Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
ONCE THE LORD JESUS entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He was in the stronghold of the Jewish political and religious elite: the high priests and the Sanhedrin (council of elders). Chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew shows Him challenging them dramatically in word (parables) and action (His attack on the money-changers). One of those parables, the story of the Vinedressers, was a clear indictment of those who abused their position as God’s representatives in the vineyard of Israel. And “when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them” (v.45).

Matthew does not depict Jesus as explaining this parable; in chapter 23, however, he describes the Lord as using the same image, but with an explanation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (v. 37) The fate of the servants was an allusion to the fate of the prophets.

The Father of All the Prophets

Contemporary Jews still reverence the “Tomb of the Prophets” Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi on the west side of the Mount of Olives. Tombs of other prophets are venerated as holy sites in Israel (Hosea and Isaiah), Palestine (Zedekiah) and Iraq (Ezekiel). However the prophet whom Jews call the “Father of all the prophets” and whom our Church remembers this week (September 4) has no tomb. As we read in the Torah: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5, 6). Some authors have suggested that Moses was buried in an unmarked grave to prevent the still semi-idolatrous Israelites from making it a shrine or place of worship.

The bulk of the Torah (Exodus through Deuteronomy) is concerned with the story of Moses. It tells how he was born to an Israelite couple in Egypt. The Pharaoh, in an attempt at population control, had ordered that newborn Hebrew boys were to be killed. “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (Exodus 1:17).

Exodus tells how Moses fled Egypt after killing a man who was abusing a Hebrew. He settled in Midian (on the northeastern shore of the Red Sea) and married Zipporah, a daughter of the local priest. While shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks, Moses had this life-changing experience: “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.’

“So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Moreover, He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God” (Exodus 3:2-6). Thus Moses is known in our Tradition as “the God-Seer” since he beheld God at the burning bush and when receiving the Law.

Perhaps the most touching image of Moses’ relationship with God occurred just before the Israelites leave Sinai for the Promised Land: “And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:9-11). 

When Moses asked God to reveal His divine glory, God replied: “… ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you… But He said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live… you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:19-23}.

Moses’ vision of God was true, but imperfect. He would become the perfect seer of God on another mountain, Tabor, when he would appear with the prophet Elias at the Transfiguration of Christ.Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom. He lived to see the Promised Land before he died, but never got to enter it himself. Moses died on Mount Nebo, near Jericho.

Our Church commemorates the Prophet and God-Seer Moses on September 4, the date on which, according to the Menaion, he had seen the Promised Land.

“A Prophet like Moses”

When the Hebrews were preparing to enter the Promised Land, Moses uttered this prophecy, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (Deuteronomy 18:15). After Moses’ death, his assistant Joshua assumed the leadership of the Israelites, but this prophecy was not thought to refer to him. While there would be many prophets among God’s People in the centuries that followed, none of them would attain the stature of Moses. The Torah concludes with this acknowledgement that the prophecy is not yet fulfilled: “But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10).

Christians see that prophecy fulfilled and exceeded in Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate prophet, law-giver and God-Seer who leads His people – not out of Egypt, but out of Hades, delivering us from the power of Death. As we read in the Gospel of John, “The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The Gospel of Matthew is so crafted as to portray Jesus as the New Moses. He deepens our understanding of the Commandments and takes us beyond them (“You have heard it said… but I say to you…”). The Beatitudes set out a new way of life, based on self-emptying in imitation of Him.

The very structure of Matthew’s Gospel reinforces the idea of Jesus as the New Moses. The story of His ministry is set forth in five sections of teachings and miracles, just as the Torah is made up of five books. Each section ends with a passage such as this: “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28, 29). While this device may mean little to us today, its significance would not have been lost on Matthew’s Jewish readers. The Prophet like Moses had come.

With the divine and righteous Moses, the choir of prophets rejoices today with gladness, seeing their prophecy now fulfilled in our midst. For Your Cross, O Christ our God, by which You redeemed us, shines before all as the end and fulfillment of what they foretold in ancient times. By their intercession, have mercy on us all. Kondakion, September 4
 
IN TODAY'S READING St Paul articulates what he calls “the Gospel,” the heart of the Christian message “in which you stand, by which also you are saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2). That Gospel is the message of Christ’s resurrection: both that He rose (the historical event) and that He is risen (that He lives now in glory).

St Paul stresses here that he received this Gospel which he has passed on to the Corinthians. We are told that, after Paul was converted and baptized, he stayed for “some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19, 20). After “many days were past” (v.23) he went to Jerusalem and was taken to the apostles. It has been generally assumed that St Paul “received” the Gospel at these early contacts.

St Paul himself, writing earlier to the Galatians, gives us another scenario. He affirmed that “… the Gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galations 1:12). Here St Paul is emphasizing the divine origin of the Gospel message – it is not just a story or philosophy developed by men; its origin is God. Some commentators have suggested that Paul received this Gospel from Christ at his conversion on the road to Damascus.

The chronology St Paul recounts in Galatians also differs from that in Acts. In Acts we are told that Paul spent some days in Damascus then returned to Jerusalem where he recounted his experience of Christ to the apostles (see Acts 9:23-26, ff.). He tells the Galatians, however, that he did not go back to Jerusalem at that time but to “Arabia” (the modern Kingdom of Jordan). “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother” (Galations 1:16-18).

