Posted by: Fr Chris | July 10, 2021

Healing the blind

This chapter is filled with miracles of healing: raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, forgiving and curing the paralyzed man, healing the woman suffering from a long-term hemorrhage,  conversion of Matthew himself, deliverance of the man possessed, and then these 2 blind men.

He also gives teachings about conversion, and in the cure of the 2 blind men, he tells them not to say anything. That of course is pointless as everyone would know right away when these men walked out of the house that they could see. And it is pointless since everybody everywhere talked about the cures Jesus performed. So no matter where he goes, people are ready and waiting for him. And what are they waiting for? Two things: his teaching, which brings spiritual health, and the cure of the sick and diseased.

The big question in all of this is Do you believe I can do this? The second big question is, what do I see when I look at Him? The Pharisees were deeply disturbed, because he was constantly breaking the various rules such as no work on Sabbath and talking to women when he was alone. They were committed to protecting the Jewish people from paganism by enshrining all of the hundreds of rules and regulations. And surely there were those who were just plain jealous. The two blind men on the other hand, praise Jesus as the Messiah – they call him Son of David and ask for his mercy first, then the cure. They have faith, great faith, that he can do so.

So, what do I see when I look at Christ, and how strong is my faith? In various parts of the gospel, we read that Jesus withdraws to pagan territories like Tyre and Sidon, and that pagans come to him for cures. Ironically a lot of people who worshipped pagan gods had more trust in him than many of the Jewish leaders. Those same leaders, and often Jewish public opinion, often saw sickness and handicaps as a punishment from God for the person’s sins or even their parents’ sins. Christ saw people who were hurting in soul and body and came to heal both.

Paul warns us in the reading from Romans that we have to Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (verse 7).
The beginning of this reading starts with a warning: put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. Just as Matthew had to convert from a way of life that brought him wealth and power, but also isolation from most of Jewish society, every one of us has to convert from the wrong things that we are attached to and which isolate us from God.

I think it is easy for us to forget that even if we are hooked on a substance or behavior or attitude, we really can be delivered from it, just like all of the various people who are delivered from possession by Satan throughout the gospels. We can easily forget that people who drive us crazy with their negative behaviors are accepted with all their faults by Jesus Christ, just as we who all have our own issues are accepted by Him. We are still called to conversion, to radical conversion, but God does not withhold his love from us until we do so.

Jesus asks the two blind men: Do you believe that I can do this for you? They both say yes. They both have complete trust in him. When the man possessed opens his mouth, the people are stunned. They were used to they physical miracles by now, but they were not used to spiritual ones. That is why they cry out that nothing like this has ever been in God’s chosen people. Lots of prophets had preached and taught, and a large number had performed cures and physical miracles, like Elijah – whose feast we observe on the 20th – did. They all knew about that. They did not expect this miracle. This man is cured not just of being mute, he is freed from the powers of hell.

Too often people think that they are forsaken by God. Too often we think our souls are incurable. Too often we do not see the people around us as people whose very souls are known by God and loved by him., Too often we forget that God is the source of all healing, physical and spiritual. Too often we just give up. Saint Monica prayed for years that her son would come to Christ, and he becomes both a great theologian and bishop. Who knows how long these two men had been blind? That doesn’t matter. What matters is they saw who Christ really is, freely praised him, and had complete confidence in him. Saint Paul constantly went to people and called his new Christians to love not only each other but the whole world.

It is up to us  do the same: to have trust, to accept people as Jesus accepted them, and to keep on going with confidence. It can be very hard sometimes, but with God’s mercy and grace, all things are possible.

Hand-Painted Icon of St. St. Peter and Paul
The two pillars of Christ’s Church

Epistle 2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9

A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

We have no clue what the thorn in the flesh was – some kind of physical affliction obviously. The greater study should go to the verses before, and the closing lines of this section. He lists how much he suffered because of his preaching – and that is important not only because he went through all that, and it was very intense. Some of this he could have avoided because he was born as a Roman citizen and citizens were protected by law against torture and unjust attacks. Instead, he accepted all of that and emphasizes his own weakness, a weakness each of us has. None of us rule the world, none of us have perfect lives, none of us have all the answers.

