OrthoAnalytika (orthodox podcast)

Bible Study #34: Joshua and Judges
Fr. Anthony Perkins, St. Mary's (Pokrova) in Allentown
08 May 2018

Opening Prayer:
Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

Map of Tribal Divisions from bible-printables.com: Twelve Tribes = Twelve Sons = Twelve Places ???

Warming up with some Tidbits from the Rest of Joshua:

On the Varying Inheritances (St. Jerome)

Why did two tribes and a half dwell on the other side of Jordan, a district abounding in cattle, while the remaining nine tribes and a half either drove out the old inhabitants from their possessions or dwelled with them? Why did the tribe of Levi receive no portion in the land but have the Lord for its portion? And how is it that of the priests and Levites, themselves, the high priest alone entered the Holy of Holies where were the cherubim and the mercy seat? … If you do away with the gradations of the tabernacle, the temple, the church, if, to use a common military phrase, all upon the right hand are to be “up to the same standard,” bishops are to no purpose, priests in vain, deacons useless. Why do virgins persevere? Widows toil? Why do married women practice continence? And yet if we repent of our sins, we are all brought to the level of the Apostles.

Joshua 17:13. This is a fulfillment of Genesis 9:27 (props to St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Joshua 17:16-18 (generalizable). For if at last we come to perfection, then the Canaanite is said to have been exterminated by us and handed over to death [through the mortification of the flesh]... to clear the woodland that is in us means cutting useless and unfruitful trees out of us so as to renew it so that we can reap fruit “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mt 13:8,23) from it. (Origin)

Joshua 20:1-9. The refugee cities. The length of the sentence only makes sense as a prophecy of Christ . (St. Ambrose of Milan). St. Jerome points out that sins committed in ignorance are still sinful.

Joshua 22:32-34. The purpose of the temple is suspected, clarified, then celebrated.

Joshua 24:12. God used wasps?! (St. Augustine gives literal and symbolic meanings)

Joshua 23: 12, 13 & 16. Joshua warns the people vs. intermarriage (do you remember Balaam?).

Joshua 24: 14-28. Joshua warns the people about idolatry. What does the stone symbolize?

[A Note on Bashan and the giants of the coast? Maybe later.]

Judges 2. A summary of what is to come.

From St. John Cassius (on why the conquest was not done by God all at once).

And if we may illustrate the incomparable mercy of our Creator from something earthly, not as being equal in kindness but as an illustration of mercy: if a tender and anxious nurse carries an infant in her bosom for a long time in order sometime to teach it to walk, and first allows it to crawl, then supports it that by the aid of her right hand it may lean on its alternate steps, presently leaves it for a little and if she sees it tottering at all, catches hold of it and grabs at it when falling, when down picks it up, and either shields it from a fall or allows it to fall lightly, and sets it up again after a tumble, but when she has brought it up to boyhood or the strength of youth or early manhood, lays upon it some burdens or labors by which it may be not overwhelmed but exercised, and allows it to vie with those of its own age; how much more does the heavenly Father of all know whom to carry in the bosom of his grace, whom to train to virtue in his sight by the exercise of free will, and yet he helps him in his efforts, hears him when he calls, leaves him not when he seeks him, and sometimes snatches him from peril even without his knowing it.

Ending prayer/hymn: Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem! / The glory of the Lord has shone on thee. / Exult now, and be glad, O Zion! / Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, / in the Resurrection of thy Son!

Next Week: Let's meet some Judges!!!

Bibliography

Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, p. 205). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. Chapter 25.

Direct download: 20180508-JoshuasTidbits.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Homily on Sowing
St. John 4:5-42

The metaphor of agriculture.

1 (Introduction). You have to reap when the crop is ready. If it's ready and you don't reap it – what happens?

  • Something – or someone – else will reap it (e.g. birds w/ blueberries)

  • It spoils.

  • It does not make it to the reaping floor where it can be transformed into its greatest and intended use/purpose

2. (The Word) The Samaritans were a crop that was ready for the harvest.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

The spiritual sowing indicates those who tilled beforehand by the voice of the prophets. The multitude of spiritual ears is those brought to the faith that is shown through Christ. But the harvest is white, in other words, already ripe for faith, and confirmed toward a godly life. But the sickle of the reaper is the glittering and sharp word of the apostle, cutting away the hearers from the worship according to the law and transferring them to the floor, that is, to the church of God. There, they are bruised and pressed by good works and shall be set forth as pure wheat worthy of the divine harvest.

