Forgiveness

Most people, when they say to others “forgive”, they mean stop processing the pain, because your pain makes them uncomfortable. The only way of healing is through the pain — and it is only through the pain that true forgiveness can happen. 

Forgiveness is a process. . . it lives after the processing of grief and of facing abandonment. 

True forgiveness is a process that takes us deep into ourselves and our own pain. It is not the same as excusing the abuser. It cannot be forced; it cannot be accomplished by saying mere words. It cannot be rushed, for if it is rushed it is false. 

Forgiveness is a journey. . . . a journey into a wound that someone has made in us. . . . only to discover that the wound is deeper than this person who wounded us, and that there are a lot of other people in this wound, and one of those includes myself.

Until we forgive the darkness in ourselves, we do not know what forgiveness is.

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Herod Destroys Himself and Others

Sermon Sunday after Nativity

CHRIST IS BORN!!

   Today we celebrate the leave-taking of Nativity. It is also the Sunday after Nativity, so we celebrate the kinsmen of the Lord: Joseph the betrothed, David the King, James the brother of the Lord. 

   James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. When the council of Jerusalem is called, it is James who presides over it. It is likely that James was the son of Joseph from an earlier marriage. The words of that time were not so concerned with describing the precise relationship. Cousins, siblings, half siblings were covered under the same word. The icon of the escape to Egypt often will depict James prodding the donkey on while Joseph attends to Mary. 

   Wisemen from Babylon have just left; and Joseph takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt. This is to indicate the what Christ will accomplish is for all mankind. Christ and the Holy Family leave a dangerous place to trek the desert to go into another country for safety. Just as Abraham did before Him, He leaves the city of His birth. Just as Israel (Jacob) did before Him, He goes to Egypt for safety. He becomes a fugitive. 

   And the reason for their escape into Egypt was that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. 

Herod was not a very stable person; some might call him mad. When he was troubled (which was often) Herod’s court had to find ways of dealing with him. He sees a threat to his position, and he reacts in fear. In his fear he has many young children killed, including two of his own sons. In his fear, he destroys all that he should have loved, including himself. 

   And his actions wound others — . . . . deeply. . . . with the deepest of wounds. . . . mothers watched their little sons being murdered before their eyes. Ramah was the seat of the judge Deborah; Ramah was the home of Samuel the priest, the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. Ramah was the seat of the tribe of Benjamin, whose mother was Rachel. There was a memorial to Rachel near Bethlehem. The Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping and wailing; Rachel would not cease weeping for her children —  because they are no more.”

   The proto martyrs of proto martyrs. . . . all because of the ego, and fear of a madman who was their ruler. . . . .all because of his fear and obsession. 

   How can we apply this to ourselves? Herod is such an extreme case that it is easy to think that this cannot possibly apply to us. But let us not think that this is just about someone else. 

   What are some of the things we obsess about? that we have our ego bound up in, that we have let our fears make decisions for us — and don’t see how we are destroying what we love?

   The Word of God took on our flesh from the Theotokos — took on our wounds, but without wounding Himself as we often do, to the astonishment of the demons who would never think of what we freely do to ourselves. He took on our flesh so that He could heal our wounds and bring us to salvation. 

 

   The Eternal God became a little child — humbled Himself for our sake, that He might live this human life that we usually mess up, so that He could reclaim it for Himself and offer it to His Father. 

   By His death He conquered our enemy — death, . . . and made a path for us to His Kingdom. 

   By taking on our humanity, He, the Eternal invisible God the Word became visible. . . a little child. 

Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Today we have a guest blogger — St. John Chrysostom

THE NATIVITY SERMON OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

“I behold a new and wondrous mystery!…”

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly
chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!
The archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The cherubim resound their joyful praise!
The seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein…on earth and man in heaven. He Who IS above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed. He had the powers. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who IS, is born. And He Who IS becomes what He was not! For though He is God, He becomes man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the Heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. Behold, kings have come, that they might serve the leader of the hosts of heaven; women come, that they might adore Him who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; virgins come, to the son of the virgin…infants come, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; children come, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men come, to Him who became Man that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds come, to the good shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests come, to Him Who has become a high priest according to the order of  Melchizedek; servants come, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom; fishermen come, to the Fisher of humanity; publicans come, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist; sinful women come, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman.