But BECAUSE of that weakness, BECAUSE he accepts that weakness in himself, he has two profound spiritual experiences. The first is being lifted up into the third heaven, the peak of heaven where angels serve in the presence of God. BECAUSE he was willing to give up so much and accept so much, and acknowledge his own weaknesses, God grants him the ultimate ecstatic vision according to first century Judaism and Christianity.

God says to him My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” That is the exact opposite of not only our culture but all the cultures of the world now and before us. We exalt money, athletic accomplishments, so-called famous people whose lives everyone follows to the smallest details. People post outrageous things on the internet so as to gain followers, and track how many see it and also how many comment on it. Nobody in American culture goes around saying Look at me, how weak I am. No one would listen to them!

But God makes it very, very clear – power is made perfect in weakness. The Eternal Word of God comes into the world conceived in a woman’s womb, and leaves the world after suffering the worst suffering and death known in the ancient world. And so, Paul can honestly write to a community which knew him very well:

 I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

Gospel Matthew 16:13-19

What does Christ offer Peter? Awesome power it would seem –  I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. From Simon bar Jonah to Petrus, from fisherman to the rock to serve God and build up Christ’s Body on earth.

He adds:  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Incredible power and authority! To the man who will abandon him at the worst possible moment, who will deny Jesus in Jesus’ very presence in the courtyard on Good Friday morning just before dawn. Someone with that experience is the one who will open and close people’s futures based on their sins? Jesus knew precisely what He was doing. Here is a weak man, a man who will commit the ultimate sin of double betrayal, but who will in the end, like Paul, die so as to witness to Christ Jesus. Here is a man who will judge others with compassion, because he has been there in their shoes. He is the right man to decide whether or not to loose the sins, and that is a model for every bishop in the world, from the Pope on down, and for every priest entrusted with administering the Sacrament of Confession.

Finally, this line: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

As we all know, Moscow became the capital of the Soviet Union in 1918, after the communist takeover of the Russian Empire. One of the first things Lenin did regarding Soviet power, in December 1917, was to establish the dreaded secret police. Until the very end of the USSR in 1991, the secret police ruled from a building called the Lubyanka in Moscow. The building used to be an insurance company, but was taken over by what became the KGB. Its cells were notorious for the physical and psychological tortures inflicted on thousands of people. For those tens of thousands, almost all of whom were innocent of the usually absurd charges against them, the Lubyanka was a gateway to hell.

 As it expanded, the Lubyanka took over the schools, convent, and rectory of the French Roman Catholic church of Saint Louis, which stands on the same block. Security cameras filmed every single person who went in and out of that church. Saint Louis and the French parish in Leningrad became the only two open Catholic churches in the entire Russian republic.

Why tell you this? That verse, The gates of hell shall not prevail against it, was inscribed in gold letters on a black banner near the church’s high altar. At every Mass, at every visit parishioners who came to pray in front of Jesus in the tabernacle, the faithful saw that banner. The Lubyanka is now run by the Russian secret police, who do whatever Vladimir Putin tells them to do to any person, so little has changed in that building. But Saint Louis still stands today, offering multiple Masses every day of the week.

People wonder how the Church will survive. They wonder if this is the worst that things have ever been. We have been shocked by the sexual abuse scandals and how so many bishops around the entire world covered it all up for decades. We are shocked by financial scandals committed by bishops and priests and even Sisters. We are shocked by some priests’ sermons. We are still shocked by the collapse of vocations to priesthood and sisterhoods in this country in the last 50 years. We are shocked by so many things that take place in the Catholic Church today. And it has been bad, and it is terrible, and it is sinful the stuff that has happened. And we have had some truly awful successors to Peter over the centuries.

But look at history – there were people who thought the Church was finished in the 4th century, in the 16th century, in the 18th century, throughout the entire 20th century. But she is still here. Peter’s successor still sits on the papal throne. Conversions to the faith still happen. During this pandemic every priest in this city told me that they had to increase the hours for hearing Confession, for binding and loosing people’s sins. Yes, we are diminished in size in many ways. Yes, there are serious challenges. Yes, there is constant propaganda and misinformation given about the faith in the media. Yes, there is continuing persecution of Catholics in many countries.