It is important to realize that if Christ and the apostles did not reap the harvest, then these people – and their souls - would be lost

  • Someone else will reap and gather them.

  • They will spoil (internal pride and imagination)

  • They will not be transformed from something transient and vulnerable into something greater (living bread?)

3. (Conclusion – the Application) The world is the field of the Lord; the Church is the place where the transformation of wheat into the Living Bread occurs.

  • To speak less metaphorically,

    • The world is full of people who were made for something better. They are finite and vulnerable; and in need of something real and truly good;

    • But they were made to be immortal and powerful; and constantly sustained and strengthened by the unending source of everything good and true and real.

    • They are ready to be transformed from children of the fallen world into the immortal sons and daughters of the perfect God.

  • Their stories are all different. They are not monotheistic Samaritans as were those in today's Gospel or pagan Hellenists like those in today's epistle. When it comes to their world-view, some are atheists, some are agnostics, but they are full of the potential, the yearning, and the readiness to changed into something better.

    • [It should noted that not all of them are ready for the transformation: they still need tending. And there are fields that have not been sown at all.  Some sow, some tend, and some reap.]

In today's Gospel, the Lord shows how this work is done. It is work we are called to. If we don't do it – if we as a parish and we as believers – don't give our time connecting with the Samaritans and Hellenists of our time – then they will be lost. And us? We will have failed in the One Thing the Lord commanded us to do and we will be worse than lost.

Let us now commit ourselves to the transformation of ourselves into the children of God so that we may become the evangelists of that transformation – the ones that plant, tend, and gather - and this parish into the place where the gathered souls are themselves transformed.

Direct download: 20180506-HomilyonSowing.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 4:56pm EDT

Sunday of the Paralytic
John 5:1-15

Prologue: the Gospel only makes sense within its context.

Rules for living well:

  • Do the best you can.
  • Always strive to do better.
  • When you mess up, admit it, clean it up, and repent.

The paralytic exhibits this way of life:

  • Doing the best he could, based on who he was and what he knew (doesn't mean he was doing it right!).
  • Trying to do better. Two indicators of this:
    • He had been trying for cures all his life and was still at it.
    • When he encountered a better way of doing things – the way that Christ gave him! - he took it.
  • Mess up: change.
    • His willingness to leave a routine he had been committed to is part of this, but the main indicator of this came later:
    • The Lord told Him to stop sinning or things would get even worse for him.

How is it even possible not to sin? It only makes sense within the context of Gospel: the Lord had the power to forgive sins, because He knew we would continue to sin even after He ascended into glory at the Ascension, He gave that power to the ministers of the Church;  

“Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20: 21-23).

The paralytic was doing the best he could; Christ offered Him a better way that would not only heal him, but provided for his continual improvement.

We have to follow his example. We are trying hard to live a good life, but is it really the best we can do? Christ is offering the real path – our attempt to improve our lives should include listening to Him and following His instructions. When we mess up – and we will mess up – He has offered a way for us to recover and get back on track: we have to own our mistakes, repent, and get right back on track.

Direct download: 20180429-TheWayoftheParalytic.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Bible Study #32: The Curse of Jericho
Fr. Anthony Perkins, St. Mary's (Pokrova) in Allentown
24 April 2018

Opening Prayer:
Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

Warm up question:
What is a curse? Are they real, or only as real as people think they are? Blessings have psychological and “true” effects (e.g. confession); is it the same (in reverse) for curses? Think less about the manipulation of positive and negative energies than about opening ourselves of up the grace of God and the intercession of the saints or ... the actions and even possession of evil powers.

The Curse of Jericho

Jericho 6:17-19.

From Origen. Don't Pollute the Faith.
This is what is indicated by these words: Take heed that you have nothing worldly in you, that you bring down with you to the church neither worldly customs nor faults nor equivocations of the age. But let all worldly ways be anathema to you. Do not mix mundane things with divine; do not introduce worldly matters into the mysteries of the church.

