The Torment of the Day of the Lord-A Reflection on the Prophet Amos (Feast Day-June 15)

Glory to Jesus Christ! As we continue our Bible study on Amos as part of a larger series covering the books not included in our Byzantine Lectionary, I want to summarize where we’ve gone in this book before we get to our new passages. Remember that Amos is a shepherd in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who has said quite a few harsh things over the sins of not just Israel itself but many surrounding nations. The judgments began with the other nations and the condemnation increased and drew into closer focus as it turned to Amos’ native land, in an almost inverted order of our Lord’s Commission to evangelize in Acts. In Acts, Christ began with good news for Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The bad news in Amos starts in enemy countries of Israel and then progresses to Israel itself, which was our focus in chapters 1-3. In those verses there are so many references to the ways that the peoples of the world have committed crimes against both God and their brothers and sisters. The description of the atrocities was at times quite shocking, pointing us to the fact that God is not only just, he also responds to iniquity by stopping the sin of the nations and Israel herself via multiple judgments. But these judgments don’t seem to be working and as such they multiply with words of exile prophesied against Israel in chapter 4. The prophecies of exile continue into chapter 4, and there is no sign of relenting. Chapter 5 begins with Amos letting us know that he is going to utter a lament. Most of what we have heard up until now were stern words of admonition and impending doom. The human element of the sadness of this situation is made clear in that it is described as a lament. Don’t let the sadness pass you by. Instead, let the text speak to you of this very human reality where Prophets are those who may utter dire words of prophecy but in their humanity and commonality with those who are judged (when this is the case, unlike Jonah) is something that means they will suffer as a result of their ministerial calling.

As a fellow Israelite, Amos is lamenting. But as we move towards the verses for today we could argue that the real voice is not necessarily this shepherd prophet. Instead, I believe that we can see that God himself is joining in the lament. Better yet, we could say that God is the principal person to lament at this time of judgment. Let’s look at our passage for today and read the first verses, 18-20. First, Amos utters a woe against the people of Israel who would desire the day of the Lord. It is important to put this phrase into context. In the Old Testament the same phrase “day of the Lord” is used by other prophets. For example, let’s look at another prophecy using this phrase. The holy prophet Joel speaks of the day of the Lord in chapter 2:31, and while it is a dire situation with the moon turning to blood, the day of the Lord is a day that ultimately brings about salvation for all who call upon the name of the Lord, as can be seen in the next verse (2:32). Leading to the days of the New Testament, Jews and Christians tended to look at the day of the Lord as a day when God would come to first judge but the end outcome of this day is that he would rescue his people and bring about salvation. For example, Acts 2:16-24 shows that the prophecies of Joel here about the day of the Lord are really fulfilled at the feast of Pentecost. Nevertheless it’s clear from our passage today that Amos does not share their optimism, at least not at first. This is why he questions why someone would desire the day of the Lord. He tells the Israelites and us that it is an experience of darkness and terror. He wants people to understand that yes God will bring salvation when one is on his side, but this will not be deliverance just because they are Israel. After all, the passages of judgment on the other nations are not as much of a focus after the first 2 chapters. Do the people of Israel not hear how much he has said? Do we only look to others and consider their sins and not our own? This turn to fear the day of the Lord reminds me of the prayer of Saint Ephrem when we ask God to “let us see our own sins and not judge our brothers and sisters”. Amos is saying that if the people of Israel experienced the day of the Lord in this season of disobedience, they ought to be in fear. Amos substantiates the cry of “Woe” to those who would desire the day of the Lord by stating in the following verses that it is darkness, as if a man fled from a lion and a bear met him, or went into a house and leaned his hand against a wall and a serpent bit him. It is ultimately a day of darkness and gloom.

Now let’s read the next two verses to see how the prophecy continues. In verse 21 Amos turns to not the day of the Lord per se but to the experience of the people of Israel as spiritual people, and gives God’s assessment of their piety. In verse 21 God states that He despises the feasts of the people of Israel, nor does he have delight in their solemn assemblies. In verse 22 it is stark: the people of Israel may offer burnt, grain or peace offerings, and yet God says that these will not be accepted. Their fattened animals offered to him will likewise not be accepted. Keep in mind: this is quite different on its surface from the previous condemnations such as those in chapter 2. There the crimes of Israel are listed as selling people into slavery, trampling the heads of the weak, men taking part in prostitution, and offering wine to false gods. Here, God’s displeasure extends even to their religious celebrations to him. He does not want to receive their sacrifice because things are so upside down. Having God come to them in the Day of the Lord is considered a bad idea, and offering prayers up to God is likewise a bad idea. What is it that God wants from them?

Amos offers a prescription to remove God’s disapproval of Israel, and it is found in the last two verses. In verse 23 Israel is told to take away all of their songs and melodies on their harps, because God will not listen. They have lived sinfully and tried to remain in the status quo by offering God sacrifices. Amos first wants them to stop the status quo. Things have gotten so off course that something new is needed. What is needed? Silence? Perhaps. More importantly, the request from God sent through Amos to the people of Israel in verse 24 is that they need to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Let’s reflect on that.

Here at the close of our passage we hear a beautifully profound statement about what Israel needs. Many sins have been enumerated thus far, and yet in a real sense what is needed is living out the beautiful vocation of verse 24, where justice runs down and righteousness is like an ever-flowing stream. I think that the people to whom Amos speaks are being called to get rid of their noise and melody, to make room for justice to flow as the water, and righteousness as a flowing stream. The people of God are being told that despite all of their sins in the way, their religious offerings are not what they need. Justice and righteousness are the solution. This passage applied to us should show us that the Church should operate from a position of mercy and grace in its quest for righteousness and justice, as they flow just like the waters of a stream.

At this point you may feel good about Amos’ prophetic vision. There is hope through living according to the truth. But if we keep reading, we will hear about exile and doom all the way until the last chapter. We’ll get there in future weeks but for now I want to go back to the beginning. How do we feel about all of these condemnations and judgments such that there is a fear of the day of the Lord? I think one important solution to consider comes to us from our Eastern Christian Fathers.

The Syriac holy father Isaac (aka Isaac of Nineveh) had this to say about hell and the torment of sinners. In one of his ascetical homilies he states the following beautiful passage that we should meditate upon: “I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.” (I.28, p. 266)

In many ways, as we journey through the Prophets we can feel as though God is harsh. After all, many wrongly speak of an Old Testament God who is put alongside to contrast with some sort of separate New Testament God. Perhaps a key way to look beyond that perspective is to remember what St. Isaac said. God’s presence, His day, can be our very salvation. But it can also be a “woe” to us when we are oriented away from seeing God’s goodness as good. St. Isaac shows that the torment of hell (or Gehenna in Greek) is God’s love that they regret being separated from. Therefore, we can understand that God is still loving even as he utters some of the harshest judgments.

