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Homily - She was faithful: Mary Magdalene

"Those who are forgiven much, loves much."  This is a lesson heard in the latter part of our Gospel reading for today (Luke 7:36-50), and it is fitting that we should receive them on this day.  In my humble opinion, few in the scriptures exemplifies these words, than that of Mary Magdalene, whose feast day we celebrate today. She is a woman who bears many titles or cognomens within the Church.  She is one of the eight Myrrh Bearing Women whom the Church also celebrates. She is the first to see the risen Christ, going to the tomb to anoint His body in a final act of love and devotion, only to find that He was not there. She is the first to preach the risen Christ, preached first to the Apostles, and is likely the first person ever to utter those glorious words we say so joyously each year: He is risen!  She proclaimed to the Apostles, “I have seen the Lord,” and so she is the Apostle to the Apostles because she preached to them the risen Christ. She is equal to the Apostles for her ministry and aid to not only to the apostles, but to the other women in the temple, the women in a society where women are often overlooked.

Who is this woman?  Who is Mary Magdalene? She was born of the town Magdala, along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, of the tribe of Issachar.  Tradition informs us that she was young and pretty, but led a sinful life wherein she was tormented by seven evil spirits - from which she was healed and released from their torment, and made whole by our Lord Jesus Christ.  From this point forward she followed Christ in His ministry, and as the following chapter attests, she ministers to Christ (and the apostles) out of her own resources, leading us to believe that Mary was a woman of wealth.  We know little else about her, yet she is mentioned twelve times in the Gospels, which turns out to be more occasions than most of the apostles are mentioned. It also tells us that she was likely vital to the ministry of Christ, and that she was important in the eyes of the evangelists.

She performed no great works.  No miracles are attributed to her in the Gospels.  She was a woman of seemingly low stature in the bigger picture of the ministry of Christ. Even at the foot of the cross, when the Evangelists detail those that were standing there, listing the myriad women followers of Christ, all of them mention her first.  This indicates that she stood out from the other women who followed Christ. Some would attest she stood out because of her beauty. I agree with this in part, but not because of any worldly beauty, for indeed she carried a true beauty, a beauty which is only found in holiness. She stood out from the rest because of her great faith in Christ our God.

Faith.  Hebrews Chapter 11 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Put in another way, our faith is the underlying reality of our lives, those things we do serving to prove that which we believe by incarnating Christ into the world.  The two words commonly translated as faith in the scriptures are Πίστις and πιστεύω.  One is a noun, and the other is a verb.  One lends the idea that one becomes their faith, they become the living embodiment of that which they believe.  The other presents faith as that which we do, that our faith is made evident by word and deed in our day to day lives. Perhaps a “better” translation would be “faithing.”  For ours is not a faith of mind or mental ascent alone, but ours is a faith of action. We are to incarnate Christ into this world. The Church is to incarnate Christ into this world.

So, Mary Magdalene had faith not because she believed in her mind, or believed because she saw Christ in his ministry, but it is said she had faith because she became what she believed.  She had faith, for when the lord was praised, lauded, and celebrated by the people, she was with him.  It is easy to have faith in such times. She had faith, for when the teachings became difficult, or the way became too hard, she stayed by His side when others left him. She had faith, for when Christ was accused and the Apostles scattered, she stayed near him, she did not abandon Him.  She had faith when Christ was accused to die, and marched with Him among the weeping women on the way to his crucifixion.   She had faith, and she was there when Christ died, standing with His All-Pure and most holy mother.  She had faith, and she was still there when Christ was laid in the tomb. She had faith, that even in His death, she went to attend to Him one last time, even though by doing so she would gain nothing in this world, but in doing so she gained Christ. In gaining Christ, she gained the whole world.

Her faith is a shining example for us all.  She was not called to magnificent works, but simply to be faithful to him in in our day to day lives whatever circumstances she faced.  We all have reason to love Christ, for we have all been healed of infirmities we ourselves have inflicted upon our very Souls. Mary knew that her life was not her own, owing her entire life to the One who healed her, and supporting Christ and the apostles in their ministry.  It was her day to day devotion and her seemingly small acts of faith and love - staying with Christ regardless of the temperament of the times - that made her worthy to be the first to proclaim the resurrected Christ. She was faithful in even the smallest things, and for her faith she was given all things.  It is by her example of humility that we should not set aside or dismiss the great importance of even those small opportunities in our own lives for serving Christ, making manifest His love into the world. For, our lives are not a series of grand moments and encounters, or great adventures and fairy tale endings, but more often than not our lives are a pattern of laborious responsibilities and repititious routines we carry out from day to day.  So, while grand gestures and opportunities of faith are of benefit in the right context, if we are not faithful to Christ with even the smallest occasions in our lives to do so, if we are not willing to be faithful to him in even the most unremarkable of ways, then we cannot say that we truly offer up our lives to Christ. For, let us not forget the words of Christ in Luke chapter 16: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a little thing is unrighteous also in much.”

