Archive for March, 2008

Great Lent, The Second Sunday – The Paralytic – Interpretation by St Gregory Palamas – Mark 2:1-12

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

We just read the Gospel from St Mark about the paralytic this past Sunday of Great Lent. I just saw the following quote from a sermon by St Gregory Palamas, and I thought it was too good to wait until next year to share it with you.

“… the paralyzed man is any soul that thinks of turning back to the Lord and is brought to Him by these four things:

self-condemnation,
confession of sins,
the promise to renounce evil,
and prayer to God.”
http://sgpm.goarch.org/Monastery/index.php?p=109 On the subject of the Paralyzed Man Taken from The Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas Vol. 2, compiled by Christopher Veniamin. Homily 29 “On the subject of the Paralyzed Man who, according to Matthew the Evangelist, was healed in Capernaum. Also on Godly Sorrow”
It would be a worthwhile use of your tiume if you read this sermon.
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Great Lent, the 3rd Week, Tuesday, Vespers – Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars – Proverbs 9:1-6

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars. 2. She has killed her beasts; she has mingled her wine in a bowl, and prepared her table. 3. She has sent forth her servants, calling with a loud proclamation to the feast, saying, 4. Who so is foolish, let him turn aside to me: and to them that want understanding she says, 5. Come, eat of my bread, and drink wine which I have mingled for you. 6. Leave folly, that ye may reign for ever; and seek wisdom, and improve understanding by knowledge.

Tuesday in the Third Week of Great Lent- At Vespers – Proverbs 9:1-6, from the selection Prov 8:32 – 9:11

Christ, he means, the wisdom and power of God the Father, hath builded His house, i.e., His nature in the flesh derived from the Virgin, even as he(John) hath said beforetime, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”(8) As likewise the wise prophet(9) testifies: Wisdom that was before the world, and is the source of life, the infinite “Wisdom of God, hath builded her house” by a mother who knew no man,–to wit, as He assumed the temple of the body.

And hath raised(10) her seven pillars;” that is, the fragrant grace of the all-holy Spirit, as Isaiah says: “And the seven spirits of God shall rest upon Him,”(11) But others say that the seven pillars are the seven divine orders which sustain the creation by His holy and inspired teaching; to wit, me prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the hierarchs, the hermits, the saints, and the righteous.

And the phrase, “She hath killed her beasts,” denotes the prophets and martyrs who in every city and country are slain like sheep every day by the unbelieving, in behalf of the truth, and cry aloud, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we were counted as sheep for the slaughter.”

And again, “She hath mingled her wine” in the bowl, by which is meant, that the Saviour, uniting his Godhead, like pure wine, with the flesh in the Virgin, was born of her at once God and man without confusion of the one in the other.

“And she hath furnished her table:” that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honoured and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper.

And again, “She hath sent forth her servants:” Wisdom, that is to say, has done so–Christ, to wit–summoning them with lofty announcement.

“Whoso is simple, Let him turn to me,” she says, alluding manifestly to the holy apostles, who traversed the whole world, and called the nations to the knowledge of Him in truth, with their lofty and divine preaching.

And again, “And to those that want understanding she said”–that is, to those who have not yet obtained the power of the Holy Ghost–“Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you;” by which is meant, that He gave His divine flesh and honoured blood to us, to eat and to drink it for the remission of sins.

St Hippolytus of Rome, On Proverbs

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Great Lent, the Third Week, Monday – "With the Fire of abstinence… – Matins Sessional Hymn

Monday, March 24th, 2008

With the fire of abstinence let us all burn up the thorns of the passions that assault us, and with streams of tears let us put out the flame that shall never be quenched; and let us cry aloud to Him Who shall come to judge the whole earth: O Savior and all-merciful Lord, guard us uncondemned and grant us the forgiveness of our sins.

Great Lent, the Third Week, Monday, Matins Sessional Hymn, Tone 8

Our services contain numerous exhortations and explanations about how to live the way of life; their poetry, especially when they are sung, touching the soul in sublime ways.

This hymn is an amazing example of one of the favorite poetical themes of our hymns – juxtaposing opposites, by taking some aspect of scripture and looking at it from a different perspective that is useful for our instruction and edification.

