Archive for January, 2008

Christ is Born! Audio homily on Nativity 2004

Monday, January 7th, 2008

…to raise up the image that fell of old!

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

The beautiful troparion of the Forefeast of Nativity sums up succinctly the purpose of the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. One may say, it contains in full our “theology of redemption”. Jesus Christ became man so that our image, which “fell of old” due to the sin of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent weakening of the human race might be “raised”. He did not come to “purchase” our forgiveness by dying on the cross1 His primary mission was not to obtain forgiveness for us!

If all Christ’s mission accomplished for us was that our sins are forgiven, we are truly to be lamented, because we will never be able to change. We would still be sinners, with our tempestuous passions, even if we be pardoned every day. What good is that?

We were made in the image of God – Who is perfectly holy, perfectly free, perfectly at peace. Our sins obscure this image, and make it less effectual in our lives, just as dirt makes pure water cloudy. The water retains all its properties, even though because of the pollution it is unfit to drink. The “dirt” in our soul that obscures the image of God is our sins, our passions, and in general, our weakened human condition. “Raising up the image that fell of old” is like filtering the water, and removing that which is foreign to it.

Can God’s grace raise up His image in us, obscured by sin and passions, merely by forgiveness? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove sinfulness; it does not strengthen the human condition. Christ “raised up the image” (of God) in us precisely by showing us how to live, and enabling us to live in this way. His ministry was one of knowledge and power. His way of life and teachings shows us the only way to live, and by His power, upon resurrecting His human soul, he gave us the ability. The raising up of the image is performed by each of us, with struggle, always with the grace of God helping us.

If we truly understand what the “Image of God” is then the need to labor to raise up this image will be plainly apparent.

The image of God reflects His nature – God is love, and He is pure, holy, full of knowledge, free. How can these things be understood if they are not lived?

Purity cannot be given to the impure as one might give some sort of material gift. To understand purity, one must become pure – not just be forgiven sins, but by labor and God’s grace obliterate impurity in the soul. To understand love, one must love: not as the world loves, but as God loves. To know God, we must become like God. Only then will the image of God that fell of old within us be raised. Because of the incarnation, teaching and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, we have been given everything we need to “raise up the image that fell of old”. Let us then, “get up from our bed and walk!”

Once Mary, pregnant with a seedless pregnancy, / was registered in Bethlehem with the elder Joseph, / as being of the seed of David. / And while they were there, / the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, / but there was no room for them in the inn. / But the cave showed itself to be a beauteous palace for the Queen, / and Christ is born //to raise up the image that fell of old!
Troparion of the Forefeast, sung in the Royal Hours for Nativity.

1this is the so called “substitutionary atonement” taught by most Protestants ans Roman catholics, and alas, believed by some Orthodox who do not understand their own faith. This doctrine states that Jesus appeased His Father’s wrath by offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice. In essence, this doctrine states that God would NOT orgive us unless we killed His son!

Today’s Scripture Readings – Royal Hours for the Nativity

Friday, January 4th, 2008

Dear all,

Today the Holy Church sings the "Royal Hours" for the Nativity of our
Lord. Therefore, instead of the "normal" scripture readings I had
listed in an earlier email, the following festal readings are laid out
for us:
Micah 5:2-4; Hebrews 1:1-12; Matthew 1:18-25
Baruch 3:36-4:4; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:1-20
Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:1-4, 8-10; Hebrews 1:10-2:3; Matthew 2:1-12
Isaiah 9:6-7; Hebrews 2:11-18; Matthew 2:13-23

The text of three of these readings is included below for your convenience.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the
government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The
Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there
shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to
order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from
henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform
this.

Hebrews 1:1-12

1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time
past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days
spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things,
by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his
glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things
by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat
down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: 4 Being made so much
better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more
excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at
any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I
will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again,
when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And
let all the angels of God worship him. 7 And of the angels he saith,
Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 8
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a
sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast
loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God,
hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. 10 And,
Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth;
and the heavens are the works of thine hands: 11 They shall perish;
but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12
And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed:
but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his
mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was
found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being
a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded
to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things,
behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying,
Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:
for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she
shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he
shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that
it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet,
saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth
a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted
is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the
angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And
knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he
called his name JESUS.