But the gates of hell itself shall not stand against the Body of Christ. Peter’s failures during Jesus’ lifetime are dramatically overshadowed by his later ministry and writing and martyrdom. When we focus on our weaknesses and accept them, when we are able to actually boast of our weaknesses and accept them like Paul, when we allow God’s grace to make us perfect, then all is truly well. The members of the Body of Christ are given the opportunity to do wonderful things, but only if we respond to that grace given to us in baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, confession.

The rock of the Church will endure. The question for each person hearing this, in person or online, is will my faith endure no matter what the forces of hell throw against me?

Dedication of the Basilicas of SS. Peter & Paul | Communio
Posted by: Fr Chris | June 23, 2021

Nativity of St. John and Conversion

For 500 years before Christ, the voice of prophecy bad been silent in Israel.

When John the Baptist appears, dressed like the ancient prophets and coming out of the desert, there is great excitement. That is why the Gospels say that “all Jerusalem” goes out to him. the prophetic voice was heard again. He not only denounced people for their evil deeds but he challenged them to pursue higher things. Thus, we see people of every class and rank show up on the riverbanks. He is giving a traditional washing, so that people both repent of their sins and at the same time are cleansed spiritually and physically.

Even more exciting for these huge crowds, he not only came out of the desert after years of lonely spiritual formation for his role to prepare the way of the Lord but there is “one greater to come.” Thus when Jesus begins His mission, people are prepared to hear his words, hoping that is not only the greater one but also the messiah.  John and points beyond himself. He did not wish to bring attention to himself; but to prepare people for the one who was to come — Jesus, the Messiah.  This is why he not only points to Jesus literally and figuratively, but when they finally meet as adults, he proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the SIN of the world. The people of the world will be delivered from the curse of original sin through this Lamb who will be sacrificed for them on Passover.

John’s preaching was the same message Jesus would frequently repeat: “Repeat and believe the Gospel” that is, believe in the good news being given to you.  


But obviously he continued his apostolate of preaching since John fearlessly denounced evil wherever he found it. He’ rebuked Herod the King for contracting an evil and unlawful marriage. This of course is his downfall. He criticized the Sadducees and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, for focusing too much on rituals and rules and not enough on God’s awesomeness, love and enormous mercy. His preaching sweeps all of Palestine, creating not just enthusiasm but repentance and a return to seeing the rules of the Law as a key to be united with the Holy One through prayer and personal sacrifice. The church calendar honors him marking his conception, his birth, and his death. The only other people in that category are Christ and Our Blessed Mother.

In Luke’s Gospel account, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was six months along in her pregnancy with John. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth was “filled with the holy Spirit” (1:41) and her unborn son “leaped for joy” (v. 44) in her womb. Both Elizabeth and her child were responding to the awesome reality of being in the presence of God in the flesh. Another translation is that the child rose in order to worship Jesus in Mary’s womb. John even in the womb recognizes who his cousin is and will become. We know that babies in the womb respond to sounds, their parents’ voices, music, all kinds of things. This baby recognizes God Incarnate. It fulfills what Saint Gabriel said to Zechariah earlier in Luke: the child would be “filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15).

So why today for his birth? June 24 was eventually chosen as the date for the solemnity because Scripture tells us that John was conceived six months before Jesus (see Lk 1:36). Presumably, then, John was born about six months before Christ, and Christ’s nativity was celebrated on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. John was the herald of Christ. So he cannot have a perfect pregnancy, and thus he is born one day short of nine months.

We are not all called to such a life of heroic holiness, of going out into public and proclaiming the truth of the gospel and the truth of the Church’s teachings in the magisterium. We are called to be living witnesses to those around us in how we speak, what we do, and how we behave with others. John is an excellent intercessor specifically for that. He criticized the crass drive for wealth and power that had engulfed so much of the upper classes, a world not unlike our own. He was poor and simple – we do not have to wear camel’s hair and live in the desert. We are called to decide what is important in our lives, and then follow through. We are called to witness to others as best as we can that we are We are called to pray for others, for the conversion of sinners, the return of those who have wandered away from Christ, for healing of our country and its leadership. Above all, we are called to live as children of God and loyal Catholics.

Elizabeth and Zechariah welcome their newborn son
Posted by: Fr Chris | May 8, 2021

Last Sunday of Easter: Man Born Blind

My Weekly Confession: Letting Light in the Window
Christ touches the eyes of the blind man

Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season – this week we will have Ascension Thursday, which begins the nine-day preparation for Pentecost.

