Assumption of the Holy Virgin Church
Orthodox Church in America
Clifton, NJ
Friday, January 15th., 2021

Friday, January 15, 2021

Epistle: 1 Peter 1:1-2, 10-12, 2:6-10             Gospel: Luke 20:19-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage is the introduction of the First Letter of St. Peter. Peter set up Churches in Asia Minor. This letter was written sometime between 50 and 67 AD and probably written from Rome.

He made the point in this introduction that what was written previously by the prophets from the Old Testament was written for those who believed in Christ. There is continuity between the Old and the New Testaments and it is through Christ, the Son of God who became man and offered His life as a ransom for all mankind. Thus, for Peter, everything written prior to Christ was written for Christ and for those who believed in Him.

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.”

Peter also reiterated what Jesus said about those who rejected Him, which is that the stone which they rejected has become the cornerstone. He wrote:

“Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,”

They who were the custodians of the Law and the Word of God rejected the very author of that Word and for that reason, they stumbled. To those who do accept the teachings of Christ, however, he concluded:

“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

For us too, let us not forget the wonderful blessings we have been given from Christ, not only for today but for all eternity!

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, the spies sent by the chief priests to trick Jesus asked Him to whom they should pay taxes. Jesus replied:

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

This same separation of jurisdictions still holds today. When standing before Pilate, Jesus said that His Kingdom was not of this world and the authority Pilate had was given from above. As you know, this country has strongly believes in the separation of State and Church. The Orthodox Church agrees with this in so far as what the State requires does not contradict Church teaching. The Orthodox Church ideally likes to have a symbiotic relationship where it can advise the State but leaves the State to make the final decision. The Orthodox Church always prays for State authorities.

Thursday, January 14th., 2021

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Epistle: James 4:7-5:9      Gospel: Luke 20:9-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

The community that St. James was writing to had clearly been enduring divisions and going through difficult times. Some of them still had strong connections to those Jews who did not believe in Christ. The non-Christians would have been more than eager to discredit this new sect and judge it. Those Christians who had close ties with them, either as relatives or old village friends, could easily have been influenced by them. Many of the non-Christian Jews were wealthy at that time. Such people can become very arrogant. Jesus, in His time, had warned about such wealthy people with the words, “Woe to you who are rich!” and James also expressed the same thing. In an obvious reference to the wealthy non-Christians Jews he wrote:

“You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.”

In today’s passage, he wrote this advice to his own community:

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

As in yesterday’s passage, he wrote that God draws near to the humble but resists the proud. He wrote in this segment:

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

He also wrote about those who travelled from Jerusalem and gained wealth from the Roman Empire through their commercial dealings and boasted about them. He wrote:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

Some of the community was also judgmental of other members. He had strong advice for them too:

“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”

So, there was a lot going on to disrupt his community! Some were arrogant. Some were envious of those who were wealthy. Some boasted about their wealth through trade. Others were judgmental. To all of this, he urged his community to be humble and patient, waiting for the coming of the Lord. They had already been persecuted by the Jewish authorities and  were soon to be expelled because they were growing in numbers. They were outsiders and ostracized. They did not know then but it would not be long before Rome got fed up with the Jews and destroyed the whole state, including their magnificent Temple. They could not have seen that the coming, which James urged them to long for, would come in a completely unexpected way. It happened through the Romans, who destroyed the Jewish state and its Temple and scattered its survivors. The Romans would persecute the early Church too. James himself would be executed. Even so, the Christians communities not only survived but thrived. Ultimately, the cross of Christ would overcome the whole Roman Empire and it would end up embracing Him.

In the face of the above issues, St. James was very forthright and has given us important lessons to us as well. When the Church forgets the poor, it becomes separated from Christ. When it becomes arrogant, God withdraws from it. When it becomes judgmental, it loses its mission to bring others to Christ. It must always strive to be humble so that the love of God the Father will draw close to it. The Orthodox Church teaches this throughout the year and puts emphasis on it during Great Lent, when we pray to not judge others, for humility and, we are urged to give to the poor.

As a parish community, we too must heed these lessons. If, like St. James, we seek the coming of the Lord and stay focused on Him, the Holy Spirit will guide us through all trials. The moods and swings of the fallen world will come and go but all they can offer in the end is death. In instead, if we seek the Holy Spirit, we will pass from death to the life of the Kingdom of God. We have much to pray for in these troubled times!

James concludes this passage about patience with these words:

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke is the parable about the vineyard owner who, at the time of harvest, sought to gain its fruits. The vinedressers refused and ultimately killed the owner’s son to take the vineyard for themselves. The vinedressers were the Jewish authorities and the owner is our heavenly Father.

I wrote about this parable on Thursday, December 3rd. If you scroll down to that date, you can read what I wrote.

Wednesday, January 13th., 2021

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Epistle: James 3:11-4:6          Gospel: Luke 20:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Orthodox Church teaches that Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God. Tragically, when they disobeyed His command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, these two attributes were greatly damaged. We have inherited this sin. While to some extent we still have the desire to seek goodness and commune with God, our inclination to remain in likeness like God has been very badly damaged. Today’s passage from the Letter of St. James confronts this same contradiction.

The community which he wrote to believed in Christ. They had been freed from the Old Mosaic Law through baptism so that they might live a life of righteousness in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is obvious from this passage that some were not living up to their commitment to Christ. He wrote that, just as salt water and fresh water cannot come from the same spring, it is impossible to make the claim that they belonged to Christ but at the same time chose to live a life of envy and jealousy. He warned them against harboring evil thoughts in their hearts. He wrote:

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.”

As mentioned, our likeness to God has been greatly damaged. Thus, because we live in a fallen world, we easily fall into sin. Our body is easily inclined to envy and jealousy and if we succumb to it, we lose the grace of the Holy Spirit. James continued:

“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Thus, any outward conflicts among them originate from within their hearts:

 “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”

In contrast, those who live in the Holy Spirit will be people of peace. He wrote:

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

In other words, the same simple principle applied to them as it does for us: stay focused on Christ, strive to live His teachings and the teachings of the Church, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance so that we can control those sinful passions which may well up inside us. Always remember that the righteousness of Christ has conquered any such sinfulness and even when we fall, He will never refuse us. Further, when we humbly recognize and repent of such desires like St. Peter did after he denied Him, we will love Him all the more and the grace of His Holy Spirit will be even stronger within us. This is the cross that we must bear: striving to live in Christ while at the same time, confronting and rejecting any sinful passions within us. As St. Paul said in his Letter to the Romans:

“Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Let us humbly pray that the Holy Spirit will always reign in us despite our weaknesses. The Holy Spirit does not produce jealousy within us but humility. Thus, St. James concluded this passage with these words:

“Do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke is the one where the Pharisees ask Jesus where He gets His authority from. Jesus would not answer them because they would not say where John the Baptist got his from. They knew that if they did not say that his came from God, they would start a riot among the people. They were trying to trick Jesus to use His words against Him.

I elaborated more about this passage on Wednesday, December 2nd. Scroll back to that date to find it.

Tuesday, January 12th., 2021

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Epistle: James 3:1-10             Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Epistle of St. James can be summed up with the simple phrase: watch what you say! In it, he uses examples from nature and society to point out the power of the tongue and the words that come from them such as a bit to control a horse or the rudder to control a ship; we can tame all types of animals but who can control the tongue? We are capable of using it to bless our God and Father but we can also curse with it! For this reason, he cautions the community from having too many teachers.

It is obvious from several of St. Paul’s letters that he had to warn against gossip in his communities. St. James must have had the same problem come up with those whom he wrote to.

On page 1793 of the Morning Prayers of the Orthodox Study Bible, we pray each day:

“Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.”

The Orthodox Church teaches that all the appetites given to us by God are good. That includes our power to express our thoughts in words. There have been many fine preachers throughout its history. For example, St. John Chrysostom was called the ‘golden mouth’ because of his eloquent preaching. The problem, as St. James pointed out, is that it can also be used for destruction. It can be very damaging to others if false accusations are made. We have to be especially careful with the gift of speech to not let it turn into a sinful passion because it can so easily happen! How many of us have regretted saying something we should not have said from the past? Almost everyone who goes to confession lists gossip as something they struggle with. Do not be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of being ‘golden mouthed’ like St. John Chrysostom. We may never reach his eloquence but let us pray that what we say will be pure.

The only way to avoid such pitfalls is to stay focused on Christ. This is also why the Orthodox Church says to never judge anyone. The only absolute Truth is Christ. When we adhere to Him, we are given the Holy Spirit and the gift of righteousness that He offers. If something serious comes up that we feel obliged to speak about, study what Christ’s Body, the Church teaches regarding it. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Gather as many facts as one can and make sure that any assertion made is backed up by reasonable evidence or witnesses. Otherwise, say nothing. Never, ever, judge an individual person and his soul. Leave that to the appointed time at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Just as Metropolitan Tikhon quoted from St. Paul, in the aftermath of the ugly violence on Capitol Hill last week,

‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor’ (Rom 12:9–10).

St. James simply wrote at the end of today’s passage about a poisoning tongue: “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” Let us pray that this will be so for us.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account about Jesus driving out the merchants in the Temple and crying out:

“It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

I have written about this previously. Please look back to my message on Friday, August 7th 2020 to read what I wrote.

Monday, January 11th., 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

Epistle: James 2:14-26           Gospel: Luke 19:37-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

In introducing the Letter of St. James last Friday, I wrote that he is the one who wrote: “Faith without works is dead.” Today’s passage spells this out very clearly and I recommend that you click onto the above link to read it fully. He concluded this segment by writing:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

The memory for the followers of Christ of his death and resurrection would have still been fresh in their minds. James wrote this letter no more than 30 years afterward. The bulk of those followers were Jews, steeped in Judaism. Until the time when they started to be persecuted by the Jewish authorities, who were afraid of Rome’s reaction to their growth, many would go to both the Temple and to a Eucharistic service that broke bread in memory of Christ. So, many of them were devoted, pious followers.

The city of Jerusalem was wealthy. The Temple was a very impressive complex. The High Priests and Scribes would also have been very wealthy but this led to corruption. Jesus had condemned it. James had already complained that some followers of Christ were very partial towards any wealthy visitors who would come to their services but would also push away the poor and the beggars. In today’s passage, he wrote to them to say that it is all very well to have faith in the Word of God but what is the use of it, if it is not backed up with works to show it? He caustically commented on their lack of action in regard to their faith by writing:

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!”

He continued by giving the example of Abraham and Rahab, who backed up their faith in God with action. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son at God’s command. Rahab, a prostitute in Jerico, recognized the power of God and harbored two Jewish spies working for Joshua. Her action spared her and her family and she converted. For James, here was a woman who did not live an admirable life but was not only prepared to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but was prepared to act on that belief at the risk of her life. Thus, to his early Christians community, James was saying it was one thing to be pious and devoted but of little use if it did not heed the example of these two Old Testament figures.

The Orthodox Church has used the Letter of James to teach us that it is always important to put our belief in Christ into action. At the height of the Byzantine Empire, such practice was often ignored despite the fact that the Orthodox Church has always taught it. This is why it puts strong emphasis on charity or almsgiving. It is part of the Orthodox Way. St. John Chrysostom preached about it constantly and chastised his people for failing to give generously to the poor. James’ letter is a timely reminder to us that the face of Christ is always in the poor. In America, we use the body, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), to serve people in times of crisis and need. It has a well earned international reputation for the good work that it does.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem when the people thronged towards Him, laid out palms in front of Him and cried out:

“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

The Pharisees complained, asking Him to stop them but He retorted:

“I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Jesus then went on to lament that the Jewish leaders were given the words of eternal life but they rejected it. This would be their downfall. Ultimately the Romans, whom they thought were their guardians, crushed them and destroyed the Temple. The Orthodox Church, in using today’s Epistle and Gospel, recognized that it is only by trusting in the Word of God and keeping it, that its people can be saved. The Jewish leaders, the custodians of God’s Word, failed to fulfill their calling to preserve it but a pagan prostitute, Rahab, did believe and acted on the Word of God and was saved. When someone in the crowd praised Jesus’ mother for nurturing Him, He responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Remember also, the parable of the sewer and the seed that fell on good ground rather than in thorns. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples:

“If you love Me, keep my commandments and my Father will love you and send you the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth.”

St. James warned his people to not stray from this commandment. We too, need to keep on our guard to not drift from it. Once again, let us always humbly pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us in keeping Christ’s commandments through His Body, the Church with its teachings. Let us never be afraid to act in a way that serves Christ and His commandments, each day in our lives.

Sunday, January 8th., 2021

Sunday, January 10th 2021

Epistle: Ephesians 4:7-13        Gospel: Matthew 4:12-17

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes about us using our talents for the sake of the Body of Christ.

Having been given the gift of righteousness through Christ and access to the Kingdom of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit through the washing of baptism and the anointing of chrism, freedom from the Mosaic Law and from sin, the many blessings from the Church such as the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, St. Paul taught the people that they were now able to do the work of the Church through the talents that Christ had given them. Thus, for:

“some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

So, instead of falling back into sin, they could now build up the Body of Christ to store up treasures in heaven by using the talents that Christ gave them to continue His work of proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all those around them.

This mission is still at the forefront of the Orthodox Church’s work today. We are still called to use our talents in what way we can to build up the Church. It is in this way that the life of the parish continues in the name of Christ. One important step to enable its work to be effective is formation. This is why those who feel called to be priests must go to a seminary and study the Living Faith or Tradition of the Church. They must know its Living Faith. To be educated in this way is necessary to be able to be effective ministers. St. Paul was a teacher and a preacher. All his letters advise and teach his people to live in Christ and bring others through them to Him.

It is also important therefore for us to continue with our own education in the faith beyond childhood. I write these messages, not only to encourage everyone to stay focused on Christ in these difficult times but also to teach about the Church. Just before the pandemic hit, I had begun Bible Study to help our faith grow. The more we know about it, the more effective we will be in living out the Church’s mission to bring people to Christ.

The other element is our closeness to Christ. This grows by us using the Orthodox Church’s Way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving throughout the Church’s calendar and liturgical seasons as well as by regularly using its sacraments of communion and confession. We should also avail ourselves of the many other blessings such as the water blessed for the Theophany that we just celebrated. These blessings of the Church help us to reach out to Christ in times of struggle and hardship. They are there to heal and strengthen us. We may not feel righteous in such times but it is through our very weaknesses, as St. Paul wrote, that Christ uses us most effectively.

We know that this has been a traumatic week in the politics of our country. There will be as many opinions as there are people about the ugly scenes of last week but remember that though there were groups in Jerusalem during Jesus’ public life, who tried to get Him to join them, He never acceded to worldly thinking. Instead, He went on the cross to sacrifice Himself for the salvation of mankind’s souls. As we pray in our morning prayers:

“You did become man and deigned to endure crucifixion and death for the salvation of all who rightly believe in You.”

Once again, the only effective way to make this country better is to stay focused on Christ and pray for ourselves, our families, our parish, our city, our state and our country. Pray for also for the salvation of the souls of those who lost their lives because of the incident, especially the police officer from our state. As Metropolitan Tikhon stated a couple of days ago:

“O Lord Jesus Christ, who have descended the waters of Jordan sanctifying the whole creation and offering us a new life, protect and keep this country and grant it peace, tranquility, and reconciliation!”

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew describes what I have been writing about. He wrote:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

This time of difficulty with the political unrest and the pandemic will pass. Pray for the country and its leaders, just as we do in every Divine Liturgy, not to bring it to our persuasion but instead, that the Kingdom of God will be established on earth as it is in heaven. The next words of St. Matthew are very pertinent:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Nothing has changed in regard to the fallen world as it was then in comparison to now. Stay focused on the Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed.

Friday, January 8th., 2021

Friday, January 08, 2021

Epistle: James 2:1-13 Gospel: Luke 19:12-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is from the Letter of James the apostle.

James was a kinsman of Jesus Christ and the first bishop of Jerusalem. He was martyred about 62 AD. This letter is probably the first written work of the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, Chapter 8, it describes how this Church was dispersed after the Jews began persecuting the community. His letter is pragmatic in many ways. It was he who wrote that “faith without works is dead” but he also wrote a lot of other important teachings.

In today’s passage, he wrote very bluntly that we do not judge anyone by outward appearances. There we some who were chasing rich people but despising the poor, especially those who were shabbily clothed. He wrote:

“If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”

He warned them to be wary of the rich and their motives. He continued:

“Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?”

He then quotes a basic commandment of the Law:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

In other words, once again, do not judge others. Further, he wrote that we should be “judged by the law of liberty” which is, of course, is Jesus Christ and not the old Mosaic Law.

Because we live a life in Christ, we should never judge others either on the surface by such things as clothing or by gossiping about a person’s behavior. Nor should we ever turn away someone from our church because we do not think that they ‘fit in.’ Thinking such as this would destroy the parish. We never know whom Christ may send to our community. We must always welcome and never judge. The Holy Spirit also ‘blows where He wills’ and He may send someone as a blessing to the parish even if we cannot see it on the surface.

This does not mean, of course, that we should expose the parish unnecessarily to danger. During this time of the pandemic, we have been told by our bishop to lock the doors of the church and only let those in who have called ahead of time. After this restriction is lifted, when the danger of the Coronavirus subsides, we will open our doors again to everyone. If then, a stranger comes to the church for a service, leave it to the priest to assess him or her. Our prime goal is always to bring people to Christ. If they are not Orthodox, the priest will talk to them about converting and joining the parish. This process necessarily takes time.

Thursday, January 7th., 2021. The Afterfeast of the Theophany and John the Baptist

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Epistle: Acts 19:1-8               Gospel: John 1:29-34

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, in the Orthodox calendar, we celebrate the Afterfeast of the Theophany together with the Forerunner, John the Baptist. A joyous and blessed Theophany to you all!

I had mentioned in a message at the end of last week a story in which St. Paul met some former disciples of John the Baptist. This very story is used in today’s Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul asked them:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

When asked how they were then baptized, they said with a baptism of repentance from St. John the Baptist. Paul then explained to them that John had predicted that one was to come after him who would baptize people with the Holy Spirit. He explained that it was Jesus who would do this and so, they agreed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The story continues:

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.”

Today’s Gospel uses St. John the Evangelist’s account of Jesus meeting John the Baptist. John preached to the people that one would come after him who would not only preach repentance like he did but that He would also baptize with the Holy Spirit.

“John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

This was all part of God’s plan for our salvation. The prophets spoke on His behalf. They were His messengers and almost always, the Jewish people either ignored or rejected them. Sometimes they killed them because they did not like the message. St. John the Baptist was the final messenger before Jesus and after the demise of the Temple of Jerusalem, there have been no others. God now speaks through Christ’s Body the Church. That promise of the Holy Spirit continues through it. The Church offers the blessing of the Holy Spirit in many ways but His initial blessing comes to us at baptism and chrismation. Yesterday, we had the Great Blessing of Water, a basic element of life. If we, like the disciples of John the Baptist described in today’s Epistle, believe in Jesus Christ and strive to keep His teachings, then the Holy Spirit will also come to guide and strengthen us.

God’s plan unfolded despite the resistance of the Chosen People and it will continue to unfold through Christ’s Body the Church, no matter how much it may seem to be oppressed. The task for us is to be prepared to take up our cross when Christ calls us to, so that we may sanctify the world around us. Let us rejoice at John’s witness and his call to repentance and let us like his disciples, humbly approach the altar in a spirit of repentance so that we will die to ourselves and live in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

The Theophany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, January 6th., 2021

The Cosmic Dimension of the Feast of the Theophany

On January 6th we celebrated the feast of the Theophany. We call it that because the Trinity manifested itself when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Our familiarity with this annual event might lull us into taking this feast for granted but what happened there was of momentous importance.

Firstly, the very creator of the universe entered into space & time, into our world, as a little babe, in very humble circumstances, survived Herod’s wrath & grew up as a child in Nazareth. Having come of adult age, he was about to set forth on His public mission, in obedience to His Father in Heaven. The first step was to be baptized by John in the River Jordan.

Secondly, when He took this step, the Trinity, the Creator of the universe, was made manifest: the Father spoke saying: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Then the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove & rested on His head. Many people throughout the centuries could not accept that the Son of God can be present on this earth as both true God & true man at the same time. Some say he is God but not fully human; some will say that he is a great man but not truly God. This moment shows that it was actually true & that the Truth we recite in the creed: true God & true man, accurately expresses what the event we celebrate today is about.

Thirdly, this manifestation was not just for our own edification but is much more. It is cosmic! The creator of the universe shows us that the whole of creation is included in this Truth. Until this point, all of creation groaned & was subject to futility, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. This was so because of the sin of Adam & Eve. This event, together with the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, his birth & the other related stories described in the New Testament, happened as part of the Trinity’s plan to right this wrong.

For this reason, in the Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus baptism with a Great Blessing of Water. In the blessing, it prays about the elements of creation that God has given us. It says:

“By your might You uphold all creation & by your providence You direct the world. You have fitly framed creation out of four elements; You crowned the circle of the year with four seasons. All the reasoned-endowed powers tremble before You. The sun sings Your praises & the moon glorifies You; the stars intercede with You; the light obeys You; the deeps shudder before You; the water springs serve You. You have spread out the heavens like a curtain. You have established the earth upon the waters. With sand, You have walled the seas. You have poured forth the air for breathing. The Angelic powers minister to You. The choirs of Archangels worship You. The many-eyed Cherubim & the six-winged Seraphim, as they stand round about & fly, cover themselves in fear before Your unapproachable glory.”

One can see from this prayer that the Orthodox Church connects the earth to the bodiless powers of heaven. Thus, heaven & earth are united at this event. The Church in its prayers reflects on God’s revelation through water. It says:

“You are our God, who through water & the Spirit, has renewed our nature, grown old through sin. Thou are our God, who with water did drown sin in the days of Noah. Your are our God, why by the sea, through Moses, did set free from slavery to Pharaoh, the Hebrew race. You are our God, who did cleave the rock in the wilderness, so that water gushed forth & streams overflowed, satisfying Your thirsty people. Thou are our God, who by water & fire, through Elijah, brought Israel back from the error of Baal.”

Because of this connection to water, it is the practice in the Orthodox Church for families to have their homes blessed from the water blessed in this great blessing. Where the weather is suitable, churches have the practice of blessing a body of water such as a lake or a sea, throwing a cross into it & for those able, to jump in & retrieve it. Plunging into water certainly connects creation with this feast.

Please note that, because of the pandemic, this year the Orthodox Church in America will not allow house blessings to be done until after Pascha.

Let us not forget therefore, the cosmic dimension of this feast. Let us also not forget that we have a responsibility to care for God’s creation in any way we can. Before they fell from Grace, God gave Adam & Eve the responsibility to care for His garden, to name the animals & the plants & to offer them back to Him. These themes are regularly mentioned in the liturgical prayers of the Church Calendar.

We should, therefore, always treat creation with respect & reverence and be on our guard to not abuse it. In these times when scientists are so concerned about mankind’s impact on this earth, especially from manmade global warming (with its rising sea levels & intensifying storms), pollution and the use of plastics and toxic chemicals, we should do all we can to not add to this abuse. The Orthodox Church’s practices of prayer, fasting & almsgiving put us on the path of caring for creation but we need to be alert to prevent unnecessary abuse by limiting our energy use, avoid using Styrofoam & being conscientious about recycling. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to guide in this task, so that when we come to such moments in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar, we can offer back to Christ and our heavenly Father all those efforts for their glory & honor.

