Reflection on the Grateful Samaritan, Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17, Verses 11-19

” On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus went along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men with leprosy came toward him. They stood at a distance and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

The Ten LepersJesus looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” On their way they were healed. When one of them discovered that he was healed, he came back, shouting praises to God. He bowed down at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was from the country of Samaria. Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten men healed? Where are the other nine? Why was this foreigner the only one who came back to thank God?” Then Jesus told the man, “You may get up and go. Your faith has made you well.”  (Luke 17: 11-19 CEV)

From Commentary on Luke, Homilies 113-16 by St.Cyril of Alexandria:

“Falling into a thankless forgetfulness, the nine lepers that were Jews did not return to give glory to God. By this, he shows that Israel was hard of heart and utterly unthankful. The stranger, a Samaritan, was of a foreign race brought from Assyria… [He was] grateful but the Jews, even when they benefited, were ungrateful.”

The reflections of a servant:

I live under the New Covenant in the New Israel, yet I hide my light beneath a basket and live as one ashamed of Jesus Christ and His message.

I meet you in truth at the Liturgy in the Eucharist, saying “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who did come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first” and, in your love, I am healed. Where do I show my gratitude? What more could I expect before my actions reflected my thankfulness?

It is those who deny the Presence in the Eucharist and reject the apostolic succession who more often know your Scripture by heart, while I am wilfully ignorant. It is those who deny the Trinity that are more often willing to suffer scorn as they express their teachings, while I remain mute. It is those who corrupt your Word by elevating another gospel beside it who send their sons and daughters as missionaries, while mine pursue frivolities.

My Lord God, I confess that I share the hard heart and the cold ingratitude of the nine, rather than the outspoken gratefulness of the Samaritan. Through the fire of your Holy Spirit, I beg you to melt my cold heart! Help me cooperate with Your freely-given grace in order to learn to thank you and praise you all through the day.

Bless all those who give thanks for the gift of your Son, Jesus, and all those who love the beauty of your Church.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the first among sinners. Amen.

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“A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons…”

“… there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons… We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family.”     -His Grace, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia 

From The Cup of Christ By St. Ignatius Brianchaninov:

“Pray to the Lord on behalf of those who have insulted and outraged you — that what they have done for you should be repaid by [both] a temporal blessing and [the] eternal reward of salvation; and that when they stand before Christ to be judged, it should be counted to them as if it had been an act of virtue. Although your heart does not wish to act in this way, compel it to do so; because only those who do violence to their own heart, in fulfilling the commandments of the Gospel, can inherit Heaven.”

From My Life in Christ by St. John Kronstadt:

“It is well to place candles before the icons. But it is still better if you bring as a sacrifice to God the light of your love for Him and your neighbor. It is well that the one should be accompanied by the other. But if you place candles before the icons and have no love for God and your neighbor in your heart, if you are avaricious, if you do not live in peace with others—then your sacrifice to God is in vain.”

The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Today is a day of joy in the Eastern Church. It is the Feast of the Annuciation, when Mary learned that she had found favor in the eyes of God as no other human ever had. 

From My Life in Christ, the diary of St. John of Kronstadt: 

“I look to You alone, Lord, with my spiritual vision. I believe in You undoubtingly. You Yourself know how and what to give me. You are—the treasury of every blessing, You are—mercy, wisdom, and omnipotence abundantly flowing upon all creatures. 

The Sweet KissWhen you pray to the Lord, represent to yourself vividly to whom you are praying. You are praying to the unoriginated, endless King of all creatures, to the All-holy, All-merciful, Almighty, Most-wise, Omnipresent, All-righteous God, Whom millions of millions of angels of various orders revere, Whom the armies of martyrs, the companies of prophets and apostles, the assemblies of prelates, venerable and righteous men praise. When you pray to the Holy Virgin, Our Lady, also represent to yourself Her unprecedented holiness, Her greatness, mercy, wisdom, Her helpfulness to all, and the humble worship rendered unto Her by the assemblies of angels and men. 

Thus I also look to You, O Holy Virgin. “Intercede for and have mercy upon me Yourself!” 