Easter is meant to be disturbing- the holy women went out to the grave to mourn and to finish their task of anointing the body of Jesus. Instead, there are angels giving a completely unexpected message and an empty tomb. They ran back to the city to announce the news to the apostles, who of course refused to believe them. Only Peter and John go out – the leader of the apostles and the youngest – to see for themselves, and they came back bewildered by it all.

The resurrection is meant to challenge us, to disturb us, to make us think, to wonder.

This young man was born blind – that is important. Saint Ambrose points out that

There is, indeed, a kind of blindness, usually brought on by serious illness, which obscures one’s vision but that can be cured, given time; and there is another sort of blindness, caused by cataract, that can be remedied by a surgeon: he can remove the cause, and so the blindness is dispelled. Draw your own conclusion: this man, who was actually born blind, was not cured by surgical skill but by the power of God.

Spiritual Renewal and the Healing of the Blind — Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
The Man Born Blind is sent to the pool, which resembles the baptismal font

Some of the Pharisees can’t accept this because Christ made a paste of clay, working on the sabbath, and they go to his parents, sure that this cannot be their son, or that surely, he was not born blind. Other Pharisees accept the miracle, precisely because this was not removal of cataracts but giving sight where there had never been sight.

There are several important points in this story:

  1. Out of all of the places in Jerusalem with water, Jesus sent the man to Siloam. The pool at Siloam had two purposes: the practical was that it provided the water that enabled Jerusalem to endure a siege by an army as its water could not be cut off. Spiritually, priests poured water from the Pool of Siloam onto the temple steps “so that it would flow down and out through the Temple to the world outside, and so indicate the way that the Jewish faith would satisfy the world.” Christ uses this water to save the man from blindness, and the miracle will bring about faith in Jesus; He fulfills the mission of Judaism and will save the world.
  • John hints further that the water has a special link with Christ since he tells us that “Siloam,” the name of the pool, means “the One sent,” a frequent description of Jesus. No wonder that in art on the walls of the catacombs the early Christians often depicted the healing of the blind man as a symbol of Baptism.
  • God is the only one who can work on the sabbath according to the Jewish tradition, because He keeps the universe functioning. Jesus has appropriated that to Himself, affirming His divinity and power.
  • Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man – using the title of the Messiah. The man recognizes Jesus’ voice, and falls down to worship Him and recognizes Him as the savior.
  • At the time of the miracle, believers in Jesus were not being expelled from the synagogues. But when John was writing, that is what was happening. The Church and the Synagogue had split, and Jewish Christians had to decide where to go – follow Christ as God and Man, or stay with Judaism. This addition to the story of the miracle is meant by John to encourage his readers to stay with Christ instead.
  • The last 3 Sundays of the paschal season and Mid-Pentecost are all tied to the theme of baptism and water. Besides recognizing a baptismal theme in this story, readers of John would also be taught that a series of testing may be necessary before sight really comes. Only gradually and through suffering does the man born blind come to full faith and enlightenment. The same thing holds for every generation of Christians.
  • Every generation will also have those who are blind to faith, those who choose to be blind to faith, and those who do not know about the faith.
    The baptized have an obligation to teach all the truth – just as the young man tries to teach the Pharisees themselves.

Do you believe in the Son of Man? We have to move from the baptism we received as babies to a mature faith. Do I believe? This man is able to say Yes, Lord, I do believe.

Now we have to do the same, every year, every month, every day.

The western world has very much lost its way. Western civilization has its roots in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds, but grew and flourished through its embrace of Christianity. Today church attendance has plummeted in western Europe and Canada to record lows. In Europe only 40% of people say that they even pray, in Ireland 55% never go to Mass at all. In Canada only 13% of people go to any kind of religious service of any faith. Even in Mexico only two-thirds of the people say that they are Catholic.

In America 55% of Catholics went to weekly Mass in 1965; in 2019 it was 23%.

Coronavirus and the mass closing of churches has just made it worse. In the 1918 flu churches were only closed from August until Christmas. Now people have learned to spend nearly a year watching services online or television.

Every single person here today knows folks who have lost their faith, or who have never had faith. Every one of us has relatives and friends who don’t know Jesus Christ. Each of us can easily fall into the same category, each of us can get lazy, each of us can become blind to the beauty of faith and its mysteries.

