Posted by: Fr Chris | January 6, 2023

Baptism of the Lord

In the early Church, January 6 was the feast of the birth of Christ, the coming of the Magi, and the baptism of the Lord: three events separated in terms of natural time, but in liturgical time they were kept together. Why? Because the birth of the Lord led directly to his revelation to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi, and both events led directly to the baptism and the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and the beginning of His public ministry. While in the secular world Christmas has become its own big gift-giving extravaganza, liturgically the whole celebration of Christmas leads directly to the Theophany and the baptism. Just like Easter Sunday is meant to lead us to Pentecost, Christmas is meant to lead us to the bigger feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

First, we have the word today repeated over and over again. Why? The Church inherited many things from the Jews and Judaism, and one of those is the whole idea of sacred time. We are not repeating something from 2,000 years ago, but rather we are at the original event, and so are present at the baptism. 

Secondly, it is a theo-phany. It is a manifestation of God, since, as the troparion makes clear, worship of the Trinity was revealed. Jesus steps into the Jordan River, and is revealed as the full Son of God. God the Father speaks, the Son is revealed, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, in the form of a dove.

Third, we have the transformation of water. Water can give life when we drink it, especially in a desert. It can bring death, as in a flood. Now the water, through Christ’s descent into it, and today through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes a defense against the wickedness of the devil and the vehicle through which we are incorporated into the Holy Trinity. Water is used for baptism, and through the mystery of baptism, through that first sacrament that we receive, we are brought into eternal life. This is why the priest is invited into our homes to perform the annual rite of house blessings. The holy water sanctified today is used to sanctify the house, to bring God’s presence into the home, to drive away forces of evil. This is why holy water is so important, because the tap water is changed by the Holy Spirit so as to be used by Christ’s Church to bring salvation and protection.

Finally, we have the full revelation of who Jesus of Nazareth is. John the Baptizer, who worshipped Jesus when they were each in the wombs of their mothers, proclaimed how great Jesus would be. All four Gospels have a similar sentence:  

Matthew: after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. 

Mark: After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

Luke: one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

John: among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

John is still revered as the last of the prophets by the Jews. There had not been a preacher like him in 400 years. In the gospels it is clear that many people hoped he was the messiah – that is how powerful his call to repentance was, the call to conversion. But he made it very clear that he was the voice in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord.  Jesus himself says that John is the greatest man born.

As awesome as he was, as powerful a preacher as he was, he says in all four gospels that he was not worthy to undo the sandal straps of the one he was preparing for. That job was reserved for the lowest slave in a rich house, because shoes got filthy in the streets of the towns. The sandals could be covered in dirt, animal manure, garbage, all kinds of stuff, so that was the worst job in a household. But John makes it clear that compared to the one whose way he was preparing, he was the lowest of the low. There simply was no comparison between John and Jesus.

All of that is confirmed by the events of today. God’s voice comes from heaven, confirming that Jesus of Nazareth is actually His Son, and the Son who brings joy to the Father. The power of God, the spirit of the living God, comes down upon Christ’s head, in the form of a dove, the bird that represented both purity and God’s promises to the Jews. And as the song says, John humbly steps aside, sending his disciple Saint Andrew the first-called to follow the Lord, and Andrew of course will go get his brother Peter, the future rock of the Church of Christ.

We are baptized into the Trinity, and in Chrismation, Confirmation, we are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Baptism into the Trinity is not an end in and of itself  – we are meant to be people on a mission. The apostles who are called by Christ are not initiated into a secret religion for the chosen few, but prepared by Him to be transformed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost so as to preach the good news to the whole world. Our houses are not blessed by the priest so as to be little islands locked away, but to be strongholds of faith, houses of light and goodness and truth.