Mary Magdalene was faithful in all things, she was faithful in the smallest things, and she was faithful in the most unremarkable things.  While she accomplished no remarkable deeds in scripture, she is remarkable and great because of the faith she had in Christ our God. When Christ ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father, she continued in that faith.

Holy Tradition testifies that Mary departed from Jerusalem with the Apostles to preach to the ends of the earth.  Mary went to preach in Rome. She proclaimed the Christ and uplifted and exhorted the people with the teachings of Christ.  There were of course many who did not accept her words about the risen Christ, but she repeated those words she preached to the Apostles: "I have seen the Lord!"  This is the message she carried across the land of Italy.

Tradition also reveals to us that Mary Magdalene visited the Roman Emperor Tiberius, proclaiming to him the resurrection of Christ.  With this she brought a red egg as a symbol of the resurrection, giving it to him with these words: “Christ is Risen!” She then told the Emperor of the man unjustly condemned in his province of Judea, the Galilean named Jesus; who was a holy man and a miracle worker; who was powerful before God and all mankind; who was executed at the instigation of the Jewish authorities, and confirmed by his appointed procurator Pontius Pilate.  She repeated to him the words of the Apostles, stating how our life is not found in the things of this world, but in the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. She audaciously spoke truth to power, and so should we do likewise.

It is from this encounter that we receive our tradition of giving one another those red paschal eggs on the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, it is of interest to note, that in a particular ancient Greek manuscript, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of Saint Athanasius near Thessalonica, is a prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese. In it is indicated that the igumen (ἡγούμενος, head of the monastery) in passing out the blessed eggs says to the brethren: “Thus have we received from the holy Fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy Apostles, therefore the holy Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.”  It is a practice we still honor and maintain in the Church today.

After her laboring in Rome had been completed, and already bent with old age, she moved to Ephesus where Saint John the Theologian was continuing his work, and she joined him in the preaching of the Holy Gospel to the world. It is here that she reposed in her earthly life and was buried.

Saint Mary Magdalene is a precious example of faith in action; a compelling example of faith in life in all things both big and small.  She shows us that we do not have to be miracle workers; we not have to be great theologians; we do not have to be great intellectuals; and we do not have to be bishops, priests and deacons to make a tremendous impact in the life of the Church, or in the world in which she lives.  We must only be faithful with what we have been given. We must be faithful with our whole being and in all things remarkable and unremarkable, and in so doing we will be the brightest of lights shining into the darkness of this world.  We make known our faith by what we do in all things, and we show our love of Christ in our obedience to his word and will, doing so when the times are good, or in the face of death. Truth is unchanging. Truth is unwavering. Truth is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ.  May we never waver and turn away from the Truth, and remain by his side just as Mary the Magdalene did, and still is.

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Church: Hospital or Hospice? - July 20, 2019

The idea of the Church as a hospital for our souls is nothing new.  This was an ideation voiced by Saint John Chrysostom; an idea embodied by Saint Basil the Great; an idea echoed all throughout the writings of the Holy Fathers of our faith:

"For indeed the school of the Church is an admirable surgery - a surgery, not for bodies, but for souls.  For it is spiritual, and sets right, not fleshly wounds, but errors of the mind, and of these errors and wounds the medicine is the word.”  

~Saint John Chrysostom.