In any case the purpose of these passages was not to provide a diary of Paul’s experiences; it was to authenticate Paul’s conversion by the Lord (Acts) and His approach to the Gentiles (Galatians). This may be why the compilers of the New Testament included both Galatians and Acts in the canon despite these conflicting accounts. The doctrines they teach rather than the biographical details they present are the reason why these books are Scripture.

Appearances of the Risen Christ

Paul indicated that his message is “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4), then lists a number of people who saw the risen Christ, some of whom are mentioned in the Gospels while others are not.

The first mentioned are “Cephas, then the twelve.” The Evangelists recount a number of these manifestations as well. They also say that Christ’s tomb was first found to be empty by the myrrh-bearing women who heard the angelic announcement of the resurrection but did not see Jesus. Only John tells of Christ manifesting Himself to Mary Magdalene, who “came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord” (John 20:18). Paul does not mention any of these women. In the Roman Empire the witness of women had no legal standing. They could not vote or hold office. They could not give testimony or even witness legal documents. To proclaim Christ’s resurrection on the strength of a woman’s testimony would have been unthinkable.

Appearance to 500 Brethren

The remaining appearances which St Paul cites here are not found in the Gospels. There are no first century document attesting to them. In his retelling of the Gospels Pope Benedict XVI simply says that these three accounts come from “further traditions.”

The most questioned is St Paul’s testimony that Christ was seen by “over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep” (v. 6). Such a manifestation would have attracted such attention that many would have recorded it.

Some have speculated that this appearance refers to the ascension. St John Chrysostom acknowledges the existence of this opinion but does not adopt it himself. His comment on this verse is based, of course, on the original Greek which is not translated literally in modern English Bibles. It reads: “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:6). Chrysostom offered this opinion: “Some say that above means above, from heaven; that is, not walking upon earth, but above and overhead He appeared to them: adding, that it was Paul’s purpose to confirm, not only the resurrection, but also the ascension. Others say that the expression, above five hundred, means more than five hundred” (Hom. 38 on 1 Corinthians).

This account also seems to contradict the witness of St Peter. Speaking to the centurion Cornelius and his companions Peter witnessed that the risen Christ “…showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-44. Scholars, both ancient and modern, have been unable to satisfactorily identify the event St Paul is citing.

The Appearance to James

The Lord Jesus’ relatives appear frequently in the Gospels as doubters of His mission. They reacted strongly when Jesus called together the Twelve at the start of His work, “But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mark 3:21).

Jesus’ relatives are depicted as “outsiders” to the community of His followers. “Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.’ But He answered them, saying, ‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother’” (Mark 3:33-35).

It does not seem that Jesus’ relatives were among His disciples before His resurrection, with the possible exception of the Theotokos. This may be why the Lord entrusted her to His favorite disciple, John.

After the resurrection, however, we find James, the son of St Joseph by his first wife, described as a leading apostle. He and other family members may have been converted when Christ appeared to James, as St Paul mentioned. Since James, as the eldest son, was the head of the family it was natural that the believers in Jerusalem looked to him as the head of their local Church.

All the Apostles

We are used to thinking of the Twelve first chosen by Christ as “the apostles.” In the Scriptures, however, the term apostle is also used for the Seventy whom He sent “two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1). The two disciples who encountered the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35) were of this company.
 
THE CHURCH COMMEMORATES on its calendar holy men and women throughout the ages: from the first days of the Old Testament, from the New Testament and from the era of the Church. We honor the saints of today, rejoicing that God is still bestowing His Spirit in our own time. We revere the Old Testament saints, who illustrate that there have always been people who responded to God’s love, even in times and places far different from our own. One such holy figure from the Old Testament is the holy prophet Samuel, whom our Church remembers on August 20.

Samuel is revered as the last of the Judges, the tribal chiefs who ruled the Hebrew people between the time of Moses and Joshua (c. 1250 bc) and the naming of Saul as the first king of Israel in c. 1050 bc. His story is told in the Old Testament’s first book of Samuel. Four books in our Bibles, called 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings (called 1 - 4 Kingdoms in the LXX) tell the story of the rise of the unified Jewish kingdom in the tenth and ninth centuries bc.

The Birth of Samuel

Samuel’s family was of the tribe of Ephraim and lived in a town called Ramathaim- Zophim (or Rama) some 4 or 5 miles northwest of the later city of Jerusalem. His father, Elkanah, had two wives Peninnah, who had several sons and daughters, and Hannah, who was reproached by Perinnah for being childless.

One time, on the family’s annual pilgrimage to Shiloh, Hannah vowed that, were God to give her a son, she would dedicate him to God’s service. Many of the Fathers, pointing to Hannah’s silent prayer, saw it as a model of heartfelt, if unspoken prayer. Although her prayer could not be heard by those nearby, it was heard by God.

A while after returning home, Hannah conceived and bore a son whom she called Samuel (“asked of God”) because the Lord had listened to her prayer. When the child was older. Hannah returned with him to Shiloh to give thanks and offer him to the Lord with the prayer we know as the Canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10):

“My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God...The bows of the mighty are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble. … The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness. … The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king,And exalt the horn of His anointed.

We chant Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving as the third biblical canticle at Orthros during the Great Fast.

Samuel Is Called by God

The infant Samuel remained at Shiloh and grew to assist Eli the priest of the shrine. This is why he is often depicted in icons holding a censer. There is a touching story describing Samuel’s first experience of God, when, according to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Bk 5)., he was twelve years old. It happened “… while Samuel was lying down, that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down. Then the Lord called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” (Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him.)