As Catholic Christians, we are empowered with the fullness of God’s revelation to proclaim the good news to the human race that salvation is at hand. Yes, we belong to a Church that has been rocked by scandals, but the Church has always been rocked by scandals, starting with the betrayals, not only by Judas but also the denial by Peter himself. It is home to sinners who are trying to become saints. It is the refuge of sinners, of sinners who are trying to fulfill the mission entrusted to them, of teaching and healing and guiding and loving the people of our broken world and bringing them into the embrace of our loving Father in heaven. Let us ask our Lord tonight in Holy Communion for the courage to go forward in mission, to fulfill the charge given to us to be His hands in the world. And let us be, through the power of the Holy Spirit who descended onto Jesus that day, people of prayer, and people who are not afraid to be converted away from sinful behavior into lives of goodness and faithfulness.

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 27, 2022

Saint Stephen: A Wound in the Soul

You can still enter the old city of Jerusalem through the gate of Saint Stephen. Though the city was destroyed by the Romans, when it was rebuilt, the wall was put up again and the gate restored, and it has been known ever since as Saint Stephen’s gate and is more than likely the place where he was martyred.

Like Jesus, witnesses were brought against him. Like Jesus, he was hauled off without a proper trial or defense. It was against the Romans’ law for the Jews to execute anyone, which was why the Sanhedrin had taken Jesus to Pilate. So like Jesus, he was attacked by breakers of the law. And like Jesus, Stephen remained firm in his commitment to the gospel, and like Jesus he forgives those who are killing him. And of course, the final blow, in the eyes of the Jews, was his sudden proclamation that he saw Christ sitting at the right hand of God, declaring that Jesus therefore is God.

Stephen’s day has been kept as a holy day connected to Christmas since the early 300s. Why? He is the first person to knowingly die for Christ, to die because of his Christian faith, and he sets the model for all future martyrs, down to our day, through his imitation of Christ. He does not waver in his faith, and he forgives those killing him. From then down to our own time with the Christians who are routinely killed by Muslim fanatics in Nigeria almost every week, martyrs do those two things.

It is significant that in Chapter 7 Verse 57 we read Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Shortly thereafter, we read in the beginning of Chapter 8 verses 2-3 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Saul of course was known also by his Roman name, Paulus, and becomes Saint Paul, the great evangelizer and theologian. He will go from destroying the Church to building up and expanding the Church through his preaching, writing, and journeys. Stephen would not know that one of the official witnesses of his martyrdom was going to become one of the great pillars of Christianity. We have no idea what seeds we plant through friendships, relationships, and simply holding firm to our beliefs in the face of harassment or persecution. In the end, Stephen’s testimony and prayers surely helped Paul’s conversion since Luke makes such a point of stating that Saul was one of the legal witnesses of the killing.

The great Catholic martyr of Scotland is Saint John Ogilvie, who was put to death for the crimes of being a priest, converting Protestants to the Catholic faith, and offering Mass in Scottish cities. In 1615 he was executed in Glasgow, and this is what happened:

There were many brave Catholics who came to the execution site to support the saint with prayers and with shouts.   They were fearless.  John said on the scaffold “If there be here any hidden Catholics, let them pray for me but the prayers of heretics I will not have.”   Then something spontaneous happened, by divine intervention and inspiration.   Just before they tied his hands on the scaffold the saint quickly pulled out his rosary and tossed it to the crowd as a token of farewell.   There was a Protestant Baron, John ab Eckersdorf, who happened to be in the crowd and the rosary bounced off his chest.   The man tried to reach down for the beads but was beaten to them by the surrounding faithful anxious to get such a relic. Here is how the event is related, in the words of the Baron: I was on my travels through England and Scotland as it is the custom of our nobility, and I did not have the faith. I happened to be in Glasgow the day Father Ogilvie was led forth to the gallows, and it is impossible for me to describe his lofty bearing in meeting death.   His farewell to the Catholics was his casting into their midst, from the scaffold, his rosary beads just before he met his fate.   That rosary, thrown haphazard, struck me on the breast in such wise that I could have caught
it in the palm of my hand;  but there was such a rush and crush of the Catholics to get hold of it, that unless I wished to run the risk of being trodden down, I had to cast it from me.   Religion was the last thing I was then thinking about : it was not in my mind at all; yet from that moment I had no rest.   Those rosary beads had left a wound in my soul; go where I would I had no peace of mind. Conscience was disturbed, and the thought would haunt me : why did the martyr’s rosary strike me,
and not another?   For years I asked myself this question it followed me about everywhere.    At last conscience won the day    I became a Catholic; I abandoned Calvinism – and this happy change I attribute to the martyr’s beads and to no other
cause those beads which, if I had them now, gold could not tempt me to part with and if gold could purchase them, I should not spare it.”

