Archive for March, 2008

Great Lent, the first week. ,Clean Monday

Monday, March 10th, 2008

The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and the way of the ungodly shall perish. `(The Prokeimenon, Psalm 1, in the 4th Tone, Monday in the First Week – At the Sixth Hour)

This “knowing” is a mutual relationship. When the Christian hears this prokeimenon, his heart should burn with desire to be righteous, because the Lord only speaks of knowing such. Of course, the Lord knows all things, but only to the righteous does He choose to reveal Himself. Therefore, those whom the Lord knows also know Him. To those He knows, He grants knowledge of Himself.
This knowledge is the fruit of understanding. To understand someone, we must emulate them, and intimately know the details of their life, because we have lived them. Only a soldier can understand what another soldier has felt in time of war. Only a mother can understand a mother’s love for her child. To understand love is to love. Only the righteous know the way of the Lord.
In this season of change, we should have two prayers upon our lips, and the two are the same, to become righteous and to know the Lord.
With God’s help, I will try to post short thoughts on some aspect of our lenten days. Thougts will come from the daily readings and service texts, and sometimes from the Ladder of Divine Ascent, which many traditionally read during Great Lent.
I welcome comments. Use the link below to comment.
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Forgiveness Sunday 2008 – The Night Is Far Spent – Romans 13:11-14:4, Matthew 6:14-21

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

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The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.



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Sunday of Forgiveness

Saturday, March 8th, 2008
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.1

Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is also the day we enter Great Lent. After we pray the Vespers service of Forgiveness early this afternoon, we will then be in the Holy Fast. Why is it that we fast? We have a blueprint for our life, and why we fast, in the Gospel today. Today is also interesting, because we are also commemorating the Finding of the Head of the Forerunner, and so we have this additional Gospel reading that has much richness in it. I want to quickly focus on one thing that it said: “… the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”2

We are going to do violence now. We are setting out on a path of doing violence to the violent one. We are casting that which is corrupt within us, and the Church has given us a path to do so. Our Lord said, first of all, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you.”3 First and foremost in the Christian life is to forgive. To forgive is to be like God – because God forgives all. God loves all, without any respect for persons. So when we forgive, we are participating in the energy of God. We are acting like God! And indeed, that is what we are to do. In the scripture it says, “Ye are gods”4. We are to act like gods. We are to acquire virtue, compassion, holiness, yea, even perfection, because the scriptures also say, “Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect”5.

So one must become like unto God, and the first step is to forgive.

And He says, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”6

This is actually a promise and a threat, but the promise is so much more powerful than the threat. Oh, yes, if you do not forgive, you won’t be saved. If you hold grudges, even though someone has harmed you greatly in this life, you won’t be saved, because, over and over, the Church says, the Holy Scripture says, the saints say, the Holy Spirit says: forgive, forgive, forgive.

And if you do forgive, what will happen? You will see Christ. You won’t be corrupt anymore. You’ll have peace, you’ll have rest. The promise is greater than the threat. Absolutely.

And then He gives us some counsel about fasting. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”7 These are among the most terrible words in all of scripture: “They have their reward.” This life, this life of corruption, and foul odors, and difficulties, and sadness and strife, and tempests – that is where they have their reward. These are terrible words. So if you want your reward now, God will give it to you. You can be as a hypocrite, you can make it appear that you are holy, and some people will say, “Isn’t that remarkable what he is doing. I could not do that. He must be filled with the Holy Spirit.” But if you have the reward only now, your life is a total waste.

Then He tells us, in a figure through the glass darkly, as it were, what our reward will be. He says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: {20} But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: {21} For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”8 Do you know what we have been promised? All the world tells us a story of death, dying, difficulties, passions and sadness – all the world. No matter how rich a man becomes, the world is a difficult place because within, there is a pitched battle. And a man with a conscience is not at peace with whom he is. He wants to become better. The whole world is corrupt, all we ever see. But what does He say? “If you lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven, they do not corrupt. They will last forever.” These are amazing thoughts here: Forever. No corruption. Full of satisfaction, peace, rest. I do not have a day that I am at rest. There is not a day that I do not endure sadness. There is not a day that I do not sin. But there will be a day, in the eighth day, if I struggle now, and also, if you struggle, that we will be in the presence of God. The mind cannot conceive and understand what this means, because all we see is corruption, and everything changes. It is so hard to stay good. Things change all the time, and so often, it seems, for the worse. But our Lord and Savior is telling us, If we lay up treasures for ourselves now, in heaven they will not corrupt. We won’t corrupt!”

In the other reading, John, a great man, greatest born of woman, could not understand. It was so incomprehensible to him that the Messiah had actually come. He believed, but he was full of wonderment, so he sent his disciples to Christ, and our Lord said, “Look at the evidence. The blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”9 That is the greatest miracle. It gives people hope. It makes people know what they are alive for. We know what our Lord can do.