Not only that, but how many of us who still have a traditional faith have a mature faith?

Too often when people face a hardship, or learn about a church’s scandal, or things don’t go the way they want, they simply walk away not only from prayer but from God Himself. We have to be brave enough to say “I do believe” and worship. We have to be brave enough to trust even when we feel that we are blind spiritually. We have to be brave enough to love God and those around us no matter what. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and change the world.

In Africa, 90% of Catholics go to Mass every week. The majority walk for miles, in harsh weather or tough conditions. They understand that at Mass they receive the Body and Blood of Christ – which too many American Catholics don’t believe – and they stay in church for up to two hours at each Mass. We in America need that enthusiasm, that hunger, that desire, that willingness to share our faith with others. This is the last Sunday of the Easter season, and when we come back on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, there will no longer be the song “Christ is risen.” But that disturbing resurrection remains, that disturbing proclamation that God has changed everything continues. The question will be, do we live accordingly? Christ is risen.

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 21, 2021

Sunday of the Paralytic 2021

This is the third Sunday of Easter in the Byzantine Rite.

Last Sunday we heard the last Paschal gospel, that of the Myrrh-bearing Women. Today and for the rest of the Easter/ Paschal season, our Sundays will deal with water. At these Divine Liturgies, the newly baptized adult catechumens were given further instruction in the Christian faith, and the Sundays all dealt with the symbolism of water, used in Baptism. These are: the Sunday of the Paralytic, Samaritan Woman, and the dramatic text of the Man Born Blind. In all of these Jesus uses water either in the cure (Paralytic, Man Born Blind) or for teaching (Samaritan Woman).

Divine Mercy Apostolate: The Healing of a Paralytic [February 19, 2012]

For the other Christians, these teachings also served as a reaffirmation of their faith in Jesus and His Church. For them, these Sundays, and Mid-Pentecost on the Wednesday after the Paralytic Man, fortified them and renewed them in their preparation for the great feast of Pentecost. Note that the mid-point of the Easter season is itself called Mid-Pentecost, not Mid-Pascha. The Church is getting ready, through the power of the new life in the Risen Lord, to receive the Holy Spirit and be lifted up in the Gifts of the Spirit to go forth into the world, as the Apostles, Our Lady, and the disciples did after that first, awesome Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The Children's Word: "I have no one..."

The pool of Bethesda did not have the power to heal the man paralyzed for thirty-eight years, but the pool of the waters of baptism, touched by Christ, risen from the dead and by the power of the Holy Spirit, have the power to heal our souls of sin and bring us to eternal life. In the fourth week after Pascha, we learn of the grace of baptism – from the Typikon.

In John’s gospel, this healing is the first public miracle performed by Jesus, one which immediately got the attention of the Jewish leadership. The site was lost to the many destructions of old Jerusalem, and skeptics wrote that this was a fiction created by John. Archaeological excavations in the 19th century recovered the Pool of Bethesda, proving that John knew the sites of Jerusalem very well. It is as he described it: a pool with five porches possibly representing the five books of Jewish law, but more likely because of the layout of the two pools. Also it is indeed near the city’s Sheep Gate (an easy symbolism for Jesus the Good Shepherd!), exactly where John said that it would be! In Aramaic, “beth hesda” means “house of mercy.” However, saying “beth hesdo” meant house of disgrace; the word play was popular because the great number of disabled people waiting for the healing to take place was considered to be undesirable.  

Royalty Free Pool Of Bethesda Pictures, Images and Stock Photos - iStock

The double pool is found inside a ruined Byzantine basilica, and nearby is a pagan temple to the Romans’ god of healing. Obviously, Jews, pagans, and Christians all realized that something marvelous happened in the rushing of the water when “the angel stirred the waters.” This stirring probably came about when water from the upper pool shifted into the lower, healing pool, and for some reason an angel was associated with that movement.

December | 2017 | THE SWORD OF FIRE
Posted by: Fr Chris | April 10, 2021


Thomas Sunday. "Believing disbelief" is the most important part of the story.

It is worth noting that the inscriptions of Icons of this event never say “Unbelief” or “Doubting” regarding Thomas. In Greek, the inscription reads Η ψηλάφηση του Θωμά, that is, the “Touching of Thomas”, making no reference to Thomas’ doubt and implying Jesus touching Thomas, both in body and soul, and not the other way around.  In Slavic icons, the meaning is even clearer because the inscriptions always read Уверение Фомы, i.e., the “Assurance of Thomas.”