The Mother of God is one flesh and blood, and one spirit with the Savior, as His Mother. So infinitely great was Her merit by the grace of God that she became the Mother of God Himself, giving Him most pure and most sacred flesh, nourishing Him with Her milk, carrying Him in Her arms, clothing Him, caring in every way for Him in His infancy, kissing Him over and over again, and caressing Him. O Lord, who can describe the greatness of the God-bearing Virgin? ” Every tongue is in doubt how to worthily praise You, even the angelic mind itself wonders how to hymn You, Mother of God…..”  We must call upon Her with one thought and simple impulse of the heart… She is one with God, like the Saints. 

The AnnunciationKnow and remember, that the matter of your salvation is always near to the heart of Our Lady, the Mother of God, for it was for this that the Son of God, by the favor of the Father, and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, chose Her out of all generations and was incarnate of Her in order to save the human race from sin, the curse and the eternal death, or everlasting torments. As the matter of our salvation is near to the Savior, so likewise it is near to Her. Turn to Her with full faith, trust, and love. 

If the Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, through Her union with God, and through Her unprecedented service to the Lord of all, most speedily becomes everything to all those who ask with faith and love for Her intercession, delivering them from every evil, and bestowing upon them everything which leads to their salvation, in accordance with their prayer, then will not the Lord Himself do still more? Only do not be unbelieving; do not be cold to Him in your soul and insensible as a stone, but stir up within you your faith, your gratitude for God’s benefits, the sincere recognition of your sins, and your great love for your Savior, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Who loves you with an immeasurable love.”

The prayer of a servant:

REJOICE, O Theotokos, O Virgin, for the Lord is with you. You have found favor with God and His grace is full upon you. Blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus and blessed are you among women, for you have borne the Savior of our souls. Mother Mary, we ask you to  intercede for us before your Son as you did for the bride and groom at Cana. Add your prayers to ours: pray for the unity of the faith and the reconciliation of our Churches,  pray for our families, pray for the salvation of us sinners, pray for each of us that we may not be brought to trial.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

An Intimate Experience of Christ

The means to find an intensely personal relationship with Christ exists within the Catholic Church in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. For a lay person living in the world, I cannot imagine that there exists more than a few experiences anywhere in Christendom that offer a more profound means to meet Christ, and learn to love and follow him in a transformative and intimate way.

St. Ignatius LoyolaThe Spritual Exercises originated with St. Ignatius himself, as he struggled with the meaning of his own life in world of the 16th century, turning away from a future as a functionary in a noble court, and turning himself over to Jesus. “Few souls,’ he said, “understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”

A common way to undertake these exercises is the Retreat in Daily Life. Fr. J. Tetlow, SJ, describes the retreat this way: “A person [prays] daily for some long weeks and months, following the structure of revealed truths that Master Ignatius outlined for the [original] full thirty-day retreat. The retreatant begins by reflecting on creation in Christ Jesus and moves through human sinfulness and the need for redemption. He or she then contemplates Jesus of Nazareth’s incarnation, public life, passion, and resurrection. These Exercises…help people reach a serious decision or make deep changes in their way of life.”

While St. Ignatius is not a saint of the First Thousand Years and is revered only with the Roman Church at this time, I believe that there is nothing but good within these exercises for any Christian who wants to love at  the deepest level and follow the Lord unreservedly. Indeed, for those raised in the apostolic churches who might feel that our churches do not emphasize a personal, one-on-one experience with Jesus, the Exercises may be able to give you the depth of relationship that you crave and show you the fullness of Christ with the Church.

You can read an introduction to the Exercises by Fr. Tetlow here: http://www.sjweb.info/pray/introspex.cfm

There are many opportunities to undertake the Exercises throughout the world, even online. In California, one can contact: http://www.loyolainstitute.org/cats.php

In Washington, DC, contact http://www.holytrinitydc.org/JesuitCtrSpir.htm

In New York, contact http://www.stignatiusloyola.org/index.php/faith_formation/retreats

A Prayer of St. Ignatius:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.You have given all to me. To You, O Lord, I return it all. All is Yours; dispose of it wholly according to Your Will. Give me Your love and Your grace, for this is sufficient for me. For with these I am rich enough and desire nothing more. Amen.