By way of commentary, please consider the following hymns from the service:

Come, O ye faithful, / let us divinely ascend, / and in Bethlehem /
let us behold the descent of God to us from on high. / Having purified
ourselves in mind, / let us offer up a life of virtue instead of
myrrh, / faithfully preparing our entries into the Nativity, / crying
out from the inner-chambers of our souls: / Glory in the highest to
God, / Who existeth in Trinity! / For His sake hath goodwill appeared
among men, / delivering Adam from the primal curse, // in that He
loveth mankind!

Beholding the mystery of Thee / before Thy nativity, O Lord, / the
noetic armies were amazed; / for Thou wast well-pleased to be born as
a babe, / O Thou Who adorned heaven with stars, / and liest in a
manger of dumb beasts, / O Thou Who holdest the ends of the whole
earth in the palm of Thy hand. / By such a dispensation / hath Thy
loving-kindness become known, O Christ! / Great is Thy mercy! // Glory
be to Thee!


Reader Nicholas Park
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas TX
WEB: http://www.orthodox.net
BLOG: http://stnicholasdallas.blogspot.com

Thoughts on the Holy Scripture -32nd Week After Pentecost – Wednesday

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008
Oil or wine on the menu today.

Today’s scripture is a perfect example of the “oil and wine” that our Lord mixes in His teachings to us, which I have mentioned many times, and just recently in the blog.

“Oil” is the soothing teachings of Christ, which are meant to console and comfort us, to give us hope and strong faith. “Wine” is the astringent teachings of Jesus: His rebukes and harsh sayings – things that should make us tremble if we are not living as we aught, and wake us up from our slumber.

Today, we have teaching that is the finest, smoothest, warmest and most soothing oil to some, but the most bitter and frightening wine to others:

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:26)

Our Lord spoke about forgiveness and the conditions for it many times. When he taught us to pray, He included “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. In today’s passage, it is even more clear: we MUST forgive if we are to be forgiven.

For those who hold grudges, have vendettas, remember wrongs, and indulge in the false sweetness of anger towards others, these words are terrible and bitter wine. If a person continues to not forgive others, then God will continue to pour this wine into his wounds, and in other areas of his life, attempt to bring the blind one to his senses. Since lack of forgiveness has as its mother pride, the words of the Brother of the Lord, which we also read today, apply fully to such a one: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

These very same words are as oil to the humble, because our Lords words comfort the sinner who forgives other sinners: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”, and in other place, even more comforting: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37)

Our ‘Lord gives only ONE condition for our forgiveness; we must forgive others. What a comfort this is to the humble! The humble considers himself incapable of any works of righteousness, and perhaps such a one fails in many ways that a Christian may be measured, but he possessed in abundance that most important and indispensable virtue: he forgives others!

The marvelous grace that we are able to retain from forgiving others will eventually positively affect every area of our soul; from this virtue, which is grounded in love for others, self-awareness and humility, will flow all the other virtues.

If you cannot stop sinning, then cultivate in yourself the virtue of forgiving others. This is truly the east way to salvation! If you have trouble forgiving, pray to be able to forgive! An absolute must is that you MUST pray for those you have trouble forgiving. At least say “Lord have mercy upon the soul of ____” everyday. You cannot make ANY progress in the spiritual life without forgiving (or, at least, attempting to forgive with all your might) others. Any supposed progress is a sham, since our Lord’s words, above, guarantee us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.

My parish has heard many times this admonition: “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind!” The kind think of others, and minimize themselves. The kind forgive others. Therefore, “IF YOU CANNOT STOP SINNING, AT LEAST FORGIVE OTHERS!”


James 3:11-4:6 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Mark 11:23-26 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.