“ And the Lord called Samuel again the third time, so he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears”… And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord”
(1 Samuel 3:4-10, 20). In Jewish tradition Samuel is described as being equal to Moses, since God spoke directly to him.

Samuel Becomes Judge

Eli the priest had become the most righteous judge among the Hebrews, but his sons did not take after their father and were known as corrupt. With Eli’s death the unity of the Hebrew tribes began fragmenting until Samuel took Eli’s place as principal judge of the nation, traveling on a circuit from Ramah to the shrines of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah to administer justice.

During Samuel’s time as judge the Philistines became the most significant power in the region and, therefore the greatest threat to the independence of the Hebrews. At one point the Philistines even captured the Ark, with its relics of the Exodus, the very symbol of the Israelites’ identity as the people of God and held it for ransom. Finally the Hebrew chieftains’ united under Samuel and defeated the Philistines.

In old age Samuel made his sons judges, but they “turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3). As a result the elders pressured Samuel, “make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). With God’s guidance Samuel reluctantly agreed to their request but warned them that God was their king – if they wanted an earthly king they would be rejecting Him and inviting tyranny. The chieftains prevailed and Saul was chosen to be their king. Samuel secretly anointed Saul as king, as he would anoint the next king, David indicating their choice by God as ruler of His people. Icons of Samuel often depict him holding a vessel of oil with which he anointed both Saul and his successor, David.

Samuel lived to see God reject Saul as an unrighteous king and select David to replace him. He saw Saul try to have David killed, then finally accept David as God’s choice to inherit the kingdom. In 1 Sm 25:1 we are told that Samuel died and was buried at Rama, his home town. Rabbinic tradition says that Samuel lived to be 52 years old.

The traditional site of Samuel’s tomb is the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwil, which overlooks Jerusalem. A succession of churches – the last of which became a mosque in the eighteenth century – was built over the tomb which itself houses a synagogue. In the fifth century ad St Jerome wrote that Samuel’s remains had been moved to Chalcedon by Emperor Arcadius and the Byzantine monastery in Nabi Samwil was simply a memorial.

Priest, Prophet, Ruler

The prophet Samuel has been seen as a type of Christ, because his ministry included a priestly and a prophetic dimension as well as being a judge and ruler in Israel. Thus he foreshadowed Christ, who offers Himself in sacrifice as priest, teaches prophetically what He hears from the Father (see John 15:15), and is glorified on the cross as King of the Jews.
 
WHEN THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH was divided over whose leadership to follow, St Paul asserted his unique role of authority in that Church. It was Paul who had first brought the message of the Gospel to Corinth. In Acts 18 we read how Paul had come from Athens and began presenting his views in the synagogue on every Sabbath. Although many opposed him, he persuaded others, including Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, to confess the Lord Jesus as the Messiah.

St Paul describes his role as founder of the Corinthian Church as the one who “begat” it: “…though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). While many dioceses attribute their founding to an apostle, Corinth is one of the few dioceses with a Scriptural witness to its claim. Today the metropolitan see of Corinth is the oldest and most prestigious diocese in southern Greece, tracing itself back to the apostle Paul, its father.

But Only One Is Your Father

When St Paul says that he “begat” the Corinthian Church, he is clearly speaking in a way Jews of his day would recognize. The Jews commonly called Abraham the father of the God-fearing who would become the people of Israel. This claim was a source of pride for the Jews – one which their own actions did not support. Thus St John the Forerunner and Baptist reproached Jews of his day for claiming that being sons of Abraham made them by definition acceptable to God as Abraham was: “…do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). As some say today, “God has no grandchildren” – we must all live as His children.

In Jesus’ day many of the Jewish religious leaders had distorted the teaching of the Law and the Prophets by their “authoritative” interpretations. Jesus rebuked them to their face in these words: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.

“They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant”
(Matthew 23: 2-11).

The Lord reproached the Jewish religious leaders for claiming the authority to interpret the Law and using that as a means to attain worldly prestige and power. Jesus’ own disciples were to distance themselves from such practices.

This passage is often quoted by many fundamentalist Protestants against the practice in the historic Churches of East and West of calling the clergy “father.” If they are correct, then St Paul clearly was violating Jesus’ precept when he claimed to have fathered the Church at Corinth.

When the Gospel passage is read in context, it is clear that the Lord is not speaking against titles or imagery but the abuse they may represent. Even the foremost authority in European Protestantism, John Calvin, did not believe that St Paul was wrong to speak of himself as begetting the Corinthian Church. Commenting on this passage Calvin wrote, “While Paul claims for himself the appellation of father, he does it in such a manner as not to take away or diminish the smallest portion of the honor which is due to God. … God alone is the Father of all in faith …But they whom he is graciously pleased to employ as his ministers for that purpose, are likewise allowed to share with Him in His honor while, at the same time, He parts with nothing that belongs to Himself.”

“Fathering” a Church

Every Church – whether eparchy or local parish – has its fathers, in the sense that St Paul used the term. Some were established by missionaries who were sent for that purpose, either to non-Christian areas or to scattered groups of Christians. Other communities were organized by groups of the faithful who had come from elsewhere and wanted to worship in the ways of their own Church. They often formed a society or organization and contacted Church authorities to request a priest to serve them. In some cases they even built a church, then asked for a priest. This was often the case when Eastern Christians first migrated from their homelands in the nineteenth century. These missionaries, grassroots organizers and the bishops who blessed their endeavors are all remembered as “founders of this holy Church” during every Liturgy served in that church. During the prosthesis a particle is offered on the diskos “in memory of and for the remission of sins of the blessed founders of this holy church.” Secondly, “the blessed and ever to be remembered founders of this holy church” are remembered during the insistent litany after the Gospel or during the Great Entrance. A similar remembrance is made when this litany is chanted at vespers or orthros.