Those rosary beads left a wound in my soul.

I wonder sometimes if Saul was so ferocious in his persecution because Stephen’s words left a wound in his soul. Surely as Paul, Stephen’s testimony right before he died strengthened him in his own sufferings on behalf of Christ.

We never know how our actions, our words, our constancy in the Catholic faith in the face of challenges and obstacles can affect someone. The smallest action can leave a wound in someone’s soul, a wound that will not heal until that person resolves the crisis by becoming a Catholic, or returning to the practice of the faith. Saint Wenceslaus, the king of Bohemia, famously celebrated the day by setting out an elaborate dinner for a poor man, and 1,300 years later we still sing about that. His act of charity is still remembered; Stephen’s faith is still remembered.  

We should celebrate Stephen’s day with prayers, asking him to intercede for us with God that at this challenging time in western civilization, we will be faithful to Christ, faithful to his Church, and be brave enough to witness about Jesus, in the best way that we can. John Ogilvie led the baron to faith simply by throwing his rosary out; we can throw seeds of faith out in many different ways, if we are brave enough to do so, and thus we may leave a wound in someone’s soul for the sake and love of Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 26, 2022

Christmas 2022

Christ is born! In the book of the prophet Micah, chapter 5, verse 2, we read: But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,     who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me  one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old,   from ancient days.

The Messiah of course is Jesus Christ, who is the ancient of ancients, existing before time as the eternal Word of God and then being incarnated in time in the womb of Our Lady, and born for us in little Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem actually has two meanings. In Hebrew: house of bread but in Arabic: house of meat. Both names lead us to the Eucharist, the life-giving body and blood of the savior of the world. Under the form of bread, we have the flesh of the Lord Himself. Ephrathah means fruitful. So, we have the messiah incarnated, born in the house of bread and the house of meat,  in the fruitful region. He will give us spiritual fruits, fruits which we still benefit from.

Jesus laid in the manger – the feed trough for the animals which is transformed into the feeding place for people who worship Christ. Luke emphasizes the location three times in the span of ten short verses, that the infant is laid in a manger by Mary; the angels announce he is the manger; and the shepherds themselves find him lying in the manger, in the presence of Mary and Joseph. The shepherds are invited to worship him, to adore him, in that feed trough. We are preparing now for the coming of Christ, as he does in every liturgy, to descend to the altar through the holy spirit, and he comes in answer to our petitions and prayers. Every altar, at every liturgy, becomes Bethlehem.

The Child will be our food spiritually and physically – the icon of St John the Baptist at the south end of the iconostas shows the Child Jesus resting on the diskos, in place of the bread, as a constant reminder to us of just what happens to the bread placed there before the liturgy during the rite of preparation. Saint John points to the Child as he proclaims “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This little baby whose birth we have prepared for over the last forty days, this speechless child who is the eternal word of God, is the Lamb of God. The sheep and lambs in the shepherds’ field produced the wool for the vestments of the priests of the temple, but here we have the true High Priest. The spring lambs would be sacrificed for the Passover feast, but here we have the true Paschal Lamb, who will be sacrificed on the cross. No lamb can take away sins, only this lamb born of the Virgin Mary can take away the sins of the entire world.

Chrysostom preached that “Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, but His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.”

Jesus proclaims throughout chapter 6 of John’s Gospel the importance of eating his flesh and receiving his blood  – he emphasizes that if we don’t do that, we won’t have life in us. And of course, he came to give us life, the opportunity to have the fullness of spiritual life and abundant eucharistic union with him that gives us a taste of eternal life.

