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Week 4 of Great Fast


Devotional based on texts taken from the Scripture Readings of Fourth Sunday of Fifty days Lent – Canaanite Woman

“O Physician who have come to visit Your people which was lost, heal my daughter! Be like David, Your father, who by the sound of the harp put to flight the Evil One.”

This morning is the fourth Sunday of the Great Lent – the Sunday of the Canaanite woman. While we go about our daily affairs in the world on the outside, on the inside the Lenten Fast is leading us in retreat from the vain noise of the world and into stillness of soul to stand in the presence of God just as did the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel.

Jesus was journeying through the borderland of Tyre and Sidon when a Canaanite woman came out to meet Him, beseeching, “Lord have pity on me, my daughter is tormented by an evil spirit.” In Christ the Canaanite woman saw relief. With tears and supplications she approached Him and begged Him: “Firstborn of the Father, deliver the image of Your Majesty, my daughter, from the clutches of the wicked oppressor that she may have an inheritance with You and that she may become the dwelling place of Your glory, You who came to save the image which your hands had fashioned.”

How does Jesus respond to her? He completely ignores her. It says, “He did not answer her at all.” How often do we bring our concerns, our pleas for help, to God and we hear nothing? No answer, no sign of hope, nothing comes our way. Either in desperation or in anger, we begin shouting at God and still nothing. Do we give-up at this point? The Canaanite woman does not. Even after Jesus’ disciples tell Him to send her away, she draws very near to Him and kneels before Jesus saying, “Lord, help me.” Does Christ help her now? She’s persistent, she’s humble and she’s self-less, asking for someone else’s healing. He should heal her now, right? Christ responds by saying, “No.” Worse yet, He likens her to a dog, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” How often has God told us, “No”? How often have we felt that He is even kicking us while we are down? Do we give up at this point?

The Canaanite woman does not. Accepting Jesus’ canine label, she does not accept His rebuke but comes back at Him with some profound words, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” In other words, “I am not giving up. I will take whatever little you will offer to me.” How does Jesus respond this time? Finally, He openly acknowledges her great faith and grants her wish and heals her daughter instantly.

St. John Chrysostom asked, “Was she silent and did she desist? By no means, she was even more insistent.” Chrysostom pointed out Jesus knew she would say this. Jesus wanted to “exhibit her high self-command.” She went even a step further, demonstrating her profound humility by not calling the Jews children, as Jesus had done, but “master” (Homily LII, on St. Matthew XV).

This miracle occurred in the land of Tyre and Sidon. Now, scholars tell us that the word ‘Tyre’ means ‘besieged.’ And the daughter of the Canaanite woman was exactly in that situation – she was besieged by demons. And the word ‘Sidon’ means ‘those who seek.’ Finally, the word ‘Canaan’ means ‘prepared by humility.’ And that is precisely the case of the Canaanite woman. For if we are besieged by demons and we seek, prepared by humility, then we shall find Christ, as did the Canaanite woman. This might be a far stretched explanation, but it does carry some truth. To follow the Canaanite woman’s lead we too must be committed to Christ with all our heart. We have to be persistent, tenacious, stubborn, undiscourageable and joyful. Our Lord often acts in way in order to test the strength of our faith. Even if Jesus seems to put up a decisive refusal, we must redouble our faith, come near to Him, worship Him and beg for His help. We must be like Abraham who pleaded five times with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah on behalf of the few righteous people that remained among the abominable sinners. We must be like Jacob who struggled with God and was rewarded for his effort.

The question we must ask ourselves is do we give up our faith in God when He does not answer. We must trust God that whatever answer He gives and whenever He gives it, He does it to build our character, to make us stronger, to deepen our appreciation for Him and everything we have. Listen to the Lord’s silence and follow where His rebuke would take you. It will take you into your heart, and it will heal you. It will make you one with the Lord who made himself one with us, so that in Christ, we may offer ourselves to God on behalf of all and for all, for the salvation of all.

“Merciful Physician who do not turn away from the sick, visit Your servant whom Satan oppresses.” The Lord said: “Go, your desire is fulfilled.” Blessed is He who by His word delivers His servants from rebellious spirits. Let us this day, like the Canaanite woman, also cry out: Have mercy on us, O Lord! Lord help us! Amen.

“If man does not raise his hands in prayer for himself and for the sake of his people, even after knowing God, how can we say man is better than animals who are not wise and cannot think about their future.” – St. Gregorios of Parumala

“Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.” – St. John Chrysostom

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Reflections on the Holy Nativity of Our Lord

“The Virgin has Begotten the Wonderful; Let us go and Behold Him” Reflections on the Nativity of Christ

Introduction

When the Creator saw that man, who He had made with His own hands, perish, He was so moved that, “He bowed the heavens and came down”. The Feast of Nativity is the reconciliation of heaven and earth. The birth of Christ has united those on high and those below. Today God has come down to earth, and man ascends to heaven. Today the invisible God, manifests himself in flesh for the sake of His creation. Let our souls and lips cry out – Christ is Born, Glorify Him! Today the Creator has come down into the full reality of His creation.

The Feast of Nativity is a time of joy and celebration – of much giving – but we need to ask ourselves, what is the true meaning of the Feast? If we look around, Christmas in the world today is heavily commercialized, and how much do we as Orthodox Christians contribute to the cheapening of this great Feast? Today, Christmas is about everything but Christ. To a lot of us, the Feast is just an opportunity to have a jolly good time with mulled wine and sumptuous food. It is important for us to step away from the noise and hear the real significance of this Feast. In the words of Isaiah the glorious Prophet: “… to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’” (Isaiah 9: 6).

The words of the popular Christmas carol echo a great truth, “O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth… It was not until the coming of the Son of God, that man/the soul realized his/its true worth, meaning and significance. The mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ speaks to us of something so deep and impossible, today God who fashions everything, cries and breathes the breath, which at first He gave to man, now as a babe. The coming together of God and man is at the heart of this great mystery, this great Feast. The Fathers of the Church say, “In the glory of the Incarnation, the divine and the worldly are suddenly, triumphantly, united and transformed.” This Feast is an opportunity for every believer to behold the Wonderful, and be struck with awe because, “today the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, rests in a cave.”

The Feast of God’s Embracing Love: Christmas is a time of coming to terms with God’s all embracing and redemptive love for us, in spite of all our failures and betrayals. When we journey to Bethlehem, this redemptive love becomes so visible. The truth is not only that God became man, not just that the eternally begotten second Person of the Holy Trinity took flesh, but in the manger lies not only God, but also ME. God took my nature for Himself, this is the all embracing and redemptive love. A love that is so beyond description, where me, who am but clay, we, who are but dust are made perfect in Christ.