This is what John also sounds with the trumpet of his epistle, saying, “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world.” And likewise Paul: “Do not,” he says, “be conformed to this world.” For those who do these things accept what is anathema. But also those introduce anathema into the churches who, for example, celebrate the solemnities of the nations even though they are Christians. Those who eagerly seek the lives and deeds of humans from the courses of the stars, who inquire of the flight of birds and other things of this type that were observed in the former age, carry what is anathema from Jericho into the church and pollute the camp of the Lord and cause the people of God to be overcome. But there are also many other sins through which anathema from Jericho is introduced into the church, through which the people of God are overcome and overthrown by enemies. Does not the apostle also teach these same things when he says, “A little leaven spoils the whole lump”?

Notice that the “solemnities of the nations” seem to be rituals associated with old gods. The dialogue about what previous symbols etc. can be incorporated and blessed and what can't is always interesting. For the Jews there were two mechanisms involved: 1) intentionally breaking commands that *God Himself* had given and 2) doing rituals and holding onto idols of foreign gods.

A Reminder on the Concept of Herem (taboo).
A human... may not enjoy the use of an object designated as ḥērem, for this would transgress the limits between his domain, with its protective socio-legal organization, and the outside non-classificatory domain and cause disequilibrium to encroach upon the former. Should such misuse occur, the perpetrator himself becomes contaminated by the object of the ḥērem and must be subjected to the same treatment as that object in order to ward off the consequent dangers to his community... (“Taboo” by Malul, p. 826).

Joshua 7:1-5. What Happened at Ai – Episode I.

From Origin. The Tongue of Gold.
But also we should not let it be passed over without comment that by one sinner wrath comes upon all the people.…

But let us also see what sort of sin this person did. He stole, it says, “a tongue of gold” and placed it in his own tent.

I do not think so great a force of sin was in that theft of a little gold that it defiled the innumerable church of the Lord. But let us see if a deeper understanding does not reveal the enormity and severity of the sin. There is much elegance in words and much beauty in the discourses of philosophers and rhetoricians, who are all of the city of Jericho, that is, people of this world. If, therefore, you should find among the philosophers perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse, this is the “tongue of gold.” But beware that the splendor of the performance does not beguile you, that the beauty of the golden discourse not seize you. Remember that Jesus [Joshua] commanded all the gold found in Jericho to be anathema. If you read a poet with properly measured verses, weaving gods and goddesses in a very bright tune, do not be seduced by the sweetness of eloquence, for it is the “tongue of gold.” If you take it up and place it in your tent, if you introduce into your heart those things that are declared by the [poets and philosophers], then you will pollute the whole church of the Lord.

St. John Chrysostom. How Bad for Us?
Suppose any one should carefully examine all the communicants in the world, what kind of transgression is there which he would not detect? And what if he examined those in authority? Would he not find them eagerly bent upon gain? Making traffic of high places? Envious, malignant, vainglorious, gluttonous and slaves to money?

Where then there is such impiety as this going on, what dreadful calamity must we not expect? And to be assured how severe vengeance they incur who are guilty of such sins as these, consider the examples of old. One single man, a common soldier, stole the sacred property, and all were struck. You know, doubtless, the history I mean? I am speaking of Achan the son of Carmi, the man who stole the consecrated spoil.…

On account of all these things, let us take heed to ourselves. Do you not see these wars? Do you not hear of these disasters? Do you learn no lesson from these things? Nations and whole cities are swallowed up and destroyed, and myriads as many again are enslaved to the barbarians.

If hell does not bring us to our senses, yet let these things. What, are these too mere threats, are they not facts that have already taken place? Great is the punishment they have suffered, yet a greater still shall we suffer, who are not brought to our senses even by their fate.

Sylvian the Priest of Marsailles. How the Taint Works.
The church of God is as the eye. As a speck of dirt, even though small, which falls into the eye blinds the sight completely, in the same way, if some, even though they are a few in the body of the church, commit filthy acts, they block almost all the light of the splendor of the church.

Joshua 7:19-26. The Confession and Punishment of Achen.