Newer parishes, whose founders are still living, often celebrate a “Founders’ Day” to recognize those who made the Church in their community possible. Such events often include civic recognition, festive meals, and special commemoration at the Liturgy. Our Churches never forget those who have begotten them.

Become a “Blessed Founder”

As new areas develop throughout the country and people move from their home towns to develop them, new Church missions need to be established. In some places recent immigrants from Eastern Christian homelands abroad have arrived as well. Most Eastern Christian dioceses have opened new missions to serve these communities and are eager to learn of other places where their communicants may now be found.

Some parishes have begun to serve the Liturgy in areas near their churches, forming “satellite” missions for their members who live beyond regular weekly driving distance. Members from the main church often accompany the priest to serve as chanters, servers or simply to support these efforts by their presence.

Elsewhere there are groups of Eastern Christians beyond the reach of any existing parish. Anyone who knows where their Eastern Christian friends or relatives have recently settled should notify their respective dioceses. As bishops learn the whereabouts of their people they can explore the possibility of establishing new outreaches in these areas. By contributing to these efforts we might all help beget a new local Church.
 
“I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD” (John 8:12). These familiar words of the Lord Jesus reflect one of the most popular images in the Scriptures, but what do they mean? How is Jesus the light of the world?

The rest of this verse (pardon the expression) ‘sheds light’ on what is meant here. “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Here, and in a number of other places, Jesus is portrayed as a beacon: one who guides along the right path, who illumines the way for us. He is the “Giver of light,” the One bringing light to our hearts. To say He is light in this way is to talk about what He does. But there is another way to see Christ as light. He is light, not only because of what He does for us but because of what He is. “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is not described here as light illumining our minds and hearts, but as He is in Himself: Light in His innermost being.

Based on the Gospel message, the Church proclaims the Lord Jesus as “Light from Light” (Nicene Creed), the “Joyful Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father: the Heavenly, the Holy, the Blessed, Jesus Christ” (3rd century vespers hymn). As God is Light in Himself, so too the incarnate Christ is the Light of the Father. “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

As far back as the third century the Fathers used our experience of the sun to illustrate this mystery. Like others before him, St. Cyril, the enlightener of the Slavs, reflected, “Do you see in the heavens the brilliant sphere of the sun and how from it light is begotten and warmth proceeds? God the Father is like the sphere of the sun, without beginning or end. From Him is eternally begotten God the Son, like light from the sun; just as there comes warmth together with light from the sun, the Holy Spirit proceeds. Each one is distinguished separately: the sphere of the sun and the light and the warmth — these are not three suns, but one sun in the heavens. So also, in the Holy Trinity: there are three Persons but God is one and indivisible.”

The Light of Mt. Tabor

Christ was concretely manifested as light at His transfiguration: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2) – “white and glistening” (Luke 9:29), “such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3). For a moment the disciples glimpsed what had been hidden since the incarnation: the Word of God, radiant with divine glory, in the person of Jesus.

In icons of the Transfiguration this radiance is depicted by a geometric figure behind the representation of the Lord called a mandorla. While depictions of Christ during His earthly ministry show His head surrounded by a cross and a halo, icons representing Him in moments beyond time and space (the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, the Dormition) envelop His whole body in this light of glory.

This same figure is found in icons of the conversion of St. Paul. Christ, the “Radiant Light” was manifested to Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul) on the road to Damascus as “a light from the sky brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13) While this Light briefly blinded Saul by its brilliance, it enabled him to see ever more clearly “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed” (Colossians 1:26).

In the Church the light experienced by Saul has been identified with the light that shone on Tabor, the Radiant Light of the Father, Jesus Christ. As we sing on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, “Christ, who had been radiant in light on the mountain, blinded your bodily eyes; but He allowed your soul to see the Trinity” (from the Canon, Ode 1).

The “Uncreated Light” of God

In the Gospels we find two seemingly contradictory understandings of our ability to know God. On the one hand we are told, “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). On the other hand we hear, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). In the fourth century St. Gregory of Nyssa showed how both statements are true. He taught that the essence of God was unknowable. Like the sun in the imagery cited above, God in His deepest being is unapproachable. The energies of God – His “Light” and “Warmth” – have been made known to us and we can truly know God in His energies. In the fourteenth century St Gregory Palamas applied this teaching to the Transfiguration. He explained that when the Apostles witnessed the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor, that they were seeing the actual uncreated light of God.

Reflecting the Divine Light

We too, Palamas insisted, can experience God’s divine energies even though we can never know His essence: “for those who love each other all nature is filled with the light which seems to radiate from the other.” Many saints who have loved deeply have reflected this light. Perhaps the first was the Protomartyr St. Stephen who witnessed to Christ before the council of Jewish elders in Jerusalem. “And looking steadfastly on Stephen, they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

St Simeon the New Theologian, writing in the eleventh century, described his own experience in similar words: “He gives Himself totally to me, unworthy as I am, and I am filled with His love and beauty. I am sated with pleasure and divine tenderness. I share in the Light. I participate also in the glory. My face shines like that of my beloved and all my members become bearers of Light.”