The Feast of the Greatest Mission: Today is the day of the greatest mission the world has ever seen. In the New Testament you will not find the word “mission” but there are numerous references to God sending his Son, and Jesus sending us. The Nativity Feast proclaims the act of the Father sending His only begotten into the world. The Father does not send Jesus Christ into the world simply to speak, but He sends Jesus Christ to share the life of His people. He sends Christ to give His life for His people, and to give new life to the whole world. Christ shares in the sufferings, the struggles, the hopes and the joys of the people around Him and the Gospels bear witness to that on numerous occasions. We too are sent to give our love and our compassion. St. Paul says that Jesus is sent into the world to “destroy the power of death, and to bring everlasting life to light”. And so we are sent in order to challenge the power of death, and to bring life. Our mission is always more than words – our mission is the sharing of life – life that transforms another life.

The Feast of the Greatest Surprise: The greatest thing about Christmas morning is the surprises of the gifts wrapped and placed under the tree. As Charles Swindoll so beautifully put it, “Surprises are woven through the very fabric of all our lives. They await each one of us at unexpected and unpredictable junctures.” This Feast is an amazing surprise in that God himself decided to become man. “God comes to us, gives Himself to us, and not only in deed and action. Our very nature is taken up into His, and to our mortal frame is imparted a portion of the divine life.”
The Feast of God Descending into Our Reality: The Incarnation is about God becoming man, God descending into the world, but more so He descends into the deeper reality of our hearts – our life. The reality of our weakness. Christ becomes the very center of our life, the source of our energy in the world and the purpose of our life in this world. The sin of Adam banished him from Paradise and today that exile is banished and man is set free and Christ unites in His Person what is fallen in man and what is perfect in His. Today Eden is opened and the fullness of salvation is made manifest: “salvation enters the world, and the curse is destroyed.”

The Feast that Refuses to Compel Us: God has given Himself away so completely that we meet Him in poverty and weakness, with no splendor or glory. The whole of creation “lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us or compel us, it is the love of the cradle and the cross.” Christ is the “the fire in the equations” that sustain everything. We live in a world where power is everything, in fact we are so obsessed with power that as Christians we have failed to see the two most vivid images of love – that of the helpless babe in the manger and the dying man on the cross. God empties Himself in the manger and the cross. He gives away all that He is to restore mankind. We live in Him, from Him, and through Him. God never held back His love, instead extended it unconditionally to man. “The eternal God, utterly unknowable, unfathomable, incomprehensible in His innermost being, deigned to enter into the sphere of our daily life, to assume the burdens and suffering of people like ourselves, He did so for one purpose only: to rescue us from the consequences of our sinful rebellion against the Author of Life, and to raise us up from death and corruption.” St. Athanasius puts is so well when he says, “He became what we are, so that we might become what He is.” The eternal Son of God “took flesh” and “became man” so that we might participate now and forever in all the joy and all the glory of His divine Life. Bethlehem points us to Jerusalem, there is no manger without the Cross and Resurrection – all the services in the Orthodox Christian tradition points to the salvific sacrifice of Christ and the glorious Resurrection.

Conclusion

St. Ephrem the Syrian writes, “The Lord of David and Son of David hid His glory in swaddling clothes. His swaddling clothes gave a robe of glory to human beings.” The Son of God is a gift to mankind, and He take up residence in the world. “This dwelling in the midst of Creation, as a part of it, makes God the Son close to, and available to, the surrounding creatures in a way that was not possible before. The presence of the Son here is a “personal” one that involves Him as a complete whole.” Exchanging gifts has become a universal Christmas tradition. I leave you with a question – “What is the best Christmas gift you can give another person?” For what God has given to us, what do we have to give back to Him and to His world?
I personally think the best gift we can give another person is ourselves. I am sure that I will not win many friends by such a statement, what I mean is love and genuine relationship. “The best gift is the gift of self, because in giving oneself, one is giving everything else.” This is what Christ Himself did. In His Incarnation, He gives Himself. He is Immanuel – God With Us. The real meaning of Christmas is to have Christ born in us, indwelling in our hearts.

The Nativity of Jesus Christ is a “crossing of paths” where God meets humanity and in love transforms the fallen human condition. The love of God lays in a manger in the House of Bread (Bethlehem), to feed humanity that hungers for love. It is the birth of that love into our world that we celebrate today. Christ becomes the very center of our life, our faith and our existence. The babe in the manger becomes the light of the world, even when the world is in shambles, for in Christ the Divine and the human cross paths. “No matter where we are in life, no matter in what condition we find ourselves, no matter how far we might stray away, or how unfaithful we are, God, the supreme lover, will pursue us in love for eternity!” God’s love never stops shining on us, and never stops searching for us.

“On this day when the Rich One was made poor for our sake, let the rich man also make the poor man a sharer at his table. On this day a gift came out to us without our asking for it; let us then give alms to those who cry out and beg from us. This is the day when the high gate opened to us for our prayers; let us also open the gates to the seekers who have stayed but sought [forgiveness].”

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

References
Troparion from Canticle 1 of the Matins Canon for the Nativity.
Fr. Matthew Steenberg, “He Bowed the Heavens and Came Down”, in http://www.monachos.net/content/liturgics/liturgical-reflections/101.
Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, Divine Intimacy, Volume 3, (Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 292.
Charles Swindoll, The Finishing Touch: Becoming God’s Masterpiece, (Word Publishing, 1994), p. 268.
Witness Lee, God’s New Testament Economy, (Living Stream Ministry, 1996), p. 63.
Fr. Thomas Hopko, Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (SVS Press, 1984), p. 89.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, Christmas Sermon, December 2004, http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/000950.html.
Kitty Ferguson, The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion and the Search for God, (W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1997).
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Glorious Christianity, (Crossway, 2004), p. 105.
Very Rev. john Breck, “Celebrating Christ’s Nativity” in http://legacy.oca.org/CHRIST-life-print.asp?ID=121, December, 2006.
The Incarnation of the Word by St Athanasius. Trans. by Rev. A. Robertson; Modernized, abridged and introduced by Stephen Tomkins. Edited and prepared for the web by Dan Graves.
Paul Russell, “The Image of the Infant Jesus in Ephrem the Syrian”, in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, January 2002, http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/Vol5No1/HV5N1Russell.html#S4.
Bill Steigerwald, “Christ, Christmas and Capitalism” in Front Page Magazine, December, 2006, http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=889
Fr. George Morelli, “Christmas and Its Significance” in Christianity Today, http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliChristmas.php.
Rev. Bill Adams, “The Original Love Story” in http://www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermons/b-ch00-adams.php.
Hymns on the Nativity 1. Translation in Ephrem the Syrian Hymns, translated and introduced by Kathleen E. McVey New York: Paulist Press 1989. Syriac text at Des Heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen de Nativitate (Epiphania), herausgegeben von Edmund Beck Louvain: 1959 CSCO 186.