I hope this helps you not only understand passages like these, but also helps you think of how God who is love can be the same God in the days of these passages down to today. Second, what about us? Do we sometimes justify our own anger and punishment of others as being godly when really the deeper truth is one of a lack of that righteousness and justice that flow as do streams? When we see those whom we esteem as the most sinful, do we pray that they move away from injustice and unrighteousness not by a punishment, but by opening their eyes to see that God’s love is given to everyone? May we all regret the ways that we are disconnected from God’s love and leave a life of punishment, to those refreshing streams that can pour out of our own hearts just as they are called for in this prophecy of Amos. Glory to Jesus Christ!

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A Natural Pentecost

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I wish a Blessed Pentecost to those of you who are on the Gregorian Calendar, and if you’re on the other calendar I hope it is a blessing to you when it arrives next week.

At last night’s Vespers with Litija I was struck by what we celebrate when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. We have 3 readings from the Old Testament for the Feast, and the third one spoke to me in a profound way. All of them pertain to the Spirit of God on one hand, but on the other hand there is a beautiful prophecy of what it means to celebrate this feast in a different way. That is where the phrase “a natural Pentecost” comes into mind.

Here is the third reading from the Prophecy of Ezekiel:

Last night as I read these words it was striking. We read here that the coming of the spirit is something that gives us a “natural” heart. Pentecost is usually all about the supernatural-tongues of fire resting over heads, Galileans speaking the languages of the world, none of this sounds “natural”. But the Prophecy of Ezekiel speaks to the fact that Pentecost is about us having a heart that is line with our nature. None of this denies the reality of Acts 2, it speaks to a higher reality that we are so often unnatural and “stony” as people that our deepest remedy is to have God come to us and make us who we were always meant to be.

It’s a call for a Pentecost not noted by miraculous signs, but is instead what I would like to call “a natural Pentecost”.

Maybe that call for a natural Pentecost is so important because it’s so rare in our day to see what is plain and simply natural. I’m writing this blog post in a very unnatural setting, for example. I asked my wife and kids to give me space and silence so that I could “focus”. What’s natural about that? Not much. But I so often am so “stony” that I need my space to even meditate on the feast that we celebrate. Maybe the most important prayer request to make is not for the Holy Spirit to descend but for my heart to ascend from its subpar status to a plain and simple “natural” status.

Now, one can get technical and say that perhaps this is a poor translation. Some would say that one can only trust the King James Version; a misguided thought in my opinion, but still, let’s look at other translations like the KJV. There we read that we will receive a heart of “flesh”. That may be even more striking than a natural heart, particularly when “the flesh” is spoken of as something evil; e.g. 1 Corinthians.

So for this Pentecost, I’m going to ask God to make me more natural. May my heart be “natural”: may it be alive and “fleshly” through the Holy Spirit who gives us life, because maybe that’s the biggest miracle: the one where I can consistently be who I was “naturally” meant to be, versus some “stony” shadow of myself.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ Part II: Meeting Christ after His Resurrection

Christ is Risen! Again we turn our hearts to our tradition of morning prayer known as Matins, and we are focusing on how it is that we have beheld the Resurrection of Christ. In a special way, this viewing of the resurrection comes to us through this service where we sing that hymn. Today, instead of focusing on some of the stichera which celebrate the resurrection and explain to us, we will turn our gaze to another section that is connected to the Gospel at matins. Before doing so, I want to ask this question: when do we hear about Christ after the Resurrection on a Sunday Gospel during the Divine Liturgy? Apart from Thomas Sunday and the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing women, we don’t! We focus on Christ’s life before He was risen from the dead. Matins comes to us again to help us behold the resurrection, because in stark contrast all Eleven Gospels at Matins are focused on the Resurrection. Today we will reflect on the ways that Christ appeared to His disciples after the resurrection. We will hear what they were commanded to do by Him, and we will also note what that encounter was like. We will learn about the uniqueness of His resurrection as compared to others such as Lazarus who was really resuscitated, not resurrected. Sometimes the encounter was confusing, sometimes it was challenging, but it was always the beautiful reality of Love and Life that Christ brings through His resurrection.

First, I want to point out that we are used to 8 tones, doing some things 3 times, or 12 times, or 40 times. Why 11 resurrection Gospels at Matins? One answer may simply be that there are 11 stories that fit into the four Gospels? I am not sure. More importantly, what are these stories about? We can list the 11 Gospels in terms of the passages that they quote, and they are here on this handout. But what’s more important perhaps to understanding these Gospel passages is again coming to us from our Byzantine tradition. Liturgically, the Gospel is read at Matins, and then later in the service there are 2 narratives that come after the reading. First, there is the hymn of light. On a Sunday, these are normally based on the Gospel. So if you show up after the Gospel reading but before this section, pay attention and you can learn something. Though of course it’s better to be there for the whole service! After the hymn of light, we eventually arrive at the Psalms of Praise, which were our focus last week. If you remember, the 4 stichera that we read were from the last hymn prior to singing “Glory to the Father…” Today, we will focus on the special stanza or hymn that comes after that “Glory”, because there are 11 of those stanzas. Like the hymns of light, they are an exposition on the 11 resurrectional Gospels read at Matins. Again, last time we focused on the reality of the resurrection. Here we come face to face with what it was like to see Christ after his Resurrection. We will focus on three stanzas which all come to us from the end of the Gospel of Luke, though of course all 11 readings from all 4 Gospels are worth meditating on. This is yet another reason why celebrating matins is so important, you can get through all 11 several times a year if matins is celebrated regularly! But I digress…

As we focused upon the scene at the tomb with the stichera from last week, we will begin our Gospel passages with the fourth resurrectional gospel, which is from Luke 24:1-12. In this passage, we hear about the myrrh-bearing women meeting two angels and finding the stone rolled away from the tomb. The angels announce that Christ is Risen and they move from fear to faith. However, as they return to the Eleven disciples they are met with doubt. Peter, however, goes to the tomb and wonders upon seeing the stone rolled away and the linen cloths lying in the tomb by themselves. Our stanza from the “Glory” reflects on this by saying the following: “The women came at early dawn to your tomb, O Christ, but they did not find your venerable body. As they were perplexed, an angel in shining clothes said to them: Why do you seek the Living among the dead? He is risen as he foretold. Have you forgotten what he said? Being assured by the words of the angel, the women preached to the disciples about the things they saw. But their good news was received with ridicule, for the disciples were still without understanding. Peter, however, hastened to your tomb, and then glorified your wonders, O Lord.”

We see very clearly here what it was like for Christ’s followers after he died. He had promised that he would not remain in the grave, but this was forgotten by the men and women following him. The women went from doubt to faith upon hearing the angels’ words, but this preaching to the men (apart from Peter, it seems) fell upon deaf ears. This demonstrates that the message of the Gospel and the Resurrection was not easy to receive at all times. And it still isn’t! However, this testimony speaks to us, that one can behold the resurrection of Christ as the women did, and come to faith. Peter had to see the linens for himself, which may remind us of Thomas and his doubt that often gives him an unfairly bad reputation. But the common thread is that after the doubt and uncertainty, the revelation of Christ’s resurrection came to the believers. As we go through the Resurrection accounts of Luke, we will see other examples of this doubt coming to faith.

