The Church Lectionary.
The Pedagogical services – Matins and Vespers.
On being called a Samaritan.
Fifth Monday of Pascha. John 8:42-51
On the day after we have read about Holy Equal to the Apostles, Photini, the Samaritan woman, the Gospel selection has the Jews calling the Lord a Samaritan, and demon-possessed.
They did not know what they were talking about! The proud, the jealous (a child of pride), the religious (or irreligious) elite - they never know what they are talking about. The Lord took their characterization and turned it on its head, in the parable about the Good Samaritan, where He is the Samaritan!
A few thoughts about this reading and the place it holds in the church calendar.
Recently, a priest suggested that our lectionary (the guide for when various selections from the bible are read) may need to be changed because our people are no longer biblically literate. As for the latter, he is absolutely correct – most people, no matter how much they consider themselves to be “Christian” barely know the Bible and its best commentary (from which they will learn much of its deep meanings) – the services. Matins is particularly important, and it is a forgotten service in most Orthodox parishes, even in many of those those which “serve” it and shorten it to the point that its pedagogical, theological magnificence is lost.
This priest mentioned that such an important selection as first Corinthians 13 (please do not take this as being negative – if you do not immediately recognize this selection as the one about love, you have an indication that you most likely do not read the Bible enough) is read during the week, when most people are not in church services. In his estimation, he wants to at least consider a revision of the lectionary to include such readings on the weekend.
The sad fact is that most people are not in church services on the weekend either, and most that do go attend only the Divine liturgy, or perhaps the last half of liturgy, often coming after the Gospel has been read and preached. Most people do not read, and many count their prayers before a meal as “praying” for the day.
As a pastor, I feel one of my greatest and most important tasks is to encourage my flock to read the scriptures and worship in the pedagogical services (especially matins and vespers) with consistency, expectation, zeal and understanding. The understanding comes AFTER many years of effort; until then, much of the services, which explain the scriptures, are unintelligible to us.
The Holy Spirit enlightens every man, as he is open to enlightenment, but He works with our current understanding and brings it higher. Our theological understanding as a people is very low, and our desire for theological understanding, as a people, is low This is why we are so mediocre.
The juxtaposition of today’s reading with yesterday’s is startling and edifying to the student of the scriptures.
By student I mean the one who reads the scriptures as the church does, with her understanding. This involves not only following the lectionary (which is a minor point – it does not really matter if your daily discipline is to read the daily readings, or if you read the scripture in some other way, but you MUST read if you want to be saved), but is especially having the same “mind” as the church regarding the scriptures. Each word is a revelation of truth, and truth is Jesus Christ.
Again, in the redundancy and repetition department, this “mind” is most present in the services, and best understood when standing in prayer – reading Patristic commentaries can supplement this admirably, but not replace it.
It MATTERS that this reading follows Sunday’s reading.
It is been like this for a long time. Of course, the lectionary could be changed – the church has this authority, but an attempt to make sure all the “most important” readings are on Sunday is well-intentioned, but impossible. They are all important. If a person is not steeped in the scriptures, many “important” readings are as edifying to them as the reading of the phone book. We must try to awaken zeal in our flock to read, and to pray in an Orthodox way. Until a person has thirst for the living water, no rearrangement of the lectionary will be beneficial to them.
The Episcopalians rearranged their lectionary so that the entire NT is read in a three year cycle on Sundays. Many of their people, and their bishops do not follow the Scripture (this is patently obvious, by just casually observing the immorality that is encouraged, even among their clergy – individuals we cannot judge, but as an organization, it is clear that they are “off the reservation”). Rearranging the lectionary is not the answer for them, or us. Living the Gospel (and also preaching it) is the only answer.
If the lectionary was rearranged, little consolations like today’s reading, in the light of yesterdays, would be lost. Those who care would miss out, those who do not care would not even know that they are missing anything. Perhaps, if God wills, there will be changes in time, but none of it will mean anything to the vast irreligious majority. The way is broad… (and how is it that one can be sure he is not on it?)
The attempts by supposed Christians, including even Orthodox, to consider Jews and Moslems to be “people of faith” is contradicted by our Lord’s words. He said it – if we do not love the Son, we do not love the Father. Why are people afraid to say this? Perhaps it is because in our PC climate, they are afraid of being judged as “Samaritans”. Our Lord was judged – and if they did these things to the “green tree”, can we expect any less?
The Samaritan woman was despised, even by her own kind, and yet, we now know her as “Equal to the Apostles”. It is an honor to be called a Samaritan.
John 8:42-51 42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. 44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. 46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? 47 He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. 48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? 49 Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. 51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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