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Byzantine Church Architecture

We note from scripture that certain elements of worship were evident in the life of the early Christians.  It is written in Acts 2:42-46 that the early Christians continued in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, attended temple daily and broke bread from house to house.

Throughout the history of the Israelites and the early Christians, humans experienced a deeper narrative regarding faith in sacred places through the senses.  Early church worship in an architecturally sacred place (temple or home), where everything in the sacred space had purpose and intentionality, were significant contributors to attracting others to God within the Christian perspective.[1]

Christian temple architecture really did not exist until around 200AD because it was the practice of Christian communities to gather in homes or other inconspicuous places since temples were only erected for religious groups that were accepted by the state.[2]

Richard Krautheimer writes that there were two major persecutions of the Christians in 250 and 257-260 AD.  Christians were forbidden to assemble and their properties were confiscated.[3]  But, by this time in history, Asia Minor was sixty percent Christian, Rome had 30,000-50,000 Christians, and North Africa had hundreds of small village congregations.[4]

Krautheimer documents that there is evidence that ancient records indicate that Emperor Gallienus ended the persecution in 260 AD and restored the Christian church properties, their building of worship and cemeteries, and their right of assembly which confirms the notion that Christian worship centers had evolved from 200 to 260 AD in that part of the world.[5] Since Christianity was not a state religion at this time, there is speculation that congregations incorporated as funeral associations and held property by proxy, through a member of the congregation or a bishop.  In general, although Christianity was not a state religion, it was nevertheless tolerated and they did not live in hiding.  They had church services, trained catechumens, baptized, buried their dead, assisted the needy and owned property either legally or without interference.[6]

Around 375 AD, religious constitutions were written giving instructions for construction of the ideal church which could only be realized in certain areas of the Orthodox Christian world due to secular issues.[7]  It is written in this constitution that if it is possible, the structure should be elongated (resembling a ship), turned to the east with small temple areas (called pastophoria παστοφόρια) on either side towards the east[8].  This early description seems to indicate a basilica architectural plan with a modification on both sides that could form a cross shape as the ideal church construction.

Alexander Van Milligen writes that by the beginning of the fifth century, three principle church layouts were used:  the Basilica, the Octagonal or Circular plan, and the Cross plan.[9]  These three basic plans were used to derive various schemes on which the churches of the Byzantine Empire were planned.[10]

Byzantine architecture was primarily concerned with large surfaces for display of marble, paintings and mosaics which were of primary importance.[11]   Various structural areas were incorporated into the Byzantine church architecture depending on the size of the church and its location.[12] The dome was incorporated into the Byzantine structures and iconography was exhibited on the interior of the dome to provide a feeling of closeness to God, God’s presence in our lives, thereby creating an enhancement of the look and feel of a sacred place to be with the Lord.  The most popular icon in the domed area of a church is Christ the Pantocrator (Almighty).  He is shown very large looking upon us from heaven and we intern, through His icon, can look upon Him.

Neo-Byzantine architecture is new construction of Byzantine styled architecture that is fashioned after the architecture of Constantinople (Istanbul) that was prevalent between the fifth and the eleventh centuries.

As Orthodox Christianity was embraced by other countries, the culture and in some cases the political situation in a country, dictated the evolution of the traditions for the construction and embellishment of an Orthodox temple.

Orthodox Christianity today is considered the second largest Christian faith in the world with approximately 250 million believers.  It was always the tradition of the Orthodox Church to establish itself in other countries in the language of the people incorporating certain customs and traditions in those regions without altering Doctrine.  Some examples of local customs and traditions that were incorporated into the Orthodox faith in different countries is the beautiful art of Pyzansky for Easter Eggs in the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox tradition, Red Easter Eggs in the Greek and Antiochian traditions, embroidered icon scarves in the Slavonic traditions, and church architecture. 

Church architecture varied in different countries as the churches were planted throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia to meet various social and political criteria that may have been imposed by the secular culture of the area.  When the early Church fathers were considering appropriate sacred space requirements for the faith, it was done so with the social and political criteria surrounding them at that time.   Essentially, this condition of conforming to the cultural situation in which the church was being planted has not been altered over the centuries and exists to the present day being witnessed now in the USA.

Initial Byzantine temple construction emerged primarily with Emperor Constantine but not all Orthodox cities could implement this type construction.  The Holy Fathers of the early church could have never envisioned the complex pluralistic society we live in today, but they did experience a certain degree of it from the earliest times in Christian history which affected their worship experience and the erective of their houses of worship.   One reads in Robson’s work about Orthodox Old Believers temple construction in Russia as compared to Russian Orthodox temple construction and comments on how the secular influence surrounding the believers in this region dictated certain sacred space structural requirements to conform to the social and political conditions yet also meet the needs of the believers.[13]

Iconography became a very important aspect of creating the sacred space appeal of the evolving Byzantine architecture in the early Christian world and continues to this day.  Through the icons, believers could have the feeling of standing in the presence of God who is revealing Himself through the beauty and sacred space that the icons delineate and to learn about the faith through this sacred imagery.[14]

Within the context of learning from the imagery as it applies to icons, Anton Vrame writes that Orthodox theologians often speak of “reading icons”.  Vrame views this as a process of viewing icons and reflecting on the imagery conveyed in order to understand the wisdom contained in it.   He notes that Iconographers refer to their work as “writing” an icon and when a signature of an iconographer is placed on an icon, it generally says, “Written by the hand of….”[15]  Icons are didactic and have always been used as a means of catechism, but they are also more than a pedagogical approach to teaching.  Vrame writes that the icons provide the lenses that open up our ability to visually communicate with God in our space and time, to experience His presence, and to enter into communion with Him.[16]

To learn more, access the Byzantine Church Architecture Video

References:

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, 153

[2] Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (The Yale University Press Pelican History of Art), 4 ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 24

[3] Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, 25

[4] Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, 24

[5]Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, 25

[6] Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, 25

[7]Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-145, 24-25

[8]Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-145, 24-25

[9]Alexander Van Milligen, Byzantine Churches in Constantinople their History and Architecture,  (London, England:  Macmillian and Co., Limited, 1912), 1

[10]Alexander Van Milligen, Byzantine Churches in Constantinople their History and Architecture, 2

[11]Alexander Van Milligen, Byzantine Churches in Constantinople their History and Architecture, 13

[12]Alexander Van Milligen, Byzantine Churches in Constantinople their History and Architecture, 13

[13]Roy R. Robson, Old Believers in Modern Russia, 53-74

[14] Anton C. Vrame, The Educating Icon: Teaching Wisdom and Holiness in the Orthodox Way, 111

[15] Anton C. Vrame, The Educating Icon: Teaching Wisdom and Holiness in the Orthodox Way, 15

[16] Anton C. Vrame, The Educating Icon: Teaching Wisdom and Holiness in the Orthodox Way, 108

Byzantine Iconography

From 337 to 527 AD there were many Germanic invasions on the western half of the Roman Empire and the Empire fell.  During this time, the Cappadocian Fathers and the Monophysite controversy solidified Eastern Christian thought in the ever-changing society and one of the results was the development and elaboration of a specific Christian art.[1]

Cyril Mango writes that in the second half of the fourth century, Christian pictorial art changed from landscape and pastoral scenes to a kind of didactic, biblical iconography because new Christian converts who could not read were instructed in religious doctrine with explicit picture-stories drawn from the Old and New Testaments[2].   At churches where martyrdom had occurred, picture stories illustrating the feats and sufferings of the martyrs were also created.[3]  The practice of displaying portraits of popular saints, bishops and scriptural stories in homes was also slowing occurring.  Mango further documents that the Eastern Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom and St. Cyril of Alexandria, spoke with approval of this imagery and regarded it as a didactic and encouraging aid to those learning about the faith.  St. Basil’s famous comment spoken in relation to imperial art and not religious art, “the honor shown to the image is conveyed to its model”, became the slogan in the eighth and ninth centuries of the Iconodule party.[4]

The icon is more than a means of instruction though. When an icon is blessed by a priest, it becomes an existential link between the human and the divine.   Standing in an Orthodox Church surrounded by icons, the believer can have the feeling of being surrounded by family and experience communion and fellowship with Christ and the saints.  It is for this reason that the icon is also referred to as a window to heaven.

To learn more, access the Byzantine Church Architecture Video

References:

[1] Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents (MART: The Medieval Academy Reprints For Teaching, No. 16) (Toronto, Buffalo, London in association with the Medieval Academy of America: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 22

[2] Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453, 22

[3]Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453, 22

[4] Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453, 23

Bible Translations

Around 340 BC, Alexander the Great Hellenized the area that centuries later would become the Eastern Reach of the Roman Empire.  Among his Hellenistic efforts, he implemented Ancient Greek as the common language for the people of the areas of his conquests.

About 300 BC (300 years before Jesus was born), the Hebrew Rabbis realized that the Israelites that lived in the areas that had been Hellenized by Alexander the Great only understood ancient Greek and could no longer read the Torah and other sacred writings in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages so they translated their sacred writings into the common language of the Israelites that lived in that area which was ancient Greek at that time.  That translation became known as the Greek Septuagint. 

Time passes and the Roman Empire extends its reach all the way to Judea by 63 BC.  The common language of the people is Ancient Greek in that area, so in order for Rome to govern their Eastern provinces effectively, they needed to communicate with their subjects of that region in their common language of Ancient Greek, so Ancient Greek became a universal language throughout the entire Roman Empire.

As time passes, Jesus is born and does His Work for the Salvation of Mankind in a very firmly established Eastern part of the Roman Empire where the common language was ancient Greek.

After Jesus’ Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, the early Christian church grew with ancient Greek as the language used so all people of the Roman Empire could learn about Christianity.  As a result, the Christian church became known as Greek.  Not because of the country of Greece as we know it today, but because the common language of the people of the entire Roman Empire was ancient Greek and that was the language of the early Christian church. 

Time passes and as was the custom of the Orthodox Church, the Scriptures and Divine Services of the church were translated from the Greek into the language of the people in the areas of the world. Eventually English translations were also commissioned from the Greek Septuagint for the English speaking countries.

In the modern world, we are still struggling with receiving the most accurate translations of the Bible from the Greek. In English alone, there are many different renditions of the sacred texts. This is why so many biblical scholars focus on learning to read and understand the ancient Greek language itself so they can properly understand the scriptural messages of the Bible.

References:

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007

Gaebelein, Frank E. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Volume 9) – John and Acts. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984.

Gibson, Margaret Dunlop, trans. Didascalia Apostolarum in English. London, England: C.J.Clay and Sons, Cambridge University Press Warehouse, 1903

Hussey, J. M., and Andrew Louth. The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford History of the Christian Church S). publication place: Oxford University Press, USA, 1990.

L’Huillier, Peter. The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Pr, 2000.

Mango, Cyril. The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents (MART: The Medieval Academy Reprints For Teaching,  No. 16). Toronto, Ontario, Canada in association with the Medieval Academy of America:  University of Toronto Press, 1986.

Martin, Francis, ed. Acts. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006.

Patsavos, Lewis J. A Noble Task: Entry Into the Clergy in the First Five Centuries. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008.

Patsavos, Lewis J. Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2007.

Payton, James R., and Jr. Light from the Christian East: an Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007

Robson, Roy R. Old Believers in Modern Russia. DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois Univ Pr, 1995.

Schaff, P. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers Inc.,U.S., 1994

Tarazi, Paul Nadim. New Testament: An Introduction: Luke and Acts V.2. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Pr, 2001.

Ware, Timothy (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia). The Orthodox Church: New Edition. Penguin Books,1993

About the Man Born Blind, John 9:1-38

About the “Man Born Blind”, John 9:1-38:

     As the Paschal (Easter) season comes to a close, the Church Fathers established that the Gospel of John  9:1-38 was to be read as the Gospel lesson on the Sixth Sunday of Pascha (Easter), the Sunday before the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  In ancient times, Pascha was the traditional day to receive catechumens into the faith and the weeks that followed provided lessons to the faithful that reflected the theology of Baptism. This Gospel reading is about a man who was born blind and the healing of his congenital blindness by Jesus Christ.  The church views this Gospel reading as symbolic of the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation, which are also called Holy Illumination.

     Biblical scholars believe that Jesus Christ found the man born blind shortly after the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. In biblical times, the Feast of Tabernacles was one of three required festivals of the Israelites (Exod 23:14; Deut 16:16) and it was considered the most important of all the holidays. In 1 Kings 12:32, this holiday is simply called, “The Feast”.   During this feast, the Torah was read out loud to the people (Deut 31:10-13) and many sacrifices were offered (Num 29:12-40).

     The Israelites were waiting for the Messiah (the “Son of David”, the “Son of Man”), and they were taught by the ancient prophesies in the Old Testament how to recognize the true Messiah.   Among the ways listed by the prophets to recognize the Messiah was that the Messiah would heal the blind (Is 29:18; 35:4, 35:5).   There are eight cases recounted in New Testament Scripture of Jesus Christ healing the blind (Matthew 9:27-31; 12:22; 15:30; 21:14; Mark 8:22-26; 10:46-52; and, John 3:1-6, 9:1-38). In all but one case, the blind were either brought to Jesus Christ for healing to test if Jesus Christ was the true Messiah based on the Old Testament prophesies, or the blind sought out Jesus Christ for healing on their own because they already believed He was the Messiah.  However, in John 9:1-38, the man born blind did not know of Jesus Christ at all. He was not brought by others who already believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah or by those who simply wanted to test to see if Jesus Christ was the Messiah by healing a man born blind.   Jesus Christ found the blind man Himself and healed him.   Even after the blind man was healed and was brought before the Pharisees to be questioned, he still didn’t know Jesus Christ until after the Pharisees had thrown him out. When Jesus Christ heard the man was thrown out, He went to him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and the man said, “Who is he, sir?” and Jesus said, “You have now seen him…he is the one speaking with you?” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe” and worshiped Him.

     The Gospel of John, 9:1-38, may actually be divided into two sections. The first section describes the healing of the man born blind by Jesus Christ. The second section describes the consequences of that healing. Most biblical scholars believe that the healing portion of this Gospel reading is related to Jesus Christ’s words previously given in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.   The consequences of the healing was that it not only brought illumination to the physical vision of a man who  never saw the physical light of the world, but also gave him the Holy Illumination of faith in our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ and bore witness to others of the Lord’s Divinity so they may also believe.

References: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vols I, IVa, InterVarsity Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Conciliar Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Johannine Writings, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, NKJV

About the Holy Fathers of the Church and the First Ecumenical Council.