Monday, January 4th., 2021

Monday, January 04, 2021

Epistle: Hebrews 11:17-23, 27-31     Gospel: Luke 17:20-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle to the Hebrews continued the discussion about the importance of having faith in God to gain His favor. It gives many examples from the Old Testament where people’s faith was tested and who did not falter. The early Christian Hebrews were urged to follow their example. They kept their faith because of a promise from God. The early Christians had that promise by being given the Holy Spirit. There were many noin-Christians who tried to dissuade them but his readers were being urged to never turn back.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom would come. Jesus replied:

 “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Orthodox Church teaches that the phrase, “the Kingdom of God is within you” is central to understanding how we live out our life in Christ. We were promised the Holy Spirit during Jesus’ public ministry. St. John the Baptist also promised that He would be sent. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, on Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire and they began to speak in many languages. This was not the only time, nor was it the only way that the Holy Spirit manifested Himself after the resurrection. It was common practice in early Christian prayer services that they would pray in tongues. After St. Paul laid hands on some people who had been baptized by John the Baptist, they began to speak in tongues. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit blows where He wills.

Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to those who were born again by water through baptism. The Church has kept this practice up by baptizing people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Following the practice of the apostles, the Orthodox Church also anoints the person with chrism, calling specifically upon the Holy Spirit to come them. At the end of the service, that same person is given the sacrament of communion to receive the life giving Body and Blood of Christ in the name of His Church. From the first generation on, after the apostles, the early Church began to baptize infants.

Those who criticize the practice of baptizing infants do not know that the early Church began it. These are called the three sacraments of initiation. Unfortunately, the Roman Church split up these sacraments, often putting confession before communion. Even though the Protestants broke with Rome, they continued the same practice. So, Baptism and Chrismation, which Rome called Confirmation, falsely began to be regarded as sacraments of commitment rather than initiation. The three sacraments of initiation bestow upon the baptized person the Holy Spirit and the Life Giving Body and Blood of Christ, as Jesus promised in St. John’s Gospel.

Several changes made by the Roman Church unfortunately de-emphasized the phrase used by Jesus in today’s Gospel that the Kingdom of God is within us. The first was the insertion by the Roman Church of the “filoque” into the Nicean Creed. It therefore deemed that the Son of God shares with the Father the role of begetting the Holy Spirit instead of being begot through the Son. This placed Christ up ‘in the clouds’ distancing Him from the very people He came on earth to humbly mingle with. This mentality has strongly influenced the Gothic architecture of the Roman Churches where they reach for the sky as far as they can. A second factor is Rome’s claim that sanctifying grace, the grace of the Holy Spirit, is a created medium, thus preventing us from directly communing with the Trinity. The Orthodox Church believes that God’s grace comes directly to us from the Holy Spirit. It also claims that its manmade canon laws are divine and that people can only be justified in the sight of God by adhering strictly to them. The Orthodox Church does not believe that its canons are divine because they are manmade. Finally, for Rome, the sacraments were given by Christ to atone for not only the sin of Adam and Eve but also their guilt. The Orthodox Church believes that we only inherited the sin of Adam and Eve, not their guilt. These factors placed heavy burdens upon its faithful in their desire to be one with Christ.

For the Orthodox Church, the Holy Spirit is freely given to us at baptism and He journeys with us throughout our lives as a ‘paraclete’ or comforter, to guide us to the Kingdom of God until we leave this life. It believes that, with its guidance, baptized Orthodox Christians can commune directly with the Trinity. Instead of being used to atone for our sins, the sacraments are therefore seen as vehicles to enter into the mystery of the Trinity. Christ commanded us to celebrate the breaking of the bread in memory of Him so that we can commune intimately with Him and therefore the Trinity. The Orthodox Church sees itself as a hospital for its souls where it offers many many blessings to help us keep the Kingdom of God within us. Do not hesitate to use them!

 

Sunday, January 3rd., 2021

Sunday, January 3rd 2021

Epistle: 2 Timothy 4:5-8        Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from the Letter to Timothy, St. Paul gives a summary of his life. At this point, he knew that his earthly life was to soon come to an end. In his letters, he often wrote about being righteous in Christ and he concludes this letter with similar words. He wrote:

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

He had suffered a lot for his faith in Christ and had been given many heavy crosses to bear in His name. In the same passage he wrote:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Just like Jesus, his life was poured out to others, for their salvation.

Keep in mind that the crosses we bear also give us an opportunity to do the same. At the time, they can be difficult bear, sometimes very painful, but let us keep the larger picture in mind, that somehow they help to bring about God’s plan of salvation for us and for others. It is not that we look for suffering, but when it does come our way, let us offer it back to Christ for the “crown of righteousness” as St. Paul described it above. In that sense, it becomes a time of joy because it stores up treasures in heaven for us and others.

This same theme of joyfulness is the basis of the beautiful Encyclical that the Synod of Bishops of the OCA published for New Year’s Day. Please click onto or, copy and paste the following link if you would like to read it: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-synod-of-bishops-issues-an-encyclical-of-hope.

Today’s Gospel passage is the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. It starts off by writing about Jesus’ predecessor, John the Baptist and describes him as a prophet:

“As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’”

This is why the Orthodox Church describes him as ‘The Forerunner.’ Thus, Mark’s introduction continues:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

The passage goes on to describe how John lived and how he preached the Word of God. What distinguishes Jesus from him in this passage is that where John is able to preach a baptism of repentance and the immanence of the Kingdom of God, only Jesus could bring the Holy Spirit to the Chosen People and later on to the Gentiles.

“And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We know, as Orthodox Christians, that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to us when we are baptized. It is from that moment that we take up our cross each day and call upon the Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and guide us on our daily journey. We know that we have been given the fruits of the Holy Spirit to deliver us from temptation. We know that through the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the Kingdom of God which Jesus and John had preached about. We also know that it is through the Holy Spirit that we become part of the Body of Christ (the Church) and the Communion of Saints that St. Paul taught about and what the Orthodox Church continues to teach. These are the blessings that will give us eternal life and will nourish us day to day, especially through the Eucharist. Do not take these blessings for granted. No earthly blessing can come close to these blessings. They are given by God to us as the earth’s custodians but they mean nothing if the above spiritual gifts are not embraced or brushed aside because, unlike the world’s benefits, they are freely given!

Let us learn what true value means. It is the only Truth that will matter in the end, namely, Jesus Christ. Let us never lose sight of Him, what He taught and continues to teach through His Body, the Church. The Orthodox Church is very conscious of this mission and continually strives to be faithful to that teaching and that of the apostles.

Friday, January 1st., 2021

Friday, January 01, 2021

The Circumcision of our Lord and Savior Jesus ChristSt. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia (379). Martyr Basil of Ancyra (ca. 362).

Archpriest Terence Baz

Happy New Year!

The Gospel today is the same as it was a couple of days ago so, I will not comment on it. I wish everyone of you a blessed New Year. Difficult times still lay ahead but hopefully the pandemic will ease off by the latter part of the year. I urge you today to read the beautiful statement put out by the Holy Synod of  Bishops of the OCA. Please go to this link to read it:

https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/holy-synod-of-bishops-issues-an-encyclical-of-hope.

I wish you all every blessing from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the coming year. You are all in my prayers!

Thursday, December 31st., 2020

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 10:35-11:7             Gospel: Mark 11:27-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle to the Hebrews continues the discussion about the difference the sacrifices of the Old Testament was compared to the one sacrifice of the Son of God, made man. The former falters but the latter enables us when we partake in the Eucharist in memory of Christ to reach the throne of the Kingdom of God. Having previously written about this, today’s passage discusses the importance of believing or having faith in Christ. Without it, such a service would be nothing more than a ritual. Further, we need to hold fast to Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the apostles. Otherwise, we will return to perdition. We must remember that there were people outside the early Christian communities who were trying to influence its members to return to their previous pagan ways or the Old Covenant (Law) ways or variants of them. The purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews was to warn early Christians not to take heed to their attempted coercion.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders of the Jewish people approached Jesus and questioned Him in regard to what authority did He have to teach the people. He knew what they were trying to do. If He had said from God, they would have accused Him of blaspheming and used it against Him with the people. So, He threw the question back to them concerning John the Baptist, asking by whose authority had John preached. They would not answer it because they knew they would get a backlash from the people if they said that John’s preaching was only from man and not from God. Jesus therefore did not answer their question of Himself.

These Jewish leaders knew they were the custodians of the Law and therefore, the Word of God. They were strict in applying the letter of the Law to the people but they never fully kept it. They only wanted to be seen as the upholders of the Law but broke the precepts that they did not like. Jesus accused them of this. Worse still, however, was that they were not at all interested in being faithful to their more sacred responsibility to be custodians of the Word of God, because that would have required them to restrict the wealth they gained from the Roman taxes or other unlawful income sources such as the rent from the merchants’ tables in the Temple. The Word of God was brushed aside for the sake of appearances. They did not want to be confronted about this so they tried to challenge His authority to do so.

For us today, our recent experience with the Coronavirus has taught us that as beautiful as our churches are, they do not go to the heart of our community. We experienced a time when all the parish churches were shut, including the most sacred times of Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha. We all reverted back to the Typica Services for prayer, even going without the Eucharist and Communion. This is obviously not a desirable situation but it did bring out that what are at the heart of our communities are us being a family of believers in Christ and the teachings of the Orthodox Church. As such, we are Christ’s Living Body on earth. We also learnt that we could continue on our mission through technology. It was not easy but we were able to broadcast our services, once we began again, by streaming them online. Some people still do not feel safe enough to attend but at least they can see and hear the service. They too are part of the Living Body of Christ. What unites us is our prayer and faith. The Jewish authorities rejected this truth because they were afraid of losing their power and wealth. What is important for us to remember, therefore, is that as beautiful, sacred and convenient as our churches may be, what matters to our Heavenly Father is that we remain faithful to His Word and the teachings that His only begotten Son gave us through Him. We have been blessed to be able to resume our Eucharistic Divine Liturgies and one of the reasons I write these messages is to help you keep in touch with the Word of God. I also hope that they help you to stay close to Christ and strengthen you in these difficult time

Wednesday, December 30th., 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 10:1-18       Gospel: Mark 11:22-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews continues the discussion about the profound impact of the Son of God coming to earth to sacrifice Himself on the cross. This sacrifice supplanted all previous ones.

“By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

I wrote yesterday that the priesthood offered by Christ to His apostles and thus to His Body, the Church, enables the priest to offer that same sacrifice back to our Heavenly Father in memory of Him. We also call upon the Holy Spirit in that moment to sanctify the bread and wine into that same Body of Christ, so that we too can be sanctified. To quote from today’s passage:

“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before.”

The Eucharist that we celebrate at the Divine Liturgy is the New Covenant which sanctifies us and frees us from our sins. Unlike the Old Testament, when the Chosen People constantly became cold hearted and stiffed necked, not taking the Word of God into their hearts, the command from Jesus to His apostles at the Last Supper, to do the same breaking of bread in memory of Him, will always profoundly write it on the hearts of those who participate. Again, today’s passage states:

"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them, then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

This is no magical ritual, however! Unless we participate with humility and purity of faith, it will only remain a ritual. It may be easy for us to take for granted the rituals and prayers of the Divine Liturgy but if we do, we brush aside the profound implications of what happens during it. The difference between the New and the Old Covenant is that when we do participate in the Eucharist with humility and faith, we reach the very throne of the Kingdom of God! Nothing could be more profound because the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could not do this.

When I wrote two days ago about St. Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus driving out the money changers from the Temple, I pointed out that we need to ask for humility and faith when we pray. St. Mark added a third pillar today: forgiveness. When we pray, we need to pray for the freedom to let go of hurts and grievances from others so that we can forgive everyone around us. When we do, we enable our souls to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. If we genuinely strive to forgive, pray with humility and have a childlike faith in Christ, our Father will hear our prayers. Jesus said:

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

We have to humbly wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to us in our hearts to give us the clarity to see how our prayers are answered.

Tuesday, December 29th., 2020

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 9:8-10, 15-23         Gospel: Mark 11:11-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the letter to the Hebrews discusses the Old Covenant where the spilling of blood was a necessary part of the rituals the Chosen People performed in an attempt to be redeemed from their sins. The author pointed out that such sacrifices of animals “cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience.” They were always in inadequate. Only the Son of God, who came on earth, could atone for our fallen nature from the sin of Adam and Eve and it was by the sacrifice of His blood that mankind could be atoned and made righteous.

It is for this reason that, in preparation for each Eucharistic Liturgy, the priest cuts out a cube from a loaf of blessed bread called the Lamb. Then, at the Consecration he says the words, “This is My body” and “This is My blood of the New Testament” and then, before calling upon the Holy Spirit to sanctify those gifts (the Epiclesis), he offers them back to our Heavenly Father with the words:

“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.”

We do this with confidence, thanks to the sacrifice the Son of God made by His blood on the cross. Unlike the Old Covenant, when a priest today offers Christ back to His Heavenly Father, he does so in a perfect way, atoning for all the sins of this fallen world and all of creation. In contrast to what the Letter to the Hebrews said of the Old Covenant, the Eucharistic service that Christ commanded us to do in memory of Him, enables our conscience to do it perfectly. Through that commandment, Christ’s Body lives in on His Church that now enacts this bloodless worship in order to bring salvation to all the cosmos. He is the High Priest who appointed the apostles and those whom they would anoint to continue on His priestly work. We too have been freely given the enormous privilege of experiencing this heavenly sacrifice each time we attend and partake in the Divine Liturgy. Nothing else can take its place or even come close to it! This is what gives us Life. This is what unifies us with the Kingdom of God. The word ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving.” Let us always thank God for this privilege and the sacrifice His only begotten Son undertook to allow us to partake in it.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark is his account of Jesus entering the Temple and overturning the merchant tables, thus driving out the money changers. This story is given in all the Gospels and is central to Jesus’ confrontation with the Jewish authorities and the powers of darkness. It was from this incident that the authorities clearly decided to find a way to kill Him. St. Mark’s account also mentions the incident with the fig tree that had no fruit. Jesus cursed it and it died. It was included to show the real fate of the Jewish authorities who rejected Him. Contrary to what may have seemed to be the case on the surface, they were the ones who would really die for all eternity because they would not produce the fruit that God had commanded them to bear, which was to be the custodians of the Word of God. They not only ignored their task as custodians of it, they rejected it completely. The subsequent destruction of the Temple and all of them 40 years later happened because of their rejection.

Let us always embrace the all-powerful Word of God with humility and faith.

Monday, December 28th., 2020

Monday, December 28, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 8:7-13         Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage from the Letter to the Hebrews reflects on how the Old Covenant is inadequate thus, making the New Covenant with Christ necessary. The sacrifices of the Old Testament could never cover for all their sins. It points out that a new covenant would be made where the current one was inadequate. There is a sense of urgent compassion in the text where our Heavenly Father longs for us to truly be His people.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

He longed for a new era where everyone, great and small, could remain in His covenant.

 ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

That was achieved, of course, when He sent His only beloved Son, who poured out His life for all creation. By simply living “in Christ” dying to ourselves and taking up our cross, we are given a righteousness through the Holy Spirit that the Old Covenant could never give.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who called out to Jesus to heal him. The story has some important lessons for us. The first is that no matter what people may think of us or even what we think of ourselves, as long as we believe that Christ can heal us, He will. We may not see how but in the fullness of time, it will happen. The second is to never give up on our requests. Our Father loves us for crying out to Him like this when we recognize our inadequacies. The third is to never be afraid to be bold with our petitions. The disciples and others who followed Jesus thought that this man was not important enough to bother Him. In response, not only did he not follow their orders, he boldly called out all the louder! The fourth was that not only did he have faith. He reverently respected His authority when he used the words: “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”

The Orthodox Church recognized the importance of this type of intercessory prayer and so includes it in its services a lot. In the Divine Liturgy and most other services, the phrase “Lord, have mercy!” is used all the way through them. It also forms the basis of monastic and personal prayer when we use the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

Let us try to embrace these lessons, knowing that Christ will never withhold His Holy Spirit, when we cry out to our Heavenly Father in prayer. It is one of the great gifts given freely to us so that we can continue on in the trials of life.

Sunday after the Nativity of Christ, December 27th., 2020

Sunday, December 27th 2020

Sunday after the Nativity

St. Stephen the First Martyr

Archpriest Terence Baz

I am using the Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles today in memory of the Church’s first martyr, St. Stephen, the deacon.

The word ‘martyr’ means witness and this reading gives the story of how he was killed. It happened after Stephen had used the scriptures to teach the truth, that all of the witnesses of the past bore testament to the Son of God becoming man in the person of Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God and witnessed it through His miraculous works. Stephen accused the Chosen People from the past of murdering many witnesses, especially the prophets, because they resisted the Holy Spirit. He then accused the High Priests and Temple leaders in front of him of the same, pointing out that they had murdered John the Baptist and more recently, Jesus. The account wrote that “they were cut to the heart.” They hated him for his words and therefore took him out of the temple to stone him to death. As he was being stoned, he saw a vision of heaven and proclaimed:

“Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

The Jewish leaders may have won a material or earthly victory by ending Stephen’s earthly life but they condemned themselves as the custodians of the very teachings from the God they were supposed to represent. Stephen accused them of not listening to the Holy Spirit and their response was to take the violent action of stoning him, instead of asking whether their own relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was right or not. They chose to ignore warnings that Jesus had previously given them about the future destruction of the Temple because what He said threatened their earthly power and wealth. They chose cling onto the power of the fallen world instead of repenting as Jesus had called them to. They chose to cling onto a Temple built by human hands and Roman taxes, not the God it was supposed to represent. In doing so, they chose the only thing that the fallen world can ultimately offer, which is death. They also chose a Temple that would be doomed to destruction because its sacrifices were no longer acceptable to God. What they tragically failed to see was that the Spirit of God was victorious because Jesus rose from the dead. They may have killed Stephen in the body but his angelic witness shone forth, touching the hearts of countless others, even Saul, to be able to accept the Risen Christ as God’s only Son who had become victorious over death. This was the truth that Stephen was witnessing to, that it was only in the Risen Christ that they could attain righteousness and eternal life, not in our frail bodies or fickle material wealth.

The account concludes with a final witness from St. Stephan. It wrote:

“Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Even though Stephen had borne witness to the sins of the Jewish people just like the prophets had, he prayed for his persecutors. He did not need to avenge their action. He forgave them, just as Jesus did at the end of His earthly life. In the same manner, whenever the saints of the Orthodox Church have been martyred in the name of Christ, they never condemned their persecutors but often prayed for them. Let us never be afraid to witness to Christ just as our predecessors have.

Jesus also foretold of such witness in today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew. Jesus used a parable in responding to the Pharisees, to make clear how their predecessors had persecuted God’s witnesses, the prophets, before Him and were plotting to do the same to Him as well. They themselves became the accusers in how they responded to the parable. They said:

“He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

The passage concludes:

“Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

They rejected the Word of God but it would become the cornerstone for eternal life. Thus, their hearts became hardened and their eyes blinded to what God was saying to them. They were not interested in listening to the Word of God because of their arrogance.

The best antidote to such arrogance when we read the scriptures, is to pray for the gift of humility from the Holy Spirit. Even if we have pride within us that we do not notice, when we pray in this way, the Holy Spirit will cleanse it from us. Jesus had said,

“Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”

We must always listen with humility. This does not mean that we cannot talk freely to Christ by pouring out our hearts to Him but we need to ask that we remain humble. When we do, Christ will speak to us and we will eventually be able to hear Him.

Thursday, December 24th., 2020 the eve of the Nativity of Christ

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Old Testament Readings: Genesis 1:1-13; Numbers 24:2-3, 5-9, 17-18; Micah 4:6-7; 5:2-4; Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah (Baruch 3:35-4:4); Daniel 2:31-36, 44-45; Isaiah 9:6-7

Epistle: Hebrews 1:1-12                     Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

Archpriest Terence Baz

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

I want to begin by thanking all of you who read my daily messages! I write them to help encourage you and stay focused on the Word of God during these difficult times. I hope they are for you.

Today’s services, Compline and Matins, use numerous Old and New Testament readings to outline many of the aspects of God’s plan of Salvation until the announcement of the glorious news of the birth of the Son of God. They start from the Book of Genesis and work through several prophets who forecast His coming. You can read them for yourself by clicking onto each one or by copying and pasting the above links.

Today’s introduction of the Letter to the Hebrews describes the exalted and unique position that the Son of God has with His Father:

“being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

In the second part of the passage, the letter mentions the timelessness of His personhood who, even though He entered into time and space, unlike the earth that will perish, will reign for eternity and will be one of righteousness:

 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” And: “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.”

The Son of God enters the fallen world to bring light where there has been darkness.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. There was no room at the inn and so He was born in the cold air in a manger and swaddling clothes. The angels, the whole of creation and the shepherds, however were witness to this wonderful event and glorified God as a result.

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

Let us, too, praise and glorify God the Father whose plan for our salvation has been unfolding for all eternity. Let us rejoice at this wondrous event!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Wednesday December 23rd., 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 5:11-6:8                 Gospel: Mark 10:11-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

I will start today with the Gospel from St. Mark. In this passage, people were trying to bring children to Jesus for them to see Him but the disciples tried to stop them. Jesus became upset at those disciples:

“But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

I use the title “Our Heavenly Father” a lot, often because the scripture passage of the day bears this out but also because we have to see ourselves as children in the sight of God, trusting Him, just like children do with their parents. It is also a timely passage because we are soon about to celebrate the birth of the Son of God as a little child. The story of His birth is not only something to be admired but we also have to follow His example of humility. This gift has to be a pillar of our relationship with Christ and also His Body, the Church. Pride and arrogance are the opposite of humility. Humility builds up the Church, arrogance destroys it. Humility unifies its members, arrogance causes division. It is through humility that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. Arrogance hardens our hearts, deluding us to think we do not need the Holy Spirit, because we are completely self sufficient.

Always pray for the gift of humility. The Gospel passage concludes:

“And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”

Today’s Epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews warned that those who had committed themselves to Christ but turn away from His teachings, falling into sin again, would find it very difficult even impossible, to return to Christ. Once again, the context of those who read the letter was that the early Christians were under the constant threat of persecution from the Romans. If anyone wavered in their faith in Christ by worshipping idols, how could they return afterwards? They would have chosen the world, with its promise of death, instead of the Kingdom of God that gives eternal life. They were also being warned to have nothing to do with anyone like them or those who would say such a choice was okay.

In today’s world, many people do not take the true meaning of this festive season seriously. It has been greatly commercialized and secularized. The hardship of the pandemic will make this year’s celebrations more restrictive and less extravagant but we must still be on our guard to not waver in the Church’s teachings on why we celebrate the Nativity of Christ. Let us humbly pray that we will always remain faithful to the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His Body, the Church.

Pastoral Letters re the Nativity of Christ from Met. Tikhon and Arch. Michael

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

If you would like to read Metropolitan Tikhon's message for the feast of the Nativity of Christ, please click onto or copy and past the following link: https://www.oca.org/holy-synod/statements/his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon/nativity-of-our-lord-2020

If you would like to read Archbishop Michael's Archpastoral Letter for the feast of the Nativity of Christ, please click onto or copy and paste the following link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/ap-letters/Archpastoral-Letter-for-the-Nativity-2020-12-19.pdf. or got to the diocesan website: nynjoca.org. It will be there on the front page.