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!  Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice!, I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! but I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation. This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too with the angels and shepherds sing:

Glory to God in the highest! and on earth peace good will to men!”

How we treat our children: an American Abomination

How we treat our Children: an American Abomination

Jeremiah 6:13 “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.

14 They have healed also the wound of the daughter of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.

16 Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

In our country today abominations are happening daily: Abominations of abortion, abominations of forcibly removing children from their parents. Both are abominations. One group seeks to justify the first abomination; another group seeks to justify the second abomination. Some are pointing to the other abomination and insisting that it somehow justifies commiting the other abomination, as if we are ourselves children going to our parents who ask “DID YOU?” and responding with “BUT HE”.

There is no justification. Jesus offers His harshest condemnation to those who offend the children: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

Both of them are abominations. We are wounding our children and ourselves; a wound that affects them, and us for life. With Jeremiah the prophet we must condemn both, for both treat the Image of God as something to be thrown away. In Jeremiah’s day, he condemned the offering of children to Ba-al Molech. Today we are offering our children to be thrown away. We must stop doing this, or we must face the judgement of God through His prophet. 

The Good Samaritan

Once again we come to the story of the lawyer testing Jesus. Once again Jesus bounces the question back at the lawyer. Once again the Lawyer answers rightly “Love God; love your neighbour.” Once again Jesus tells him he is right, do this and he will live. Once again the Jesus turns back the attempt to ensnare Him. 

   But Luke continues the story where Matthew left it. The lawyer seems to sense that Jesus has pointed out to him especially the need to love his neighbour. And so he seeks to justify himself, and asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answers with this well known parable of the Good Samaritan.

   Samaritans were viewed as halfbreed New Age semi-believers; they believed a little bit of everything.  The Jews despised them. If Jesus were giving this parable to the Westboro Baptist, the Samaritan would be gay; if He were giving this parable to a racist, he would be black. So we must ask ourselves: who do we despise? This is the person who is the Samaritan for us. 

   We all know this parable well, there is no point in me retelling it. But who are we in this parable?

   First, in a very real sense, we are that lawyer in that question, “Who is my neighbour?” 

   Do we respond to need like the priest or the Levite? both of whom had legitimate reasons that they could use to justify not helping? Do we respond with questions, “what will happen to me if I help?” If they touched blood, or if the wounded man died on them, they would not be able to serve in the temple. Both priest and Levite put their own concerns above the needs of the wounded man. The Samaritan realized that the man could well die if he did not help, and so he helped him and bound up his wounds. This is a service that Jesus calls us all to in this parable, to bind up the wounds of others we come in contact with.

    Sometimes the wounds are obvious; sometimes they are not. We must be the one who has mercy. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

   So our neighbour is everyone. And in this day of internet and global communications, our neighbour may well be on another continent. We must be the one who has mercy. We must be the one who listens, who hears, who gives space for others who hide their wounds. 

   In another sense, we are the innkeeper. We have been given a stewardship for the care of others. We must attend to them, for the Lord has already made payment to us, and has promised to recompense us if we spend more. We also, as innkeeper, have a charge to keep our inn in good order. The inn was a hospital to the wounded man. Here we have this church that is a hospital for wounded souls. We must do our best to make sure this ministry is available for all. 

   Thirdly, we are the man who fell among thieves. During the 5th week of Great Lent the hymns of Vespers and Matins remind us of this; many of them are based on this very parable.  Thursday Vespers before the Great Canon has this hymn:

In my wretchedness, I have fallen among the the thieves of my own thoughts. My mind has been despoiled, and cruelly have I been beaten; all my soul is wounded, and stripped of the virtues, I lie naked upon the highway of life. Seeing me in bitter pain and thinking that my wounds could not be healed,  the priest neglected me and would not look at me. Unable to endure my soul-destroying agony, the levite when he saw me passed by on the other side. But Thou, O Christ my God, was pleased to come, not from Samaria, but incarnate from Mary: in Thy love for mankind, grant me healing and pour upon me Thy great mercy.

I am the man who fell among thieves, even my own thoughts; they have covered all my body with wounds, and I lie beaten and bruised. But come to me, O Christ my Saviour and heal me.

