Posted by: Fr Chris | October 11, 2019

Which Seed Am I in Relation to God?

Information about icons and some of the theology of icons is in today’s bulletin. This Sunday is celebrated as the commemoration of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, held in October in 787 at Nicaea, outside Constantinople, to deal with the first wave of the destruction of icons. It is also the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. 

The 7th council was deliberately held at Nicaea, where the Arian heresy had been defeated in 325 AD, because the whole issue of using sacred images in prayer and worship is intimately tied to the question of Who is Jesus Christ as the God-Man, along with the Christian attitude toward the created world, and the meaning of Christian redemption and the salvation of the material universe.

This Council’s decisions emphasized that Christ can be depicted simply because He “became human and took flesh.” Since the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Eternal Word of God, took a material body from the womb of Our Lady, material images of Him can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. God sanctified matter, bringing salvation back to the world that had been so damaged by original sin.

Because of the Incarnation, matter and human flesh are mediums for the action of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we can use wood, paint, ceramic, metal – anything physical – in making images of Our Lord, His Mother and the Saints.

Christianity is routinely hit by heretics and leaders of cults who deny the holiness of the created world and treat the human body as a prison for the soul. So smashing icons and refusing to put up sacred images in churches is a sign of a serious falsehood, one that the Calvinists used to destroy so much of Christian heritage in Europe.

God saw His creation and it was good, and even after original sin He provides for Adam and Eve because they are still made in His image; with groups like the Gnostics, Cathars and Paulicians, and even among Protestant Reformers the opposite position is taken: Luther famously said that people are corrupted by sin and that every action is unavoidably bad.

All created matter, from the physical universe to the human person, is worthy of God’s love and redemption, and therefore is, as God says in Genesis of His creation, “good.”

Quick Facts About the 7 Ecumenical Councils - The Catalog of Good Deeds

The Catholic Church teaches, and does so clearly in this council, that created matter, including people, are good and holy and capable of redemption. St Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that the universe groaned for its redemption through Christ, and in Second Corinthians chapter 3 that we are to be transformed  by theosis, deification, to God-likeness. The Fathers of this Council unanimously proclaimed that icons should be “bowed to, saluted with kisses, attended with lights and the offering of incense”. The members of the Council made the distinction between veneration and worship. We venerate or show honor not to the icon itself but to the prototype depicted on the icon if it is a saint of the Church. We give worship only to God. In neither case do we venerate or worship the paint, wood or canvas the icon is depicted on.
It is important for us to remember that icons portray people who have been transformed by God’s grace and their cooperation with grace. The icon shows that holiness is possible, that we can be filled by the Holy Spirit. You and I are here to become saints.  Icons point the way to heaven, and that way is composed of allowing ourselves to love Christ, be loved by Christ, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit through our actions so that we will be able to see the glory of God the Father after our deaths.

In the letter to the Hebrews today we heard these verses: For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

What is on my lips? What words come across my lips? Do I have a tongue that rejoices in God my savior, as the Blessed Virgin says in her Magnificat?

A sower went out to sow… | friarmusings

In the parable of the sower of seed in the open fields, Jesus points out some seed lands in a road, on thorns, in shallow ground, most on good ground. It was a wasteful way to plant, but that’s how it was done and what people knew.

The hardened pathway represents the closed mind which shuts out God’s instruction. The shallow, rocky ground represents those who accept the word but who never reflect on it, who, therefore,  wither away when challenged.The thorny ground stands for those whose lives are so busy that the things of God are crowded out by responsibilities, selfish pleasures and so lose God’s call to them.

The seed on the good ground grows up and is harvested to feed the farmer. Icons invite us to listen to God’s Word, to sit and ponder the teachings of the Church, to be drawn into the life of the saint or sacred event through silent prayer, and then to take an action. We are not here to be empty vessels, or consumed with daily life, or to just show up in church and then walk out unchanged by the worship or sermon. We are here to grow up – not just grow older but grow up, and grow in depth in our connection to Almighty God and His Church.

We must be sowers of the seed also, who take the message of Christ and our Church into the world where too many people are consumed by pleasure, projects, or whose hearts really have never heard the accurate fullness of Christ’s teaching, the fullness of revelation in the teachings of the Catholic Faith. We have to water and nurture ourselves with good internet sites, good books, good  classes, and above all we have to stop, be silent in front of a sacred image, and hear what God wants to say to each and every one of us, of all ages.

Icon of Our Lady Of Fatima - The Byzantine Forum

On this day in 1917, the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Mother of God, spoke for the last time at Fatima. She promised to take the children to heaven, and Jacinta and Francisco died the next  year in the great flu pandemic. When Lucia asked, “Will I be here alone?” she promised that she would remain with Lucia until her death.  At noon, after hours of rain, The Miracle of the Sun then took place so that people up to twenty-five miles away saw the sun dance, change colors, or spin and hurtle to the earth. This went on for twelve long minutes. Seventy thousand people whose clothes had been soaked by pouring rain found that the mud they were standing on was now dry, their clothes and bodies completely dry as well, and sick people were healed.The state-run atheist newspaper ran a front page headline the next day: Miracle at Fatima. Before her death, Sister Lucia said that the entire purpose of the apparitions and miracle was that people would grow in faith, hope, and love.

73 Best Byzantine Oil Lamps images in 2018 | Oil Lamps, Byzantine, Burning candle

When He wants to, God can do something spectacular. More frequently, He works quietly, like the time when Elijah the prophet covered his face in respect when a gentle breeze brought about a thin, small sound of silence which he realized was the presence of God. Or like today and as at every Catholic altar in the world, when through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ descends into the tiniest particle of bread and the smallest drop of wine, filling it with His Divine Presence and Personhood. Or in the silence of prayer in front of an icon – when we look upon the figure of a person fully transformed by grace, by God’s own divine energy, and we pray fervently that our hearts be equally open to that grace.