The fifth resurrectional gospel takes us through the Gospel of Luke, from chapter 24 verse 12 through verse 35. Here we have the famous passage often referred to as “the road to Emmaus”, where Christ meets two disciples, one is named in the text as Cleopas and the other is identified by Tradition as Luke, and as he speaks to them they do not recognize him. As he talks to them and walks them through the Scriptures of the Old Testament, they realize through his words that the Christ was to die and rise from the dead. With all of this discourse, they still do not recognize him as Jesus until they beg him to dine with them. At the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened that it was indeed Jesus, and the text says that He immediately vanished! Here is how the Gospel stanza takes us through this passage: “How wise are your judgments, O Christ! You granted Peter the understanding of your Resurrection by the burial wrappings alone. Even though you accompanied Luke and Cleopas and conversed with them, yet you did not reveal yourself. You were taunted by them as though you alone were a stranger in Jerusalem, not knowing what had recently happened there. But since you ordained all things for the good of each, you explained to them what the prophets had spoken concerning you. In the breaking of the bread they recognized you because their hearts were already burning with the desire to know you. When they came together with the disciples, they proclaimed openly your divine Resurrection by which we ask that you have mercy on us.”

This hymn focuses on our faith and the way Christ reveals himself to people. Note that with Peter, he was granted to understand by just the linen cloths. Likewise, Christ does not initially reveal himself to Luke and Cleopas. They are not alone in this point of obscurity. In John 20 we read that Mary does not recognize Christ at the tomb, thinking he was a gardener. Likewise in John 21 the apostles are fishing and do not recognize Christ until he reveals himself. Perhaps a key lesson comes from this hymn when it states that “you ordained all things for the good of each”. Christ will reveal himself to all people, but the manner and timing may be different. Maybe you were born and raised in the Church? Your faith may be like the myrrh-bearing women. Maybe you doubted and the smallest amount of research was needed? Your faith may be more like St. Peter. Maybe you needed to really wrestle with the faith to convert to it? That is more like what we read here. In addition to wrestling with the faith, however, note what really opens their eyes. The prophecies of the Old Testament and the discourse around them led their hearts to burn within, but they did not know it was Christ speaking to them. It is the breaking of the bread that opens their eyes, through the grace of God. The Holy Eucharist, the nourishment of our lives, is arguably the clearest means to open our eyes to Christ. Also note that in this account we hear that Christ vanishes. His revelation to people is done in a new way, and his body is a new body. This never happened with others such as Lazarus. They returned to a mortal life, still as a mortal person with a mortal body. The relics of St. Lazarus are still with us, but Christ ascended. Christ’s body was like ours in that he is able to eat as he broke the bread, and yet at the same time he is able to vanish. Or in the account of the faith of St. Thomas, he is also able to suddenly appear in a room. His resurrection is unique and other miracles where people are brought back to life are more akin to a resuscitation. Moreover, his resurrection is the source of life for all, which is really the most unique aspect of Christ’s resurrection which we behold. This life and the message of the resurrection is what is shared to the other disciples, and our stanza ends with us in the 21st century asking for the same mercy to come to us. We behold the resurrection of Christ when we live our liturgical life of the Scriptures which come to us. Our hearts can burn within, and our eyes can be opened so that we can proclaim to the world that Christ is Risen.

Our third gospel stanza which completes the resurrectional narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel is the sixth resurrection gospel, Luke 24:36-53. There are many parallels to the end of the Gospels, in that there is a focus on Christ giving his last teachings to his apostles. Matthew is famous for recording what is known as the Great commission to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded. Mark has a similar call to baptism and belief, with some verses focusing on miracles that will be wrought by those apostles. John’s gospel is more mystical and personal, so the commands there are focused on the ministry of Peter and the call to feed the sheep, with the poignant account of Christ asking three times whether Peter loved Jesus. The close of Luke is more broad, in that it tells us that Christ appears to the disciples, eats with them to show that he is not a spirit, and then he goes on to teach them as he taught Luke and Cleopas, and the Great commission is spoken, with an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sins. Lastly, Christ gives his promise that they will receive the promise from the Father to be clothed with power from on high (implying the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), and he then ascends into heaven. How does our Gospel stanza at Matins speak to this? We sing: “Since you are the true peace of God for us, O Christ, you gave your peace to your disciples after your Resurrection. They were frightened when they thought that they were beholding a spirit. But you removed the anxiety of their hearts when you showed them your hands and feet, yet they were still in doubt. But when you took food with them, reminding them of your preaching, you opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. You made the eternal covenant with them; you blessed them and rose, ascending into heaven. Therefore, with them we worship you; O Lord, glory to you!”

This stanza beautifully summarizes the last verses of the Gospel of Luke. It shows again that we can persist in doubt but that Christ lovingly reveals Himself to us when we listen to His words. One important phrase not seen so clearly in the scriptural text is the summary of Christ’s actions as “mak[ing] the eternal covenant with them”. Teaching them what he had accomplished by his resurrection and giving them a mission to spread the message is truly a covenant making endeavor. Salvation was accomplished, but as we have seen, there was a great deal of confusion and doubt. When Christ came to the disciples, the clarity and vision of the new covenant truly came to them. May that same clarity and mission come to us!

In closing, we can really see how much of our faith comes to us in just a small portion of matins. We could have focused on other stichera, or the canon at matins, or the sessional hymns, or the hymns of light. We could have read other Gospels and their accompanying stanzas. I hope that this glimpse into matins gives us a glimpse of the Resurrection. May we behold it with more and more light as we journey together in the faith. Christ is Risen!

Having Beheld the Resurrection of Christ Part I: The Resurrectional Theology of Sunday Matins

One of the most beloved hymns from Matins is “Having beheld the resurrection of Christ”. This beautiful hymn says something that we often take for granted, for this phrase that makes up the title of the song is an incomplete sentence. The full sentence is “Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us bow to the holy Lord Jesus, who alone is sinless.” At times we may turn to the Gospel of John and hear of St. Thomas’ doubt, where Christ says that he is blessed for believing but that those who do not see and believe are even more blessed than St. Thomas. How then can we say that we have beheld the resurrection of Christ, if we are those who are more blessed than St. Thomas? I think one important answer to this question is that we have been blessed with a rich tradition around the resurrection, with our Sunday resurrectional Matins that allows us even to behold the Resurrection of Christ. We will answer some key questions about the resurrection by looking to our liturgical traditions around matins and in so doing, come to behold the Resurrection of Christ all the more clearly. For today, we will focus on these questions: What are our sources that point to the veracity of the Resurrection? Was the tomb really empty? How does Matins speak to these questions?