ABOUT THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH AND THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL

Three-hundred years before the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Century convened in the First Great Ecumenical Council, the very first Holy Fathers of the Church, the Apostles, worked faithfully and with great hardship to spread the true faith.     After Pentecost, Acts 2:42-46 describes that certain elements of worship were evident in the life of the early Christians.  The early Christians continued in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, attended temple daily and broke bread from house to house.  Through scripture we learn that there were false teachers even at the very beginning of Christianity.  For example the Christians of Corinth were swayed by false apostles who gained the favor of the Corinthian Christians through disparaging and discrediting the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 11:4, 11:5; 12:11). 

In the decades and centuries that followed, through Apostolic succession, the Holy Fathers that succeeded the first Apostles continued to struggle to keep the faith and teach the correct doctrine to the faithful as did their predecessors.  Many hardships fell upon them as they did the Lord’s Work and some false teachers surfaced throughout the years among certain Christian groups.   For the next 200-300 years after Pentecost, not only did some of the Christian groups succumb to heretical teachings, the Christians were also persecuted.  There were two major persecutions of the Christians in 250 and 257-260 AD.  Christians were forbidden to assemble and their properties were confiscated.  But, by this time in history, Asia Minor was sixty percent Christian, Rome had 30,000-50,000 Christians, and North Africa had hundreds of small village congregations.

History records that Emperor Gallienus ended the persecution of the Christians in 260 AD and restored the Christian church properties, their buildings of worship and cemeteries, and their right of assembly.   Christian worship centers arose from 200 to 260 AD even though they were not a state religion at that time.   Historians speculate that the congregations incorporated as funeral associations and held property by proxy through a member of the congregation or a bishop.  In general, although Christianity was not a state religion, it was nevertheless tolerated and they did not live in hiding during the latter part of the third century.  They had church services, trained catechumens, baptized, buried their dead, assisted the needy and owned property either legally or without interference.

Constantine (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus) was Roman Emperor from 306-337 AD. He was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity and together with co-Emperor Licinius, they issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance for all religions throughout the empire. Constantine became a protector of Christianity and built churches in key cities with elaborate architecture.   However, Christianity did not become the state religion of the Roman Empire until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380.  

Emperor Constantine called the first of the seven Great Ecumenical Councils to unite Christendom on May 20, 325 AD.   The primary task of the Fathers at this Council was to make the Trinitarian doctrine of the Church very precise to dispel heresies, primarily the Arian heresy that had arisen throughout the years.  This resulted in a Creed of Faith.  The date for Pascha was also discussed but not settled at this particular Council.   Various other topics regarding Church discipline were also addressed.  These topics included:  clergy ordination, liturgical practice and the orders of the episcopacy.   The decisions made at this Council resulted in the writing of  20 Canons to govern Church. These 20 Canons were the beginning of Canon Law that continues to give order and clarity in governing the canonical issues of the Orthodox Christian Church today.

This First Great Ecumenical Council was the beginning of establishing order and uniformity of belief for all Christendom; and, together with the other six Great Ecumenical Councils that would be held in later years, the Holy Fathers of the Church (the Apostles and their successors), led the people to the true Christian faith and continue to do so to the present day for the Glory of God.

References:  Hussey, J. M., and Andrew Louth. The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire.;   L’Huillier, Peter. The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils;  Patsavos, Lewis J. A Noble Task: Entry Into the Clergy in the First Five Centuries; Patsavos, Lewis J. Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons; Patsavos, Lewis J., Manual for the Course in Orthodox Canon Law, HCHC.

The Feast of Pentecost within the Orthodox Christian perspective. John 7:37-52, 8:12.

Pentecost and The Gospel reading of John 7:37-52, 8:12

     For the Ancient Israelites, Pentecost was the Greek word used to refer to one of their major feasts called Shavuot in the Hebrew, or Festival of Weeks in English.  According to Leviticus 23:15,16, the Festival of Weeks began on the morning after the Sabbath day of Passover and lasted for 7 weeks, 50 days in Hebrew counting.  The 50th day was called Pentecost in the Greek language. For the Israelites, this festival commemorated God giving the Israelites the Torah and the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17), the harvest, the bringing of First Fruits to the Temple, and other traditions were incorporated to commemorate this time of year. 

     The last week of the Festival of Weeks included a special commemoration called the Festival of Booths (Festival of Tabernacles in some English Translations of the Old Testament). The Booths (Tabernacles) were an English translation of a Hebrew word that referred to the temporary shelters that the Israelites lived in during their 40 years of wandering in the desert with very little food and water.  In Leviticus 23:42, the Israelites were commanded to remember their ancestors’ 40 year struggle in the desert by constructing and living in these temporary shelters for the last seven days of the Festival of Weeks.  On the last day of this 50 day period called, Pentecost, the Israelites held a celebration commemorating the emergence of their ancestors from the wilderness into the land of Canaan that was fruitful with plenty of rainfall for a successful harvest.  

     During this Hebrew festival in Jesus Christ’s time on earth, the festival had a strong liturgical emphasis on water and light to place the importance on God’s saving Grace in delivering the Israelites out of bondage and the wilderness into a land that was fruitful with plenty of rainfall.  The priests lit large lamps in the Temple courtyard nightly and the priests made a daily procession from the temple in Jerusalem to the Pool of Siloam  The Pool was fed by natural flowing spring water which would have qualified it as an important source of fresh water for the inhabitants that could also be used for ritual bathing.  (In the Gospel Reading for the “man born blind”, John 9:1-38, the Pool of Siloam is where the “man born blind” was told to go and wash by Jesus Christ after He had anointed the man’s eyes to heal them.  Before Jesus anointed the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash, he said to His disciples who were with him (John 9:5), “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”). The Priests would draw their water from the Pool of Siloam for their water at the altar.    As the priests processed to the Pool of Siloam to get their water, they would recite, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” from the Book of Isaiah 12:3.  Pure water from the earliest of human history was always identified with its life-saving properties, with salvation, in ancient biblical texts.  Josephus, an ancient Israelite historian, said that on the eighth day of the Feast of the Booths (Tabernacles), the sacrifices of a calf, a ram, seven lambs, and a kid in propitiation of sins were also made.  This last day of the feast was an important day for the Israelites. 

     It was on this important day of the Israelites that Jesus takes the opportunity to make a public announcement about himself (John 7:37-52, 8:12) in a “loud voice… If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water…….…….I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life”.  (In the Gospel reading for the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (John 4:5-42), Jesus said something similar to her, “…Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” )  Jesus used the same light and water reference the Priests of Israel liturgically used during their festival so the people would understand that He was the Messiah.  

     The Holy Fathers of the Church indicate in their teachings that the liturgical emphasis of the large lamps in the Temple Courtyard and the water imagery used repeatedly throughout Scripture and during the Festival of the Israelites, prophesy the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost upon the Apostles and all those present 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection  (Acts 2:1-11).  The Sacrament of Baptism followed by the Sacrament of Chrismation is the same pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the newly baptized person today. 

    Some comments from the Fathers of the Church on the Gospel passage of John 7:37-52, 8:12 follow: 

· St. Cyprian, “…the Lord….is speaking of Baptism….by Baptism the Holy Spirit is received…and those who are baptized and have secured the Holy Spirit go on to drink the cup of the Lord….”. 

· St. Irenaeus,  “….the Holy Spirit…is the living water that the Lord supplies to those who rightly believe in Him….The Spirit flows in all of us”. 

· St. Ambrose, “The river is the Holy Spirit…”.   

· St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “drink of living water…this is what the Savior said of the Spirit which those who believe on Him should receive”. 

· St. John Chrysostom, “Jesus is the light not only of Galilee, Palestine or Judea, but the whole world. “

· St. Theodore of Heraclea, “He calls himself light ….because he enlightens the souls of those who believe…….”

References:  Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus;  Holy Fathers of the Church Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture vol. IVA, Holy Fathers of the Church Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture V;  NKJV.

Why the term “Father” is used for a Priest in the Orthodox Christian Church

Since the early days of the Christian Church, Bishops and Priests have been called “Father” because  of their “fatherly care” for their congregations, their spiritual children.  Those who have realized that they are called by God to serve Him in the Priesthood do not take this charge lightly.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus was so overwhelmed by the realization of the responsibility to God that he would have as a Presbyter that he actually fled immediately after he was forcibly ordained to the Priesthood by his father who was Bishop of Nazianzus on Christmas Day in 361 AD.  St. Gregory loved the solitude of Pontus where he was studying about the faith and living a monastic lifestyle with his best friend St. Basil. 

Gregory reconsidered his action and he returned to the community to serve at his father’s side before Easter 362 AD.  The congregation of Nazianzus accused him of shirking the office and work of a priest through ambition for other more worldly distinctions.  St. Gregory wrote an  Oration that became known as, “In Defense of His Flight to Pontus” which he gave to the congregation in Nazianzus upon his return listing four reasons for his withdrawal.  Those four reasons were:  he was astounded at being forcibly Ordained; he had an eager longing for the monastic life and wanted to return to it; he had a feeling of shame in realizing that there were priests who entered into the ministry as a means of livelihood rather than a pattern of virtue of which the Priest must give account before the Lord; and, he said, “lastly….I  did not, nor do I now, think myself qualified to rule a flock or herd, or to have authority over the souls of men”.  

After considerable prayer and reflection, St. Gregory did discern that he was answering God’s call to the Priesthood and as history records, he served the Lord in this capacity as a good and faithful servant.  Our Bishops today do not forcibly Ordain men to the Holy Orders.  As a matter of fact, there is considerable prayer and discernment on the part of the Bishop and the candidate before Ordination can occur.   Just as a father is the head of the family and takes care to see to the needs of his children,  so too do our Priests act like fathers, Spiritual Fathers, taking care of and seeing to the spiritual needs of their parishioners, their spiritual children, the children of God.

References:  Oration II, “In Defense of His Flight to Pontus”, St. Gregory of Nazianzus.  Six Books on the Priesthood by St. John Chrysostom.  The Ministry of the Church, Image of Pastoral Care, Joseph J. Allen.

About the Gospel Reading, Matthew 8:5-13

ABOUT THE GOSPEL READING, MATTHEW 8:5-13

In Matthew, 4: 15, Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum.  Some biblical scholars believe this move is a fulfillment of a prophesy in Isaiah 9:1-2, “by way of the sea … dwelling along the seacoast … Galilee of the Gentiles, a people who walk in darkness, behold a great light; and you who dwell in the country of the shadow of death, upon you a light will shine…”.    Capernaum was located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Galilee was considered the land of people who walk in darkness, that is, without the religious advantages of Jerusalem and Judea.  It was considered by Old Testament writing to be the land of the shadow of death, where the darkness is most dense (Job 10:21, Ps 107:10; Jer 13:16; Amos 5:8).   Jesus’ move to Capernaum, biblical historians think not only fulfills the Old Testament prophesy but points to the extension of the Gospel of bringing the light to the people of all nations.

According to 1 Maccabees 5:23, the Jewish population in Galilee in 164 B.C. , was so small it could be transported to Judea for protection; but, by Jesus’ time, the population was large and mixed and the Jewish population was substantial.  The people were fishermen and farmers and it is believed that the Apostles Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew lived in the Galilee area. 

Capernaum was an important Roman garrison town and Centurions were the military backbone throughout the Roman Empire that maintained discipline and executed orders.   As a Roman military commander, the Centurion’s word to his men was the word of the Roman Emperor; and, when he gave his men a command, they obeyed it as if it came from the Roman Emperor himself.  Likewise, in this Gospel reading, the Centurion’s belief that Jesus’ Word alone would heal his servant indicates that the Centurion believes that a Word from Jesus to heal his servant is the same as a Word from God’s Himself.     This is what Jesus marvels at.  He marvels at the fact that the Centurion, a Gentile, exhibited greater belief in Jesus’ Divinity then Jesus’ own people did in His hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:6).    

At the end of today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 8:11, 12 “..while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth..”, biblical scholars believe this statement is referring to the Israelites who deny the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the reference of weeping and gnashing of teeth are descriptions according to Jewish tradition of the unrighteous dead in Hades (Enoch 103:8) and is referenced in the New Testament in Matthew 13:42-43, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; and Luke 13:28.

References:  Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, The Jewish War, Edersheim:TheLife and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Schurer:AHistory of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ; Harvard Theological Review; Deissmann:Light from the Ancient East; NKJV.

Readings for the Feast Days of the Holy Fathers. Matthew 5:14-19

Sunday of the Holy Fathers

     This reading is appointed by the Orthodox Church to be read for all Feast Days of the Holy Fathers.   Just prior to the time when this Gospel reading occurs in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had chosen His Disciples (Mt. 18-22), and together with them, He went all around Galilee teaching in synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness, diseases and torments among the people. Jesus had become quite famous.  News of the miracles He performed spread throughout all of Syria and multitudes followed Him.

     Seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain and sat down. His disciples came to Him and Jesus proceeded to teach them about what it means to be a true Disciple of the Lord.  This Biblical event is often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.   It is at this sermon when Jesus teaches the people how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) and provides instructions for living a holy life.   The sermon begins with The Beatitudes, Mt. 5:1-16.  The focus of the Gospel reading today, Mt. 5:14-19, is on the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells His disciples what is expected of them as they do the Lord’s Work in the world. He tells them that they are expected to be as salt of the earth and the light of the world.

     Salt, sodium chloride, is a relatively stable compound if derived from a pure source and it is an essential element for life. Salt has also been used throughout history as a food preservative and has religious and sacrificial significance in Scripture (Lv 2:13; Nm 18:19; 2Ch 13:5). Some historians believe that salt production actually began 6000 years ago possibly in Romania. If a salt is derived from a pure source, it does not lose its saltiness. If, however, salt is derived from an area that is not a pure source, it can lose its flavor over time. Historical evidence indicates that salt that had lost its flavor was often used to harden the soil on flat roof houses in the ancient world so the roof would not leak. The flat roof of ancient buildings was often used as a playground and a place for public gatherings as well.  By hardening the soil on the roof with flavorless salt, the salt then became trodden under foot when people gathered. In this Gospel reading, Jesus instructs His Disciples to be as pure salt not as impure salt, “..to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men..”; that is, Jesus instructs them to be true disciples who do not lose their effectiveness in bringing others God.