St. Jerome. Why so Harsh? The same reason that the nations were given over to the sword.

Joshua 8. What Happened at Ai – Episode II. They won. Completely. With tactics.
Origin. We ought not to leave any of those demons deeply within, whose dwelling place is chaos and who rule in the abyss, but to destroy them all.

Teaching Point: Do what God instructs even when the end result is not clear.

Bibliography

Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Malul, M. (1999). Taboo. In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible. Brill; Eerdmans.

Direct download: 20180424-CurseatJericho.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Bible Study #31: The Battle of Jericho
Fr. Anthony Perkins, St. Mary's (Pokrova) in Allentown
17 April 2018

Opening Prayer:  
Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

 

Warm up question:
Why does God appoint leaders (messiahs) and prophets in the Old Testament? Why not just communicate His will directly with every human being personally? What can we learn about His plan for us from the way He works with us (i.e. the human race).

The Battle of Jericho (and this is the right time of year to remember it!)

Joshua 2: send in the spies and cue the harlot with the heart of gold
St. Jerome. Why two spies? After the law [i.e. Moses] was dead—Jesus desires to lead his people into the gospel [Holy Land] and sends out two men on secret mission to Jericho. Two messengers he sends: one to the circumcised; the other to the Gentiles, Peter and Paul. Jericho seeks to kill them; the harlot takes them in, meaning, of course, the church gathered together from the Gentiles.
St. Caesarius of Arles. Why two spies? Joshua sent two spies because the true Joshua (i.e. Jesus) was going to give two commands of love. In truth, what else do the men whom the true Joshua sends announce to us except that we should love God and our neighbor?
Origen. Why a harlot? Because the church, as I have often said, gathered from the multitude of Gentiles, was then called a prostitute (because it had gone after false gods), therefore the church is found in the figure of Rahab, the hostess of saints (“the unfaithful wife is sanctified through her faithful husband” 1Corinthians 7-14).
St. Paul (Hebrews 11:31) By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
St. James (James 2:25) Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
[And note that she is part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ! Matthew 1:5]
St. Augustine. Is deception okay? Lying is wrong … As for its being written that God dealt well with the Hebrew midwives and with Rahab the harlot of Jericho, he did not deal well with them because they lied but because they were merciful to the men of God. And so, it was not their deception that was rewarded, but their benevolence; the benignity of their intention, not the iniquity of their invention.
St. Jerome. Even the cord has meaning. So, too, with a mystic reference to the shedding of blood, it was a scarlet cord which the harlot Rahab (a type of the church) hung in her window that she might be saved at the destruction of Jericho.

Joshua 3-4: the Ark allows the people to pass over the Jordan (read during Theophany)
Why did the “Jordan turn back”? Note the similarities with the crossing of the Red Sea. Joshua is “exalted” at the Jordan as Jesus is. We are baptized into the Gospel as the Israelites crossed the Jordan to get to the Holy Land.

Joshua 5: The Circumcision, the Passover, and The Angel (read on Holy Saturday)
Note:
no one who is unclean can celebrate the Passover. This is why they waited until all were circumcised and healed to celebrate it. The timing of the switch from manna is interesting.
Origen. On discernment. And so you must beware and exercise great care in order to discern with knowledge the kinds of visions, just as Joshua the son of Nun, when he saw a vision and knew there was temptation in it, immediately asked the one who appeared to him and said, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” So, then, the soul progresses when it comes to the place where it begins to distinguish between visions; and it is proved to be spiritual if it knows how to discern them all. That is why, as well, one of the spiritual gifts, given by the Holy Spirit, is mentioned as “the ability to distinguish between spirits.”
Origen. On holiness. [T]he chief of the army of the power of the Lord sanctifies every place to which he comes, for Jericho itself was not a holy place. But because the chief of the army of God came there, the place is said to be holy.
St. Jerome. On the safety of God's presence. Now, grasp the mystical meaning of Holy Writ. As long as we are walking through the wilderness, it is necessary that we wear sandals to cover and protect our feet, but when we shall have entered the Land of Promise, we shall hear with Jesus [Joshua], the son of Nave [Nun]: “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place upon which you are standing is holy.”