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The Eucharistic Theology in The Thought of Ephrem the Syrian


Part II – Eucharistic Symbolism in Ephrem

Eucharist as “Food”

In Ephrem’s writings, the Eucharist emerges as a complex reality that can never be reduced or exclusively equated with any one of its aspects such as, the Eucharist as “food”. Rather, a flexible and often complex exchange of images allows the Eucharist to be viewed from seemingly paradoxical vantage points simultaneously. By merging the scriptural identification of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and with the scriptural identification of Jesus as Bread, Ephrem arrives at a composite image which includes both elements: “The Shepherd has become the food for his sheep” (Madrosho on the Church 3, 21). The same dynamic process is at work in the following chain of images that focus on a single reality, but is viewed from different perspectives:

Blessed is the Shepherd who became a lamb for our atonement. Blessed is the Vine that became a chalice for our salvation. And blessed is the Farmer who became the Wheat that was planted, and the Sheaf that was harvested. (Madrosho on the Nativity 3, 15)

Eucharist as The Power to Forgive Sin

References to the Eucharist in its capacity to forgive sins abound in Ephrem’s writings, and as the following excerpts illustrate, his discussion draws from a variety of biblically inspired images:

I am astonished by our will; though strong, it has let itself be conquered; though a ruler, it has let itself be enslaved; victorious, it desired defeat. See, the foolish scribe has signed his own bill of debts. Blessed is the one who granted us freedom with his bread, and erased the bill of our debts with his chalice. (Madrosho on the Church 32, 2)

Just as Adam killed life in his own body, in this very same way, in the body of the one who perfects all, See, the just were perfected, and sinners have found forgiveness. (Madrosho on Unleavened Bread

In Ephrem, Fire represents an image of the divine presence and takes on the added dimension of purifying and cleansing when it is viewed in a Eucharistic context. In the Eucharist, fire’s potential to destroy gives way to its ability to vivify and save those who receive it:

The Fire of mercy has come down to dwell in bread. Instead of the Fire that consumed people, you have eaten Fire in the bread, and have found life. (Madrosho on Faith 10, 12)

Eucharist as “Burning Coals”

Fire imagery figures in a number of expressions used in reference to the Eucharist in Syriac texts. For example, particles of the Eucharistic bread are often called “embers” or “burning coals” (gmurotho), usually with reference to the passage in Isaiah 6:6-7, where the prophet speaks of the Seraphim who touched his mouth with a burning coal from the altar of the temple. In an image of the Eucharist as cleansing and purifying, Ephrem links the divine fire of God’s presence to the image of Isaiah’s purification with a fiery coal. Ephrem makes this connection in his madrosho on Faith. He says,

The Seraph could not touch the fire’s coal with his fingers, the coal only just touched Isaiah’s mouth: the Seraph did not hold it, Isaiah did not consume it, but us our Lord has allowed to do both! To the angels who are spiritual Abraham brought food for the body and they ate. The new miracle is that our mighty Lord has given to bodily man Fire and Spirit to eat and to drink.

Ephrem’s liturgical theology had a profound and lasting influence on the development of Syriac liturgy, where the image of the Eucharist as a purifying fire is commonplace. The power of the Eucharist to forgive sin assumes a prominent liturgical role in the Eucharistic prayers of Syriac speaking Churches. After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer we find a virtual rite of communal penance that includes an imposition of hands over the congregation by the priest and an accompanying prayer, which speaks of the remission of “unconscious” as well as “conscious sins.” Immediately following this rite, the celebrant announces to the congregation, which he now addresses as “Holy,” with the invitation: “Holy things for the Holy.”

In the following verses, preserved only in an Armenian translation, Ephrem speaks of that “moment” in the liturgy when the Eucharistic bread is broken. The mosaic of images depicts the Eucharist reaching beyond the grave to refresh the dead, while on earth, it forgives the sins of the living:

With awe and discernment; let our hearts revere his death, and our souls yearn for his Mystery. The people of Israel glorified in that manna that even the uncircumcised ate; how much more should we then exalt in this Bread of Life, which not even watchers [i.e., angels] attain. Water poured out of the rock for the [Israelite] people; they drank and were strengthened; but a fountain poured out from a tree on Golgotha, for [all] people. Eden’s other trees were there for the first Adam to eat; but for us, the very planter of the garden has become food for our souls. This moment, more than any others, should be esteemed in your minds; the Son has descended to hover over [Gen 1:2] the forgiving altar. The bones of the dead in Sheol drink the dew of life as they are remembered before God at this moment. Now if the dead receive such benefit now, how much more shall the living receive forgiveness; Blessed is the one who was sacrificed by one people for the life of all people. (Armenian Madrosho 49)

Eucharist as “Pearls”

There is a fire-related image seen in the writings of Ephrem when speaking of the Eucharistic elements as “pearls”. For in the Syrian conception, the pearl is born when lightning strikes the mussel that produces it in the sea. Similarly, according to the Syrian fathers, Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary when Fire and Spirit came within her. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ due to the action of Fire and the Spirit. Accordingly, it is not surprising to find Ephrem often using the popular symbol of the pearl for Christ himself and for the Eucharistic elements. In one place Ephrem says, “Christ gave us pearls, his Body and Blood”. Ephrem, in a passage referring to the holy Qurbono, says, It is not the priest who is authorized to sacrifice the Only-Begotten or to raise up that sacrifice for sinners to the Father’s presence: rather, the Holy Spirit goes forth from the Father and descends, overshadows and resides in the bread, making it the Body, and making it treasured pearls to adorn the souls that are betrothed by him.

In another madrosho, Ephrem gives this advice to would be communicants in attendance at the holy liturgy:

The Body and the Blood are living pearls; let them not be demeaned in soul and body that are unclean vessels. Heaven and earth are in the incomparable pearl; do not receive your Lord’s holiness in an unclean vessel.

Eucharist as “Medicine of Life”

In Ephrem’s writings another constant epithet for the Eucharist is “living medicine” or “medicine of life” (sam hayye). The Body and the Blood of the Lord are thought to bring healing to the faithful Christian. Addressing Christ, Ephrem in one of his madrosho On Faith says,

Your Bread slays the greedy one who has made us his bread, your Cup destroys death who had swallowed us up; we have eaten you, Lord, we have drunken you; not that we will consume you up, but through you we shall have life.

To express the fullness of the mystery that is Christ, Ephrem juxtaposes images of the actual body of the historical Jesus with allusions to the Eucharistic body of Christ until the images merge and resolve into a single, integrated whole. Ephrem views the Eucharist as part of a wider manifestation of the divine presence (Fire) and power (Spirit) already revealed at the baptism of Jesus.