Who am I? The heart filled with projects or pleasure, the heart that hears the word of God but does not act upon it, the closed heart which locks itself against God’s Word, or the heart willing to be consumed by God’s love and so bring His mercy to a world that has lost its way in a most spectacular fashion. In whom does my spirit rejoice: God my savior, or other things? We are invited to stand, sit, kneel, or prostrate before a sacred icon and ponder this and act upon it, just as we should sit, stand, kneel or prostrate before the Living God in the tabernacles of the world. God wishes to speak to each heart here, and on this entire planet. It is up to us to hear Him.

Russian Silver Gilt Icon of Christ Pantocrator - Antique Jewelry | Vintage Rings | Faberge Eggs

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 13, 2019

The Holy Cross and Us

Saturday, September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. This verse from Thursday night’s Vespers struck me while preparing for this feast:

Today the Cross is exalted; * today the faithless ones perished; * today the faith is revealed through faithful kings. * Because of the tree, Adam has fallen, * and now by the Tree of the Cross the demons are filled with terror. * O all- powerful Lord, glory to You!

Demons are filled with terror and so flee from the cross. The enemies of Christ on earth fear the cross and all that it stands for. In Muslim countries, Christians are routinely  mocked as worshippers of the cross. When Islamic fundamentalism starts up, one of the first things they do is tear crosses off of churches and from people’s houses.

Members of Isil dismantle crosses from a church

Cross torn off Iraqi Catholic church by ISIS “warriors”

In communist China, the current campaign against all religious beliefs began with the removal of crosses from Catholic and Protestant churches, and continues with demands that Christians replace their crosses inside their houses with photos of the Chinese president.  Crosses were torn off of closed churches by state authorities in communist Eastern Europe and the USSR.

The American Humanist Association sought to either remove or disfigure the Peace Cross with its 49 names of  men who died in the First World War in Maryland. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Supreme Court decision that saved the Peace Cross “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion,” he added. All of this is over the cross which we lift up literally tonight, the cross we routinely kiss in church or at home, the cross we hang on our walls or wear around  our necks. Two pieces of wood create all this anger among Muslims and communists and secularists alike. Why?

Cross burns as Chinese officials remove it from church - ucanews.com

Removal of cross in Tang He county, Henan province, China 

It is, I think, as Justice Alito wrote, very much a case of eliminating all traces of the Christian religion from the public eye, because the cross is a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on it, and because it states that there are still men and women and children who honor that cross as part of their Christian lives. It is the sign of hope, of the victory over death by the sacrifice and resurrection of the God-Man crucified on it, a victory that communists mock and secularists preach against as a vain hope.

Why do we continue to honor the Cross with a holy day, with a special Vespers, with a ceremony of lifting up? The Old Testament readings today evoke the symbolism of the cross among the Israelites: the tree of Eden; Jacob crossing his hands to bless his son Joseph; Moses with his arms held out like a cross to help the Israelites defeat the warriors of Amalek; the bronze serpent on a cross which Moses held up for the afflicted people to see and be healed by God’s mercy.

No evangelism without prayer | volgdeboereninzuidafrika

Saint John Chrysostom writes eloquently – of course – on this: A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ. Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; this second one calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see. And that earlier death condemned those who were born after it; this second death gives life again to those who were born before it.

We wear the cross casually or have it on our walls and walk by it. This feast is a reminder of the power of Christ’s Cross, a reminder of why both communists and secularists hate it, of why Islamic fundamentalists seek to destroy both it and those who honor it. It must be for us who believe in Christ and His Church an image that we cherish, that we honor, that we are proud of. Yes it was a blood-soaked tree outside of Jerusalem on Good Friday, but that blood washes away our sins and is the blood we receive at Holy Communion.  May we continue to people of the cross, people who ponder the cross and its many attributes, and above all people who love both the Cross and our Savior who was crucified on it.

Abbey Roads: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

 

Posted by: Fr Chris | September 7, 2019

The Wounded Heart and Our Blessed Lady, given to us

Sept 8

Today is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Nativity of Our Lady, and Sunday Before Exaltation of the Cross – So I guess I should give 3 sermons!

Nativity of Theotokos - Russian Orthodox Church of Three Saints Храм Трех Святителей

Saint Ann and Saint Joachim thank God for the birth of their daughter, Mary 

Seriously – these two feasts rarely coincide. But each of course is intimately related to Our Lord. The birth of Our Lady is hailed in Ode 3 of the Matins as: your conception is ineffable (or unable to be fully expressed), your birth was all-holy, your childbearing was beyond our understanding, for the God of all became flesh in you. Mary’s greatness is not only in being the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the one who carried God in her womb,  and being ever-virgin before, during and after that pregnancy, but also in her individual holiness. That’s reflected in the choice of verses taken for the feast from Luke. Jesus praises Mary of Bethany for her choice of being still and listening to the Word of God as Christ speaks. That ties in with Luke, chapter 2, verse 19: Mary treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart. The second set of verses, Blessed is the womb that bore you,  from Luke chapter 11, is the woman acclaiming Jesus’ mother for her role, which is a common thing in Judaism. The mothers of great rabbis are honored. But Christ turns that compliment aside, emphasizing instead the importance of hearing His words and acting on them.

About St. Macarius - Macarian Apologetics

On Friday we will be honoring the life-giving Cross and its exaltation. That is one of the paradoxes of Christianity for non-Christians, and even for some Christians. Why honor the Cross, an instrument of torture on which Jesus suffered a most painful death? The Vespers on Friday night will tell us why: O most venerable Cross of the Lord, the angels surround you with joy at your elevation today. You raise up those had fallen and had been delivered to death for having eaten of the forbidden tree. Therefore we praise you. By God’s plan, death that had come from a tree would be healed by a Tree, and suffering would be healed by the suffering of the Lord.

Without Mary and her willingness to assent to  conceiving the Son of the Most High in her womb, we do not have Jesus. Without that Cross of suffering, we do not have salvation.  Without Christ’s constant self-giving, we would not have the Divine Liturgy and the gift of Holy Communion. What do we receive in Communion? As Saint John Chrysostom’s prayer makes clear: this is Your most precious Body and Your life-giving Blood. This is the body and blood which He received from Mary in her virginal womb.

