Part II, Reflections on Matthew, Chapters 13 and 6: The Lord’s Prayer

In the post of 12 March, we heard Jesus warn us about becoming people whose “heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing…” The post suggested that one way to open more fully to the Word of God was to try to hear it in a fresh version and with fresh ears. 

 The English version of the Lord’s prayer that we are all familiar with favors the preferences of translators from Latin and does not fully reflect the understanding of the apostolic Churches regarding the place of the Eucharist in relation to the prayer. Nor does it make clear that it is not our God that is the maker of the temptations that we face, but rather that they arise from the evil one and due to our own failings before God and man.

In the spirit of freshening, we offer you another translation of the Lord’s Prayer, an English version that better reflects the nuances of the original Greek that the Eastern Orthodox Churches recites on a daily basis (as well as the Slavonic.) This version does not originate with me; in fact, it is used in Lenten services in an Orthodox parish precisely for the opporThe Good Shepherdtunity to hear it fresh and embrace it more fully. I hope you will share in that blessing.

OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in Heaven. Our bread for the Morrow give us today. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the power, and the glory, unto the ages. Amen.

St. Sabinus & the Dangers of the Third Century A.D.

St. Sabinus

St. Sabinus

 

To call the third century A.D. merely dangerous is an incomplete statement. It was chaotic, violent, and contentious.  Imperial Rome was in chaos. The rule of law was spotty throughout the empire. Even where there was law, Christians regularly faced threats to life, limb, and reputation.

 

One such martyr was St. Sabinus, an official within the Egyptian city of Hermopolis. In 287, a persecution of Christians was launched there. (Although it happened early in the reign of the emperor Diocletian- 284-305- it is unlikely Diocletian initiated the campaign. His bile was fully released on Christians early in the fourth century.)  St Sabinus and his companions hid in a remote village. An ungrateful beggar, previously helped by the saint, revealed his hiding place for a few gold coins. Sabinus and six other Christians were captured, tortured, and then drowned in the Nile for their failure to renounce their faith.

St. Sabinus is remembered this day in the Roman Catholic Church and on Monday the 16th in the Orthodox and Melkite Greek-Catholic calendars.

Kontakion – Tone 2 

O God-bearing Sabinas, you are an unfading flower and bloom of divinity. Branch heavy-laden with fruit, fill with your gladness those who in faith honor your memory, and pray for us all unceasingly.

First of Two Reflections on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13, Verses 14-16

Our Lord said:

 “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, “By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive;  for this people’s heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.”

Matthew recorded these sayings in Greek. They recount the words of a man whose native tongue was Aramaic and who himself was quoting a writer who used Hebrew. This Babel of language complicates things, but also enriches.

Lent is the time to renew our vigilance over our hearts, to sharpen our sight, and reinvigorate our hearing. One way to do this is to depart for a while from the translation of the Bible that our hand most often falls to. English has developed to the point that most words have the singular beauty of an individual red rose, clear and crisp. Other languages, as do the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, more often resemble a single branch of an ancient azalea. While the impression of the branch may be white or pink, a closer look reveals shadings in tint, streaks of color, and a richness in vibrancy that defies easy description.

Translations of the Bible into English use the precision of a single stem to describe the swirls of color within the original words. Ask your priest or a trusted elder to recommend a translation unfamiliar to you. Read it through Lent and beyond if you wish, comparing it with your old favorite. Hear the words fresh, as if for the first time, and pray to God for the grace to ever be more fully converted.

From a prayer of St. Antioch:

O Lord, enlighten my mind with the understanding of Your Holy Gospel. Enlighten my heart with the purity of Your Word. Enlighten my body with Your passionless Passion. Keep my thoughts in Your humility. Amen.Christ the True Vine

On Ephesians Chapter 5, Verses 25-27

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it,  that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word,  that He might present it to Himself as the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish. ”

A commentary from St. John Chrysostom:

“And not simply has He [Christ] adorned her [the Church], but has made her glorious, ‘without spot or wrinkle or any such things.’ Let us too seek that sort of beauty, and grace will make us able to refract it.”

The Protection of the Theototos and Ever-virgin, Mary

The words of Demetrios, Archbishop of America, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:

In theological terms, the Theotokos is our Protectress since she is the Motheof God. We know in our human experience that the pleadings between a mother and son can carry great weight. The very special and unique relationship that the Virgin Mary held with Jesus as her Son, our Lord, makes her a truly powerful intercessor for our salvation. Therefore, whenever we pray to God and ask the Theotokos to intercede for our salvation, we are invoking intercessions which carry a distinctively high degree of influence.

This powerful role of the Theotokos as a Divine Protectress is recognized historically and liturgically. In as much as Christians throughout history have sought the intercessions of the Theotokos for spiritual salvation, they have also asked for her intercessions for physical protection itself. For example, historical accounts of entire masses of people praying for the intercessions ofthe Theotokos to protect them from physical danger have been documented throughout the history of Constantinople during the numerous times overthe centuries when the city was under siege, until its eventual fall in 1453. Indeed, the role of the Theotokos as a Protectress is connected with the liberation of the modern Greek state from Ottoman oppression in 1821.     -from the website http://www.goarch.org/news/2007-03-14-archpastoralreflection

 

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 oursv_mary_christ: 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.