     In this Gospel reading, Jesus also tells His Disciples that they are, “the light of the world. A city on a hill that cannot be hidden…” (Mt. 5:14).   Light is used throughout the Old and New Testament to symbolize God (Is 60:1-3), knowledge, truth, and purity (Ps 118:105); illuminating a darkened world – a world that did not have the knowledge of the truth until the incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ (Jn 1:4-9; 8:12; 1Jn 1:5).   Jesus stresses the metaphor of light to His disciples when He tells them to, “… let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven…”.   Christian believers become “sons of light” (Jn 12:36; 1Th 5:5; Php 2:15). Our Pascha Liturgy begins with the Pascha Candle and the Priest inviting the people to, “Come receive the Light which is never overtaken by night”.

     Regarding the reference to “a city on a hill that cannot be hidden…”, some biblical scholars believe this refers to the Old Testament prophecies about the time when “…the mountain of the Lord’s house…” (Jerusalem or Zion) “…would be visible and all Gentiles shall come to it…” (Isaiah 2:2-5, 42, 49, 54, 60) – These prophecies are considered by some biblical scholars to be the prophecies of the Lord’s time on earth and the mission work of the Apostles to establish the Christian Church in the world for the salvation of mankind.

     The Lord’s coming does not abolish the Old Testament teachings; rather, His coming and the work of the Apostles to establish the Christian Church are seen as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies.

References: Ancient Christian Commentaries of the Holy Fathers, Biblical Commentary Matthew, NKJV, Josephus Antiquities. New Testament Commentary by Paul Tarazi, New Testament Commentary by Theodore Stylianopoulos.

On Illness and Suffering. Matthew 9:1-8; James 5:10-20

Illness and Suffering: 

The Epistle Reading of James 5:10—20 and The Gospel Reading of Matthew 9:1-8

     The entire Epistle of James is an instructional pastoral letter written to all people of Jewish or Gentile birth that have become Christians. In this Epistle, the people are instructed in how Christians should conduct themselves in matters of work, faith, and personal dealings with others; as well as, how to respond to trials, temptations, and illness.

     A portion of this Epistle that is read for a liturgy that is served during a feast day of a prophet, addresses illness and suffering (James 5:13-15) and uses the prophets and the perseverance of Job as an example of suffering with patience, James 5:10-11.   The Holy Fathers of the church advise that in time of suffering and illness one must contact the elders of the church because the Apostolic Tradition is to call the elders to anoint the sick with the oil of mercy and to pray for healing.

     The use of olive oil for healing predates Christianity. In the ancient world, Philo, a first century Jewish writer, documents that Olive oil was commonly mixed with other ingredients for healing the sick in pre-Christian cultures. The different between the pre-Christian usage of oil for healing and the Christian usage of oil for healing is that the Christians integrated prayer and thanksgiving when anointing of the sick with the oil (Holy Unction).

     Within Scripture during Jesus’ time on earth, the Apostles anointed with oil for the healing of the sick, Mark 6:13. The earliest Christian reference we have for using the liturgical practice of healing with oil after the period of the New Testament writings is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hyppolytus dating possibly to the third century.   The earliest Byzantine liturgical manuscript containing prayers for the anointing of the sick, Codex Barberini 337, contains five prayers: three prayers are for the sick and two prayers are for the blessing of the oil which apparently occurred at the Eucharistic Liturgy immediately following the consecration of the bread and wine.

     Throughout the centuries that followed, the service of anointing for healing continued to evolve and by the fourteen century, the anointing service reached the form that is currently used in the church today.   The most apparent aspect of the current rite of healing is the connection made between sickness and sin – and – healing and forgiveness which are stressed in today’s Epistle reading in James where anointing with the oil is mentioned with confession of sins and prayers for each other. In the Gospel reading given during the Liturgy on a feast day of a prophet, Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus heals the Paralytic after forgiving his sins—Jesus says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven…..”, and the Paralytic was healed. The forgiveness of sins is inexplicably tied to healing in the New Testament; and this healing work continues in the church in modern times.

References: The Anointing of the Sick, Paul Meyendorff, Suffering and the Nature of Healing, Daniel Hinshaw, The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos, Ancient Christian Commentary, New Testament, XI and Ia, James, JKV

The Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Matthew 14:14-22; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

The Miracle of the Multiplication of the loaves and fishes—Matthew 14:14-22; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

Jesus Christ’s miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the multitude of people is reported in all four of the Gospels: Matthew 14:14-22; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and, John 6:1-14.  In this reading, Jesus calls the Apostles to find food for the people to eat. He then blesses the food and gives it to the Apostles to feed the people.

Biblical scholars see various meanings in this scripture reading. Some biblical scholars conclude that this miracle performed by Jesus is a calling to His Apostles to carry on His teaching of   table fellowship with those who believe – the Holy Eucharist – which is realized as the Apostles establish the Christian Church after Pentecost and the first Divine Liturgies are celebrated.  Some biblical scholars also see a correlation in this miracle with the Old Testament:  the five loaves of bread representing the five books of the Torah; the 2 fish representing the two communities, Jews and Gentiles, who are present at this miracle in Matthew 14:14-22; and, the twelve baskets of food representing the twelve tribes of Israel who are led by the twelve Apostles toward Salvation emphasizing the fullness of Israel, the fullness of the faith, and the oneness of the new messianic community in Christ Jesus.

This miracle also teaches that God has dominion over nature and what is provided for our sustenance and well being is through God’s Grace for which we should always give thanksgiving and praise to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

References: The New Testament, Vol 1, 2, 4, Paul Tarazi; The Gospel of Matthew, Torah for the Church, Lawrence Farley; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gaebelein; KJV.

The Miracle of Jesus Christ Walking on Water, Matthew 14:22-34; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21

The Miracle of Jesus Christ Walking on Water, Matthew 14:22-34; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21

The miracle of Jesus Christ walking on water is given in Matthew 14:22-34; Mark 6:45-52; and John 6:15-21. The events of this miracle are reported a little differently in the three Gospels. Matthew’s and Mark’s account of this miracle are similar except in Matthew’s account, it is the first time the Apostles declare Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. The declaration of Jesus’ divinity is emphasized in Matthew’s account not only with the Apostles words but also in their physical actions of worshiping Jesus Christ because they knew that worship was only to be given to God alone.   John’s account is different from Matthew and Mark in that Peter does not walk on water and their destination is named as Capernaum. Despite the differences between the three Gospels, most biblical scholars believe that the three Gospels are documenting the same miracle.

     In the Gospel reading of Matthew 14:22-34 that is heard in today’s Divine Liturgy, this is the second time Jesus and His Apostles are caught in a storm at sea. The first storm at sea that is reported by the Apostles is in Matthew 8:23-27 (also in Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25).   In the first storm, when the storm arose, Jesus was with the Apostles but asleep. The Apostles became afraid and woke Jesus and said, “Lord, save us we are perishing!”. Jesus said, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”.   Jesus then calmed the winds and the sea.   Jesus used similar words to respond to the Apostles fears in the second storm at sea. The major difference between the two storms at sea accounts is that in the first storm, the Apostles did not fully understand about Jesus’ Divinity which is revealed by their comment, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”; where in the second storm, they became fully aware of His Divinity and worshiped him.

     Most Biblical scholars agree that the scriptural imagery of Jesus Christ in the boat with His Apostles is representative of the Church. Within our own Church, the area where the congregation gathers to worship the Lord is called the Nave derived from the Latin: navis meaning ship which is implied from its rectangular shape. Within Scripture in the Old Testament, being saved by God from a storm while on a boat also occurs in Genesis 6:9-8:22 when God commanded Noah to build an ark to save himself, his family and the animals from destruction. The Holy Fathers of the Church have always taught that the mission of the Church, the Assembly, is to be the ship of our salvation. It is through the Sacramental life of the Church that Christians weather the storms of life through the Lord and are led toward the salvation of their souls.

References:  The New Testament Vol. 1, 2, 3 and 4, Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Commentary on The Gospel of Matthew by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; Commentary on the Gospel of Mark by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; Commentary on the Gospel of Luke by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; Commentary on the Gospel of John by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; KJV.

Healing of the Boy with Seizures. Matthew 17:14-23; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42

The Healing of the Boy with Seizures —Matthew 17:14-23

The Gospel reading of Matthew 17:14-23 with the theme of curing a boy who had seizures has similar versions of the story in Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-42. Many English translations of Matthew’s text in Greek, translate the Greek word σεληνιάζομαι (seleniazomai) as epilepsy, but the literal translation of this Greek word is, “to be moonstruck” and some English translations will use the word lunatic as a translation in this passage because it was believed that the disease increased and decreased with the phases of the moon. As such, the use of the word epilepsy as an appropriate English translation of the Greek has been debated by biblical scholars.   Matthew further clarifies the boy’s condition by writing that Jesus rebuked the demon and the demon left the boy and he was cured at that hour.

    This healing event is written in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke after Jesus had been transfigured into His Divinity on Mt. Tabor (Matt 17:1-11, Mark 9:2-12, Luke 9:28-34) which was witnessed by 3 of His Apostles, Peter, James and John.  When they came down from the Mountain, there was a multitude of people and the rest of the Apostles were among them apparently trying to heal the multitude of people while Jesus Christ, Peter, James and John were on Mt. Tabor.  The father of the son of the boy with seizures implores the Lord to heal his son because the Apostles could not heal the child.  In the passage that is similar to this event in Mark, Mk 9:14-29, Jesus tells the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes..” and the father said, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief..” (Mark 9:23-24) and Jesus rebuked the demon and it left the boy as is told in the three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke.

     The disciples spoke with Jesus in private afterwards concerned that they could not heal the boy and Jesus tells them that their failures to heal are due to lack of faith.  The Apostles lack of faith is a recurring theme in this section (Matthew 14:16-21; 14:26-27; 14:28-31; 15:16; 15:23; 15:33; 16:5; 16:22; 17:4; 17:10-11).  Most biblical scholars have agreed that the “lack of faith” of the disciples emphasizes that their power to heal was not their own, but entirely the Lord’s which was bestowed upon them in Matthew 10:1 (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16).   Because healing is a gift from God, in order to properly heal, the quality of the faith was important to minister to the sick.  The quality of their faith is compared to a mustard seed in this scripture.  The parable of the mustard seed had already been taught to the Apostles by Jesus (Matthew 13:37, Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-21) so they would have had an understanding of what the Lord was telling them at this point in time.   The smallest seed like a mustard seed – the smallest true faith – can have great effect through the Lord; whereas poor faith has no effect. Their poor faith is further addressed by the Lord when he tells them that this type of healing can only be accomplished with prayer and fasting (Matt 17:21) – which implies that they did not understand up until this time when Jesus spoke with them about it, that active prayer and fasting was necessary to nurture the gift of healing that they had been given by God (Matt 10:1, 8).

     This scriptural passage also speaks of the removal of mountains with true faith.  The idea of the removal of mountains with faith is given several times both in the Old and New Testament (Isa 40:4; Isa 49:11; Isa 54:10; Matt 21:21-22; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6; 1Cor 13:2) and refers to overcoming great obstacles by having true faith.  Overcoming obstacles with prayer and fasting – true faith –  is also echoed in Philippians 4:13 when St. Paul, who was at the time in prison and undergoing many obstacles writes to the Philippians to encourage them to remain steadfast in their faith despite any physical and spiritual obstacles they may be facing.  For in Paul’s words to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”  (Phil 4:13) because with God, “all things are possible” for those who believe (Matthew 19:26).

References: The New Testament, Matthew and the Canon, Paul Tarazi; The Gospel of Matthew, Lawrence R. Farley; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, D.A.Carson; NKJV.

How a Person can be Born Again. John 3:13-17

The Divine Liturgy Gospel Reading of John 3:13-17

Just prior to John 3:13-17, Nicodemus questioned Jesus about how a man can be born again. Jesus tells him that one must be born of water and the Spirit, born again, to enter the Kingdom of God. The birth of the flesh is the first birth; and, the second birth is born of water and the Spirit. In order to emphasize His message to Nicodemus, Jesus recalls the Old Testament passage in Number 21:4-9 about the serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness.  In the Old Testament story, when it was time for Aaron for die (Aaron was Priest to the Israelites), the Israelites journeyed to Mount Hor. When Aaron died, his son was vested in his father’s robes and became Priest to the people. The Israelites then defeated the Canaanites who made war against them for journeying through their land to get to Mount Hor for Aaron’s death.   After winning the war against the Canaanites, the Israelites left Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea and went around the land of Edom. Along the way, the people became discouraged because food and water were scarce and they sinned against God and Moses by blaming them for their misfortune. They were attacked by poisonous snakes and many people died. When the people felt sorry for blaming God and Moses for their misfortune, the Lord told Moses to make a serpent out of copper and put it on top of a signal pole and if someone was bitten, they were to look at the serpent on the pole and they would not die but live. The Holy Fathers of the Church (St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Ephram the Syrian and most biblical scholars), teach that the serpent on a pole is a type of crucifixion that is putting sin to death thereby saving the people from death – when Jesus Christ recalls the story to Nicodemus, He is foretelling the necessary events to come of His Crucifixion, Ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and Holy Baptism for the salvation of mankind.

References:  The New Testament Johannine Writings, Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimer’s Seminary Press; The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Lawrence R. Farley, Ancient Faith Publishing; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVa John 1-10, Intervarsity Press; NKJV

The Gospel reading for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30.

The Gospel reading for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30,  recalls the crucifixion of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. Most biblical scholars agree that chapter 19 of John’s Gospel ironically indicates that even when men are pushing their own agendas to accomplish something they desire, they are in fact fulfilling God’s Will without realizing it. In this case, the Jews wanted Jesus to die according to the Law because He made Himself the Son of God but they didn’t realize that His mission was precisely to die a sacrificial death because He was the Son of God. Ironically as well, Pilate in an effort to provide mockery, inadvertently actually declares Jesus to be the King of the Jews. Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” (John 19:5), and “….Shall I crucify your King!” (John 19:15). Pilate then inscribed a title to be put on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”.    The title was inscribed in the three languages of the Roman Empire: Hebrew, Latin and Greek, so all people (Jews and Gentiles alike) would know that Jesus was called “King of the Jews” by Pilate who was an official representative of the Roman Emperor.

Jesus’ followers who were at the foot of the cross were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary Magdalene and the disciple whom He loved, John. What is different about this part of John’s Gospel as compared to the Gospels of Mark and Luke, is Jesus’ care of His mother which He entrusted to His beloved disciple, John. This is the first time the Mother of God is mentioned in Scripture since the Wedding of Cana in Chapter 2. Contrary to modern usage, the term “woman” in the ancient world and as used sacred scripture, was actually a term of dignity and affection.   Most Orthodox theologians agree that when Jesus said to John, “Behold your mother”.. And to the Virgin Mary, “Behold your son”….He not only saw to it that His mother was taken care of, but He also symbolically established the Virgin Mary’s role as the mother of all those who are the followers of Christ—the Mother of all Christians.