Y CATHOLIC: THE EUCHARIST

In the Eucharistic miracles that have taken place in the last 1200 years, the consecrated host turns to flesh, and the consecrated wine to blood. Those transformed sacred gifts have been subjected to scientific analysis in the last 50 years, and the test results are always the same: the flesh is from the heart, from the left side where the ventricle pumps blood out, and it is always not only flesh from the heart, but a heart undergoing tremendous stress and in the death agony. The blood is always AB blood, the most common blood type among Jewish men in first-century Palestine, but the blood type of only 4% of humans today. People with AB blood can receive any blood, and AB blood is used for treatment of wounds. When we come then to Communion, we receive not only the Body and Blood which Christ received from Our  Blessed Lady, but His Most Sacred Heart, wounded for us on the Cross, His Heart that suffered on the Cross we will exalt on Friday, a tiny piece of which our parish is privileged to have. That Precious Blood is the Blood that heals our wounds, any wound, the Blood poured out on the cross.

Liturgies end pretty quickly after Holy Communion. That is so we will go outside changed and transformed by this Eucharist, and go into the world as living tabernacles. As Byzantine Catholics, we go especially under the protection of the Holy Mother of God. She is the Mother of the Clergy, Mother of the faithful, guardian and helper, protector, the one who perpetually prays for us at the throne of God in heaven, as the title of our church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, makes clear. And she is given to us today especially as a model, as one who prayed on earth, who pondered in her heart the mysteries she experienced, and who heard the word of God throughout her life, who carried the word of God for nine months, who raised the word of God, and who acted upon what the Eternal Word told her.

NOVENA TO OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP | Carmel, Garden of God

She was the first tabernacle of the living God on earth. When we leave here today, may we turn to her and ask her to help us to be spiritual tabernacles, who will carry Christ to all whom we meet, and that we will ponder in our hearts the great treasure of the Catholic Faith which has been freely given to us, and grow in love for Christ and His wounded heart, and live in actions that reflect His teachings, and His heart .

Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 20, 2019

St Stephen the King and Mary’s Triumph in Budapest

August 20 is the feast of Saint Stephen of Hungary on the Byzantine calendar, August 19 on the Latin one. Szent István, as the Hungarians call him, was the first Christian king of the Magyar people. He was baptized as a Christian when he was a child, and took the throne after a fierce struggle against pagan opposition led by his own uncle. He married his wife, St. Gisela of Bavaria, in 997.

Crowned at the start of the second Christian millennium Stephen was confirmed in his royal role by the pope, and since then Hungary has been known as the Apostolic Kingdom. He established a diocesan structure for the Latin Church while endowing the Byzantine rite monasteries of the Greek Church. During his reign, Hungarian rule was established over the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church’s home territories in central Europe. Hungary’s orientation was to the West, not the East, and Latin became the official language of all government business until 1844.

St. Stephen entrusted the Hungarian state to the Mother of God, naming her as the perpetual Queen of Hungary by raising his crown in his right hand to her icon while on his deathbed. His forthright defense of the Church and work on her behalf would probably have earned him sainthood in the medieval mind, but in addition there were miracles of healing at his tomb. The right hand with which he invoked Our Lady’s protection has remained incorrupt to our time. This hand remains in the Basilica of Saint Stephen in the heart of Budapest.

Gyula Benczúr: St. Stephen recommends Hungary under the protection of the Virgin Mary (St. Stephen's Basilica)

Saint Stephen offers his Crown to the Virgin Mary as Queen of Hungary 

A church was dedicated in Budapest to Our Lady as the Kingdom of Mary, the Regnum MarianumThis massive church stood as a sign of the protection of the Mother of God over the Hungarian people. During the Siege of Budapest in 1944-45, the church suffered a direct hit during a bombardment and was  damaged, but Masses continued.

The Regnum Marianum Church (circa 1930)

Hungary was put into the Soviet orbit by the United States and Britain at the infamous Yalta Conference. By 1948 it was under Communist rule, and in 1951 this great church was marked for complete demolition so as to build an enormous statue of Josef Stalin in its place. On August 1, the last Mass was offered at the high altar, and the Blessed Sacrament removed. Crowds stood for hours, singing hymns, with even communists  coming by to show their displeasure at the destruction. Though some people of Budapest surrounded it with a cordon of protesters – a very brave act in the spirit of Saint Stephen! – the secret police swept in and made arrests. Finally the church was blown up, and every surviving piece was carefully destroyed by the communists. It was even forbidden to show photographs of the former church.

The site of the church now became a square for Communist processions, dominated by Stalin’s image. Stalin towered over the city until the heroic Revolution of 1956, when this statue was pulled down by angry Hungarians eager to be freed of communism. Sadly, they lost their fight, and 200,000 fled to the West.

aph: hungarian revolution | Tumblr

Stalin’s head lying on the pavement, 1956 

In the end, Our Lady has triumphed, as she promised at Fatima in 1917. A crucifix was put up  in 1991 atop the pedestal where Stalin once stood.

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The new Kingdom of Mary church has been built at Zoborhegy Square, and a few long-buried pieces of the old church were inserted into it. This was blessed in 1995.

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Regnum Marianum Templom

Related image

Icon of Our Lady, Queen of Hungary, in front of the altar 

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 14, 2019

Dormition/ Assumption of Our Lady, 2019

Afterfeast of the Dormition of the Mother of God - Orthodox Church in America

Holding the soul of Our Lady, Jesus comes to lift her body into heaven as the apostles mourn her death

 

Image result for pius xii declares assumption of mary, 1950

Pius XII proclaims the Assumption of Our Lady as a dogma that must be believed by all Catholics in communion with the Holy See.

On November 1, 1950, Peter’s successor, Pope Pius XII, infallibly defined the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. This made it necessary for all Catholics to believe that Our Lady was taken up into heaven, body and soul. It is the only time that papal infallibility has been invoked, as Pius was speaking ex cathedra on a matter of faith.