Gleanings from the Fathers about forgiveness.

Did you see that brother who was negligent and lazy, who did not go down to the all-night vigils and did not do his duties, whom the brothers knew and held to be a negligent brother? When, therefore, he became sick and the hour of his death drew near, the brothers gathered to hear something beneficial, or to comfort him, or in case he wanted to say something to them, but they saw him rejoicing, cheerful.

One brother was scandalized and said, But what do we see in you, brother? We see you rejoicing, while you approach death? But our thought says to us that you were not a violent man and how do you have this courage and this rejoicing face? On what do you base this thing?

Yes, brothers, he said, really I was a negligent person and I did not fulfill my duties. But I achieved one good thing, by the grace of God — not to criticize any brother and not to scandalize anyone; and never did I allow my heart to have something against my brother of the monastery when the sun set. And inasmuch as I did not judge my brother, I believe that God will not judge me, even me, for He said, Judge not, that you not be judged (Mt. 7:1); and as long as I did not judge, I will not be judged.

The brothers marveled and said, Brother, very easily you found the way of salvation. And the brother died with much joy. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html


‘And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.’ For we have many sins. For we offend both in word and in thought, and very many things we do worthy of condemnation; and ‘if we say that we have no sin’ (I Jn. 1:8), we lie, as John says…The offenses committed against us are slight and trivial, and easily settled; but those which we have committed against God are great, and need such mercy as His only is. Take heed, therefore, lest for the slight and trivial sins against you, you shut out for yourself forgiveness from God for your very grievous sins. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 23 no. 16) Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html


Do we forgive our neighbors their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbors, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness, then, of your sins or unforgiveness, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html


If you want cure your soul, you need four things. The first is to forgive your enemies. The second is to confess thoroughly. The third is to blame yourself. The fourth is to resolve to sin no more. If we wish to be saved, we must always blame ourselves and not attribute our wrong acts to others. And God, Who is most compassionate, will forgive us. Modern Orthodox Saints I, St. Cosmas Aitolos).Dr. Constantine Cavarnos., INSTITUTE FOR BYZANTINE AND MODERN GREEK STUDIES., Belmont, Massachusetts., pp.81-94. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html

Not only is it wonderful that He forgives us our sins, but also that He neither uncovers them nor does He make them stand forth clearly revealed. Nor does He force us to come forward and publicly proclaim our misdeeds, but He bids us to make our defense to Him alone and to confess our shins to Him. And yet, if any judge of a worldly tribunal were to tell some captured highwayman or grave robber to confess his crime and be excused from paying the penalty, this prisoner would with all alacrity admit the truth and scorn the disgrace in his desire to go free. But this is not the case in baptism. God forgives our sins and does not force us to make a parade of them in the presence of others. He seeks one thing only: that he who benefits by the forgiveness make learn the greatness of the gift. St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html

Abba Zeno said, ‘If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.’ The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Trans. by Benedicta Ward. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html

Do you not see, brethren, that we toil for nothing when we pray, if we have enmity against someone? And again the Lord says, ‘If you offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that someone has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift’. Therefore, it is clear that if you do not do this first, all that you offer will be unacceptable, but if you do the Master’s bidding, then implore the Lord with boldness, saying, ‘Forgive me my debts, Master, as I have forgiven my brother, so fulfilling your commandment. I, weak though I am, have forgiven’. For the Lover of mankind will answer, ‘If you have forgiven, I too will forgive. If you have pardoned, I too will pardon your sins. For I have authority on earth to forgive sins. Forgive and you will be forgiven’. St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Three Short Discourses’, from ‘http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/3disc.htm’
Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html


Rightly did the Lord say, ‘My burden is light’. For what sort of weight is it, what sort of toil is it to forgive one’s brother his offences, which are light and of no importance, and to be pardoned for one’s own, and immediately justified?

