment” – the physical realities which convey His divine power to us – are the Holy Mysteries. In Baptism we rise with Him from the death of our broken humanity. In the Eucharist we become more deeply one with Him in His Body, the Church. We come to Him in the various circumstances of our life - our need for physical or spiritual healing, our desire to experience His blessing on our families and our ministries –seeking to be transformed by His presence. And when we approach the water, chrism, oil or crowns with the faith of this unnamed woman in the Gospels, we are touched by the power going out from Him through them as well.

The Mysteries as “Works of the Law”

It is all too easy for us, particularly those raised in the Church, to approach the Holy Mysteries as if they were acts of ritual cleansing as described in the Torah. We can bring our children for baptism because that’s what we do with babies to “make them Christians.”We can approach the mystery of confession legalistically, so that we can get a pass to receive the Eucharist. Approaching any of the mysteries as if they were rites of passage or ritual purification – or as anything other than reaching out to touch the hem of Christ’s garment – turns them into “works of the Law.”And, as St Paul insists, “by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

Our sacramental contacts with Christ are meant to affect our life. The Holy Mysteries re not simply “rites,” ceremonial moments that we perform then return to ordinary life without their affecting the way we live. On the one hand, we live and worship as Christians only because we have touched Christ. On the other hand, we know that our baptismal union with Christ does not guarantee that we will live the life we have received. As with the woman in the Gospel, our contacts with Christ are simply part of the story. The way we live determines how the story develops and will end.

The Woman in Eastern Christian Lore

The Scriptures do not mention this woman again. A later work, The Acts of Pilate, gave her a name, Berenice, but this does not shed any light on how her healing affected her life. In the West, this name was transliterated as Veronica, whose connection with Christ’s passion was popularized in the Middle Ages.

The Acts of Pilate, parts of which date to the mid-second to third century, describes this woman as offering testimony at the trial of Jesus. “There was found there also a woman named Berenice, and she said, ‘Twelve years I was in an issue of blood, and I only touched the edge of His garment, and directly I was cured.’ The Jews say, ‘Our Law does not admit the testimony of a woman’” (Acts of Pilate, 7).

According to one tradition, Berenice caused a statue of the Lord Jesus to be made in gratitude for her healing, before which she prayed to God. The fourth century Bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, described it: “Since I have mentioned this city [Caesarea Philippi] I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Savior deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Savior to her remain there.

“For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying, Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city.”

The statue was preserved until the year 305 when it was demolished under the emperor Maximinus Daia. Julian the Apostate (331–363) attempted to replace it with an image of his own, but (as the contemporary historian Sozomen asserts in his Church history, Hist. Eccl. V, 20) that “a flash from heaven smote the statue, hurling the head and neck to the ground, where it continues to this day, looking black as if burned by lightning.”
 
WOULD WE BE AFFECTED if someone rose from the dead? We would probably say “Yes,” but the Lord says “No.” What does He know that we don’t?

Throughout the centuries, and even today, many people have what might be called mystical experiences. They see visions and dream dreams, to quote the Prophet Joel. Thus St Paul experienced the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and it changed his life. Similarly, St Peter and the other disciples encountered Christ risen from the dead and proclaimed it throughout the world. These experiences energized their ministries and jump-started the spread of the Gospel throughout the ancient world.

Such experiences continued throughout Christian history, right up to our own day. One well-known Christian thinker in the modern world, the Russian Orthodox bishop in London, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) described his encounter with the Lord in these words: “I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed Him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of Him. I was found; I did not find Him.

“I was a teenager then … I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome; there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning … I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none, I would not live beyond the year. I had no use for Church. I did not believe in God.”

Under duress, young Anthony attended a religious lecture at the Russian youth organization. He was greatly disturbed by the lecture and asked his mother for a copy of the New Testament to check the truth of what the speaker had been saying.

He describes what happened: “I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.

“I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone though a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark’s Gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a Presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of Him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will... This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist.”

