All posts by Little

I am a father, husband, Eastern Orthodox Christian, the son of a priest, tonsured reader, musician, secular humanist, feminist, activist and agnostic atheist.

The Lords Prayer part seven: Lead us not into temptation (1 of 2)

This request always struck me as odd. We are told not to “tempt the Lord thy God,” but here we are, it would seem, asking God not to tempt us. First let’s take a look at the Greek. The word temptation is πειρασμός. 

Strongs gives us a definition: a) trial, probation, testing, being tried, (b) temptation, (c) calamity, affliction.

Another word used is “experiment.” 

Passing over the interesting connotations that might bring (cf. Job,) I’d like to focus on the trial, and calamity aspect. 

It would seem that we are requesting deliverance from trying times. I think in terms of those moments when we are pushed to the brink. Rather like Jesus in the desert after 40 days, or perhaps hanging on the cross screaming to the heavens.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Mat. 27:46 KJV


When I was younger, I often misunderstood the scripture as requiring us to ask of God not to tempt us to sin. Asking God not to give us opportunity to “miss the mark.” Now I am wondering if Matthew had more in mind when he  wrote πειρασμός. I think perhaps he is also referring to the many times we as human beings are on the edge of life and death call them both spiritually, intellectually, and or physically.

I am also led to this interpretation via the completion of this verse:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

Mat. 6:13

In part two I would like to delve into this image of deliverance from evil.

One final thought: it seems with this last couplet in the Lords prayer, we are reminded that the Father is well aware that life is often trying. So he urges us to remember that his son knows this deeply. So have no fear but simply ask to be spared from temptation, from trials, from the times of tribulation. We are asking for God to prevent us, or go before us. And that’s when we are reminded: The God-man Jesus did.

The Lord’s Prayer part six: debts and debtors

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

I went to a little Roman Catholic elementary school, at Mass every morning I heard “forgive us our tresspasses…” In our family’s Orthodox church we sang “forgive us our debts…” Very confusing for a child like me. I remember citing it as a major difference between the Roman and the Orthodox churches – along with the sign of the cross – in conversation with one of the Marion sisters in the principal’s office. I was around ten. Of course as I grew it became clear that the debts/trespass issue had nothing to do with denomination and everything to do with what translation used. Many Orthodox ask the Father to forgive their trespasses. Everytime I would hear tresspasses used I would always wonder “why the difference?” and more importantly “which is correct?” Somewhere along the line I discovered the interlinear bible. An interlinear bible has the Greek and in our case English side by side word by word. It turns out the Greek word ὀφειλήματα, often translated as trespasses, means debt or more specifically “that which is owed.”

In Scripture everything has meaning.  The Rabbis say that even the empty spaces have meaning. Word choices have meaning. Let us then assume that Jesus used the word “debts” for a reason and examine that more closely. Debts is a rather narrow word, a financial term.   It means that which is owed, money borrowed, wages to be paid, obligation. A “debtor” is under bond to do a task. There are many places in Scripture that employ financial language when referring to spiritual matters; I would like to highlight just three. The first is from Luke’s Gospel and is the counterpart to Matthew 6:12

“And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”

Luke 11:4

 

Here the word “sins”, in greek ἁμαρτάνω, literally means to miss the mark and is different than debts (ὀφειλήματα.) Bearing Luke’s word choice in mind let’s meditate on the forgiveness of debts in the famed Romans 3 our second selection.

“For there is no distinction;  since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 3:22-26 (emphasis added)

The redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) language here is often connected with paying the debt of someone else; often someone who has been made a slave to the creditor.

In financial language, Jesus bought our debt (talk about toxic assets) and then forgave it. We are redeemed, but that is only our Savior’s part – the part we could never accomplish. We must work out our salvation. We must forgive others. In the “Our Father” we are predicating our forgiveness on how we forgive others. This is deeply civic. As icons of the triune Godhead we are communal and that communion is only possible in Love (cf. Cor 13:4-8). Our model for Love is Jesus Christ – The Redeemer – the one who payed the debt once and for all; the one who forgives our debts as we forgive our debtors. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is not merely a quid pro quo, akin to “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Isiah 1:19-20), Matthew 6:12 is deeply soteriological, speaking directly to the Orthodox Theology of Salvation known as Soteriology. We are to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) 

Let’s end with one final pericope from the Gospel according to Matthew. One of the “Kingdom” parables we are all perhaps familiar with it is about a servant who owed ten thousand talents to his Lord. The servant couldn’t pay so the Lord ordered the man imprisoned and family and land be sold to pay the debt. Interestingly enough the servant “fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” He does not ask forgiveness, but an extension. “And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” The parable doesn’t stop there. Right after he is forgiven runs into a fellow servant who owes him money.

