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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

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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

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