We sing a request for fire to BURN UP our passions. One does not usually think of fire in this way.

In scripture, fire is often used to allude to strong, “hot” passions, such as anger, hate, lust, and all passions of the flesh which burn within us. For instance, when the man with the demoniac boy described the pitiful state of his son, he said:

Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is epileptic, and suffereth grievously; for oft-times he falleth into the fire, and off-times into the water.” (Mat 17:15)

The fire represents these “hot sins” and the water “worldly sins” such as acquisitiveness, distractions and vanity.

St Andrew of Crete vividly describes fiery sins in his Great Canon, when he refers to Esau as Edom (which is translated “red”):

Esau was called Edom for his extreme passion of madness for women. For ever burning with incontinence and stained with pleasures, he was named Edom which means a red-hot sin-loving soul.” (Great Canon, Tuesday, Ode 4)

Abstinence is not generally thought of as a “fire”, but rather as something which cools it and starves it. After our Lord healed the demoniac boy, his disciples asked why they could not expel the demon. His answer is a main reason why we fast:

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast it out? (20) And he saith unto them, Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (21) But this kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting. (Mat 17:19-21)

This hymn looks at fire in a wholly different way, but not without precedent. Here, abstinence is referred to with the same vehemence as we would describe “hot” sins which often overpower the soul with their hot ferocity. Here abstinence is overpowering fire!

How can such a thing be? Only if we fast with desire. When the soul is aflame with fiery sins, it is taken away, and thinks of nothing else when the flame is burning. So it should be with our fasting.

If we fast haphazardly, occasionally, with numerous “exemptions” due to “circumstances”, then we are not burning our sins with fasting. We fool ourselves. If fasting can burn out fire, it must be even hotter than fire; if we fast inconsistently, or without strong resolution, then our fasting is only lukewarm, and lukewarmness is good for nothing in the spiritual life, and even causes our condemnation.

So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16)

This hymn calls the passions “thorns”; no thorn is part of the vine of Christ. In the end, that which does not abide in Christ will be burned:

If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6)

Brothers and sisters! With our fasting, we have the opportunity to burn our passions before they burn us! If our abstinence is as fire, we are fulfilling the scripture:

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire. (1Corinthians 3:15)

Let us pass through the fire now, at a time of our own choosing! Our abstinence is difficult, and indeed, we suffer loss, but with this loss, we burn away our passions, so that in the end, we will not be burned.

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Great Lent, The Second Sunday – the Paralytic – "When Jesus Saw Their Faith" – Mark 2:1-12

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Mark 2:1-12 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. 3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.


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Great Lent, Saturday of the 2nd Week

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.”

What a call to action these words are! We are given the example of the Israelites who were led out of Egypt by a series of great miracles — from the plagues to the turning back of the Red Sea — but who nevertheless forgot the Lord, preferring to pine over the good things of Egypt while conveniently forgetting the slavery to which they had been subject there. As a result, these men and women were found unworthy of the promised land, and instead wandered for forty years in the desert until every one had died, and their children were led by Aaron into the “land of milk and honey.” This history can be found in the book of Exodus.

We, in our turn, have been partakers of an even greater miracle — united to the Holy Church by God’s abundant grace, anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit to preserve us in all truth, and fed with Christ’s Most Pure Body and Blood, we may abide with Him in our every action, if we so choose. We can say with the apostle Paul, “for it is not longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” — He gives us this grace, if only we choose to accept it, if only we set aside our own sinful desires and allow Him to act in us, if only we take advantage of the Holy Sacraments which He offers to us, if only we continue to encourage each other, “singing to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

This is why we gather in church as often as possible. This is why the church has services for every hour of every day, so that whenever our lives allow, we may come together and “exhort one another daily, while it is called To day” — because we are forgetful and lazy, and we need constant reminders of the Grace that had been given us, of the great Goodness of our God, so that we may fulfill our calling, give thanks with out ceasing, and allow Him to live and work in us, now and forever.

This evening, we will celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas. This fourteenth century father taught with clarity the Orthodox truth that we can truly become deified by Grace — we can live with and in God — if we set aside our sinful desires and allow Him to act with an in us through the means He has appointed.