Archpriest Terence Baz

Tuesday, December 22nd., 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 4:1-13         Gospel: Mark 10:2-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews talks about the importance of having a day of rest. God took rest on the 7th day after His work of creation and His Chosen People were expected to do the same. For Christians, their day of rest is the 1st day of the week, Sunday, in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. Many people, because of economic pressures, are forced to break this commandment because they have to work to pay their bills. Business leaders, who will not allow their employees to take a day of rest as God commanded, will have to face the Judgment Seat of God about this break when Christ comes again.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus taught about the question of divorce. He said to His disciples:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Therefore, the Orthodox Church, in following Jesus’ teaching, is against divorce. It will, however, allow a person to marry a second time, even a third time, for the sake of what it calls ‘economia.’ A priest can present such a request but only a bishop can decide on it. I would not presume to judge anyone facing such difficult choices, especially given complexities like domestic violence and substance abuse. Sometimes, a person who suffers domestic violence or other blatant forms of violation should definitely get out of such a situation for their good and the good of the children.

The other major principle the Orthodox Church holds up is the eternal nature of their union. For Orthodoxy, marriage is not defined by a contract as the Western Churches do, where the bond ends when one of them dies. Because such a union should be in Christ, it becomes a union bonded by the Holy Spirit and, as such, will remain so for all eternity. The couple is crowned in the name of Christ’s Body, the Church, becoming a model or icon in the same way as the Church is to Christ Himself. Thus, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, they become princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God. The Orthodox Church never wants to break such a bond.

Monday, December 21st., 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 3:5-11, 17-19                     Gospel: Mark 9:42-10:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both of today’s passages warn their readers to hold steadfast to the Word of God and to the teachings of Jesus.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, its readers are warned not to become rebellious against the teachings of Christ. It quotes Psalm 94(95) as a warning from the Holy Spirit not to become like the rebellious Jews who were delivered from Egypt but were left to wander in the desert for 40 years and die there. They had built the golden calf as an idol, breaking God’s commandment to not make other images to worship them. The Epistle to the Hebrews warned that the same fate would come upon those who strayed from and became rebellious against the teachings of Christ. The early Church was threatened by persecution from both those Jews who did not believe in Christ and from the Roman authorities. This letter was probably written around the time of the fall of Jerusalem so, they were very uncertain times. Its readers were being urged to stay steadfast in Christ as the only path to certitude.

The Gospel’s warning to remain faithful was even starker in its imagery. St. Mark used the teachings of Jesus to tell his readers that it was better to cut off part of our body than be unfaithful to His teachings. While the Letter to the Hebrews used an historical argument to warn its readers, Mark gives stark images to depict the consequences of allowing themselves to become unfaithful to Christ. If they did, they would face the unceasing and unquenchable fires of hell or the rottenness of paralytic worms, or become like salt that loses its flavor. He warned that they should expect that “everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” While the image of cutting off someone’s limbs may seem grizzly or barbaric to us, we must remember that such images were a reality in their time. If you refused to bend to Rome’s wishes, such afflictions could well happen.

The point with both passages is that the consequences of ignoring or becoming unfaithful to the teachings of Christ are unthinkable. The darkness for those who choose the fallen world rather than Christ is unthinkable. Look at the two thieves on the cross with Jesus at the time of His death. One realized that He was a righteous man and asked if he could join Him in His kingdom. Jesus immediately accepted his request. The other thief, however, even though he was rejected by the fallen world in the name of the Roman Empire and also put on a cross, still chose to remain part of that fallen world! He rejected and scoffed at the other thief’s request. He rejected the Kingdom of God, even in those dire circumstances. This is the tragedy of those who refuse to accept our Father’s invitation or scoff at it and many do, even today. In the same way, Jesus wept for Jerusalem at their rejection of Him. St. Paul also lamented their refusal to follow Christ. People have to make a choice when presented with the teachings of Christ and they have to live with that choice.

So the Orthodox Church deliberately uses the Letter to the Hebrews and St. Mark’s Gospel in this time before the Nativity of Christ to remind us to stay on our guard against drifting from Christ. We celebrate His Nativity because it heralded a new era where the Kingdom of God was made accessible firstly to the Chosen People and after His return to heaven to all of us as well. We rejoice because our Heavenly Father has invited us to His banquet and all we have to do is believe what Jesus taught. For the Orthodox Church, it is also simply a matter of choice. We will receive an abundance of our Father’s blessings if we accept His invitation but at the same time, it is a warning for us to remain faithful to those teachings. Today’s Letter to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 94 as being words from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who will enable those blessing to dwell in our hearts. Let us never refuse Him. Christ also gave us the Church as His Body to eat of the banquet that His Father invited us to. It is there to also nourish us on our journey to that Kingdom.

The Virgin Mary accepted the angel’s invitation, allowing God’s plan to blossom. Let us also accept our Father’s invitation to embrace Christ, receiving His blessings through the Holy Spirit, whereby allowing the Father’s love to bear fruit in others.

Sunday, December 20th., 2020, the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ.

Sunday, December 20th 2020

Epistle: Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40                    Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

In last Sunday’s Gospel, we read the parable of the ruler who invited friends to a feast that he was preparing. All of them made excuses about why they could not come. So, in response, the ruler invited strangers to come in and even after that his house was still not full so, he instructed his servants to go into the highways and byways and invite anyone they met to come to the banquet. Such is the love of our Heavenly Father who wants everyone to come to the banquet of His Heavenly Kingdom!

In today’s Gospel and Epistle passages, we see how our Father prepared for the time when we too, could be invited. God made promises to Abraham and Moses from of old that His people would be numbered like the stars in the heavens.

In the Epistle from the Hebrews, we read an outline of those who remained faithful to the promise of His Word to the Chosen People, even in the face of terrible persecution. They knew, however, that a better time was coming when the feast of the Kingdom of God would be made available to everyone in which they could drink of its Living Waters and eat of its Life giving Bread. The Eistle to the Hebrews concludes at the end:

“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”

St. Matthew’s Gospel depicts through his genealogy that same continuity of our Heavenly Father’s plan, that from of old, He would invite all to His Heavenly Kingdom with the intent that those who would accept His invitation would be as numerous as that stars in the heavens or the sand on the seashore.

The one thing He does expect from us, just as those of the Old Testament had given witness to, is our faithful cooperation, our belief that all things are possible through Him. An angel had appeared to Abraham, to rescue his son, after he was willing to follow God’s command to sacrifice his only son. An angel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit. Her response was “Let it be done according to your word.” In today’s Gospel passage, an angel appeared to Joseph to assure him that the child she was bearing was from the Holy Spirit and that child had been prophesized from of old by Isaiah with his words:

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’”

He then commanded Joseph to name Him ‘Immanuel’ because God was with Him and He would save people from their sins. Joseph believed the angel and did as he commanded, taking Mary to be his wife.

When God’s Word is spoken, it is fulfilled. When God chooses to intervene into human history, its impact is profound, causing the course of history to change accordingly. When those who believe His Word cooperate, they are blessed by the role that they are called to play in His plan.

Let us always ask that we too, will be faithful when He calls us to fulfill His plan. Let us too, rejoice as Mary did at the wonderful blessings He bestowed on her. Like her, let us always forthrightly proclaim His wonderful works on earth, with all the blessings that His created universe offers to us. Let us too, proclaim:

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…”

Like the Virgin Mary, who is the Theotokos or God-bearer, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will come upon us so that God’s Word will also be fulfilled in us, as we rejoice in His wonderful blessings. In today’s Divine Liturgy, the Kontakion prays the words,

Today the Virgin comes to the cave

to give birth to the Eternal Word.

Hear the glad tidings and rejoice, O universe!

Glorify with the angels and the shepherds

the Eternal God, Who is willing to appear as a little child!

Let us accept our Heavenly Father’s loving invitation, humbly asking that we would be made worthy to enjoy His Heavenly banquet!

Please Continue to Pray!

As you know, the numbers of deaths and infections from Covid-19 virus continue to be very alarming. Our whole nation is suffering from it. Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from the loss of loved ones, from sickness, from isolation, from fear of losing their businesses, from being laid off from work and from hunger. Further, this Christmas season will be very diffucult for countless people, not just in our country but throughout the whole world.

I have said previously that this is a time for us to call out to our Heavenly Father from our private rooms and intercede for those who suffer. Those of us who are house bound are especially called to do this because of our baptism. We have the gift of intercession. I urge you to use such an opportunity  as best as you can, as painful as it may be, . He will never refuse our prayers, no matter how small. What He does ask from us is that we believe in the works His only begotten Son did on His behalf and the teachings He gave us while here on earth.

If I may, I humbly urge my fellow priests to use their priestly gift of intercession as much as possible during this time of difficulty. There is no better way to live out our priestly mission during this difficult time. When we serve the Divine Liturgy over the next few weeks, such intercessory prayers can be offered back to our Heavenly Father at His holy dwelling place.

Father Terence Baz

Friday, December 18th., 2020

Friday, December 18, 2020

Epistle: Titus 1:15-2:10         Gospel: Mark 9:33-41

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to Titus, St. Paul continued his instruction. He had just written about the qualities needed for someone who wished to be a bishop. In today’s passage, he moved his instruction to how the community members should behave so that they are seen to be above reproach. He was effectively telling them that they should always strive to set a good example. Anything less would open them to criticism and threaten the Church. He gives advice to older men and to older women; to younger women and to younger men. Click onto the above link, if you would like to read what he wrote. In regard to teaching Church doctrine, he wrote:

“In doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”

Much of what he wrote is still relevant advice for us today.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark talks about one of the pillars necessary for any Church to remain fruitful and one that I have discussed before, namely, humility. St. Mark gave the story of the apostles who were squabbling about who was the greatest among them. Jesus realized this and called them together to teach them:

“And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Jesus taught them that our Heavenly Father calls us to be holy as He is holy but the only doorway to do this is to be humble, just as Jesus was humble. Jesus came on earth as a little babe in a cave among the animals. He did not mix with the very wealthy and the powerful but with the downtrodden and sinners. The reason is that for our Heavenly Father, every soul is precious to Him and more than that, every minute detail in creation is precious to Him. Jesus was not sent by Him for us only but for all of creation, even to the most lowly aspects of it. The response wanted by our Father is to always be thankful for His love to us and for all the goodness that surrounds us, despite that this created world is fallen because of the sin of Adam and Eve. He has invited all of us and all His creation to be part of His heavenly Kingdom. When we realize this, we can only have an attitude of humble gratitude for all the blessings we have each day. When we believe in Christ with an attitude of humility, He offers for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We become part of the Communion of Saints that dwells in the Kingdom of God. Note that the saints who are truly holy are always humble, wanting to be the least of those around them.

The opposite of this is pride and arrogance. If a Church becomes arrogant, boasting about how great it is, just like with the parable in which the Pharisee boasted of himself in the Temple in comparison to the Publican, it will die and collapse in on itself. The Church will become an empty shell, devoid of the Holy Spirit. This is why rivalries between Church leaders, either clergy or lay people alike are very unhealthy for any community. Let us always pray for the gift of humility. That humility led Jesus to the cross and as His followers, it will lead us as well to our cross but as Jesus said, fear not those who can persecute the body only, fear those who may try to take our souls. When we cling to Christ, the Holy Spirit will sanctify our hardships, turning the hatred of the fallen world into the love of our Heavenly Father.

Thursday, December 17th., 2020

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Epistle: Titus 1:5-2:1 Mark 9:10-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Yesterday, I had to cook the Prosphora or Holy Bread that we use for the Divine Liturgy. It takes a whole day and so, I could not give my message.

Today, we have the Letter of St. Paul to Titus. Titus was a convert to Christ and went to Crete with Paul after his first arrest in Rome. This letter was written to Titus after Paul had left Crete and put Titus in charge of its Churches.

This passage was a set of instructions given to Titus on how to select a bishop for the various communities established in order to continue their sound growth. If ever there was a set of teachings that would determine the standards of what a prospective bishop should have in the Orthodox Church, this is it. As we have seen in Paul’s other letters, the early communities faced challenges such as some falling back into their pagan ways, others influenced by outside philosophies, some who wanted to take over the communities by gossiping a lot about its leaders. Thus, to protect his communities, he wrote:

“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”

In the Orthodox Church today, bishops do not marry because it has found that the dual responsibilities of looking after a family and caring for his flock are too much to handle. Usually, a bishop today is selected from a monastery but that is not always the case. Our own bishop, Archbishop Michael, was widowed after his wife tragically died in a car accident just a few months into his marriage. The Orthodox Church in America did not take long to decide that he had the qualities of a bishop. His tireless work and loving dedication have shown that he was a very suitable choice.

Please note in this passage that Paul warned against people who speak negatively. He wrote:

“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.”

He was referring to those who gossip. If we stay focused on Christ with our day to day dealings, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us, we will not feel the need to judge and denigrate others because we know that we have a pearl incomparably more precious than any hardship we may have to face because of the faults of others. That pearl is the Kingdom of God but we need to remember Christ expects us, like Him, to also take up our cross. This does not mean that we stay blissfully blind to the wrongs of others but it does mean that we will pray for them and ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify the circumstances surrounding the wrongdoing. We can also pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in how to respond to it. If we really believe in Christ as He asked us to, we will be prepared to suffer for His sake. Once again, we have a very apt prayer that the Orthodox Study Bible includes in its daily morning prayers on page 1792. It states:

“Remember, O Lord Jesus Christ, Your mercies and loving kindnesses, which have been from everlasting, and for the sake of which You did become man and deign to endure crucifixion and death for the salvation of all who rightly believe in You. You rose from the dead and ascended in to heaven, and sit at the right hand of God the Father and regard the humble prayers of all who call upon You with their whole heart. Incline your ear and hear the humble entreaty of me, Your unprofitable servant, who offer is for an odor of spiritual fragrance for all Your people.”

Let our thoughts and prayers be like a ‘spiritual fragrance’ and not full of defiled hatred.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus is asked about the prophet Elijah (or Elias) in relation to the revelation from God that he will come to announce the coming of the Messiah. Jesus answered that Elijah had already come. He was talking about the spirit of Elijah residing with John the Baptist. He said:

“Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”

Further along in the Gospel, Mark wrote about the death of John the Baptist. John said to Herod that: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” His wife, Herodias, hated John for it. She ultimately schemed to have him beheaded. Herod was king of the Jewish nation and as its head, like many before him, he destroyed a prophet from God because he did not like what God was saying to him.

In both the Epistle and Gospel today, the importance of sound teaching for the Church comes through strongly. St. Paul wrote about it when outlined the qualities needed from a bishop. Although Jesus did not judge others because He left that to His Father, He did not shirk from speaking the truth about God’s revelation, even the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. For both Jesus and Paul, it is not enough, however, to merely quote the Law. One must live by the spirit of the Law. In other words, in the way God intended it to be used.

For us, to understand the teachings of the Gospel, we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us live it day to day but we also look to the teachings of the Orthodox Church to provide for us that sound teaching.

Tuesday, December 15th., 2020

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Epistle: 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4               Gospel: Mark 8:22-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul reminded the people to whom he was writing, to steadfastly listen to the Word of God he had preached for the sake of,

“doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

He also told them to not hesitate to preach his teaching when appropriate. He had previously warned them not to get involved in disputes and arguments from those outside his communities but when the time was suitable, to not hesitate to teach and preach what Christ and he had taught them. This was not only for those outside who may want to listen but also to correct anyone within the community who may be straying from it.

When he wrote this, he was not talking about the Mosaic Law but the scriptures as interpreted and given by him through the inspiration of Christ who appeared to him. Jesus had taught many things from the scriptures and interpreted them so that His listeners could understand how their Heavenly Father was revealing Himself to them. It is His Body, the Church which can now teach what Christ taught. The Orthodox Church has always striven to remain faithful to Paul’s instruction on this matter. It is through the Church that the words of everlasting life can be found.

St. Mark, in today’s Gospel passage, wrote about how Jesus had compassion on a blind man, took him out of the city and gave him back his sight. In this account, Jesus told the man not to publicize it but to go home and not tell anyone about it. Jesus’ time to reveal Himself as the Messiah or the Christ had not yet come. This would only come after His sacrifice on the cross and after He rose from the dead. God would only then reveal His plan of Salvation to those who believed in the works and teachings of Jesus. It would only be to them that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes to understand the scriptures. It was to only them that the gates of the Kingdom of God would be opened.

Monday, December 14th., 2020

Monday, December 14, 2020

Epistle: 2 Timothy 2:20-26                Gospel: Mark 8:11-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage in our Liturgical Calendar goes to St. Mark, having finished with St. Luke. Both it and the Epistle warned against simply looking at what is on the surface and not in the soul or the heart.

In St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, he warned them not to get into disputes with the Gentiles. I have mentioned before that the communities Timothy and he served were being influence by groups in society who did not believe in Christ. Paul warned them not to get involved with their arguments. If such people sought the truth, they would come to them. That was the time to offer what Jesus and Paul preached. He also warned them that they were not dishonorable, despite what the Gnostics claimed, because they had been made righteous in Christ. They had been freed from sin by living in Christ and should not revert back to those lustful practices that the other groups indulged in. They were freed from that because their hearts, souls and minds were given to Christ, who in turn, offered them the Holy Spirit, to enable them to live the life of holiness that our Father called us to. Outward practices such as those of the Mosaic Law or the rituals of the Gnostics would not bring them righteousness.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees were also looking for an outward sign, as if the countless miracles He had done were not enough. The trouble for them was that they wanted a sign on their terms, not God’s. They were looking for a political Messiah who would enable them to remain in power. If anyone sought the Kingdom of God in their hearts, they would look beyond what they could see on the surface. Even the apostles, after all that they witnessed Jesus feeding the multitudes, did not grasp this. The leaven of the Pharisees and that of Herod was the sin of the fallen world, not that of bread. They did not understand this at that point in time.

There are many ways that we too, can be beguiled into seeking after that which is on the surface but not what will bring us to the Kingdom of God. Whether it be material things such as a flashy car or jewelry, a luxurious home or other items that the very wealthy have. Perhaps it is to seek other philosophies that are not centered in Christ and there are many of them. Perhaps it is the latest fad or cult that looks attractive. St. Paul’s world was simpler in some ways but those early Christians also had to face the choice of perusing the attractions of the fallen world or Christ, just like us. If whatever we are offered is not centered in Christ, ignore it. It is only by living in Christ that we will attain righteousness. When we do, He will offer the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. He is the one who will enable us to live in righteousness.

This does not mean that we do not need to work in the world to support our families. We are expected to use our talents and have the right to benefit from them. In doing so, however, it is important to remember that all the blessings we have come from our Heavenly Father and when we offer them back to Him through Christ, we sanctify that work and do not allow the corruption of the fallen world to cause us to drift away from Christ.

Sunday, December 13th., 2020

Sunday, December 13th 2020

Epistle: Colossians 3:4-11                 Godpel: Luke 14:16-24

Sunday of the Forefathers and the Repose of St. Herman of Alaska

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today is the Sunday of the Forefathers, commemorated in preparation for the Nativity of Christ. These righteous saints include: the Priest Aaron, Benjamin, Deborah, Ezra, Isaac, Jacob, Judith, Miriam, Nathan, Nehemiah, Noah, Rebecca, Sarah, Solomon, Susanna, Ruth and Mary. If you wish to look up the lives of any of these Righteous Forefathers, please visit: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/13.  

The Orthodox Church also commemorates today the Repose of Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of all America. I recommend that you visit: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/13/103530-repose-of-venerable-herman-of-alaska-wonderworker-of-all-america. to read about his saintly life. We also have a relic and an icon of him in our church which will be shown on our central table.

In today’s Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul instructs his people on how to live wholesome Christian lives. The community of Colossae and those from other cities were being influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ, by the Gnostics and by pagans. Paul had to warn them to not live like them. Their lifestyles would only lead to death. The only way to save our souls was to die to the passions he described and live instead in Christ. It is only in this way that they could gain eternal life. The last point he made was that because we live in Christ, we do not distinguish ourselves from one another like the world does, either by color or social status or by nationality. We are all one in Christ. He wrote:

“There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”

We too must be on our guard against such divisions and the influences that the fallen world would like us to lure us into. Once again, stay focused on Christ. Pray to the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us. Use Christ’s body, the Church to drink of His living waters. Be careful about adhering to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, otherwise, we may drift away from Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus used a parable to show how our Heavenly Father’s invitation to join in His feast at His Kingdom was turned down by the Chosen People who would not believe in His only Son. As a result, those out in the highways and the byways would be invited instead. In other words, that invitation would be given to the Gentiles. For anyone who would believe in the teachings that Jesus and His apostles gave, that same invitation stands. That same promise of the Kingdom of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit would be given to them, as it was to the Chosen People.

A lot is made at this time of year about the beauty of the story of the Nativity of the Son of God. We all know the phrase: “This is the most wonderful time of the year.” Secular society tries to stop us from talking about what this season is really about, which is the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Society likes to talk about getting together as family, having parties, exchanging presents and decorating our homes to celebrate it. For us Orthodox Christians, right now is a time of preparation for this momentous event in Salvation History, not a time of celebration. We prepare by prayer, fasting and almsgiving and when December 25th arrives, we will celebrate.

Returning to today’s Gospel passage, let us not forget that we have already been given the invitation to feast in our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom. We have already been offered its incomparable beauty, something that no earthly Christmas tree, decoration or light could even approach. We have been offered a life free of suffering, pain, pandemics and hardships. We have been offered its heavenly bread by which we will never hunger, its life giving waters by which we will never thirst. Our Father’s forgiveness breaks down all enmity, division and strife. We can embrace this here and now in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit, and keep this treasure for all eternity.

Friday, December 11th., 2020

Friday, December 11, 2020

Epistle: 2 Timothy 1:1-2, 8-18                      Gospel: Luke 21:37-22:8

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today we have the beginning of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. In this introduction, he wrote about how Christ called him to follow Him and preach His words so that those whom he preached to would have the opportunity to embrace the Kingdom of God. As is often the case, he clearly outlined his understanding of the Trinity as was given to him by Christ when He appeared to him in a vision.

He encouraged Timothy to hold fast to what he had preached and not be ashamed of it. They brought life instead of death but they also brought to Paul the Cross of Christ, something that he embraced. He wrote:

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”

He also noted that not everyone in Asia was prepared to accept his preaching of Christ’s teaching but he was grateful to those who did and who ministered to him. Paul suffered severe persecution in Asia because of his preaching by those who did not like it. He was able to hold steadfast because he knew that Christ was beside him. He knew too, that the Holy Spirit strengthened and guided him. This introduction was intended to encourage Timothy and those who read the letter to also remain steadfast in Christ in the face of persecution.

Today’s Gospel passage describes what Jesus did just before the Passover in Jerusalem. He preached in the Temple of Jerusalem where the people flocked to hear Him. He then told the apostles to prepare for the Passover which was soon to happen. Judas knew His movements and when Satan had entered him, he began to plot with the chief priests and the scribes to kill Him. This was the calm before the apocalyptic storm. This was the beginning of the sacrificial confrontation with the powers of darkness. This is the moment when the chief priests and scribes used the powers of darkness to stir the people up against Jesus so that He would be the scapegoat for the nation, by having Him crucified. This was the moment when the Jewish people would embrace Satan and Caesar as their king instead of the One who had preached repentance and the Kingdom of God. It was the beginning of the end of the Temple of Jerusalem.