To be able to answer this, we must confess: Matins is one of the more complicated services in the Byzantine Tradition. The word Byzantine in its adjectival sense of being complicated may be no clearer than when one tries to weave one’s way through matins! For the sake of focus and simplicity, we will consider the stichera, which are liturgical hymns, that come to us at the Psalms of Praise (Psalms 148-150). These are the last Psalms sung prior to the Great Doxology, and for Sundays there are 8 different sets of stichera based on the 8 tones. These hymns touch on many aspects of the resurrection, so for today we will turn our attention to four stichera that are all found in the same place during the psalms of praise. They attest to the remarkable nature of the resurrection and the sources that testify that it is not merely something that the apostles hoped for; instead, we will see that there are multiple grounds to believe in the historical reality of the resurrection. The tomb really was empty, and Christ’s resurrection is something that we can truly behold.

In the psalms of praise of tone 1, we are confronted with a hymn that points us to the reality of the resurrection. In the last sticheron before the “Glory” we pray, “Where are the soldiers who went to guard the grave? Where are the seals of the tomb? Where was the Buried One moved from the Grave? Where was the Priceless One sold? How was the Treasure stolen? Why do you deny the resurrection of the Crucified One, O wavering people, thus falling into error and transgressing the Law? He is truly risen as one who is free among the dead, and he grants great mercy to the world.”

In other stichera, we praise and exalt Christ for saving us. Here, our hymn speaks of six questions that are asked to an audience of “wavering people”. We may at times have our doubts, but this hymn asks questions that are really quite poignant sources to attest to the reality of Christ’s resurrection. Soldiers were guarding His most pure body (as the Tone 1 Sunday Troparion proclaims, as a side note) on behalf of both the Roman government and the Pharisees who did not want His body to be stolen. A seal further buttressed the tomb to keep it from being entered. Furthermore, even if these guards and seals could be broken, the questions continue by asking where Christ’s body was moved to, or perhaps it was stolen? How could this even happen? The last question really drives the point home-it asks in the face of these impediments to moving His body why we doubt or deny the resurrection, and we close the hymn professing his great mercy. But our tradition offers more. Let’s look at some other tones.

The sticheron from Tone 2 that is just before “Glory” in the Psalms of Praise is equally poignant about the reality of the miracle of the resurrection. It says: “O transgressors of the law, when you sealed the tomb, you did in truth magnify the miracle for us as the guards know; especially since you persuaded them to say on the day of his resurrection from the tomb: While we slept, the disciples came and stole him away. For who would steal a corpse, especially a naked one? He truly arose in his divine power leaving his shroud in the grave; without breaking the seals he has trampled down Death, and he has given to the human race life eternal and great mercy.” The questions and argument continue along the same lines, but it makes the point about the miraculous nature of the resurrection even clearer. First, it points out that by sealing the tomb and placing guards, it is a way to strengthen the veracity of the resurrection. The miracle is magnified because if he were to have been risen while in the presence of believers it would be one thing. Instead, he is guarded by Roman soldiers who do not profess faith, and there is the seal present. The question about the idea of stealing a naked corpse is a further question pointing to the basis for the resurrection not being fabricated. As one imagines the disciples confronting armed Roman soldiers, breaking the seal to the tomb that was given to them by Joseph of Arimathea, and then carrying out the naked body of Christ, the idea that the resurrection was fabricated melts away. The shock of the soldiers and the fact that the stone rolls away comes into our focus. And our hymns teach us this so clearly.

Tone 4 likewise has a sticheron that is also just before the “Glory” in the Psalms of praise that engages us to consider the reality of the resurrection: “Where is Jesus whom you thought you were guarding? Where is he whom you had placed in the grave and sealed with a stone? Give us his body, O deniers of life. Give us the buried one or else believe in the Resurrection. And even if you keep silent, the stones shall proclaim this good news, especially that stone which was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. How great is your mercy, O Lord, and great is the mystery of your plan of salvation! O Savior, glory to you!” Are we seeing a pattern here with these stichera? With tone 4 we likewise see several questions that teach us about the resurrection. Here we are talking to a doubting audience like the other tones, but we are even more focused on the guards by asking them this question: Where is Jesus? You were guarding him after placing him in the grave and sealing the stone! If you will not do so, perhaps you should believe? As we speak to the soldiers and others in doubt, we can speak to our own doubts and realize that they are not well-founded. As the hymn points out in echo to Christ’s own words about the stones crying out if one were to forbid the praise he received from the children on Palm Sunday in Luke 19 verse 40, if there is a stone that truly cries out in witness to the Resurrection, it would be the exact stone that sealed the tomb. Again, think of the Tone 1 Sunday Troparion: “The Stone was sealed….” In many ways one of the most reliable sources of the resurrection is not an angel or a human. This stone cries out as an impediment, together with the guards and the eyewitnesses who beheld his resurrection, to speak to its historical truth.

For our last liturgical reflection, here are the words of tone 5 in the sticheron that is found in the same place as the other 3 stichera cited above: “The guards, keeping watch over the God-bearing tomb, said to the Pharisees: Woe to your vain counsel, for you sought to keep the boundless One. You have labored in vain; for you thought that you could hide the Resurrection of the crucified One, but you only showed it more clearly. Woe to your foolish secret meeting. Why do you take counsel to hide what cannot be hidden? It would be better that you listen to us and choose to believe in that which happened. An angel, resplendent like lightning, descended from heaven and rolled away the stone, and from fear of him we were encompassed by death. To the courageous myrrh-bearing women he said: Do you not see the guards as dead, the seals broken and Hades emptied? Why do you then seek as dead him who abolished the victory of Hades and broke the thorn of death? Go quickly and tell the good news of the Resurrection to the apostles, and shout fearlessly, saying: In truth the Lord is risen, the One who gives us great mercy.” In this sticheron, we are going even more deeply into the mystery of the Resurrection. Our focus remains at the beginning on the guards, but we are brought into dialogue with the Pharisees who wanted the guards to watch over the body of Christ. They are given words not recorded in Scripture, but again point to the arguments for the resurrection very clearly. They note that in guarding Christ’s body the miracle is made even more clear, because it was ultimately futile to try to stop Christ’s resurrection. Further, they are cast as fellow believers with the apostles. While tradition holds that St. Longinus was the soldier who pierced Christ’s side and eventually believe, I do not know of a tradition whereby the soldiers guarding the tomb ended up believing in Christ. Nevertheless, this would make a lot of sense, particularly if they made the arguments that they are given to make in this hymn. As we heard, they profess that the stone was rolled away, and we learn that this was done by an angel, causing great fear among them. In addition, they appear to have been present when the angel spoke to the myrrh-bearing women. The message of the angel that the women received and was later passed to the disciples becomes another very important source of testimony to the resurrection. The faithful, together with the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees have heard the good news proclaimed by the angel, Christ, and yes, the stone. Christ is truly Risen! I hope these hymns and reflection on them have helped us see the beauty of the resurrection. The next time you sing “Having beheld the Resurrection”, realize that our tradition in Matins (and beyond) will show us that that is the case. Glory to Jesus Christ!