The idea and understanding of the Church as hospital for the soul requires a proper understanding of our humanity, but also a proper understanding of the Church.  Christ is the great physician, He who came to heal the sick, the sinner, the ill and infirmed. The Church, as the body of Christ, is by extension the very Hospital of our Great Physician, Jesus Christ.  The priests work as her doctors and administers of medicine, the healing salve of confession applied to the wounds of sin which we have inflicted upon ourselves, and the Eucharist as food for the soul. Towards this end, the theology of the Church is a therapeutic science.  As the doctor cannot know what remedies to apply to what wounds without proper education and training, neither can the priest do likewise to the myriad spiritual wounds of sin. The Priest or spiritual director is no different in this, in the work of diagnosing those wounds, identifying the illnesses that ail us, so that the priest may apply the correct remedy.  One cannot find the wounds and identify the illnesses if he does not know what to look for. The goal is holiness (wholeness) and is the direct result of our having submitted in all humility to a life of repentance, a life to which we are directed by the loving guidance of a spiritual director.

The Church is ultimately a part of the medicine for the whole human being, and is preoccupied with the fate of human beings. A humanity plagued by sinfulness, the passions of the flesh, and destructive behaviors, is an overall abnormal state of existence.  The end to which all humans must go to, death, is an unnatural state from the created order, separating body from spirit. Through Christ we are given a way to purification, cleansed of our sins by repentance, confession, baptism, and continued participation in the divine nature of God, but he has also conquered death by death, that in the resurrection we may be reunited soul with body, and return to that state in which we were created, and were always intended to exist.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

This idea of Church has all but disappeared among much of the various groupings of mainline Christianity.  No longer are people healed and prepared for their encounter with God. The Sacraments are gone. The doctors have been evicted.  This fleshly sentiment of individuality identity taking precedent over our personhood, over the restoration of our humanity in the image and likeness of God, has all but destroyed the Christian faith.  No longer are people conforming to the healing prescriptions of the Church, recognizing that we are wounded; recognizing that we are sick and fallen in our human nature; recognizing that we are all sinners.  Instead, people approach God with their open wounds, because "it's ok, I am forgiven." Their minds never get beyond the Cross, that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, and never get to the joyousness that lies behind it. The Church has become a courtroom in some respects, a place of worship where people in wait of judgement.  In other respects, instead of a hospital, it has become a hospice, where people turn towards the cross and simply wait to die. They are made to feel better through emotional appeals, like an opiate for the terminally ill to ease the pain. They are enraptured by the words they are given, not hearing the words of the Doctors who have gone before them, the Great Physician who died for them:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

~ Matthew 3:2

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." 

~ James 5:16

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." 

~ Mark 16:17

“Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many." 

~ Mark 14:22-25

These directives, these prescriptions given to us are not unique to the scriptures, but are echoed through the centuries and millennia of Christians who have gone before us.  The Historical witness of the Christian faith paints a very clear picture as to the soul and purpose of the divine-human institution of the Church. Though, one has to enter the doors first before healing can occur.

We must identify those wounds we have inflicted upon ourselves (repent).  We just receive the salve of healing, applied to those very would by our confession before God (confession).  We are then baptized, cleansed of the stain of this world, by the very waters of creation the lord sanctified for us by virtue of his own baptism in the Jordan. We are then Chrismated to seal the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Properly adorned in the garments of righteousness, we approach the Lord's table to receive that precious and eternal life giving medicine of the Eucharist.

Much of mainline and consumer Christianity simply tells and teaches us how to die. The pain of our wounds is lessened, but the wounds in many cases are not healed. It is a passivity of faith that accepts there is a cure, but then does nothing to receive it.  Yet, the Christian faith is a faith of action, and should tell us how to live. The Church tells us how to live in this life and the next.  The entirety of this life should be a preparation for life in the kingdom of heaven, for it is indeed at hand. It is with us now, it is among us, because we as the Church should be living our lives to incarnate Christ into the world.  We do not come to Church to prepare to die as a hospice, but we come to Church as a Hospital, that we may be healed and made whole for a life eternal in Jesus Christ.

“Virtues exist in us also by nature, and the soul has affinity with them not by education, but by nature herself. We do not need lessons to hate illness, but by ourselves we repel what afflicts us, the soul has no need of a master to teach us to avoid vice. Now all vice is sickness of soul as virtue is its health.”

 ~ Saint Basil the Great.

Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

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A refutation of lazy Christianity - July 17, 2019

Frequent is the argument made by Protestants that nothing is required of us, that our salvation is assured, and is a free gift of God.  It is an extremism of Lutheranism stemming from the argument that we cannot earn our salvation, that we cannot work our way into heaven as the Pharisees tried to do.  It is a generational perversion of what the reformers taught.

Many argue as follows:

"I do good works because I'm already saved.  I also do good works so that others can see Christ through me and hopefully find Him. I do not do good works in order to be saved. I have already received it."