Let us always pray that we will never be lured into making the same mistake as the Jewish people did. Let us always have a spirit of repentance in our hearts so that we will embrace the Kingdom of God, instead of the powers of darkness, which are as much here today as they were at the time of Jesus. Let us, just as Paul said above, remain steadfast in our belief in Christ and the words that He and Paul preached. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us today and every day towards the life-giving waters of the Kingdom of God. We will be given our crosses but they can be used to sanctify the fallen world, just as Jesus did when His blood and water spilled into the earth at His crucifixion but like Him, let us say what Jesus said those last moments of His earthly life:

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Let us also use the weapons that Christ gave us through His Body, the Church, to hold steadfast to that Kingdom: its teachings, its sacraments and many blessings, its icons, its devotions, its communion of saints with its celebration of them through its liturgical calendar. These are what will give us life. These are what will enable us to hold steadfast against the storms of this world.

Thursday, December 10th., 2020

Thursday, December 10th 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 6:17-21                Gospel: Luke 21:28-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage is the conclusion of St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy. Just prior to this, he warned about not seeking after the riches of this world and in this passage, he exhorts those who are rich to use their wealth to serve others.

“Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

His final words are written directly to Timothy. He strongly implores him to not let all the confusion he wrote about in the letter impact the communities he leads. Such confusion occurred then and continues today. Let us too, be on our guard. The Orthodox Church strives to keep safe the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, not wavering from them. In this way, it has striven to avoid confusion.

Today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel was about the end times with their cosmic and apocalyptic manifestations. What Jesus forecast will certainly happen but no one knows when it will. The question for the early Christians was whether or not it would be soon, within their own generation. Luke did not attempt to answer this question but we know from hindsight that we still await that time.

The answer to responding to such climatic events was and is still the same: to put ourselves and our lives into Christ’s hands; to use His Body, the Church, to sustain us on our journey and through it to call upon the Holy Spirit to fill us with His gifts, so that we can be strengthened and comforted as we bear our crosses; to follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church so that we do not go astray. If we do, such speculation will not bother us because we will have what is most important, the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 9th., 2020

Wednesday December 9, 2020

Epistle:  Timothy 5:22-6:11   Gospel: Luke 21:5-7, 10-11, 20-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul had to guide the communities in his Letter to Timothy through all the confusing external and cultural influences that surrounded them. He had to warn them not to be influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ and also about the philosophy of Gnosticism. There were pagan widows and others who wanted to join his communities because they heard that they supported widows but who were not interested in following Christ. Some in these communities were tempted to indulge in loose living while others were tempted to follow after the riches of the Roman Empire. Some of the leaders or elders of were being criticized and gossiped about by those who would like to take control of the communities. Culturally, Paul had to guide those who were slaves or bondservants about how they should respond to their masters.

In all of his advice, Paul always held up the cross of Christ as the cornerstone to guide them. It was only in Christ that they could overcome these influences to remain steadfast in their faith in Him, in order to build up treasures in the Kingdom of God for all eternity. This same advice holds true for us today. There are countless outside influences that could cause us to stray. Each day, we must reach out to Christ to guide us through His Holy Spirit. In focusing on the Kingdom of God, we have access to a treasure that cannot be taken from us. There will always be enticements offered to us by the fallen world but those many expressions will come and go. They will be of no benefit when our souls have to leave this earth but as long as we stay focused on Christ, the treasure of the Kingdom of God can never be taken from us.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke describes the warning that Jesus spoke about concerning the fall of Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities had clung on to Rome instead of the Kingdom of God and that choice was to their peril. Luke probably wrote his Gospel between 70 and 80 AD in Greece or Asia Minor, which was after the Roman army had destroyed it but this does not mean that Jesus had not predicted its fall. Jesus wept over their rejection of the Kingdom of God and the impending destruction it would bring. Luke could write about it from afar but this would not have lessened the impact of the shock that this terrible event would have brought on all of Asia Minor. This was Rome’s way of imposing its ‘peace.’ If anyone went against it, he or she would face the same fate. At the same time, Luke was assuring his communities not to fear those who destroy the body but only those who would destroy the soul. It was the courage given to the early Christians by the Holy Spirit that Rome had no answer to. Even they noted: “See how these Christians love one another!” It took about 300 years but even Rome succumbed to the power of the Holy Spirit in the end.

Even the might of the Soviet Union could not withstand the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember about the grandmothers who continued to pray for their families? Do you remember how St. Tikhon told his priests not to get involved in the politics but to pray for everyone? All the Christians had to take up a terrible cross but the love of Christ prevailed in the end. It too, fell after about 80 years. There are still many heathen nations who persecute Christians today. It is important to pray for them ernestly. For us who are able to worship unheeded in peace, is part of our mission. In the morning prayers of the Orthodox Study Bible on page 1792, it writes:

“Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon the old, the young, the needy, the orphans and the widows, and on all that are in sickness and sorrow, in distress and affliction, in oppression and captivity, in prison and confinement. More especially have mercy upon Your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep and comfort them, and make hast to grant them, by Your power, relief, freedom and deliverance.”

Let us earnestly pray for persecuted Christians, especially the Orthodox, throughout the world. Let us pray for the same courage and fervor that those who have been or are persecuted have. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to allow us to always move forward on the path to the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, December 8th., 2020

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 5:11-21                Gospel: Luke 21:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

I had to deal with a matter in NYC yesterday and therefore did not have an opportunity to write my daily message.

In yesterday’s Epistle, St. Paul wrote about how to treat widows with dignity. In today’s passage he continued the same discussion. I had mentioned last week that some of the women kept up their pagan practices of old. It also seems that they were mostly widows. One must remember that life expectancy for them was a lot less than ours. Given the context, it seems that “those who really are widows” as Paul wrote, dedicated their life to Christ by prayer and supporting those in need by visits and other good works. Paul wrote in yesterday’s Letter that the community should only accept to allow someone to join into “the number” who met several conditions.

Word would have got around among pagan women that the Christian community would support them if they joined. There lay the trouble. He therefore wrote to the community that those who have children and grandchildren should not be supported. Nor should younger widows automatically join this sisterhood in case they wish to marry again. St. Paul is generally against people marrying a second time but he seemed to be make an exception in this letter.

“Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”

The trouble was that some of the younger ones started to indulge in loose living, causing gossip and scandal among people in the city. They were also going from house to house gossiping and spreading rumors. He also told his community to put out anyone like this to protect it from scandal.

He also wrote that the elders of the community should be supported in their work. It is in this passage that he wrote the well known phrase:

“You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

He told the community to treat them with respect, especially when it came to gossip, something that seems to have been plaguing the community.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke used the words of Jesus to describe what Christians should expect after they committed to Christ. They would become free from the Law but they would have to take up their Cross just like Jesus did. He encouraged them to have patience and trust in Christ. Luke encouraged them implicitly to rely on the Holy Spirit within to give them the words to say when they were confronted by the authorities for their faith in Christ.

“Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”

Many early Christians gave testimony to Christ in this way. They were not afraid to speak out of their belief in Christ in front of others. Nor were they afraid of the consequence of being persecuted.

Let us also never waver in our belief in Christ, nor our belief in His Body the Orthodox Church, which has always striven to faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Let us pray for the purity of faith that will enable us to express our faith clearly and with confidence. Let us, like the early Christians, use any such challenge as “an occasion for testimony” as Luke wrote in today’s Gospel passage.

Sunday, December 6th., 2020

Sunday, December 6th 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 5:9-19                  Gospel: Luke 17:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians because some who did not believe in Christ, whether they be Jews or the newly formed cult called the Gnostics or the pagans, were trying to influence those who had become Christians. Some of the new converts were also still secretly participating in their former pagan practices. He had to write to warn them to stay away from all of them. Because they believed in Christ, they now walked in the Light and should avoid the things of darkness:

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.”

He also told them to be awake in case those outside influences destroy the community:

“Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Thus, they should behave as those who walk in the light and not the darkness:

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

We too, need to be on our guard. There are many influences in today’s fallen world that can lead us astray. Some of the Ephesians were being led astray but the Orthodox Church in Ephesus is still there today. Those who drifted into other ways are long gone. Searching for new fads will lead nowhere. As Paul said at the end of this Epistle, singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” is the way to stay focused on Christ and to allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, thus enabling us to remain as part of the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures the ten lepers who cried out to Him for mercy but only one of them, a Samaritan, came back to thank Him. The Jews, who did not take the trouble to return to thank Him, took what He did for granted.

It is always important to have a disposition of gratitude and praise for what God has given us. We should thank and praise Him every day for all the blessings we receive, even in times of hardship. In this way, we lessen the chance of temptation coming to us which will deaden our souls. When we thank God, the Holy Spirit dwells with us.

Vespers for December 6th., 2020, the Feast of St. Nicholas

Vespers for Sunday December 6th 2020

Composite 2 - Proverbs 10, 3, 8; Proverbs 10:31-11:12; Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

This evening is the Vigil for the Feast of St. Nicholas. Please click onto the following link to read about his life: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/06/103484-saint-nicholas-the-wonderworker-archbishop-of-myra-in-lycia. He was known for his holiness and kindness and this inspired many people pray to him for intercession because he worked many miracles during his earthly life.

He was also a very important figure involved in a defining moment for the Orthodox Church. It was at the Council of Nicea that he repudiated the priest Arius who claimed that Jesus was a man but not God. It was a defining moment because through that council, it became clear that unless one acknowledges that Jesus is true God and true man, one cannot say that one is a Christian. The Son of God became man, lived as a man but brought the Kingdom of God to the Chosen People. He united heaven and earth. These truths are defined in the Nicean Creed that we recite at every Divine Liturgy. When Peter acknowledged that He was the Christ, the son of the living God, Jesus replied to him that this understanding did not come from him but from above, given by the Holy Spirit. To understand that Christ is true God and true man can only come from God, not our selves. It can be easy to take it for granted because most of us were given the gift of the Holy Spirit when we were baptized and we grew up with the Church’s teachings. Let us not neglect the treasure of this teaching.

The readings given by the Church at Great Vespers for December 6th talk about the importance of gaining the Wisdom of God in our lives. St. Nicholas, who devoted his whole life to Christ from childhood, is a great example of someone who profoundly gained the gift of God’s Wisdom. As well as admiring his example, let us also pray for the gift of Wisdom. It comes directly from the Holy Spirit. It is a good thing to pray for this every day as we are confronted with decisions and choices to make. Christ offered the Holy Spirit to us and having Him in our hearts is a wonderful treasure. Let us make sure that we wisely make choices to for Him to remain present in our hearts.

Friday, December 4th., 2020

Friday, December 04, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:4-8, 16              Gospel: Luke 20:19-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, the question about what is acceptable food to eat was discussed by St. Paul. This question had also come up in some of his other letters. He asserted that all things were created by God and were therefore acceptable. What does matter is that what we eat,

“is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

This is why the practice of saying Grace before Meals is used. Through our baptism (or if present, a priest), we have been given the responsibility and the ability to of intercession. When we give thanks to God for our food, we sanctify it. It is therefore important that we do not neglect to do so.

The second matter he discussed was making sure that we teach sound doctrine. He had taught them sound doctrine from the outset. He had to deal, however, in Macedonia with the false teaching of the Gnostics and those Jews who would not believe in Christ. Some of the communities were also engaging in pagan rituals. Paul had to defend his people from such false, confusing teachings. The Orthodox Church takes his instruction very seriously and strives earnestly to teach what Jesus and the apostles taught. It is very rare that it will diverge from the scriptures and any teaching that someone presents must make sure it aligns with what the Church teaches.

The moment had come, in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, when the Pharisees and others were trying to trap Jesus in any way they could to discredit and ultimately destroy Him. He had attacked them for their love of money and corrupt practices. They hated him for it but, as this passage said, they were afraid to apprehend Him out of fear that it would start a riot from the people. Today’s passage relayed the famous saying that Jesus retorted with to their question about taxes to Caesar.

 “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

There is nothing wrong with a separation between Church and State. The Church will not always agree with the State and should speak out against it when deems necessary but for the Orthodox Church, it likes to see its relationship with the State as ‘symbiotic’ in that it be allowed to guide the State in its decisions but leave it to the State to decide the final outcome. This fits in with the saying quoted above from Jesus: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

Today also happens to be one on which the Orthodox Church celebrates four martyrs: the Greatmartyrs Barbara and Martyr Juliana, at Heliopolis in Syria (click on the link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/04/103472-greatmartyr-barbara-and-martyr-juliana-at-heliopolis-in-syria);  the Priestmartyr Alexander Hotovitzky (https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/04/103471-glorification-of-the-priestmartyr-alexander-hotovitzky) and Martyr John of Damascus (https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/12/04/103473-martyr-john-of-damascus).

All were confronted by the State. For Sts. Barbara and Juliana, they faced torture and death because they refused to worship pagan gods. St. Alexander, after much suffering and being falsely accused by the Soviet State, was finally executed. For the Martyr John of Damascus, he was tortured because he stood up to the iconoclasts.

Not all of us are called to witness to the Church in such an heroic way but as part of the Communion of Saints, we can pray to them and ask for their intercession. I urge you to read their life stories by clicking onto the links above and be inspired by the heroic courage to they displayed by defending the teachings of the Church.

Thursday, December 3rd., 2020

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 3:1-13                  Gospel: Luke 20:9-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his letter to Timothy, St. Paul discussed the qualities needed by someone who would aspire to be a bishop or a deacon. In the Orthodox Church today, bishops do not marry and are often selected from monasteries. For anyone aspiring to enter into ‘clerical orders’ (bishops, priests and deacons), as they are called, they must go through extensive formation, education and training at a seminary. As one can see from today’s passage, they are people who hold a public office in the Church and must have the temperament and character to uphold that office in the name of the Church. It is important to pray for such Church leaders, especially parish priests, for the good of the community and the Church at large.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus warned the Chosen people that it had a history of persecuting its prophets who were God’s spokesmen because they did not like to hear God’s Word. It was no different in His time. What they failed to realize is that their violence would lead to their own destruction because

‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone’? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

We will all have to face the Judgment Seat of God when Christ comes again. We will have to face the same question: did we hear the Word of God and put into practice its teachings? If we accept Christ, we will seek His words and His teachings. We will strive to follow Him by putting them into practice. Christ gave us the Church to be His Living Body. Let us strive to live by what it teaches.

In Orthodoxy, we talk about the ‘Orthodox Way’, by which each day we:

  • Pray our liturgical and private prayers and sing its liturgical hymns,
  • Listen to the Word of God through the scriptures it provides each day [and the reason why I write these sermons],
  • Carry out the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to live like Jesus did,
  • Follow its Canons to protect us from going astray with sinful practices,
  • Embrace its icons to remind us that we belong to the Communion of Saints, not just now but for all eternity,
  • Celebrate the feasts of its Saints because we are part of its Communion,
  • Receive its sacraments and many blessings to be able to imbibe the life giving waters that Christ offers us,
  • Welcome the Holy Spirit to guide us, give us wisdom and comfort us in our struggles as we offer them back to Christ because we willing take up our cross like He did.

Let us take the opportunity during the hardship of this painful pandemic to embrace Christ and not try instead to escape to into worldly pleasures. Let us ask Him to transform our difficulties from moments of pain to ones of grace through His Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 2nd., 2020

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:18-20, 2:8-15   Gospel: Luke 20:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

When reading today’s passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, we must place his instructions in the context for which he was writing. The prayer services were loosely structured. Much of the prayer was by praying in tongues. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians that praying in tongues without interpretation or prophecy was pointless because no one could understand what was going on. Not only was that happening with this community but some of the women were also going to pagan services. They were praying in tongues at those places too. They would often become hysterical in their expressions. We can only imagine what impact such behavior would have had on the Christian communities in Macedonia that Paul established. Their behavior was getting out of hand. He also instructs them to keep their hair styles simple. Again, such practices as braided hair, wearing gold and pearls came from pagan influence. Paul did not want those influences impacting his communities so he spoke out strongly about them.

For us, the important lesson is as with all things, to behave and present ourselves with moderation and not excessively. Even today, those people who have braids, wear gold and pearls are compensating for their inferiority complexes. We do not need such outward displays because the Holy Spirit is within us and nothing can ever replace the beauty that God has bestowed upon us. If we see that the Kingdom of God is within us, we will have the confidence to know that it is Christ who makes us beautiful. No one, nor any worldly gift can ever replace Him. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with deporting oneself in a dignified and pleasing way, as long as we are not excessive about it. Again, we measure ourselves in terms of Christ, not others.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into being accused of saying something blasphemous so that they could accuse Him of it. Jesus could see this and would not buy into it. He retorted with the question about John’s baptism. He knew that the people were thronging after Him and so did the Pharisees. They backed down because they did not want to face the people’s wrath. The mysteries of the Kingdom of God were kept hidden from them because they refused to believe in His works.

Tuesday, December 1st., 2020

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:8-14                  Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Letter to Timothy, St. Paul reflected on his former life before he committed to Christ. Before then, to try to live justly, he adhered to the Mosaic Law. He was aware that many Jews did not but instead lived lives of debauchery. The Law was supposed to make them live in the right way but they were not. Paul did not fall into those sins but he was still a long way from being righteous. He wrote:

“I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.”

He was not aware that he was so and wrote that God had mercy on him. He continued:

“but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”

He considered himself to be very blessed to be given the grace to find Christ and serve Him.

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”

So this passage is also a reflection about him. Christ offered His grace to Paul, who, although unworthy, repented and embraced it. Thus, he wrote about it to teach others how to obtain and keep that righteousness. Paul was reminding those who had repented and believed in Christ to not forget that the only way to keep hold of that righteousness was by staying with Him.

“The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

Christ offers Himself to us too and like Paul, we must also embrace and cling to Him in order to remain righteous. Nothing else can ever replace this. Do not ever be afraid, therefore, to accept the blessings that Christ offers to us. These are what will give us life both now and for all eternity.

In today’s Gospel, St. Luke gives his account of Jesus going into the temple and driving out those buying and selling merchandise.

I have mentioned before that the elders, the priests and the leaders of Jewish society were very wealthy. They had been allowed to by the Roman Empire because the taxes that Rome imposed were able to be used to pay for their enormous temple. As custodians of the temple, they benefited greatly from it. Another factor was that thousands of pilgrims would come to Jerusalem from different parts of the Empire for major feasts such as Passover and Tabernacles. These events brought in a lot of money the Jewish leaders who had no intention of disrupting their social order.

They knew what the prophets and the Old Testament scriptures said about giving to the poor and not becoming excessively wealthy but they were in no mood to listen to listen to such talk. They would have heard about what Jesus was teaching the multitudes in the Beatitudes and other sayings that condemned excessive wealth. They could tolerate words such as, “Woe to you who are rich!” because they knew it would not have much impact on them. Even when they realized He became popular because of His many miracles, as long as He did not cause trouble, they would not have been overly bothered by Him. It was clear that Jesus was not interested in a political movement because He only taught about the Kingdom of God. They would not have liked that He publicly attacked them, exposing their corruption but although worrying for them, it would have been tolerable.

It would have been alarming, however, that He entered Jerusalem on a donkey in such a dramatic way, watching the multitudes praising God because of His works instead of theirs. That is why they asked Him to tell the people to stop their praises. But in today’s account from St. Luke, He went straight to their own temple of Jerusalem and actually attacked the money exchangers by turning over their tables and driving them out with these words:

“It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

This would have really touched a nerve because it went to the heart of attacking their wealth! Even though He continued to teach the people in the temple, the priests and elders could not do anything for fear of the multitudes, who listened to His every word. They came to the decision that they had to find a way to destroy Him.

In the Gospel passage from yesterday , Jesus wept and lamented that they would not recognize what their Heavenly Father was trying to bestow upon them. They would not listen to His only Son! They rejected His teachings! As a result, they and their children would be tragically destroyed by the very ones who had enabled them to gain their wealth, the Romans!

It easy for us to see in hindsight how wrong they were but what we too must realize is that we could succumb to the same arrogance and pride that they fell into. In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reflected that he too, was arrogant or insolent. What we must do to counter our proneness to sin is to each day humbly come before our Father in heaven and ask Him to forgive us our own sins, “both voluntary and involuntary.” To solidify our sense of repentance, we should use the vehicle given to us by Christ’s Body, the Church, by going to the sacrament of Confession and presenting our sinfulness before Him. This is the best way to protect ourselves from such tragic arrogance in order to remain with Christ through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. The Orthodox Church regards the sacraments as mysteries and when we go before Christ in His Church, using His priesthood, we allow Him to transform those sins into His righteousness because His forgiveness and love are greater than any sin that we may succumb to.

Monday, November 30th., 2020

Monday, November 30, 2020

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:1-7                    Gospel: Luke 19:37-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Apostle Timothy. Happy name day to anyone whose name is Timothy!

Today, also, we begin St. Paul’s letter to Timothy. Both Timothy and Paul had been in Macedonia and Paul wanted Timothy to go back and stay with the community in Ephesus. Some members of that community were being influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ as well as by a sect called the Gnostics. Both groups were trying to get them to water down the teachings of St. Paul, in order to make them waver in their faith in Christ. They were also engaged in a lot of gossip and speculated about things that had no bearing on their soul’s salvation, such as genealogies. He sent Timothy to put an end to such confusion.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds were thronging around Him, rejoicing and crying out:

“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Their praise of the Lord was because of the many miracles that Jesus had done. The Pharisees did not like it, however. They did not want their power undermined, nor did they want the crowds to get out of their control. They told Him to stop them. They were blind to what was really happening, which was that the Kingdom of God was being made manifest through the works that Jesus had done. It was the Spirit of God who was causing them to cry out in thanks to the Lord, not an angry mob causing social unrest or anarchy. So, Jesus responded to them:

“I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

He also wept at the calamity that would overtake them because of their refusal to believe in His works and recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God through them. Thus He also said:

“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

It was the Spirit of God who had moved the people to cry out in thanks and praise at the presence of God. It was the Spirit of God who had descended in the form of a dove on Jesus’ head when He was baptized in the Jordan. It was the Spirit of God who led Jesus to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days. It was the Spirit of God whom Jesus proclaimed in the temple when He announced His public ministry to preach repentance and the presence of the Kingdom of God. Those Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were blind to all of this. They placed their security in the Mosaic Law from which they benefited greatly. They refused to believe in the works He had done. Thus Jesus said: “But now they are hidden from your eyes.” All that their Heavenly Father had wished for them would be taken from their grasp.

It is important for us to pray for the gift of humility. It can be a good thing when we graduate from our studies to get a degree or gain a promotion at work but it is important that we not forget that all our earthly blessings come from our Heavenly Father. It is important, therefore, to humbly give thanks to Him for the blessings bestowed on us. In the meantime, we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us those necessary gifts that will help us continue on with our lives so that we will remain focused on the Kingdom of God.

If we, on the other hand, forget His blessings, we can fall into the trap of arrogance where we think that Christ’s Body, the Church, is not important to us, causing us to drift from it. If this happens, we lose the perspective of why we are on this earth. We forget that the only true home for our souls is the Kingdom of God. When this happens, our souls keep drifting around looking for the latest sensation to grab onto but they will never be at rest. Christ promised us that it is in Him that we will find our true home and rest for our souls. All other alternatives will only lead to death.