“The stone was sealed by the Jews, soldiers guarded your most pure body, but you, O Savior, arose on the third day granting life to the world. Therefore, the heavenly powers acclaimed you, O Giver of Life: Glory to your resurrection, O Christ! Glory to your Kingdom! Glory to your Salvation! You alone love us all.” Tone 1 Resurrectional Troparion

Whither Procrustes? The Old Testament as a Standalone Narrative

In rhetoric there is an often invoked concept of a Procrustean Bed, in which ideas are likened to a Greek myth of a character named Procrustes who showed his “wisdom” and “strength” by either lopping off limbs or stretching out limbs to make one the right size for his bed. The torturous images conjured have always spoke to me about what we can do with certain ideas or people. We can often add on to our perception of something or someone to make it seem fitting to us when it is considered deficient to some degree. Conversely, we can take away aspects of people or ideas when we find that there are unwelcome characteristics of those people or concepts and we would rather not think about those realities. In reflecting on the Old Testament, I would argue that many Christians including myself have been quick to adopt the Procrustean model in reading the Old Testament. This can be seen both with regard to people and spiritual concepts that are often stretched or selectively edited to fit our own preconceptions, particularly in the light of the New Testament. The implications of thinking this way are then drawn out from a pastoral perspective, in that we can then see ways in which we are Procrustean not only with the Old Testament but with our 21st century world. By considering the Old Testament as a standalone narrative, I would argue that the pitfalls of a limited and Procrustean mindset can be evaded, which not only helps our understanding of it as Scripture and literature, but may aid in our human formation to see each person as unique and worthy of consideration on their own.

The famous dictum attributed to Augustine that the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and that the Old Testament is revealed by the New Testament is worthy of consideration. The distinct authors, literary genres, cultures and ages leads one to see different perspectives on God and the world that has similarities to those in the New Testament, and at the same time those differences can arguably be seen most clearly in the stories of people such as Judith or Job. In seeing the New Testament concealed in the Old Testament, however, it is possible that the differences that come to us when we read the Old Testament as a standalone text can be lost due to our New Testament focus. The messages that are forced to fit a New Testament image may align perfectly with each other, but is this done at the expense of the message of the Old Testament itself? In our discussions of the Old Testament, we can see how the love of Christ is seen in the loving kindness seen in Ruth or the suffering of Job. This speaks precisely to St. Augustine’s phrase where Christ is concealed in books like Ruth and Job. However, this correlation is hardly a perfect one to one correspondence. When the focus on seeing the New Testament becomes all consuming, the message of the Old Testament can be lost (or at least diluted) in a Procrustean manner, and I would argue that this has implications with how we go about understanding the Scriptures and even living our daily lives.

One can be arguably Procrustean with the Old Testament in that the message and story of a particular person is one where we may omit aspects of that person’s life to make them more similar to the New Testament and ultimately to Christ. In the case of Ruth, I would argue that we are in this case of cutting off someone’s feet to make them fit the Procrustean bed. The union of the Moabite woman Ruth to become family to her mother in law Naomi, where her love makes the God of Naomi the God of Ruth speaks of the adoption of all nations into God’s plan of salvation (viz., Galatians 3:28). The loving kindness of Boaz as a kinsman redeemer has reflections of the love of Christ for His church who is His Bride (viz., Ephesians 5:25). All of these mystical allegories have been familiar to my understanding of this book of the Old Testament as I saw the Old Testament holding the New Testament concealed in its bosom. But did I really allow the story of Ruth to speak to me? In some ways, the answer to that question is no. For example, a common way of reading Ruth is to gloss over the narrative of Naomi’s counsel to go into the threshing floor and wait for Boaz. It is very clear that Ruth chapter 3:7-14 includes some affection and expression of sexuality prior to an as yet future marriage (which occurs in chapter 4) that could make moral theologians uncomfortable. Without coming to a point of reconciling the saintliness of Ruth and Boaz in light of this story, I want to emphasize here that this is an example of taking a story of salvation and union with the God of Israel and cutting out the parts that do not neatly fit into the context of this being a foretelling of the New Testament reality where all nations can be united to the God of Israel through the Church. Instead, there is a tendency to water down the text here to make the interaction in the threshing floor more familial or friendly affection in character, and yet our discussion of covering feet and the discussion of Boaz’s “cheerful heart” show that that would be an act of white washing the narrative. As such, I believe that we are being Procrustean with the story of Ruth by removing unwanted components of the story that are central to her union with Israel via both Naomi and Boaz.

One can also be Procrustean with the Old Testament in that the message and story of a particular person is one where we may add on to certain aspects of their life to make them more similar to Christ and the New Testament. I believe that this act of addition can be seen with people such as Job. In some ways his story is one where we add on or stretch him out to allow for him to fit into our theological Procrustean bed. The book of Job is a deep and sometimes puzzling account of a righteous man who suffered much and accepted much of that suffering in the presence of his wife who asked him to forsake God and his friends who tried to rationalize the whole experience. The story concludes with a dialogue between Job and God and ultimately Job is blessed greatly for enduring the suffering and the story ends relatively happily. In the Byzantine lectionary, some of the key passages of Job are placed in the spotlight during Monday through Friday of Holy Week. As we unite ourselves to Christ and the journey to the Cross during this season of the liturgical year, this important book in the Old Testament is a key point of reflection. Again, St. Augustine would praise this act of seeing the New Testament concealed in the Old Testament, and I would join him in doing so. Nevertheless, in seeing that Job suffered much as did Christ, we may miss something fundamentally different about Job as compared to Christ. In suffering, Job did not sin (Job 2:15) which speaks of the spotless lamb of God who is Christ our God (1 Peter 1:19), and it is clear that Job suffered so much more than the average person to show Satan that Job is a faithful servant no matter what befell him (Job 2:4). But the devil is in the details, as they say. Job 2:16-37 begins a section of this trial where Job and his 3 friends all talk and pray to God about the trials and tribulations that Job is facing. At times Job Himself complains and he even curses the day that he was born. The discussion considers many reasons as to why Job is suffering, from the idea that Job has sinned to the idea that suffering is just what we deserve, but these words of complaint and condemnation are silenced by the Lord Himself who begins to speak. In demonstrating the sovereignty and might of God in Job 37-41, Job speaks out in Job 42 with very stark words confessing his utter inability to truly comment or respond, closing by saying “therefore I depreciate myself, and I waste away, I regard myself as dust and ashes.” After these words we go to the story of God blessing and chapter 42 closes the book of Job, but in many ways I believe I have operated under a methodology that glosses over the starkness of Job’s words. It seems striking that Job does not have the vision of Christ who suffered and yet after dying is risen and then shows his disciples the message of resurrection and joy (e.g., Matthew 28:18-20). Job is blessed materially and his friends sins are forgiven (Job 42:10) but Job ends his religious journey in silence and hope is less clear than with Christ. As a recovering Procrustean, I believe that I took the clarity of Christ as Son of God and added that on to the narrative in Job to make the stories of Old and New Testaments more aligned.