 “and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35

Page Divider for Author BiosI am a reader in a small Orthodox Christian parish on the edge of the prairie. I am married and have three children. The emergency room is my day job, at night I play mostly traditional American music on the banjo, guitar, mandolin etc. I am a PK and so is my spouse. Also an avid reader and book collector.

The Lord’s Prayer part five: Supersubstantial bread

imageGive us this day our supersubstantial bread.

 -Matthew 6:11 Douay Rheims

The word is epiousios (ἐπιούσιος) in Greek – translated daily in most English bibles- and I find it fascinating, possibly telling, and even a bit confusing.

At a youth conference in Boston when in my teens I met a seminary student from Holy Cross. During a conversation about translating from Greek he mentioned the word epiousios and how it doesn’t exactly mean daily in reference to bread. I don’t remember much of the rest of our conversation save this, and it has stuck with me since. The seminarian said: “The word (epiousios) is not found anywhere except  in the Gospels. I think Jesus made the word up.” As it turns out this is a popular belief; in fact the great Origen thought that the authors of Matthew and Luke made it up.

So what is this word? Msgr. Charles Pope writes: “[Epiousios] seems to be a compound word from epi+ousios. Now epi means over, above, beyond, in addition to, or some similar superlative. Ousious refers to the substance of something. Hence, to put these words together we have something amounting to supersubstantial, or super-essential.”

Is there a noetic or spiritual component to this? Is it about more than bodily nourishment?

Some of the Fathers take epiousios to mean simply daily. In his commentary on Matthew St. John Chrysostom writes:

Grace1918photographEnstrom But mark, I pray thee, how even in things that are bodily, that which is spiritual abounds. For it is neither for riches, nor for delicate living, nor for costly raiment, nor for any other such thing, but for bread only, that He hath commanded us to make our prayer. And for “daily bread,” so as not to “take thought for the morrow.” Because of this He added, “daily bread,” that is, bread for one day.

And not even with this expression is He satisfied, but adds another too afterwards, saying, “Give us this day;” so that we may not, beyond this, wear ourselves out with the care of the following day.

We’ve already dug into this reading of “daily bread” in part four, so let’s focus on supersubstantial. St. Jerome says:

 Jerome_01The word used by the Hebrews to denote supersubstantial bread is maar. I found that it means “for tomorrow” so that the meaning here is “give us this day our bread for tomorrow” that is, for the future.” (Commentary on Matthew 1.6.11)

For the future as in tomorrow would seem to contradict Mat. 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  However, we might take Lukes rendering of the phrase (Luke 11:3) which adds “each day” from which we could infer that we are asking the Father to care for us all the days of our lives.

I find St. Jerometo be a good resource for this because his translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) gives us two renderings of epiousios – one as daily and one as supersubstantial. When I asked my friend John Pepino, professor of Latin at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary why this is he put it this way, “it looks like St. Jerome was hedging his bets translating one as daily and one as supersubstantial.” He shrugs with a grin “we don’t know.”

In the same commentary St. Jerome writes:

We can also understand supersubstantial bread in another sense as bread that is above all substances and surpasses all creatures(ibid). “

What if this “bread for the future” is eschatological in nature? The bread of the Kingdom? The super-essential body of Christ, the bread above all and surpassing all? The Eucharistic connotations are hard to ignore.

The Kingdom is certainly likened to a feast in Scripture (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 13:29; 14:15-24; Rev.19:6-9) When we assemble as the Body of Christ for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we are gathering in the Kingdom. All divine services begin “Blessed is the Kingdom…” What do we do in the Kingdom? We feast!

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St. Cyprian of Carthage in Treatise IV “On The Lord’s Prayer” writes:

As the prayer goes forward, we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation.  For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours. And according as we say, “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who understand and believe; so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body.