When we are humble, God’s ways become clear to us. When we understand His ways, we realize how wonderful they are. The Spirit of God within us will cause us to give thanks to our Father and His Son for all that they have done for us. We will want to praise God every day, no matter what the fallen world will impose upon us. When we thank and praise God for His blessings, the presence of God will well up within us. Let us always treasure those blessings and like the people who recognized the presence of God through the works that Jesus did, let us too cry out and say:

“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Sunday, November 29th., 2020

Sunday, November 29th 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 4:1-6        Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a woman in the Synagogue on the Sabbath who had an affliction for 18 years but the ruler of the Synagogue became indignant because Jesus was supposedly working on the Sabbath Day.

The problem with law, even the Mosaic Law, is that it is manmade. It has been created to protect us where it can but it can never cover every circumstance and is often ignored or broken.

Jesus showed this up when He retorted with the example about those who would not hesitate to take their donkey to water it on the Sabbath. Animals need to drink and do their business. People knew this and for them, the easiest solution was to take them elsewhere to look after their needs, not in their own front yards. The underlying issue is that manmade law does not supersede God’s law. Society makes laws according to what it believes are acceptable behavior. They are necessary for our safety and security but this does not mean that they are always right or good laws.

As such, Jesus made the ruler of the Synagogue look foolish in claiming that such laws would supersede what was obviously a miracle from God. He was using the very laws created by Moses to please God by trying to stop God’s Kingdom from reaching them and the woman whom Jesus had healed in his own Synagogue!

The other unspoken issue was that the ruler was indignant because the people were acknowledging Jesus rather than him. St. Luke wrote:

“And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.”

The Orthodox Church does not look at law in the same way as those from Western Europe and the USA. For the Orthodox Church, its Canons are there to guide us when we are confronted with a confusing or complex issue. The Canons arose as pastoral principles to be applied in such situations. They were intended to protected peoples’ souls and if someone is penalized because of a sin they commit, the penalty is imposed to give that person time to repent. Ultimately, the bishop is the one who would apply the penalty and its length of time. In most cases it would mean refraining from the sacraments until the person is ready to change and repent from the sin. There is nothing here about paying restitution or ‘doing time.’ The Orthodox Church does not judge.

St. Paul often states that it is through Christ and His Body, the Church, that we gain righteousness, not the Law. So, always reach out to Christ in times of difficulty and confusion and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Only He can heal us. He will look after us in the long term.

Friday, November 27th., 2020

Friday, November 27, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18         Gospel: Luke 19:12-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul continued the discussion about the question of when Christ would come again. He had already told them that no one knows the answer to this question. If, however, they remain steadfast in their belief in Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church and call out to the Holy Spirit to guide and help them, they need not worry about that question. In today’s segment, he moved onto more practical matters. Some had used the issue as an excuse to stop working. Furthermore, they were taking advantage of the generosity of the community by getting fed by it. He told them that each person should earn their own keep and if not, to go back to work. He wrote:

“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”

He also wrote about the example shown by him and his helpers. He did not ask the community to support him even though they were entitled to it when he established the community. Thus, they used their work skills to support themselves.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus told a parable about labor but in a different context. He told the parable about the king who went away but entrusted his servants to look after certain cities in his absence. To one, he gave 10 minas, to another 5 and another 1. A minah was about 3 months worth of wages. You may be more familiar with the parable of the talents. As with the talents, Jesus taught them that our Father in heaven expects us to use them to the best of their ability, not hiding or wasting them. The context for this story was that Jesus was accusing the leaders of the Jewish people of not using their talents. They may have worked hard to earn earthly benefits or money but they squandered their positions of leadership and power by forgetting that they were there to help bring the Kingdom of God to the Chosen People.

Both the Epistle and Gospel give us a number of lessons. The first is that God expects us to work and to work to the best of our abilities. Our country has strongly espoused this lesson. Its structure is set up to reward those who work hard and to give opportunities to those who seek to be creative. This is not surprising, given that it was founded by people who were believers in the Bible. This is why it is a world leader.

Having said this, we must also keep in mind that the benefits we gain from our talents and work are not for ourselves alone. God wants us to use them for our families, as well as for people in need. but more importantly, for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. The Jewish leaders forgot this at their peril so let us not fall into the same trap. Everything we do must be for our Father’s glory and honor, not for our own. He gave us life and the talents that we have as well as all the blessings of His created world. Let us offer them back to Him and there is no better way to than during the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy, right after the consecration. Let us not neglect this.

Like St. Paul, there are those who dedicate their lives to serve the Church. Today, we have ordained clergy to do this. The three orders of ordination are deacon, priest and bishop. Put simply, a deacon is there to serve, a priest is there to offer intercession and bring Christ to people and the bishop is our shepherd. There is more to it than this simple sentence of course but it does go to the heart of how they build up Christ’s Body, the Church. They too, are called to work as hard as they are able by using what talents they have, to serve those who labor out in the workforce. The lay members are called to help their parish community by using their time, talents and treasures in what ways they can.

Likewise, some are called to live a life of prayer. These are the monks and the nuns. Prayer does not mean they sit around doing nothing. They use a structure of prayer to help them intercede on behalf of others but they also must use their talents to provide for their monastic community’s earthly needs so as not to put a burden on other parish communities.

As St. Paul wrote, we need to keep in perspective how we serve Christ to build up His Body, the Church. One day, we will be called upon to account for our talents. Let us work for Christ with enthusiasm. Let us be eager to serve Him, the parish community and those who may be in need in these difficult times when many suffer and face hunger. Returning to St. Paul, he wrote:

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.”

Paul then concluded his Second Letter to the Thessalonians with this blessing:

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

Wednesday, November 25th., 2020

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12         Gospel: Luke 18:15-17, 26-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s segment from his Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul continued his discussion about those wondering when Christ will come again. Today, he spelled out in more detail that no one knows when this will happen but it will only happen after the pride of Satan is revealed. He wrote:

“We ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.”

In effect, he told his community that to speculate about its timing is simply a waste of time. They have the gift of the Holy Spirit in their hearts because they believe in Christ. Others do not and will chase after such questions because Satan will offer lies speculating about it.

In more recent years, we have also seen people chase such questions. Some of the fads that we have seen are:

  • A surge of interest in the writings of Nostrodamus,
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses who keep claiming that the end of the world is coming, those who claimed that it had to happen in 2000 A.D.,
  • False accusations about the Orthodox Church hiding Apocryphal Books that predict when the end of the world will supposedly happen
  • Interpretations about the Book of the Apocalypse claiming to show that the end of the world will soon come.

The answer is always the same: if we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and we believe in Christ, we do not have to worry about such questions. St. Paul says the same thing in his Letter to the Thessalonians. There is a lull in such questions because everyone is currently so preoccupied with the pandemic that they have died down but they will resurface again at some point in the future.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus taught about humility. Unless we learn to become humble, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Pride and arrogance are the opposite of being childlike and if they creep into the Church, they can be very destructive. How we apply this humility in the needs of day to day life where we have to provide for our families, can only learned through the Holy Spirit. If we call out each day for His guidance, He will enable us to keep this spiritual gift intact but also carry out our business at work when we interact with the public. Jesus taught;

“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

Let us trust Christ, therefore that He will guide us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus often taught about putting the Kingdom of God above everything else. If we do, our heavenly Father will provide for all our needs. In the second part of today’s Gospel, he spoke about those who would dedicate their whole lives to Christ. It is the goal of those who join monasteries to live out this very teaching. He taught:

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Those who join monasteries deserve our respect if they are sincere and diligently seek this goal. Pious monks and nuns are often given a powerful gift of intercession as well as other gifts. So, their prayers can be a powerful assistance to us as we journey on in our daily lives. At the same time, Satan will trouble them with temptations as much as he can. So, our prayers and support for them is also very important in helping to build up Christ’s Body, the Church. After this pandemic ends, try to visit them when possible on open days and certain feasts. Such pilgrimages can be a great source of strength to us also.

Tuesday, November 24th., 2020

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 1:10-2:2      Gospel: Luke 17:26-37

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both readings today talk about the end times. I will start with the Gospel passage first.

In the first part of the Gospel passage, Jesus gave examples from the scriptures when people forgot about God’s commandments, living like the pagans but in the end, God’ destroyed them. He then warned the Chosen people that the same would happen to them if they did not repent.

St. Luke used Jesus’ teaching to warn his community not to fall into the same trap. While He was on earth, Jesus did not judge people but preached the Kingdom of God and healed people through its life. God was making it easy not only for the Jews but also the Gentiles to turn to Him to receive the life of the Kingdom of God. Luke wrote to his people, mostly Gentiles, not to fall into the trap of seeking the wealth of the Roman Empire which would only be temporary. This period of blessing will not last forever, however. When we pass from this life to the next, our souls will be called to account. Eventually, Christ will come again in glory to judge all of heaven and earth. Everyone will be called to account at that moment. This is what St. Luke was referring to with the warnings in today’s passage. He then quoted Jesus’ words about dying to Him in order to gain life:

“Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

The clue for Luke’s community and for us is to choose Christ and in doing so, live in Him rather than for our own selfish ends. As St. Paul wrote, it is only in Christ that we can attain righteousness. If we choose Christ, strive to live our His teachings and commandments through His Body, the Church, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, when that day of judgment comes, we will be welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

In the Orthodox funeral service, we use St. John’s Gospel where it says:

“Those who have done good, to the resurrection of life. Those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

Given the huge array of choices that are available to us, life today is surely more complex than in St. Luke’s time. Even so, they too had to face difficult choices, often life threatening.

St. Paul also wrote about the question of the end times in the passage of today’s Letter to the Thessalonians. He thanked and commended them for their continued commitment to Christ, despite the non-Christians in the city trying to manipulate them to water it down. Then he told them not to speculate about when Christ would come again. This was a difficult question for the early Christians. Jesus had only recently left them, within a generation, so, it would not have been unreasonable to expect that He would soon return. St. Paul does point out in the letter that no one knows when this would happen, except our heavenly Father. What does matter is the continuation of their commitment to Christ. He wrote:

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The same holds true for us. If we live a life in Christ, He will glorify Himself in us. He glorified His Father by taking up the cross. We too, may be asked to take up our cross for Him but in doing so He will bear fruit through us. We will die to our passions but the life of Christ will blossom in us instead like grains of wheat, white and ready for harvest. While that glory may mean bearing a cross for Him in this short life, we will gain all the blessings of the Kingdom of God for all eternity. Let us embrace whatever cross He may send us.

Monday, November 23rd., 2020

Monday, November 23, 2020

Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10         Gospel: Luke 17:20-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today we begin St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians. He mentioned that Timothy and Silvanus had been laboring with the community to help build it up. He also commended them for their perseverance in the face of persecutions and tribulations. Those who persecuted them will be punished by God at the proper time but until then, he encouraged them to cling to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Even though the context is very different, the same message holds true for us as we endure the tribulations of this pandemic. The way to face it is by reaching earnestly out to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This Thanksgiving season will not be an easy for any of us. We cannot hold the same gatherings that we are used to. Many families are suffering from the loss of loved ones. Many others have lost their income and wonder how to put food on the table. There is generally an atmosphere of anxiety because of the uncertainty of wondering who has the virus and who does not. People have to endure long lines in frigid weather to find out the answers to such questions.

I have said since the outbreak of the pandemic that this is a time to go to our private rooms and intercede before our heavenly Father and pray for all those we are concerned about. I have also often said that the Orthodox Church does not only pray for those close to us but for everyone and indeed, the whole of creation. If ever there was a time when the whole world is suffering, it is now. Our Father calls us to pray for all of His creation. It will not last forever but while the Coronavirus is prevalent, we must remain steadfast in Christ, just like St. Paul urged the Thessalonians to. The Church in Thessaloniki is still with us today. If we remain steadfast in Christ, He will not abandon us.

Our shepherd, Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America, has posted a message of encouragement today on the archdiocesan website. I urge you to read it and here is the link for you to either copy and paste or simply click onto to read it: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/statement-of-his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon-on-surge-of-covid-19-cases

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the end of the world will come. Jesus replied,

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Orthodox Church puts strong emphasis that the Kingdom of God is within us. We need to look within ourselves to find it. It is not something that will be revealed when Christ comes again, sometime in the future. It is not up in the clouds nor in the starry heavens. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to each of us and it is in Him that we are able to find the Kingdom of God. All we need to do is to believe in Christ and as Jesus said: “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open to you.” What it does entail is that in believing, like Him, we will take up our cross. In the last verse of this passage, Luke wrote,

“But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

We must expect that the same may happen to us also but it is through that suffering that the fallen world which caused it will be sanctified. Jesus taught, “Bless those who persecute you.”

Sunday, November 22nd., 2020

Sunday, November 22nd 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 2:14-22                Gospel: Luke 12:16-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage from St. Paul to the Ephesians beautifully brings together many aspects of the Trinity and its relationship to the Church.

He firstly wrote about Christ breaking down the barrier of the Mosaic Law that had brought enmity because nobody could measure up to it. That included those who diligently and piously tried to keep it all their lives. Even the sacrifices they offered could not bridge the gap. It was only when the Son of God came on earth and sacrificed Himself that this enmity would break down.

“Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

Secondly, he wrote about what this Son of God did while on earth,

“And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

In other words, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God and demonstrated its life giving power through His miracles.

The second sentence of this last quote brings out an important aspect of the Trinity. We say in the Nicean Creed,

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.”

St. Paul says it right there: “for through Him [viz: the Son of God] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

We do not say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son like the Roman Church claims. Their claim has no scriptural basis. It created a lot of theological and pastoral confusion because it put Christ up in the clouds with the Father. This is why their Gothic cathedrals are so tall. Christ is not in the clouds but in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The third aspect Paul wrote about was what the bridging of this gap meant for us. We are not outsiders but part of the Communion of Saints. Paul wrote:

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”

The icons in Orthodoxy vividly express that we belong to the family of the Communion of Saints. When we repent and believe in Christ, we become part of that Communion or family. For Orthodoxy, there is something strangely askew about those Protestants, especially some Baptists, who hate images. Why do they shun from expressing this fundamental aspect of the Church which is the Communion of Saints?

Fourthly, because Christ bridged the gap between heaven and earth, Paul then wrote about the earthly aspect, which is the Church. Christ is the cornerstone and the foundation is apostles and the prophets. He wrote:

“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”

Finally, he returned to the theme that we are temples of the Holy Spirit because we believe in Christ. We have become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. In the last sentence of the passage he wrote:

“You also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

When our souls separate from our bodies, we will be welcomed into the home of the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus warned about setting our hearts on becoming secure by storing up treasures on earth for ourselves. They may help our children but they will not help us. The leaders of the Jewish people were becoming very wealthy because Rome had given them the privilege putting their taxes towards the building of the temple. Luke quotes Jesus a lot about the dangers of wanting to become rich. He was not only speaking to the Jews who read his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, he was also writing to the pagan converts. He was warning them not to set their hearts on becoming rich through the wealth of the Roman Empire.

We know in these difficult times of the pandemic that many people are struggling. Many have lost their jobs. Even businesses find themselves in dire straits. It is important we remember, as St. Luke wrote, that the earthly blessings we have from God are not for ourselves alone. It is important therefore that we give to those needing food to give what we can. Seek to find reliable charities that will give to those in need and not towards their own wages.

Let us effectively use this time, when we also prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, by living out the Orthodox practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as best as we can. For us in America, this is a pretty and decorative time, when we normally gather as families to celebrate Christ’s birth. Do not forget, however, the way in which He was born. He was born in a manger, among animals and rustic shepherds in a cave. The materialism and commercialism of our fallen world is the very opposite of the way Christ was born and the way that the early Church celebrated His birth. We do not serve Christ by falling into the materialistic ways of the fallen world. Let us instead join in by worshiping Him with the angels and the shepherds and God’s created world because of His wonderful condescension. As the Orthodox Kontakion for the Nativity of Christ prays:

“Today the Virgin cometh unto a cave to give birth to the Word Who was born before all ages, begotten in a manner that defies description. Rejoice, therefore, O universe if thou should hear and glorify with the angels and the shepherds. Glorify Him Who by His own will has become a newborn babe and Who is our God before all ages.”

Friday, November 20th., 2020

Friday, November 20, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:9-13, 23-28                     Gospel: Luke 16:15-18, 17:1-4

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from Chapter 5 of the Letter to the Thessalonians, are its concluding verses. In its first section St. Paul called them to love one another and to respect those who labored for them, especially liturgically. This is made clear by the following verses. They actually gave a basic liturgical structure that would have been the model for later liturgical services. I have included verse 23 (not given in today’s calendar) to bring this out. It reads,

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I have included it because it is a liturgical blessing or benediction that would have been used at the beginning of the Liturgy. Next, there is an intercessory prayer, followed by the practice of a holy kiss. They would have held the holy kiss right before the reception of communion at the end. Finally, it mentions the public reading of the scriptures that would have taken place before the holy kiss and communion. It then gives another blessing at the very end.

Thus, this passage outlines the liturgical practice used by the very early Church and is therefore significant. That same structure can be found in our own liturgical service of the Divine Liturgy.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, which has two separate segments, Luke again used the words of Jesus to warn about chasing money like the Pharisees did. Such a practice is “is an abomination in the sight of God.” Jesus told them that they had the prophets to teach them up until John the Baptist but now the Kingdom of God was being preached and being accepted by everyone. In other words, the Gentiles have stolen the Kingdom of God from them. Even so, God’s precepts still stand. One thorny question at that time was that of divorce. Luke uses Jesus’ words to restate to his people that divorce is not acceptable in God’s eyes.

In the second segment, two more questions were discussed. The first was the question of leading little ones astray. St. Matthew had also dealt with this issue in his Gospel. Like Matthew, Luke is very clear. Jesus says,

“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

I discussed the question of child abuse when it came up in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Orthodox Church’s position is also very clear, especially if it involves a priest or someone else who works with children in the Church, such in Sunday School. Any person accused of such an offense must be suspended immediately and the matter be given to the civil authorities. Always pray for the protection of the Church.

The next question was about forgiveness. Any disciple of Christ must be prepared to forgive no matter what the hurt may be. Remember that others can hurt our bodies, our reputation and even those we love but they can never hurt our souls if we choose to not let them. This is why we must forgive. In doing so, we take up our cross and follow Jesus’ example of being put on a cross. When we choose to let go of the hurt by forgiving we are also given the opportunity to pray for the offender’s soul as well as our own. We can also pray for anyone else who may have been impacted by the offense. This is the way of Christ. This is the also the way of His followers. When we embrace forgiveness, we embrace the cross of Christ. We can transform through Christ what is a bad situation into one filled by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we become holy as our heavenly Father is holy. Always therefore strive to forgive others and ask the Holy Spirit to help us to when it is difficult.

Thursday, November 19th., 2020

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8                       Gospel: Luke 16:1-9

Fr. Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul returned to the question of when Christ would come again. As Jesus said after His resurrection, no one knows the times or dates set aside by our Father in heaven. Paul reaffirmed this by saying, “the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” In other words, nobody knows when it will happen. What he does tell them is to remain awake by not wallowing in sin such as drunkenness. They are alive in Christ so they have nothing to fear in regard to such questions. They live in the light, not in darkness. At the same time, their protection will be the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as “the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

The Orthodox Church puts strong emphasis on our need to “stay awake.” We stay alert by striving to focus on the Kingdom of God. Thus, during Holy Week, we hold 3 Bridegroom Services in which we reflect on the parable of the 5 wise virgins who were properly prepared for the wedding feast compared to the 5 foolish ones who were not. One of the service's hymn says:

“Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant He shall find vigilant; but unworthy is he whom he shall find neglectful. Beware therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down by sleep, lest you be given over to death and be closed out from the kingdom; but rise up crying out: "Holy! Holy! Holy are You our God; through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us."

Pastimes such as following sports or engaging in hobbies or other social activities are not bad in themselves and can help us not to drift into sin but they must be put into perspective. If they become all-consuming then they have replaced Christ as the center of our lives. We will lose sight of the Kingdom of God. We will have become like those foolish virgins who were not prepared and fell asleep.

Many of our social activities have been curtailed because of the Coronavirus. Thus, these are not easy times. As I have said before, pray that the Holy Spirit will comfort and strengthen us during this painful time. When we do, we transform a bad situation into one in which we embrace the Kingdom of God. This is the challenge we need to take on. We can all intercede because of our baptism before the Kingdom of God. In doing so, let us repent of the actions that prevent us from being holy and ask the Holy Spirit to make us whole. Let us also pray for our families, our friends, our communities, our state, our nation, all the peoples of this planet and indeed the whole universe. As followers of Christ, this is our mission. Do we have the faith to believe that Christ has enabled us to do this? As this virus confronts us, we can face its pain by calling out to Christ with all our hearts to save all of His creation. Peter cried out to Him on the stormy waters when he was sinking. We can do the same.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke quotes what Jesus said in a parable about how, in effect, we can ‘steal’ the Kingdom of God. Jesus said,

“The master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.

If what Jesus said in today’s passage about ‘stealing’ the Kingdom of God seems puzzling, we only need to look at the example of the thief on the cross when he asked Jesus to enter His kingdom or, the woman caught in the act of committing adultery but whom Jesus forgave and simply said to sin no more or, the sinful woman who came weeping at Jesus’ feet when she repented of her sins or, of Peter who wept bitterly after denying Jesus, to understand what He meant by this parable.

The Jews had become so accustomed to trying to adhere to the Mosaic Law and making sacrifices to God to atone for their sins that they forgot about the mercy of God. We too, in our society, are so used to striving to measure up in our work, our academic exams, to civic law, that we may forget about the mercy of God like the Jews in Jesus’ time. Society may teach us that we must earn our way to succeed but this is not the way of our Father in heaven. None of us can earn the blessings that our Father offers. He gives them freely. Even with the saints, the closer they got to Christ, the more they realized how unworthy they were to be given His grace. What our Father does want from us it to respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit when it is offered. This often happens when, as followers of Christ, we are ready to take up our cross and follow Him.

In other words, never be afraid, because of our sins, to come before Christ and ask His forgiveness. Never be afraid to ask His Body, the Church, for forgiveness through Confession and the other sacraments. The Church is there to heal, not to judge. Christ will ask, however, that we take up our cross by letting go of our sins. He will also ask us to focus on Him when we encounter difficulties and setbacks. He will always forgive no matter how often we sin. In replying to the Pharisees, Jesus said of the sinful woman who anointed His feet,

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”

 

The more we are forgiven, the more we will love. Let us embrace that love!

Covid-19 Result was Negative

Dear friends, Christ is in our midst!

I am happy to announce that the Covid-19 test I had to take on Monday gave a NEGATIVE result. 

Thus, I will be able to serve Divine Liturgy this coming Sunday.

Yours, in Christ

Fr. Terence Baz

Wednesday, November 18th., 2020

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12         Gospel: Luke 15:1-10

Father Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul, wrote about the need for the community to refrain from sexual immorality. Not only were pagans from the city attempting to influence or manipulate them but so too were the Gnostics. It may be surprising to know that this cult not only used practices from the Mosaic Law but they also were known to practice sexual immorality among its members. It is little wonder therefore that Paul took the trouble to write and warn about them. So, on the one hand, Jews who did not believe in Christ were trying to make Paul’s community go back to the old Mosaic Law and on the other hand, neighboring pagans and the Gnostic cult would have been trying to influence them to indulge in sexual immorality. In his letter Paul wrote and said that it is not the Law that makes us righteous but our belief in Christ, who frees us from sin. Further, that, being freed from the slavery of sin, he warned them to not go back to the sexual immorality of those who did not believe in Christ. Instead, his people needed to die to themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ. The Holy Spirit would give them the grace to be able to stay focused on Christ and His Kingdom, freeing them from their passions.