Like the woman who was afraid but took heart and was healed (Luke 8:40) heal me of my flight from fear that I may take heart in you. I will progress from your clothes to your body to speak of you as best I can.

Lord, your clothes are a fountain of cures; your invisible power dwells in your visible clothing. A little saliva from your mouth (John 9:6), and again, a great wonder: Light from mud.

In your bread is hidden Spirit which cannot be eaten. In your wine dwells a Fire which cannot be drunk. Spirit in your bread, Fire in your wine, Clearly a wonder, which our lips receive.

When our Lord came down to earth among mortals he made them a new creation — like watchers [i.e., angels]; for he mixed Fire and Spirit in them so they would invisibly become Fire and Spirit.

See, Fire and Spirit in the womb of her who bore him; see, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized. Fire and Spirit are in the baptismal font. And in the bread and the cup — Fire, and the Holy Spirit. (Madrosho on Faith 10)

Ephrem draws insistent attention to the physical reality of Christ’s body which he calls the “Treasury of Healing.” Since, as the Gospels record, contact with the physical body of Jesus, and even with his clothing, was able to effect cures, Ephrem speaks of the Eucharistic body of Christ as able to cure and restore those who receive it.

Medical science with its cures does not suffice for the world; but the all-sufficient Physician saw the world and took pity. He took his body and applied it to its pain, and he healed our suffering with his body and blood. And he cured our sickness. Praise be the Medicine of Life, for he is sufficient, and he healed our pain with his teaching. (Madrosho on Nisibis 34, 10).

In Ephrem’s view, the forgiveness of sins flows directly from the Eucharist. He contrasts the willfulness of the sinner with the gratuity of God’s forgiveness. He says, I am amazed at our will: while it is strong, see it brought low; while it is a lord, see it enslaved; while it is a victor, it wills to succumb; free, it surrenders its mouth like a slave, and sets its own hand on the bill of sale. See the foolish scribe, who is the one setting his own hand to the statement of his debts! Blessed is the one who has given us emancipation in his Bread, and in his Cup has erased the statement of our debts.

Conclusion

For Ephrem participating in the Eucharist leads to the indwelling of Christ and the believer becoming the temple of God. Ephrem says:

Let the Qurbono build your own minds and bodies into temples suitable for God. If the Lord dwells in your house, honor will come to your door. How much your ‘honor’ will increase if God dwells within you. Be a sanctuary for him, even a priest, and serve him within your temple. Just as for your sake he became High priest, sacrifice, and libation; you, for his sake, become temple, priest, and sacrificial offering. Since your mind will become a temple, do not leave any filth in it; do not leave in God’s house anything hateful to God. Let us be adorned as God’s house with what is attractive to God.

Bibliography:
1. Sebastian Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem, (London: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1983).
2. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 39 – 61.
3. Ibid., pp. 39 – 61.
4. Ibid., pp. 112 – 121.
5. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 83 – 85.
6. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
7. L. Ligier, “Penitence et Eucharistie en Orient/’ OCP 29 (1963) 5-78. Also see Alphonse Raes, “Un Rite Penitentiel avant la communion dans les liturgies Syriennes”, OS 10:1 (1965) pp. 107 – 122.
8. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 80 – 82.
9. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 80 – 82. Rodrigues Pereira, Studies in Aramaic Poetry, (Van Gorcum Publishers, Assen, 1997), pp. 237 – 271.
10. Sebastian Brock, Holy Spirit in the Syrian Baptismal Tradition, pp. 17. Andrew Palmer, “The Merchant of Nisibis, Saint Ephrem and his Faithful Quest for Union in Numbers”, J Den Boeft & A Hilhorst (eds), Early Christian Poetry A Collection of Essays (Supplements to Vigilae Christianae, vol 22, Leiden E J Brill, 1993), pp. 167 – 233.
11. Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Sermones, II (CSCO, vols 311 & 312, Louvain Peeters, 1970), IV 9

12. Kathleen E McVey (trans ), Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 149-150.
13. Kathleen E McVey (trans ), Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 149-150.
14. Beck, Hymnen de Fide, Χ 18 The English translation is from Sebastian Brock, St Ephrem A Hymn on the Eucharist (Hymns on Faith, no 10) Lancaster, UK, J F Coakley, Dept of Religious Studies, University of Lancaster, 1986). Also see Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
15. All the above exerts are from the madrashe on Faith. Beck, Hymnen de Fide, Χ 18 The English translation is from Sebastian Brock, St Ephrem A Hymn on the Eucharist (Hymns on Faith, no 10) Lancaster, UK, J F Coakley, Dept of Religious Studies, University of Lancaster, 1986). Also see Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
16. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 222 – 245. Sebastian Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem, (London: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1983), pp. 39 – 45 and 70 – 72.
17. Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom; a Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 45 – 55. Kathleen E McVey (trans ), Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ Paulist Press, 1989), pp. 100 – 105.
18. E. Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Sermones IV (CSCO, vols. 334 & 335; Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus, 1973), vol. 335, pp. xi-xiv.

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The Eucharistic Theology in The Thought of Ephrem the Syrian


Part 1 – Ephrem and the Liturgy

Life of Ephrem

In this paper, I will analyze Ephrem’s most important madrashe on the liturgy, “The Mysteries of the Eucharist,” along with his madrashe on Faith, Pearls, Church, Unleavened Bread and Nativity where Ephrem considers the Holy Eucharist. Ephrem the Syrian, known as ‘Harp of the Holy Spirit’ is undoubtedly the greatest poet and theologian that the Syrian Church ever produced. He is described as ‘the greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.’ Ephrem was not only a well-known figure in the Syriac-speaking world but also had a great reputation in the Greek East as well as the Latin West. Within the patristic age itself Ephrem’s reputation as a holy man, poet and a theologian was widely known far beyond his Syrian homeland. Less than fifty years after Ephrem’s death Palladius included him among the ascetic saints whose memory he celebrated in the Lausiac History. Sozomen the historian celebrated Ephrem’s memory as a popular ecclesiastical writer, some of whose works had been translated into Greek even during his lifetime.

For Ephrem, the sacred is a dimension that does not submit to analytical investigation by the faculties of reason; only the more fluid logic of scriptural imagery is subtle and allusive enough to evoke it. As Sebastian Brock, a leading authority on early Syriac – speaking Christianity, has eloquently put it: “So astounding is the nature of the Christian mystery — God not just becoming Man, but becoming the very Bread for man to eat — that it is often more meaningful to describe this paradox in the language of poetry, where parable, myth and symbol can perhaps approximate to spiritual reality rather more successfully than straightforward theological description”.