Being here is a privilege, as I have said repeatedly this year. It is an enormous gift from God that we can come together to spiritually be in Bethlehem, at the cave, to be like the shepherds and come to worship the new-born King of the Jews, the true messiah, our savior. In Communist China, no one under 18 is allowed into the churches. In occupied Ukraine, all of the Latin and Byzantine Catholic priests have been expelled by the Russians or are in the jails of the secret police. In much of Africa, Siberia, and Latin America, because there are not enough priests, people gather not for the holy sacrifice of the Mass but for a service led by a reader, and maybe they can receive Communion. In many places this weekend in America, the storm has closed churches.

We are privileged to be able to come to church and be present at the Divine Liturgy; we are privileged to share in the Catholic faith; we are privileged to be given the fullness of God’s revelation through the teachings of the Catholic Church in the magisterium; we are privileged to have a pastor who came from far away to serve with such devotion; we are privileged to have produced two nuns, one monk, one seminarian and four priests from such a small parish; we are privileged to have a parish with so many children and young families; we are privileged to have active ministries to college adults and high school students; we are privileged to see a future ahead of us, lit by the fires of faith and devotion; we are privileged to have older parishioners who guide us through their fidelity; we are privileged in so many ways. The Mother of God has watched over this parish since 1974, and her Son whose birth we celebrate has been the core of this parish’s spiritual life.

This Child Jesus is a free offering, a gift of salvation that is wrapped in that little baby boy lying in the straw of the manger on that unique holy night. The gift continues in every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, in every offering of the Catholic Mass. Tonight is the night that is different from every other night, the night when God pierces the division between heaven and earth so as to reunite us, so that we can walk with Him and be with Him, and flourish with Him, and conquer with Him over the forces of darkness. The Child born at midnight in piercing cold in the cave of Bethlehem is the true light of the world, especially now in a world that faces so much darkness and pain.

Presents are great, but they are not eternal. Cards are lovely, but they are not eternal. Human bodies can do many things, but eventually they fall apart. The only thing we have of ourselves that is eternal is the soul, and later on the glorified body that we will receive at the resurrection of the dead. Christ came into the world to die, so as to open the door for the soul to live eternally with him after our own deaths, and for us to live body and soul with the Holy Trinity forever after the end of the universe. Let us enjoy being in Bethlehem, and let us rejoice in the privilege given to us in faith, and let us above all commit ourselves to Christ on this holy night, and serve Him always. Christ is born. Glorify Him. Have a Merry Christmas.

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 20, 2022

What’s with the genealogy in Matthew?

Why does the first page of the first gospel of the New Testament start with a bunch of names and generations? Who cares?

Seminary joke: if you want to read about sex and violence, go to the Old Testament. On the Sunday before Christmas, the Byzantine Rite presents the witness of the faithfulness of the Jews from chapter 11 of the letter to the Hebrews while waiting for the promised Messiah, and then this genealogy from Saint Matthew. In the genealogies of the Old Testament, no woman is recorded, but in this genealogy of Christ five women are mentioned. Only one of these five was a chaste virgin—Mary. The genealogy makes a point of saying that of her, Christ was born (v. 16), not Joseph.

This is the first page of the first gospel of the first book of the New Testament – and what a way to start the life of the Son of God on earth! Among the rest—Tamar – conceives sons through her father-in-law; but does so to fulfill the Jewish law that a man must be survived by children to pray for his soul;

Rahab was a prostitute from Jericho, who hid the Israelite spies and so saved her entire family and household when the city fell to the invaders; because she believes in God;

Ruth came from Moab, a country cursed by Jewish law because it was founded in incest, but she converted to Judaism to worship the true God;

Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, (and her crime was such that her name isn’t even given in the list!) and her husband Uriah the Hittite was killed by David as a result; but her son will be Solomon, the wisest king of Israel. It all tells us that Christ is related not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles, even to the sinful people, and is the kingly Savior of typical sinners, who end up fulfilling God’s law and His will in odd ways.