It should not be difficult for us to see how his teaching also applies to us in today’s world. There are many TV shows that effectively promote what the pagans had presumed was acceptable behavior in their society such as sex before marriage, spouse swapping, pornography etc. What they promote is not what the Orthodox Church teaches. Seeing these images on TV can make it difficult to make the types of choices that St. Paul asked his community to make. With the grace of God they could do it and so can we.

Concerning the need to repent, in today’s Gospel passage, Luke wrote that Jesus told the Pharisees there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 just people. For those who choose Christ to be in their lives and pray for the Holy Spirit to be in their hearts, there is more rejoicing in heaven over them than the multitudes that might be righteous. Remember the thief on the cross! Whenever we use the sacrament of Confession with a repentant heart, Jesus tells us that there is great rejoicing in heaven. Encourage others, therefore, to turn back to Christ and embrace the Communion of Saints to which they can truly be at home. That feast will be beyond space and time and last for all eternity! If there is rejoicing for us, how much more will there be for those who have not been living a Christian life but who choose to? Do not doubt the power of prayer to touch those whom we love to turn back to Christ.

Tuesday, November 17th., 2020

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13         Gospel: Luke 14:25-35

Father Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote about how dear they were to his heart and how he prayed for them constantly. In praying for them, he called out to the Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, to intercede for the community that they may grow in holiness and that this holiness would enable them to abound in love for each other through the love of Christ. Thus, by living in Christ, they could attain His righteousness.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”

Notice at the end, Paul made reference to the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” The early Christian communities expected that Christ would soon come again. This expectation was a tension for them at that time. They were threatened by persecution on all sides and outsiders were trying to manipulate them. Remaining steadfast in their belief in Christ would have been easy to doubt. Paul encouraged them to remain steadfast and we know that same community still exists today. The grace of the Holy Spirit was there to guide and comfort them and because of that, the community did not falter.

We realize in hindsight that “we know neither the day nor the hour” of when Christ will come again. Even so, in these difficult times, it would be easy to allow the pandemic and other social pressures to bring doubts into our minds about whether God is there for us. Remember that these early communities lived in very difficult times too but they held steadfast. The Church is there for us, offering through Christ, its Head, the many blessings of the Kingdom of God. If we reach out to Christ and ask His Holy Spirit to give us strength, that same Spirit who enabled the Thessalonians to continue as a Christian community to this day, will be there for us too. Use the sacraments to receive the ‘living waters’ of the Kingdom of God.

Paul wrote that he was praying for them constantly. He does mention in other letters that he would pray for them in ‘tounges.’ For us, we have the ‘Jesus Prayer’ to enable us to pray constantly. It is a prayer that the monks use as the foundation for their personal daily prayer.

“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

The prayer is repeated over and over again. Not only will the Holy Spirit reside in our hearts through the use of this prayer, it can also be a powerful source of intercession for those whom we pray, as well as all for those concerns which currently impact our parish community, relatives and friends.

We have also just begun the Nativity Fast, where we refrain from meat, fish, dairy and wine. Do your best to walk this fasting journey. Not only is it good for our bodies, we know that in times of struggle, the Church has used the practice of fasting as another way to intercede before our Heavenly Father. A lot of people put emphasis in the Christmas season to give to others. This is a good thing. It is important to not get carried away in purchasing as many things as we can get hold of. The earthly blessings we benefit from are not for only ourselves but for others such as our families and those less fortunate. For Orthodoxy, a strong emphasis is put on the need to include the whole of creation, not just human beings. All of God’s creation is important. All of creation rejoiced at Jesus’ nativity. All of creation shares in the blessings of God. All the earthly blessings we receive also need to be shared by us with others. Once again, the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving make up the Orthodox Way. Let us embrace them to the full while we await that awesome day when Christ will come again!

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke gives important lessons for the early Christian communities and us to prepare for the Kingdom of God.

The first is that we must be prepared to forsake anything that would hinder us from making Christ the center of our lives. The early Christian communities had pressures on them to falter in their commitment to Christ, espeically the prospect of torture and persecution. For us in today’s fallen world, we have so many options to entice us to drift away from Christ. Let us remember that the pearl of the Kingdom of God is incomparably more precious than what the fallen world can offer.

The second was the warning Jesus gave the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the Mosaic Law of offering sacrifices was not what our Heavenly Father wants from us. He wants us to follow His Son, and like Him, take up our cross each day. It is by taking up our cross that Christ will become the center of our lives.

Thirdly, that what the fallen world offers will cause us to fail. When we pass from this life to the next, will we have put emphasis on what it offers or, will we have dedicated ourselves to Christ and the Kingdom of God? For those who chose the former, they are like an army which goes into battle unprepared and will subsequently be destroyed. They will be like someone who starts to build a house without a proper plan, who will be made to look a fool because he could not finish it. Finally, they will become like salt that loses its flavor, only to be thrown out and discarded. In other words, Luke was teaching his people to not be lured into thinking that the glamour of the fallen world would bring us benefit. The same holds true for us. What the fallen world offers will cause us to fail in the long term.

Jesus warns us to listen to His words so that we will remain focused on the Kingdom of God.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Monday, November 16th., 2020

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Feast of St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist

Father Terence Baz

I am using the Epistle reading for the day but the Gospel reading is for St. Matthew because it is his feast. I wish a Happy Name Day to anyone named Matthew. As well as the readings listed above, please click or copy and paste to the following link, to read the life of St. Matthew: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/11/16/103313-apostle-and-evangelist-matthewhttps://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/11/16/103313-apostle-and-evangelist-matthew.

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul wrote about the opposition he received when he preached in the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica. He wisely left the city, in case those who had accepted his teaching would also be persecuted. In this passage, he mentioned that he was pleased when Timothy, whom he had sent in his place, was received warmly by the community. He also wanted to encourage them to follow Timothy’s example. He wrote:

“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you – therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.”

Despite those difficulties, that same community exists today in that same city. St. Paul had steadfast faith in Christ, that through the Holy Spirit, his work would bear fruit.

In line with the Feast of St. Matthew, today’s Gospel passage is the story of Jesus calling Matthew to be His disciple. In doing so, Jesus broke many Jewish cultural norms. Matthew was a tax collector, despised by the Jews because such people had the power of the Roman Empire behind them. If they extorted people, there was nothing that could be done against them. Further, Matthew’s house was full of his friends who were regarded as sinners.

“Many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.”

The Pharisees complained to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus replied,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Matthew’s response was to repent and leave everything to follow Jesus. In contrast, the Pharisees believed they were righteous because they upheld the Mosaic Law. In other words, they did not believe that they needed to be healed. The Kingdom of God, however, was being offered to those who would repent and ask for God’s mercy. It was being offered to the humble, not to the arrogant.

It is easy to fall into the mindset that because we are good citizens, pay our taxes and are seen as good citizens that we must be ‘good’ in God’s eyes. It is then very easy to compare ourselves with others who do not live by our social norms and if they do not, to judge them accordingly.

To counter this temptation, we need to ask the Holy Spirit each day for the gift humility. It is only Christ who can make us righteous. Jesus was humble, not arrogant. When we find ourselves comparing what we do to others, we need to repent instead and ask the Holy Spirit to free us of it. Social laws or norms do not make us righteous. We have the Kingdom of God in our hearts because of our belief in Christ. He is our measure and we should not worry about what others will think of us because Christ and His Holy Spirit are with us. This does not mean that we disrespect civil law. As long as they do not contradict what Christ’s Body, the Church teaches, we should not be threatened by civil law and adhere to it.

 

Sunday, November 15th., 2020

Sunday, November 14, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 2:4-10                  Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, encourages his community to reflect on the many blessings they have received since having committed themselves to Christ. He had to recall them because their neighboring Jews and pagans were trying to influence them to drift away from the lessons they had learned from Paul when he had preached to them.

God had shown great mercy and love to them by making their souls alive, after formerly having been dead in sin. As a result, they were invited into the heavenly places with Christ. They have not earned this status through the Law or other practices that the Gnostics were trying to impose on them. Rather, Christ has given it out of His kindness to them as a free gift.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Our Father has created us to be holy as He is holy so that we will be enriched in a way that only He knows will make us one with Him. Paul uses the metaphor of workmanship to describe how God has created us to be holy.

This passage is a reminder that for us that, in Christ, we are being offered tremendous blessings that we cannot imagine here on earth. As for the Ephesians that Paul wrote to, we will be tempted to follow other paths besides Christ. They lead to nowhere except death. Our belief in Christ, on the other hand brings us immeasurable blessings.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we have the famous story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was asked: “How do I inherit eternal life.” Jesus asked him: “What is your reading of this?” The young man replied by quoting the two great commandments: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man then asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”

In answering him, Jesus went against many of the social norms of the time. He told the story of a man who was attacked by robbers. A priest walked by without helping, as did a Levite or lawyer. If either had touched a man who had been defiled and covered with blood, they too, would have been defiled. This would have created difficulties for them. Both would have had to isolate themselves, losing income because of it, especially the priest. The same even held true for the Samaritan but he had compassion on the afflicted man and went to a great deal of trouble to get him back on his feet. When Jesus asked the young man who was the real neighbor, he had no choice but to answer that it was the non- Jewish Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite.

Our Father in heaven has compassion on us and all of His creation. In like manner, if we want to be holy, we too must have compassion, not only our close relatives or those like us but all of creation. Our Father wants every living creature to be saved and be part of His Heavenly Kingdom. The Samaritan was detailed in his care for the man who was robbed. He saw to it that his task of caring for this man would be completed. We too, are called to care not only for those less fortunate but for all creation in any way we can.

As I have said before, this does not mean that we neglect our responsibilities to our families but we need to extend that care to everyone and everything. It is the Holy Spirit who can give us the wisdom to see how to best respond in any given circumstance and to maintain a healthy balance with them. We must remember that all we have is given by our Heavenly Father. It is not given to build up our own selfish ends. Our blessings and talents are given to serve others so that the treasures will be for the Kingdom of God and not for this earth. It is for these reasons that the Orthodox Church has always had a strong Tradition of philanthropy. It is part of the Orthodox Way. If we wish to embrace the Kingdom of God, we must embrace our calling to care for others by giving to them in need.

Friday, November 13th., 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-19       Gospel: Luke 13:31-35

Father Terence Baz

In both the Epistle and Gospel today, St. Paul and Jesus reflected firstly about the failure of the Jewish people to accept the Word of God and then to persecute those who believed in Christ because instead of embracing the Father’s revelation, they embraced the ways of the fallen world. Paul, at this point had little sympathy for them and Jesus warned that their rejection of Him would end up in their destruction. St. Luke’s Gospel was probably written after the destruction of Jerusalem. They also both lament what will happen to the Jewish nation because of their unbelief. Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

For us, this is a time in which we live in relative peace. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, our Father has also made it easy for us to embrace His Kingdom and receive its blessings through the Holy Spirit offered to us by Jesus. But we must also remember that our day of reckoning will come as well. If we follow Christ’s teachings through His Body, the Church, and strive to live them out as we seek the Kingdom of God, we will choose that Kingdom when our souls separate from our bodies and we leave this life. That does not mean, however, that Satan will not try to lure us away. Jesus warned many times about making such a choice, because the consequence will be catastrophic for all eternity. Thus, in our liturgical services, the prayer, “for a good defense before the awesome Judgment seat of Christ” is often used in our litanies. For now, our Christ is being merciful to us but this will end when our souls separate from our bodies.

Thursday, November 12th., 2020

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-14         Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

Father Terence Baz

Today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a beautiful address to his flock about their belief in Christ. He talked about how he labored to support himself while he was establishing the community. This letter was also one of his first Epistles, written about 50 A.D. Thessaloniki is still a prominent city and part of Greece today.

Paul’s mission was always to preach the Gospel. He also noted that while they labored, he and his disciples acted honorably like a good shepherd does with his sheep. More significantly, they listened to his preaching, not as a word from man but as the Word of God. Paul wrote that he was always thankful to God for their acceptance of his preaching. He also noted that they followed the example of churches that had formed before them and that, like them, those churches were persecuted by the Judeans because of their belief in Christ.

We can definitely identify with some of the struggles that his communities had to deal with. Influences from the outside were trying to make them compromise their faith. They would have been faced with the choice every day to stay committed to Christ and what Paul had taught. The pagan world around them was very different, often being corrupt and violent. They would have been looked upon with suspicion because they would have refused to worship the pagan gods and not attended the violent games that the Romans loved. We too live in a world that has very different beliefs and practices from us. Like them, however, we must love God by choosing Christ with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds but we must also love those who are different, no matter how repugnant the practices of some are. We must love our neighbors as ourselves.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus continued discussing the plight of the Jewish leaders because of their refusal to believe in Him. They had been the custodians of the Chosen People, a very sacred task but because of their refusal, they cut themselves off from God. Like the fig tree that does not bear fruit, they would eventually be cut down. He also warned that because of their sacred task, it would go harder for them at Judgment Day than for anyone else.

The key for us is to keep reaching out to Christ, to keep reaffirming our belief in Him, to continue to pray to the Holy Spirit to intercede, guide and protect us, to not drift away from the Orthodox Church, something that can be so easy to do, given the adverse social influences around us. Let us pray for these things so that we will be one in Christ, our Savior.

Wednesday, November 11th., 2020

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                       Gospel: Luke 12:48-59

Father Terence Baz

Both the Epistle and the Gospel passage for today have a common thread: how the Jewish people treated the early Christians.

St. Paul used to go into a synagogue to preach the Word of God but he always proclaimed Christ crucified. Often, the Jews did not like what he preached and some communities stirred up trouble in their cities and had him persecuted. So, in today’s passage, he made a reference to one of those incidents:

“But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.”

With today’s Gospel passage, we need to remember that St. Luke was also writing to an early Christian community. Jesus certainly confronted the corruption of the Jewish leaders during His public ministry. Here, St. Luke used that conflict to remind his readers that believing and following Christ would also bring persecution to them. It would also bring division. Luke quoted Jesus with these words.

“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Both Luke and Paul had to deal with internal divisions within their communities as well. Paul always wrote that they had to die to themselves and live in Christ. In doing so, they would serve each other in humility, building up the whole community instead of creating boastful factions and rivalries. Luke implicitly warned his community not to get to the point of taking such disputes to the civil courts! Such action would hardly help the community as a whole.

There is also a third dimension to these passages. The way the Jewish leaders would treat Jesus and the way that Jews later on would persecute His Body, the Church and its communities would have dire consequences at the Day of Judgment. Jesus warned them,

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

For us, we too, should not be surprised if we are persecuted for our beliefs. Like Jesus and St. Paul, we must be prepared to take up our cross as Christ’s followers. The important thing is to stay focused on Christ and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in order to stay focused on Him. Like Paul, however, if we can remain focused, especially in times of great difficulty, the Holy Spirit will enable us to bear much fruit. Jesus also taught,

“Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, remains alone but if it dies, it bears much grain.”

Just as Paul never shied away from proclaiming Christ crucified, we too should not be afraid to proclaim that same message to others. If we have lived in Christ and borne our own crosses, people will see that we have lived it and not just talked about it. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. At the same time, if others persecute us for our belief in Christ, do not judge them, pray for them. Again, Jesus said, “bless those who persecute you.” Leave their judgment in our heavenly Father’s hands.

Tuesday, November 10th., 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10         Gospel: Luke 12:42-48

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus spoke about the bad stewardship of the leaders of the Jewish state. As leaders, they had the responsibility of wisely leading God’s Chosen People for the calling He had given them. Instead, they used their position to gain wealth and power because Rome had allowed them to use its taxes to build their temple. They could afford to have parties and get drunk. They could get away with being cruel to their servants. They could get away with amassing wealth and ignoring the poor. Thus, Jesus said of them:

“But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”

Having behaved like this, Jesus warned them that all their wealth and, more importantly, their sacred responsibility to care for God’s Chosen People, would be taken away from them. It was they who would be destroyed. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. In A.D. 70, the Romans got fed up with them and destroyed them and the city of Jerusalem with its temple.

And for the pagans, whom the above type of behavior was acceptable, they would also be given the chance to repent and follow Christ. Even if they did not, Jesus warned that their punishment at Judgment Day would be less because they were not taught God’s ways like the Chosen Jewish People were taught.

What it says for us is to always be on our guard not to let others entice us from drifting from Christ. As St. Paul says, if we believe in Christ, the requirements of the Mosaic Laws are lifted but it does mean that we must take up our cross daily to follow Christ’s teachings. For us Orthodox Christians, we have His Body the Church to guide us through the Holy Spirit in those teachings. Jesus also warned that we too, would be persecuted because of our belief in Christ. Satan will do anything he can to persecute us just as he did to Jesus and His apostles. Always cling to Christ, therefore, in times of difficulty.

In every Divine Liturgy and in other prayers, we pray for the Church hierarchs. Soon after the Consecration and Epiclesis, the priest says aloud of the hierarchs:

“Grant them for Thy holy churches in peace, safety, honor, health and length of days, to rightly define the word of Thy truth.”

They, like the leaders of the Chosen Jewish People, have a sacred responsibility to guide their flock in the teachings of Christ. As Jesus said:

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

We need to pray for them so that they may humbly fulfill this sacred responsibility. When they fail to do this, the Church suffers.

The Orthodox Church sees itself as conciliar. In other words, when it makes decisions, it always does so in the format of a council. In regard to doctrinal matters, it would not make any changes or additions until the whole Christian Church can do so. That cannot happen at present because the Orthodox Church believes many of them have drifted away from the basic teachings of Christ.

In regard to administrative matters, the various dioceses use the same conciliar format to hold synods. Our own archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America, just concluded one such synod. Through them, its hierarchs strive to fulfill their function described above. It is important that we pray for them so that the Holy Spirit will guide them to be faithful to that responsibility. On a broader level, all the Orthodox hierarchs of North America hold meetings through what is called the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of America, to discuss matters that affect all Orthodox churches in this country.

Monday, November 9th., 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5                       Gospel: Luke 12:13-15, 22-31

Father Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle passage begins St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul established this community in 50 A.D. He wrote this letter just a few months afterwards. The city is still there and is located in modern day Macedonia. Being written so early, it is likely to be Paul’s first letter to any of his communities. This community was made up mostly of Gentiles, not Jews. Some of the issues he wrote about were the continuation of pagan practices by some of them, the question of when would Christ come again, his advice about waiting for it to happen and how to remain steadfast in the faith in a violent, pagan world.

This introduction gives a Trinitarian welcome. He wrote,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A little further down, he continued,

“For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.”

Finally, he expresses his gratitude for their faith and love and also for the grace that God gave him to start their community,

“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.”

It is also a reminder for us that because we too have been given that same Holy Spirit which enabled Paul to carry out his missionary work. Therefore, we should not be afraid to embrace his missionary spirit. The Orthodox Church has striven faithfully over the centuries to teach those same teachings that the apostles taught in the name of Christ. Thus, we have the name, ‘Orthodox.’ It is the link between what was then and what is now. In the same way, therefore, being missioners of Christ is what we are as Orthodox Christians.

In North America, the Orthodox Church has set up a body called the Orthodox Christian Mission Center or OCMC. It strives to continue this work despite its limited resources. There is also much to be done in America so, never be afraid to talk about the beauty and benefits of our parish and the Orthodox Church as a whole to others. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke’s wrote the beautiful account of Jesus teaching the people not to worry about the affairs of their lives but to seek the Kingdom of God first. When we do, our heavenly Father will take care of us. This is another story in which Jesus used nature to describe our relationship to the Kingdom of God. He referred to birds, to lilies and to the grass of the fields. If our heavenly Father will provide for them, “Of how much more value are you than the birds?”  Jesus taught. Our heavenly Father knows what we need.

The context in which this story is introduced is that of covetousness and greed. The Jewish nation was given the privilege by Rome of being able to use their taxes to pay for the building of the temple. This enabled the leaders of the Jewish people to accumulate great wealth. It was their desire to cling onto this wealth that was the basis for their refusal to believe in Jesus and to accept His works. Jesus was clearly teaching in this story to not seek the material wealth that the Jewish leaders sought.

“For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.”

Jesus also taught that for all the seeking of preserving our earthly lives through material wealth, how can these things add to our stature or extend our lives? Leave these things our Father’s hands.

This year for us has certainly been unusual. The Coronavirus has forced us to limit what we can earn and how much we can pursue earthly materials. It has also taught us to wisely eat the type of food we consume to enable our stamina to better resist attacks from such viruses and bacteria.

One good practice that is part of the Orthodox Way is to fast sensibly. We do it to specifically control our bodily appetites but if done properly, it can help a lot to wash out toxins and reduce other substances that increase heart disease and diabetes. Do not be afraid of such practices because they will help us in the long term. One only has to look at our parish to see that these practices have helped because look at the number of our members who are alive and in their 90’s! The Orthodox Way has been surely good for these people. It will also help us to not blindly pursue the accumulation of material possessions but give rather to the poor. By doing such practices, we also store up treasures in heaven. So, instead of excessively buying gifts for our families this Christmas season, prepare for it in the Way that the Orthodox Church teaches by prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Finally, even though we are of much more value than the birds of the air, our heavenly Father has given us a sacred responsibility to care for His creation with all the beautiful things of nature that He has provided for us to enjoy. For the Orthodox Church, the celebration of the nativity of Jesus is as much about the celebration of nature as it is of the birth of the Son of God into this world. The Holy Spirit continues to always uphold and continue His work of creation. It is little wonder then that creation would celebrate with Jesus the heralding of the lifting of the yoke the sin of Adam and Eve inflicted upon us and it. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we should also celebrate the foretelling of the material world being free from that Original Sin. Let us, therefore, prepare for it accordingly.

Friday, November 6th., 2020

Friday, November 06, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 4:10-18               Gospel: Luke 12:2-12

Father Terence Baz

Today’s passage is the conclusion of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. He was in prison in Rome and he sent some of his disciples to bring his letter to the Colossians. He mentioned a number of his disciples. He also asked that the letter be read to the Laodiceans, who were not far from Colossae. The issue of Gnosticism must have been influencing that community as well. His last sentence is:

“This salutation by my own hand – Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.”

Knowing that he would never see them again in this life was a sad moment for him and the community. Despite this, there was no one who had more faith in the Risen Christ than St. Paul. He would pass away, but Christ was always with them. The Holy Spirit was there to comfort and support them with His heavenly Gifts. The community would survive and that belief in Christ would spread throughout the Roman Empire. They suffered persecution along the way but if, like them, we remain steadfast in our faith, Christ’s Body, the Church, will continue to grow in the present day.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus taught some very important principles.

The first is to not worry about those who would kill the body but those who would also be able to send us to hell. Only we can allow the latter to happen but people can lead us astray. We must be very careful not to drift from the teachings of Christ and His Body, the Church. Teachings different from the Church’s may not seem to be very significant but if they lead us from Christ, they will be profoundly shattering to our souls. Jesus warned us to be on our guard because they can come from any quarter. In the context of this passage, it was the very leaders of the Chosen People who were leading the people astray.

The second is that our Heavenly Father knows and loves every minute detail about us, we who are the interface between the material and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly. God is beyond space and time but knows each and every one of us intimately. Our Father is not some distant God above the clouds. The Kingdom of God is within us through the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

The third is that, if we believe in Christ and are prepared to acknowledge him before others, our Heavenly Father will also acknowledge us. Do not let others try to water down our belief in him like the Gnostics in the Epistles from St. Paul that we have been reading this week. In a diverse country like ours, be careful not to let others make us deny Christ.