Reflections on the Sunday of Orthodoxy

For most Eastern Christians, this past Sunday was celebrated as the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Parishioners processed through the Church carrying an icon, an act of living history from the First Thousand Years. The Orthodox remembered the day in 843 A.D. when the heretical suppression and bloodshed mounted against the proper veneration of icons and the Christology behind them was finally laid to rest within the Apostolic Churches.

Throughout the century and a half of this persecution, the Roman church of the West had steadfastly rejected the arguments and methods of the iconoclasts (those who rejected icons) within the Eastern church and the Byzantine royal courts. In doing so, the unity with Rome anchored the faith and helped prevent the Eastern church from being consumed by false teaching and blinded by too close an alignment with political power.

However, the episode also sowed seeds of schism as Rome began the development of its own base of political power in the West, crystallizing in the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. As the Roman church began to align itself more and more with the royal courts and dynastic families over the next few centuries, the now official break between the Eastern and Western churches meant that the church of the West had lost an anchoring strength from the East. Rome itself fell into dubious practices and troublesome attitudes that eventually crystallized in the Reformation, from which point the splintering of the Christian witness in the West has accelerated through present day.

The faith that we received from the Apostles was preserved through the First Thousand Years precisely because the Church was united. The house was not divided against itself. As we move forward in this age, threatened as we are by secularism, false teachers, and the atomization of faith, we must push the Catholic and Orthodox churches from the bottom up to work earnestly for the recovery of our united strength.

Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, abide with us and heal us of every stain. Strengten us in every good work and raise in us a spirit of love and forgiveness. Icon of the Sunday of OrthodoxyAmen

The Four “Marks” of the Church

As we struggle to follow Christ as love, then we must do what he asks. Our sin divides us, one from another, and Church from Church. Our toleration of that division will be evidence against us at our Judgement. These are not my words; a clear-headed reading of the New Testament in toto makes it plain.

Metropolitan Jonah, newly-installed hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America, puts the personal standard before us:

The Church’s four characteristic “marks” – unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity – are at once the Church’s content and identity, constituting both her vocation and mission. They are our goal; it is our challenge to actualize them in our lives, both personally and corporately, in order for us to be the Church.

Before anything else, these characteristics are marks of Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit; He is the focal point of our unity, and the very context of our relationship with God and one another as His Body. Jesus is the ultimate criterion of holiness: the man transparent to God, revealing God, incarnating God, and imparting that holiness which is participation in God’s very life, which lifts us up from the world of sin and corruption. Christ is the essence of catholicity or wholeness, in that “all things were created through Him and for Him… and in Him all things hold together” [Colossians 1:16-17]. He is also the source of universality because He embraces all things and permeates all things, and all things exist in Him. And He is the foundation of apostleship, the apostle and high priest from God [Hebrews 3:1], Whose obedience reveals Him as transparent to God, speaking only the words of Him Who sent Him [John 3:34], and doing whatever He sees the Father do [John 5:19], transforming and redeeming the world.

Our vision as Orthodox Christians is always first and foremost Jesus Christ. His message is our message: the coming of the Kingdom. His life is our life. His mission is our mission: the salvation of all mankind and its union with the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Our task in the midst of this is constantly to repent, to have this vision renewed in us, and to purge our lives of everything contrary to the vision and incarnation of Christ in our lives. These are the marks of Christ; and if we share His life, we also share these marks.*

May God grant such a sharing within our lives, beginning with me, the first among sinners. Amen

 * from the Winter 2009 edition of the Orthodox Church Newspaper, available on-line at http://www.oca.org/DOC-PUB-TOC.asp?SearchYear=2009&SID=34


Remembered today by both Orthodox and Catholic Christians…

The Holy 42 Martyrs of Ammoria: Constantine, Aetius (Aetitus), Theophilus, Theodore, Melissenus, Callistus, Basoes and the others with them.

During a war between the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus (829-842) and the Saracens, the Saracens managed to besiege the city of Ammoria (in Galicia in Asia Minor). As a result of treason on the part of the military commander Baditses, Ammoria fell, and forty-two of its generals were taken captive and sent off to Syria. 

During the seven years of their imprisonment they tried in vain to persuade the captives to renounce Christianity and accept Islam. The captives stubbornly resisted all their seductive offers and bravely held out against terrible threats. After many torments that failed to break the spirit of the Christian soldiers, they condemned them to death, hoping to shake the determination of the saints before executing them. The martyrs remained steadfast unto death, saying that the Old Testament Prophets bore witness to Christ.

Holy martyrs whose blood was shed for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, add your prayers to ours, that our churches may be healed. Amen.

Troparion – Tone 4 
Your forty-two holy martyrs, O Lord,
through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
and shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!

Lives of the saints and the troparion from the website of the Orthodox Church of America at http://www.oca.org/FSIndex.asp?SID=4

Reflection on the Samaritan Woman, Gospel of John, Chapter 4, Verses 1-43

getimageactualLord, grant me the grace with which you greeted the woman at the well. You recognised her heresy and her impurity, yet you revealed yourself to her as you did to few others. You went further still, sowing Your word among her friends, family, and community for two precious days, delaying your arrival among your own kinsmen.

What love is this! Reaching out across boundaries, ignoring proprieties;  in spite of  social and spiritual divisions, offering to save a people.

O Lord, your example shows me my own smallness. Son of David, have mercy on me, the sinner.