This is not a new teaching, but rather the confirmation of an ancient belief in the Church. Writings about the death of the Virgin and her transition into heaven go back to the second century, which means it probably was spoken of in the first century. Thus, it is a teaching from the foundations of Christianity. In the 9th century. St John Damascene wrote that:

It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as He sits with the Father, It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.

 Microchimerism  comes into play with the dogma, as science confirms the necessity of the bodily assumption of Our Lady. In the simplest of terms, microchimerism is the process by which a smattering of cells live within a host body but are completely distinct from it. In human fetomaternal microchimerism (or “fetal cell microchimerism”), every child leaves within its mother a microscopic bit of himself — every pregnancy, brought to delivery or not, leaves a small amount of its own cells within the body of the mother — and those cells remain within her forever. Therefore, a small amount of Jesus’ cells remained within Mary, for the whole of her life. Where we Catholics have a limited experience of Christ’s flesh commingling within our own upon reception of the holy Eucharist, Mary was a true tabernacle within which the Divinity did continually reside.

In Psalm 16:10 we read about how the Holy One will not undergo corruption.  Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption, but rose in glory and ascended into heaven. It follows that His mother’s body, containing cellular traces of the Divinity (and a particle of God is God, entire) could not be permitted to decay, either. The science makes the theology accessible, because, suddenly, there is no need for guessing: at her Dormition, Our Lady’s body, holding Christ’s living cells within it, could not remain on earth and decay. Of course, it would have to join itself to Christ in the heavenly dimension.

An interesting point can also be raised regarding Marian apparitions. Our Lady probably died in her late forties or early fifties. At that age, a Palestinian woman was elderly and worn down by the physical hardships of life in the first-century. Yet at every recognized apparition, the visionaries always remark on how beautiful she is, how young she looks, and that she has a beauty that no one can fully capture in art. Saint Bernadette patiently detailed how the Lady from the grotto looked to a sculptor hired to recreate the image in a statue to be put in the grotto at Lourdes. But when he presented his finished work, she remarked sadly that no one could really show her loveliness.

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The shrine of the empty tomb of Mary, Jerusalem 

Why does this matter? Our Lord’s body was glorified after the resurrection. It is an extremely ancient tradition that when the tomb of Mary was opened on Mount Zion, it was filled with flowers. This is why to this day people send flowers to funerals: it is a testimony that we believe in the resurrection of the dead.

Our Lady’s body is also glorified after her bodily assumption. And this glorification is in order to show us, as Vatican II teaches in Lumen Gentium. when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords, (cf. Apoc. 19:16) and conqueror of sin and death. In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.   Mary in heaven is also the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.

Our parish is dedicated to Mary under the title “Perpetual Help” a title which she herself gave to the icon in the apparition in Rome in 1499. She most definitely is a sign of certain hope and comfort to us: her radiant beauty is not only from her sinless state, but a sign to every human being of what awaits the glorified souls in heaven at the resurrection of the body at the end of time. She calls us to do as she did – conform ourselves to her Son ,Jesus Christ, through a living faith and charity to others.

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life, by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Our living Mother of Perpetual Help calls us to imitate her Son, so that we can live with Him and with her and all the saints of heaven. No one here will get younger – we all get older, we all go to one destiny that no one can avoid. But death is  not the end, but merely a step into the real life that we have been preparing for as Christian pilgrims on earth. May we follow Mary’s example of steadfast faith and love, and be one with her Son here in this life, so as to fully enjoy Him in the life to come, as Saint Gregory Palamas urges us to do:

Though we may be incapable of containing your riches, increase our capacity and so grant them to us that we, saved and strengthened by your grace, may glorify the Pre-eternal Word Who was Incarnate of you for our sakes, together with His Unoriginate Father and Life-Creating Spirit, both now and ever and forever. Amen.

 

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Posted by: Fr Chris | August 10, 2019

LORD, SAVE ME!

Gospel of Matthew, 14:22-34

Image result for jesus saves peter lake

In the previous storm on the lake, the disciples had Jesus with them. He was asleep in the stern while even the experienced sailors of the apostles were in a panic over the ferocity of the storm. This time He sent them out by themselves, so He could pray alone. Matthew tells us that Jesus does not appear until the fourth watch of the night – that means the disciples have been facing this fierce storm for about twelve hours, in darkness. The sea, even an inland sea, was something to fear: for all the ancients the visible sea was the portion of the abyss on which the earth rested. And in the world of the Hebrews, the sea represented chaos, a monster that God alone can conquer. In the Book of Job, God is described as trampling the dragon of the sea, in Psalm 24 that we use so often it says the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it, the world and those who dwell in it, for He has founded it upon the seas. Jesus is having them visit alone, in the dark, both the primal chaos of creation and  their own fear and failure to truly rely on God.

The words Matthew uses for the storm are powerful: it is not just waves, but waves that torture, that cause terrible distress. The apostles are paralyzed with fear and lack of faith. Then out of the darkness comes a figure across these huge waves, walking toward them. No wonder they yell that it is a ghost after twelve hours of this tossing around with no one to comfort them and no hope of getting to land. What Jesus says to them is extremely important, and poorly translated in the New American Bible reading we just heard. He says, Take heart, or have confidence. And then He says  I AM – the Name of God – and then have no fear. The storm that was their greatest fear now reveals their beloved Teacher. He does not swoop down in glory from the mountain and wipe out the storm – He comes to them from inside the storm. Peter knows Who it is by His Voice – they still can’t see Jesus. And Peter again is the voice of faith: He calls Jesus Kyrios, Lord. And then in true Peter style, If it is You – a mix of belief and unbelief – call me. The storm is still raging, but Peter and Christ are talking to one another inside the storm. Jesus invites Peter to come to Him, and after twelve hours of absolute misery Peter has such faith that he steps out of the boat; he leaves his only security and gives himself over to the fury of wind, crashing waves, fearful noise, and heads toward Jesus, Who is still a distance away.