Although Ephrem wrote biblical commentary, prose refutations of the teachings of those whose views he regarded as false, prose meditations, dialogue poems and metrical homilies (memre), there can be no doubt that his preferred genre was the “teaching song” (madrosho). Translators have often called these songs “hymns”, but since they are not primarily songs of praise, the term is not really apt. Rather, they are “teaching songs” (madroshe); they were to be chanted to the accompaniment of the lyre (kennoro), on the model of David, the Psalmist. Perhaps the closest analogue to the madrosho is the Hebrew Piyyut, a genre of liturgical poetry that was sung or chanted during Jewish religious services. Popular in Palestine from the eighth century on, the Piyuut featured biblical themes and literary devices strikingly similar to those employed by Ephrem.

Ephrem composed his “teaching songs” for the liturgy. According to Jerome, Ephrem composed his “teaching songs” for the Divine Liturgy and were to be recited after the scripture lessons. Madroshe would eventually find a place in the liturgy of the hours in the Syriac speaking churches from the earliest periods for which textual witnesses remain. These madroshe consisted of meditations on the symbols that God distributed in nature and scripture. These symbols, which Ephrem often called roze (sing, rozo) in Syriac, which in turn, by God’s grace, discloses to the human mind those aspects of the hidden reality that are within the range of human intelligence.

There are several symbols that Ephrem uses to explain the Eucharist that I will analyze, notably, the Eucharist as “Food”, “Living Coal”, “Pearl” and “Medicine of Life.” In his madrashe on Faith, Ephrem explains that if John the Baptist held even Christ’s sandal straps in awe, how can he hope to approach Christ’s very body? Ephrem takes refuge in the example of the woman who gained healing just through touching Christ’s garment – which in another sense is indeed his body, being the garment of his divinity. The hidden power that lay in Christ’s garment is also present in the Bread and the Wine, consecrated by the fire of the Spirit.

Qurbono

Ephrem views the Eucharistic body of Christ in dynamic continuity with the actual body of the historical Jesus. As the body of Christ, the Eucharist partakes of the entire historical and eternal reality of Christ in all its complexity — divine and human, corporeal and incorporeal, exalted and earthbound, and, of course, body and blood. In other words, for Ephrem the Eucharist is nothing less than the entire eschatological mystery of Christ taking place here and now in history:

Your bread killed insatiable death which had made us its bread. Your cup put an end to death which gulped us down. Lord, we have eaten and drunk you, not to exhaust you, but to have life in you.

Although Ephrem never used the Greek word “Eucharist,” he had much to say about the Body and the Blood of the Lord in the bread and wine of the church’s daily sacrificial offering to God. For his thoughts on the Body and Blood of the Lord, and their place in the life of the church, one must survey the wide range of his madroshe, searching for the verses in which he instructs the faith of the Christians in attendance at the sacred mysteries.

Qurbono is the Syriac word Ephrem used for the liturgical action we call the Eucharist. It has the sense of “sacrificial offering”, and, as it occurs in the madroshe, refers both to the sacrificial offering associated with the Jewish Passover and to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In Ephrem’s world, Christians offered the holy qurbono not only at Easter, Sundays and major feast days, but every day. This is clearly implicated in one of Ephrem’s madroshe, On Paradise:

The assembly of the saints is on the type of Paradise. In it the fruit of the Enlivener of All is plucked each day. In it, my brothers, are squeezed the grapes of the Enlivener of All.

Ephrem refers to the daily qurbono as “the breaking of the bread and the cup of salvation,” often speaking of our Lord’s “breaking his own body”, at the Passover supper, an obvious evocation of the close connection in his mind between Calvary and the Last Supper. Ephrem says of this particular event:

He broke the bread with his own hands in token of the sacrifice of his body. He mixed the cup with his own hands, in token of the sacrifice of his blood. He offered up himself in sacrifice, the priest of our atonement.

For Ephrem, “the Last Supper and its table symbolizes the first church and the first altar, and by extension, representative of all churches and all altars”. Therefore, in his madroshe, Ephrem often calls attention to the prefigurations of the Eucharist in the New Testament and the numerous types and symbols of it in the narratives of the Old Testament. In his estimation, they all find their ultimate focus in the Last Supper and in its consummation on the cross, when blood and water flowed from the pierced side of Christ (John 19:34). This represents the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism respectively, and thereby inaugurating the era of the church. Ephrem’s thought on this subject is particularly rich in symbolism, involving a typological connection between the Cherubim’s sword that guarded the way to the tree of life in paradise after Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:24), and the lance which opened Christ’s side on the tree of the cross, thus providing a new entry to glory for the new Adam’s progeny:

Ephrem’s symbolic interpretation of the piercing of Christ’s side is particularly complicated. Christ is the second Adam, from whose side is born the second Eve, the Church; yet through that opening we enter paradise, to come again to the Tree of Life, which is sometimes the Cross but also sometimes Christ himself.

Bibliography

1. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 5.
2. Robert Murray S.J., Symbols of Church and Kingdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975), pp. 31.
3. C. Butler, The Lausiac History of Palladius (2 vols., Texts and Studies, 6; Cambridge, 1898 & 1904), vol. II, pp. 126-127.
4. J. Bidez & G. H. Hansen (eds.), Sozomenus, Kirchengeschichte (Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller, no. 5.; Berlin, 1960), pp. 127-130. Glenn Chesnut, The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1977.
5. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 5.
6. Sidney Griffith, “Images of Ephrem: the Syrian Holy Man and his Church”, Traditio (1989-1990), pp. 7-33. Sidney H. Griffith, “Spirit in the Bread; Fire in the Wine: The Eucharist as Living Medicine in the Thought of Ephraem the Syrian,” Modern Theology 15.2 (1999), pp. 225-246.
7. Koonammakkal Thoma Kathanar, “Changing Views on Ephrem”, Christian Orient 14 (1993), pp. 113-130. Also refer to Andrew Palmer, “A Lyre without a Voice, the Poetics and the Politics of Ephrem the Syrian”, ARAM 5 (1993), pp. 371-399.
8. Sebastian Brock, “The Poetic Artistry of St. Ephrem: an Analysis of H. Azym. III”, Parole de l’Orient 6 & 7 (1975-1976), pp. 21-28. Also see J Schumann, “Hebrew Liturgical Poetry and Christian Hymnology”, The Jewsh Quarterly Review, n. s. 44 (1953-1954), pp. 123. They are also comparable to the Byzantine Kontakion.
9. Pierre Yousif, L’Eucharistie chez Saint Ephrem de Nisibe. OCA 224 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientale 1984).
10. Sebastian Brock, “From Ephrem to Romanos”, in E. A. Livingstone (ed.), Studia Patristica (vol. XX; Leuven: Peeters, 1989), pp. 139-151.
11. All the translations given in this paper are taken from Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz edited, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, Sebastian Brock’s, Harp of the Spirit, Kathleen McVey’s, Ephrem the Syrian and Rodrigues Pereira’s, Studies in Aramaic Poetry.
12. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 200 – 221.
13. Sidney Griffith, “Setting Right the Church of Syria: Saint Ephrem’s Hymns against Heresies”, in William E. Klingshirn & Mark Vessey (Ed.s), The Limits of Ancient Christianity: Essays on Late Antique Thought and Culture in Honor of R.A. Markus, (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1999).
14. Sebastian Brock, “The Harp of the Spirit”. Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, No. 4 (1983) pp. 21 – 26. Also refer to Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen de Paradiso und Contra Juhanum (CSCO, vols 174 & 175, Louvain Peeters, 1957), VI 8.
15. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 96 – 111. See also Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen contra Haereses (CSCO, vols 169 & 170, Louvam Peeters, 1957), XXVII 3.
16. Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, (Brigham Young University Press, Provo, 2006), pp. 112 – 121. Edmund Beck, Paschahymnen, De Azymis, XII 5.
17. Ibid., Beck, Paschahymnen, De Azymis, II 7.
18. Edmund Beck, “Die Eucharistie bei Ephram”, Oriens Christianus 38 (1954), pp. 50.
19. Pierre Yousif, L’Eucharistie chez Saint Ephrem de Nisibe. OCA 224 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientale 1984), pp. 31 – 107.
20. Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, pp. 126. See also R Murray, “The Lance Which Reopened Paradise, a Mysterious Reading in the Early Syriac Fathers”, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 39 (1973), pp. 224 – 234,. S. Brock, “The Mysteries Hidden m the Side of Christ”, in S. Brock, Studies in Syriac Spirituality (The Syrian Churches Series, Vol. 13, Poona Anita Printers, 1988), pp. 62