The fourth involves the saying from Jesus that to sin against Him is forgivable but to sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. Orthodoxy believes that God’s creation continues on today through the Holy Spirit. Right from the Book of Genesis and throughout the Bible, the Spirit of God is there animating God’s creation. It would take too long to go into detail about what the scriptures say about this but to abuse the ongoing creative work of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, is what is unforgivable. Our responsibility to care for and respect God’s creation, therefore, is a fundamental responsibility for us to live out. If we abuse it, we abuse the Holy Spirit. To care for creation is a sacred and holy responsibility that we have to take very seriously. Just as Jesus taught above, we are either for God’s creation or we war against it. We cannot sit on the fence about God’s creation! The Orthodox Way of life centers around living out this responsibility. Let us not ignore it!

The fifth is that St. Luke, in writing to his people, was teaching them not to worry about what to say, no matter how ominous the intimidation may be because, if we stay focused on Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us and tell us what to say. St. Luke’s readers would have been very mindful of possible persecution because of their beliefs. Thus, he wrote,

“Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

It was a much more dangerous world for them than it is for us. Always ask the Holy Spirit to be with each and every one of us throughout each day. When we drift from Him or fail in our responsibilities to Him, Christ will always be there for us when we turn back in repentance. He will never refuse us. The words that Jesus proclaimed to the Jewish people also rings true for us: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

Thursday, November 5th 2020

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 4:2-9       Gospel: Luke 11:47-12:1

Father Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul specifically mentioned that he was in chains and he asked them to pray for him. He was also sending a couple of his disciples, Tychicus and Onesimus, to encourage them. It was obviously a sad time for both them and Paul, knowing that he would face execution but the grace of the Holy Spirit was with them. Despite the threat from the authorities, he told the community to always treat them graciously:

“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

Even though he was separated from them and that they would probably never see him again, Paul wanted them to stay close with him in their hearts.

“I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts,”

For us and our community, we may not have to face the type of separation that Paul faced during his time in prison but in some ways, we all have to face the moment when we become separated from our loved ones. For some, their battle with cancer may be ending. For others, it may happen unexpectedly, through a heart attack or even the terrible circumstances of losing the battle with the Coronavirus. For those who progress on in years through good health, they too, see the passing of those whom they were very close to in the past. None of these circumstances are easy. We also all have memories of those who were close to us.

Let the example of St. Paul strengthen us. He has given a lot of good advice in this Epistle about facing such circumstances in a way that does not defeat us. That way, of course, comes down to living a life in Christ. He has sent His Holy Spirit to comfort us but on top of this, having risen from the dead, has enabled us to be unified with those whom we love for the rest of eternity. He won for us the victory over death. Our lives here on earth are short and were not meant as an end in themselves. All the difficulties we endure would be for naught if it all ended there. We believe that, through Christ, this is not the case. As members of the Orthodox Church, we believe that we will rejoin the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God, which is already present in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Just as Paul prayed for unity with his community in Colossae, we too can pray for those in the past and those in the present, so that we remain one in Christ. Christ is there for us today and our Father in heaven wants us to receive His life and holiness for all eternity. Thanks to our Father’s love, let us embrace that Kingdom to receive the blessings it offers both now and for all eternity when our souls separate from our bodies.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continued His attack on the hypocracy of the Pharisees and lawyers. They refused to believe in the works that He had been performing because of their arrogance. St. Luke makes it clear that, given their reaction to Jesus’ criticism, they also refused to repent. At the end of this passage, Jesus warned the people to,

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

What may appear to be good on the outside may be full of filth on the inside. It is also a warning for us to not get carried away with what those, who seem successful in this fallen world, may present as success and respectability. Christ is the only one that we should use as a model, His teachings, His works, His sacrificial love, His humility, His compassion and kindness and His offer for us to receive the blessings and life of the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

Wednesday, November 4th., 2020

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 3:17-4:1 Gospel: Luke 11:42-46

Father Terence Baz

Whatever about the cultural norms in St. Paul’s day, he wrote to them that no matter what the circumstances, to do everything in the name of Christ. We live in a fallen world. Most of the time in our lives, our circumstances are anything but ideal or perfect. Remember what Jesus said in St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In handing our burdens back to Christ, we take up our cross and follow Him. In the same way, Paul is making the point that when we do live in Christ and give our burdens to Him, we live in the Holy Spirit and are free from sin. Always seek Christ out in difficult times.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus attacks the Pharisees and lawyers for their hypocrisy and their willingness to lay legal burdens upon others. Their day of reckoning will come, as it will today for anyone who does the same.

Tuesday, November 3rd 2020

Tuesday, October 3rd 2020

Election Day

Epistle: Colossians 2:20-3:3              Gospel: Luke 11:34-41

Father Terence Baz

Make sure you pray for everyone and the whole nation when you vote today. This is our priestly mission.

Today’s Epistle continues St. Paul’s rejection of the influence of Gnosticism upon some members of the Colossian community. When we live in Christ, we do not need worldly impositions. We do not need to create rules to make us feel justified or self-satisfied.

Having said this, it would be wrong to deduct from this that we can ignore our civic responsibilities. Today is Election Day and it is our responsibility to partake in our right to vote for whom we think will best suit us. The state has imposed restrictions because of the Coronavirus. We should also respect the state’s responsibility to keep us safe and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has firmly supported this. We should respect the advice of the medical community in wearing masks, washing our hands often and maintaining social distancing. We have learnt how dangerous this virus is and we should not needlessly put others at risk by defying these calls.

Remember that it was the Orthodox Church who compiled the Bible and the New Testament Gospels and Epistles were written by those who belonged to it in the early Church. It is the Orthodox Church who knows how to interpret it. Some Protestants may claim from today’s Epistle that they are not required to adhere to the state’s restrictions to protect us from the Coronavirus. They are false teachers and wrong in giving such an interpretation.

In the case of the current pandemic, the context is clear. This is a very contagious and dangerous virus. The context for the Colossian community was very different. The Gnostics were trying to impose self-made restrictions on the Christian community to make them feel superior. St. Paul made it clear in his letter that the very opposite was true. I said yesterday that the Orthodox Way has many rituals, prayers and liturgical requirements that it believes will help us to live a life in Christ better. They are not, however, intended as legalistic restrictions. A priest may tell one of his community to undergo a fast or a set of prayers but only to help that soul come back to Christ, not as a punishment or as a way to make atonement. Christ has already done that for us and this is what Paul was writing about to the Colossians in today’s Epistle.

It is interesting that the issue of washing ones hands when invited to someone else’s house comes up in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke. Once again, we need to look at the context. The first half of it gives the famous image from Jesus about the eye being “the lamp of the body.” When it is full of light, the whole body is full of light. In other words, when our eyes seek what is good, the body and its desires will follow. If they seek what is evil, our bodies will also follow. Watch, therefore, for what we seek. If it is goodness, it is light. If it is evil, then the whole body will be in darkness.

After being invited to a Pharisee’s home, the hosts became perturbed that Jesus did not wash his hands when He entered. Jesus retorted that what is the good of outwardly washing our hands if inwardly we seek darkness? The darkness that the Pharisees sought was to cling onto the Mosaic Law to make themselves justified rather than to believe in the wondrous works that Jesus had been performing among the people. They chose to cling onto the Old Law rather than seek the works and the life of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was preaching about. They were afraid of losing their wealth and power if they did.

“Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.”

The lesson that Jesus taught is that we should always seek the Kingdom of God first so that we do not seek the glamour of the fallen world and thus lose the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Always stay focused upon and cling to the Kingdom of God. Store up treasures in heaven by praying for all those who need to be strengthened in these difficult times. Give where possible to those struggling who have been laid off from work because of the virus. Finally, in a few short days, the Orthodox Church will call us to fast and pray in preparation for the Nativity of Christ. As mentioned, by doing this, it is hoped that we will better understand and partake in the mystery of the Son of God becoming man and being born a child. As always, the Orthodox Way is lived through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When the Kingdom of God is within us, our hearts and souls are full of joy. Not from our sufferings and limitations but because we see the beauty of the light of God’s Kingdom all around us. This world may be fallen but the presence of God still permeates it and gives it life. Our life gains hope when we see this. Our bodies may suffer at this time but our Heavenly Father wishes us to be holy as He is holy so that in His Kingdom they will be animated fully in His presence with immeasurable beauty and love. We will be what He created us for in as full a way as only He can make possible. Let us thank Him always for the holiness that He wants of us and let us seek it with all our hearts!

Monday, November 1st., 2020

Monday, November 02, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 2:13-20               Gospel: Luke 11:29-33

Father Terence Baz

I have mentioned that St. Paul had to address the influence of Gnosticism upon some of the community in Colossae. Gnosticism claimed to have a ‘special knowledge’ because of certain practices they imposed, some of which involved reverting back to the Old Mosaic Law. In this letter, he made it very clear that their claims were false.

He wrote in the first part of this passage about three rewards from believing in Christ. Firstly, that their former trespasses were forgiven. Secondly, that the old handwriting of the Law had been taken away and thirdly, that the principalities of sin had been disarmed. Thus, they were free of each of these things.

In the second part of the passage he advised them not to let these freedoms be taken away from them.

“Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”

He also told them not to let them force them to adhere to the old feasts and their requirements. They were done with such requirements.

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations.”

What dying with Christ did mean was that we need to take up our cross and follow Him. Those who wished to bind us to their earthly requirements would also try to persecute us when we refuse to. Let us always embrace our cross and not look to outward forms and appearances to justify ourselves. Do not let anyone try to separate us from Christ by saying that we must adhere to certain laws to make ourselves just in the sight of God. Did the thief on the cross adhere to laws? Did Mary Magdalene adhere to laws? My guess would be, no. What they did do was repent and believe in Christ. This is what brought them to the Kingdom of God.

The Orthodox Church has a lot of practices of discipline but they are never meant to be regulations whereby if you do not practice them you have somehow sinned or failed. They have been introduced to help our souls in the journey of our life focus on Christ. For instance, we have fasting practices but we do not fail if we do not fast. The Church encourages people to fast to help them focus on Christ but it is never an end in itself. Their  goal is to help us repent and believe in Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage, the Jewish leaders had been demanding a sign from Jesus to prove He was from God. He told them that the only sign they would get was that of the prophet Jonah, who went into the belly of a whale for 3 days. That image would be the sign given to them. Jesus would go into the earth for 3 days. The mission from His heavenly Father was to bring the life of the Kingdom of God to others and preach it, not to be a magician or performer of spectacles. In their arrogance, they refused to believe Him so they were made blind to the life of the Kingdom of God and it was not made manifest to them.

Let us always pray for the gift of humility from the Holy Spirit when we reach out to Christ. In doing so, we will see things as Christ sees them, not as the fallen world would entice us to.

Sunday, November 1st., 2020

Sunday, November 1st 2020

Epistle: Galatians 2:16-20                 Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul had to redress the influence of the Jews in Galatia who did not believe in Christ and were trying to influence some of his community to revert back to the practices of the Old Mosaic Law. He spoke out strongly against them. He wrote that the works of the Law cannot justify them in the flesh. The reason is that by doing so, they allow themselves to be subject to sin again. It is only by living in Christ that they can free themselves from this. It is only through Christ that they can find true righteousness. If they sin, it is only by returning to Christ that they can return to righteousness, not by trying to keep the Law. He pointed out that this is not an excuse to sin. He wrote: “Certainly not!” We have to keep striving, through the help of the Holy Spirit, to let go of our sinful selves and live in Christ. What we do have to do each day is take up our cross. So, we are free from the Law but we die to ourselves and live in Christ instead. He wrote:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

We therefore have to constantly choose to live in Christ and not according our passions. If we reaffirm our belief in Him, we can call upon the Holy Spirit to free us from sin and guide our lives. In this way, we remain part of the Kingdom of God and not of the kingdom of death.

Today’s Gospel is St. Luke’s account of the man who was possessed by a legion of demons in the Gadarenes. The demons begged Him to let them go to the pigs, which then stampeded in to the lake and drowned. The local people were not happy with this and asked Him to leave. The young man who was possessed asked to remain with Him but Jesus said to go and tell every one of the great works that God had done for him.

Just as St. Paul wrote about being freed from the bondage of the law, we have in this story a man who was terribly bound but became free. Jesus told him to go and proclaim among his people what the Kingdom of God had done for him and he did. We too, who live in Christ, should not be afraid to proclaim the wonderful works that our Father in heaven has done for us by sending His Son to give us this same freedom from sin. Let us keep affirming Christ in our lives. Let us always, as St. Paul did, rejoice in the wonderful things He has done for us. Let us seek the Kingdom of God instead of the death of this fallen world. Let us bask in the life of the Kingdom of God and shun the ways of the fallen world. Let us always humbly repent and turn back to Christ when we fail. He will never refuse us. Let us ask him, as He did for this possessed young man, to make up for our own weaknesses. Let us never be afraid to proclaim our faith in Christ together with His Body, the Church, which He has provided for us. We have much to be grateful for even with the sufferings that we have to endure.

Saturday, October 31st., 2020

Saturday, October 31st. 2020

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (Epistle)     Luke 8:16-21 (Gospel)

Father Terence Baz

During these difficult times of the pandemic when we have needed to curtail our social outings and family gatherings, today’s Gospel is a timely reminder for us to make the most of our isolation by reading and reflecting on the Word of God. Jesus taught this to the people in today’s passage. Reflecting on the Word of God is even more important than our blood relatives because the only way to the life of the Kingdom of God is by doing this. Our family is obviously important but if we want to remain with them for all eternity, we can only do it through Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh.

To help, I have been using the daily readings of the Orthodox Church’s liturgical calendar to write a short reflection on the Epistle and Gospel of the day. My purpose in doing this is to try to help our community do exactly what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. None of us are perfect and I certainly do not claim to have the perfect interpretation for each daily passage but I do hope that they encourage and help those who read them. I hope they bring its readers closer to Christ and help to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. For this reason, I encourage you to read them and pray about them.

It is also good to see the members of our community striving to be present for the Sunday Divine Liturgy in order to be nourished by its prayers, the beautiful singing and by the reception of the Eucharist. The Church is there to heal and nourish our souls. At the same time, it is an opportunity for all of us to pray for others who are suffering so that the Holy Spirit would touch their hearts. The one small comfort we have been able to re-introduce is to socialize with Coffee Hour downstairs afterwards in our beautiful hall. Whether we can make it to the Liturgy or not, try to make it a habit to reflect on these daily readings. Our souls are at home when they are one with Christ.

While what I have written above may seem straightforward enough, St. Paul, in today’s Epistle wrote about the profound impact of doing such practices for those who believe in Christ. Until Christ gave Himself for us as a sacrifice, no one could look upon the face of God. Moses had to put a veil over his face for the people after encountering God on the mountain. But for those who believe in Christ, this veil has been taken away and the blindness of our minds has been removed. He wrote:

“Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Not only can we now see but when we live in the Spirit of God, the image of God is put upon us. When we reflect on the Word of God and ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts, we take on more and more of the image of God. We go from ‘glory to glory’. St. Gregory of Nissa coined this phrase and it has become a very important theme in the Orthodox Church. It is called Theosis where we embark on a life long journey of becoming like God. As St. Athanatius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” Not in a pantheistic sense, but by being like the image of God. The holy saints would be the first to say that they saw their complete inadequateness and sinfulness before the face of God but it is in that very inadequateness that God makes them more like Him. The way the Orthodox Church views the path to holiness is that the Holy Spirit offers His grace for us in our hearts to move closer to Christ and when we respond, we are given that grace. It is a symbiotic relationship. God offers and we respond.

The clue for us when reflecting on the daily readings is to also pray for the gift of humility when we ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts. This is the best way to avoid succumbing to the temptation of pride.

Friday, October 30th., 2020

Friday, October 30th 2020

Epistle: Colossians 2:1-7       Gospel: Luke 11:23-26

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul once again reaffirms his love for Colossian community and his love in Christ. He gently but firmly reasserts that all things are done in Christ:

“For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”

Paul established this community and others near them. Thus, he was not simply one voice among many. He was their founder in Christ. They would have taken note of what he wrote as compared to what other pagans and Jews were saying to try and influence them to compromise their faith in Christ.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus taught about casting out demons. It is important to note that they still roam about in this world despite all the scientific technology we live with today. The Church has set prayers to exorcise someone who is possessed by demons and whoever has the task of doing this has indeed a heavy burden to carry.

A few comments need to be made. Firstly, it is important when praying to cast out a demon that we order it, in the name of Christ, to go back to Jesus Christ, otherwise what He taught in today’s Gospel passage could well happen. Secondly, we have to be very careful not to label someone as being possessed or ‘demonize’ them when their problem may be depression or another psychological symptom instead of spiritual possession. Thirdly, there are people out there who do worship Satan. It is tragic that such worshippers may influence others to join them. Anyone who is burdened with praying for someone they love who might be attracted to Satan has a great cross to bear. Remember the prayer that the Orthodox often prays:

“O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance! Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Thy cross, preserve Thy habitation.”

Once again, always try to stay focused on Christ. Always call out to the Holy Spirit to intercede and advocate for us and do not hesitate to call upon the Church to help and guide us. The Church is a physician of souls and it is there to help us heal in such difficult situations.

There are also those who have different beliefs than us such as Communists who may persecute the Church. We must pray each day for any Christian who is persecuted by others who do not agree with our beliefs. On page 1792 of the Orthodox Study Bible, for its morning prayers we say:

“More especially, have mercy upon your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep and comfort them, and make haste to grant them, by Your power, relief freedom and deliverance.”

We should never forget them. Some of our fellow Orthodox Christians are under great stress because they are persecuted by heathen nations. Always pray earnestly for them that they may be delivered from adversity. Remember that intercessory prayer is part of our priestly mission given to us at our baptism. Jesus suffered persecution from His fellow Jews. It was Satan who ultimately stirred up the leaders and the people against him to put Him on the cross. Given the chance, Satan will do the same to us today. Those who worship Satan have placed themselves under that same hatred prompted by him. Pray for them also that the Holy Spirit may prevail against him.

Thursday, October 29th., 2020

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 1:24-29               Gospel: Luke 11:14-23

Father Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul firstly talked about his sufferings and how he offered them up to Christ’s Body, the Church. He then wrote about how everything is summed up in Christ. I have mentioned in the past couple of days that this community was being influenced by outside ideas from some neighboring pagans and Jews through a new cult called Gnosticism. In emphasizing how everything can only be summed up in Christ, Paul addressed those influences. He pointed out that where previously they were before “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works”,

“yet, now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.”

It was this reconciliation that he suffered for them in the flesh. He was pointing out that there is no other way to be reconciled. His suffering was also an example of him bearing his cross for the sake of their reconciliation.

“To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”

Anyone who believes in Christ and chooses to follow Him must also take up their cross in order to bear fruit. Neither the pagans nor the Jews in Colossae could accept this. They tried to compromise the faith of the Christian community by claiming they had a ‘special knowledge.’ The idea of the cross was alien to them. Their philosophy was a false teaching that would soon fade away.

The lesson for us from this is to be wary of people who do not believe in Christ who also try to make us compromise our faith. Anything other than what Paul teaches in today’s passage is nothing but a passing fad that may separate us from the Holy Spirit who enables us to be members of the Kingdom of God. Do not be fooled by such false teachings.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus confronts the arrogance of the Jewish authorities who tried to belittle the wonderful works He was doing. Those works included the casting out of demons, the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead and by offering the life of the Kingdom of God that He preached about. No one had heard or seen anything like this. The Kingdom of God was little more than a distant hope compared to the suffering of their daily lives. The sacrifices that they offered to God in the temple were never adequate. Yet, here, they were seeing the manifestation of God before their very eyes!

The Jewish authorities who could not do anything like this, attempted, in their arrogance, however, to drag the very presence of the Kingdom of God down to the level of the devil! Their hearts were so hardened that they refused to believe that someone from God could do such works. Their imaginations were so stiffened that they could not tolerate seeing something that was beyond their own inadequate experience. Their memories were so clouded by their lust for power that it blinded them from recognizing who they were and why they were the chosen people. Their reasoning was so warped that they had to lower such works to the level of their corrupt lives. Jesus simply responded by reminding them that:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.”

In other words, what they were proposing was out of touch with reality. He then went on to warn them:

“But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Further still:

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

He was warning them that if they stood against Him, they would be destroyed because everything they wanted to cling onto, their power and wealth, would be taken from them. Forty years after His death, in 70 AD, this very prediction came true.

The lesson for us is to realize that what may seem to be as indestructible in this fallen world, like the great Jewish temple at the time, will pass. What will not pass is the life of the Kingdom of God that He offered to them and to us. All we have to do is simply believe in Him and hold steadfast to that belief when the storms of life come upon us. He promised His Holy Spirit to sustain and guide us in such times and He gave us His Body, the Church to be there for us to help us continue that journey to our Father’s Kingdom. Let us use these gifts as much as we can. What Christ does want us to do in following Him is to offer our sufferings (or our crosses) back to Him so that He will sanctify them. Let us embrace them and trust in Him.

Wednesday, October 28th., 2020

Wednesday, October 28th 2020

Epistle: Colossians 1:18-23               Gospel: Luke 11:9-13

Father Terence Baz

I mentioned yesterday (see yesterday’s post) that St. Paul had to address the issue of Gnosticism that had crept into the community of Colossae from both pagans and Jews. St. Paul’s first couple of sentences in today’s passage sums up how he addresses it. He wrote:

“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

The heresy of Gnosticism was a serious threat to the fledgling early Christian communities. St. Paul and other faithful teachers in the early Church dealt firmly with it and it is now little more than a footnote in Church history. Other heresies such as Arianism would follow and its influence is still a serious threat to the Church. To remain steadfast to the teachings of the apostles and the New Testament is a fundamental tenant of Orthodoxy. At the Divine Liturgy, just after the Anaphora, the priest says aloud:

“Among the first, remember, O Lord, His Beatitude our Metropolitan Tikhon, His Eminence and our Archbishop Michael. Grant them for your holy church in peace, safety, honor, health and length of days, to rightly define the word of Your truth.”

As St. Paul says above, Christ is the head of the Church. We are its members. It is fundamental that we “rightly define the word of Your truth.

For us, who believe in Christ, He is everything. No one or nothing else can take His place. Throughout the centuries, political systems and philosophies have come and gone and will continue to do so. The one Truth that the early Christians steadfastly held on to was Christ, especially when confronted with the demand to worship something or someone else other than Him. They were prepared to die for this Truth. As St. Paul wrote:

“Continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast”

Let us also not be swayed by fashionable ideas or teachings. They will come and go and belong to this fallen world. Our belief in Christ and the Kingdom of God is being offered to us for all eternity.

The teachings of the Church are there to prevent us from becoming confused. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that what the Orthodox Church teaches is merely one of many Christian creeds. Remember that it was the Orthodox Church which wrote the scriptures. It was the Orthodox Church which determined what are the canonical books of the Bible and what are not. It was the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, as direct descendents of the apostles, who passed on the proper teachings of Christ and the apostles. It has been the Councils of the Church who have guarded them right through the centuries, often enduring great crosses and persecutions in the process. Other churches may try to discredit this history but it is undeniable. Do not be confused by such false teachers. When we do, we drift from what Christ taught us. This is happening a great deal today, especially among the Protestants.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus continued His teaching on how to pray. Like yesterday’s teaching, He taught about the need for persistence in prayer. In this passage, He taught about trusting in the Father about what is best for us. We do not always pray for that which is good for our souls. Jesus did not say that we should not pray for everything we think of but, “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

What matters is that if we pray sincerely in faith, our Father will listen to our prayers and petitions. What we do not know is His plan for us and how our salvation will unfold through it. I have often said that, in believing in and calling out to Christ in our difficulties, He will send His Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and guide us. The more we pray, the clearer this becomes.