Peter does just fine until — he notices the strong wind and is afraid.  The moment he takes his eyes off Jesus, he sinks into the chaos. There was a bridge between Peter and Jesus: Peter said, bid me come to Thee; Jesus answered Come! and now Peter breaks the bridge. Only as he sinks does he cry again, Lord, Kyrios, Save me!

All of this obviously is a parallel for us. Every Christian, every believer, every person has a time of darkness, when we feel bereft, tortured, frightened. In the end it is God alone Who can answer our fears, it is God Who can break through. And how does He choose to do this? So often it is not with an earth-shattering miracle, but that thin small sound of silence that Elijah heard in the cave. God speaks to us while we are in the scary swamp of fears. He is not a God Who shows up when things are finally bright and cheery – He is there in the muck with us.

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When do we get in trouble? When we take our eyes off God, when we push God’s grace aside, when we ask God to step aside for a little while so we can do what we want – my parents say go take out the garbage and I don’t because I am playing a video game; my brother says play with me and I say no because I want to do something else; my boss tells me I am needed somewhere and I don’t want to go there so I don’t; that bottle of beer or whisky seems to be calling me even though I am supposed to avoid alcohol. Sin is when we take part in the dark chaos, and sin can slowly, quietly become habitual until suddenly I realize where I am, what I have lost, where I might be going and we cry out Lord, save me! from the depth of our hearts.

What does Jesus do when Peter cries out for Him? He bends over and extends His hand – He does not have lean down into the turbulent waters and haul Peter up. Jesus simply extends His hand. And this also means that Peter had almost made it to Christ – he had walked over the chaos, through the darkness, out of the fears and was close enough to Jesus that Jesus simply had to bend down. He was that close, and he lost his faith and gave in to the fear and sank. He had set out in full confidence, and at the last moment, became afraid.

Here is the key to take home today: Jesus waits for us always. Jesus is close enough, even when we are swallowed up by sin, to extend His hand to us. Jesus never abandons us, the way we too often abandon Him and His teachings. Jesus does not walk away, does not yell at Peter, does not let him drown, He simply makes the comment, You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

Peter was close enough to Jesus to touch Him, but suddenly he had doubt. Jesus stretches out His hand – the same divine hand that opened and closed the waters of the Red Sea, the hand that made the seas themselves – and Peter is safe. And what does this hand do? Jesus grasps Peter, it is a Greek verb that emphasizes great strength. With that firm grip, that firm powerful hand, Peter is truly safe.

One of the great mysteries of life is that the God Who created light out of the void, Who made the entire universe, intimately cares about each and every soul on this planet. In particular, He is close to those baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, as we literally belong to Him. Jesus is the savior – He saved us. And Jesus saves me, over and over again. When we step out of the darkness and chaos of sin, then we are stepping into His embrace. When we approach and receive His Most Precious Body and Life-giving Blood, we are grasped by Him, He takes hold of us, He encourages us, He feeds us, He strengthens us and He embraces us. Each reception of Holy Communion is the opportunity to repeat Peter’s adventure of falling into Christ’s embrace.

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The prestigious Pew Research Center published a study of American Catholics last week: nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Not even one-third of U.S. Catholics, a mere 31%, say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” Only 22% know Church teaching on the Eucharist.

Image result for byzantine eucharist

I’m going to presume this – but if you come to our Divine Liturgy and recite that prayer before receiving Holy Communion, you cannot but know, be absolutely convinced, that this is indeed the fullness of Jesus Christ. Here is the firm grasping hand of the Lord, here is the loving embrace of the divine Savior, here is the fullness of revelation made real. If it is not Christ’s full Personhood, then forget it! No wonder many American Catholics don’t go to Mass – I wouldn’t bother either if this is just a symbol. I’d get another job. Men and women have died over the centuries for the Mass; people have lost their jobs, their families, over their faith in the Holy Eucharist. If you know a Catholic who thinks this is a symbol, I urge you to invite them to come with you here. Because you cannot leave here thinking that!  And you cannot leave here without knowing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, has spoken to us, and wanted to meet us. He awaits us in every tabernacle, He comes at every Liturgy or Mass, and the chaos of sin has no power in His presence. Let us come to Him, and be firm in faith, and have no doubts in God’s great mercy.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | August 4, 2019

Transfiguration with Jesus

 

This is one of the twelve major feast days on our Byzantine Catholic calendar. Only in 1966, by imitating the American Roman Catholic Church which was dropping feast days rapidly, did our  Church suddenly break the various holy days down into new and artificial categories: obligatory, solemn, and simple. Transfiguration was made into a “solemn” despite it being one of the twelve major feast days show on the second row of the iconostas, despite the special ceremonies of blessing fruits and especially grapes, despite the obvious importance of it being an event in which the divine nature of Jesus is revealed in a magnificent way to the three apostles, despite the presence of the two great prophets of Israel, Moses and Elijah, who confirm for those three Jewish apostles just Who Jesus Christ is.

He is more than the Messiah, and the promised one of the ages. He is God Incarnate, the unique God-Man.  Jesus was physically perfect because He is the New Adam. He shows us exactly what we are to become. Call to mind the image of the Man on the Shroud of Turin. Jewish men at the time averaged five foot, five inches. or one meter, 65 centimeters. This Man is five foot, eleven inches, or one meter and 80 centimeters. He towered above the crowds, which certainly helped with events like the Sermon on the Mount, so that everyone could hear Him. The body of that Man is physically perfect, weight in proportion to the body, firmly muscled from years of labor as a carpenter and walking throughout Palestine for three years of preaching.

Proof for supernatural events | Page 3 | Mother of God

This is a celebration of Theology of the Body in a very real way, as is the next holy day, the Dormition of Our Lady. In this feast, Jesus allows the three to glimpse part of His glory, the glory that God told Moses no one could see and live. In the icons, only Peter looks up, since he is the leader of the apostolic college, and even he holds his hands in front of his face. The apostles see at least part of the fullness of the Godhead that lives inside Jesus’ body – what we hear on Easter Sunday in the Byzantine Rite from the Prologue of John: The Word became flesh. God’s magnificent glory lives still today in the body of the Risen Christ – this is a glimpse of what the apostles and we ourselves have to look forward to after our deaths – we are made to share this glory ourselves in our humble bodies! Christ will change our humble body to conform to His glorified body, says Saint Paul in the letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verse 21.