The most compelling recorded witness to such an experience comes from Nicholas Motovilov. In 1831 he wrote of seeing St Seraphim of Sarov transfigured with the divine light. They had been discussing how a person can acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit but Motovilov was puzzled: “I do not understand how I can be certain that I am in the Spirit of God.” Finally, as he described it, “Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: ‘We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?’

“I replied: ‘I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.’

“Father Seraphim said: ‘Don't be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.’

“Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: ‘Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Your Spirit which You grant to Your servants when You are pleased to appear in the light of Your magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both?’” For a moment the apostles on Tabor saw the light of God which is Christ’s by nature. Likewise for a moment Nicholas Motovilov saw the light of God indwelling by grace in the person who is in Christ.
 
PORT CITIES HAVE LONG BEEN vital to commerce, both in the ancient world and up to our own day. Founded in c. 700 bc, Corinth was the principal port connecting the Greek mainland, the Peloponnesian peninsula and Italy. It was especially important in St Paul’s day as the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. There was a sizeable community of Jews in the city and St Paul spent eighteen months there organizing a Church (ad 49-51).

Coming from Athens to Corinth, we are told, Paul “…found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:2-4). A few years after Paul left the city he received word from “people in Chloe’s household” (1 Corinthians 1:11) that the Christian community was becoming increasingly fragmented. Paul writes this epistle to address this problem.

The Issue of Leadership

There were several reasons for these divisions; at the beginning of St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians he discusses the question of rival allegiances: “…each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). This does not mean that the leaders named were responsible for the divisions, but that members of these factions were using the names of Paul or the others named to justify their divisive actions.

Commentators have suggested that the “Cephas party” may have consisted of converted Jews who continued to observe Jewish practices such as the Sabbath, circumcision and the dietary laws.

Apollos was an apparently powerful preacher who had come to Ephesus (probably in ad 52 or 53), where he was described as “a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, [who] … had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 18:24-28).

Apollos had apparently come to Corinth after St Paul had left and built on Paul’s work. As the Apostle himself described it, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). There is no evidence that Apollos himself led the faction which claimed his name.

St Paul was particularly upset that people were claiming Christ as inspiring one of these factions, in fact reducing His place to that of a sectarian leader: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1Corinthians 1:12). There is no Church without Christ so, as St John Chrysostom observed, “The quarreling at Corinth was not over trivial matters, but over something fundamental. Even those who said they were ‘of Christ’ were at fault, because they were implicitly denying this to others and making Christ the head of a faction rather than the head of the whole Church” (Hom. on the Corinthians, 3.5).

Because of his experience with Christ on the road to Damascus, St Paul saw the unity of believer with the Lord as more than that of teacher and pupil. He viewed it as an organic relationship. When Christ told Paul, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5), the Lord made it clear that Christ’s people are one with their Lord. St Paul would express this in imagery of the whole body – Christ the Head and we the members (see 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.).

“In the same mind”

St Paul saw the unity of the Church as encompassing a two-fold dynamic: unity of mind and heart. “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). The Church has understood oneness of mind to mean agreement in belief. Within a few years this led to the formation of creeds and the canon of Scripture as indicators of the unity of mind expected of believers.

The Greek word gnomi, translated above as judgment, has the connotation of considered purpose or will. Later Fathers would speak of the mind and the heart in describing the interaction of thought and will. Paul’s paring of mind and judgment is similar. While mind suggests the truth of a concept, judgment indicates a considered action connected to the concept.

We find a similar paring in our Divine Liturgy. The deacon introduces the creed, saying, “Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess…” Here the creedal concepts in the mind must be joined to the considered action of love for our expression of belief to represent a true unity of purpose.

Parallels in Our Church Life Today

Sad to say, it is not unusual for similar divisions to arise today in our Church life. People may be attached to one parish priest over another –”I am of Father X” vs. “I am of Father Y.” Some people might leave the parish when Father X does, despite his urgings to the contrary. Even sadder, Father X may encourage this kind of behavior by criticizing Father Y.

The same thing happens when people attach themselves to a certain elder or theologian in contrast to another. The proliferation of blogs by devotees of Elder X or Professor Y encourages some people to surf for what one writer has called “scandal porn” – the latest dirt on a certain elder or theological school of thought. As one writer has noted, “It is so much more in our carnal nature to curse rather than to bless; to tear down rather than to build up; to discourage rather than exhibit the spiritual gift of encouragement and exhortation.”

When tempted to go along with this kind of “Corinthianism,” we would do well to listen to St Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
 
WHEN WE THINK OF THE PEOPLE who appear in the Gospels we think first of all of Christ and His Mother, then perhaps of John the Forerunner and the apostles. But there is another figure who is more prominent both in the Gospels and in the life of the Church than even some of the apostles – St Mary Magdalene whom the Eastern Churches call the “equal-to-the- apostles.”

Mary Magdalene in the Gospels

The Scriptures have little to say about Mary; this has not prevented speculations and often erroneous conclusions to be made from the early centuries up to our own day. The Gospels tell us that:

a) According to her name she was from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Tiberias. Because she was known by her hometown rather than by the name of her husband, father or son, it is assumed she was unmarried.

b) She was one of the Lord’s traveling companions. “He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance” (Luke 8:1-3).

From this passage some have deduced that Mary was well-to-do. The Gospel text does not necessarily imply that Mary was one of those who provided for Jesus from their own resources. That phrase may only refer to the unnamed “others.”