These are  the same people that also argue a salvation that cannot be lost.  Yet, by that logic of argument, if you say one stops doing good works, then they are no longer saved.  That is the logical conclusion. It is an asinine and contradictory argument.

It's a garbage theology and understanding of the free gift of grace.

We repent, and that confession is the salve that brings healing to our wounds of sin.  We are healed. That healing is the free gift of God, provided by the sacrifice of God the Son on the Cross, which was also freely given.  Yet, for us to stand with God? We must walk in Godliness before we ever stand with God. We are freely healed, but unless we walk in Godliness afterwards, what good is being healed if you will just wound yourself again by the same means as before?  

The Church is the Hospital for our souls. Yet, if you do not abide by the prescription given, how can you be healed?  If you do not reach out to take what is given, how can you receive?  

You can put gas in the car, but it does not drive itself.

Why would we be exhorted to work out our faith with fear and trembling if we already have what we came for?  Why would we be exhorted to finish the race if we have already received the prize? No, it is foolishness to believe as they do. Theirs is an idea that came out of a broken and fractured Christianity.  They have no understanding of the Church, which is evident by their poor understanding of theology.

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Science and the Church - July 17, 2019

Reading through the scientific revolution is always an interesting affair.  We learn of the discoveries and advancements in the sciences by the greatest minds of the time.  This often occurred in opposition to the Catholic Church in that time. Though, reading through some of the quotes and commentary of some of those famous men who pushed forward into the unknown, I can't help be see them affirming what the Church already believes (at least the Orthodox Church, but I am not sure as to Catholic beliefs and positions at that time). I just want to examine some of these quotes.

I would like to begin with Blaise Pascal, when he perhaps spoke for many when he wrote, “The eternal silence of infinite space frightens me.”  Indeed those who live in the world, silence is a frightening aspect. Perhaps this is why the modern world has increasingly become a cacophony of noise and information. I am reminded of the words of Saint Isaac the Syrian, in his own ascetical writings when he stated the following: "silence will be the mystery of the future age, while words are mere implements of this world."

In silence we find stillness, and in stillness we can come to know God.

The next quote I would like to move to is one by Galileo, where he expressed “Nor is God,any less excellently revealed in Nature’s actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible.”  This is much akin to a truth acknowledged by many saints and desert fathers, that the created order is a living psalter pointing to and acknowledging the glory of God. This is a truth expressed all throughout the psalms of the scriptures as well.

The above is also something echoed in the words of Newton, who himself was noted as a serious biblical scholar.  He said "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being."  Indeed truth is echoed in the created order, for it was by His hand that it was made.

The last quote I would like to bring up is one by Marquis de Condorcet, who boldly declared that “the perfectibility of humanity is indefinite.”  We in the Orthodox Church believes that our process of Godward motion, something we call theosis (θέωσις). This is something we partake of this life, striving to be perfect as He is perfect, just as we were exhorted to be in scriptures.  As God is infinite, this is a journey that is not completed in this life, but continues in the next, eternally moving Godward towards the perfectibility of man.

All of these comments, comments made by scientific minds in their respective  context, all seem to touch on deeper truths, even though such was not the intent.   Even today, we see things being "learned" or declared by science those things which the Church has always known: elements of the incense burned in the Churches are psychoactive antidepressants (the Church is the hospital for our soul), fasting twice a week is now discovered to be of immense good for your health, the benefits of music in a Church were the entire service is sung (including the increased memorization of those scriptures repeatedly sung every week), and other things.

These verses show what has already been stated elsewhere: science and the Church are not at odds with one another, one only has to look.

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Homily: Nativity of John the Baptist - July 7th, 2019

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

We hear these words, a few among many read to us every Sunday, found in the final Gospel reading of the Divine Liturgy, taken from John chapter 1.  Indeed he was sent from God and today we celebrate his being sent. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Holy, Glorious, Forerunner and Baptist John.  He is the first joy sent to the human race by God. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, a voice crying “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God ...And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  

Regarding the Nativity of Saint John, Saint Ephraim the Syrian had this to say:

“He who was to baptize with water would proclaim him who would baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit. The light, which was not obscure, would proclaim the Sun of Justice. The one filled with the Spirit would proclaim concerning him who gives the Spirit. The priest calling with the trumpet would proclaim concerning the one who is to come at the sound of the trumpet at the end. The voice would proclaim concerning the Word, and the one who saw the dove would proclaim concerning him upon whom the dove rested, like the lightning before the thunder.”