David repented of his sin with Bathsheba, and founded his dynasty on their son. But it’s not a perfect family – though God gave him great wisdom, Solomon made serious errors, and a number of the kings ended up as moral and spiritual wrecks, so much so that God allows the destruction of the kingdom and the Babylonian exile. So the family tree of Saint Joseph, as a descendant of David, and of Jesus, who is Joseph’s legal son, is filled with adultery, Gentile outsiders, prostitution, murder, worship of pagan gods, abandoning the covenant – along with holy people who sought to lead good lives, ordinary farmers and shepherds, younger sons being chosen by God over the traditional older sons, and stalwart women who took initiatives that resulted in the line continuing and fulfilling God’s rules. Good things came out of tough or even bad situations, just like in any human family.

Isaiah 11:1 prophesied that Christ would be “a little stem out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch…out of his roots.” Jesse’s family was one which brought forth Christ, one who branched out Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Word of God who looks down on us from the ceiling of this church, by being rooted in Christ. God uses the messy family tree, and Matthew does not hide it by claiming mythical heroes or supermen. The whole thing is balanced out into three sets of seven generations each, like the good accountant and bookkeeper that Matthew was.

The heart of it all is Saint Joseph. Like Joseph who ruled in Egypt, this Joseph is good, loving, compassionate. He’s ready to put the blame for the surprise pregnancy on himself, and so divorce Our Lady quietly, because he loves her so much and doesn’t want to see her punished. He listens when God speaks to him in dreams, like Joseph the patriarch. Each time Joseph has a dream, he gets up immediately and does what God asks of him. He follows through with his marriage to Mary – immediately. On the eighth day after Jesus’ birth, he gives to the baby the name Yeshua, Jesus, He who takes away sins, fulfilling what the angel told him to do, even though nobody in the previous 21 generations had that name. He gets up and takes Mary and the baby Jesus off to Egypt, immediately, and stays there. Even though they make a life for themselves there, probably a good life since he is described as a tekton, a real craftsman, when he has a dream that Herod is dead, he gets up and brings the Holy Family back to Palestine. He does everything God asks of him, in complete trust, complete obedience, as a truly faithful servant of the Lord. 

Everybody comes from other people. All of us have ancestors. We may know a lot of them, we may know a few, we may be adopted and so not know our genetic ancestors but know our adopted family’s line. Americans love to do genealogy, digging up interesting facts and tidbits, some good, some embarrassing. We have people who struggled, people who prospered, people who were led by their faith, people who might have coasted spiritually. But the actions of all of those people, how they responded to God, to love, to challenges, combined to create a family that is still going on.

We are all part of one large family, within the embrace of the Catholic faith. We are all part of one family that has its faults and errors, loves and joys. We are all part of the human family redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We are each offered the opportunity to know Jesus well, intimately, through the privilege of being Catholic, through the mercy of the sacrament of Confession, through the gift of Holy Communion, through the power of our individual prayers. Like Saint Joseph, we are each invited to listen to the Holy Spirit and to respond. Remember that the preparation for Christmas does not end on December 25. It leads us not just to the birth in Bethlehem, but to the visit of the Magi, which heralds the mission to the Gentiles, and to the baptism of the Lord on January  6, which opens Jesus’ public ministry of preaching. With the baptism, and the beginning of house blessings, we are supposed to carry the good news of Christ to the world around us.

There is always fear, or anxiety, or discomfort about being a witness of Christ in a world that has unfortunately gotten more hostile to him, a world plagued with both violence and self-righteousness. But this is the time to turn to Our Lady, who confidently answered Gabriel with “Let it be done unto me according to thy word”, this is the time to invoke the help of Saint Joseph who got up and did what God asked of him, and to remember that in this genealogy today, God worked with saints, sinners, Jews, and Gentiles so as to bring about the salvation of the world. May we turn to him with confidence, with trust, with hope, and ask the Holy Spirit to empower us as he did Saint Joseph with obedience and faith, to get up and do what we know God asks of us, through the revelation in the Catholic faith, to go forward, and to follow through with confidence in Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary. Christ is among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 5, 2022

Saint Nicholas – December 6

He is on every iconostas, always on the north side. He has been given the title of “Wonder-Worker” because of the many miracles performed during his lifetime and after his death through his intercession, miracles that God wrought in answer to his prayers because of the life he led. Nicholas was leading a life of constant conversion, a life rooted in Jesus Christ. The town of Myra had many bishops until the Turks drove out the last of the Christians in 1923, but in 1,800 years of Christianity it is this one bishop who became the model for all bishops, who left such a profound imprint on his parishioners then and on Christians around the world today. In the Divine Office, the canon in the matins for tomorrow morning starts with the proclamation of Christ’s birth, because Nicholas is considered to be so  Christ-like. How did he show this?

