OrthoAnalytika

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

Trust, Magic, and the Meltdown on Aisle Three
Homily on St. Thomas Sunday
Fr. Anthony Perkins

One of the themes in today's Gospel reading is belief. We live in a world where it is hard to know what to believe. It's no longer just a matter of media spin, we cannot even agree on the facts themselves (example of gas attack). It threatens to drag us down into the hell of the man whom we heard declare last week; “what is truth?” (Pilate in John 18:38) Perhaps this is nowhere more true than when we are talking about belief in God.

Dealing with belief is hard; it has a lot of psychological baggage associated with it. Today I would like to deal with it in its purest form; not as a measurement of a person's relationship to a set of propositions, but as trust in a specific person.

Let's get even more specific and start with an example we can relate to, the example of a marriage and the trust between a husband and a wife. Even if we have never been married, we have experience with this. We know how good things are when it is there and we know how terrible – how bent, crooked, rough, and dry – things are when it is missing.

What does it mean when a husband believes in his wife? Does it mean he understands her? No. (As if!) It means that he trusts her. He knows that she is committed to her marriage and her family, that all of her decisions and actions are devoted to its health and protection, that she loves and sacrifices for it, and that they are part of the same team.

Again, it does not require that he understands her. There is always more to learn, and learning and the good listening and communication that contribute to it is important, but the main thing is trust. Without that, there is no relationship. [Recorder ran out of tape here, BTW] No peace. No real cooperation. No unity. Just, perhaps, coordinated loneliness. They are not an icon of the fulfillment of God's desire that we “all be one as He and His Father are one” (John 17), but an icon of the world's brokenness, its bentness, its roughness, and its dryness.

Similarly, we can look at the relationship of children with their parents and see the value of trust.

How wonderful is the relationship between mother and child! Love and sacrifice on the one side, and faith and obedience on the other. Has a child any other path to happiness than that of faith [trust] in its mother and obedience to her? Is there anything more monstrous than a child that has no faith [trust] in its mother, and does not obey her?

[Faith is the purest path to knowledge. Anyone who turns from this path becomes shameful and impure. Faith is the quickest path to knowledge. Anyone who turns from this path will lag on his way. Where there is faith there is counsel; where there is no faith, counsel is of no help. Where there is faith, there is dialogue; where faith is lacking, dialogue is also lacking; then doubt and temptation take the place of dialogue...

Oh what a sorry sight it is when two mortal men meet, both creatures of Him who also created the seraphim, and one speaks to the other to tempt him, and the one listens to the other with doubt! There is only one sorrier sight than this, and that is when a created man listens to the words of his Creator in the Gospel, and doubts them.]

p. 213-214, “Homily on the First Sunday after Easter” of Homilies by [St.]Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic”

What do good parents want for their children? A common answer is that parents want their children to be happy. We should be dubious about this: it is a trap. A better goal – and the one that our Father desires for us is that we be good [as He is good]. This is not about following rules, but about goodness, about sacrificing for what is right. About the development of virtue.

The parent may offer happiness as a reward for doing good. But happiness on it's own? No. That does not create trustworthy adults that are willing to sacrifice for their beloved – it creates selfish and superficial people who judge every transaction on the amount of happiness it brings them.

Come at concept sideways: magic. Magic involves is the manipulation of supernatural forces. The magician is the one who attempts to cajole, flatter, bind or bargain with them to get them to do what they want, often on behalf of a client. Magic, magicians, and their familiar spirits are all judged based on whether they deliver. It's transactional and selfish.

This is NOT the way the world is meant to work. The deeper magic is about relationships enjoyed NOT for what they deliver but for the enjoyment of love itself. It's about shared lives, grounded in mutual sacrifice and the development and exercise of virtue. It most certainly is NOT about manipulation.

To go back to the point about trust and belief, God is not judged by whether we can manipulate Him into giving us what we want or even what we believe is best for the world and its suffering people.

We cannot be like the tyrannical child that throws a fit in the grocery store because he is hungry; but rather like the good child that trusts that when the parents say a meal is waiting at home – it is there.

Let us enter now into the preparatory feast of our good Father.

Direct download: 20180415-Trust.mp3
Category:general -- 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

Homily on the Third Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.

Notes:

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Self Denial.

  • We deny ourselves those things that lead us into sin. This sounds easy, but it isn't.

  • We fight/play as we train. When we fast, we are denying ourselves something good – why?

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.

Losing our life.

  • This is poetic language. The life we lose is the one that isn't worth living. It's joys, such as they are, are temporary and counter-productive. The life we are giving up is the one that leads to annihilation of the good within us.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

  • We give up our desire to gain victory to THIS WORLD – a world that groans in sin – so that we can gain victory through Jesus Christ. This world will destroy our souls if we submit ourselves to its logics and its promises.

  • The Way that Jesus offers to us goes against the logic of the world, but it protects the soul and brings the kind of contentment, joy, and victory that lasts forever.

The whole lesson began with the words “if you would follow me (come after me)...”

  • The Way that Christ walked is hard: the symbol we use to represent it is the cross. But remember where the road He walked led. It did not end at the cross, but went through the cross, through the Resurrection, to the Ascension into glory.

  • He did not blaze this trail for Himself – He was returning to the place that was His from before the beginning.

  • He blazed the trail for us. Now all we have to do is follow in His footsteps.

May God strengthen us as we travel together along The Way.

 

 

Direct download: 20180311-Cross.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:10pm 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

How does the Gospel transform lives? There is no enchantment that goes through parish rosters to change those listed on it into heirs of the Most High.  It's not even enough for us to mutter the right theological incantation.  So what does it take?  Faith and works.  Enjoy the show!

Direct download: 20180225-FaithandWorks.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:46pm EDT

The homily is the Epistle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops outside Ukraine on Great Lent.  The extra words and music were taken from the service of forgiveness at the end of Divine Liturgy.

Direct download: 20180218-Forgiveness.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:49pm EDT

Today we present the third possible explanation for the cleansing of the Holy Land.  It seems that the requirement for complete destruction was only directed towards those tribes that had giants in them; was this the continuation of the "war of seeds" prophesied in Genesis 3:15?  Enjoy the show!

Direct download: 20180214-BS-DevilsofCanaan.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT