Armenian mss, image, Doubting of Thomas

The Doors Were Locked

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Keep in mind: the doors were locked, but he got in anyway. What might stop us in our regular bodies did not stop Jesus in his resurrected body. He didn’t force or blast his way in, but somehow the peace of the resurrection allowed him entry where others could not have entered.

And again, when Thomas was in the upper room, Jesus returned. “Peace be with you.”

So much does Jesus want Thomas to be at peace, that he offers his side and his hands. “Put your finger here … and do not be unbelieving but believe!”

Many of those who experienced these signs and wonders did come to believe. St John tells us these signs in order that we, too, may believe and have life in His name. Yet there were several who walked away, who found it too improbable, too different from what they had already lived.

In Pascha, in the Resurrection, Death has passed over us. That’s what Pascha means: Passover. The Pharaohs of this time are not kings on thrones but rather draw our attention away from what should be most central in our lives. Perhaps our Pharaohs are even more effectively enslaving us than the Pharaoh of Egypt was able to enslave the Israelites. After all, in so many ways, so many of us struggle to even consider that the Resurrection would have any effect on us today.

And so, Jesus – in his Body, the Church – invites us to place our finger and hand into his wounds. To feel the loving sacrifice, the wound he willingly suffers. To allow that wound to become part of us. As he spoke to Thomas, so he speaks again to us about the life he offers: “Do not be unbelieving but believe!”

Read it again: John 20:19-31 … and for the Passover, Exodus 11-13

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Our Prodigal Father Who Art in Heaven

We hear the story of the Prodigal Son every year as we approach the beginning of the Great Fast (Lent). Why is this story so important? Saint Luke sets up a series of stories to clue us in:

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

This is the beginning of a section where Jesus talks about finding the lost sheep, the woman who sweeps her house to find a lost coin, and finally today’s parable about the lost son. Reading the parable, we might wonder which son is more lost. But in this reflection, I want to focus on what Jesus is telling us in this series of “lost and found” messages.

Above all, hear how Jesus describes the prodigal son’s return.

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (And the father tells his other son) “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

The father, prodigal in his love for his son, full of mercy and longing, is waiting at the side of the road for any sign that his son will return home. He knows he cannot force him or coerce him into being part of the family. He knows the son wished him dead simply so the boy could spend his inheritance now.

Jesus tells us this story so that we know why he spent time with those who were lost and forsaken, those who were in troubled situations, those who had made bad choices. Let us receive, celebrate, and share his mercy!

Read it again: Luke 15:11-32, or for a better view, consider reading all of Luke 15.

Climb a Tree: Seek a More in Life

How badly do you want to see Jesus?

Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.

I suppose most of us go through life doing the ordinary things we need to do, just getting by. How often do we stop to climb a tree and see more than what is just in front of us?

The story of Zacchaeus should encourage us to stop and look for more than just what we are used to doing. Zacchaeus changed his whole life. Tax collectors were supposed to ask for as much as they could get from people—from now on he would only ask for a fair amount, and he would refund four times anything he took from someone unjustly.

Zacchaeus sensed that this Jesus fellow was someone special. Awed that Jesus would actually want to come to his house, Zacchaeus decided then and there that he would follow God’s instructions for a good life – no longer just his own. But Jesus tells us over and over that God wants to be that close with each of us, wanting us to be his sons and daughters. We have exactly the same choice as Zacchaeus. Let us not even wait for the sycamore tree of the Great Fast: Today, let us climb up above our ordinary tasks and responsibilities and see what Jesus has in store for us!

Read it again: Luke 19:1-10

Three First Words of Christ

There is a tradition of preaching on the seven last words of Christ, the seven last messages Jesus gave while dying on the Cross. Reflecting on these last words of Christ led me to look at these first words Jesus gave after his Resurrection.

Rejoice! Do not be afraid!

This powerful reassurance made such an impact on Pope St John Paul the Great that he peppered his preaching with this reassurance not to fear but to rejoice and share the love of God. These words are not merely addressed to the women Jesus meets in the garden, or even simply including the Twelve and the other historic disciples who walked with Jesus before the Resurrection. We, too, are his disciples. His words are recorded for us to hear.

Therefore, be not afraid! With courage and with grace, allow your hearts and ears and eyes to be opened by God’s loving mercy. And then,

Go, tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

Jesus tells us to go to Galilee. This means we are to go to that first place where we met Jesus. Maybe you first heard him speak to you in a church. That first moment you recognized Jesus actually is present, even though we aren’t always aware of or attentive to him. If you can’t go there right now, at least remember the place. Picture that moment in your mind. Remember what he said … or maybe what he did not say that you hoped he would, and how he gave you something better than you expected.