He is the saint of charity, giving to others and doing for others in the Name of Jesus. He is the saint of justice, having saved those wrongly accused of crimes and exposing the corruption of government officials. He himself was imprisoned under the emperor Diocletian during the last big persecution in the Roman Empire, so he was a confessor of the faith.

Sailing in the ancient world was hazardous – as we see in the Acts of the Apostles when Paul had to sail to Rome, to go across the open sea was a frightening prospect, and there was no guarantee that a ship would arrive at its destination. As the bishop of the port of Myra, he would go down to the harbor to bless the ships and prayed in the church for those who were at sea. To this day he remains the patron saint of sailors and travelers, and his icons travel on the navy ships of majority-Orthodox countries like Greece.

Nicholas spent his inheritance helping orphans and abandoned children, building hospitals and schools, and giving relief to the poor. He’s famous for coming to the aid of three poor daughters who could not afford a dowry and so could not  get married. Icons show him tossing  three bags of gold through the window, landing in the stockings that were hanging up by the fire to dry. To this day, unmarried Italian women go to the shrine in Bari and put three coins into the collection box to ask his intercession in finding a husband.

A popular legend says that at the council of Nicaea, he was so scandalized about the heresy of Arius, which denies that Jesus is fully God as well as fully Man, that he got up and slapped Arius. The bishops then deposed him, saying he was out of control and offended those who favored Arius, including the imperial government. But that night, they all had the same dream, where Jesus and Mary restored the symbols of the bishop’s office, the Gospel book and the omophorion, to him. So in the morning they all contritely returned to him, and restored him to his rightful office. Unfortunately, we have the record of who attended that council, and Nicholas wasn’t there, and neither was Arius. But the point of the story is that Nicholas was solidly orthodox in faith, and having suffered for the Christian faith in Jesus Christ, he would not give in to the pressures of the government and the opinions of popular churchmen. Instead he held firm to the faith.

So, what does this enormously popular saint have to say to us?

1) he was honored in his lifetime not for spending money, but for giving of himself to others in the name of Christ

2) he was known for his holiness, for the time he spent in prayer and also the time he gave to others

3) he led a life that was simple, keeping the fasting seasons, not looking to build up his own wealth or power

4) he took risks so as to help others stay strong in faith, and he was willing to stand up for what he knew was right.

All of these are qualities that you and I can and should emulate. May Saint Nicholas intercede for us individually, our parish, and the Byzantine Catholic Church, so that we will reflect Jesus Christ accurately and well to those around us. And may we have the courage, like him, to stand firm for the faith and its truths.

Posted by: Fr Chris | November 30, 2022

Annual Christmas Novena starts on St Andrew’s Day

Traditionally this prayer is said daily from November 30 until Christmas Eve:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment

In which the Son of God was born

Of the most pure Virgin Mary,

at midnight

in Bethlehem,

in the piercing cold.

In that hour vouchsafe,

I beseech Thee, O my God,

to hear my prayer and grant my desires,

through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,

and of His blessed Mother.


Posted by: Fr Chris | November 28, 2022

Jesus living in Mary

Holy Infant Jesus, living in Mary! To Thee I surrender myself totally, with body and soul and all that I have and am, and all that I am capable of being and having. Grant me to partake of they innocence, and out of the fountain of Thy most sweet Heart, allow me to draw childlike simplicity wherewith to moisten the powers of my soul, and to fructify them with Thy Holy Spirit. Let me draw out of Thee,  Thou primeval fountain of life eternal, divine strength in order to receive the spirit of Thy holy infancy, and  divine power in order to preserve it.  