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Great Lent, the Second Sunday – the "Press" – Mark 2:1-12

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen1.

Today, brothers and sisters, on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent — the day on which we celebrate and commemorate St. Gregory Palamas — we have before us a man who is paralyzed, and who has friends that care for him and bring him to the Lord to be healed. Now, as in all scripture, we should be careful. Read the scriptures slowly and carefully. See what the Lord says to you, see where you fit into this scripture, see where you have vices — or perhaps where by the grace of God, God has helped you in some thing and you have some virtue — not of your own worth, but because God has helped you. This is how we should read the scriptures. This is not just history, and something that happened a long time ago; this story is given for our edification. The Lord healed many thousands of people, and we don’t have very many records of His healings. So there must be something important about the way this man was healed for us to take note of.

He comes to Capernaum, and He is very popular in these days; this is still in the – shall we say, the honeymoon period; all the common people loved Him. The scribes and the Pharisees didn’t like Him, but they couldn’t move against Him, and even some of them were somewhat taken by Him because of all the buzz that was around Him. Everyone was saying, “Can you believe what’s happening? Everyone is being healed, and this man is speaking with such authority…”

At the beginning of His ministry, there were many who loved Him and wanted to throng about Him (who would later leave Him, and even be accessories to His being slandered and murdered), and this is the case today. There are so many about Him that people can’t even fit in the house where He is preaching. They are all about, outside the door, and He preached to them.

There is a man who is paralyzed, and he has asked his friends to help him. He has four that will take him on his bed, and want to bring him to Christ. Because of the press (the crowd of people), he couldn’t get to Jesus.

What is this press, brothers and sisters?

This “press” is often mentioned in other healings; this press is the obstacles that we encounter in our Christian life.

We encounter great obstacles. Now in the case of this man who was paralyzed, he wouldn’t have the strength to press through a group of people on his own, and even with help it would be immensely difficult; how can you carry a stretcher through a huge crowd of people? It is not possible.

So what did they do? They overcame the press by climbing onto the roof.

A roof is high above all things. The scripture uses this analogy just as it uses mountains sometimes, to say that this is how we should be in our Christian life. We should look up — we should be thinking of spiritual things, not of carnal things, not of just daily things — and we should elevate our mind — to contemplate pure things, and things that God wishes us to know.

These people got up on the roof. So of course it was a practical act to get up on the roof, so that they could break the roof tiles and let him down, and it was rather ingenious actually. But it is also an indication of how we should be, brothers and sisters.

You know, we encounter the press, and we stop in our tracks. Let’s face it: this society is a very difficult one for a Christian to live in, because there is such coldness, and it infects all of us. There is such materialism, there is such hardheartedness, there is such wishy-washy-ness as far as what to believe. And even among the Orthodox, there is this sort-of mixing of the world with holiness — and, of course, what becomes of hot and cold? It becomes lukewarm. And the Lord hates lukewarm.

The whole world is lukewarm. And we live in this difficulty. This is the press. It’s quite hard for us to live in this world.

In fact, I was reading something from Fr. Anatoly the younger, who was a martyr, one of the last Optina elders. I can’t quote it well, but basically the inference, the gist is of what he was writing is that Christians in the last age won’t do great miracles, and their faith won’t even be that great, and their purity won’t be that great. But, because they have endured in a time which is the worst of all times, God will give them a crown for even being Christian during this time. Indeed, because it is a difficult time. It is a time of unbelief, it is a time of lukewarm-ness, and we are surrounded by it, and we are infected by it.

It is difficult for us to get past the press. And why should we get past the press? Because we’re paralyzed too; we have spiritual paralysis; we have spiritual blindness. If any man can look inside himself with any amount of honesty at all, he sees that he is really broken inside, incomplete. There are terrible sadnesses that happen in our life. There are terrible things that we just can’t cope with completely.

And I say, if any person thinks that life is easy, and that things are really okay, than I say that you should really be afraid, because God is far from you. According to the fathers, if we’re not tempted, then we’re not being saved. Because we ARE incomplete, and we are weak creatures.