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The Feast of Theophany


Translation: “By Your Baptism, O Lord, purify our minds to be a place for Your majesty. And by Your manifestation, enlighten our senses that we may thank You for Your grace.”

The Church moves from the Feast of Nativity to the Feast of the Theophany or Epiphany (6th January) – it commemorates the baptism of our Lord by John, the Forerunner in the Jordan and the public manifestation of the incarnate Word to the world. This Feast takes us into the depths of the mystery of Christ and His salvation of the world. This is the Festival of Lights, Gregory of Nazianzen says,

“For the Holy Day of the Lights (Theophany), to which we have come, and which we are celebrating today, has for its origin the Baptism of my Christ, the True Light That lightens every man that comes into the world, and effects my purification, and assists that light which we received from the beginning from Him from above, but which we darkened and confused by sin.”

Jesus Christ’s first public manifestation takes place at His baptism,

“Baptism is the symbol of death and resurrection; Christ came to the earth in order to die and be raised. Baptism is a symbol of repentance of sin and its forgiveness; Christ came as the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sin of the world in order to take it away. Baptism is a symbol of sanctification; Christ has come to sanctify the whole of creation. Baptism is a symbol, finally, of radical renewal. When one is baptized the old is over and the new has come. And Christ has appeared on earth to bring all things to an end, and to make all things new. The act of baptism, therefore, contains in symbol the entire mystery of Christ, the whole purpose of his coming.”

At the river Jordan, God reveals Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God incarnate, on Him rests the Holy Spirit from all eternity, the Father witnesses to the divinity of Christ and proclaims Him to be His only Son:

“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is also the first manifestation of the greatest of all mysteries, the worship of the Trinity.

Trinitarian theology is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and rightly defines the True God who sent His Son to be man for the sake of the restoration of all creation back to its Creator. If God is not God in Trinity then Jesus Christ is not who He claimed to be and we have no salvation. Thus the early Church saw Theophany as the foundational manifestation of the Truth of the Gospel because it rightly defined God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The worship of the Holy Trinity “one in essence and undivided.” This is the mystery which allows us to call on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as one God. This is why the word Epiphany meaning “manifestation” was replaced in the East by Theophany meaning “manifestation of God” the latter specifying and developing the meaning of the feast.

Historically Theophany was the first major feast to be celebrated by the Christian Church, even before the Nativity. Theophany was considered one of the most important events in salvation history because as the Orthodox Theophany hymn states: “When You O Lord were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. The voice of the Father bore witness to You, calling You His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truthfulness of His word.”

Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. Through the baptism of the Lord the waters received God’s blessing, being transformed in waters of sanctification. Man is remodeled by God, as a pot maker models his vessels, using water and fire: water from the River Jordan and fire from the Holy Spirit. In the Syriac tradition, Christ left His robe in the River Jordan and he sanctifies the waters of Jordan, so that all those who are baptized will adorn the ‘robe of glory’ which Adam lost when he sinned in Paradise.

On this day the River Jordan changes its course, and starts flowing backwards, underlying exactly this concept. The river Jordan, with its two traditional streams Jor and Dan represents also our lives, lives that flow from the first parents, Adam and Eve. From them the life of mankind started flowing toward the Dead Sea of sin and perdition, as Jordan River does. But when the Master entered the river, the Jordan started flowing backwards, in the same way as our lives turn toward our true godly origins when Christ enters into our lives.

The events on the banks of Jordan uncovers the deep meanings of the Sacrament of Baptism in Christian practice. The mystical presence of Christ is present at our baptism. When we enter into the baptismal font Christ is also there with us turning around the course of our lives from a life spent in sin and worldly things into a life in virtue, and heavenly glory.

As Gregory of Nazianzen says, “Christ is illumined, let us shine forth with Him. Christ is baptized, let us descend with Him that we may also ascend with Him.” God reveals His Son in the silence of our soul. Communion with God requires our active participation. Our will must be conformed to God’s will.
May we experience Theophany within ourselves, and see the Lord all around us. May our lives be freed from the cares of this world that the Lord might reveal Himself to us more and more.

To God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is due all glory, honor, and worship now and always, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Bibliography
1. Matthew 3:17 – “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”
2. Hymn at the Fraction during the Holy Qurbono on the Feast of Theophany.
3. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations XXXIX, On the Holy Lights and On Holy Baptism
4. Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (New York, 1984), pp. 142.
5. Ibid.
6. Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity, (New York, 1999).
7. Christopher Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, (Oxford, 2008).
8. Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (New York, 1984), pp. 142.
9. Arkadi Choufrine, Gnosis, Theophany, Theosis: Studies in Clement of Alexandria’s Appropriation of His Background, Patristic Studies 5, (New York, 2002).
10. Troparion of the Feast of the Epiphany
11. Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye, (Michigan, 1992), pp. 90 – 94.
12. Edward Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838, Volume 3, (Boston, 1841), pp. 352.
13. Morelli, G. (2007 January 12). A Theophany Within. orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliTheophany.php.
14. Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. 1, (Michigan, 1962).
15. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations XXXIX, On the Holy Lights and On Holy Baptism.