PBS commentator Frederica Mathewes-Green tells of a similar experience. She was a vocal agnostic who had dabbled in Hinduism. In Facing East – A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy (San Francisco, 1997), she describes her husband Gary as “a political animal who just didn’t think much about God.” She then tells how that changed:

“Gary’s shell began to crack when a professor required his philosophy class to read a Gospel. As he read the words of Jesus, he became convinced that here was one who ‘speaks with authority.’ Since Jesus said there was a God, Gary began to doubt his doubting.”

Federica’s turn came on their honeymoon trip to Europe where the following took place: “One day in Dublin I looked at a statue of Jesus and was struck to my knees, hearing an interior voice say, ‘I am your life.’ I knew it was the One I had rejected and ridiculed, come at last to seize me forever.”

What was different about these people, compared to the brothers of the rich man in Christ’s parable?

Why “Few Are Chosen”

The Apostles were religious people; they observed the precepts of Judaism as practiced in their day. Others were contemptuous of religion and had ridiculed it. Yet somewhere deep inside them was a search for meaning, a hidden disposition to faith, even if they were not practicing any religion at the moment. Thus when these momentous experiences took place, they received them wholeheartedly and changed their entire way of life.

People who have no interest in God or in any kind of an interior life, who are content pursuing a materialist way of life might easily shrug off a spiritual experience as some kind of delusion. They might blame it on a touch of the flu or having too much to drink.

Similarly the rich man’s brothers in the parable may have paid lip service to the Scriptures, but the focus of their lives was far from the things of God. They would not even have heard a voice from the dead.

Christ’s Alternative

A parable is a story with a moral, not a detailed history of an event. In this case, as in most, the moral is found at the end of the story. When the rich man in the parable asks Abraham to send Lazarus to shake up his brothers, Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets: let them listen to them” (Luke 16:29). In other words, they have the Scriptures – what we call the Old Testament – as their means of discerning the mind of God for them.

This saying, of course, is directed at us – it is the moral of the story. We are meant to base our faith on the mystery of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures rather than on some fantasy that the Holy Virgin or an angel might visit us. Just as our daily life must be based on something more practical than a hope of winning the lottery, so our Christian life must have the solid foundation of the Word of God to us.

We have not only the Law and the prophets, but the Gospels and Epistles. We have the witness of Christ and the apostles, the testimony of the martyrs and the ascetics. We have the power of the holy mysteries, the words of our liturgical texts and the unspoken voice of the holy icons. These are the voice of the Lord to us – let us hear them in faith.

A Missed Opportunity

When people think about violating God’s law, they think about sins of commission: doing something prohibited like stealing, harming another, or the like. We often forget that sins of omission – things that we neglect to do – are often even more damaging.

The rich man in Christ’s parable is not accused of any sin of commission. He is not blamed for being rich any more than Lazarus is praised for being poor: in itself, having money is not a sin. We are not told how he made his money. He is not accused of defrauding people as Zacchaeus claimed to have done. The only thing he is accused of is not giving alms.

The poor man, Christ says, lay at the rich man’s gate, hoping for scraps. It may be easy to ignore a panhandler on the street; it is not so easy to ignore him when he is at your doorstep day after day. Yet this is what the rich man did. He did not overlook abstract appeals from far-away charities; he passed by a flesh-and-blood person in need on his own doorstep, “the living creature,” as St John Chrysostom describes him, “for whom God cares.”

The rich man in Christ’s parable may have felt that he needed every scrap he had acquired, but as St John Chrysostom affirmed, he did not know what he needed it for: “If a person enjoys luxury in moderation and distributes the rest to the stomachs of the poor, then his wealth does him good. But if he is going to give himself up to luxury and profligacy, not only does it not help him at all, but it even leads him down to the great pit. That is what happened to this rich man” (On Wealth and Poverty).
 