Saint John was the first prophet since the time of Malachi, with no prophetic word of God having been uttered for hundreds of years since then.  God was silent. Now, the priest of the temple was also silent, having no voice to speak with, silenced by an Angel of the Lord.. Also, the King who ruled all of Judea was not even Jewish, and sat as a false and illegitimate  king. These three offices, later fulfilled in Christ, were currently vacant (the prophets), silent (the priest), or without validity (the king). So, it was time to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, and so he sent his prophet John, uttering those words we hear throughout the whole of the Old Testament:  Repent!

The entirety of the Old Testament points forward to the coming of Christ.  Saint John is the final voice of proclamation before His coming. John would baptize for the remission of sins, but Christ would come to remove them.  Saint John would point to the Law, he was a finger pointing at God who exhorted all who would hear him to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Then, the Kingdom of Heaven would arrive, and Christ would come to assume the mantle of the Law, becoming the Law of the Spirit of Life.  John would orient us towards God, who would then come as the Son of God incarnate in the flesh, and we would be expected to follow. We would follow Christ because He is the Son of the living God, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The timing of the Forerunner’s birth, exactly half a year before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, depicts his mission and ministry of preparation, to prepare the way for the Lord.  During this time of year, our days grow shorter after the Solstice of the summer Season. Looking forward to the birth of Christ, the days then begin to grow longer. We see embodied the living psalter of God, written across the colors and creatures of all creation, those words later spoken by John at the inception of Christ’s ministry: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The birth of Saint John is closely intertwined with the birth of our Lord.   The aged Elizabeth gave birth to John, who would live to become the last of the prophets.  The Virgin Mary was a young girl, who would give birth to He who is the word of God, the author of Creation, the breather of stars.  Elizabeth, the daughter of Aaron, would give birth to the voice crying in the wilderness. Mary, the daughter of David, would give birth to the very voice and word of God.  Elizabeth gave birth to he who would strive to reconcile men through repentance, but the Mother of God bore He who purify all of creation, an act completed by both John and Jesus through baptism - John through the baptism of Men, and Christ through His own baptism, sanctifying all the waters of creation.  One would baptize with the waters of creation, and the other would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit through which creation would be perfected and cleansed.

“Today the formerly barren woman gives birth to Christ¹s Forerunner, who is the fulfillment of every prophecy; for in the Jordan, when he laid his hand on the One foretold by the prophets, he was revealed as Prophet, Herald, and Forerunner of God the Word.”

~ Kontakion of the feast

Saint John is a prophet, but Christ has said that he is greater than a prophet.  Saint John is but a man, but Christ has said “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” For, as Saint John Chrysostom has said , indeed “he lived as though he were already in heaven, and having got above the necessities of nature, he travelled as it were a new way, spending all his time in hymns and prayers, and holding intercourse with none among men, but with God alone continually.” Saint John was the Forerunner of God both in life, and in death.  He preceded the Son of God in life in this world, so would he also precede the Song of God in death at his beheading by Herod, another day the Church will remember later this year.  Though I could find no writings saying as much, I believe that Saint John continued even in death his proclamation of repentance even in Hades. I envision him making straight the way of the Lord from this life into the next, preaching Christ to those who had not yet heard the good news, so that when the good news finally arrived, they were ready to accept it.

We who are the body of Christ are called like the forerunner to proclaim the miraculous and wonderful works of God, the good news of salvation, the healing of soul and body, and life eternal in Jesus Christ our Lord.  We are called to follow Christ and incarnate the Love of God into the world created by Him, because the world knows Him not. We heed the words of the Forerunner, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” for repentance begins our walk of faith as we turn Godward away from the things of this world.  Our walk of faith brings forth the Kingdom of Heaven on earth as the Church serves to incarnate Christ into the world. 

“O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, we who venerate thee with love, are in perplexity how worthily to praise thee; for the barrenness of her who bore thee and the dumbness of thy father are loosed by thy glorious and precious nativity, and the incarnation of the Son of God is preached to the world.”

~Troparion of the feast

Oh glorious John the Baptist and Forerunner, may we deem to follow you on those paths you have lain straight in preparation for our Lord Jesus Christ, that we too should follow you into death, and unto life eternal.

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