The Gospels do not describe Mary’s healing and many have speculated about it. Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604), for example, equated these demons with the spiritual assaults within us: “And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the passions?” He thus put his seal on the opinion that Mary was a great sinner, even a prostitute.

This idea came from a mistaken reading of the passage from Luke quoted above. The passage before it tells of an unnamed “woman in the city who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37) who washed Jesus feet with her tears. Commentators connected these two passages, believing they were about the same woman, which the Gospel itself does not imply.

c) Mary was one of the women who stayed near Jesus at the cross when His chosen disciples all ran away: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).

d) Most importantly, as all four Gospels relate, she was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and the first to alert the apostles to the news of the resurrection: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him’” (John 20:1, 2).

As Luke tells it, Mary Magdalene was there with Joanna and Mary (the mother of James) when “…behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” And they remembered His words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest… And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:4-11).

Reflecting on the Resurrection Gospels, Gregory the Great thought it fitting that “because in Paradise a woman offered death to a man, at the tomb a woman announced life to men” (49th Homily on the Gospels). Doing the same, the ninth-century archbishop of Mainz, Rabanus Maurus, called Mary Magdalene the “apostle to the apostles.” This title became common in the West during the centuries that followed.

Mary and the Red Eggs

As was common in the second and third centuries, there were Christian attempts to tell the stories of what happened to the New Testament figures after the events described in the Scriptures. In several of these stories Mary Magdalene is said to have traveled to Rome and shared her witness to Christ with the first believers there.

While in Rome she is said to have attended a dinner at which Emperor Tiberius (ad 14-37) was present. When she spoke about Christ’s resurrection, according to one version of this story, Tiberius laughed, saying that a man rising from the dead was no more possible than these eggs turning red before our eyes. The eggs did, in fact, turn red and Eastern Christians have been blessing red eggs on Pascha ever since.

Modestos, patriarch of Jerusalem (630-634) wrote, in his On the Myrrhbearers, that Mary Magdalene returned to Jerusalem, where she lived with Theotokos until her dormition. After the death of the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene went to Ephesus where she spent the rest of her life. Her tomb outside the city was described by Gregory of Tours (538-594) in his De Miraculis. Gregory had not seen the tomb himself, but was recounting the testimony of an unnamed “Syrian traveler.” Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of Saint Lazarus. In the era of the Crusader campaigns they were taken to Italy and placed at Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Her incorrupt hand is preserved in the Simonopetra Monastery on Mt Athos.

According to a later Western tradition Mary Magdalene had gone to the south of France where she was said to have spent her last years alone in the wilderness, fasting and engaging in acts of penitential self-discipline to atone for the “sins” of her early life. Her relics are supposedly kept in Provage, near Marseilles. This tradition is clearly based on the erroneous identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman of Luke 7, described above.

Mis-directions in the Story of Mary

Besides Mary Magdalene and the Theotokos the Gospels also mention other Marys: Mary of Bethany (the sister of Lazarus and Martha), and Mary the mother of James. This led to a confusion in the West between Mary Magdalen (identified as the sinner of Luke 7) and these other Marys. This identification, which had never been accepted in the East, was finally rejected in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar.

In the first centuries after Christ several groups developed their own “gospels” weaving the story of Jesus with their own teachings. Several of these, from gnostic sources, were discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In several of them Mary Magdalen is depicted as Jesus’ favorite companion, making the apostles jealous. These works gave rise to modern pseudo-historical attempts to say that Mary was Jesus’ wife or mistress.
 
WHAT LANGUAGE WAS SPOKEN by the first Christians? On one level, we can say it was Aramaic or Hebrew with a sprinkling of Greek. On another level – the level of spiritual thought – we must say that the first Christians spoke the language of the Torah, what Christians today call the Old Testament.

The first Christians’ cultural and spiritual frame of reference was the Jewish Scriptures, the same tradition revered by all Jews of their day. The difference between them was that the first Christians believed that the promises of the Torah and the Prophets were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures Are Fulfilled

From the first, Jesus affirmed that He was realizing what had been foretold. “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” After reading Isaiah 61:1, 2 He announced, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4: 18, 19, 21). When His fellow-townsmen rejected Him, He moved on to Capernaum.

In Matthew’s Gospel the story of Jesus’ ministry begins with another prophecy: “…and leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:12-17).

The New Testament Quotes the Old

There are a number of times in the Gospels when specific Old Testament texts are quoted in the belief that they are fulfilled in Christ. Some of these claims are interwoven into the stories of Christ’s teaching and miracles. Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount the Lord announces: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18).

In Luke’s Gospel the Lord speaks more directly: to say that He fulfills the Law means that the era of the Law was at an end. “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:16, 17).

Several times in the course of his preaching the Lord Jesus tried to show His disciples that He was the realization of these prophecies. He explained His use of parables in terms of an Old Testament prophecy: “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull’ … that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 13:13-15, 35).

In a similar way the Lord confronted the Pharisees citing the Prophet Isaiah: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? … Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:3, 7-9).

The Passion Prophesied and Fulfilled

As Jesus’ time with His disciples was drawing to a close, He tried to prepare them to see His coming Passion as fulfilling the words of the prophets. “Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:31-34).

Later, of course, the Twelve would see that Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled the prophets’ teaching and would proclaim it as such. They taught, for example, that His triumphal entry as king into Jerusalem was such a fulfillment: “All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey – a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:4, 5).

Prophecies Made Clear by the Risen Lord

It was only after Christ’s resurrection that the disciples came to understand how the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies were pointing to the Lord Jesus. When the risen Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus He explained these prophecies to them. As the Gospel recounts it, “He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

After Jesus vanished from their sight, their response was swift as they began to absorb the meaning of this experience: “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32). From then on, the early Christians would open the Scriptures by showing how the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms could only be understood as revealing Jesus of Nazareth and His saving work.

From St Cyril of Alexandria

“The Israelites used to say that the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled, either in the persons of some of their more glorious kings or at least in the holy prophets. They did not correctly understand what was written about Him, so they missed the true direction and traveled down another path... For their good [Jesus] draws them away from such a supposition… “He brings forth Moses and the prophets, interpreting their hidden meaning and making plain to the worthy what was obscure to the unworthy. In this way He settles in them the ancient and hereditary faith taught them by the sacred books which they posessed. For nothing which comes from God is without its use. All have their appointed place and service.” (St Cyril of Alexandria, On Luke, 12, 24)
 
IN EASTERN ICONS, such as the traditional representation of the Gergasene demoniacs, demons are often portrayed as little winged black men. In the medieval art of the West the horned, bat-winged and fork-tailed red giant was the most popular representation of the devil. What is the origin of these images and what do they actually represent?

Any representation of a demon in iconography, whether Western or Eastern, is an attempt to interpret Scriptural teaching. The imagery itself is not found in Scripture but strives to graphically depict a Biblical doctrine. Physical depictions of non-physical realities, however, are always doomed to fail. This is why in our Tradition depicting the Father or the Holy Spirit in human form is considered inappropriate since they were not incarnate. Icons of Christ, on the other hand, are considered so important because they point to the truth of His incarnation: that he actually became human to join His nature to ours. One artistic convention frequently employed in images of demons is the use of wings. This device “interprets” the Scriptural image of Satan as a fallen angel. As the Lord Himself said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Since “everyone knows” that angels have wings, artists assumed that fallen angels have wings too.

Does Size Matter?

The size of demons in icons or other images is a commentary on the power of Satan as understood by the artist and, ultimately by his Church. Medieval artists in the West often depicted Satan as larger than other figures in their paintings. They were interpreting Christ’s description of Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and St Paul’s characterization of him as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). A being of such power was in their eyes larger than life.

But Christ had said that, as a result of His passion, “the ruler of this world will be cast out (John 12:31). Thus in the Eastern icon of Pascha Satan is not depicted as a superman but as a colorless corpse bound in chains, defeated by the sacrifice of Christ. This image illustrates the teaching on Christ’s victory on the cross, “that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14). This is also why our Great Saturday liturgy puts these words in Satan’s mouth: “My power has been swallowed up! … Death’s power has lost its strength.”

In Eastern icons Satan and demons are regularly depicted as insignificant pests: tiny black creatures futilely attacking man. This illustrates the term for Satan used in all the Gospels, Beelzebub (see Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22 and Luke 11:18). This is a satiric parody of the Canaanite title for their god meaning “Lord of the princes.” The Jewish parody used in the Gospels, “Lord of the flies,” points to the trivial nature of Satan before Christ’s power – little more than a gnat.

Demons in the Scriptures

The Old Testament presents Satan or the devil as “the Accuser” (in Hebrew, ha satan; Greek, ho diabolos) who accuses or slanders people and thus incites them to sin. He is depicted as a tempter, a persuader who convinces people to choose other than godly ways to live. When his influence spreads among the influential figures in society, an entire culture can be perverted. But Satan cannot force anyone to comply with his ways; we can always reject his temptations.

Old Testament-era Jews also came to speak of other diabolical figures in addition to Satan. The devil had his minions, angels who fell with him and who sought to drag people down with them. As the New Testament Book of Revelation describes it: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9).

By the first and second centuries bc belief in demons active in Israel had become common in popular Judaism. Deliverance from demons was an important part of the ministry of Christ in the Gospels and of the apostles in Acts. It is assumed today that many of the people in the Gospel accounts believed to have a demon were actually afflicted with some form of psychosis. This does not explain the absence of demonic possession in Jewish writings before Christ. Could it be that the coming of the Messiah prompted a last ditch effort of Satan and his angels to assert power?

Jesus became quickly known as a healer and exorcist, confronting physical maladies and the assault of demons: “Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matthew 4:24).

Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the kingdom of God and gave them authority over demons: “He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease” (Matthew 10:1). They continued to exercise this power even after Pentecost (see Acts 8:7; 16:16ff.).

The Church has continued to exercise this power over unclean spirits. The second- century apologist St Justin the Philosopher told a Jewish acquaintance named Trypho that “now we, who believe in our Lord Jesus, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, when we exorcise all demons and evil spirits, have them subjected to us” (Dialogue with Trypho, 76.6). By the third century it was common that people entering the Church through baptism first be freed from the power of any unclean spirits. In our Byzantine ritual today four prayers of exorcism are part of the reception of a catechumen, calling on Satan to “Depart, and admit the vanity of your power which could not even control the swine.” When blessing water, oil or sacred vessels or when consecrating churches, the bishop or priest first prays that the influence of unclean spirits be averted from this place or object.