“The Light that makes man joyful…”

By the Elder Porphyrios, a monk of the Orthodox Church and Mount Athos (1906-1991):

“This is the way we should see Christ. He is our friend, our brother; He is whatever is good and beautiful. He is everything. Yet, He is still a friend and He shouts it out, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that? We’re brothers. I don’t hold hell in my hands. I am not threatening you. I love you. I want you to enjoy life together with me.”

Christ our JoyChrist is Everything. He is joy, He is life, He is light. He is the true light who makes man joyful, makes him soar with happiness; makes him see everything, everybody; makes him feel for everyone, to want everyone with him, everyone with Christ. Love Christ and put nothing before His Love. Christ is Everything. He is the source of life, the ultimate desire, He is everything. Everything beautiful is in Christ. Somebody who is Christ’s must love Christ, and when he loves Christ he is delivered from the Devil, from hell and from death.”

The prayer of a servant:

O Lord Jesus, today and everyday, help me to understand you more intimately, to see you more clearly, to follow you more faithfully, to love you more completely, and to share in your joy in God the Father. Son of David, have mercy on me, the sinner, and abide with me. Amen.

Elder Porphyrios was loved and revered as a confessor and spiritual father. Gifted through the grace of God, he was able to see deeply into the hearts of those who came to him for counsel. The book, “Wounded by Love – The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios”, Denise Harvey (Publisher), 2005 is available at Skete.com and Amazon.com. Read more from the book at http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/elderporphyrios_dispositions.aspx

Have Christians become deaf to joy?

[Jesus said] I am on my way to You. But I say these things while I am still in the world, so that my followers will have the same complete joy that I do.         John 17:13

Christ in GloryIt is the Lord’s Day, the Eighth Day, the day beyond the Sabbath’s rest, where we enter the Messianic Feast of the New Jerusalem and are united with our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ as we receive the True Food and Drink, the Body and Blood of Jesus. Rejoice!

From St. Simeon the New Theologian, Saint of the Eastern Church, We Awaken in Christ’s Body:

“For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ’s body where all our body, all over, every most hidden part of it, is realized in joy as Him, and He makes us utterly real, and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light he awakens as the Beloved in every last part of our body.”

FromThe Journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

“The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice or, rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God’s presence. One cannot know that God exists and not rejoice. Only in relation to joy are the fear of God and humility correct, genuine, fruitful… The first, the main source of everything is ‘my soul rejoices in the Lord…’ The fear of sin does not save from sin. Joy in the Lord saves. A feeling of guilt or moralism does not liberate from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of freedom, where we are called to stand. Where, how, when has this tonality of Christianity become distorted, dull—or rather, where, how, why have Christians become deaf to joy? … People continually come and ask for advice… And some weakness or false shame keeps me from telling each of them, ‘I don’t have any advice to give you.I have only weak, shaky, but, for me, unremitting joy. Do you want it?” No, they do not. They want to talk about ‘problems’ and chat about ‘solutions.’ No, there was no greater victory of the devil in the world than this ‘psychologized’ religion. There is anything and everything in psychology. One thing is unthinkable, impossible: Joy!…

“I think God will forgive everything except lack of joy; when we forget that God created the world and saved it. Joy is not one of the ‘components’ of Christianity, it’s the tonality of Christianity that penetrates everything—faith and vision. Where there is no joy, Christianity becomes fear and therefore torture. We know about the fallen state of the world only because we know about its glorious creation and its salvation by Christ… This world is having fun; nevertheless it’s joyless because joy (different from what is called ‘fun’) can be only from God, only from on high—not only joy of salvation, but salvation as joy. To think—every Sunday we have a banquet with Christ, at His table, in His Kingdom; then we sink into our problems, into fear and suffering. God saved the world through joy: ‘…you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy…’

A Prayer of St. Symeon the New Theologian:

You, O Christ, are the Kingdom of Heaven; You, O Christ, are the Kingdom of Heaven; You, the land promised to the meek; You, the meadowland of paradise; You, the hall of the celestial banquet; You, the ineffable bridal chamber; You, the table set for all, You, the bread of life; You, the unheard-of drink; You, both the urn for the water and the life-giving water; You, moreover, the inextinguishable lamp for each one of the saints; You, the garment and the crown and the One who bestows the crowns; You, the joy and rest; You, the delight and glory; You, the gladness and mirth.