For us, it begins here – theosis, divinization, is a key doctrine of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It is open to every Christian, to be transformed by grace during our life here on earth. Some saints, especially Seraphim of Sarov, were transfigured not only in their souls but in their bodies here on earth, because they opened themselves up to God’s living, piercing grace. To receive God’s grace is to partake of His divine energies, from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we open our souls to grace, when we step aside and let God inside of us, that is what comes to us.

To go back to the Shroud – the Man on that Shroud has 370 scourge wounds that are visible, and scientists estimate that He was whipped 600 separate times. So indeed, the visions of mystics of a bloody and violent Passion are quite accurate, as is that horrific scene in the film Passion of the Christ. But here is the key for this feast day: the Man’s face is serene, peaceful, at rest, despite those wounds, the nerve damage, a dislocated shoulder, thirst, and having suffered torture and psychological abuse. He is completely at peace. That is what divine grace brings us: the transforming energies of God that conquer the physical, emotional, and spiritual pains that we each suffer from. To receive His grace, to experience theosis, be it a moment or for years, is to filled with that abiding peace. The first thing Jesus says in the Upper Room after His resurrection is —- Peace.

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This is also a harvest feast – people bring the first fruits of the year to church to be blessed. This continues the ancient Jewish practice in which first-fruits were given to God. We know that this feast was observed in the early 400s, and that blessing of fruits goes back as far as 200 AD, in terms of written prayers, and therefore even earlier than that. Pears, apples, almonds, peaches, figs, berries – all kinds of fruit were brought to church, as we still do today. The prayer specifies that these fruits are blessed so as to bring healing to the sick, protection against the actions of Satan, and to strengthen us.

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In particular grapes are brought, as they produce the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ in the chalice at Holy Communion. This event on Mount Tabor took place shortly before Christ’s Passion, and therefore before the Last Supper in which  Christ would give His Blood. The sharing of the Transfiguration was meant to strengthen Peter, James and John. Unfortunately they would forget this, just as we can forget all about God’s redeeming grace being close at hand when we are tempted to sin. Having blessed fruit in the house is a physical reminder of God’s mercy to us – He sanctifies these by His Holy Spirit, so as to lead us to heaven.

We are made so as to live with God – not just in heaven, but here. Ask Our Lord at Holy Communion for strength to want to live with Him, and not sin, and for the wisdom to do so, both for our own salvation, and to live so as to bring other souls to Christ’s loving embrace.

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CHRIST AWAITS US! 

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 18, 2019

Elijah the Great Prophet in our lives

Elijah or Elias is considered the greatest of the prophets during the time of the kingdom of Israel. God raises him up to call King Ahab and the people of Israel back to worshipping the one true God, and to abandon the pagan gods that have been introduced by Queen Jezebel and local Canaanites.  The king rejects Elijah, and God sends a drought and famine into the land. Elijah goes off to the brook of Cherith, where ravens bring him food.

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Once the stream dries up, he goes off to Syria where he lodges with a pagan widow. There he raises her son from the dead, and daily replenishes their stock of flour and oil so that they survive the famine, in thanksgiving for her taking him in.

Finally he returns to Israel, where Ahab blames the prophet for Israel’s troubles, instead of blaming himself. Then we have the dramatic scene of the sacrifices, where God sends down lightning that consumes not only the sacrifices of Elijah but the altar and the water around the altar. The priests of Baal are wiped out, and Elijah flees to Mount Horeb, where he is gifted with the vision of God passing by his cave, not in the storm or the earthquake or the fire but in the little breeze that carries the thin small sound of silence.

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St Gregory of Sinai says of this:

In some of us the Spirit appears as a whirlwind of awe, dissolving the mountains of the passions and shattering the rocks of our hardened hearts, so that our worldly self is transpierced and mortified. In others the Spirit appears as an earthquake, that is to say as a sense of inward jubilation or what the fathers more clearly define as a sense of exultation. In others He is manifested inwardly as a fire that is non-material yet real; for what is unreal and imaginary is also non-existent. Finally, in others—particularly in those well advanced in prayer—God produces a gentle and serene flow of light. This is when Christ comes to dwell in the heart, as St Paul says (cf. Eph. 3:17), mystically disclosing Himself through the Holy Spirit. That is why God said to Elijah on Mount Horeb that the Lord was not in this or that—not in the particular actions He manifests Himself in to beginners—but in the gentle flow of light; for it is in this that He attests the perfection of our prayer.

Perfection in prayer – that is something that all of us should be striving for as members of Christ’s Body the  Church. Elijah could only do what he did because he listened to the Holy Spirit, the ruach elohim, the Spirit of God that moved across the void to create the universe when God spoke at the beginning of time.  The Spirit carries him during his tribulations, the Spirit raises him up, the Spirit sustains him. When we face our own trials, we will fall down  if we look to be saved by our own actions. Only when we turn to God and listen to His promptings and rely on His graces will we flourish as Christian people.

God can act as He pleases- that is a lesson that Elijah and a lot of the prophets had to learn. Ravens were considered unclean birds by the Jews, but of all the birds of the air it is ravens that bring him food.  He expects that he will die, lying under the bush, only to be awakened by an angel and given food that miraculously appears.  Like us, Elijah would much rather God do what  Elijah thinks would work best, but God always has a better idea.

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The blessing of wheeled vehicles that we celebrate, asking his intercession to bless  cars, motorcycles, bicycles, wheelchairs, comes from his assumption into God’s glory in the fiery chariot. For the Jews, Elijah would circle the earth, waiting to announce the Messiah, as he could not enter heaven yet. For us, Elijah is one of the two witnesses on Mount Tabor, confirming Who Jesus is. Again he appears  in Revelation, chapter 11, along with Enoch, the other prophet taken by God in Genesis 5. Together they warn the people against the Antichrist.