What are the implications of having this mindset of molding Old Testament figures into perfect corollaries of a New Testament figure or Christ Himself? Two key consequences come to me as I have studied the Old Testament this year. First, with regard to the Old Testament people themselves, I have realized that in many ways I dehumanized them by adding or subtracting from their stories to make them fit my New Testament notions of the ideals. That Ruth may have done something in the area of sexual ethics that would not be counseled by some Apostles or Christ Himself for some reason is intuitively unsettling, and yet this is not done uniformly it seems. For example, the story of David and Bathsheba can be rationalized because of his strong repentance exemplified in Psalm 50. Be that as it may, the narrative of Ruth includes a story of her love that is not considered a perfect expression of love according to moral theology but that does not negate the reality of her story. Job’s lack of full understanding about God and his concluding statements on faith being focused on the silence at not understanding the mystery of God and his emphasis on repentance as opposed to restoration with clarity as is seen in resurrection may be called lacking. But it may also just be one of many rough edges wherein one can do as St. Augustine said and see the New Testament concealed in the Old, but that does not mean that the 1:1 correspondence is accurate. What might be missing in lacking the rough edges where there is a lack of 1:1 correspondence in Ruth or Job? They may be imperfections between Old and New Testament saints, but these may also simply be other manifestations of how the journey of faith may exist between two real people who are being aligned. In missing those uniquenesses, my faith experience runs the risk of being less manifold and three dimensional in its understanding of what the Scriptures can show to my eyes. If instead I am less Procrustean and allow each person’s life in Scripture an encounter with the invisible God, the visibility of these particular people will bring more dimensions to my encounter with the Scriptures.

Closer to my heart and daily life is the fact that being Procrustean is something that can be done with any person, in Scripture or otherwise. Pastorally, my ability to see Christ in my brothers and sisters will be hindered if being Procrustean is a status quo. Appreciating the overlap between the love of God and those who are transformed by it should not, I believe, be a filter that hinders my ability to see that love of God when a person is doing more or less than what I understand God’s ways to encompass. If I am Procrustean with my brethren it is possible that I would not be able to love them because I feel some sense of lack or discord between who God is and who my neighbor is. My appreciation of the Old Testament as being a standalone document and therefore not a 1:1 correspondence with the New Testament reminds me of the uniquenesses of people made in God’s image, and calls me to love even when those uniquenesses would force me to either add or take away from that person’s life to make them “just like” Christ. Realizing that I myself am also not “just like” Christ as well allows me the freedom to live without losing hope that Christ is presently in my brothers and sisters no matter if they seem to lack something Christ has or have some sin that Christ lacks. After all, salvation is a journey. Pastorally I believe that will allow for a deeper connection with all people and will provide a fertile ground for more faithful Diakonia in Christ.

A Journey through Salvation History with St. Andrew of Crete

Glory to Jesus Christ! We are getting closer and closer to Pascha in our Lenten Journey. This week we are blessed with this Sunday commemorating St. John of the Ladder. This is a wonderful image of a long journey to Christ, and in many ways this image will become even more glorious on this Wednesday evening at our parish, where we will have the opportunity to pray the Canon of our Holy Father among the Saints Andrew of Crete. At 7 p.m. we will begin this beautiful prayer service that is a fitting testimony to the reality that Byzantine Catholics are Bible Christians. Our dedication to more Lenten services will be put to the test, but as we will see perhaps even more important will be the words of the service and their test to who we are as those who believe in the Bible as the Word of God.

The Canon of Saint Andrew is based on the service of Matins. In Matins, there are traditionally 9 odes. They were originally the 9 most beautiful scriptural canticles; that is, the songs that aren’t in the book of Psalms. Over time these canons grew to be filled with beautiful poetry that replaced those canticles, and one excellent example of this is what St. Andrew who originated this type of poetry in Matins (including the Canon of the Nativity of Christ), and also composed this service that we will sing this Wednesday night. Who was St. Andrew? He was born in the 600s and fell asleep in the Lord in the 700s. He was born in Damascus to a pious family, became a monk of the monastery of St. Sabbas and eventually was the Archbishop of Crete. His poetry was so inspiring that we use this service in the odes which include 250 troparia telling the story of salvation history. Traditionally each troparion is responded to with “Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me” or “Holy Father Andrew, pray to God for us”, or a “Glory” at the end of each ode. Each of these responses would be followed by a prostration. 250 prostrations is quite the workout! Of course if we can’t do all of them physically our hearts may join in the asceticism, and I hope that that includes our hearts’ cry to follow Christ and know more of what we are praying.

In these 250 troparia, we dig deep into the word of God. St. Andrew calls us to consider our own sins and and how we resemble so many from the Scriptures. We consider all of our shortcomings first by comparing ourselves to the fall of Adam and Eve. We go through the falls and sins of humanity by continuing through the years and consider the following “short list” of Biblical characters in addition to Adam and Eve: Cain, Lamech, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth, Lot, Abraham, Ishmael, Hagar, Jacob, Melchizedek, Leah, Rachel, Esau, Job, Ruben, Joseph, Moses, Pharaoh, the midwives, Aaron, Jannes, Jambres, Dathan, Abiram, Ephraim, Joshua, Amalek, the Gibeonites, Manoah, Samson, Barak, Jephthah, Deborah, Jael, Gideon, Eli, the Levite from Judges, Hannah, Samuel, David, Saul, Uzziah, Absalom, Ahithophel, Solomon, Rehoboam, Ahab, Elijah, Ahaziah, Jezebel, the widow of Zarephath, Manasseh, Hezekiah, Elisha, the Shunnamite woman, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Daniel, in addition to the people who encountered our Lord in the New Testament. Let’s consider just one example from this long list above: “When a just person such as Job, who is totally beyond reproach, cannot hold off the attacks of the Evil One, what shall you do, O my soul, when misfortune falls upon you?” In meditating upon the Old Testament we are called here to ask if we can handle misfortune as well as one of our predecessors, in this case Job. He could not hold off the attacks of the evil one, so what will we do when misfortune befalls us? Job’s story is likely familiar to us and as such we can immediately go to the images put forth here by St. Andrew of Crete and realize that we need to deal with suffering better so often. But what of the whole list above? Did your ears hear any name and wonder who a given saint may be? If so, our tradition is calling you this year to be more of a Bible Christian, because if you’re a Byzantine Christian this is part of your tradition, to be a Bible Christian.

Now it should be clear that this is a very large list of saints. It can become overwhelming if very few (or even none) of these saints is familiar to us. One thought on this would be, forget it, it’s impossible. This service isn’t for me. I’m here today to say, no. Please don’t worry if you can’t understand all of the beautiful biblical references. Our faith is a very deep treasure, and the key to appreciating it is to simply know that if we are growing in our knowledge of the good, we are going in the right direction. I want to encourage all of you, and myself, to look at this service book (it’s online if you google Metropolitan Cantor Institute) and ask how you and I can become more familiar this year with just one of the characters in this text. In fact, let’s do this together right now. I’ll pick Ahithophel, because I’m sure he’s everyone’s favorite Old Testament character. He isn’t? Let’s learn more. Before we learn about Ahithophel in the Bible, let’s hear about him in the Canon. St. Andrew says this about Ahithophel in ode: “You have enslaved your dignity and your freedom to your body; and you have found in the Enemy another Ahithophel, for you have followed his counsels. But Christ has destroyed them in order to save you.” Ahithophel is a person we are told that gives us counsel to lose our dignity and to make our body our master. Christ is said to be the one who has destroyed the enemy and this slavery of Ahithophel. Who is this one who has counsels that we follow when we sin?