And Your grace, the grace of the Spirit of all sanctity, will shine like the sun in all the saints; And You, the unapproachable Sun, will shine in their midst; and all will shine brightly, according to the measure of their faith, their asceticism, their hope and their love, their purification, and their illumination by Your Spirit. Amen.

Listen to a broadcast/podcast about St. Symeon entitled “That your Joy May Be Full…” at http://www.myocn.net/index.php/CRTL/That-Your-Joy-May-Be-Full.html

Salvation outside the Church?

Quite often in debates on Christianity, we hear the argument regarding whether or not there is salvation outside the Church. For the apostolic Christian, those holding the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, the debater means precisely those Churches. He is then villified by heterodox Christians, secularists, and those adhering to other beliefs for holding that stance, especially in today’s “I’m OK, you’re OK” world.

In a very real sense, however, such a statement by an apostolic Christian should be rejected. We are told throughout the New Testament, in the words of Christ, Paul, James and others, that judgement belongs to God alone, that God shows mercy to and blesses whomever he wishes, that what we cannot lovingly forgive in others we will not be forgiven of ourselves. In light of these revealed teachings, it seems clear that I am wrong whenever I judge another’s prospects for salvation before God; in fact, I endanger my own soul.

We are called to discernment, however, and we are called to preach the Faith as received into the Church through Jesus Christ and His Apostles. There are things we need to shout out from the rooftops and be willing to die for (as did the martyrs of the Church,) namely:

THERE IS SALVATION WITHIN THE CHURCH, WHICH CONTAINS THE FULLNESS OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST…THROUGH THE GRACE OF GOD, THE CHURCH RECOGNIZES AND DISTRIBUTES THE MEDICINE OF IMMORTALITY THAT IS THE EUCHARIST. 

The Medicine of ImmortalityWe live by keeping the commandments of Christ to draw life from His Body and Blood. Compare the words of Christ in John Chapter 6 and the actions of Christ at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic meal of Mark Chapter 14. Christ did not reveal the Eucharist as a symbolic act only.

Those who deny the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as faithfully maintained in the Apostolic Churches are either ignorant of or willfully in denial of the earliest teachings of the churchmen who immediately followed the Apostles. 

One example among many is from Justin Martyr. He was born not long after the composition of the Gospel of John and the time of that Apostle’s death. Justin lived until around 165 AD. His writings form one of the largest deposit of early records of the Church. From his work, The Apologies:

This food we call the Eucharist, of which none are allowed to be partakers but such only as are true believers, and have been baptized in the Laver of Regeneration for the remission of sins, and live according to Christ’s precepts; for we do not take this as common bread, and common wine. But as Jesus Christ our Saviour was made flesh by the Logos of God, and had real flesh and blood for our salvation, so are we taught that this food, which the very same Logos blessed by prayer and thanksgiving, is turned into the nourishment and substance of our flesh and blood; and is in some sense the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. For the Apostles, in their commentaries called the Gospels, have left this command upon record, “That Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He said, Do this in commemoration of Me, for this is My body; And in like manner He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, This is My blood,” and delivered it to them only… After this sacrament is over, we remind each other of the obligations to his duty, and the rich relieve the poor; and upon such charitable accounts we visit some or other every day.

So it was from the very earliest points of faith in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the undivided First Thousand Years of the Church, and up until the falling away of the past few hundred years due to the teachings of Protestant extremists. Salvation was known to come to us through living out our baptism: keeping faith with Christ by uniting ourselves with His Altar and receiving the Eucharist and the Real Presence, while we imitated Him in all things and lived with everyone in love, peace, and self-sacrifice. 

I risk judgment on myself if I dare to ask who outside the apostolic Churches can be saved, especially as I abuse Christ and deny God every day in my own sinful life. If there is such a question to be asked, however, this is it: “Except through His abundant mercy and compassion, how does God save where the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is denied?” 

The prayer of the Eastern Church just prior to the faithful’s receipt of the Eucharist:

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. Amen 

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me. 

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation. 

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.