Usually, English icons mistranslate the Greek and Slavonic and inscribe their icons “The Belief of Thomas”. They miss the point: the Slavonic emphasizes that Jesus assures Thomas of the reality of His resurrection, His glorified body which still is wounded, His living presence. So too, for us moderns who think we know everything – Christ touches us, Christ comes to us. He takes the initiative, and we are healed as a result.

New Evangelization at work: Pray to Saint Thomas for his help, and then invite someone who is weak in their faith to read the Scripture passage from John, or to hear the story again, and then talk to them about how the Byzantine Catholic Church interprets the event as an assurance from Jesus, not a condemnation, and of Thomas’ growth in faith, not his doubts. And then invite them to let Christ touch them, come to them, help them by coming to Divine Liturgy with you. Invite them for next Sunday, to come to worship and then to go out for “breaking of the bread” someplace (your treat) and listen to their faith story, and agree to walk with them on their journey. You have no idea what the Holy Spirit can do in and through us – be open!

By showing us that it is incorruptible, he would urge us on toward our reward, and by offering it as touchable he would dispose us toward faith. He manifested himself as both incorruptible and touchable to show us that his body after his resurrection was of the same nature as ours but of a different sort of glory. – St. Gregory the Great, Incorruptible but Touchable.

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 10, 2021

Sunday of Myrrh-Bearing Women

Jesus chooses to have these women be the first witnesses of the Resurrection. The angel tells them to go and announce the good news to the disciples – the men – and to give instructions to the men to go to Galilee. Jesus Himself appears to Mary Magdalene, and charges her to testify, to witness, to Peter and the other apostles. Women had no ability to testify in Jewish law courts, and needed a man’s testimony to back them up.  Jesus does not provide a soldier, or a gardener, or any other male figure. He empowers them by His Risen Presence, and sends them forward on their new mission

Tradition, through Sacred Scripture, preserves these names as the women who came to fulfill their duty to their slain Lord on Easter Sunday morning:

•   Mary Magdalene , who is known in the liturgy as “equal to the apostles”, and whose name Magdalene means either from Magdala, or being a hairdresser;
•   Mary, the wife of Cleophas , and mother of James and Joses; traditionally said to be relatives of Saint Joseph;
•   Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza who held a very important position under King Herod and Joanna benefited from his high place in the royal court. However Joanna is credited with rescuing the head of Saint John the Baptist from Herod’s court, and she abandoned a life of luxury and power to follow Jesus in His preaching ministry;
•   Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John  – she and her sons left Zebedee and a comfortable life as middle-class fishermen in order to walk with Christ;
•   Susanna  – of whom nothing is known other than that she is one of the women who supported Jesus out of her own pocket;
•   Mary, the sister of Lazarus , the one who sat at Jesus’ feet in Bethany and anointed Him before Palm Sunday;
•   Martha, the other sister of Lazarus , the one who was “busy with details of hospitality” but after the death of her brother testified to her living faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah.

Saint Luke writes that there were “many” women who followed Jesus during His preaching ministry and that they supported Him “out of their own substance,” or from their own money. These were women who came not only from lives of content, and even privilege – Joanna being from a palace – but who also had the courage to break out of the traditional semi-enclosure of Jewish women in that time and publicly follow this rabbi, without their male relatives to chaperone them.

We don’t always realize just how radical Jesus’ preaching and ministry was. Men were never supposed to be alone with women to whom they were not related by marriage or blood. But Jesus defies that barrier, along with other barriers. His family is composed of those who “hear the word of God and act upon it.” The disciples included married and single people, young and elderly, former public sinners, and upright citizens. And they were a mixed company in gender – even today such things would be considered unusual in most of the Asian world, and Jesus and his fellow Jews were indeed Asians. Those who push for women’s ordination and claim that the early Church had not ordained women because of patriarchal pressures in society forget that that same early Church was a radical community, which kept up Jesus’ other radical practices.

