Michael, the great and chief commander of God’s bodiless hosts, both before the incarnation and after, showed compassion and solicitude toward the race of man [Josh. 5:13-15; Dan. 10: 13, 12: 1; Jude 1:9; Rev. 12:71. He bestowed many benefits on earth before the coming of Christ, and afterward he showed even greater care and love toward the Christians. Read more…
Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou
In this passage, clearly, our Lord is speaking of an impossibility, not a mere difficulty, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And yet Christ gives hope even to the very rich: “For man it is impossible, for God all things are possible”.
But why does Christ tell us that it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven? What is so terrible about wealth?
St Basil the Great regarded great wealth as equal to not loving our fellow human beings, as he makes abundantly clear in his exegesis of today’s Gospel passage:
“…if what you say is true”, says St Basil to the Rich Man, “that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love and have given to everyone the same as to yourself, then how did you come by this abundance of wealth? Care for the needy requires the expenditure of wealth: when all share alike, dispersing their possessions among themselves, they each receive a small portion for their individual needs. Thus, those who love their neighbor as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbor; yet surely, you seem to have great possessions! How else can this be, but that you have preferred your own enjoyment to the consolation of the many? For the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack in love”. (To the Rich)
And as he iterates elsewhere:
“The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes which are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy”.
St Basil, like St John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers, believed that whatever one has that is over and above one’s needs should be given to those who have less. But this is complicated by the human tendency to adjust the definition of “need” to fit one’s current level of income. Those who have more tend to use more.
St Basil treats this subject in his sermon, I Will Tear Down My Barns, which deals with the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 16-21) who, on the very day he was to die, said to himself that he will tear down his barns and build larger ones to store his goods. St Basil regards this tearing down of the barns to build larger ones as a metaphor for expanding the baseline of need. “Barn” represents our definition of need; what we think we need to live. St Basil says that if we never have any extra to share, it is because we adjust our definition of need to suit our situation.
This is why wealth can so easily become an obstacle to love and salvation. Our definition of need becomes distorted, and we begin to see luxury and excess as a necessity, overlooking the abject poverty and genuine need and deprivation of others, favoring our own comfort and abundant wealth over the most basic needs of our fellow human beings.
The Church did not need to wait for [COVID19 and the ensuing global economic crisis] to know that wealth can so easily become an obstacle to love and salvation. It is a crisis that was caused by the greed of the wealthy. Thus, we are witnesses to the fact that Christ’s warning about wealth remains as relevant now as it did some 2,000 years ago!
Christ warns us to not attach ourselves to worldly treasure, but to the Kingdom of God. “Do not store for yourselves treasure on earth, which rusts and decays and which thieves break into and steal. But store for yourselves treasure in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”.
This is why, at every Divine Liturgy, the priest commands, “Let us lift up our hearts”, to which the people respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord”. But for our hearts to be with God in heaven, we have to let go of all the worldly attachments that keep our hearts on earth. That is why, as we begin now to prepare for Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy, we will hear the words, “Let us now lay aside every care of this life, that we may receive the King of All”.
Christ tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a pearl of enormous value. When someone finds it and realizes its worth, he sells everything he has in order to obtain that pearl. (Matt. 13:45-46)
At the Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that what is more important than anything in this world, more valuable than anything in life, more precious than life itself, is the Kingdom of God. And if we sacrifice everything for that Kingdom, we will find that we have not really sacrificed anything at all, but rather, we will have gained something more precious than anything in the world. We will have gained eternal life, the life of God and His Kingdom which shall have no end.
Claiming what we’re owed
In this section from Matthew’s Gospel, Christ speaks to us in a parable through which He wants to define the reality of human relations and to show the way which is both desirable and beneficial for us to follow. A servant came across a fellow-servant, to whom he’d lent a very small sum, but which he’d not yet been able to reclaim. He rushed at him and nearly strangled him in his efforts to get back the small amount of money he’d lent. Despite the distress of the borrower, who begged him on bended-knee for a little more time to repay, the servant who had made the loan had his debtor dragged away and locked up in prison. You might say that this behavior on the part of the servant who lent towards the servant who borrowed was perfectly legal and reasonable. In the final analysis, according to the prevailing economic principle world-wide: ‘Agreements have to be kept’.
On the basis of this four-square logic, it’s entirely natural to claim what’s been agreed and to insist on the implementation of contracts, principally because it’s the responsibility of each of the parties involved to look exclusively to their own interests and to defend and protect them, given that the position of the other party is always considered to be rigid and inflexible. In other words, if someone suffers as the result of an agreement which is not being honored, it’s his or her own fault, since they should have had the sense either not to agree to the terms in question or to have ensured that the terms would be met. This thinking lies at the very heart of ‘capitalist morality’, which is an extension of the Protestant ethic.