Oh yes, we have the image of God within us, and God has promised that He will be with us until the end, that He will complete the good work which has begun in us. But in the meanwhile, as we are approaching that goal, there is so much about us that is so pitiable. And we must get past the press if we are truly to get any kind of relief. You know, the press makes a lot of noise, and there is a lot of distraction, and this very well describes the Christian life today.

So how do we get past the press? Get up on the roof.

Not just get up on the roof, but there must be labor involved in the Christian life, brothers and sisters. You know that one of my pet phrases, or pet ideas, is that the greatest heresy of all time is that the Christian life can be fought without labor, that salvation can be gathered and garnered without labor. This is the great heresy of our age — it has been around now for quite some time — that we can actually be saved without labor. Oh no, it takes great labor on our part to be saved; it takes effort for us to push by the press; it takes effort for us to get on the roof, to elevate our minds to things above, not to things below, not to carnal things, not to just day-to-day living.

I think day-to-day living is like a narcotic in our day; it is easy to lose track of holy things, to say “I haven’t read scripture for so long, I forget my prayers, I have the wrong ideas, the wrong motivations,” and to just sort of flow through life. We must fight through these things, get on the roof, have our minds elevated and break through the roof tiles — which is effort. There is great effort involved in breaking through a roof.

So then, after these men had broken through the roof, they let the man down. What a spectacle that must have been. This man was not afraid to make his disability known to all. There must have been some people who thought that this was really craziness, and who might have laughed. But he was unafraid, because he wanted to be healed.

So when the Lord saw him, because of his efforts, He said “My son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Well the man came because he was palsied — he couldn’t walk — and the Lord said “Thy sins be forgiven.” He did this for a reason.

Of course, what is the source of all of our ills? Our sins!

So the Lord heals that which is the man’s most pressing need first. And of course, he knew that the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the hypocrites, would think in their minds, “How can this man forgive sins? This is blasphemy,” and they would chalk it up in their notebooks and think, “We’re going to get this man.”

The Lord then said something quite interesting, something you should take note of. It seems sort of obvious in one way, but there is a very deep meaning in another. “Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’” Well, it’s easy to say “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” or something that you can’t see internally, but if you say “Take up thy bed and walk” — well, the man had better get up, or else Jesus would be exposed as a charlatan. Well, that’s rather obvious, but there is a deep meaning here, brothers and sisters. Not an obvious meaning; you have to think a little bit.

The Lord raised the man up from his bed – “Take up thy bed and walk, and go unto thy house.” The reason he did this is to show that He, indeed, has power: He can raise the palsied man, He can give the man without eyes sight, he can cause the deaf to hear, he can raise the dead. These are tangible things that we see. The Lord did this because of our weakness.

We cannot see our sins being forgiven. It’s not something that you can have evidence of. Sometimes there is evidence of the Lord healing a man in terms of, let’s say if a man is an alcoholic and he is able to no longer have the demon of drunkenness, or some other such thing, but for the most part, when our sins are forgiven, the Lord knows, and we know, but it is not an obvious thing. That’s why the Lord said “Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’” He was trying to show us “I can do both.” Yes, I can say “thy sins be forgiven,” and it is not an obvious thing, but I can also raise up the palsied man.

There is another meaning as well. The man’s sins were forgiven AND his body was made whole. Jesus Christ’s resurrection affects the whole man. Every aspect of our personality is affected by the resurrection. This is why a Christian should not feel defeated by anything in his life — because the resurrection applies to everything. Now this is not to have some sort of Pollyanna view of the world and think that because we’re Christians we’ll be rich, famous, athletic and handsome. That might not be the case.

But Jesus Christ is interested in anything that goes on in our life. We must bring all the difficulties of our life to him. We as Christians don’t do this very much; we suffer with our worries, our concerns, and I know many of you and I know that your concerns are not frivolous ones, they are not worldly concerns; they are spiritual things. But you must believe in the resurrection, and the one who truly believes applies the resurrection, with all of its implications, to himself, and his life’s circumstances.

If Jesus Christ can raise up the palsied man, certainly all the other things that He says must be true — not just that He can raise the dead at the end of the age; He’s going to make you alive now. The kingdom of God is within you. Now, not later. This is the meaning of having the man be healed both of his sins and of his palsy, of his bodily ailments.

