We are ‘a peculiar people’ …

From Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Norman, Oklahoma:

“The maintaining and practicing of Orthodox customs and traditions may, at times, seem antiquated and out of place in 21st Century America. Their importance cannot be overemphasized, however. As Christians we are in the world but not of the world. We are, as the scriptures, say, “a peculiar people”. We are a holy people and a royal priesthood. We are pilgrims in this world. We live on earth but were made for heaven.

Orthodoxy is a lifestyle – a lifestyle that is, by definition, out of step and in conflict with the broken and fallen world. Traditional Orthodox piety and traditions shape and mold us; their commonality ties us to all those who have gone before us. They are aids to the formation of an Orthodox mind. They are gifts from the past, alive in the present. They create a living trust that helps us to transcend time and space. These holy traditions help us to remember that all members of the Body of Christ, past and present, are inextricably bound up together. The Church is One. Our holy Orthodox traditions and customs are blessed treasures to be honored, respected and lived.”

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