Notice that the women do not debate the niceties of Jewish law or custom with the Risen Lord: they are “incredulous for joy” and fulfill His charge. They become the first evangelists, the first announcers of the complete Good News: Jesus has come as Son of God, died for us, and been raised for us, and now raises us up to a whole new level of spiritual existence in Him.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 27, 2021

Entry into Jerusalem

Large Icon Painted on Glass with Hand Painted by VArtGallery

Today we begin Holy Week, the most important time of the year for all Christians. Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He is joyfully welcomed by pilgrims and residents of Zion alike, yet in a few days He will be cruelly tortured and crucified.

The icons show Jesus riding on the colt of a donkey, an animal that had never had a human rider on its back. But the colt submits instantly to Jesus: it recognizes its Creator, and further it is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

People had heard of the raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb, as well as of Jesus’ preaching and miracles over the past years. The crowds placed their cloaks on the road as a sign of submission to Jesus and honoring Him.  They cut branches to wave in the air as a sign of a royal welcome, and sang Hosanna which means “save now”:  the people were still looking for a military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and establish an independent Jewish kingdom. The people acclaim Jesus as “Son of David”, thus giving Him the title of Messiah, but not the Messiah Jesus had identified Himself as: the Prince of Peace. In western Churches, the Passion is read today. In Eastern Churches, only the entry into Jerusalem is read, as we begin a chronology of walking with the Lord every day this week, culminating in Easter/ Pascha.

The custom developed of using 
pussy willows instead of palm fronds because the palms were very expensive to import, and the pussy willows are the first flowering branches in northern and eastern Europe.


“Spring Cleaning” is done early in Holy Week. The entire house is to be scrubbed, dusted, and polished so as to be ready for the newly-risen Lord on Easter Sunday. This is a Christian adaptation to the Jewish practice of cleaning the house out for Passover.  This should all be done by Holy Wednesday though, so that the services can be fully enjoyed from that night forward.

Technology Darkness: all ages, 12-24 hours
Good Friday church services often end in total darkness, leaving worshipers to imagine their lives in the wake of the dark hours after Christ’s crucifixion. While functioning as a family in total darkness might not be practical, there is a way to practice living in darkness: go dark with your technology.

  • “Unplug” from noon on Good Friday until noon on Holy Saturday.
  • Turn off (and put away!) all cell phones, tablets, game consoles, televisions, radios and computers for twenty-four hours.
  • Reflect together on how disjointed, disconnected, lost, anxious, helpless or frustrated each family member feels without their devices. On that first Good Friday, many lives were turned upside down by Christ’s death: Mary, Martha, James, John, Peter, Andrew, just to name a few…For these people and the other followers of Christ, Good Friday was more than just sad. It was a day of feeling anxious, lost, disconnected, frustrated, and helpless.
  • Ask questions: How different would our worlds be if the Story of God had stopped on Good Friday? What would life be like if grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness were not available to us?


If you decide to stay plugged in to social media, use your social media to proclaim the events of the week. Instead of posting political rants, pictures of your food, or updates about your activities, post Bible passages and links to great works of art that point to the most important social act of all time: how God in His great mercy kept His promise, given to Adam and Eve, to redeem His creation.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 21, 2021

St Mary of Egypt and her conversion

Full of Grace and Truth: St. Mary of Egypt, the Righteous, and a true Icon of Repentance
Burial of Saint Mary of Egypt by Saint Zosimus and her lion

She was born around 344 AD in Alexandria, where she became a rich and beautiful courtesan. She chose to lead a selfish life of sin. Once on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, she was so wicked that she tried to seduce the men of the party! She had notic­ed throngs of pilgrims entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Curious to join the attractions, Mary tried to enter the Church, but was prevented by some mysterious force. Mary began to wonder if her sinful life was the cause for preven­ting her entrance into the Church. At that moment, she became aware of the Icon of the Mother of God above the entrance of the Church. Filled with compunction of heart, she cried for her many sins.

Saint Mary of Egypt: her dead body is discovered by Saint Zosimas and a lion. Etching by ...

Mary sought a life of repentance for her wicked past by entering the desert. This we know was a time when thousands went out into the deserts of the eastern Roman empire, living in hermitages or establishing monasteries. There she lived as a hermit for nearly fifty years, willfully depriving herself of all comforts of life and exposing her beauty to the harshness of the sun. In her later years a lion accompanied her, a sign that she had achieved great inner holiness recognized by wild animals.