10/25/20
THE GOSPELS RECORD SEVERAL INSTANCES when the Lord Jesus called people to be His followers. At times He called people to leave their homes and livelihoods and follow Him. He called Peter and Andrew, James and John as they were busy fishing “and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him” (Matthew 4:22). Similarly, Matthew walked away from his toll booth and followed Jesus (see Matthew 9:9); the other disciples, whose calls are not recorded in the Gospels, did the same.

Sometimes the Lord called but was refused. The cost of following Jesus was more than some people could bear. To the rich young man who wanted to be perfect Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go – sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:21-22).

In other instances, the Lord raised objections Himself before the would-be follower could discover through failure and discouragement that following Christ meant enduring hardships. Thus “a teacher of the Law came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:19-20). The Lord wanted this teacher of the Law to know that following Christ would not provide the comfortable lifestyle he may have been anticipating.

To a procrastination, however, He gave the opposite advice. “Then another disciple said to Him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:21-22). The Lord surely wanted followers, but He had a different approach based on the readiness of the person before Him.

This passage suggests the hurdles that people in any age will face when they consider following the Lord in a radical way: fear of the unknown, self-concern, pre-occupation and attachment to other things – all can hinder us from following Christ.

The Vocation of the Gadarene

The Gadarene whom Jesus healed (Luke 8:27-39) wanted to follow Jesus as well; the Scripture says that he “begged to go with Him,” but the Lord had another plan for him. “Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38-39).

The Gadarenes had made it clear that they wanted Jesus to go away. He would not force Himself on them. At the same time, He wanted to leave them with a permanent reminder of His presence: their own fellow countryman whom He had delivered. This man had once been a burden to the townspeople; now He would be a blessing.

The apostles were told to go through the world preaching the Gospel; this man’s call was to go home and do the same in his village. Was his call by Christ less of a vocation than that of the apostles? It was different, surely, but it was a vocation nonetheless.

Some people in the Church tend to think that “vocation” refers exclusively to the calling of a cleric or monastic, or as a member of a religious community. The Lord does call some people in every age to serve the Church as priests, deacons, chanters, etc. He does invite others to serve Him as a monk or nun, but these are not the only people whom He calls to serve Him.

Our Fundamental Vocation

Every person baptized into Christ has a vocation. The essence of that vocation is perhaps best expressed in the First Epistle of Peter: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

There are three important aspects of our universal vocation expressed in this passage. First, our vocation is to a priesthood: what the Scripture calls a “royal priesthood.” Christ is the true kingly priest and, because we have been baptized into Him and sealed in His Holy Spirit, we share in His priesthood. As members of a people, the people of God. We are not individually priests, as are the ministers of the altar, but members of a priesthood because of our common union with Christ the High Priest.

This passage also tells us the reason for this priesthood: “that you may declare the praises of” God. Our vocation as members of the royal priesthood is to support the Church’s call to proclaim the work of God in Christ. Some, like the apostles and evangelizers, are called to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Others, like the Gadarene whom Jesus delivered in the Gospel or the Samaritan Woman, are called to show forth God’s love for mankind in their own corner of the world. Still others – most of us, in fact – are called to lend our assistance to these chosen vessels as they proclaim Christ to the world.

How Can We “Proclaim?”

When we think about “proclaiming God’s work” we invariably think about speaking or writing. There is a host of other ways by which the Church makes the Good News present in our world. At the Bridegroom Matins on Holy Tuesday we are reminded that the abilities which we have received are often the way in which the Lord makes known to us our way of responding to this call:

“Come, O faithful,
let us work eagerly for the Master,
for He distributes wealth to His servants;
And let us increase the talent of grace,
each one according to his ability.
Let one adorn his wisdom with good deeds.
Let another beautify the celebration of the service.
Let someone strong in faith communicate the word to the uninitiated,
And another dispenses his wealth to the poor.
Thus, we shall increase what has been loaned to us and,
Like faithful stewards of grace,
Shall be worthy of the Master’s joy.
O Christ God, make us worthy of that joy, for You are the Lover of mankind.

Through each of these ways and countless others, believers can take their place in the royal priesthood, joining in the Church’s mission to declare though word or work “the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

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