What is it that the lender servant forgot? What is it that makes his behavior towards his fellow servant unacceptable? The fact that immediately before this, not another servant but his lord and master had forgiven him an unbelievable amount that he owed and which he’d never have been able to repay, even if he’d sold all his possessions, the members of his family and even himself. And in fact, his master forgave the debt because the servant who owed it had entreated him to do so.
In other words, Jesus comes and reminds of the countless blessings from our Holy God towards us. These are rich blessings, given to us without our deserving them since we’ve disappointed God so bitterly. We were in debt to such an extent that nothing could act as a counter-weight to our sinful apostasy or give us any hope of salvation. And yet the Creator didn’t become enraged with His creation. If creators -painters, poets, artists, composers, sculptors or writers- don’t like what they’ve created, when it doesn’t meet their expectations, when it’s failed, they have the right to destroy it and start something else. God didn’t do this, though, when His creation didn’t meet His expectations and when it rose up and made war against Him. He sent His Only-Begotten Son and Word, so that, through His incarnation, He could refashion the human race, not simply granting forgiveness of sins but bestowing something very much greater: sanctification, deification, eternal restoration in the kingdom of heaven.
If we’re indebted to such divine love, aren’t we also accountable and responsible for the way we enjoy and run our lives? And if, while we’re worthy of the worst punishments, we actually enjoy the greatest blessings, by what right do we not imitate God our Father even to the slightest degree, by copying, with droplets of love, the torrential outpouring of love from His heart? By what right, when we’ve scandalously benefited from the logic of love, do we forget this and confront others with the logic of revenge?
Metropolitan Ieronymos of Larisa and Tyrnavos. Source: pemptousia.com
by Saint John of Kronstadt
O believers all, let us exult, For into the divine Tabernacle and Holy of Holies on high, as His Mother is Christ now translating her Let us be happy, dear brothers and sisters that we belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, which rightly glorifies the Most Holy Theotokos on this day!
There exists many that do not consider the need nor the obligation to call upon and glorify the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, and other saints and angels. Sadly, some actively dishonor the Mother of God, the saints, their icons, their relics and their festivals. How different it would be if they also glorified the Queen of heaven and earth together with us!
Today in the Holy Church we celebrate the Dormition -the falling asleep- of the Mother of God, and Her translation from earth to heaven. She fell asleep peacefully & without serious illness. Her soul was taken up by the hands of Her Son and carried up into heaven, accompanied by the singing of angels. Her most pure body was then transferred by the apostles to Gethsemane where it was reverently buried, and on the third day it was resurrected and taken up to heaven.
You see this on the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. On it is represented the life-bearing body of the Theotokos laying as if asleep, surrounded by the apostles and hierarchs, and in the center of the icon the Lord holding in His hands the purest soul of the Theotokos. Her falling asleep becomes a paradigm of the translation of the souls of Christians to the other world. We say that our dead have “fallen asleep” or “passed away.” What does this mean? This means that for the true Christian there is no death. Death was conquered by Christ on the cross. But there is a translation, a rearrangement of the condition of the soul, i.e. the soul is in another place, in another age, in another world beyond the grave, eternal, without end, awaiting that day when by the voice of the Lord and the awesome trumpet of the Archangel, all the dead shall live and come forth each to his place: either to the resurrection of life or to the resurrection of condemnation. This is what the Christian means by translation.
We should be ready for this and for the day of the general resurrection and judgment, for this will be a dramatic world event, as Scripture attests. Preparation for meeting the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the way we live throughout the whole of his life. Preparing to meet the Lord means a change in our thoughts, and the moral change of our being, so that the whole person may be pure/white as snow. Preparing means washing clean everything that tarnishes the body and spirit, and being adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, spiritual contemplation, and love for God and neighbor. Our preparation for meeting the heavenly King, and for the inheritance of eternal life in heaven, should consist of these things. The Lord desires souls clothed with virtue; souls prepared so that the He Himself could abide in them.
Don’t be amazed that the Lord wants to live in us. In fact, the human soul is larger than the heavens and the earth, for it exists in the image of God. And if one removes sins from the soul, the Lord of all will settle in and will fill it with Himself. “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him”, says the Lord about every soul that loves Him. And so, as we participate in this great Christian feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the One who was -in her lifetime- brightly adorned with every virtue and -at her passage from this life- translated to the heavenly kingdom; to Her Son and God, the Church proclaims to each and every one the importance of preparing your souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about being clothed with Christian virtue. And in this way, your own falling asleep will be unashamed and peaceful, your life of faith well-lived will serve as the pledge of a good answer at the awesome judgment seat of Christ. Amen!
The Apostle Peter, who witnessed the Lord’s Transfiguration, writes: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father … we were with him on the holy mountain. Divine power has granted to us all things through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue… that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world.
The Apostle John, who also witnessed the Lord’s Transfiguration, writes: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… in him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. The Word became flesh and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life …This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Holy Transfiguration will be on Thursday, August 6 at 9am. Blessing of grapes & fruit to follow.