The following is the third homily on the Feast of the Annunciation by Bishop St Gregory the Wonderworker, probably written sometime around AD 260-275.
It was one long paragraph and I have divided it into several sections so that it is much easier to read. All of the bold type is my addition. I find it noteworthy that salvation in early Christianity was understood to be God rescuing his beautiful creation from death, which had entangled it due to sin. In that regard, it is full of poetic love and (like all Christian writings from antiquity that I have read) it lacks any concept of a wrathful God desiring to take out his anger and justice upon His son on the cross. Especially enlightening is the dialogue between Gabriel and the Lord. Continue reading An Ancient Homily for The Annunciation
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)
I was reminded of the words of Christ while reading last night. The Christians in the ancient Roman Empire (third century) were being persecuted, turned from their homes, burned, tortured, and beheaded. A civil war broke out and then a plague infested the area, which distracted the unbelievers from the persecution.
I was deeply moved by the account which St Dionysius the Great wrote* regarding the total selfless and divine love the Christians displayed. I will quote him at length here:
DIONYSIUS TO THE ALEXANDRIANS
Certainly very many of our brethren, while, in their exceeding love and brotherly-kindness, they did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously, and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully along with them, lading themselves with pains derived from others, and drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them.
Continue reading The Everyday Martyrdom
In my Protestant years, I dabbled in a subculture of hip, intellectual Christians. They knew a bit of Greek, a dash of Hebrew, Jewish customs of the New Testament era, and history and culture of the Judea region during the Roman rule. When studying the Bible, we would ask, What are the underlying Greek/Hebrew words used here? What is the sociological and political context? Who is speaking and who is the audience? What are modern scholars saying about this passage?
TWO UNSPOKEN CONFESSIONS
Now that I am Orthodox, I do not engage in such activities quite as often. It is not that those things are wrong. In fact, when one looks past the intellectual pride of unlocking and parading some unknown meaning in the text, these questions truly reveal an unspoken confession. Namely that we realize a literal, straight-forward reading of the biblical text only reveals partial meanings. When one’s entire faith relies on the right understanding of a book, that can be problematic. Continue reading The Key to Unlocking the Scriptures
Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.
Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow. Continue reading The Fly and The Bee
When I began my spiritual struggle shortly after converting to Orthodoxy, I felt frustrated. I had joined a church that felt too demanding: fasting every Wednesday and Friday, pre-communion prayers Saturday nights, an expectation to actually change and live a holy life, morning and evening prayers, feast days and periods of fasting. It all seemed like too much.
There is a rhythm to the life of the Church; entering into it takes time. But I wasn’t used to that. My Protestant upbringing and the American culture made me want instant results, even for sinful habits that were deeply entrenched. In charismatic circles, we would always pray for instantaneous miracles and deliverances from evil. To expect anything less could mean one had weak faith.
At a few points, the temptation entered into my mind: “This is too much for you, and for anyone except the most saintly. You know you can’t settle for mediocrity, and you’re certainly not a saint, so just give up on Orthodoxy. Don’t keep pushing yourself into a lifestyle that is simply too pious for you.” Continue reading Feeling Frustrated with the Spiritual Struggle
Today we celebrate the feast day of St Gregory the Wonder Worker (also known as Gregory Thaumaturgus). I wanted to write about St Gregory because there are many people who believe that the concept of the Trinity was introduced into the Church at the Council of Nicea by Constantine and his “cohorts.”
I remember reading some pamphlet produced by the WatchTower a few years ago that was given to me by Jehovah’s (false) Witnesses. At that time, I was attempting to figure out what I believed. Was the church corrupt by the time of Constantine? Was the doctrine of the Trinity a heretical concept later introduced? I felt that Jesus was likely God incarnate, but I wanted to be open-minded to counterarguments. The pamphlet was so full of historical flaws, misquotes of ancient Christian texts, and bad philosophy that I tossed it aside. Continue reading St Gregory The Wonder Worker
There is an unpopular teaching that I frequently see in the scriptures and in the Church Fathers. I say “unpopular” because I did not hear much about it in my Protestant years.
In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul writes, “…a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” He goes on to say he pleaded with the Lord three times to remove this thorn, but the Lord replied:
My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul’s exact ailment has been speculated by many scholars. Continue reading A Holy Degradation – The Way of Christ