And then come and reign within me through Mary, then through Thy greatness within me confound all earthly greatness; and through Thy wisdom in me let all carnal wisdom and worldly prudence be silenced; and through Thy goodness in me let all diabolical malice be dispersed!

Posted by: Fr Chris | November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving Day

Luke 17: 11-19

To be truly grateful, we have to remember. When we are truly grateful, we are slow to forget what made us grateful.

The nine Jewish lepers in the gospel reading do not even remember to thank Jesus in the few minutes after they have left him, and they discover that they are healed. In the painting below, they run off in joy. Only the Samaritan man, despised by the Jews in general, goes back to the Jewish rabbi to thank him.

When the Pilgrims held their thanksgiving day, it was after half of them had died of hardship, yet they still celebrated in church and with a big festive meal. They were indebted to the Catholic Indian, Squanto, for their survival, and the forgiveness extended to them by the local tribes after the Pilgrims stole some of their cached food. Sadly, the English would launch terrible wars against those same tribes, and the Catholic Indians to the north. Their memory was all too short! We are invited to thank God not only today, but every day.

Secondly, we need to always recognize the goodness of God. When we are truly grateful, we come to understand that as we say in the psalms, and in the Matins service, God’s mercies endure forever.

We may not always be aware, we may be as foolish as the nine lepers, but God’s mercy  lasts and is always present. Notice that in Ukraine, despite bombardments, lack of electricity and gas heating and water, people are still going to church. Despite their sufferings, they continue to worship God!

Finally, we need true humility. When we are truly grateful, we humbly confess that we are indebted to God, that we belong to him and that we are not our own.

The first thanksgiving service in America of Europeans and Native Americans was in 1565, when the colony of Saint Augustine was founded in Florida. Rather than the normal procedure of planting the flag and claiming land in the name of the king that had been done for the previous 70 years, the Spanish governor Pedro Menéndez de Avilés planted a cross, which he kissed, and then claimed Florida in the name of God.

If we were to focus entirely on the Holy Name of God, and recognize every day that everything comes from Him and through Him, surely our lives would be much different! I pray daily for the conversion of our government to Catholic principles, for the conversion and salvation of our country, and for my own ongoing conversion and salvation. We need to do this every day, not only on Thanksgiving Day, and root ourselves in the Cross of  Christ, in the worship of God, and in humility, recognizing God’s goodness, and remembering always that His mercy and goodness endure forever.

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 31, 2022

Ask A Priest 3 – Eastern Questions

Why is daily Mass common but not daily Divine Liturgy?

Actually,  daily Divine Liturgy is quite common among Byzantine Catholics, but less so among Orthodox. It’s not found in certain regions like the Middle East where hostile Muslim rule often made frequent celebration of the Eucharist dangerous. Just gathering for weekly celebration could be risky in times of Islamic fundamentalism.

In large towns of Eastern Europe, daily Divine Liturgy was ordinary among the Orthodox into the 16th century. Then it was rejected as “Catholic” during the controversies over the reunion of the Churches in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Some Orthodox traditions teach that a married priest and his wife cannot be intimate before the celebration of the Eucharist, which is a revival of the Jewish purity laws.

Another reason for its decline in Orthodoxy was the reception of Holy Communion by the laity. Many Orthodox people would only approach the altar at Christmas, Easter, Dormition, and maybe SS. Peter and Paul, after the four fasting seasons were completed.

Finally, the complexity of Byzantine-rite services means that ideally a church had a priest, deacon, and cantor at every service. In the villages where most people lived that was simply impossible.

Why do Byzantine Catholics say “Amen” after the words of institution?  

“Amen” is a Hebrew word which simply affirms a blessing. It shows up in Deuteronomy, Numbers, Psalms, Isaiah, etc. In Christian prayer, Jesus used it repeatedly to emphasize a particular teaching or saying and appears 77 times total. It was added into early Christian worship. When we say it in the Liturgy, we are simply affirming our belief that through the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine are now the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Can women become deaconesses?