He did not say, ‘Bring me money, or calves, or goats, or fasting, or vigils’, so that you could say, ‘I have none, I cannot’, but he ordered you to bring what is light and easy and immediate, saying, ‘Pardon your brother his offences, and I will pardon yours. You pardon small faults, a few halfpennies, or three pennies, while I give you the ten thousand talents. You only pardon without giving anything, I nevertheless both grant you pardon and give you healing and the Kingdom.

And I accept your gift, when you are reconciled to the one who is your enemy, when you have enmity against no one, when the sun does not go down on your anger.

When you have peace and love for all, then your prayer is acceptable, and your offering well-pleasing, and your house blessed and you blessed. But if you are not reconciled with your brother, how can you seek pardon from me? You trample on my words, and do you demand pardon? I, your Master, demand, and you pay no attention, and do you, a slave, dare to offer me prayer, or sacrifice, or first fruits, while you have enmity against someone? Just as you turn your face from your brother, so I too turn my eyes from your gift and your prayer.’ St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Three Short Discourses’, from ‘http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/3disc.htm’. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html


Antioch had another Patriarch who was compassionate and merciful; his name was Alexander. One of his secretaries once stole some gold from him, fled in fear and came to the Thebaid in Egypt. He was found wandering around by the bloodthirsty barbarians of Egypt and of the Thebaid; they took him to the remotest corner of their land. When the godly Alexander heard about this, he ransomed him from captivity at the cost of eighty-five pieces of gold. When the captive returned, the bishop was so loving and gentle with him that one of the inhabitants of the city once said: ‘There is nothing more profitable or advantageous for me than to sin against Alexander.” THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW of John Moscos. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html


Keep your mind from malicious thoughts of your neighbors, knowing that such thoughts are hurled by diabolical power, to keep your mind from your own sins and from seeking God. Our Holy Father Elias of Egypt, November 3, Prologue Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html

When we judge our brother, we censure ourselves in a great sin. When therefore, we shield our brother, God will also shield us from great sins. When we uncover our brother, we drive off the grace of God from over us and we are given over to fall into the same things, so that we learn that we are all weak and the grace of God carries us. Whoever guards his tongue, that one guards his soul from great sins and falls. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html

Thoughts on the scripture readings – Wednesday Jan 2nd

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Our Lord says, "whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall
come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." St. James appears to contradict this, pointing out what we all know from experience, that "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." This illustrates the nature of faith: true faith proceeds out of a pure heart, and a humble spirit. If we have faith, then we will have confidence that our requests will be granted because our requests will be in accordance with God's will. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." This also sheds light on yesterday's readings. Why is it that our Lord's words had such power – to the withering of the fig tree – while our own words seem so weak? As St. James points out, our words have great effect, but it is usually negative – because they come from our passionate hearts. "Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh." When we allow our heart to be purified through the Grace of Christ, when we allow faith to dwell in our hearts, then our words will yield good fruit unto His glory.

James 3:11-4:6

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine,
figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a
wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a
good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have
bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not
against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is
earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there
is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above
is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full
of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence,
even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not:
ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet
ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye
ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and
adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity
with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy
of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that
dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore
he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Mark 11:23-11:26

For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain,
Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in
his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall
come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say
unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that
ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying,
forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is
in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive,
neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.


Reader Nicholas Park
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas TX
WEB: http://www.orthodox.net
BLOG: http://stnicholasdallas.blogspot.com

Forefeast of Nativity

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Greetings to everybody on the first day of the forefeast of the Nativity! Beginning today, the church accelerates her spiritual preparation for the feast:

"Dance, O Sion! / Adorn thyself well, O cave! / Make ready, O Bethlehem! / For, lo! The Virgin cometh // to give birth unto the Christ!"


Reader Nicholas Park
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas TX
WEB: http://www.orthodox.net
BLOG: http://stnicholasdallas.blogspot.com

MENAION: December 20/January 2 – Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer the Bishop of Antioch

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, was a disciple of the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, as was also St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (February 23). St Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, and successor to Bishop Euodius, Apostle of the Seventy (September 7).