References:  The New Testament, Johannine Writings, Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, John and Acts, Vol 9, Merrill Tenney, Rochard Longenecker, Zondervan; The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Lawrence Farley, Ancient Faith Publishing; KJV.

About Gospel Reading Mark 8:34-38; Matthew 16:21-18; Luke 9:18-21

Gospel Reading Mark 8:34-38; 9:1

The Gospel reading of Mark 8:34-38; 9:1 is heard on the Sunday after the celebration of the Holy Cross in the Orthodox Church and a similar reading is also given in Matthew 16:21-28 and Luke 9:18-21. The events of this reading occur as Jesus and His apostles are traveling from the villages around Caesarea Philipi to Jerusalem, a distance of about 150 miles. Previously, Jesus and His apostles were in Caesarea Philipi and worked miracles there to teach the people about the Kingdom of God. It was there where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Upon receiving the confession of Jesus’ messiahship from His disciples, while they are traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus tells the disciples what His messiahship will ultimately involve through a prediction that He will die (Mark 8:31). This is the first of three predictions in the book of Mark.  The other two predictions given by Jesus are Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:32.    Jesus tells them that He will suffer and be rejected by the spiritual leaders of the Jewish faith. He will then be killed by the authorities, but will rise again in three days. Peter becomes upset at the prediction and takes Jesus aside from the crowd of people that were following them to tell him not to say such things. Jesus in turn, rebukes Peter because Peter is focused on living in the world rather than focusing his attention on God (8:32-33).

It is at this point that the Gospel reading of Mark 8:34-38, 9:1 occurs. Jesus tells His disciples that those who wish to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross. The Holy Fathers of the Church comment on this passage. Tertullian of Carthage (circa 160-225 AD) considered the body as a cross (On Idolatry 12) – he said, “Your cross means your own anxiety and your sufferings in your own body which is shaped in a way already like a cross”. Caesarius of Arles (circa 470-543 AD Sermons 159.5) , writes that those who follow the teachings and precepts of the Lord will find many people who contradict them and stand in their way – not only pagans who are outside the church, but also those who call themselves Christians and are in the Church but in actuality through the perversity of their deeds are really outside of the Church. Cyril of Alexandria (circa 375-444 AD), Letter 55 to Anastasius and the Monks), makes a point to say that the glory of God is hidden suffering “He who as God was beyond suffering, yet suffered in his own flesh as a human being…” for the salvation of man.

Biblical scholars have debated the meaning of Mark 9:1 where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power”.  Most scholars agree that this statement is referring to the event of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain into His divinity which occurs in scripture immediately following the Gospel Reading of Mark 8:34-38, 9:1 and was witnessed by three of His apostles: Peter, James and John.

References:  Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Paul and Mark, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence Farley, The Gospel of Mark, the Suffering Servant, Conciliar Press; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, II, Eds. Thomas Oden &Christopher Hall, InterVarsity Press. KJV.

The Calling of the Apostles. Luke 5:1-11; Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20

Luke 5:1-11—The Calling of the Apostles

Luke 5:1-11 is also similarly told in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20. 

The Lake of Gennesaret, as mentioned in this scripture reading, is the Sea of Galilee and this is where the “reputed pillars” of the Jewish Christian community (Gal. 2:1-10): Simon Peter, James and John were called by the Lord. Reading the parallel texts of Mt. 4:18-22 and Mk 1:16-20, as well as the content of John’s text 1:35-2:11, we learn that Jesus actually spent some time with Peter, James and John so they could learn from Him before He called them to be His Apostles in this Gospel reading (Luke 5:1-11). Calling them to be His Apostles required a bigger commitment than just listening to His teachings (John 1:35-2:11). It involved leaving their livelihood and their families for a time to follow Jesus.

Biblical scholars have noted that the chronological sequence is a little different when comparing the three Gospels of Luke, Matthew and Mark.  Even though some scholars question the sequence of events, most agree that there is a clear symbolic meaning of Jesus’ action of stepping into       Simon Peter’s boat and telling him to put out a little from the land for the preaching to the multitude and then later, Jesus tells Simon Peter to put out into the deep and let down their nets for the catch of fish that was so full they almost began to sink. This symbolic meaning that the scholars are referring to is that Jesus wants Simon Peter, James and John to go beyond their own Jewish people and bring the Lord’s Word to the Gentles.   Most Orthodox theologians also think that the great catch of fish fulfills the prophesy in the Old Testament of Jeremiah 16:16, “…says the Lord….behold ….I will send many fishermen, and they will fish them.”.  In the Orthodox Christian Church, the faithful further hear this lesson on Pentecost when the church hymns, “through the fisherman, You drew the world into Your net”.

References:  Lawrence Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Conciliar Press; Walter Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 8; Zondervan; Paul Tarazi, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, KJV.

About the Gospel Reading from Luke 5:12-16, Matt 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19

Gospel Reading Luke 5:12-16

After Jesus had gathered His 12 Apostles (Luke 5:12-16, Mt. 10:1-4, Mk 3:13-19), He begins His teachings to the multitude who gathered from Judea, Jerusalem, and the seacost of Tyre and Sidon to hear Him and be healed.  This Gospel reading is the second half of the Lord’s teachings to the multitude of the peoples. The first half of the Lord’s teachings begins in Luke 6:20 (Mt. 5:1-12) with the Beautitudes. Radically, Jesus Christ is promoting a change in human behavior. He is promoting a change in the values of the people and how they should behave toward one another.   For example, in the Beautitudes, the first benediction Jesus gives the people was that the poor was blessed and the Kingdom of God was theirs.  Most biblical scholars say this is not because they are poor, but because their poverty causes them to rely on God for their needs. Their poverty causes them to put their hope in the Lord.   Following the Beautitudes, the Woes are pronounced. The Woes are all opposites of the Beautitudes in sequence: poor-rich; hungry-full; etc.

The Lord continues to promote a change in the people’s thinking by proceeding to His precepts (Luke 27-38, Mt. 5:38-48)) which encompasses the Gospel reading of Luke 6:31-36.   Jesus Christ teaches the people about loving enemies and doing good to those who hate them, blessing those who curse them, and among others things, to behave towards men as you would like them to behave towards you.  The teaching of this section is in opposition to what the people had been taught by the Pharisees in the past (refer to: Mt 5:20-22, 43-44). In the end of this reading, Jesus makes the point to tell the people that God is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and selfish, therefore, they should be merciful and kind to them as well.

References:  Paul Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Concilliar Press; KJV.About

The Raising of the Widow’s Son from the Dead. Luke 7:11-16

The Gospel of Luke 7:11-16—The Raising of the Widow’s Son from the Dead.

In Luke’s Gospel, the miracle of raising a man from the dead in the city of Nain immediately follows the miracle of the healing of the centurion’s servant in Capernaum.  Nain was a town six (6) miles southeast of Nazareth.  Jesus’ disciples were with him along with a great crowd of people that followed them.  Luke immediately tells of the situation in a few words — the person who had died was the only son of the widow and he was her only support.  At that time, women did depend on the men of their family to support them; there were few other acceptable ways for women in the ancient world to support themselves, especially elderly ones.  The death of the widow’s son left her alone and desolate in the world.   The Lord understood this and felt love for her and compassion for her circumstances telling her not to weep.

When Jesus Christ raised the son, he used a very short and simple statement, “Young man, I say to you arise”.    He did not make long laborious prayers to raise the child as did Elisha who raised a boy from the dead in 2Kings 4:19-35.  The use of this short and simple phrase (in the Greek it is only 4 words), it becomes evident to those witnessing the miracle that Jesus was the one who had complete and sovereign authority over life and death.  This reality took the crowds by surprise and they became afraid.  Recognizing Jesus’ Divinity through this miracle, they glorified God.

There are three resurrections from the dead that are told in the New Testament besides Jesus’ own Resurrection — they are this Gospel reading, Luke 7:11-16;   the Gospel reading of Luke 8:41-56 about Jairus’ daughter; and, the Gospel reading from John 11:1-44 about Lazarus.    Most biblical scholars believe that the resurrectional stories are told in the New Testament by Luke and John not only as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s own Resurrection, but also to teach the people of Jesus’ Divinity and that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, in particular, the prophet Ezekiel’s works about the Savior, Ezk 37:1-14;  “…. that the graves would be opened and the dead will raise”.

References:  The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Lawrence R. Farley, Conciliar Press; New Testament, Luke and Acts, Paul Nadim Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; KJV.

The Demon-possessed Man. Luke 8:26-39

Luke 8:26-39—The Demon-possessed Man.

This story in Luke is also told in Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20. Depending on which English translation of the New Testament that is being read, the country of Gadarenes may be spelled as Girgesenes or Gerasenes as well.   Most biblical scholars believe this event in Scripture may have actually taken place in Gergesa which is modern day Kersa by the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee because the scripture reports that immediately before the event with the demonic, Jesus had proved that he had control over nature to the Disciples by calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:22-25) while they were sailing to arrive at the country of Gadarenes. This area was predominately a Gentile area within the Roman Empire.

     This scripture is interesting because one would think that a person who was possessed by so many demons would run from Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the final Judge who could condemn them. Instead, this man goes to meet Jesus and cries out and fall down before Jesus saying in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me……”. This declaration by the demon-possessed the man is very revealing. The demons not only know of God, but are afraid because they also know God has dominion over them and can destroy them in any way He sees fit. So, this event in the New Testament reveals what the Old Testament has always taught. God permits evil to exist (Job 1:6-12). Evil recognizes God and the fact that the demons in this man made the man fall down before Jesus in this scripture while pleading for mercy is a form of worshiping Almighty God – accepting God’s Will – His dominion over them and all there is. St. John Chrysostom teaches that in Job 1:6, the devil came with the angels before God which means that the devil is dependent upon God as well.   St. John Chrysostom also said that in the scripture of Luke 8:32, 33, Jesus converses with the evil spirits and even granted their request to be sent into a great heard of swine. Why?

    A big question in many people minds is “why?” The Fathers of the Church have always taught that the Kingdom of God, the Glory of the Lord, is revealed in tribulation. St. John Chrysostom said that “tribulation makes the strong man stronger in the Lord” and this is clearly revealed in the Old Testament Book of Job by Job’s perseverance to stay faithful to the Lord despite all the tribulation that fell upon him and his family.   At the end of the scripture reading in Luke 8:26-39,  the demon-possessed man is completely restored to wholesomeness and fully clothed while sitting at the Lord’s feet  — revealing the important scriptural lesson to mankind that through all hardship, those who are righteous are called to glory in the face of tribulations (Roman 5:3) and are clothed in the “whole armor of God” (Eph 6:13).

References:  The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Lawrence R. Farley, Conciliar Press; The New Testament, Luke and Acts, Paul Nadim Tarazi; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, InterVarsity Press; KJV.

The Apostle Matthew’s Calling, Matthew 9:9-13

Gospel of Matthew 9:9-13 – Matthew’s Calling

     When Jesus calls Matthew to be His disciple in this passage (Matthew 9:9-13), they are in Capernaum which is a city that Jesus lived in after He left Nazareth (Matt 4:13).   Matthew, also called Levi in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27, was a Tax Collector. Tax Collectors were considered disreputable people because the Roman Empire allowed them to increase the taxes assessed and take the excess as their own profit. Matthew was not only a Tax Collector (Publican), there is also some evidence that Matthew may have been a Jew as well, so the Pharisees would have considered him a sinner against Jewish law because of his profession.

       In this Gospel reading, Jesus sat down and ate with the sinners and Tax Collectors.  The fact that Jesus sat down and ate with disreputable people according to the Jewish law, made many Israelites doubt that He was truly the Savior. Jesus defended His association with sinners by saying,  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Here, Jesus uses a quote from Hosea 6:6 by saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’….”.  The quote from Hosea used by Jesus is in reference to the time when God is threatening judgement against His people for the sacrifices they offer while continuing to be disobedient to His law rather than showing faith and devotion to HimJesus then immediately follows this recollection from the Old Testament with the phrase “…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners…”.  Many biblical scholars believe the latter phrase refers to the non-believing Israelites as “..the righteous” who profess following strictly the Jewish religion (therefore considering themselves righteous), yet, in fact, who do not ultimately show faith and devotion to God.

     Belief and confession of faith were Old Testament themes that the Israelites would have studied and been aware of during Jesus’ Ministry on earth. Because of this, on St. Matthew’s feast day, the Orthodox Christian Church precedes the reading of the Gospel in Matthew (9:9-13) with the Epistle to the Romans written by St. Paul, Romans 10:11-21; 11:1-2. In this Epistle, Paul drives the point home that God gave the Jewish people many opportunities to learn and accept that Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies in the Old Testament and that Jesus was in fact the Messiah –  and yet, many Israelites still rejected Him.

     Since the ancient prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:16) and Joel (Joel 2:32) also said that the message of Salvation was to be universally given to all people, the message of Salvation was given and heard by all people –  Jews and Gentiles, sinners and righteous alike – not only from Jesus’ own lips during His time on earth, but also from His Apostles lips after Jesus’ Resurrection; and, this missionary work continues from generation to generation to the present day.

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vols Ia, VI, InterVarsity Press; The Gospel of Matthew by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; The New Testament, Matthew and the Canon, by Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; NKJV.

The Parable of the Rich Man and the Abundant Crop. Luke 12:16-21

The Gospel of Luke 12:16-21—The Parable of the Rich Man and the Abundant Crop.

     The parable of the rich man and the abundant crop (Luke 12:16-21) is preceded in scripture by a man who approached Jesus for His opinion regarding his share of a family inheritance (Luke 12:13-15). Many biblical scholars believe that the question posed by the man regarding his inheritance was a question looking for support from Jesus of his greed regarding his share of the family inheritance. In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus addresses the man’s inquiry regarding his inheritance by telling him about the rich man with an abundant crop and stressing that this rich man was “…not rich toward God”.   The rich man should not have worried about hoarding his wealth because in the long run what was most important was his belief in God and doing the things that will benefit his soul. The message is clarified further by Jesus in the passage that follows, Luke 12:22-34, “..do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.  Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing….”.