Now how do we attain this healing, brothers and sisters? By effort. There is no substitute whatsoever for effort.

If a Christian does not struggle, does not strive, does not point himself to Jerusalem and not look back, does not try to ascend, as it were, to the roof, and labor, then he will not be changed. Or, perhaps, he’ll bear fruit, but very little.

May God grant that we would labor, past all of the difficulties in our lives, past all of the frustrations, all of the distractions, all of our sinfulness, all of our bad habits that are so difficult to change, all that press, all that crowd — that we labor past all that, and set our minds on things above, on holiness, on the purpose of our life, which is intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And this intimate knowledge is only possible if we become like Him. We must become like Him to know Him.

This is why we must labor, brothers and sisters. Not because there are the Ten Commandments, the Law and all the rest; this is not the reason we must labor. The reason we must labor is that Jesus Christ wants us to know Him, intimately, He wants us to be healed of every single palsied condition, of every blindness, of every black spot in our souls, of every imperfection, so that we can gaze upon Him, not through a glass, darkly, but face to face – and not in shame, but in indescribably joy. This is how He wants us to know Him. And the only way to know Him is to become like Him. This is why we labor for virtue.

May God help us to labor, and for the rest of this Lent also to struggle so that when we come to the Pascha, the Lord would touch us in a very special, unique way that we can’t even imagine and understand, and strengthen us. May God help you.

Archive location: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-02_2002+healing-of-the-paralytic

1 This sermon was transcribed from one given on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, 2002, at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church, Dallas, Texas

Mark 2:1-12 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. 3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

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Great Lent, the Second Week, Friday, Matins Canon, Ode 5 – The invisible Amalek

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Stretching out Thine hands upon the cross, O Lord, Thou hast killed the invisible Amalek and rescued thy people: therefore we sing the praises of Thy power.

Great Lent, the Second Week, Friday Matins, Ode V of the Canon

How wonderful the matins canon is! Any canon, but especially, it seems, those during Great Lent, interprets the Old Testament in the light of the New. There is a profound mix of history, typology and theology in our services, and the soul is thrilled to hear divine truths expressed in varied ways, with examples from the Old and New testaments.

Only in the light of our Lord’s passion can we understand the actions of Moses when his people fought the king Amalek:

Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. (9) And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. (10) So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. (11) And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. (12) But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. (13) And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. (Exo 17:8-13 )

Amalek was a pagan king. He could not be defeated until Moses, foreshadowing our Lord’s passion, held up his arms in a cross.

In the canon, we have a mystical interpretation of Amalek. He represents sin, just as Babylon or Egypt. We all have an invisible Amalek within us, that is, the passions. Just as Moses held out his arms to defeat the king Amalek, our Lord held out his arms on the cross to defeat our Amalek.

Let us take note that if the Israelites had not fought bravely, it would not have mattered how Moses held his hands. In the same way, if we do not live according to the way of the cross, our Lord’s accomplishment is null and void for us.

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Great Lent, the Second Week, Thursday, The Sixth Hour – The Holy Eucharist and hearing the voice of God – Isaiah 6:1-12

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, [that] I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory. 2. And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered [their] face, and with two they covered [their] feet, and with two they flew. 3. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4. And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke.5. And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts. 6. And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he had in his hand, a coal, which he had taken off the altar with the tongs: 7. and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins. Isaiah 6:1-7


Most people have heard or read this passage from Isaiah and understand that it refers to the Holy Mysteries. It is a prophesy of what was to come – after the incarnation of the God-man Jesus Christ, we would be fed with the bread which came down from heaven – the holy Eucharist.

The priest repeats some of these words when he communes every person:

Behold this hath touched thy lips, and taketh away all thine iniquities and purgeth all thy sins”

As in all of Holy Scripture, true understanding is in the details. Those who have “ears to hear” listen closely, and perceive all shades of meaning. Those who do not have such ears are those whom the Lord orders Isaiah to give the message:

“Go, and say to this people. 9. Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. 10. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Isaiah 6:9-10

There is a stark contrast presented here. Isaiah is healed by the holy coal which touches his lips because of his faith. See how he thinks of himself:

And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Such a man God will heal. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”, and the greatest grace is given by the Holy Eucharist.