Tradition suggests that when St Ignatius was a little boy, the Savior hugged him and said: “Unless you turn and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3). The saint was called “God-Bearer” (Theophoros), because he bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him. He also had this name because he was held in the arms of Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

St Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John the Theologian, together with St Polycarp of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, St Ignatius was zealous and spared no effort to build up the church of Christ. To him is attributed the practice of antiphonal singing (by two choirs) during church services. He had seen a vision of the angels in heaven alternately singing praises to God, and divided his church choir to follow this example. In the time of persecution he was a source of strength to the souls of his flock, and was eager to suffer for Christ.

In the year 106 the emperor Trajan (98-117), after his victory over the Scythians, ordered everyone to give thanks to the pagan gods, and to put to death any Christians who refused to worship the idols. In the year 107, Trajan happened to pass through Antioch. Here they told him that Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ, and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity. St Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor, so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch. St Ignatius rejected the persistent requests of the emperor Trajan to sacrifice to the idols. The emperor then decided to send him to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts. St Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him. His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses, who accompanied St Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.

On the way to Rome, the ship sailed from Seleucia stopped at Smyrna, where St Ignatius met with his friend Bishop Polycarp. Clergy and believers from other cities and towns thronged to see St Ignatius. He exhorted everyone not to fear death and not to grieve for him. In his Epistle to the Roman Christians, he asked them to assist him with their prayers, and to pray that God would strengthen him in his impending martyrdom for Christ: “I seek Him Who died for us; I desire Him Who rose for our salvation… In me, desire has been nailed to the cross, and no flame of material longing is left. Only the living water speaks within me, saying, ‘Hasten to the Father.'”

From Smyrna, St Ignatius went to Troas. Here he heard the happy news of the end of the persecution against Christians in Antioch. From Troas, St Ignatius sailed to Neapolis (in Macedonia) and then to Philippi.
On the way to Rome St Ignatius visited several churches, teaching and guiding the Christians there. He also wrote seven epistles: to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna. He also addressed a letter to St Polycarp, who mentions a collection of the letters of St Ignatius in his letter to the Philippians (Ch. 13). St Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from St Ignatius’s letter to the Romans (AGAINST HERESIES 5:28:4). All these letters have survived to the present day.

The Roman Christians met St Ignatius with great joy and profound sorrow. Some of them hoped to prevent his execution, but St Ignatius implored them not to do this. Kneeling down, he prayed together with the believers for the Church, for love between the brethren, and for an end to the persecution against Christians.

On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led St Ignatius into the arena, and he turned to the people: “Men of Rome, you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime, but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced. I long to be with Him, and offer myself to him as a pure loaf, made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts.”

After this the lions were released and tore him to pieces, leaving only his heart and a few bones. Tradition says that on his way to execution, St Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When they asked him why he was doing this, St Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart, and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within. When the saint was devoured by the lions, his heart was not touched. When they cut open the heart, the pagans saw an inscription in gold letters: “Jesus Christ.” After his execution St Ignatius appeared to many of the faithful in their sleep to comfort them, and some saw him at prayer for the city of Rome.

Hearing of the saint’s great courage, Trajan thought well of him and stopped the persecution against the Christians. The relics of St Ignatius were transferred to Antioch (January 29), and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in the church of San Clemente.

From a post of John Tsapos to the Yahoo groups “Catechism” mailing list.

Selected Quotations from St Ignatius’ letters

I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person. For though I am bound for the name [of Christ], I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I begin to be a disciple, and I speak to you as fellow-disciples with me. For it was needful for me to have been stirred up by you in faith, exhortation, patience, and long-suffering. But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that ye would all run together in accordance with the will of God.
Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter III.—Exhortations to unity.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom ye must flee as ye would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom ye must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured. There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter VII.—Beware of false teachers.

But our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, Or, “before the ages.” but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.” Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts
Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter VII.—Beware of false teachers.

Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye come frequently together in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his “fiery darts” urging to sin fall back ineffectual
Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter XIII.—Exhortation to meet together frequently for the worship of God.

I write to all the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may not be found troublesome to any one. Then shall I be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat the Lord for me, that by these instruments [848] I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free, [849] as the servants of God; while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus Christ, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being in bonds for Him, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter IV.–Allow me to fall a prey to the wild beasts.

All the ends of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, [864] shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die for the sake of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. “For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?” I long after the Lord, the Son of the true God and Father, even Jesus Christ. Him I seek, who died for us and rose again. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me in attaining to life; for Jesus is the life of believers. Do not wish to keep me in a state of death, [865] for life without Christ is death. While I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of Christ, my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans,Chapter VI.–By death I shall attain true life.

Thoughts on the Holy Scripture -32nd Week After Pentecost – Thursday

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Why did our Lord curse the fig tree?

Nothing that our Lord did was superfluous, or unplanned. He cursed a barren fig tree precisely to give an opportunity the following day to teach us about faith.

Isn’t is marvelous how the Lord so often did not directly answer a question, but instead used it as an opportunity to teach something? He does not directly answer Peter’s implied question, but instead teaches about faith, in that delicious, mysterious way of His.

Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

He gives such words of hope! He tells us, that with faith, we will move the mountain; this is not a windswept peace of rock and earth; it is our sins! “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Mat 19:26, Mark 10:27)

What was Peter’s question, and did the Lord actually answer it? Indirectly, yes; Peter marveled that the Lord cursed a tree that could not be faulted for not having fruit, because “the time of figs was not yet”

The context of the story makes it clear that the barren fig tree represents the barrenness of the Jews1. This is important to understand, but to only understand the story in this way is to miss the most important point.

The fig tree is our soul, and there is no time when our soul is not required to bear fruit. Let us not “make excuse with excuses in sins”, and placate ourselves with the knowledge of our infirmities and believe that somehow this excuses us from bearing fruit. The Lord emphatically rebukes this idea by exhorting us to have faith in God, and not look at things with carnal eyes. A mountain cannot be moved, and a fig tree cannot bear fruit in the winter, but with God’s help, we not only can bear fruit at all times, and move a mountain, but we must!

Our Lord’s teachings were oil and wine, soothing, comforting, and also frightening and harsh. (Cf. Luke 10:25-37) All at once, His promise that we can move a mountain with faith, and bear fruit even in the winter of our soul is both oil and wine. We should tremble when we look upon our tree, which has all that is needed to bear fruit, and yet the branches are so empty; the Lord will not tolerate such a state of affairs, and He will not countenance any of our feeble excuses! How can we fulfill such an arduous task? With faith, and with God, if we try.

In another place, the Lord promises us that He does not require perfection from us all at once, by telling the parable of the fig tree:

Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? {8} And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: {9} And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:7-9)

We have a short time while in this life to produce fruit; only the Lord knows how long. Inexorably ,there will come the day when the Lord, hungry to partake of our fruit, will come to our tree – if we have faith in God, and struggle, it will not be barren!


32nd Week After Pentecost – Tuesday

James 3:1-10 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Mark 11:11-23 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

1“He withers the tree, then, in order to chasten men. The disciples marvel, and with good reason. For the fig tree contains a great amount of sap, and so the fact that it withered immediately serves all the more to indicate the miracle. The fig tree means the synagogue of the Jews, which has only leaves, that is, the visible letter of the law, but not the fruit of the Spirit. But also every man who gives himself over to the sweetness of the present life is likened to a fig tree, who has no spiritual fruit to give to Jesus who is hungry for such fruit, but only leaves, that is, temporal appearances which fall away and are gone. This man, then, hears himself cursed. For Christ says, Go, ye accursed, into the fire. But he is also dried up; for as he roasts in the flame, his tongue is parched and withered like that of the rich man of the parable, who in his life had ignored Lazarus.” Blessed Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew)

Daily readings and reflections, available at http://www/orthodox.net/scripture