Yes, and the missionary work of the Greek Orthodox Church in Africa has revived that order. Deaconesses are important in the African and Asian societies where men were restricted in their ministry to women for cultural reasons. Also, deaconesses were needed to anoint the naked bodies of women and girls coming to baptism in the ancient Church.

They were responsible for charitable work among women and giving religious instruction to them, and supported by the Church. While in the Byzantine Church the deaconesses are known to have had their own ordination ritual, walked in the Great Entrance procession in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, received Communion inside the sanctuary, and took Communion to sick women, they did not have a liturgical role whatsoever. Deaconesses could not preach or confer baptism. So, the current push in certain Roman Catholic circles for deaconesses is actually not pushing for a restoration of the original order, but to have women serving at the altar next to the priest like a deacon. That is simply NOT what deaconesses were in the past or in modern Orthodoxy; cf. Didascalia Apostolorum (circa 240); Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (375); Constitutiones Apostolorum (circa 380).

Eventually deaconesses merged into the communities of celibate women which maintained the works of charity and education. This happened especially with the spread of infant baptism, and the acceptance of priests and deacons ministering directly to women in the Eastern cultures. This order did not exist in most of the Latin Church, though it endured in Rome itself into the 700s, but again, they had no liturgical role whatsoever.  

Deaconesses exist now in the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, Zaire, East Africa, and in the Ethiopian Church. Read more about what’s happening in the Orthodox Church here at the Saint Phoebe Center:

Deaconesses in Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy:

Armenian Apostolic deaconess

Posted by: Fr Chris | October 22, 2022

Ask A Priest – Part 2, October

Is it Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost?

In Old English the words Ghost and Ghostly were often used to refer to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity and to spiritual matters. Today, Ghost has come to mean only spirits of the deceased. So, the English translations have gone to the word Spirit. That is closer to the Hebrew original, in that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the living God, “ruach elohim.”

Did Mary ever commit a venial sin? 

No. Our Blessed Lady continued to live her life in union with God. She is the New Eve, the Mother who exemplifies what the Old Eve was supposed to do. We were made to live in God’s Presence, and to be with Him always. The failure of Adam and Eve to do so introduced sin, and therefore death, into the human race. While Our Lady did die, and then was assumed into heaven body and soul, she did not sin.

Did Joseph ever commit a mortal sin?

I would say it is doubtful. Joseph is described in Scripture as a righteous man, and every time he has a message from God, he gets up and immediately fulfills what God has asked of him. Many theologians taught that Joseph did not commit any sins, and some have claimed that he was sanctified in his mother’s womb after his conception. But one must be careful of over-exaggerating someone’s holiness. We have a bad tendency to exalt all saints, and make them so otherworldly that we think we don’t have a chance at achieving holiness. I think it is sufficient to say that Saint Joseph was a man who achieved great sanctity, who treasured and protected the virginity of the Virgin Mary and his own purity, and who was the perfect role model for the Son of God.

Do we know the names of angels besides Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael? Why do we call Saint Michael a Saint when he is an angel?

Traditionally there are seven archangels listed: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selathiel, Jegudiel, and Barachiel. The suffix -el is the Name of God in Hebrew; each of them has a duty to God and an action they perform on his behalf. Michael is “he who is like unto God.” Michael serves as the protector of God’s people against evil in Daniel and again in the Epistle of Jude. Gabriel is “he who stands in the presence of God” and he appears as God’s messenger to Daniel, Zechariah, and the Virgin Mary. Raphael means “God heals” and he brings both spiritual and physical healing in the Book of Tobit, and it is presumed he is the angel at the pool of Bethesda. These three archangels are the only ones listed in the canonical books of the Bible. Jegudiel punishes sinners;  Uriel is the angel of wisdom; Selathiel is the angel for intercession of prayer; Berachiel is the angel of blessings. These last four appear in the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox traditions, some Catholic practices, and some Jewish traditions.

The word “saint” is French in origin, and simply means “holy.” It became a title of holy people in Old English. Michael is certainly holy, and thus he and the other two archangels are routinely referred to as Saints.

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