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Like the Jews, we expect Elijah to come and announce the Messiah, but at His Second Coming. Thus on Christmas Eve a place is left empty at the table for Elijah, as the Jews leave an empty place at Passover for him.  Elijah has a unique role therefore as a prophet who brings together Christians and Jews, and for that matter also the Muslims. Further he is the spiritual founder of the Carmelites, as their first monks lived on Mount Carmel, which was the home of Jewish mystics and prophets.

Mount Carmel | mountain ridge, Israel | Britannica.com

Cliffs of Mount Carmel 

Besides asking Elijah to intercede with God for the protection of our vehicles, let us especially ask him to intercede for us to be alive with the Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God, that we listen to the Holy Spirit. God may come to us with the force of an earthquake to melt our hearts, or in gentle quiet, but however He comes, may Saint Elias help us to hear God’s voice and to act accordingly.

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 28, 2019

Saints Peter & Paul, June 29

Glory to Jesus Christ!    I am going to do a compare and contrast today:

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Simon: successful businessman, impetuous, emotional, Galilean Jew – the Pharisees said of the Galilean Jews that they did not know the Law because they lived mixed with pagans. Peter was married, and tradition says that he and his wife had daughters, whom he left in Antioch.

Saul, Roman citizen from the colony of Tarsus well educated both in Scripture and Greco-Roman culture, logical, fervent Jew who persecuted first Christians. Saul was not married, and would remain celibate as an apostle.

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Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, which means rock. The significance of this name change became evident only later when Jesus Christ, praising Peter’s faith, said: “You are Peter (the rock), and on this rock I will build my Church; and the gates (powers) of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). A banner with that inscription stood by the High Altar in the church of Saint Louis of the French, in Moscow, a church next to a former office building that became the headquarters of the Soviet secret police. Talk about the gates of hell!

Saint Louis of the French, Moscow

 On this same occasion, Jesus promised Peter supreme authority in His Church, saying: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you will bind on earth it shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you will loose on earth it shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:19). This supreme authority given to Peter was extended also to matters of faith before the Passion:

The primacy of Peter is once again implied in the promise made to him on the eve of the passion. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

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When you sift grain, the bad grain is thrown out, only the good grain goes into the basket. In the same way, the faith of the apostles was to be violently disturbed by the great ordeal when they abandon Jesus, and Peter denies Christ. Their leader would not be overcome completely, and once he had returned to his original loyalty after the Resurrection, he would strengthen his brethren and direct them in their faith.

Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls - Colosseum Rome Tickets

Saint Paul’s Basilica, Rome

Paul, known as Saul as a Jew, received his education at the feet of the celebrated Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem and was a member of the Pharisee sect (Phil. 3:5). In his zeal to the Mosaic law, he persecuted the Church. However, by the direct intervention of Christ (Act 9:1-19), he soon converted to Christianity and became a leading champion of the Gospel. He then went by his Roman name, Paulus. Paul’s three extended missionary journeys and his epistles testify to his unsurpassed apostolic zeal. Finally, in the winter of 61 A.D., he reached Rome as a prisoner.

The Epistles of St. Clement  say that after Paul’s release from the Roman prison, he journeyed “to the limits of the West” (cf.), i.e. to Spain, fulfilling his long- lasting desire (Rom. 15:24). He then revisited his missionary territory of Asia Minor, leaving Titus in Crete (Tit. 1:5) and Timothy in Ephesus (I Tim 1:3) with full episcopal authority “to accomplish what had been undone.” Paul returned to Rome where, during the persecution under Nero, he was arrested and, in all probability, he was beheaded in 67 A.D, according to the tradition in Rome he and Peter were both killed on this day, June 29. For Paul, life was Christ, and dying “the gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Holy Apostles Peter and Paul – Damascene Gallery

Thus, if Peter was the first among the Apostles because of his authority, Paul was equally first among the Apostles because of his apostolic labor. Therefore, in the Byzantine Liturgy their feasts are celebrated together as “the first among the Apostles.”

Blessed and Holy Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul – 29 June – AnaStpaul

In the vespers and matins for this day the Peter and Paul are glorified, as “friends of Christ”, “of the heavenly recesses”, “rivers of knowledge”, “feeders of the entire inhabited world”, “preachers of true piety”, “intercessors for the whole world”, “disciples of Christ and founders of the Church, true pillars and walls, and trumpets of the doctrine and suffering of the divine Christ, “fishers of the world” “possessors of the keys of the Kingdom”, “prototypes of the preachers of God”, “chiefs of the Apostles.”

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Peter was confirmed in his dignity later by our Lord after his resurrection – it was after his triumph that the Church was to show signs of autonomous life. We know the dialogue which was exchanged on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias amid the splendor of the rising sun. The Master wanted to make it clear to Simon by his thrice-repeated question of Do you love Me? that his office demanded a greater degree of love: the leader, more than anyone, must share the infinite charity of the supreme head. His official title was “shepherd.” God called himself the shepherd of his people and gave the same title to the prophets, and especially to the Messiah. Jesus also described himself as the “good shepherd,” proving his love for his flock by the sacrifice of his life. He made Peter his colleague and deputy in this pastoral ministry, which included the care and direction of the faithful.

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As for St Paul Scripture tells us that he is on his way to arrest yet more believers, when suddenly a light shines around him and he hears a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Then Saul asks, “Who are you, sir?” The voice answers, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting” (Acts 9: 1-22).

Notice – Saul is persecuting the Church – and yet the voice says, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Christ and the Church – are the same, the Church is the Body of Christ. And the Church, the Body of Christ, is entrusted with the message to the world, of how one should not only believe, but also live and act, with Christ, in imitation of Christ, in love with Christ.