     Although it seems like the 3 Gospel readings (Lk 12:13-15, Lk 12:16-21, and Lk 12:22-34) are condemning worldly concerns for accumulating food and wealth, these passages do not actually refer to preparedness in times of disaster, famine, hardship or apocalyptic circumstances. What the scriptural passages are condemning is hoarding an excess of what can be used within a lifetime simply for the pleasure of having the ability to accumulate it … that is, living a selfish life focused on one’s self rather than a life focused on God and others. Having some emergency supplies available is important for challenging times and the New Testament Scripture of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) with an eschatological theme is a perfect example of this.  Recalling the parable, having enough oil was the issue for the virgins.  Oil is used in the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church.  It is also used in the burning of the lamps in Church like it is in the Scripture reading of the Wise Virgins.  Clearly, the emphasis on the abundance of the oil is focused on the worship of the Lord in this Scripture — the Wise Virgins were, “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).   The wise Virgins were prepared and had put up enough oil to sustain them during their vigil – they did not have excess to share — If the wise Virgins had more oil then they would have needed, then it would have been the God-centered thing to do to share with the Virgins who did not have enough.  Of course, who can say ‘how much is enough’ – ….perhaps the Rich Man with the abundant crop was of the same mindset — he didn’t know if he had enough.  Perhaps he was not hoarding from his point of view, only being conservative and making sure his family was provided for since one can never “know the hour” (Matthew 24:36, 24:43, Mark 13:32, Luke 12:39, Rev. 3:3) ….. this thought of not having enough could easily encourage greed because one never knows how much one will really need.   Another example is the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:42-51, Mark 13:33-37).   The point being, the #1 priority in a person’s life should be focus on God, to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) – trusting in the Lord, and trying to live in a God-like manner toward others.

     At some time in history, people started saying, “God helps those who help themselves…” and many people believed the phrase came from the Bible. Actually, this phrase is nowhere in the Bible! Some historians believe that the phrase may have originated in ancient Greece from Greek drama and Aesop’s Fables. Similar phrasing can be found in Scripture, but, it should be noted that the passages stress a God-centered life. The passages are: Jeremiah 17:5 – Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. (NKJV); and, Proverbs 28:26 – He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.

     Did Jesus answer the man who questioned his distribution of the family inheritance?  Was the man being greedy in his request for his share of the inheritance?  Was the person who left the wealth behind hoarding and being greedy?  Reading the passage, Lk 12:13-15, and comparing with the two scriptures readings that follows, Lk 12:16-21 and Lk 12:22-34, does leave the issue unresolved to many biblical scholars way of thinking.  But the fact remains, trusting in the Lord and sharing the excess of one’s wealth with those less fortunate during one’s lifetime, is the God-centered work of the Lord which helps mankind and leads us toward salvation.

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, InterVarsity Press; The Gospel of Luke by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; The New Testament, Luke and Acts, by Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; NKJV

Jesus’ 12 Apostles and the Symbolism of the Fig Tree. John 1:35-52

The Gospel of John 1:35-52 – Jesus’ 12 Apostles and the Symbolism of the Fig Tree

     The Gospel reading of John 1:35-52 represents the 2nd day in a sequence of events leading to the gathering of Jesus’ 12 Apostles.  The 1st day is marked by John the Baptist providing testimony (John 1:29-35) that Jesus Christ was the Son of God by saying that he personally saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain on Jesus at His Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22).  The Lord’s first 2 Apostles were followers of John the Baptist’s teachings, Andrew (John 1:41) and Simon (also called Peter or Cephas, John 1:41, 42). Philip (John 1:43) was the third Apostle and was found by Jesus in Galilee.   When Jesus asked Philip to follow him, it is likely that Andrew and Simon Peter were with Jesus at the time. Andrew and Simon Peter were from Philip’s home town of Bethsaida so Philip may have known them. Philip, in turn, went to his friend Nathanael (also called Bartholomew) and asked him to come and hear Jesus. When Nathanael came to Jesus, Jesus recognized him. Nathanael was surprised about this and asked how Jesus knew him. Jesus answered that He saw Nathanael under a fig tree before Philip called him.   Interestingly, in John’s account, it does not mention that Philip found Nathanael under a fig tree, so where does the fig tree come into Jesus’ recollection of seeing Nathanael for the first time? Biblical scholars discuss and debate this passage about the fig tree in John 1:48.  Some say that the fig tree was where Philip and Nathanael met to discuss religious topics but there is no scriptural evidence to support this.  Since there is obviously some significance in Jesus seeing Nathanael under a Fig tree, let’s explore the fig tree symbolism.

     The Fig treewas actually the 3rd tree mentioned in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:7. The Tree of Lifewas the 1st tree and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the 2nd tree (Gen 2:9) It was from the Fig tree that Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves after the Fall when they became aware of their nakedness (Gen. 3:7). There is an interesting dichotomy here. The sap of fig tree leaves is an irritant to many people causing rashes and illness. Of all the trees that Adam and Eve could have picked from to make covering out of, they choose fig tree leaves. Was this an act of repentance?  St. Irenaeus and others believe it was an act of repentance.  The Lord, Himself, in His infinite mercy made clothing to cover them when they were sent out of the Garden so they would not wear the fig tree leaves. Later, in the Old Testament, the budding fig tree was a symbol of wealth and posterity (Deuteronomy 8:8-10; 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 18; and, throughout the Book of Jeremiah). It was also a symbol of love and taking care of one’s master (Proverbs 27:18, Song of Solomon 2:13).  In Joel 2:21-25, most biblical scholars believe the reference to a fruitful fig tree refers to the establishment of the Church (Romans 11:17-24; John 15:1; Luke 13:6-).  In the New Testament, the parable of the budding fig tree is found in Matthew 24:32-36; Mark 13:28-32 and Luke 21:29-33.  If one considers these passages, along with the parable of the fig tree that bore no fruit and was cursed by Jesus, Mark 11:12-20, one can easily conclude that a fig tree which only produces leaves rather edible fruit, is nothing more than a tree that can perpetuate illness and suffering – there is no saving grace in the tree if it doesn’t bear fruit – therefore, when Jesus happened upon the barren fig tree (Mark 11:12-20), he cursed it so it withered and died and could not be an irritant to the people. So, how is this all aligned to Jesus seeing Nathanael under a fig tree before Philip called him? Some biblical scholars believe that the fruitful fig tree was symbolically used in John 1:48 to emphasize that Jesus knew the Israelite, Nathanael, would not be an unbeliever like many Israelites were at the time, but would rather be like a fruitful fig tree and bring others to the true faith for their salvation.  This is evidenced through Jesus’ own words when He saw Nathanael coming toward him, “….Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! ” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

     NOTE:  The terms Apostles and Disciples were often used interchangeably to refer to the original 12 who followed Jesus Christ because they were either learning from Him (Disciples) or being sent by Him (Apostles) to preach, heal the sick and cast out demons. The term Apostles means “one who is sent”; the term Disciples means “a person who is learning from a teacher”. The Gospels of Matthew (10:1-4), Mark (3:13-19), and Luke (6:12-16) report the original 12 Apostles to be: Simon (Peter), Andrew, James (Son of Zebedee), John (James Brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector also called Levi in Mark and Luke), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus (also called Jude son of James), Simon (The Cananean also called Zealot), and Judas Iscariot (called son of Simon Iscariot in John – replaced by Matthias who was chosen using the traditional Jewish method of casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33) by the other Apostles between Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26). The Gospel of John names Thomas as Didymus (John 11:16, 20, 24; 21:2) and John does not name himself as an Apostle but rather refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”(John 13:23, 20:2).  The Gospel of John also does not name Matthew (Levi), James (Son of Alphaeus), or Simon (The Cananean also called Zealot) as Apostles.

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vols I, IVa, InterVarsity Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Conciliar Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Johannine Writings, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, NKJV

Jesus Healing the Woman with the Curvature of the Spine. Luke 13:10-17

Luke 13:10-17 – Jesus Healing the Woman with the Curvature of the Spine.

This is an interesting Gospel reading. Jesus heals a woman who has a curvature of the spine on the Sabbath in the synagogue. When one reads this passage, it is obvious that the woman did not ask to be healed. Jesus, who was apparently participating in the synagogue as a Rabbi on the Sabbath, singled her out when he saw her and healed her. When the ruler of the synagogue became indignant that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, Jesus states that even animals were unbound and led to a life-giving water source by their masters on the Sabbath. They are in fact released from their bondage on the Sabbath and provided with life-giving water!   The intent of the Lord’s action to release this woman from the bondage of her infirmity is a clear foreshadowing of the Lord’s own work to release His people from the bondage of sin and death and to lead them to salvation.

It is also interesting to note the placement of this Gospel reading.  This Gospel reading is between the reading regarding the unfruitful fig tree (13:6-9) and the reading concerning the growth of mustard seed (13:18-19). The reading regarding the unfruitful fig tree tells that the vineyard keeper was willing to take the time to nurture and fertilize the non-producing fig tree so it would produce fruit and not be chopped down. Then this story of the miracle of the healing of the woman with the curvature of the spine follows as a witness of the Kingdom of God before the temple servers. This story of the woman is, in effect, the nurturing and fertilization of the unfruitful fig tree — that is, the teaching and witness to those  who did not know the true faith. The Gospel then follows with the story of the mustard seed, Luke 13:18-19, which is the smallest seed that grows into the biggest tree. The smallest seed obviously representing the least amount of faith that grows into the biggest tree — the greatest belief of all – The Orthodox Christian Faith.

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, InterVarsity Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Conciliar Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, NKJV

The Lenten Triodion in the Orthodox Christian Church.

The Lenten Triodion

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

On the previous Sunday before the Lenten Triodion period, the Orthodox Church remembers the Sunday of Zacchaeus with the Gospel reading from Luke 19:1-10. We learn from this Gospel reading that Zacchaeus was eager to see the Lord so he climbed the fruitful sycamore fig tree to get a better look. As the fruitful sycamore fig tree that he climbed, the Publican bore sweet prolific fruit in humility and through his deeds of providing for the poor and restoring his debts fourfold to those he had sinned against. The reading reminds us that this is how we should greet the upcoming Great Lenten Fast, with humility, good works and reflection on our own sinful natures with the intent to correct our ways with God’s help and His Divine Mercy.

The Sunday following the Sunday of Zacchaeus marks the beginning of the period the Orthodox Christian Church calls the Lenten Triodion. Having been called to reflect upon our own sinful natures and take measures to correct our actions the previous week, the church now enters into a period of repentance for the next three weeks. The first of these three Sundays (which in 2015 starts on February 1) begins with the reading of the Publican and the Pharisee, Luke 18:10-14. This is more than just becoming aware of our shortcomings with regret and self-pity. It is actually a period when one can become renewed and develop a transformed viewpoint of his/her relationship with God and each other. The Holy Fathers call this Metanoia (μετάνοια) meaning that after one has recognized their own sinfulness, they have a complete change of mind and heart and become open to God.   In the Gospel reading of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Pharisee’s sin was in that he trusted in himself and thought he was perfect and had no need to change where the Publican realized his short comings. The Publican became what the Holy Fathers call “poor in spirit”, and when there is self-dissatisfaction with one’s self, there is room for God to enter our lives.

This Gospel reading is also a lesson on how to pray.  The wrong way to pray is to trust in oneself with the belief that one is perfect and without error (righteous) while retaining disdain for others (exalted pride) like the Pharisee.  The right way to pray is to approach God with humility by recognizing our own weaknesses (sinfulness), having a change of heart (metanoia) and coming to the realization that one’s only hope for salvation rests with God’s help and His Divine Mercy like the Publican.  The prayer of the Publican, “God, be merciful to me a sinner“, is the foundation for the Jesus Prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner“, as is the Orthodox  refrain chanted during liturgical worship and personal prayer, “Lord have mercy“.

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol III, Luke, InterVarsity Press; Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, The Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Conciliar Press; NKJV

How the Sacrament of Baptism is related to the Lord’s Passion and Pascha in the Orthodox Church – Mark 10:32-45, Matt 20:17-19, Luke 9:22-27

Mark 10:32-45 – How the Sacrament of Baptism is related to the Lord’s Passion and Pascha

This Gospel reading is the third time that Jesus Christ teaches of His crucifixion and resurrection to the 12 Apostles.   The first time Jesus speaks of His Passion is in Mark 8:31-38 (Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 9:22-27); and, the second time is in Mark 10:30-32 (Matthew 17:22, 23; Luke 9:43-45).   Biblical scholars refer to these three events as the Lord’s prophecies of His Passion and they speculate that the Lord brings up the issue of His impending sacrifice to create awareness in the Apostles of the events that would soon unfold and also to teach them that He will endure this of His own free will for the salvation of mankind.  What is interesting is the reactions of the Apostles when the Lord speaks on this subject each time. In the Lord’s first prophecy (Mark 8:31-38, Matthew 16:21-28, Luke 9:22-27), Jesus and His disciples had just arrived to the region of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a pagan Hellenistic city. Scholars debate the reason Jesus took His disciples there, but most agree that Jesus wanted His disciples to confess that He was truly the Messiah. He begins this conversation by asking His disciples about who other people said He was. They said that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, others thought He was Elijah from heaven, and still others thought He was an ancient prophet, perhaps Jeremiah who was the defender of Israel in times of trouble (2 Macc. 15:13-16).   After hearing this, Jesus asks them who they thought He was. It was Peter who gave his own answer: “You Yourself are the Christ.” Now that the confession of Jesus’ Messiahship had been received, Jesus then had to teach them what type of Messiah He was. The Jewish people believed that the Messiah would be a powerful military figure who would smite the enemies of God and exalt Israel. Jesus was not this image of a Messiah that the Jewish people were waiting for. He instead was a humble and peaceful person and Peter making this confession could have only been done through revelation from God. It is at this point that Jesus declares that, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it….I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…”(Matthew 16:18-19).   The Apostles thought that Peter was given preferential treatment over them by the Lord and they were rather envious because they considered each other equal in their work for the glory of God.  Many theologians believe that this recognition was misunderstood by the other Apostles and Jesus didn’t just confer this recognition to Peter, but to all the Apostles.  Some scholars also think that Jesus used Peter’s name not to single him out to bestow an honor on him but because Peter acted as the primary spokesperson for the group.  Jesus then proceeds to teach the Apostles about His impending crucifixion and resurrection. The Apostles were stunned by the disclosure. The Jews expected that the true Messiah would reign forever and Jesus telling His Apostles that He would die and be resurrected contradicted that expectation. One finds that in 1 Corinthians 1:23, the Lord’s crucifixion and death was a definite stumbling block for the Jews in believing that Jesus Christ was truly the Messiah and the Greeks considered the idea as foolishness. After Jesus tells His Apostles these things, he then takes Peter, James and John up the mountain where He is transfigured into His Divinity and the Holy Trinity manifests Himself before the Apostles eyes declaring Jesus’ Divine Sonship (Matt 17:2-8, Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).