How can we know the holy prophet was truly humble? After all, words are easy to say.

We must not receive the grace of God in vain. The partaking of communion must initiate ACTION in us. The voice of God will also be present for us. Isaiah not only has words, he has actions. Will we hear God as Isaiah did?

And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go to this people? And I said, behold, I am [here], send me.” Isaiah 6:8


Why do we live such mediocre lives? Why do we confess the same sins over and over? Why is there so little change in our lives? Let us look at ourselves carefully: are we hearing the voice of God? Are we saying to God as Isaiah: “I am here, send me?”

There are two ways of living – one leads to life and one leads to death. There are two ways of communing the Holy Mysteries. Isaiah shows us one, and the people he preaches to shows us the other. May we live in such a way that every time we commune, not just the priest, but the Lord says to us:

Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins.

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Is 6:1-12 And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, [that] I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory. 2. And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered [their] face, and with two they covered [their] feet, and with two they flew. 3. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4. And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke. 5. And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts. 6. And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he had in his hand, a coal, which he had taken off the altar with the tongs: 7. and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins. 8. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go to this people? And I said, behold, I am [here], send me. And he said, Go, and say to this people. 9. Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. 10. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. 11. And I said, How long O Lord? And he said, Until cities be deserted by reason of their not being inhabited, and the houses by reason of there being no men, and the land shall be left desolate. 12. And after this God shall remove the men far off, and they that are left upon the land shall be multiplied. (Great Lent, the Second week, Thursday, At the Sixth Hour)

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Great Lent, the Second Week, Wednesday, Vespers – the good and bad example of Lamech – Genesis 4:23-24

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

And Lamech said … I have slain a man to the wounding of myself, and a stripling to my own bruising. Sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for Cain: but for Lamech seventy times sevenfold. (Great Lent, the Second Week, Wednesday, Vespers: Genesis 4:23-24, from the selection: Genesis 4:16-26)

What are we to glean from this first recorded instance of Hebrew poetry?

Lamech was a descendant of Cain One of his two wives, Zillah,

… bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron” Gen 4:22

Therefore, Lamech had available to him metal swords, which would give him a distinct advantage over his enemies.

To his wives, he confesses to two murders, of a “man” and a “young man” (stripling), and laments his sin, and predicts that his punishment would be greater than Cain’s (whereas Cain’s punishment would be “seven times”, Lamech’s would be “seventy seven times” (some interpret this number as 70*7 = 490))

Why the greater punishment? Is is because of of two murders and not one? No. It is because Lamech did not learn from the example of his father. St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom make this very clear:

Cain had not learned to murder from another, and had never seen a murderer undergoing punishment. But I, who had before my eyes Cain groaning and trembling, and the mightiness of the wrath of God, was not made wiser by the example before me. Therefore I deserve to suffer four hundred and ninety punishments. “ (St Basil the Great, 365 letters, Letter CLXXXVII (187))

Cain was punished, but Lamech, who committed a murder after him, did not suffer near so great a punishment. And yet this was a murder, and that was a murder, and that so much the worse, because even by the example he had not become the better. (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, Homily XXXI, Romans XVI:5)

We have before us a terrible example! Lamech was senseless to the lesson of his father before him.

What examples might we be senseless to?

We have the example of the church, the writings of the Holy Fathers, the sublime services, and sacred writ to guide us; all of this in addition to the moment by moment guidance of the Holy Spirit abiding within us.

We are without excuse, with “no cloak for our sin” if we are too busy, or too lazy, or tired, or too this, or too that to learn how to live the righteous way of life.

Lamech’s sin accuses us today! Are we also guilty of some sin due to our negligence? Is there some sin of which the Lord asks us:

Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?” (John 14:9)

There is more yet to learn from the murderer Lamech. Some of his example is to be emulated!

Hear John Chrysostom again:

“… since the one [Lamech] neither killed his brother after exhortation, nor needed an accuser, nor shrunk from answering when God questioned him, but even without any accuser both pleaded again himself, and condemned himself more severely, he obtained pardon. (St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, Homily XXXI, Romans XVI:5 [comments added])

Lamech felt the great weight of his sin, and accused himself of his crime, unlike his father Cain, who only confessed when confronted by God. In this way he resembles, David, who was guilty of the double sin of murder and adultery, and begged God to forgive him in the fiftieth psalm.