Joshua 6: The destruction and cursing of Jericho
Tertullian. Points out that one of the seven days MUST have been a Sabbath (and that, in general, the Law was not universal or atemporal). Interesting to think of the seventh day as the day when things culminate and order prevails.
St. Maximus of Turin. On preaching. We believe that the priestly trumpets of that age were nothing other than the preaching of the priests of this age, by which we do not cease to announce, with a dreadful sound, something harsh to sinners, to speak of what is dismal, and to strike the ears of evildoers with, as it were, a threatening roar, since no one can resist the sacred sounds and no one can gainsay them. For how could feeling creatures not tremble at the word of God when at that time even unfeeling ones were shaken? And how could human hardheartedness resist what a stone fortification could not withstand? For just as, when the stone walls were destroyed, the clash of the trumpets reached the people within, so also now, when evil thoughts have been destroyed, the preaching of the priests penetrates to the bare parts of the soul, for the soul is found bare before the Word of God when its every evil deed is destroyed. And that the soul is bare before God the holy apostle says, “But all things are bare and uncovered to his eyes.” In this regard, before the soul knows God and accepts the truth of the faith, it veils itself, so to speak, under superstitious works and surrounds itself with something like a wall of perversity, such that it might seem to be able to remain impregnable within the fortifications of its own evildoing. But when the sacred sound thunders, its rashness is overthrown, its thinking is destroyed, and all the defenses of its superstitions break asunder in such a way that, remaining unprotected, as it is written, the Word of God might penetrate even to the division of its spirit and its inmost parts. Just as the ring of the sacred sound destroyed, captured and took vengeance on a hardhearted people then, so also now the priestly preaching subjugates, captures and takes vengeance on a sinful people.
St. John Chrysostom. On repentance and salvation. Compares “Let Rahab live.” to the Gospel.
Teaching Point: Do what God instructs even when the end result is not clear.

Bibliography
Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (p. 8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Direct download: 20180417-BattleatJericho.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Homily for Palm Sunday
Philippians 4:4-9; John 12:1-18

How far are we willing to go for what is true?

How far are we willing to go for what is good (virtuous)?

How far are we willing to go for peace (not the cheap peace of appeasement, but the real peace of a battle well fought and a race well run)?

Imagine a world ruled by darkness. A place where there is no light. Where fear of the unknown and fear of injury have paralyzed people into inaction and have led them to accept all the injustices the rulers of the world of darkness impose on them. There may be some stories that some people tell about a bringer of light that would liberate them from the oppressive gloom; but in the meantime darkness reigns. For many, even the possibility of such a thing as light is outrageous; for them it is the myth and opiate of those who are too weak to accept the world as it really is. Of course, this attitude towards the light is the official dogma of the rulers of the darkness and they do what they can to mock and punish the dreamers and rabble-rousers who oppose it.

Then one day something miraculous occurs: the light-bearer comes.

As you can imagine, the first response was a jubilant awe. All those who had hoped for his coming ran to greet him. Children laughed and sang and delighted crowds thronged around him as he made his way into the city.

Today we are swept up in this same jubilation: it is Palm and Willow Sunday! We celebrate the coming of the Deliverer; after generations of oppression the source of Freedom has come into our midst!

But we know what comes next, not just because we know our history, but because we understand how things work: the rulers of this world – led by the prince of darkness, the deceiver – have no interest in freedom or light or truth or goodness. Quite the opposite. And what are these things – mere ideas - when compared to the reality and raw power of darkness and death? When so many of the oppressed preferred the peace of appeasement and the predictability of the status quo to the uncomfortable truths the light revealed and the challenge of difficult change that real virtue would now require.

The coming of the light threatened to expose not just the evil that had come to dominate the world, but the evil that resides in the heart of every man. No one can see this truth and remain satisfied with the world and themselves as they are. The choice is either change... or darkness. Is it any wonder that we preferred the darkness? That we cheered the hardest when we called out “crucify him, crucify him”? That we asked that the curse fall on us and on our children?

We are again at this same crossroads with the same choice to make: the light has come to a world of darkness. So I ask again:

How far are we willing to go for what is true?

How far are we willing to go for what is good (virtuous)?