     The second time the Lord prophesied about His crucifixion and resurrection is in Mark 30-32 (Matt. 17:22, 23; Luke 9:43-45) after healing an epileptic. The disciples could not understand why they could not heal the man, only Jesus could and Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed and the moving of mountains (overwhelming obstacles) – if faith is strong”… nothing will be impossible..” (Matthew 17:14-23; Mark 9:17-31; Luke 9:37-42).  The third time the Lord prophesied about His crucifixion and resurrection is in Mark 10:32-45 (Matthew 20:17-19; Luke 18:31-34). In this passage the Apostles James and John requested that Jesus bestow on them the right to sit on the right and left of His Throne. Many biblical scholars believe that the Apostles really did not understand Jesus’ message and that earlier in scripture, it probably seemed to them that Peter had a special honor bestowed on Him (Matthew 16:18-19), so perhaps they felt an honor should be afforded them as well when Jesus Ascends to His Heavenly throne.    Scholars clarify this by saying that a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words and actions was entirely possible since the only reference the Apostles had for a kingdom and a throne was an earthly one. Scripturally, Jesus did not promise a visible earthly kingdom in the secular sense.  The Kingdom of God is beyond human understanding.   As history records, the Apostles would endure different struggles in their lifetime for their faith as Jesus confirms by saying to them, “you will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized..” (Mark 10:39-40) – which, they accepted willingly. (Mark 10:39).

     Most theologians agree that the cup that Jesus speaks of in these scriptural passages refer to the cup of humility and suffering and the baptism that the Lord speaks of refers to His death, Resurrection and Ascension into the Kingdom of God. Theologians align this with the Sacrament of Baptism in the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism is our death, burial and resurrection in union with Jesus Christ – an entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life (John 3:3) – bestowing newness of life (Romans 6:4). Orthodox Christians are reminded of this every time they witness a baptism and hear the hymn, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia.” During the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church, immediately after this hymn, the Reader reads St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (6:3-11) which confirms this teaching, “Brethren do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His…….”  

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, InterVarsity Press; Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, The Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Conciliar Press; NKJV

The Sunday of Zachaeus – Luke 19:1-10

The Gospel of Luke 19:1-10

The Sunday of Zacchaeus

Jesus meets Zacchaeus in Jericho. Jericho was considered a sinful place to live because of all the iniquity that occurred there. Within the Gospel of Luke, up until the reading of Zacchaeus, Jesus imparts lessons to His followers about the distribution of their wealth and entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 18:24-27).  In the reading about Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus clearly tells Jesus that he gives generously and freely to the poor and if he owes someone he inadvertently cheated, he restores the debt fourfold. The interesting thing about this conversation between Zacchaeus and Jesus is that Zacchaeus, who some biblical scholars argue was not a Jew, is quoting the Jewish Law as given in Exodus 22:1-14 with the difference being that in Exodus, the Law only required the sinner to repay double the debt, while Zacchaeus restored twice the required amount. This statement was not a boast on the part of Zacchaeus, it was a statement made to Jesus to show that he helped the poor and took restoration of his debts as seriously, and even more seriously, than a son of Abraham (a Jew) was required to do according to the Law.   Jesus, upon hearing this, brings salvation to the Gentile, Zacchaeus, based on Zacchaeus actions and belief because, as Jesus states in this passage, His mission was to seek out and offer salvation to those who were lost (Luke 19:1-10).

The other interesting thing is the tree Zacchaeus climbs. A sycamore tree in this area of the world is a type of fig tree that is native to the Middle East and parts of Africa. The leaves and fruit look similar to the common fig but the sycamore fig is smaller, more fragrant and sweeter. During Jesus’ time, the sycamore tree was commonly planted along road sides to provide shade. Fig trees are mentioned throughout theOld Testament with specific mention of the sycamore fig in this scripture reading and also in the Old Testament book of Amos 7:14. Some biblical scholars like to elaborate on Zacchaeus choice of a sycamore fig tree.  Zacchaeus (a sinner and tax collector, a Gentile), was bearing fruit like the sycamore fig tree which bears more prolific,  smaller and sweeter fruit than the regular fig tree.  Therefore, Jesus declared Zacchaeus just as worthy as the sons of Abraham (Jews) to receive the gift of salvation.

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vols I, IVa, InterVarsity Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Conciliar Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Conciliar Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Johannine Writings, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

The Relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ – Mark 1:1-1:8

Gospel Reading Mark 1:1-1:8

The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ

Many biblical scholars believe that John the Baptist was related in some way to Jesus Christ through the Virgin Mary’s bloodline and the bloodline of Elizabeth, the wife of the High Priest Zacharias, John the Baptist’s mother. The Authorized King James Version of the Bible, Luke 1:36, translates the Greek word for this relationship as ‘cousin’ and the New King James Version, as well as the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version, all use either the word ‘relative’ or ‘kinswoman’ to describe the biological relationship between the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth.

All scriptural translations say that Elizabeth was a daughter of Aaron (Luke 1:5), which means that she was of the priestly bloodline of Aaron within the Levite Tribe which would make sense given she was married to the High Priest Zacharias. Since the Sacred Tradition of the Orthodox Church teaches that the Virgin Mary’s father, Joachim, was of the House of David from the Tribe of Judah; then, the blood relationship between the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth can be considered to be through the Virgin Mary’s mother, Anna. This would further mean that, Anna was also a daughter of Aaron as well and from the Priestly branch of the Levite tribe.

John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord by teaching about Him, preaching a message of repentance and performing a type of baptism for the forgiveness of sins of those who followed him. Some scholars believe John the Baptist may have been a Nazirite, which is a person who has made an extraordinary vow to sanctify himself as one of purity to the Lord (Numbers 6:2). This sanctification required an austere lifestyle and strict diet, together with ritualistic cleansing accompanied with an animal sacrifice for the atonement of sins. Because John the Baptist offered his followers a baptism that was different from the ritualistic Israelite custom for Nazirites, some scholars refute the idea that he was a Nazirite and support that he may have been an Essene instead. Essenes lived a communal lifestyle in voluntary poverty with strict diet and daily immersion. There were other religious groups similar to the Essenes as well. However, it is entirely likely that John the Baptist was not part of any of these groups since he did not live the communal lifestyle of the Essenes and remained alone in the wilderness except for times of spreading the word of the Lord and teaching his followers. The Baptism he offered was also different from all other ritualistic cleaning of the other Jewish sects. It was a baptism based on  repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4) without the ancient Israelite practice of offering an animal sacrifice to the temple.   John the Baptist also made it clear that his baptism was not complete; it was only temporary until the Lord’s Ministry on earth was complete at which time baptism for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting would be of water and the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). So, John the Baptist really was more of a Nazirite as far as his personal dedication to the Lord goes, but not entirely a Nazirite by the ancient Israelite definition in that he preached a New Covenant and paved the way for the Lord in the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). He ushered in the New Covenant between God and Mankind in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17) which was offered for the salvation of all mankind through our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.  Glory be to God.

The Beginning of Jesus Christ’s Ministry – Matthew 4:12-17

Gospel of Matthew 4:12-17

The Beginning of Jesus Christ’s Ministry

After Jesus had been baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:32,22; John 1:29-34) and triumphs over Satan in the wilderness(Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13), He learned that John the Baptist had been arrested and went to live in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee.   The land of Galilee was considered the land of people who walk in darkness, that is, without the religious advantages of Jerusalem and Judea.  It was considered by Old Testament writing to be the land of the shadow of death, where the darkness was most dense (Job 10:21, Ps 107:10; Jer 13:16; Amos 5:8).   

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus began His Ministry in the Galilee regions by preaching the same words John the Baptist did, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”(Matthew 3:2). Then, Jesus calls 2 fishermen of that area to be His first Apostles, Simon (also called Peter or Cephas: John 1:41,42) and Andrew (Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11).  Andrew(John 1:41) and Simon (John 1:41, 42) were followers of John the Baptist’s teachings, so they would have been familiar with, and receptive to, Jesus’ call to follow Him because of John the Baptist’s teachings.

Capernaum did have a small Jewish population, but it was predominately a diverse population of Gentiles and an important Roman garrison town.   Most biblical scholars agree that the Old Testament prophesies in Isaiah 9:1-2 (refer also to Job 10:21; Ps 107:10; Jer 13:16 and Amos 5:8) speaks of the people in this region who sat in darkness and lived in the shadow of death because they had not been properly taught about God and they lacked the knowledge that their souls could be saved from eternal death. Therefore, Jesus beginning His ministry and assembling His first Apostles from this region, fulfills the ancient Old Testament prophesies and brings the Word of God and the message of Salvation to all nations.

References: Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, The Jewish War; Lawrence Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Conciliar Press; Walter Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 8; Zondervan; Paul Tarazi, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, KJV.  NKJV.

The Cleansing of the 10 Lepers – Luke 17:12-19

Prior to the Gospel of Luke 17:12-19 telling of the healing of the 10 lepers is a story of the healing of another leper in Luke 12:15 (Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45).  In both of these stories, Jesus instructs the people inflicted with leprosy to show the priests that they were healed.  In the ancient world, leprosy was considered a disease that was the result of sin.  The disease caused great suffering and it was contagious, therefore, the people afflicted with this disease were banished to live in areas remote to the general population.   The priests would have had the power to release the leper from banishment so he could rejoin the community of believers as having been purified of their defilement.

The difference between the two stories about the lepers in Luke is that in the first story the leper was clearly a Jew and told to follow the command of Moses and make an offering for his cleaning, an offering of thanksgiving, after the priests had certified that he no longer had the disease.   In the second story there was one Samaritan among the 10 lepers that were cured.  They were all told by Jesus to go and show themselves to the priests, but Jesus did not tell them to make a thank offering as he did in the earlier story in Luke.  The only person who personally thanked Jesus Himself for curing him was the Samaritan.

Actually, the Samaritan would not have gone to the same worship center as the other 9 Jewish lepers once they were healed.   To clarify, the Samaritans worshiped the God of Israel and claimed their ancestry through the two Grandsons of Jacob by his son Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh.   Some biblical scholars include the tribes of Benjamin and Levi in the Samaritan ancestry as well.   They accepted the first five books of the Old Testament that were written by Moses and were waiting for the Messiah. They considered themselves to hold the faith of the ancient Israelites in its original form before the Babylonian Exile, preserved unaltered by those who remained in the land of Israel. There is some evidence that their very name in the Samaritan Hebrew language is really ‘Samerim’, which means “Keepers/Guardians of the Law”.   They were a mixed race of people and traditional enemies of the Jews. The major problem between the Jews and the Samaritans was the location of the place to worship God. According to the Jews, the place was Jerusalem. According to the Samaritans, the original place was Mount Gerizim because that is where the tribes of Israel settled after Joshua conquered Canaan (Deut. 11:29; 27:12; Josh. 8:33). This dispute in location of the Holy place to worship God was worsened when the Jews destroyed the temple of the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim in 128 BC.

Most biblical scholars conclude that the singling out of the Samaritan leper in this biblical story, and by extension those who would come to believe in the Lord’s Divinity who were Gentiles, is meant to convey that salvation from sin and death is offered by our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ to those who believe and offer glory to God for His great mercy offered to all mankind.

References:  Josephus; Antiquities of the Jews: Josephus: the Wars of the Jews; Ancient Christian Commentary, IV-A; Fathers of the Church; The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor by Lawrence Farley, Concilliar Press; The New Testament, Luke and Acts by Paul Nadim Tarazi, NKJV

The Parable of the “Sower and the Seed..” Luke 8:5 – 8:15; Matt 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20

“A sower went out to sow his seed and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down……” Luke 8:5-8:15; Matt 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20

Many theologians speak on this topic, but few, if any, look at it from the seed’s point of view. Imagine yourself as the seed. You hold God’s Words in your heart, you are trying desperately to do the Lord’s work and be fruitful and multiply but you landed on a rock or a thorn … you get crushed underfoot, you get stuck on a thorn, and do not have fertile ground, or sunlight, or water to grow. Here you are, this little seed trying to do God’s work in a barren space… and there is no enduring sustenance for you to sustain your life in the Lord.

How many times does this happen to a little seed? To that person (the seed) who wants so much to be part of the Lord’s vineyard but is not planted anywhere near it even though it looked like it was the vineyard when the seed was sowed? Does this happen in the Church? Isn’t the Church the fertile ground, the Lord’s Vineyard? Yes…and No too. Evil works it’s hardest in a place where people are trying their hardest to be good and faithful servants to the Lord. That means that even though the teachings of the Church, the Church itself, is perfect in the World, the people who make up the Church, fallen humanity, are not. So…the results are: jealously, competition, vain glory, pride, marginalization, and even hatred, happens in the Lord’s Sacred Vineyard, the Church.

What does these negative elements in the Sacred Vineyard do to the little seed, the Word of God in the person? The negative elements starve it, they dry it up, they crush it under foot – and the little seed doesn’t stand a chance on supposed fertile ground. It withers and dies because the little seed needs sustenance, protection, water, and light to survive. In short, in order to grow and be fruitful and multiply, the little seed needs to be treated with: equally, kindness, love, compassion, and care from the environment in which it is planted – all the elements Jesus taught – all the nurturing elements of what a believer in Christ’s teaching, a Christian, is defined to be.

So, when jealously, vain glory, pride, competition, marginalization, even hatred rear their ugly head (in church committees, in the choir, on the cantor stand, in ethnic and gender divisions, even in the Altar – on the supposed fertile ground of the Church), smother the negative elements with all the life-sustaining elements Jesus taught to those who call themselves followers of Christ, Christians – so that the little seed of faith in each and every member of the body of Christ, may receive the life-giving nurturing and the sustenance needed in order to blossom and grow to serve the Lord in His Sacred Vineyard.

Akathist Hymn prayers to the Mother of God and the Lord intoned Byzantine style in English and Greek.

How to intone the prayers to the Mother of God and the Lord in English and in Greek using Byzantine Style chant as found in Great Compline and the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos according to Greek Orthodox usage during Great Lent.

A source for an English Translation is available at  https://www.goarch.org/-/the-akathist-hymn-and-small-compline

In English:

In Greek:

For a printout of the Greek using English phonetics, access this link

Bible Study – the Pentateuch, an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.