Let us act in the same way. Let us confess our sins freely and obtain pardon. Let us learn from Lamech’s good and bad example, and take the self-recriminations of St Andrew of Crete to heart:

Whom do you resemble, O most sinful soul? Surely the first Cain and that wicked Lamech. For you have stoned your body with evil deeds, and you have murdered your mind with irrational appetites. Great Canon, Wed of first week, Ode 2:8

“I have killed a man to the wounding of myself,” said Lamech, “and a young man to my own hurt,” he cried out wailing. But you, my soul, do not tremble, while polluting the flesh and defiling the mind. Great Canon, Thu of first week. Ode 2:1

O how I have emulated that old murderer Lamech! By my pleasure-loving cravings I have killed my soul as the man, my mind as the young man, and my body as my brother, like Cain the murderer. Great Canon, Thu of first week, Ode 2:3

There is one more marvelous truth to be gleaned from Lamech’s confession. Our Lord alludes to this truth when He answers Peter who had asked: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (Mat 18:21)

I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. [or “77”,] (Mat 18:22 [comments added])

Herein is a marvelous mystery! The Lord teaches to forgive ALWAYS by specifying a large number, but this is a special number. St Basil explains:

the sin of Lamech requires for its cure not a Flood, but Him Who Himself takes away the sin of the world. Count the generations from Adam to the coming of Christ, and you will find, according to the genealogy of Luke, that the Lord was born in the seventy-seventh. St Basil the Great, 365 letters, Letter CLXXXVII (187)

Only Christ, the Good Samaritan, is the one who alone can tend to the wounds of mankind!

Let us cleave to Him, confess our sins, and obtain pardon!

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Great Lent. Second Week, Tuesday – Evil Jealousy – Genesis 4:8-15

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the plain; and it came to pass that when they were in the plain Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.
Tuesday in the Second Week of Great Lent – At Vespers, Gen 4:8-15

Today the scripture gives us an account of the first murder in human history. Cain murdered his brother Abel because of jealousy:

And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: (5) But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” (Gen 4:4-5)

How stealthily jealousy operates! Cain merely suggests that they take a walk into the field, all the time hiding in the darkness of his heart his plans.

How powerful our secrets are! If we look at ourselves carefully we would understand how they control us. Our secret feelings, or likes and dislikes, our irritations about and judgment of others are our cruel taskmasters. They are like Cain, making seemingly innocent suggestions to us, and leading us cunningly into sin.

Cain lied to his brother. His lie was not in words, but in intent. We lie to our brothers. Our lie is not in words, but in our thoughts, seemingly private musings, which we forget that God sees.

In the old law, it was forbidden to kill; in the new law, we understand the real meaning behind this rudimentary prohibition: we are not even to think evilly of our brother. We are not to be angry with him, or jealous, or clutch to our breasts, like some greedy miser holds coins, our carefully cultivated feelings of having been treated unfairly or slighted in some way.

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: (22) But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Mat 5:21-22)

We must not be like Cain, but let us keep watch over our thoughts. His sin began with his secret thoughts. A Christian considers his thoughts to be as significant as his words; after all, the Lord knows both equally well. The model for how a Christian is to think and speak, with honesty, and no hidden agenda is summed up by our Lord:

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Mat 5:37)

Gen 4:8-15

8. And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the plain; and it came to pass that when they were in the plain Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him. 9. And the Lord God said to Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? and he said, I know not, am I my brother’s keeper? 10. And the Lord said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood cries to me out of the ground. 11. And now thou art cursed from the earth which has opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. 12. When thou tillest the earth, then it shall not continue to give its strength to thee: thou shalt be groaning and trembling on the earth. 13. And Cain said to the Lord God, My crime is too great for me to be forgiven. 14. If thou castest me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy presence, and I shall be groaning and trembling upon the earth, then it will be that any one that finds me shall slay me. 15. And the Lord God said to him, Not so, any one that slays Cain shall suffer seven-fold vengeance; and the Lord God set a mark upon Cain that no one that found him might slay him.

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