The evidence is all there, even though the world constantly countermands and slanders that evidence, every single day of our life, but we know the truth! And this is why we are entering upon the Fast. Because we want to lay up treasures in heaven, and we want to win the kingdom of Heaven by violence. Violence against our passions, violence against that which saddens us – that part of us which is incomplete. We want to cast it out, so that we can be filled. That’s why we fast. The reason one must forgive is because the task in our life is to become like God, to be filled with Him, and to become like Him morally – to share in the energies of God. His love for us will transfigure us and make us incorrupt. And a man cannot become incorrupt, he cannot become like God, if fundamentally he disavows himself from that most fundamental aspect of God: God is love. Love forgives. Love forgives seventy times seven times; love forgives infinite times. No matter how great the transgression, the forgiveness is greater.

This is why we begin Great Fast with Forgiveness ceremony. No, it is not just a ceremony. Every man who looks into his heart sees that he falls short with every breath he takes, and that he wrongs every man. If you see one of your brothers or sisters, and they have a difficulty, some conflict in their marriage, or with their children or with some substance or some other such thing – we all fall into difficulties – you should berate yourself and say, “Have I prayed for my brother? Have I done something to help my brother? Is it possible that he or she is in peril because of my incompetence?” That’s why we ask forgiveness of one another, even if we have not exactly offended everyone specifically. But then again there might be grudges that need to be settled today, too, and we must do this if we wish to enter into the Fast.

The Apostle says, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. “10 This is the time. The church sets aside this time, this tithe, or tenth, of the year, so that we would be able to intensify and remember who we are, and who God is, and change. The first step is to forgive, and then we proceed with the Fast. And I tell you it will be difficult. I have been through seventeen of them, and all of them were difficult. We all have our different temptations. One is tempted to eat meat. Another is tempted to be angry. Another is tempted to fall into despondency. Another is tempted in another way. As many souls as there are, so many temptations are there. But we struggle together as a community praying for one another and fasting and believing that there is a reward and that it is permanent. Nothing in this life – nothing – is permanent, and we are living for permanence. And when I think of these thoughts, it makes it a bit easier to abstain from this food or that, or to make more prostrations, or to forgive my brother, even when he has harmed me, even when he has hurt me purposefully, because everything in this life is going away, except for how we have lived. The way we have lived, if it is holy, is going to endure

There is something else during this great fast all of you should do. It is very important for us to pray for one another, and also to pray for Paul, Susan and Seth. They are going to be made catechumens next week. We are going to have the service to make them catechumens, and the exorcism part of the service, just before Liturgy next Sunday. I would ask you and admonish you, as ones who love, because He loved us, that you will be here to support them in prayer, and not just on Sunday, but during the whole time of their catechuminate, that they would learn of sweetness, learn about faith, about the sweetness you can never have enough of. And yet indeed there will come a time when we will have enough. But not in this life. In the next life. We will be completely filled with Him if we live now according to Who He is. Amen.

Romans 13:11-14

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. {12} The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. {13} Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. {14} But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. {41:1} Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. {2} For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. {3} Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. {4} Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Matthew 6:14-21

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: {15} But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. {16} Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. {17} But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; {18} That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. {19} Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: {20} But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: {21} For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of Forgivensss, the last Sunday before Great Lent. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style.

It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

2 Mat 11:12, partial

3 Mat 6:14

4 Psalm 82:6, Isaiah 41:23, John 10:34

5 (Mat 5:48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

6 Mat 6:15

7 Mat 6:16

8 Mat 6:19-21

9 (Mat 11:5) “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

10 Romans 13:11

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>“Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.”

Saturday, March 8th, 2008
This is the last line of “By the Waters of Babylon”, Psalm 136, which is sung only three times a year, in matins for the three Sundays immediately preceding Great Lent.
Why do we sing this psalm then? The key to the answer is in the last line. The purpose of Great Lent is to change. Psalm 136 perfectly describes the demeanor we should have, but lamentation and longing for blessedness will not in themselves make us change. This psalm gives PRACTICAL advice about how to change.

“Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.” (Psalm 136:8)

“Infants” are thoughts – just as we are becoming aware of them. All sin starts with thought, and most sin is only thought! When dealing with our thoughts, we must be swift and violent. As a thought forms in our mind, before it gets too large, we must kill it immediately by dashing it against the rock, which is Christ. The same idea is present in the promise of the psalmist:

I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD. (Psa 100:8 Sept)

Here the “wicked” are thoughts, which if destroyed “early” would still be small infants. Like the psalmist, we must cry out for help, because we are too weak to battle on our own:

” Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” (Psa 19:13)

“Presumptuous sins” are thoughts (infants), and if the Lord helps us, they will not have “dominion” over us, which will, in the short term, lead us to committing the “great transgression” (the sin that the thought was leading us to), and in the longer term, cause us to be inclined towards sin because of bad habits.

Let us understand clearly that as soon as we have any attachment to a bad thought (or “presumptuous sin”), we have already committed a sin , but that all is not lost if we can somehow battle this sin so that it does not lead us further along and cause us to commit the “great transgression” – to act on our thought. This “great transgression” may be a physical act, or it may be when we completely give in to a thought, and wallow in it like a glutton.