   Jesus is the Good Samaritan Who binds up our self-inflicted wounds. We are our own enemy. We inflicted upon ourselves grievous wounds. But Christ comes to us to bind up and heal those wounds.

   To Him be glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. 

Review: Cappella Romana: Rakhmaninov Vigil

Review: Cappella Romana: Rachmaninov All Night Vigil. 

Of the times I have heard Cappella Romana do the Vigil, this was clearly the best balanced. The extra bass personnel made for a very enjoyable concert experience. Benedict Sheehan did a masterful job of piloting the choir through not just the Rachmaninov, but also several other pieces that provided a  context that gave the audience a taste of what was covered in a typical vigil. The intonation was wonderful. On Nynye Otpushchayesi the tenor solo was good if a bit nervous. The descending bass line at the end was helped by the services of Glenn Miller, the basso profundo who has become well associated with this work throughout the USA through his participation with many choirs. There was even a nice F1 at the end of Bogoroditse Dyevo. 

There was a tendency to not accent the strong syllable through much of the concert. This became most problematic with the singing of the small glorification (6 Psalms). If the choir accented SLA of “Slava” as much as Rachmaninov wrote for them to, it was lost in the acoustics of St. James Cathedral. The Bell effect that Rachmaninov composed was mostly limited to the sound of the various voices together creating the proper tones and overtones. 

On the Velichaniye (Magnificat) the sound of the men was very satisfyingly solid. The women had balance issues with the altos and 2nd sopranos overpowering the 1st sopranos. 

The Cappella Romana added many of the parts that would change from service to service to round out the concert and give a sense of context. They performed these hymns quite well.

It was overall a glorious concert with the voices accomplishing a feat of stamina and not sounding tired at the end. 

As an encore the Choir proformed Chesnokov’s Nye Otverzhi Menye with Glenn Miller singing the solo that he first premiered with the Illumni Men’s Chorale, singing the original ending the Chesnokov wrote.   Later, he won a Grammy with Conspirare with this piece. We were spoiled richly. 

The Cost of defiling God’s Image in others

Last year in Charlottesville

 

It is the anniversary of a difficult weekend in our nation. When we see the events of this weekend last year, the natural thing is for us to get angry (not that our anger is natural, but that it is what we are thrown to feel), and then to feel helpless and frustrated. We see violence against the unarmed. We see the images of actions taken by hate-filled men, and know that where we can’t see, that someone died as a result of their action.
 
We see people saying that one race is better and that other races are less. Yet this is a denial of Creation; it is a denial of all of mankind being in God’s Image. Saints Peter and Paul both denounce this. Indeed the Council of Constantinople in 1872 condemns phyletism — any superiority based on race, nationality, or ethnicity. It is heresy. And the very word “superiority” is an abrogation of humility. Humility is the fundamental virtue; without it, no one will be saved. We must reject this appeal to lack of humility. It is not hyperbole to say that what is happening in our nation is demonic. And this kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.
 
If we quiet ourselves enough, we can notice that underneath the anger and frustration, is fear: Our own fear that our country is falling apart, The fear that drives others to commit such acts of hate against their fellow humans. If we were to read the portion from Galatians before the appointed epistle reading we would see the fullness of it: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalry, dissension, partisanship. . . . these are the works of the flesh — and we have seen much of that recently. It is hard to look at what has happened and respond with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Yet this is the fruit of the Spirit.
 
Violence against any wounds all of us. The Spirit can heal our wounds — but we must be open to that healing. Jesus took our passions on Himself and nailed them with Himself to the cross. He bids us to come to Him with our passions and burdens and accept His burden instead of our own; for He is gentle and lowly in heart. (indeed gentleness is a pun for Christ in Greek) There we will find rest.
 
And He invites us to learn from Him. As He is humble and lowly, so He invites us to be humble and lowly . . . to lay our burden down — to take up His burden. Our burden is usually what our passions excite in us. For a time we enjoy that excitement; after a while what was exciting becomes tiresome, a drain, a burden.
 
Humility is very much lacking in our society. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. Humility takes the sword and beats it to a plowshare, and then uses that plow to dig in to see what passions make our decisions for us. And thus exposed, our passions can be healed by our heavenly Physician. For from His fullness we receive grace upon grace.
 
God gives us the grace to bear the burden. Yet in a real sense, it is the grace bears us.