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Encountering God In His Word

Text for Meditation:
2 Timothy 3:14—4:5

Verse for the Day:
2 Timothy 3: 16,17

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Reflection:

The Scriptures shapes our life and faith. As we engage the Scriptures, we encounter, dialogue with and experience God. In our text, Timothy is challenged to maintain a close relationship with the Word of God. What Paul is saying is that the fundamental characteristic of Scripture–what makes these writings ‘holy’–is the fact that God inspired them, that they have their ultimate origin with God himself. Now this fundamental characteristic of being God-inspired makes the Bible ‘useful’ – ‘practical,’ and ‘beneficial.’ The Bible has vital practical relevance for our lives.

This relevance is seen in four areas: teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in right living. We are to thirst for truth, and hunger for righteousness, as the very cause and basis for our reading the Bible. We are to let the Scriptures be written on our hearts, to be formed by them, rather than to treat them as a book which must never be opened because it is too sacred and we are too unworthy.

When we read the Holy Scriptures we need to humble ourselves because God can only teach, correct and instruct a heart humble and ready to receive his Word. The humble believer is ever looking to understand what God wants of them. We hear the Word in order to obey, to bear fruit, to be an example to others who can then themselves listen to God and know how to obey by observing the life of the saints who model holiness to the world. Hearing God’s Word in Scriptures is accomplished when we allow God to work in our hearts, minds and lives. We become agents of God’s love, and work to make this world a better place.

In a world of great uncertainty, many believers are grasping for an assurance of salvation, an infallible certainty about what the Scriptures mean. In doing so, they sometimes rob the Scriptures of their vitality and depth: that they speak across the ages, across languages, across social borders, and across denominational barriers to all the people of the world. They do speak to us personally, but their purpose and meaning is not limited to or by our understanding of them. “ How great are God’s riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge!” (Romans 11:33). It is our own insecurities that cause us to fear the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God, and to try to tame them and conform them to something we understand, and perhaps believe we can control.

Instead, we must read the Bible to ignite that light of faith in our hearts, which will guides us through the darkness into the Light, into Christ, who is the Light of the world and through him we will be able to bring many in the world into the Light. Amen!

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I Know My Redeemer Lives and I Will See God

Verse for the day: Job 19: 255, 26

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God…

Reflection:

The book of Job starts, “There was a man named Job, living in the land of Uz, who worshiped God and was faithful to him. He was a good man, careful not to do anything evil.”

Job’s life was shattered one day when raiders and lightning consumed all his wealth—they took all Job’s oxen, sheep, and camels; then a great storm killed all his children; and, if that wasn’t enough to ruin your life, he broke out in painful sores all over his body. In despair he cried out, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing.”

It is remarkable how at the point where the world was crumbling before his eyes, where he felt the helplessness of absolute abandonment, Job praised God. In humility, Job cried out, “The LORD gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” Job didn’t stop with praise. He didn’t retreat into the solitude of resignation. The God Job knew was the God, who loved his people and a God who entered into a relationship with his chosen ones. Job praised God, he worshiped God, thanked God and marveled at his wonder.

Even though Job felt as if God had turned on him, that God had abandoned him, Job still hoped. This hope that defies all hopelessness testifies to the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us. In the depths of his pain, Job bursts out, “But I know there is someone in heaven who will come at last to my defense. Even after my skin is eaten by disease, while still in this body I will see God. I will see him with my own eyes, and he will not be a stranger.”

In the midst of his agony, Job receives a wonderful gift, a glimpse of God. Like Job, we too go through moments of pain, losses and tragedies. We have nowhere else to turn but to God who knows all and, more importantly, promises to liberate us. We must encounter, experience and embrace God in and through the trails and tragedies of life. We must learn to praise God whatever be the situation in our life. Like the psalmist in Psalm 17, we too must pray, “Reveal your wonderful love and save me; at your side I am safe from my enemies. Protect me as you would your very eyes; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the attacks of the wicked.” Our trials must become a window through which we see God.

And whatever tragedies or hurts or losses and misunderstandings we carry with us as part of our life, we know that they will be resolved and transformed by joy once and for all, when we see God in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen!

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Come to me, I will give you rest


Meditation Text: St. Matthew 11: 25-12: 8

Verse for the day: St. Matthew 11: 28 – 30
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Reflection:

In these days of science and many technological advancements, more and more, people are relying on ‘experts’ to determine how they live their life – what kind of foods they eat, how to raise their children, how to view life, and even how to understand God. Our world is a very tense, uptight and fast paced world, filled with hurry.

We need to learn how to experience rest. If all we needed was physical rest we can always take a nap. If we needed only emotional rest, we can always take a vacation. But where can we find spiritual rest? How can we obtain relief regarding the deepest issues of life at the deepest level of our hearts? Jesus is relating the restlessness of humanity with its godlessness. And He is saying that we will never really know what it is to rest, until we know God. Jesus says, “Come to me, I will give you rest.”

The search to satisfy the spiritual needs on our own leads down many empty roads. The tiresome search of the soul, coming up empty is what Jesus is speaking to. He has a gift to give! Human effort falls far short of the standard God requires. The Cross is the place of exchange where what we are is placed on Him and what He is, is given to us.

The fatal mistake for the believer is to seek to bear life’s load in a single collar. God never intended man to carry his burden alone. Christ therefore deals only in yokes. A yoke is a neck harness for two, and the Lord Himself pleads to be One of the two. He wants to share the labor of any galling task.

The secret of peace and victory in the Christian life is found in putting off the taxing collar of self and accepting the Master’s relaxing yoke. God intends to interfere in our life. So the question remains: when does God interfere? And how? When we have faith God definitely will interfere and without doubt will work in our lives. And our experiences with God must allow us to say like the Psalmist: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say— “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, When men rose up against us, Then they would have swallowed us alive” (Psalm 124:1-3).

Our belief in God’s interference gives us comfort, peace and sense of security. “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you;” (Psalm 55:22).

Prayer
O Lord, who comforts, grants us rest and carries our burdens, stretch forth Your almighty right hand and bless us. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and guides us with Your counsel. Strengthen us in our walk with You. Grant us victory over the powers of the Evil One and his hosts. Be with us Lord and keep us in Your Love. May we grow in knowledge of You and rest in Your everlasting peace. All honor and glory, praise and thanksgiving to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always forever and ever. Amen.

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‘ I Need To Return To My Father’s House’

Verse for the day: I Corinthians 16: 13, 14
Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Reflection:

St Paul is reminding the church in Corinth to be on their guard spiritually. He wanted them to wake up, to pay attention to their spiritual lives and their knowledge and devotion to God. Their lack of spiritual watchfulness was the foundation of the Corinthian church’s sinful condition.

