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Renewing Eve

Some Reflections on Lazarus Saturday

There are so many beautiful services in the Orthodox Church during Great Lent, but there is one in particular that has pierced my heart more than any of them.  It is Lazarus Saturday, where we commemorate Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead.  At first, I wasn’t even sure why it made me feel the way that it did.  The story from John, Chapter 11 has always been one of my favorites.  As I reflect on its history in my own life, I am beginning to understand more about how the beauty of Christ’s own humanity has made it possible for me to become fully human again.  When I say “fully human,” what I mean is that it is possible for a Christian to live a life so surrendered to Christ, that His image in them is fully realized and can be restored to what God…

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Lenten Piety: A Meditation on Matthew 6:1-18

902795_574077585957262_1181938794_o“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”  – Mat. 6:1

This must be the character of our Lenten practice. Not showy or self-aggrandizing, but humble, secret. Note the term “in secret”, it will be repeated and form a kind of theme.

 “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – ibid., vv. 2-4

The giving of alms is a physical fulfillment of the second part of the great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) To use the vernacular we “put our money where our mouth is.” Charity is central to Christian practice, but how we give alms is just as important. Humility must permeate our almsgiving. Humility is how we should approach God and our fellow man. The Lord not only cautions us against pride and seeking praise from others, but also self praise saying “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Note again that this is “in secret”.

 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – ibid., vv. 5-8

This I take as an image of the practice of hesychasm, the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer. The room with the door shut is the heart shut off from the chaos of temporal life – the secret place. There God meets us – “our Father who is in secret.” The secret unknowable Trinity is made manifest in the prayer of the heart. Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner. Not many words. Not an empty phrase.

Pray then like this:

1932164_10202537268569571_1732409600_nOur Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”

– ibid., vv. 9-13

Volumes have been written on The Lord’s Prayer. I will not attempt to meditate on it here. Perhaps another time. Just not the communal interpersonal aspect of prayer. We not only pray in secret, but we pray together.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – ibid., vv. 14-15

The Last Sunday before Lent is Forgiveness Sunday. Forgiveness begins of our journey to Pascha.

“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – ibid., vv. 16-18

Fasting like charity is a given in Christian practice. Our mode of fasting is what concerns our Lord in this passage. Again humility is the setting for fasting, and again “in secret” is the image used.

Note the structure of these verses, how they image the threefold path of our Lenten journey. Prayer both in the heart and in community is at the center supported by Charity and Fasting. These three pillars must be practiced in the spirit of humility. “Not seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

30th Anniversary of the Repose of Fr. Schmemann

1513201_690005781039477_1523525934_nToday we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the repose of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann. This short meditation will not be about his life. It will not try to expound on the man’s legacy or attempt to contextualize his importance within the Orthodox Church. In honor of Fr. Alexander, let us instead speak of Liturgy and the Eucharist – the center of Christian Life and Worship

In his book For the Life of the World Fr. Alexander writes, “The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom… [Our] entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.”

The Divine Liturgy opens with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!” In the Eucharist we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven – the perfect Kingdom – made present here on earth in the Church by the presence of the crucified and risen Christ.

We are formed by entrance into the Kingdom to be temples of God celebrating the Heavenly Liturgy in the holy place of the heart. In eating the Body and Blood of Christ the new Adam, offered up in Thanksgiving on behalf of all and for all, we become truly human. The life of the true human, the redeemed human, is to give praise and thanks to God. In the words of Fr. Alexander, “The only real fall of man is his non-eucharistic life in a non-eucharistic world.” (ibid)

The Divine Liturgy is a synergy between the three churches – the three kingdoms. The paradigm – the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church – the community of the faithful, and the person – the temple and alter of God. Brothers and sisters, it is not enough to ponder on this. We must gather as church and enter into the kingdom. Let us offer praise and thanksgiving – the Liturgy.

Ponder the words of John the Evangelist in the context of our meditation and see how the scriptures may be illumined through the Liturgy:

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” John 14:16-20

– שְׁמוּאֵל

Forgive me.

Brothers and sisters, as we enter into this great period of prayer, fasting and alms giving, let us remember to forgive one another’s transgressions.

Let me ask for forgiveness of my misdeeds towards you, that we may be reconciled in our Lord, Christ. Forgive me if I have offended you.

Glory to God in the highest!

‘Master, Teacher of wisdom,
Bestower of virtue,
You teach the thoughtless and protect the poor:
Strengthen and enlighten my heart.
Word of the Father,
Let me not restrain my mouth from crying to you:
Have mercy on me, a transgressor,
O merciful Lord!’

Christ is in our midst!

The Lenten Journey.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we begin the forty days of Lent – our yearly sojourn into the wilderness – let us remember that Christ is with us. We read in the beginning of the 4th Chapter of Matthew.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Following Christ let us resist temptation with confidence in His strength.

As we fast let us remember also to pray. Let us fill ourselves with prayer; the lifting of our hands with our mind and heart towards God. As we empty our stomachs let us not forget to fill them with the Word of God.
With our fasting and prayer we must not forget our fellow man. Let us empty ourselves in love for our brother. As the apostle Matthew tells us in the 25th chapter of his Gospel. “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”

This is our personal journey through Lent: to fast to pray and give alms. But we have a corporate life as well inseparable from our personal one. We are as Israel of old traveling in the wilderness. Christ is the true manna from heaven – the Word of God. We come together to fast. We come together for our brother. We come together in the Eucharist, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

– שְׁמוּאֵל.

Musings on Polycarp

Image“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11)

St. Polycarp’s martyrdom is historical reality. He died for one reason – his unyielding faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet St. Polycarp’s well-recorded death is only one of many lives that were given to reveal and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. In light of the cruel and torturous deaths of the first and second generation Christians, all theories that Christianity is a fabricated myth, created for the personal gain of its followers, must be rejected. Even today, many will die for a belief, but none will die for a lie. God allows the deaths of His saints not because He is a helpless or indifferent Lord, but because their deaths are powerful declarations of the free gift of life that is offered to us through the Person of Jesus Christ. St. Polycarp, like many other Christians to this day, was only able to die for Christ because he lived for Christ. His life was radically transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit — the desires, worries, pains and fears of this world no longer bound him. St. Polycarp’s life and death provides an inspirational example for all Orthodox Christians. He gave his earthly life for Christ, and in the midst of his sacrifice, he gained eternal life.