Bible Study – the Pentateuch, an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.  This Bible Study video series focuses on the Old Testament Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses) and is conducted from an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective. Please keep in mind that the Eastern Orthodox Church today continues to use the Septuagint (LXX) as their Old Testament.

Where there are naming differences in the books of this Bible study, those differences will be noted accordingly.

For spiritual guidance or clarification, please consult with your Priest or spiritual advisor.

Please take the time to read each book on your own. For spiritual guidance or clarification, please consult with your Priest or spiritual advisor.

The Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses, the Law), An Overviewhttps://youtu.be/e3QXjFt_7rk

Genesis:   https://youtu.be/lG51W3xgn7s

Exodus:  https://youtu.be/8eRfLZKUcUw

Leviticus:  https://youtu.be/iyaIR4Yq1z0

Numbers (Ἀριθμοί Arithmoi):  https://youtu.be/5NO_5jopn0M

Deuteronomy:  https://youtu.be/oDIUYkOw4qY

Bible Study – The Writings: Wisdom and Poetry. An Eastern Orthodox Christian Perspective.

Bible Study – The Writings: Wisdom and Poetry. An Eastern Orthodox Christian Perspective.   Please keep in mind that the Eastern Orthodox Church today continues to use the Septuagint (LXX) as their Old Testament.

Where there are naming differences in the books of this Bible study, those differences will be noted accordingly.

For spiritual guidance or clarification, please consult with your Priest or spiritual advisor.

Psalms:   https://youtu.be/IDOWUNcS2Zw

Proverbs:  https://youtu.be/JyRrGsI0GQ8

Ecclesiastes:  https://youtu.be/YhS6G490PPQ

Jobhttps://youtu.be/xapJjcFKkh0

Tobit:  https://youtu.be/uJsZyoSYBoU

Song of Songs:  https://youtu.be/J-n7PMRsenE

The Wisdom of Solomon:  https://youtu.be/GaGlQ5fhglE

The Wisdom of Sirach:  https://youtu.be/KfRUa8NjyJs

Bible Study – The Historical Books. An Eastern Orthodox Christian Perspective.

Bible Study – The Historical Books. An Eastern Orthodox Christian Perspective.  This Bible Study video series is conducted from an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.  Please keep in mind that the Eastern Orthodox Church today continues to use the Septuagint (LXX) as their Old Testament.

Where there are naming differences in the books of this Bible study, those differences will be noted accordingly.

For spiritual guidance or clarification, please consult with your Priest or spiritual advisor.

Within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, the Pentateuch (also known as:  The Torah; The 5 Books of Moses; and The Law)  is included in the the Historical Books:

Mary, The Mother of God, an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.

A video series exploring the Old Testament prefiguring of the Theotokos (Mother of God) and the hymnody used by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church to venerate her.

This series of videos were one of my Doctoral projects that were given “live” in my parish in 2011 with the blessings of my parish priest. The classes are recreated in the video format for your use.  The Teen/Adult age group is an appropriate audience.   In general the first 2 images of each video lesson were handouts for the participants, then there was a 20 minute lecture. After the lecture, the remainder of the class time was spent in discussion with the participants.

It is my hope you will find these video lessons useful and edifying.

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Introduction:  https://youtu.be/Hw103_XY9zQ

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Lesson 1:  https://youtu.be/mVwHpP5PTxc

  • Overview
  • Terminology used for the Virgin Mary in the Church
  • What is known about the Virgin Mary through canonical scripture
  • What is known about the Virgin Mary through sacred Tradition
  • Feast Days in the Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary
  • Why the Orthodox Church Venerates the Virgin Mary
  • Canonical Scripture and hymnody that venerates the Virgin Mary

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Lesson 2:  https://youtu.be/FqN579P23mQ

  • The Mother of God is the culmination of the Israelite history of God’s people.
  • What the Holy Fathers of the Church write about the Mother of God’s humanity.
  • Some hymnody of the Church that addresses the Virgin Mary’s humanity.

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Lesson 3:  https://youtu.be/fKmuvW7bVY0

  • Old Testament Imagery used in the hymnody of the Church for the Mary, the Mother of God.
  • Old Testament types of the Virgin Mary

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Lesson 4:  https://youtu.be/D7aun3hdJ8g

  • Biblical historical perspective of God’s Covenant with His people.
  • Identifying Mary, the Mother of God’s role in God’s Covenant with His people.
  • The Virgin Mary’s identification with the community.
  • Mary, the Mother of God, identified with the Ark and the Temple.

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Lesson 5:  https://youtu.be/4JT2LWrdjew

  • Understanding how the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is part of God’s Divine plan for mankind’s salvation.

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Lesson 6:  https://youtu.be/qVjwkXa_yks

  • Mary, Mother of God, (Theotokos), as Intercessor – Mediator

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Lesson 7:  https://youtu.be/qlcZd43efMA

  • Summary.

The Nicene Creed of Faith in Greek, Phonetics, and English

It is a common fact in English speaking countries that English Translations of the Nicene Creed of Faith used in the Greek Orthodox Church deviates considerably from one text to another.  They all say essentially the same thing but use different, sometimes complex, English words in the translation.  What absolutely never changes is the original Greek language in which it was written.   Below is a link to an English phonetic interpretation for those of you who may not read the Greek alphabet but would like to learn to say the Nicene Creed of Faith in the original Greek language.  Since English phonetics can be challenging to read as well, a video is provided with my voice saying the Nicene Creed of Faith very slowly in Greek so you can easily follow the phonetics along.

Click Here For a printable Nicene Creed in Greek, English Phonetics, and English

References:  Greek Orthodox Archdiocese http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/creed

 

 

 
 
 

 

The Lord’s Prayer in Greek, Phonetics, and English

It is a common fact in English speaking countries that English Translations of the Lord’s Prayer used in the Orthodox Church deviates considerably from one text to another.  They all say essentially the same thing but use different, sometimes complex, English words in the translation.  What absolutely never changes is the original text in the original language in which it was written.   Below is a link to a phonetic interpretation for those of you who may not read Greek but would like to learn to say the Lord’s Prayer in the original Greek language.  Even the phonetics can be challenging to read, so following the phonetics is a video with a voice saying the Lord’s Prayer very slowly in Greek so you can follow along.

Click here if you would like to have a printout with the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, Phonetics and English.

 

 

 
 

 

How an Orthodox Christian makes the sign of the Cross

This is a helpful pictorial aid for religious education and home schools that explains how an Orthodox Christian positions their hand when making the sign of the Cross.

How an Orthodox Christian positions their hand when making the sign of the cross

 

How an Orthodox Priest positions his hand to bless

This is a helpful pictorial aid for religious education and home schools that explains how an Orthodox Christian Priest positions his hand when making the sign of the Cross.

Here is a link to print this image out for teaching purposes: https://1drv.ms/u/s!ApUUjx4Dz0itpzKfl1eu582dpT8Z?e=PjJMCs

Sacred Space: The Architecture and Space of a Byzantine Church

Within the narrative of faith itself, everything within the Byzantine temple is designed with biblical and theologically centered meaning to define a sacred space where a person may have an experience of being in the presence of God.

This video explores the history of the early Christian communities, Byzantine Church Architecture, Iconography, and the use of icons within the Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.

 

Why do some Orthodox Christians dye their eggs red?

The whole world maybe in quarantine at Easter 2020,  but that doesn’t mean we have to neglect our Easter Traditions. Today (April 16, 2020) is Holy Thursday for Orthodox Christians and by tradition people of Greek, Albanian, Antiochian and Romanian extraction dye their eggs red on Holy Thursday morning. Why?

Some Orthodox have a tradition that says that after Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary Magdalene went to Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome and she took with her a symbol that the pagan Emperor would understand as a symbol representing new life…. an egg.

She told the emperor of the Resurrection of Christ and when he questioned her about it, she held up the plain egg, said “Christ is Risen”, and the egg turned red in her hand!  The egg shell not only represented new life, but also the tomb of Jesus Christ and the red color the blood He shed for mankind’s salvation.

In modern times, on Easter Sunday, the family gathers and crack eggs to represent Jesus’ rising from the Tomb and the raising up of all mankind – Scripture says, “and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:53).

Each person holds an egg, one person strikes the egg of the other person matching up the ends of the eggs. bottom of the egg strikes the bottom of the other egg…top strikes top:

  1. The one who strikes says “Christ is Risen”.  In Greek that is: Christos Anesti (Χριστός Ανέστη).  In Albanian that is: Krishti U Ngjall!
  2. The one receiving the strike says, “Truly He is Risen”.  In Greek: Alithos Anesti (Aληθώς ανέστη!).  In Albanian: Vertet U Ngjall!

Our iconographers write an icon of Mary Magdeline holding a red egg. 😃. Here is an image of the icon I have of her which I bought many many years ago from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Also an image of this year’s eggs that I just finished dyeing.

May all of you have a blessed and joyous Easter!

Vacation Bible School

This link provides a suggested 3-day Orthodox Christian Vacation Bible School program for children in grades 1 through teen.  This was the first Bible School program implemented at my Parish in 2013 with the Parish Priest’s blessings.   It is a simple program providing spiritual enrichment and Orthodox centered youth discussions and activities.

This program was implemented in a Greek Orthodox Church, so various references and hymns are rendered in Greek and refer to Greek Orthodox youth groups, HOPE,JOY and GOYA.  These can be easily changed to accommodate your jurisdiction.

The Old Testament Priesthood as compared to the New Testament Priesthood

In my earlier post, we explored the women mentioned in Jesus Christ’s Genealogy from Matthew 1:1.  We explored the lineage of the Virgin Mary as given in the first five chapters of the Protoevangelium of James and discovered that she carried both the bloodline of the Tribe of Judah (King David) from her Father; and, the bloodline of the Tribe of Levi through her Mother Anna who was of the daughters of Aaron.

In ancient Israel, one tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel was set aside to perform priestly functions.  This was the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3).  Specifically, within the Levi Tribe, the sons of Aaron were further set aside to be the Liturgical Priests.  The Levites taught the people about the Hebrew faith and therefore lived within the other 11 tribes.  They did not inherit property from their father Jacob (later called Israel),  their sole responsibility was to live within the other tribes and teach the faith (Joshua 13:33).

Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8 speak of this priesthood.  The Old Testament priesthood was one of progeny.  To clarify, just Aaron was the first anointed Priest within the tribe of Levi and was known as Christos (the anointed one).  His sons were then acknowledged by a sprinkling.  Whenever the anointed priest died, his next eldest son became priest and so forth.

Jesus Christ, carries both the bloodline of the tribe of Judah (as foretold in the Old Testament) and the tribe of Levi (the tribe of the Priestly class) as discussed in the previous post.  Jesus Christ’s relative, John the Baptist (Luke 1:36)  (Son of Priest Zachariah (of the sons of Aaron) and Elizabeth (of the daughters of Aaron) were relatives to the Virgin Mary through her mother, Anna, who was of the daughters of Aaron.  Therefore, Zachariah and Elizabeth were of the Levi tribe and the sons and daughters of Aaron.  John the Baptist is referred to as the Forerunner, because he was approximately 4 months older than Jesus Christ, and he went before the Messiah to prepare them for Jesus Christ’s Ministry when Jesus became of age according to God’s plan.

In the Old Testament, it was prophesied by Isaiah and Ezekiel that the Lord God would come as a shepherd to His flock (Isaiah 40:11) (Ezekiel 34:12, 34:23) which is something the Old Testament priesthood was not – they did not go forth to evangelize and bring all into the faith.  The Old Testament priesthood promoted good works and proper teachings. and although the New Testament priesthood is all that, it is also now a shepherding task to bring  the flock back to God the Father – the salvation of mankind.

In John 10:7-16, Jesus Christ declares himself as the Shepherd and Jesus Christ’s ministry is precisely that, not only good works and proper teachings but also the shepherding of the people, the body of the Church – it is a priesthood of evangelism that reaches out to all people.   The New Testament priesthood is also a sacrificial priesthood in that the Shepherd lays down his own life for the salvation of his flock.   Jesus Christ is the New Testament High Priest (Heb 9:11).  Not one of progeny as the Old Testament Priesthood was, but one of the New Testament Priesthood, as High Priest and Shepherd so that God’s people may obtain salvation and inherit the Kingdom of God:

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. ….. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.   “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 …….. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.    John 10:7-16

  Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32 NKJV

Related blog post :  The veneration of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Christian Church

Sources:  NKJV Holy Bible; The Ministry of the Church, Image of Pastoral Care by Joseph Allen, Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture; The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Co; Protoevangelium of James from Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Revelations: Ante Nicene Christian Library translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to AD 325 Part 16. Reverend Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson

 

Women in Jesus Christ’s Genealogy

Women are mentioned throughout the Old and New Testament, but the only New Testament scripture which mentions women in Jesus’ Genealogy is the Book of Matthew 1:1.

At that time in the world, only the males were listed in the genealogy of children, but Matthew took the time to include some of the women even though he is writing his Gospel for the ancient Israelites who were a strict paternally focused society.    Because women are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, many biblical scholars believe that the genealogy in Matthew 1:1 is that of the Virgin Mary.  Since Jesus took his humanity from his mother’s lineage, then, it may be assumed that this is the direct bloodline of Jesus’ humanity.

Theologians also believe the inclusion of some women in Jesus’ genealogy implicates the important role women would play in God’s plan for mankind’s salvation and the Virgin Mary’s special place in that plan. They also say that the inclusion of women who were not Jewish or considered sinners by the societal norms of the times, foreshadows the forgiveness and inclusiveness of the Christian Church.

Women mentioned in Jesus’ Christ’s Genealogy:

Tamar.  Tamar was the wife of Judah’s eldest son who was killed.   Judah had given her to his second son, but the second son did not want to conceive a child with her, so Judah promised Tamar to his youngest son as a wife to raise up children for the dead son, but this did not come to pass. Because societal norms at that time deemed that this was Tamar’s right, she disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah thereby conceiving (Genesis 38) twin boys Perez and Zerah.  Perez is listed in the Old Testament Book of Ruth as an ancestor to King David (Ruth 4:18-22)

Rahad.  Rahab saved three spies of Israel who entered Jericho and as a result, she and her family were saved from the destruction of Jericho.  She gave birth to Boaz who is listed in Jesus’ genealogy.

Ruth was united with Boaz and gave birth to Obed.  Obed gave birth to Jesse and Jesse gave birth to David the King.

Wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) and King David.  Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon and Nathan.  Theologians believe that it is through the line of Nathan (David and Bathsheba’s 3rd son) that Jesus’ lineage proceeds.  There is evidence that Solomon’s and Nathan’s line converge down the line to the lineage of the Virgin Mary through her father, Joachim.

Virgin Mary.  In the book of Matthew, Joseph is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy because Old Testament marriage laws bestowed hereditary rights on both adopted and biological sons.

Although the Virgin Mary’s mother (Anna) and father (Joachim) are not mentioned in the Holy Bible, the Virgin Mary is also of the lineage of King David on her father, Joachim’s, side as written in the Protoevangelium of James. Interestingly, the Virgin Mary’s mother Anna is of the daughters of Aaron which indicates the mother was from the tribe of Levi, the Priest tribe.  This is discovered in the Bible when the Virgin Mary visits her cousin on the mother’s side, Elizabeth, who was of the daughters of Aaron and married to Zachariah the priest – the Levite tribe!

Although not generally practiced in ancient Israelite society, the tribes did sometime intermarry and the visit to Elizabeth indicates a merge in the Virgin Mary of the Tribe of Judah/King David line (through her father Joachim as foretold by the Old Testament prophets) and the Tribe of Levi (through her mother).  So, of the 12 Tribes of Israel, the Virgin Mary contained both blood lines:  the line of Judah/King David and the line of Levi, the Priest Tribe – this is Jesus’ humanity bloodline.

Although much of the Protoevangelium of James is disregarded in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the first five chapters are generally accepted concerning Joachim and Anna’s conception of the Virgin Mary.  The hymnody in the Eastern Orthodox Church reflects this acceptance in the Hymns chanted in Church during the Feast days of the Virgin Mary and Joachim and Anna.

 

Sources:

Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture, New Testament Ia, Matthew 1-13;  The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Co;  Holy Bible, NKJV.

Sunday School Advent/Christmas program for Orthodox Christian Youth.

This is a Sunday School Advent/Christmas program that effectively includes all children in the Catechism program of the church, First Grade through Teens.
The purpose of the program is to create anticipation and preparation in awaiting the birth of our Savior during the 40-day Christmas Lenten period. “The Services of Christmas in the Orthodox Church” by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann in the book The Services of Christmas: The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, by David Anderson and John Erickson; together with the book, Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home, by Rev. Fr. Anthony Coniaris, inspired the design of this Sunday School program.
Using Fr. Coniaris’ idea of an Advent Wreath in his book, “Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home” and applying appropriate adaptations to his suggestions to turn it into a program for all children to present to the adults of the parish during Advent, the program that was developed was entitled “PREPARING FOR HIS COMING”

Click the following link to view the program detail:  Christmas Advent Program for Orthodox Youth.  

The Hours of the Orthodox Church

Hours of the Orthodox Church:
  1. Vespers Since ancient times, Vespers was scheduled close to the time of the setting sun and has a two-fold purpose:  to end the current day with thanksgiving to God and, to begin the next day with the lighting of the lamps of evening.  It is a service thanking God for His abundant blessing that He has granted to us and His whole creation during the day.  With the setting of the Sun, everything is led to rest.  Psalms 104 and 141 are dedicated to this hour.  
  2. Compline.  After the evening meal and before going to sleep, this service gives glory to our Creator and we thank Him again for His blessings and ask His forgiveness of our sins.  In Greek, the word for sin actually means “to miss the mark”.  We then entrust ourselves to Him and sleep in peace with the knowledge that we are under His protection.
  3. Midnight Service Typically only done in Monasteries or on special feasts of the Orthodox Church.  It is referred to in the New Testament (ACTS 16:25) when in the jail of Philippi where the Apostles Paul and Silas hymned God at midnight.   This hour of prayer has a particular grace, for while everything is silent and at rest, the soul which loves God rises from sleep and together with the heavenly hosts offers praises and thanksgivings to the Lord.
  4. Matins (Orthros) — Fully after Sunrise — it is the prayer of Sunrise.     In this service we offer praises, thanksgivings and petitions to God for the coming of the new day and seek His blessing for the new day.  it is in this service where we hear about the Feasts and/or saints commemorated that day -.  Almost all of the teaching occurs in the Matins service.
  5. First Hour.  For millennia, the hours of the day were reckoned from sunrise.   We would say now that the first hour after sunrise occurs around 7:00 am.  During this hour, we pray and ask God to bless the day at this hour. and to guard us from everything that could harm us in body or soul.  We seek spiritual awakening through the material light through Jesus Christ which is the true light enlightening every man who comes into the world
  6. Third Hour.  This hour corresponds to about 9:00 am.  ACTS 2:16 –It is at the 3rd hour when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles (Pentecost) and all those present illuminating and enlightening them so they could go forward into the world and teach about Christianity.   The Holy Spirit has remained in the Church ever since, guiding and sanctifying it. At this hour we thank God and ask Him to never deprive us of the fruits and graces of the Spirit.
  7. Sixth Hour.  This hour corresponds to 12:00 noon which is when our Lord’s sacrifice began — at Golgotha “the place of the skull”.  Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44. Yes, this is a terrible image, but rejoicing in the infinite love of God, prayers give Him grateful thanks because it was by this that He brought our salvation to us.
  8. Ninth Hour.  This hour corresponds to about 3:00 in the afternoon …Mark 15:34, 37 it is the hour when our Lord’s sacrifice upon the cross ends and He gives up His spirit to the Heavenly Father.

The Divine Liturgy is not considered to be one of the “Hours”.  The Divine Liturgy is when Holy Communion is offered to the faithful.

Today the Divine Liturgy is also called, “The Eucharist” or “Thanksgiving”.  It is the continual celebration of the Last Supper and the re-living of the saving events of Christ’s death and Resurrection.

The Great Entrance marks the beginning of this part of the Liturgy.  The spiritual meaning of the Great Entrance is Christ’s coming into the world to offer Himself as a sacrifice on the cross to save His people from death and the Priest stands as an icon of the Bishop who stands as an icon of the Lord offering Himself for His people.

This is followed with a Litany, the kiss of peace, and the reading of the Creed of Faith.  The Holy Offering (Anaphora) and the Great Eucharistic Prayer  then takes place and are followed with the Litany, Lord’s Prayer and Holy Communion.

The Divine Liturgy then concludes with hymns, prayers and the dismissal.

The Christian Symbol of the Fish

Ichthys2020

For a printable copy, access this link

In the earliest of Christian times, when Christians were heavily persecuted, the fish symbol came to represent Christianity long before the Cross symbol was in use.   The symbol of the fish was used to identify oneself as a Christian to others, mark burial places of the saints and martyrs and would also indicate the location of where a prayer meeting was held.

There are many different interpretations as to why or how the fish symbol originated, some of which can be traced back to a time long before Jesus Christ came into the world – as far back as the third and fourth century BC with the stories of the mythical Orpheus of Thrace that was described as a fisher of men.  Many other ancient cultures and religions used the symbol of the fish as well to denote various observances.  But, in the case of Christianity, the fish symbol was most likely adopted from the writings of the Apostles which speak of the miracles that Jesus preformed in feeding the multitudes and the calling of the first Apostles, Simon Peter, James and John (Luke 5:1-11, Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20) who were referred to as the “reputed pillars” of the Jewish Christian community in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Gal. 2:1-10).  Most Orthodox Christian theologians also think that the great catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11, Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20, fulfills the prophesy in the Old Testament of Jeremiah 16:16, “…says the Lord….behold ….I will send many fishermen, and they will fish them.”.

The Christian Fish symbol is also aligned with Jesus’ Resurrection and the story of Jonah and the Whale of the Old Testament (Jonah 1:17- 2:10) through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 15:1-58; and, the Gospels of Matthew (12:38-40) and Luke (11:29-30) (KJV).

IΧΘΥΣ is an acronym for Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ – phonetically pronounced: Isous Christos, Theou Yios, Soter – in English: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.  Some believe the acronym inside the fish started to become popular in the 1970s.  But I believe the existence of the acronym inside the fish was in use long before that time; and, although I cannot find a reference now, I remember as a child seeing the Fish symbol  with the IΧΘΥΣ written inside in documents that dated well before the 1970s, perhaps even as early as the 1950s or before.  At some point, modern culture converted the Greek acronym IΧΘΥΣ written inside the first symbol to simply the English word Jesus and other variations also exist in contemporary society today.

References:  Lawrence Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Conciliar Press; Walter Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 8; Zondervan; Paul Tarazi, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, KJV.

Guide to creating a didactic (teaching) Divine Liturgy in your Home School or Parish.

The following is a link to a helpful guide for establishing an Eastern Orthodox Christian  Didactic (teaching) Divine Liturgy in your Home School or Parish:  Didactic (teaching) Divine Liturgy Guide.

Some helpful hints for stylizing the Didactic Divine Liturgy Guide and creating your own document for handout in your Home School or Parish are:

  1. Use the actual Divine Liturgy book your parish has in the pews and insert page numbers and the titles of the Hymns your pew edition uses so the people can readily refer to the page number and hymn names during the teaching Liturgy.
  2. Take pictures of your own Priest during the Liturgy and insert those pictures in the document to be used as a handout.
  3. Take pictures of your own icons, church paraments, liturgical items on the Table of Oblation, etc. and insert those pictures in the document to be used as a handout.
  4. Almost all images and name references used in this document are what is typically used within the Greek Orthodox Christian jurisdictions.  Please feel free to change these images and name references according to your jurisdictional preferences.
All of the educational information and posts on this website are copyrighted by the Author, Dr. Christine Cheryl Kerxhalli.  You are free to use anything in your ministry that is posted on this site as long as a link is provided to this website and the author is given appropriate credit.

Eastern Orthodox Christian Timeline with Brief Explanation of the Seven Great Ecumenical Councils

This is a convenient Eastern Orthodox Christian Timeline that provides a very brief explanation of some of the decisions of the Seven Great Ecumenical Councils that were held during the first 1000 years of Christianity

TIMELINE_COUNCILS

The Orthodox Tradition of a Prayer Rope (Komboskini, Chotki) for The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is:  “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Some will even revise this prayer to be, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me THE sinner”.

The prayer rope (komboskini, chotki) originated in the monastic world as a tool that could be used in the prayer rule of male and female monks. It had no particular design originally. It was simply a method to keep track of the number of prayers asking for the Lord’s Mercy that the spiritual elder had given to his or her spiritual child as an obedience to perform each day.  The purpose of this monastic exercise was to train the spiritual child’s mind to pray without ceasing in response to the commandment given by the Apostle Paul in 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 which is further supported in the New Testament (NKJV): Matthew 9:27, Matthew 15:22, Matthew 17:15, Matthew 20:30, Matthew 20:31, Mark 10:47, Mark 10:48, Luke 16:24, Luke 17:13, Luke 18:38, Luke 18:39, Romans 9:15, Romans 11:30, Romans 11:32, 1Corinthians 7:25, Philippians 2:27, 1Peter 2:10. The New Testament writings, as a fulfillment of the Old Testament, have their foundation in the Old Testament scripture where petitioning the Lord to have mercy on a person or group of people occurs repeatedly through scripture.

The training of the mind was the important reason for the Prayer Rope and the Prayer Rope rule given to the monks. The mind was to become so conditioned through this daily spiritual exercise, that no matter what the person was doing, the body would learn to automatically and without conscious thinking, pray for the Lord’s mercy continually in waking hours when engaged in activities as well as subconsciously in sleeping hours.

The Jesus prayer and the prayer rope developed during the first 1000 years of Christianity into a practice not just done by the monastic community but also by lay people who wanted to lead a life that would bring them closer to God in the hope of salvation for their souls.  The Prayer Rope is the precursor to the modern day Rosary that the Roman Catholic Church implemented as a prayer rule for their Roman Catholic faithful after the Great Schism between the Church of the East and the Church of the West in 1054 AD.

The modern day prayer rope can be any length of knots, although the knots should be tied in a particular way that weaves 7 crosses together in each knot. The most traditional lengths are 33 knots, 50 knots, 100 knots and 300 knots. The Cross that is tied can be tied with or without a tassel. The tassel has its basis as being something to wipe away the tears of the penitent as he/she prays the Jesus Prayer or other short prayers which have been assigned to them by their spiritual elder.

Although many materials are used to tie a prayer rope in recent times – elastic rope, waxed rope,  synthetic yarns, etc., it was and still is tied of Lamb’s wool yarn by tradition to remind the penitent that Jesus is the Lamb of God and the 33 knots version represented the Lord’s time on earth.  The Prayer Rope was plain and not decorated to reflect the contrition of the person and to be humble before the Lord in their petition for mercy.  It was also black to reflect the monastic view of being dead to the secular world and for the mourning of the sinful tendencies of the person.

Lay people can either incorporate the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope rule into their daily lives, or in the more modern sense, simply wear the prayer rope on the wrist as a constant reminder to pray without ceasing.  The colors lay people often use are generally black and also the church’s ecclesiastical colors.  So Lay people will often prefer the church Feast day colors such as:  Black, White/Gold/Ivory, Purple, Green, Light Blue, and a dark shade of Red — Although, merchants are now marketing many other colors as well.

Whether a person uses the Jesus Prayer alone or with a Prayer Rope as a prayer rule or carry a prayer rope as a prayer reminder, praying to the Lord for Mercy is the spiritual food for the soul that can help the person to recognize and work at their shortcomings, thereby helping them to become a little bit better each day with the help of the Lord for the salvation of their soul.

 
 
 
 

Orthodox Christian Youth Craft for Christmas Lent – Christmas (Advent) Wreath

For Orthodox Christians, the fast period for the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ begins on November 15 and extends through December 25. Orthodox Christians often refer to this time as the Christmas Fast or Christmas Lent. This is a spiritual period of moderate fasting, prayer, scripture reading and reflection on the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the USA, other Christian traditions often use what is called an Advent Wreath to enrich the spirituality of the Christmas Lenten season as they await the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. According to those Christian traditions, a candle is lit every Sunday during the Christmas Advent (Lent) season marking the passing of time until the Nativity of the Lord. This craft project borrows that Advent Wreath Christian tradition and adapts it for use in the Orthodox Christian home during the forty-day (40 day) Christmas Lenten fast period while providing appropriate scriptural readings for each lighting.

The following video explains how to construct the Advent Wreath.

Click for written instructions:  https://1drv.ms/b/s!ApUUjx4Dz0itpyxf_qP0rl-kF3an?e=SQEhxF

Orthodox Christian Advent Wreath
Orthodox Christian Safety Advent Wreath