Now, in the Bible Ahithophel comes to us in 2 Samuel 15. We hear there that one of David’s sons, Absalom, wanted to usurp the throne of his father David. How did he do this? In part, he looked to the closest friends of King David. In chapter 15 we hear: “While Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.“

But things change after David loses his counselor, he also loses his throne. In his flight we hear, David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went. David was told that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, ‘O Lord, I pray you, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’”

David is in exile. Tears are shed in this exile, and repentance is sought because his counselor Ahithophel has betrayed him. Eventually, this betrayal of Ahithophel to join Absalom leads to him to give Absalom counsel instead of David. In the next chapter we hear: “Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the oracle of God; so all the counsel of Ahithophel was esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.” This is what David lost in the betrayal of Ahithophel. In many ways, he lost the guidance of God in losing this one who was considered to be an oracle of God. In the next chapter, there is a discussion-should the people of Absalom continue to follow Ahithophel who at this point is recommending a pursuit of David to kill him? Absalom sides with another advisor, and as such we read this in verse 23 of chapter 17: “When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order, and hanged himself; he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.“ What a tragic ending. A close advisor of David betrays him, he is eventually out of favor himself, and he hangs himself in desperation. The Psalms attest to this tragedy. Scholars say that there are 2 Psalms that speak to this loss. First, Psalm 40:9 states: “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.“ In Psalm 54:12-14 we hear David speak of a betrayal that he faced: “If an enemy were insulting me,I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.” If you have ever heard this Psalm of sharing bread and being betrayed and thought of the Last Supper you are not alone. Ahithophel is the Biblical basis for that Psalm that points us to Christ. The verses from Psalm 54 are sung liturgically in the 6th hour, which is traditionally sung at noon when Christ was crucified. The son of David is a lot like King David when we think of both David and Ahithophel. The Betrayal of Christ therefore is made clearer by our better understanding of Ahithophel, who shares bread with David and ends his betrayal by hanging himself just as did Judas. Let’s re-read the Canon of St. Andrew on Ahithophel now with all of this background in our minds and hearts: “You have enslaved your dignity and your freedom to your body; and you have found in the Enemy another Ahithophel, for you have followed his counsels. But Christ has destroyed them in order to save you.” We know the betrayal of Ahithophel more clearly which helps us understand how our dignity and freedom are enslaved to the enemy, and we can then understand how foolish it is to follow our passions. We are like those who did not follow King David but went into rebellion like Ahithophel (and Judas). This is a rebellion that leads not to pleasure or life but to pain and death. I hope that by digging into the Scriptures you are thus encouraged to dig more into our Church’s liturgical life by attending services such as what we have this Wednesday evening. It is truly rich and blessed, and if we would only give it more time we would see the beauty and majesty of our salvation through Christ all the more clearly as we journey to celebrate his holy resurrection. Glory to Jesus Christ!

A study of Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s Experience of God: Three Directions, Three Ministries

Adult Enrichment

Fr. Andrew Louth is a scholar of the Orthodox Church in his own right. Writing the introduction to Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s third volume on Orthodox dogmatic theology, Louth says that Staniloae “disguises an account of Christ that, though certainly deeply traditional and Orthodox, is challenging and even revolutionary in its approach.” Today we will reflect upon the Person of Christ, as Staniloae does a powerful way. We know that his given name is Jesus, a variant of Joshua. Christ, not being His last name (or middle name), is really His title. Christos in Greek expresses His being anointed, and really for the Hebrew mindset Messiah is the Anointed One who would save Israel. As the years have passed, systematic theology brought another three key titles to Jesus the Messiah. Staniloae argues that you can take everything Christ has done and continues to do as being linked to these three titles of Prophet (and Teacher), Priest (and Supreme Sacrifice), and King, who is King as a result of being our Risen Lord. At the heart of the matter is the Person of Christ to whom we are united. In His Person, we see His identity as Messiah saving as Prophet, Priest and King.

How does Staniloae lay this out for us? Let’s read just enough to see the grand view of his view of Christ as our Savior in chapter 5 and continue to the end of the volume. If we can follow this scheme, the following pages in future classes will be illuminated for us to see clearly.

First, let’s read page 85 and ask some key questions for discussion.

In the first paragraph, how do you see that Christ’s Person and His work of salvation are linked? How does the union between the divine nature and human nature which are both found in His person link us to salvation? Can His saving acts (life on earth, death on cross, resurrection) have happened if He were divine but not human? Our own path to Theosis becomes clear the more we think of humanity and divinity found in one Person.

In the second and third paragraphs, Staniloae says that the acts of Christ are not simply things that any certain person could have performed. Do you see that His work is irreplaceable? Is Christ as true God and true man accessible, or do we consider His humanity as something less than our own humanity? Are you surprised that he makes it clear that salvation is only in God and our personal relation to Him? This language of personal relation is not just terminology for Evangelical Christians! How do we relate to Him to receive the inexhaustible life?

Let’s continue and turn to the next page to read the first two paragraphs.

On page 86, Staniloae stresses that Christian dogmatics are not systems of ideas. At times we tend to make theology very abstract which is why many people may feel that dogmatics is not for everyone. It’s only for scholars, we may think. Or if we do enjoy dogmatics, we end up (as he says) finding ourselves alone with our own powers because we can be focused on abstract and scholastic debates. But we read here that Christian dogmatics is about a saving Person, not a saving Teaching. How often do we think that dogmatics is about ideas, frameworks, or our own impersonal powers? Are you surprised by his comment that no other founder of a religions is or is even called a Savior? Do you sometimes view Christ God as a legislator or teacher? Does this encourage us to see Him as Savior more in your life?

Staniloae is a profound writer, and perhaps all of these questions have been difficult to answer for us. That’s ok! As we continue to read, keep in mind that the Orthodox view of the Person of Christ is that He is perfect God and perfect Man. If his personal relation to us is unique and irreplaceable, we have to see why it’s important that He save us as a Person in terms of both His divine and His human natures. Continuing through the chapter, this is laid out with some profound philosophical reflections on the eternal God becoming man in history, vanquishing sin and giving His divinity to mankind. Importantly, he uses the phrase ‘direction’ to point out that our salvation is directed towards our own transformation and union with Himself. But there are more directions to salvation than merely our own forgiveness. He shows that Christ’s work of salvation is also directed towards Himself because in His human Person, His humanity was perfected through the Incarnation, as well as His life, death and resurrection. Thus, there is a direction towards which Christ’s salvation extends upon Himself. Lastly, in obeying His Father and glorifying us by uniting us to God through Theosis, Staniloae argues that there is a direction of salvation that extends to God the Father as well. We will skip over this section and return to these points to get to our focus for today.