Our sacramental books also include prayers to deliver people from unclean spirits. In many places use of these prayers is on the increase as a result of people becoming involved with occult practices, thus opening themselves to influence by unclean spirits. A Coptic priest, Fr Sama’an Ibrahim, conducts prayers of deliverance weekly in his church carved into the rock of Moqattam Mountain, home of Cairo’s garbage collectors. Most of those who fill the 2000-seat church seeking deliverance are Muslims, says Father Ibrahim. “Christians rarely get possessed, because they are baptized young.”

First Exorcism of St. Basil the Great

O God of gods and Lord of lords, Creator of the fiery spirits and Artificer of the invisible powers, of all things heavenly and earthly: You whom no man has seen nor is able to see; You whom all creation fears and before whom it trembles; You who cast into the darkness of the abyss of Tartaros the angels who fell away with him who once was commander of the angelic host, who disobeyed You and haughtily refused to serve You: now expel by Your awesome name the evil one and his legions loose upon the earth, Lucifer and those with him who fell from above. Set him to flight and command him and his demons to depart completely. Let no harm come to them who are sealed in Your image and let those who are sealed receive power “to tread on serpents and scorpions and all the power of the enemy.” For You do we praise and magnify, and with every breath do we glorify Your all-holy name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
 
THE YEAR 1938 SAW AN ESCALATION of warlike activities in Nazi Germany. In March Hitler invaded Austria and began to move against Czechoslovakia. Attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses increased and thousands of German Jews were arrested.

The response of one Russian-American, Irving Berlin, was to compose the song “God Bless America” which would become like a second National Anthem during World War II and the years that followed. From the first, however, there was opposition to the song by some. They felt that it seemed to be a statement that everything in American life was positive, despite obvious examples of racial, ethnic and religious prejudices that were rife in many places. They interpreted “God Bless America” to mean “God reward America.”

Praying for the Nation

Christians have always prayed for their country, even when its leadership was persecuting them. The Lord Jesus was displayed on the cross as an anti-Roman revolutionary (the “King of the Jews”), yet He never advocated revolt as many Jewish zealots did. His approach was rather, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). The apostolic writings, composed when Roman officials began repressing Christians, still insisted, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). St Paul here offered his most elaborated statement on supporting the civil authority by prayer “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:1-7).

The main points in this passage would be repeated frequently in the apostolic writings and by the early Christian defenders of Christianity. The ultimate source of civil power is God and therefore it is God who has placed rulers in authority.

The power of earthly rulers is legitimate, if limited to the temporal order. As St Justin the Philosopher (100-165) explained, “Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment… as Christ intimated when He said, ‘To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required’” (Justin, First Apology).

From the start, the Church rejected the Empire’s idolatry and emperor-worship. It condemned many of its cultural values as well and as a result it suffered greatly at the hands of the Empire’s leaders, but in principle it respected the God-given place of the Empire and its Emperor.

In St Paul’s view civil authorities have a place in God’s purposes: to insure “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). When the state is at peace then believers are free to live godly lives, raising up their praises to God without hindrance. This passage is the inspiration for our prayer for civil authorities to this day. In the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom the priest prays, “…for our civil authorities, for the government and the armed forces. O Lord, grant them peaceful rule that we too in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all virtue and honor.”

In the Liturgy of St Basil our prayer is similar, but with an added note. “Remember, Lord, this country and all those in public service whom You have allowed to govern on earth. Grant them profound and lasting peace. Speak to their hearts good things concerning Your Church and all Your people that through the faithful conduct of their duties we may live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness. Sustain the good in their goodness; make the wicked good through Your goodness.” We recognize that, while rulers may be legitimate, they may not always be godly.

The “Christian State”

In ad 313 the Edict of Milan decreed religious toleration in the Roman Empire. This was followed in a few years by the proclamation of Christianity as the state religion in the Empire. The state came to be seen as a servant of God. At the height of this development the Emperor was seen as a kind of secular deacon, wearing a sticharion and orarion as part of his imperial regalia and receiving Communion at the holy table.

There were also Christians who felt that God did not desire a “Christian state.” The North African philosopher Lactantius viewed history this way in his synopsis of Christian thought, the Divine Institutes: “God might have bestowed upon His people both riches and kingdoms, as He had given previously to the Jews, whose successors and posterity we are. However, He would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness and prosperity, slide into luxury and eventually despise the commandments of God. For this is what our ancestors did” (V, 23). When Constantine became Emperor he appointed Lactantius as tutor to his son Crispus. We do not know whether the philosopher’s attitude to a Christian state changed after that.

In any case, while civic tranquility may free believers to pursue union with God, times of persecution or civil strife often bring out the strengths of some, adorning the Church with holy martyrs, confessors and passion-bearers. Each era and condition of life may become the arena for following Christ.

The Battle-Hymn of the Empire

One of our most frequently-heard prayers, the troparion of the holy cross, was originally a battle-hymn for the Christian Empire. The literal translation of the original Greek text is: “O Lord save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory to our emperor over the barbarians and preserve Your dwelling-place by the power of Your cross.” It is with this meaning that the hymn features into Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, where the troparion of the cross represents the Russian army successfully battling Napoleon and his troops. With the fall of the Eastern Christian Empires (Byzantium, Russia) the hymn has been adapted in various ways to remove the references to the emperor and the barbarians. One popular version says “grant victory to our country over its enemies.”
In some churches, however, the following is sung: “grant victory to Your people over their enemy (i.e. the devil).” This version stresses that the Christian people as a whole, rather than any earthly realm, is the dwelling-place of God and that our real enemy is not the nation next door but our spiritual foes, the powers of evil.

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