One “presumptuous sin” we must especially guard against is that our secret thoughts cannot harm us, or are “not as bad” as actually acting on the thought. If we do not dash the infant though against the rock as soon as possible, it will grow too big for us to control, and we will be thrown headlong into further sin. We must also remember that to the Lord, attachment to a sin is as the sin itself:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: (28) But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Mat 5:27-28 KJV)

———-

For a detailed exposition of Psalm 136, Listen to the catechetical talk on “By the Waters of Babylon”

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Audio talk on: Prayers of the church, Lenten Prayers, By The Waters of Babylon, Psalm 136

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

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Psalm 136
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Sion. Alleluia.

Upon the willows in the midst thereof did we hang our instruments. Alleluia.

For there, they that had taken us captive asked us for words of song;
And they that had led us away asked us for a hymn, saying: sing us one of the songs of Sion. Alleluia.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Alleluia.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.
Alleluia.

Let my tongue cleave to my throat, if I remember thee not,
If I set not Jerusalem above all others, as at the head of my joy. Alleluia.

Remember, O Lord, the sons of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem, Who said: Lay waste, lay waste to her, even to the foundations thereof. Alleluia.

O daughter of Babylon, thou wretched one,
blessed shall he be who shall reward thee wherewith thou hast rewarded us. Alleluia.

Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock. Alleluia.



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Gleanings from the Holy Fathers: On Fasting

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — -holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”

A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life, is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering that person is not a Christian. Bearing one’s cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without which there is no Christianity. Archbishop Averky of Syracuse (of Blessed Memory)

Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself.” The Desert Fathers

According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needful and sufficient for normal nourishment., Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Lk. 6:25). St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

Almsgiving heals the soul’s incensive power; fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for contemplation of created beings. For the Lord has given us commandments which correspond to the powers of the soul. St. Maximos the Confessor (First Century on Love no. 79)

Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. ‘Loose the bands of wickedness.’ For give your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not ‘fast for strife and debate.’ You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. Woe to those who are ‘drunken, but not with wine.’ Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and makes it out of its wits like wine. St. Basil, in his homilies on the Holy Spirit

Suppose you have ordered yourself not to eat fish; you will find that the enemy continually makes you long to eat it. You are filled with an uncontrollable desire for the thing that is forbidden. In this way you can see how Adam’s fall typifies what happens to all of us. Because he was told not to eat from a particular tree, he felt irresistibly attracted to the one thing that was forbidden him. St. John of Karpathos “The Philokalia: the Complete Text” (volume I), by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, trans. By G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and (Bishop) Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 298 – 309

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Cheesefare Week, Monday, Luke19:30-34 – "The Lord hath need of him"

Monday, March 3rd, 2008
Luke 19:30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him.




Our Lord’s instructions to the disciples show that He had made careful preparations for His final meal with them. He had not revealed all the details to anyone, but only told them what they needed to know.
He did not explain to his disciples why he needed the colt, but we know now that the animal not only served to convey him into Jerusalem on the day of Palms, but also to indicate mystically for us the bringing in of the Gentiles into the household of faith, since a colt is a yet wild and untamed animal.

And what are to make of the dialog concerning the colt of the unnamed man with the disciples?
We cannot understand the ways of God. So often, we are tempted to have our own judgments concerning people and events, not knowing the mind of God concerning such things.
How many times are we just as the Jews, who thought it preposterous that the Gentiles would share in the salvation promised to them, even though the Lord told innumerable parables concerning this, and there are numerous prophesies concerning the Gentiles in the Old Testament?

How many times do we dare to question the Lord, and say “Why do you loose Him”, that is, question our life’s circumstances and doubt His providence? Or perhaps we do not openly doubt our Lord, but our own prejudices and presuppositions and spiritual blindness have not allowed us to see the hand of God in our daily lives?

This colt is not only a symbol for us of the Gentiles, but also of our own ignorance concerning the mind of God, and how the Lord carefully prepares all things in our life for our salvation, but does not explain to us in intimate detail the reasons for each thing.
Why does the Lord tarry when we ask of Him something? Why does a loved one suffer? Why (on a local and current note), is it so difficult to build a new church for His glory? For every circumstance in our lives, good and bad, we should merely say: “The Lord hath “need” of (it)”, that is, in some way, the providence of God is leading us to better things, although we cannot understand how.
How powerful even the simple words of scripture are! Let us remember the next time that we are perplexed, or disheartened (and it will be today), that we cannot know why the Lord has need of the colt, only that it is part of a careful plan for our salvation.

Full Gospel reading for the Monday of Cheesfare:

Luke 19:29-40; 22:7-39 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him. 35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. 36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. 22:7 Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. 8 And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. 9 And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? 10 And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. 11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 12 And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. 13 And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. 14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. 15 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. 21 But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. 22 And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! 23 And they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing. 24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. 28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. 29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; 30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. 33 And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. 34 And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. 35 And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. 36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. 37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. 38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough. 39 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
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