Most of the time spiritual indifference and spiritual ignorance are the root problems in our lives.

This Lent, we need more than merely changing our behavior. We must be on our guard, with a focused awareness of His care and protection and His love for us as His children.

We live in a culture in which truth is regarded as relative. Our society waffles at the concept of objective, unyielding spiritual truth. It is dedicated to spiritual and ethical pluralism. If we are to be the witnesses God wants us to be, and if we are to have the relationship with God that He wants for us, then we must follow Paul’s admonition to stand firm in the faith. It is when we live out the Gospel of Christ in our daily lives, through the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we become more Christ like.

God wants us, in the midst of our spiritual watchfulness and our commitment to stand firm in the truth of the faith, to act courageously as Christians.

To be men of courage spiritually would be unpopular, perhaps even unacceptable, behavior in society. It could mean loss of stature in with our peers, perhaps loss of jobs and economic opportunities, and loss of friends.

We are in this world to achieve the standard that God has set.

Spiritual maturity demands courageous application of the truth, unfettered support of what we know is spiritually true and the standards that are true, and bold opposition to what we know is false. This maturity comes through our indulgence in the fast rigorously. God showers His grace and strength on us when we give ourselves completely to God’s will.

We cannot do anything by our own strength, only by God’s might and support. We need to submit to the strengthening power and work of our Savior. When we submit ourselves to God, He fulfills His promise to strengthen us. And what is the strength He gives us? It is the strength to stand firm in spiritual knowledge and truth and to courageously apply spiritual truths in our lives.

Today, we must stand firm in spiritual knowledge and truth and apply them with courage. Our part is to be on guard, to recognize and know what is spiritually right and wrong, and to act with courage. God’s part is to strengthen us.

Christ likeness is the solution to our problems as individuals and as a church. Do everything in love, incorporates the Christian’s life of serving God unreservedly and putting others above ourselves. Applying this principle of love for Christ and love for each other meant a radically different church, sold out to Christ and untainted by the world. Our goal is to be like Christ!

Prayer:

Help us, Lord, with the grace of your Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus Christ through our lives, our words and the opportunities you set before us each day. Amen.

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“In Silence Our Hearts Become Attentive To The Voice Of God”


“Be still and know that I am God!” is the first part of Psalm 46:10.

The command to “be still” comes from the stem of the verb (רפה) rapha (meaning to be weak, to let go, to release), which might better be translated as, “cause yourselves to let go” or “let yourselves become weak.” But to what end are we to “be still,” “let go,” “surrender,” and even to “die to ourselves?” We surrender in order to know that God is in control as Ribbono Shel Olam – the Master of the Universe. We “let go” in order to objectively know the saving power of God in our lives. We give up trusting in ourselves and our own designs in order to experience the glory of God’s all-sufficiency (Exodus 14:14).

Christ teaches us in the Gospel of Matthew, “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them.”(St. Matthew 6: 6-8). In this short article I want to focus on silence in two areas. First, silence as part of one’s prayer life and second, silence in relationship to one’s liturgical life.

Metropolitan Hilarion says; “It is not out of words that prayer is born: prayer is not merely the sum of our requests addressed to God. Before being pronounced, prayer must be heard within one’s heart. All true masterpieces of music and poetry were not simply composed out of disconnected letters or sounds: they were first born in the depths of their authors’ heart, and were then incarnate in words or musical tones. Prayer is also creative work, born out of a deep stillness, out of concentrated and devoted silence. Before embarking upon the path of prayer, one must inwardly fall silent and renounce human words and thoughts.” In prayer we encounter the personal God Who hears us and responds to us, Who is always ready to come to our assistance, Who never betrays us, even if we betray Him many times. We know God only through an intimate relationship with Him. That does not come from knowing about God, but rather getting to personally know Him by what He says in His Holy Word, the Bible, recognizing the things He does in our lives, and by way of His Holy Spirit who comes to guide and comfort us. Saint Isaac of Nineveh said, “More than all things love silence: it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe. In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence. May God give you an experience of this “something” that is born of silence. If only you practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence . . . after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.” It is in the womb of silence that we can grow ideas for the best course of action to take. Abba Joseph said to Abba Nisterus, “What should I do about my tongue, for I cannot control it?” The old man said to him, “When you speak, do you find peace?” He replied, “No.” The old man said, “If you do not find peace, why do you speak? Be silent and when a conversation takes place, it is better to listen than to speak.”

St. John of the Cross wrote, “The Father spoke one word from all eternity and he spoke it in silence, and it is in silence that we hear it.” This suggests that silence is God’s first language. One of the problems we have in our society today is that we don’t value silence. Our lives now tend to be so busy that we have become accustomed to a constant barrage of tasks, inputs, and general noise. It’s not just an American thing; it’s a global phenomenon. Silence often makes us feel uncomfortable in our personal relationships. We always believe we should be saying something so as to avoid that “awkward moment of silence.” Sometimes we talk constantly because forcing conversation means we won’t be required to confront other issues in our relationships.

When did we begin to believe that moments of silence in our lives are a bad thing? When did we begin to believe that silence was good for monks, but not applicable to the lives of everyday folks? Silence is of particular importance for us Christians and our spirituality. Silence is probably the most important aspect of our spiritual lives. Silence is our admission that we are in communication with God, willing to listen. In our prayer life we are often so busy asking God for things, thanking Him for things, or praising Him, we forget that He wants to say something to us, too. We think that prayer means we must say something, but a prayer relationship with God is a dialogue, a conversation. We talk to Him, but we need to listen, too. We frequently are so busy talking to God that we forget to listen…sometimes we should just be quiet and let Him do the talking.

The purity of silence before God is profound. It is the most difficult, yet the most rewarding form of prayer. Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia says: “To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in the art of prayer. Silence is not merely negative — a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech — but, properly understood, it is highly positive: and attitude of
attentive alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening.” It’s much easier to read prayers, or to try and pray extemporaneously. The ability to be silent is almost trained out of us by today’s society. Silence has a significant part to play in the spirituality of Orthodox Christian Churches. Silent prayer or contemplative prayer must be taught. It’s not something we ordinarily would naturally do. It must also be practiced. Like any other relationship, silence with God takes some work and time. We cannot expect to just sit or kneel and be quiet for a little bit and all of a sudden have amazing moments of insight and a quick connection with God. It takes learning some personal control and techniques that will facilitate the experience.

Silent prayer also takes commitment. It is not something that you can do one day and then pick up a few days later. You must work at it daily for it to be effective in your prayer life. The best way would be to set aside a specific period in the day when you will choose to pray in silence and stick to that if possible. Focus on the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Say it over and over until you find that you are praying it without saying it. Saying the Jesus Prayer does not disturb your inner silence, but rather it sustains and nourishes it.