Or perhaps that first moment was a time when you finally allowed him to help you carry your cross. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” That first moment of allowing God a place in the deepest, most secret part of your heart.

But know that whatever meeting and comfort or assistance we receive from God is not the end of our story. For he also tells us,

Make disciples of all nations, baptizing …, teaching …, and lo, I am with you always.

The gift of prayer moves us out of ourselves. Even the cloistered nuns and hermit monks pray for the world and offer some type of hospitality to those who come to their doors. Each of us in our own way, perhaps without even using words, are called to teach and to offer Christ to others. Having received Christ into our bodies even physically (Holy Communion), we may be aware of offering our very selves: visiting family in the nursing home, we help the struggling staff, we smile with love on those who work or live with our family member, and we teach by our gracious example.

And when we fail, we ask forgiveness of both God and neighbor.

So this Pascha / Easter, keep these three first words of Jesus in your hearts. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable or even to look foolish, for the love of Christ. Go to Galilee, go to that first place where you met Jesus and found how important he is to you. And make disciples of all nations, invite and give good example to each person you meet.

Read it again: Matthew 28:1-20

 

Innovation in the Guise of Tradition: Anti-Ecumenist Efforts to Derail the Great and Holy Council

Public Orthodoxy

by George Demacopoulos

The documents approved by the Primates of the Church for the Great and Holy Council are not particularly controversial. They are the product of consensus, negotiated over decades, that often repeat previous declarations rather than addressing the more challenging questions that face the modern Church.

The one possible exception is the document Relations of the Orthodox Church With the Rest of the Christian World, which seeks to clarify the purpose of the Orthodox Church’s engagement in the ecumenical movement. Because the document censures ecumenical obstructionists, it has seen the lion’s share of criticism from certain self-described traditionalists.

Much of this criticism relies on a highly selective and reductionist appropriation of our rich canonical tradition to justify simplistic ideological conceits.

For example, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, in a wide-ranging condemnation of the Great and Holy Council took particular exception to use of the term “church” for…

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One Day in Your Courts

How lovely your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! … Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84)

The Psalms tell us something about the way things really are. Everything we might possibly feel is tucked away somewhere in the Psalms, or it’s repeated frequently. I told someone to read the Psalms to help her pray when she felt besieged by life. She was amazed at how many of the Psalms talk about being set upon by enemies.

Jesus took on everything about human nature except our fall into sin. Not only did Jesus pray the Psalms, but as the early Christians reflected on the crucifixion, they realized that Jesus actually lived Psalms. It should be no surprise that this poetry, prayed for thousands of years, prayed by Jesus himself, would be a school of prayer for us to share the prayer of Jesus Christ, to grow in union with our LORD.

So when I was asked to give a retreat this summer, I thought there would be no better theme than to pray with the Psalms, to spend a few days in the courts of the prayerful words used by Jesus. The retreat is sponsored by the Confraternity of Penitents, a lay group that gets its inspiration from St Francis of Assisi, with ties to Indiana and to the area around Pennsylvania, and with members in diverse locations.

The retreat will be held July 27-31, 2016, near Buffalo. See the poster/link  at http://hdbfm.com/programs/cfp-retreat-2016-poster.pdf for details including contact information to register.

Cross with Me

This coming Sunday we venerate the Cross. Jesus tells us:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.

We are used to the cross. No longer merely a repulsive symbol of death, we hang the cross on our walls and around our necks, we kiss the cross in our churches.

But the cross is a symbol of death. And how! The cross now is a symbol of the Son of God bringing us through death to new life, through humiliation to share in the glory and the beauty of the Divine.

The prophet Jeremiah was sent by God to tell the people that no amount of political or military maneuvering would dance around the coming exile. Babylon will capture your leaders, taking them away from Judah to an unfamiliar place. This is the consequence of living without God even while claiming to be God’s people.

No one wanted to listen to Jeremiah. In fact, they put him in prison, kept him under the king’s guard, and then left him in a dry cistern. They ridiculed him and scorned him for speaking against what they had done and what they planned to do. We are God’s people and God will protect us!

Jeremiah gave them God’s word: we must go with the Babylonians willingly, and then God will shorten our exile. Let repentance be in our hearts. Instead, the leaders — those who survived or escaped — went to Egypt, with plans in their conniving hearts. Jeremiah is forced to go with them to Egypt.

Jeremiah allows himself to be taken to Egypt. Jesus allows himself to be taken to the Cross. What burden is presented to you by those around you? What burden is now your opportunity to embrace your cross? Like Jesus (and Jeremiah), Jesus asks us to dwell with love in our hearts among a people who whatever their words and religion, do not live in the knowledge of the love of God. We hear the good news: Take up your cross and cross into new life with me.