At this point, we have really only reached the introduction to the introduction on how Christ saves us. Our key focus on Staniloae’s writings for tonight comes to us in the following passages which lay the groundwork for his reflections on Christ as prophet, priest and king. I would argue that if we spend enough time meditating upon these two pages of Staniloae, we would grow deeply in our faith in Christ our Savior. Let’s read the first full paragraph on page 89.

Just as we heard earlier that we do not make dogmatics abstract and focused on ideas or teachings, we are hearing here that Christ’s work of salvation is not divided. We must keep each aspect of what Christ as a Person has done for us to see our salvation in totality. When Christ sacrifices His body, He is doing what is most fundamental to a priest. He offers Himself for us. When Christ gives us teaching and examples through his deeds of service given to human beings, He is being a Prophet. He lives the truth that He speaks, just as the Old Testament prophets proclaimed the truth. Third, he shows his power through miracles, conquering death, and through us as He gives us commandments and salvation itself. Dominion and power are proper to kings, and as such, our salvation is critically linked to Christ as king. These are all one work of salvation, but perhaps we see one as more important than the other? Perhaps we neglect one aspect? Or perhaps you think only one is key? Share your thoughts on these aspects of Christ’s salvation in your life. Let’s read the next paragraph to think even more deeply.

Here Staniloae makes it clear that we are not supposed to put these three aspects of Christ as Savior into hermetically sealed boxes. Do you see that His Priestly ministry is linked to His kingly ministry when Staniloae says that “He sacrifices Himself by overcoming sin”? Do you realize that his prophetic ministry is linked to his kingly ministry when we read that “He teaches by serving”? Do you further see that He is a king as a priest when “He rules as a slain lamb”? As Staniloae makes clear, each aspect of His ministry is implied in the other two activities, but we can see the facets in clearer focus by meditating upon each quality. Christ is one person, and these activities are three and yet one reality.

Let’s read the next paragraph “On the other hand”

Again we are reminded that Christ’s work of salvation is not only three activities but Staniloae points us to three directions. If that brief summary was difficult to understand earlier, I believe this section will make things more clear, while still being quite profound. He stated that Christ’s salvation is the perfecting of His own body which saves and unites us to God, who is also glorified by Christ’s obedience and our salvation. Here he applies this to Christ’s three ministries. First, Christ’s priestly ministry is directed towards His own body because He offers His own body. His priestly ministry is directed towards God the Father because He humbly obeyed His Father in offering Himself. His priestly ministry is offered to us because He saves human beings. Staniloae says that as Prophet, when Christ lives a perfect life and performs exemplary deeds, this is a model for us, but it also a “materialized teaching” offered towards God and it also perfects His human nature. While this teaching is for us, it is offered in obedience to the Father’s will in service and praise to the Father. Lastly, we read that when Christ exerts power over nature, death, and human beings, we see that as King we are saved, Christ glorifies the power of God in the Trinity, and since He is the second Person of the Trinity, His entire Person (body included) receives this Kingly power. This imagery of direction of salvation makes it so clear that salvation is not just about our forgiveness, but is a beautiful work of salvation that glorifies Christ’s humanity, God the Father, and humanity united to the Trinity. Thus, we have the very brief sentence that ends page 89.

Christ is a prophet, priest and king towards his human nature. He is a prophet, priest and King with the Father. He is also a prophet, priest and king towards us. Do we tend to see these ministries only with regard to the “direction” of our own salvation? If so, we may miss the beauty of our salvation even if we hold to these three ministries as important. We must hold to the ministries and see the intimate connection within them as ministries, and marvel at their connection to Christ Himself, to the Father, and to humanity. You may ask, do these three “directions” and three ministries really matter as being intertwined as is laid out here? Staniloae has an answer. Let’s turn to the next paragraph at the top of page 90 to answer the first question.

By becoming incarnate as man, the Son of God raises us up to direct communion with Himself as God. But we do not only want to see that we are raised up. Christ Himself also humbles Himself as man which gives an “obeying relationship” with the Father. Further, this fills His human nature with His divinity. We need to understand that Christ’s humanity is filled, the Father is glorified, so that we can have a realized and actively promoted relationship between God and human beings. Relationships are not one way streets, after all! Instead of thinking that God “only” reaches down to us, Staniloae shows that Christ serves to make the Incarnation perfected or complete through His ministry. He also perfects or completes those whom He saves. Of course, if we are Trinitarian we need to think of Christ as Son of God. When we do, we see that the direction towards God the Father is just as important as the directions that lead to the filling up of Christ’s humanity and our own redemption. How often do we miss the love and relationship if our hearts only consider salvation as legal transactions that lead to our own forgiveness? The forgiveness or direction of salvation towards us is real, but without reflecting upon the directions within the Trinity, and the direction towards Christ’s human nature, we miss the relationship that is a mystical union between God and man, and among God Himself. Does this help us see how so often the mystery of salvation may not capture our hearts as deeply as it could? It is so much more than absolution. It is love and life itself, it is relationship! Staniloae has more to say that makes this vision even more profound. Let’s read the next paragraph.

This paragraph wondrously shows us that the three operations/qualities/ministries of Christ as Teacher (Prophet), High Priest and King are essential to save and perfect human beings. They must also be exercised by us in a pure and eminent way that comes to us through union with Christ. As Prophet, we have to live and say the truth. Willingly walking the path that leads us to God requires the enlightenment that only Christ has. Thus, only Christ is the perfect Prophet, but through Christ we can be able to participate in His life as Prophet. As Priest, we have to actively live in a state of sacrifice, which means that we must have no enmity with ourselves, our neighbors or God. To give up our pride and ego is not simply a matter of moral perfection; Staniloae shows us that this is the heart of priesthood. Any other offering or sacrifice is not a complete gift, but is limited by what is held back. Thus, only Christ can be the perfect Priest but again, through Christ we can participate in His life as Priest. As such, having a direct relationship with the Person who is able to offer a pure sacrifice that is able to destroy sin and its consequences is what is needed for our salvation. Lastly, Kingly power sustains us because the calling to live as just described is not something that our simple human power can do. All one needs to do to prove that this is the case is try to live on our human power. It becomes quite clear that we need this union. And again, this union is not about mere reception of forgiveness. It is receiving a higher (kingly) power to walk a path of a sacrificing (priestly) life that is made known through the (prophetic) all-true and all-illuminating teaching. These ministries are not simple professions of who Christ is. Staniloae expands this vision of who Christ is to include our understanding of what our life is all about. We are to be prophets, priests, and kings because we are to be united with Christ. The vision of what salvation is transcends the often individualistic or narrow view of modern Christianity, not to mention modern man. Do we see that this is what we are called to do? Do we see that personal relationship is linked to this vision of expanding Christ’s ministry to our own lives? If not, we may need to meditate more upon what Staniloae has to say. In our next class, we can do just that by continuing our reflections on what it means for Christ to be a Prophet, and how that is intimately linked to our lives.

Works Cited

Staniloae, Dumitru. The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011, pp. 85-90.