He goes on to dwell on the literal aspects of “daily bread” as well quoting Proverbs 10:3 he writes “For daily bread cannot be wanting to the righteous man, since it is written, ‘The Lord will not slay the soul of the righteous by hunger.’” He also reminds us of Matthew 6:34. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Mystogigical Catechesis certainly sees “daily bread” as the Eucharist writing:

“Our common bread is not supersubstantial (ἐπιούσιος): but this Holy Bread is supersubstantial, that is, appointed for the substance of the soul. This Bread goeth not into the belly and is not cast out into the draught, but is distributed into thy whole system for the benefit of body and soul.”

61. Icon Jesus in chalice of life

I take great delight in the layers of Truth found in the Holy Scriptures. I like to think of the double meaning in “daily/supersubstantial bread” is not unlike the union of flesh and spirit that is man. We are not pure material nor are we pure spirit like the angels. Christ quoting Deuteronomy said “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Mat.4:4) Here he is not denying that we live by eating, but reminding us that our life is more than flesh and blood. Pondering this saying further will reveal an icon of the Eucharist. Christ is the Word of the Father and we have our life in Him.

They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

– John 6:30-35

The Lord’s Prayer part four: Daily Bread in translation

imageGive us this day our daily bread. -Matthew 6:11

This is perhaps my favorite element in the Lord’s Prayer. It is such a telling phrase – earthy, carnal, and simple. And that’s just the English translation! Before we delve into the Greek – that is for the next To Ponder called “Part five: Supersubstantial bread” focused on the word ἐπιούσιον (epiousios) – I would like to ponder the English translation by itself, how we hear and speak this petition daily. What can we learn of God and ourselves from this simple request:

“Give us this day our daily bread”

Blessing bread in the lity service
Blessing bread in the lity service

Until now the Lord’s Prayer has focused on the Father and how we should relate to Him. Now we turn in our prayer to ourselves and our needs. Interestingly it is care for the body that is the subject of our first personal request. I am reminded of the second creation account in Genesis:

“then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

We are a whole being. We are both flesh and spirit. Carnal and noetic. Both are created good “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Gen1:31 The Lord cares for our spiritual and our physical well-being. This of course is evidenced by the Incarnation of God the Son and completed by His Resurrection. In a simpler way we see this care for the body and also this temporal life in this simple petition “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Palestinian women making bread
Palestinian women making bread

Why bread? Agriculture -and by extension bread- is one of the main contenders along with religion for the reason we stopped our nomadic life in favor of a settled life. It seems natural to understand bread not only as bread, but as a symbol of sustenance because bread is inextricably  linked with civilization – with our way of life. I am reminded of the old proverb “bread is the staff of life.” Why daily? Perhaps it is a reference to the mana narrative in Exodus 16:4-21. Each day the Israelites gathered mana. They neither had too little nor too much. If, concerned about food for the next day they kept extra mana it “bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.” (Ex16:20) This is such a marvelous reminder to trust in God each day; ever aware that God is the giver and sustainer of life.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:25-26

Saint John and the Birth of a Baby

 

An icon of St John Maximovitch by the hand of Tom Denich
An icon of St John Maximovitch by the hand of Tom Denich

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the canonization of St. John the Wonderworker and his feast day today I would like to relate a previously unpublished story of one of St. John’s miracles.

The year was 1988 and my mother went into labor. Her labor went well and was not painful, so she was able to concentrate and pray. We attended the church of Blessed John the Wonderworker in Atlanta GA – dedicated to him prior to his canonization – so my mother prayed to Blessed John to bless the birth. She later said that she could only describe her labor as “sweet.”

Close to 1am she began to push. The baby’s head came out and then everything stopped.

The midwife noted that the baby’s face was pale and after checking discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped too tightly around her neck. She clipped and cut the cord and my sister was born. She had no breath or heartbeat. The midwife yelled, “Someone breathe for that baby.” My father proceeded to give her mouth to mouth and somebody started CPR. This went on for ten minutes and during this time the heart began to beat, but she still had no breath. My father shouted, “give me Blessed John’s oil!” Someone threw it to him and he dumped it on my sister’s head. She took her first breath.

She was rushed to the hospital for evaluation. The doctors warned my parents that after being deprived of oxygen for such a length of time, that the odds were there would be some sort of brain damage. To the doctors’ amazement, she was perfectly healthy.