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But there is one more thing to be said if we are to live and act as Jesus. It is not enough “just” to love God. It is not enough to love ourselves, too. We must also love everyone for whom Christ died. There lies the great challenge in daily life – to love not only the person who just cut me off in traffic, but also the one who causes me pain. Jesus loved Peter, despite the pain that Peter caused in his denial of Jesus. Jesus loved Saul, even while he was hurting Jesus by persecuting His Body the Church. Christ’s self-sacrificing love unites these two very different men, bringing them to Rome, to testify at what was the heart of the known world, as to Who Jesus is, and why Jesus has come into the world. Rooted in Christ-like love, they were able to overcome their differences and work together for God’s glory. So too in the Church – there are different Churches within the Catholic Church: Roman, Byzantine, Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, from Eastern Europe to Africa to India and now all around the world. The richness of the Catholic Faith exists so as to bring souls into the Body of Christ, to lead souls into the embrace of Christ, to guide souls along the narrow road and into the gate that leads to paradise. We are all different individuals, we can come from radically different liturgical families – one may love Glory and Praise music, one may love ancient Byzantine chant – but all are brought together to sing, pray, teach, worship, and lead in one marvelous symphony of the Catholic Faith. Just as Peter and Paul lit the ancient world on fire, preaching to Jew and Gentile, so too must we set the world on fire anew in every generation, using all of the blessings and strengths that are given to us as members of this Body, the Body of Christ on earth, within Christ’s Church.

Christ is among us.

Art Through Time: A Global View - St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square

Saint Peter’s Square embraces the world 

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 24, 2019

Saint John the Baptist and Today

We celebrate today the birth of the last of the prophets, relative of the Lord and forerunner of  Christ, John the Baptist.

Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - Wikipedia

Bede the Venerable tells us that In both the scriptures and in the Church’s liturgy John the Baptizer is referred to as an angel, prophet, apostle, hermit and martyr, for these terms well describe his life work. John, like the angels, was sent from God to be the messenger of the Lord. His message was that of all of the prophets who came before him: repent and return to God – but this time, because the messiah of God is at hand. Like the apostles who followed him and then went to join Christ, John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He prepared for his ministry as a hermit in the desert, living a life of prayer, fasting and continence. And, like all those who dare to proclaim the truth, he suffered a martyr’s death in fidelity to the Word of God.

The angel who came to Zechariah bore witness to the graces about which he had come to give the good news—not only by the power of the words which he brought forward but also by the point in time and the location of the place in which he appeared.

He appeared at the time when the priest was making an offering, to express the fact that he was proclaiming the coming of the true and eternal High Priest, who would be the true sacrificial offering for the salvation of the world.

He stood beside the altar of incense to teach that he had come as the herald of a new covenant. There were two altars in the temple, which expressed the two covenants in the church. The first, the altar of burnt offerings, which was covered with bronze and was situated in front of the doors of the temple.  Then there was the altar of incense, which was covered with gold and set near the entrance of the Holy of Holies, and was used to burn fragrant spices and incense. This signified the interior life with God.

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Zechariah as a priest should have known better that when an angel of God comes with a message, you better believe the message, There are a bunch of stories from the Old Testament of either elderly or infertile women conceiving due to God’s mercy: Sarah, , Abimelech’s wife, Rebecca, Rachel, the mother of Sampson, Hannah, the Shunamite woman who helped Saint Elijah the prophet. Elizabeth would not be the first. It demonstrates the exquisite holiness of Our Lady and her intimate closeness to God, as she believed right away, just asking the logical question, how?

The name John means “God is gracious, or the grace of the Lord” or “in whom there is grace.” He received a special grace beyond other saints, that of being Christ’s precursor. He came to proclaim a previously unheard of grace to the world, that  the Messiah was coming, a figure of such awesome power that John was not worthy to take care of His shoes, the lowest position of a slave in a Roman household. Therefore he who was full of grace himself and who brought the good news of God’s grace to the rest of humankind expressed even by his name a proclamation of grace. It was rightly foretold that there was to be cause for exultation for many persons at his birth, since it was through him that the Author of their rebirth as children of God was manifested to the world.

Christ Episcopal Church, Albertville: The Visitation

There is no doubt that this promise of the angel came true. Before he was born—still in his mother’s womb—St. John depicted the grace of the reception of the Spirit. Although neither his father nor his mother had performed any miracles previously, he, leaping in his mother’s womb, proclaimed the coming of the Lord. When Our Lady came to Elizabeth, the latter said, “For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.” For the Fathers, this leap is not only the older baby acknowledging the presence of the Son of the Most High and leaping for joy but also worshipping the Infant Christ in Mary’s womb.

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The big icon of St John on the icon- screen in our church shows him in camel’s hair, with long hair, the symbols of a prophet, pointing to the Infant Christ Child on the diskos, affirming the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He is surrounded by Desert Fathers and Mothers and healing saints – He is the patron saint against epilepsy and migraines, as well as the patron of places from Macao in China to Quebec to multiple cities in Europe. Above all, though, he is the patron saint of conversion and of monasticism, of those who leave the world to follow God in a more intimate way, as he did, going out into the literal desert or creating a desert place inside a city in a monastery. In his day, the townspeople went out of the comfortable walls to hear him preach along the banks of the Jordan River and in the desert land, feeling the power of his call to radical conversion and to follow God more closely. In fact John is the patron saint of converts. We all need to convert though – to be renewed in our own personal covenants with Jesus Christ and His Church. We live in a time in which the name of the Church is dragged through the mud every week by comedians, with bishops who failed to protect their people, even their seminarians, from predators. We  live in a time where people say, all the Church talks about is sex, when really it is western society that is fixated on creating ever new categories of people based on sexuality, and that alone. John stood as a voice of truth in a royal court that did not want to hear him, though even Herod Antipas found his words attractive, as we hear in the gospel on August 29.

Truth is never popular – there are always people in power or who hold posts of influence in a culture who do not want to hear the truth. Today is no different. Saint John’s Day always is near the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and bonfires are lit in celebration both of the natural light and the light his preaching brought.

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We are called, as baptized members of the Body of Christ, to honor the authentic truth of the Church’s teaching, and to believe it. It can be done – every generation needs renewal and needs to be brought back to its senses from something that seems more attractive than God’s grace and His teaching. It is up to us to follow through, and ask St. John tonight to inspire our own conversions, our own internal healings, so that we can bring the light of faith into the darkness.

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