How far are we willing to go for peace (not the cheap peace of appeasement, but the real peace of a battle well fought and a race well run)?

Direct download: 20180401-Deliverance.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 5:06pm EDT

Homily on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (St. Mark 10:32-45)

What are you willing to sacrifice for a better life? To improve the lives of those around you?

The power of deferred gratification. Save now – for something big later.

  • We use this for all kinds of things: retirement accounts, education, residencies

  • Think back: what sacrifices did you make in the past in order to obtain something you really wanted? Was it worth it?

  • Some even look at the Christian life as a cosmic deferred gratification scheme: give up a bit of time and money now at the local parish and get into that awesome retirement community in the sky

But what if that wasn't what Christianity was about at all? What if it was less about sacrificing now for something I want later, and more about sacrifice as a means to become a better person now? What if living a life of sacrifice brought you a better life NOT because it allowed you to save up to get more and better stuff, but because it transformed you into a new person. Less broken, less needy, more joyful, more content, and more powerful?

  • This is exactly what psychological studies have found. The marshmallow test.

  • A strong sacrifice muscle is not just associated with the ability to getter stuff: researchers found that people with a strong one have better life outcomes, as measured by various “life measures”.

What are we willing to sacrifice to become better people, to become what our tradition calls “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17), a “new self” (Ephesians 4:24). That will, more importantly, allow us to bring comfort, healing, and joy to all those around us whose lives are bing ruined by a world that is often cruel, brutal, and merciless in its oppression?

As people who have accepted that Christ is the Son of God, what are we willing to give up that will charge that acceptance with the kind of supernatural power that will allow us to join St. Paul in saying that it is “no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me?”

It's sacrifice. That's why silly things like giving up food and more difficult things like offering a substantial portion of our income to the church and other charities and of spending a substantial amount of time in prayer, worship, and community service are all built into what early Christians called “The Way”, but that we call “Orthodox Christianity”.

Any thing worth having requires hard work. All good things require sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ made the salvation of mankind – a very good thing – possible. We are meant to imitate him in that so that, as St. Paul said, we might “save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

This is what Christ meant when He said in today's Gospel; “whoever will be great will serve... and the one that desires to be first will become a slave.”

That is the way of Christ and it is The Way of the Christian. It will give us a better life and improves the lives of those around us.

May the Lord strengthen as we dedicate ourselves to sacrifice our time, our tithes, and everything we hold dear out of our love of God and desire to serve – and save - our neighbor.

Direct download: 20180325-OnSacrifice.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 8:15pm EDT

A Meditation on St. John's “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”

The farmer's wealth is gathered on the threshing floor and in the wine press, but the wealth and knowledge of the monk is gathered during the evenings and the night hours while standing at prayer and engaged in spiritual activity. Step 20 (on vigil), 10.

When the day is over, the vendor sits down and counts his profits; but the acetic does so when the psalmody is over. Step 20 (on vigil), 18.

Stillness of the body is the knowledge and composure of the habits and feelings. And stillness of soul is the knowledge of one's thoughts and an inviolable mind. Step 27 (on stillness), 2.

What is Orthodox Tradition? Why is it important for us to immerse ourselves in the worship and rigors of Orthodoxy?

At the visible level, one that can be observed and studied by scientists, tradition is the accumulation of rituals and ideas that are directed towards a purpose. In the case of Orthodox Tradition, that purpose is the formation of good and strong human beings, good and strong families, and good and strong communities.

We know that, left to their own devices, children will go selfish and feral (spoiled, if you will); that family structures will morph into tyranny or disintegrate altogether, and communities will do the same.

On the other hand, good ideas and useful rituals allow humans, families, and societies a way out of this nasty and brutish life. Through Orthodox ritual and belief, the passions are tamed. The child learns self-control, the family finds grounding, and the community naturally brings safety, healing, and guidance to all its members. Beliefs and rituals that do these things are continually reaffirmed through our participation in them and those that prove counter-productive are adjusted. This is done slowly, and with a recognition that there is a wisdom in tradition that is seldom obvious to the impatient.