I grew up hearing this story shared with family and friends, especially at our local parish. In gratitude to St. John we are now sharing it with the world.

Wonderous is God in His Saints!

items-to-bless*Even before his glorification a vigil lamp was kept above St. John’s relics. Oil from this lamp was and still is used to anoint the faithful. Many wonders have been attributed to St. John through use of his oil. For more information on how to obtain St. John’s oil go to http://sfsobor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=84&Itemid=72&lang=en

The Lord’s Prayer part three: Kingdom and Will

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

-Matthew 6:10

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

– Opening for all Divine services in the Orthodox Church

image

We are people of the Kingdom. We have a Lord, a Kyrios, a King. One Godhead in three persons: God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We are part of His Kingdom. Indeed the Kingdom is within us! “For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:20-21

For an interesting meditation on the idea of the Kingdom being “in our midst” and “within us” see my To Ponder on the word ἐντός.

Christ-PantokratorWhen we gather as church or when we pray alone in our closet we must make present the Kingdom of God. “Thy Kingdom come” is a petition for just this. It is a request to be a subject in the Kingdom – to be in the Kingdom of heaven here on earth and actualize it within our hearts.

This petition also has an eschatological character. In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, speaking of Christ we say “He shall come again with Glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” We are also looking forward to resurrection – to life eternal in the Kingdom.

Naturally coupled with our desire for the Kingdom is a desire for the will of God to be done. “Thy will be done.” Here we are placing ourselves personally in the Kingdom by aligning our will with the will of the Father. “Father…not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Christ the perfect man reveals in himself this perfect union of our will with the will of the Father.

“For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:40

Brothers and sisters let us always desire the Kingdom of Heaven, perfectly submitting our will to the will of the Father in the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

An Icon of Pentecost

MosesLawThe slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness,
Proclaimed the law written by God;
For shaking the dust from his mind’s eye,
He sees the One Who Is, and is initiated
Into knowledge of the Spirit, as he gives praise with songs inspired.
– Irmos from Pentecost
     Pentecost is the feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks in ancient Hebrew tradition. Celebrated fifty days after Passover – Pentecost is Greek for fiftieth day – it is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah. Moses, after leading the people out of bondage to Egypt, gives the Torah. The Passover and Exodus prefigure Christ’s Pascha, the new Passover. Christ has lead us out of bondage to death. He has passed over from death to life. On the fiftieth day after His glorious resurrection we hold festival. Instead of the giving of the Torah – the teaching or instruction – we are given, as Christ Himself says in the book of John, the “Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26
     The descent of the Holy Spirit upon those gathered in the upper room is the beginning of the Church. We are in the Church because of Pentecost. I will not reprint here the telling from Acts, but do urge you to read it and meditate upon it. Plum the depths of Luke’s account and you will find reward. Instead let us today ponder the icon of Pentecost in an effort to enter into the feast with more attentiveness and clarity.
     In my parish, this icon hangs on the back wall of the nave above the doors to the narthex.
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I would like to focus on two aspects of it. The first is the Theotokos at the center. The second is that she is flanked by Peter and Paul and the rest of the Apostles.
     Tzanfournaris_Emmanuel_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Theotokos at the center reveals a typological aspect of her life. She is many things to us, but here we see her as a type of icon of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit she brought Christ into the world: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

     So too the Church in and by the Holy Spirit brings Christ into the world, in both a mystical and carnal sense. The Gospel of Christ is communicated by the Holy Spirit. Prayer for the world is accomplished in the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine – offered upon the altar on behalf of all and for all – at the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit) becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The second element I wish to draw attention to is the Apostles and more specifically Peter and Paul. Obviously Paul was not with the disciples and the women at the Descent of the Holy Spirit. By placing Paul among those in the upper room the icon reveals the mystical reality of the church.  Paul is an Apostle. The Apostle to the Gentiles. Nearly half of the books comprising the New Testament are attributed to him. Here in Peter and Paul we see another image of the Church. Peter and the twelve represent the Israelites – Paul the Gentiles. Here is the Church – the fullness of humanity gathered in the Holy Spirit.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”         Romans 8:26-27

Oh Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,

Who art everywhere present and fillest all things,

Treasury of blessings and giver of life,

Come and abide in us, cleanse us from all impurity,

And save our souls, O Good One.

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