While in the desert one day, she met Saint Zosimus. According to the custom of Palestinian monks, this priest-monk had gone out into the wilderness in the first days of Holy Week to meditate on the Passion of Christ. She asked him to bring the Holy Eucharist to her on Holy Thursday. Joy and peace overcame her upon the reception of the Eucharist and she prayed the Prayer of St. Simeon: “Now you may dismiss your servant in peace, O Lord. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” She related her life to the priest, and then arranged with Zosimus to meet again in a year so she could confess and receive Communion again (frequent Communion was not common among these desert dwellers). When he returned to the site in 421, she was not there, and he finally came upon her body. As happened with some other desert saints, the lion was near her body, and he helped Zosimus to bury her body, and then the lion lay down and mourned for her. May we have the courage to repent of our own sins, and to be truly converted, especially in these last days of Lent!

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 15, 2021

Enlightener of Ireland

Sorry to have been absent – I have had some serious flare-ups of neural pain and inflammation, which have kept me away from writing. Here is what I submitted to our parish for Saint Patrick’s Day

St Patrick of Ireland Hand-Painted Icon - BlessedMart

March 17 is the feast of Saint Patrick. In the Byzantine Typikon, he is honored as the “Enlightener of Ireland.”

Patrick lived from about 387 to about 417, and he is the most famous of the Romano-British missionary saints. After being enslaved at 16 years of age by Irish raiders, he escaped after six years and was reunited with his family. But he went on to study for the priesthood in order to fulfill the dreams God sent him of saving Irish souls. Consecrated as Bishop of Ireland by Pope Celestine I around 431 AD, he returned to serve the small Christian population and to preach to the pagans. He spent 30 years preaching, ordaining priests, establishing dioceses with bishops, and teaching missionaries. Icons depict him in green vestments, the traditional color of Ireland, holding the three-leaf shamrock. Irish legend has it that Patrick and his missionaries used the shamrock to teach the people about the Three Persons of the Trinity in the One God. 

While the shamrock story may be a legend, it is a fact that he established the beautiful Celtic crosses. The story of Patrick driving out the snakes is a metaphor for driving out pagan worship and rooting the Church deep into Irish culture.

Saint Patrick’s Mountain, Croagh Patrick. A striking cone-shaped mountain in County Mayo, this was a holy place under the druids of the old Celtic pagan religions. Patrick came here often to pray, and once he was inspired by his guardian angel to imitate Moses and spend forty days and nights, in intense intercessory prayer for the Irish people. He had only a slight recess in the rocks as his shelter at night, and otherwise spent the time praying exposed to wind and rain, interceding for the Irish of his day and the generations to come.

Pilgrims are advised not to climb Croagh Patrick barefoot
Pilgrims on Croagh Patrick – the tradition is to walk barefoot for penance

As the Catholic Encyclopedia relates:

The whole purpose of his prayer was to obtain special blessings and mercy for the Irish race, which he evangelized. The demons that made Ireland their battlefield mustered all their strength to tempt the saint and disturb him in his solitude, and turn him away, if possible, from his pious purpose. They gathered around the hill in the form of vast flocks of hideous birds of prey. So dense were their ranks that they seemed to cover the whole mountain, like a cloud, and they so filled the air that Patrick could see neither sky nor earth nor ocean. St. Patrick besought God to scatter the demons, but for a time it would seem as if his prayers and tears were in vain. At length he rang his sweet-sounding bell, symbol of his preaching of the Divine truths. Its sound was heard all over the valleys and hills of Erin, everywhere bringing peace and joy. The flocks of demons began to scatter. He flung his bell among them; they took to precipitate flight, and cast themselves into the ocean. So complete was the saint’s victory over them that, as the ancient narrative adds, “for seven years no evil thing was to be found in Ireland.”

Pilgrims still climb the mount, especially on the last Sunday of July, when thousands of pilgrims will gather to climb to the summit and see where Patrick prayed. It was traditional to go barefoot over the sharp and rough scree rocks, and many men would go shirtless exposed to the harsh winds; these practices were to atone both for their own sins and the sins of others. Now the Irish police try to convince people to be more modern in their penances, and thus safer, but some still follow the old ways.

In 2010, a huge crowd of 20,000 climbed Croagh Patrick. Given the shock over the sexual abuse scandals in Ireland, people felt that there was much to pray for.

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