But there are other forces at play; there is an invisible level. God continually works through His prophets, His Christ, His Holy Spirit, and His Church to grant discernment to individuals, yes, but mostly to the community as a whole. The rituals and ideas of Orthodoxy are not just useful (although they are), they are inspired and strengthen by grace. Even more importantly, Orthodox Tradition is not directed primarily to the perfection of people, families, and communities, but to their salvation. To put it in theological language, we are not just learning to subdue our baser instincts, we are being saved and drawn deeper into infinite perfection through our life in Christ and Holy Orthodoxy.

If you look around, you cannot help but notice that all reasonably healthy, traditional societies have religious systems that have accumulated ideas and rituals that civilize their adherents. Because there is only one human race and we all have the same line between good and evil dividing our hearts, there is a lot of overlap in their ideas and rituals. Virtue is encouraged; vice is shamed and disciplined; and the unity of the good is proclaimed and celebrated. To the extent that we have become lax in our own devotion, we are encouraged by their witness.

But there is no need to go anywhere else to experience the one thing needful for every person, family, and community. It is found in its fullness in Holy Orthodoxy and its benefits can be enjoyed completely here at St. Mary's (and every other parish that was, is, or ever will be).

Let us immerse ourselves in that fullness now, as we continue our celebration of God's love for us, His people, and His world.

Direct download: 20180318-LadderandTradition.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:58pm EDT

Marriage as a Metaphor for Orthodoxy
Homily of St. Gregory Palamas

Today we celebrate the life and teachings of someone who really got it – St. Gregory Palamas; he experienced God's love for him in a real and tangible way, and he reflected that love back at God and on all those around him.

That's what we are to do, as well. To open ourselves up to the deifying warmth and light of God; and then to send our thanksgiving and praise back up to Him and to use the energy of His grace to serve those around us.

The Good News of the Gospel is that this is made possible and real through the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ.

Although this Gospel really is simple, it has been elaborated with so many words and celebrated, confirmed and taught (if not gilded) with so many rituals – and denied by so many lies – that it is understandable if we sometimes mistake and judge the cup rather than that which it holds.

Perhaps a metaphor will help.

I have met people who think they understand the joy and transformation that marriage can bring.

One set thinks they know it because, while not married, they have their own version of it called “pornography” or really any kind of sex outside of marriage. We cannot deny the reality of that experience, but I hope you realize that it has very little to do with the enduring joy of marriage. They will claim that they do not need to be married to experience the joy of sex; but even when it comes to that, they have settled for something less satisfying and less real. And while intimacy is a powerful and necessary part of marriage, it is hardly the primary source of the transformative joy that marriage provides. They think they get it, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should.

A second set which is equally troubling think they understand marriage because they themselves are committed to the institution of marriage. They have had their ceremony, they wear their rings, and they share a house. But when you start speaking to them about the joy that comes from sharing a life with another person, you learn that their experience is quite different. They are living the rituals of marriage, but they are missing the thing those institutions is meant to hold and protect. They think they get it, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should.

This is a great and wonderful mystery but, as with St. Paul, I speak not of marriage, but of the Church. (Ephesians 5:32)

St. Gregory Palamas fought against both of these misunderstandings about God.

One the one hand, there were people (like the Bogamils) who thought they could really experience God without the Church. This is like having sex without marriage; it may be real in some sense, but it is not healthy nor is it real in the way that a committed sacramental relationship with God in Church is real. They thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.

On the other hand were those who thought is was enough to participate in the rituals and sacraments of the Church. That the experience of God was not something that was possible, that union with Him through Christ was a metaphor for belief, and that the joy to be had through opening oneself up to the Divine Nature of God was a simple emotion and not a metaphysical or supernatural reality. They thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.

God is real and we were meant to become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We are Orthodox Christians. We have not settled for something less than we should. We are not just going through the motions when we pray and participate in the rituals of the Church; we are opening ourselves up to God. We allow His grace to heal and transform us, and then we offer and share this transforming grace with the world.



Direct download: 20180304-Palamas.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:48pm EDT

There are broken and despairing people in this world; it is our charge to care for them. We can justify our indifference with all kinds of religion and sophistry, but in the end our deeds will be laid bare. Homily on the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).

Direct download: 20180211-LastJudgment.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:59pm EDT