Tuesday, October 27th., 2020

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Epistle: Colossians 1:1-2, 7-11          Gospel: Luke 11:1-10

Father Terence Baz

The Epistle today is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It was a city in modern day Turkey or Asia Minor. It was probably written while he was in prison in Rome about A.D. 61-63. As with some other communities he established, this one was influenced by Jews who did not believe in Christ and also local pagans. Because of these influences, a serious heresy that the Church had to deal with later called Gnosticism was becoming popular. It held that you were saved by doing certain rituals that supposedly gave them ‘special knowledge’ for salvation. As such, belief in Christ was superseded and baptism was pushed aside. They also reverted back to many of the practices of the Old Mosaic Law. These were serious diversions from Christian faith and Paul wrote to deal with them.

Today’s Gospel passage is so rich that it is not possible in this short message to fully explore all of its aspects. It is St. Luke’s account of Jesus teaching them the Our Father. Whole volumes have been written to analyze this great prayer. I have written about the Our Father often, its importance in our prayer life and how it helps us to relate to our Heavenly Father.

It acknowledges our Heavenly Father and that we wish His will to be done ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’ It mentions us praying for our needs or our ‘daily bread’, our need to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others who have wronged us. At the beginning of the prayer, we implore the Father to have His Kingdom come to us. All these things are the basis of our Christian life. It is also the basis of the Orthodox Christian Way of life. Let us therefore always pray this prayer with reverence and sincerity.

The second half of the passage is a short parable given by Jesus about the importance of being persistent in our prayer and our petitions to the Father. Jesus is teaching the apostles not to be fainthearted in their prayers because they will eventually be answered. God is beyond time and space so, we may not know how or when but if we pray with sincere faith, our Father will hear our prayers. Jesus told them therefore:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Again, faith is the key. If we make excuses such as

  • our needs are not very important
  • God has more things to be concerned about than my little concerns
  • I should put up with my sufferings because everyone else does or,
  • why would He be concerned about my child’s needs?

We will put doubts into our minds that our Father is not capable of hearing us. It is not that we should not accept our crosses because Jesus said that we must take up our cross daily to follow Him but, even in enduring our crosses, we should persistently ask our heavenly Father to help us. Talk to Christ about them. Bring them to the Divine Liturgy and offer them back to Christ and our Father. Use the sacraments to strengthen and sustain us with those spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has promised us. Pray that we will not become fainthearted but always seeking our Father instead.

Monday, October 26th., 2020

Monday, October 26th 2020

Epistle: Philippians 4:10-23             Gospel: Luke 10:22-24

Father Terence Baz

St. Paul said in other letters that he never asked any of the communities to give him compensation or wages for his preaching of the Gospel. Most of them did not. He managed to get by from his tent making skills. We can see from the concluding section of his letter to the Philippians, however, that this was one community that gave generously to him. He expresses his gratitude in today’s passage and it clearly created a special bond between him and the community. Not all the communities gave him the same joy that the Philippians did. He makes that clear in his letters to the Corinthians and Galatians. Even so, he does not complain. He kept in his stride what he may or may not have been given to support him.

“I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It is poignantly clear in this conclusion of his letter that all he wanted to do was to preach the Gospel and stay focused on Christ. He was not going to let what people may or may not do for him distract him away from it. At the same time, it is clear he was comforted by their generosity. He wrote:

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.”

He knew at the time that his execution was not far off. He tried to comfort the Philippians, knowing that he would not see them again while on earth. He fare-welled them with a final blessing:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

After having given instructions and sent out His apostles and disciples to preach and bring the life of the Kingdom of God to the chosen people, Jesus reflected on how profound this moment was. The very Son of God, who intimately knew the Father, was now bringing the presence of the Kingdom of God to them, as a man. This is the great mystery of our belief that He was both “True God and true man.” Others such as kings and prophets had previously longed to see the presence of God in this way but were not able to. Yet, these simple fishermen were given this blessing:

“Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

Like tos chosen people who saw the presence of God, we too, have been given a great blessing. Through our baptism, the Holy Spirit has been given to us. It is that same Spirit who led Jesus into the desert, through whom He preached to the people, cast out demons and healed people. That same Spirit has been offered to us to comfort, strengthen and guide us through the troubles of our life’s journeys. He is not there like a magician to make our troubles disappear but to guide us through them in order to receive the joys of the Kingdom of God which have been promised to us. Like Paul above, let us always be grateful for what our Heavenly Father has given us, even in times of great distress.

The other great blessing we have is for us to also be able to call the first person of the Trinity, ‘Father’, like Jesus did. This is a tremendous privilege to be given! Let us never take it for granted. Without Christ, we could never have this intimacy. Let us always be thankful that we can call out to the Father. At the same time, when we fail, Christ is there for us to turn back to. He will never refuse us because our Heavenly Father wants all souls to be saved but more than that, to also be holy, even as He is holy. Our Father sent His only Son to offer that to us. As Jesus said:

“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Christ has willed for us to gain this revelation. Let us also be grateful to our parents if they chose to baptize us as babies so that we toowould be given access to Christ. Let us always be thankful for these wonderful blessings!

Sunday, October 25th., 2020

Sunday, October 25th 2020

Epistle: Galatians 1:11-19                 Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is the parable of the rich man who would not help the poor around him during his earthly life. He only cared for his own riches. Let us look at the context of Jewish society at that time and soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jewish society had a privileged position in the Roman Empire. They were able to freely worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The taxes they paid were allocated to their own temple, enabling them to make a great temple edifice. Thus, there were classes of Jewish society that were able to become very rich. If you remember the story of the rich young man who questioned Jesus about the commandments, you can imagine that there were quite a few who would not have wanted to give up their wealth. These rejected Jesus’ teachings and works. They would not accept the life of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was offering. They were very happy, instead, to keep the Old Mosaic Law because it made them very comfortable and they did not need diversions from this status, such as what Jesus was preaching. This parable, of course flies in the face of what they wanted. Nor was it the only one. More than that, Jesus also incorporates into this story prophets who were previously sent by God whom they rejected, the prospect of someone rising from the dead and the prospect that their stand would lead them to death and the rest of eternity in torment in hell. They would not have been happy with this parable! The warning is there, however, that those who in this life strive to accumulate worldly wealth at the expense of others will face the judgment seat of God. In hindsight, we can also see that in 70 A.D., these wealthy people lost everything when the Romans got tired of them and destroyed Jerusalem and hundreds of thousands of Jews.

St. Luke probably wrote his Gospel between 70 and 80 A.D., after the fall of Jerusalem. The warning from Jesus’ parable was still relevant. Luke wrote mostly to Gentiles. The wealth of the Roman Empire and its commerce would have been available to them. Luke warns them about seeking wealth for its own sake and he often used the teachings of Jesus to condemn the rich: “Woe to you who are rich.” In writing his Gospel he, like St. Paul, put a lot of emphasis on seeking the Kingdom of God first and not the benefits of this fallen world.

This parable holds as true for us today as it did in Jesus’ time. Abraham was speaking with the rich man who was being tormented in hell.

‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

We need to provide for our families. We need to use our talents to the best of our ability. In doing so, however, we must never forget that these were freely given to us by our Heavenly Father and that, just like He shares His blessings with us, He expects us to do the same for others, not only to those whom we love or are close to but to the “least of my brethren.” It is very tempting to become worried and concerned about our worldly responsibilities so that we forget Christ’s teachings and the Kingdom of God. It is very tempting to think that we can worry about the command of this parable later on in life. The tragedy in falling into this mode of thinking is that by doing so, we lose opportunities to store up treasures in heaven. The treasures of this fallen earth will go when we go. We also never know when God may take us from this life. Let us therefore be like the wise virgins who bought extra oil for their lamps for the wedding feast. Let us not have to scramble to get ready at the last minute like the unwise ones that Jesus talked about. They missed out on the wedding feast. Let us put our prayers into action and share our talents with others so that we do not only pay lip service to those prayers. Let us mean the words: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” by putting our Father’s will into action.

Friday, October 23rd., 2020

Friday, October 23, 2020

Holy Apostle James (Jacob), the Brother of the Lord (ca. 63). See:

https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/10/23/103039-apostle-james-the-brother-of-the-lord

Epistle: Philippians 3:8-19                Gospel: Luke 10:1-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul continued the reflection of his life in Christ. Just as it was difficult for Jesus at the Agony in the Garden to face His cross, it must have also been difficult for Paul as a human being to await his execution. Here, he wrote about living for Christ by dying to himself and all he wanted to do at this point in his earthly life was focus on the goal of the Kingdom of God.

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

We will all have to face that moment when our souls separate from our bodies and we leave this earthly life. Please God, for most of us, it will be reasonably comfortable and peaceful. In reaching that point, many of us will have suffered and offered the cross of our illness up to Christ in the same way that St. Paul had. St. Paul’s earthly life has long gone but through the Holy Spirit, his works continue to inspire and help us to stay focused in our lives on that same Kingdom for which he had longed. Our Father in heaven has made the path to His Kingdom so very simple for us. It is summed up in the prayer that Jesus taught His apostles to pray, the ‘Our Father.’ Let us always pray that His Kingdom will come to us and that His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel is a description of how Jesus sent out the apostles and disciples to bring the Kingdom of God to the chosen people. As I said above, our Father in heaven made it very simple for people to find His Kingdom, disarmingly so, in fact, to the point that some of the villages would not take Jesus’ disciples seriously. They refused to believe them! Very few have been given the privilege that those villages were given. What Jesus warned was that those who would not believe would one day face the dread judgment seat of God.

“I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.”

Let us, therefore, pray for humility so that our hearts will stay open to the Holy Spirit when the Church offers its blessings and teaches us in the name of Christ. Let us use its sacraments to enter into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. This will only happen if we are humble. Let us be like the thief on the cross and pray like him: “Lord, remember me when you enter into your Kingdom.” He believed and Jesus welcomed him into His Kingdom at that very moment.

Note too, that Paul at the end of today’s passage in his Epistle also warns about those who refuse to believe in Christ but choose instead the glamour of this fallen world:

“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.”

Let us choose Christ through the teachings of His Body, the Church, instead of this fallen world.

Thursday, October 22nd., 2020

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 3:1-8                  Gospel: Luke 9:49-56

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage of his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul reflected on what he was and he had become. In the Old Law, he lived the ideal life of a Pharisee. He was

“circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”

This was according to the flesh, however, not according to the Spirit and therefore it counted for nothing or ‘rubbish’ as he wrote. The reason is that

“these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

In suffering the loss of his past, he gained everything in Christ Jesus because the past was of the flesh but what he gained in Christ was the righteousness that the flesh could never give him. As baptized Christians, let us treasure, like Paul, what we have been given. The ritual of baptism might seem to be a straightforward one but it is one that has profound and life giving consequences for us, who believe in Christ. Let us not take it for granted.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we see the mentality of the Old Law being expressed by the apostles when they were not welcomed into a Samaritan village. Their response was to want to bring down fire from heaven to destroy them. Jesus said no:

“The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

Jesus did not judge others. He would leave that to His Heavenly Father. He only ever invited others to believe in Him and when they did, He offered them the life of the Kingdom of God. Instead of condemning, He embraced the cross for the salvation of all. He knew this and is why the passage said He was so focused on returning to Jerusalem.

It is important to realize that the Orthodox Church takes the same stand. As the Body of Christ that came from the apostles, it invites everyone, through its sacraments and blessings, to drink of the Living Waters of Christ. The sacraments are vehicles for us to enter into the mystery of the Kingdom of God and drink of its living waters. They are us not there to make restitution for our guilt and sins. It does not condemn or judge those who break its rules. It does not force someone to repatriate if he or she has wronged someone. If it feels the need to discipline someone for their sins, it only does so in the hope that their soul would be given the time to repent and turn back to Christ. Christ and His Body, the Church, is always there for us when we need to turn back to Him. When we do, the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us. Just as Christ embraced the cross, the Church does the same. This is not an easy path to follow but it is what Christ wants of us. The Orthodox Church has suffered many persecutions, continues to do so and will in the future. It also knows, however, that the gates of Hell will never prevail against it.

It is important for us therefore to always pray for those who wrong or persecute us. Let us not fall into the trap of judging or condemning others. Let us earnestly ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of Wisdom to guide us to prudently help someone who has gone from the Church. Let us always forgive others no matter what the hurt done to us is. It is what we pray for every time we pray the ‘Our Father.’

Wednesday, October 21st., 2020

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 2:24-30              Gospel: Luke 9:44-50

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, a dispute arose between the apostles about who was the greatest. Jesus responded:

“Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”

We must remember that the bedrock of our faith and of our parish community is humility. Arrogance is the opposite of what we are as disciples of Christ. An arrogant person will bring on great destruction on his or her soul and much worse, if it spreads to the parish community. It is important to do the best job we can in regard to parish responsibilities but if such accomplishments breed arrogance then all those efforts will be for nothing. It will create enmity and if the whole parish becomes arrogant because they have built a beautiful church or something else significant, such an edifice will become an empty shell because it will drive people away. The convenience and comfort of a beautiful facility will mean nothing to those who yearn to drink of the living waters from Christ through His Body, the Church. If that community is arrogant, it cannot offer the Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit will only reside in us if we are humble. This is what our Heavenly Father calls us to be. Thus, being part of the Communion of Saints through Christ’s Body, the Church, carries with it an awesome responsibility. We must be prepared to take up our cross daily and humbly seek to do the Father’s will, just as Jesus did.

After all the extraordinary things that had been happening with His apostles, such as healing the sick and casting out demons, the apostles must have started comparing what each of them had done with the others. This is why a dispute about who was the greatest of them arose. They forgot that it was from Jesus that they were able to do those things. So, one of the things we must always reflect on is, have we been comparing what we do in a parish with what others have done? If we do, we forget about Christ and start thinking about ourselves and others. The only one we should ever compare ourselves to is Christ. When we realize this, we see that all we can do is to humbly ask Christ to make up for our weaknesses and failures. Unless we become like a little child before Christ, the Holy Spirit will not reside in us nor will He act in us. Let us always pray for humility.

In the latter part of this passage, John asks if someone else can do those works if he was not sent out by Jesus. Jesus replies,

“Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.”

Remember that the Holy Spirit blows where He wills. We do not know where He may choose to work. One thing that will be needed, as I have mentioned above, is humility. It is for this reason that we should respect the works other people’s faiths or of those of ‘good will.’ As Orthodox, we do not judge and leave their works in God’s hands. As long as what they do does not undermine the Orthodox Church and its teachings, we leave them in God’s hands. If they spread malicious rumors about us then they do not represent Christ.

Tuesday, October 20th., 2020

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 2:17-23              Gospel: Luke 9:23-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, we read the profound words that Jesus spoke about the cross:

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

If, like Jesus said, we lose our life to this world or, lose what the fallen world poses to us as a glamorous, desirable life, if we remove ourselves from what it offers, we will seek the Kingdom of God instead.

This does not mean that we do not enjoy the blessings and benefits of God’s created world. There are those who believe that the fallen world is bad and must be frowned upon, such as some Calvanists and the Jansenists. The Orthodox Church believes in contrast that God’s created world is innately good. Nor does this mean that we should not use our talents to the best of our ability. What it does mean is that the benefits of this world and the use of our talents should always be for Christ and the Kingdom of God, not for ourselves. Enjoying the glamour of this world for our own benefit means that we will lose our life for eternity:

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”

Let us, therefore, keep this in mind as we go about our daily lives and work. Unless it is for Christ, it will be for nothing. This is exactly why in every Divine Liturgy, right after the words of Consecration and right before the Epiclesis, we offer back to Christ what He has given us:

“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all”

It was the cross, that Jesus spoke about above, that St. Paul lived out in his life and wrote about in today’s passage from his Letter to the Philippians.

“Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Paul was comforting them in telling them that they would never see him again in this earthly life. He said he would send his trusted disciple, Timothy, to minister to them.

In offering our lives to Christ at each Divine Liturgy, let us remember that, like the Philippians, we are not being left alone. The Holy Spirit will guide, comfort and strengthen us on our day to day journey. Let us give all our cares to Christ out of love for Him so that we will save our lives, as Jesus said in today’s Gospel.

Monday, October 19th. 2020

Monday, October 19, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 2:12-16              Gospel: Luke 9:18-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul was sensing that he would not see his beloved Philippian community again during his earthly life. Just as Jesus had to leave His apostles and disciples, Paul knew the time would come when he would have to leave them too. Just as the apostles were not left alone, however, nor would those who continued to believe in Christ be left alone. The Holy Spirit would be with them despite what difficulties the fallen world would throw at them. In today’s passage, St. Paul reassured them:

“Become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Thus, the Church would continue to grow under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It will in our time too. As Paul wrote:

“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

I wrote last week about the enormous amount of interest and curiosity Jesus had created by His preaching, miracles and the casting out of demons. Everyone was wondering who He was and how did He fit into the scriptures. In today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, the apostles managed to gather alone with Jesus in a quiet place to reflect on everything that had happened. Jesus then posed the question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They reported what people were saying and then Peter spoke up, after Jesus asked:

 “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.”

The word ‘Christ” meant the Messiah. Thus, Jesus was not only a man who could perform awesome miracles, He was also their savior as the Son of God. God revealed this to Peter but it was not time for the people to realize thus,

“He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one.”

This revelation would unfold very differently than what the Jewish people were expecting. Jesus explained to them that:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

Not even Peter would understand the way it was to unfold, right even up to the crucifixion. The opening up of the scriptures would only happen after Jesus’ death. The Jewish authorities, in their arrogance, would never recognize God’s plan.

Let us keep in mind that the Father’s way is through humility, not arrogance. All the teachings of the New Testament reflect this. Let us therefore pray for humility so that we can properly hear the Word of God. Let us pray that these scriptures will be opened to us as they were for the disciples after His resurrection through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 18th., 2020

Sunday, October 18th 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9                  Gospel: Luke 8:5-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul relayed how he had received a vision of heaven from God. He was hesitant to talk about it because he did not want to boast about himself and if he did, it was about his weaknesses. So, he mentioned about having a “thorn in the flesh” that he asked Christ to remove three times but at each time, the answer given to him was,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

So, for St. Paul, the reality of his earthly life was that what he felt was his weaknesses and he had to rely on the strength that Christ gave him through the Holy Spirit to gain any benefit from it. Jesus was the perfect example of humility and it culminated in Him giving up His life as a sacrifice on the cross. Many stories throughout both the Old and New Testaments also showed how God used those who were humble, to bring about His plan. In contrast, many refused to co-operate out of their own pride or ‘hard heartedness’ and were subsequently punished for it. For St. Paul, humility and weakness meant everything during his earthly life. He suffered many persecutions but for him, this was his cross as a follower of Christ. All he ever wanted to do was preach the Word of God and God touched people’s hearts through it. It was God who bore the fruit. Paul concludes this passage:

“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

For us, the best way to follow Jesus and Paul’s example is to strive to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. The Orthodox Church’s Way for us to achieve this is through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus often went into the mountains to pray. He told Martha that her sister Mary had taken the better path because she wanted to sit at his feet and listen to the Word of God. Paul spent three years alone praying before beginning his public preaching. John the Baptist spent his life in the wilderness praying when he was not publicly preaching and baptizing. The holy Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, spent most of her life contemplating the Word of God. There are also many examples in the Old Testament.

In conjunction with prayer, they also all fasted as a way of life. Even Paul, who wrote to only fast if the early converts felt they needed to, fasted as a way of life. Much of the persecution he endured meant that he underwent periods of fasting. We were also commanded by Jesus to feed the hungry. When we give alms, we recognize that the talents we have are not for ourselves alone. Jesus tells us that when we share them, we store up treasures in heaven.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke is the parable of the sewer who went out to sow his field. The first part is the parable and the second part is an explanation. St. Luke was warning his readers not to drift away by getting wrapped up in the cares of this fallen world. Times are very different today but this concern has not changed for us. We have to care for our families but we can also allow that responsibility to forget the church community at large and our need to be nourished by its sacraments.

Remember, it is through its blessings that we can pour out our heavy burdens to Christ as He promised us. It is through its blessings that we can allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and bear fruit in us. It is through its ‘Living Waters’ that we can drink of the Kingdom of God and be one with its Communion of Saints. It is through its blessings that we can be freed of the perils of death that this fallen world offers. It is through its blessings that we can intercede for those whom we pray for, who may be enticed into the fallen world’s dangers. It is through its blessings that we can come back to Christ in repentance when we find ourselves failing. Let us embrace what the Kingdom of God offers us. Let us embrace the Word of God that can nourish us. Let us let go of the glamour of the fallen world and allow our souls to rest and be at home in the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Let us be grateful for the love that our Heavenly Father has bestowed on us and wishes to embrace us with.

Friday, October 16th. 2020

Friday, October 16th 2020

Epistle: Philippians 1:27-2:4             Gospel: Luke 9:12-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul restated some of the messages that he had written about in several of his letters. The first was to let their conduct be worthy of preaching the Gospel. The second was to not be terrified by their adversaries lest they think that their threats or worse would have an effect. The third was that for those who believe in Christ, they should expect to suffer for His sake or, in other words, take up their own cross. The fourth is to not do things out of selfishness but by serving one another in humility in order to build up the community. He also urged them here to follow his example in that,

“If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Obviously for us, we need to keep in mind these same ideals and as Paul says, always reaching out to the Holy Spirit to help us do so.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Luke puts this event in the context of a lot of other activities that had been happening. Jesus had healed many, cast out demons, raised the widow’s son from the dead, preached to the multitudes and now he fed them. This created an enormous amount of interest and curiosity, even from Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist. Such was the impact of the Son of God visiting His people, preaching the Kingdom of God and bestowing its blessings.

Let us not forget that this same Jesus, the Messiah or Christ, is always there for us too. The Holy Spirit who had led Him to do these wonderful things is there to lead us too! His Father in heaven had sent Him to bring His holiness to the Chosen People and calls us to be holy as well, through that same Spirit of God. We have the grace to deal with whatever this fallen world throws at us. Let us be confident that with Christ, all things are possible and that the powers of darkness will never prevail against us.

Thursday, October 15th., 2020

Thursday, October 15th 2020

Epistle: Philippians 1:20-27              Gospel: Luke 9:7-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is between St. Luke’s account of Jesus sending our His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and their return. Then the crowds caught up with Him, listened to His preaching after which He fed the crowd with the five loaves and two fish.

In this segment, Luke described how King Herod heard about Him and was puzzled because he had beheaded John the Baptist. God’s plan would unfold despite the attempts of the fallen world to stop it. In fact, Jesus would soon say to His disciples that He too would be rejected, tortured and killed. Let us remember that when it seems that the fallen world is stopping God’s plan from unfolding, it never will.

In today’s letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, he reflects on the tension about wanting to leave this world to be with Christ but still wanting to continue his mission on earth to preach Christ to as many as he could and also encourage those who had converted to Christ. It would not be long before he would be executed but the Christian communities continued to grow after he left this earth despite the threat of persecution.

Wednesday, October 14th. 2020

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 1:12-20              Gospel: Luke 8:22-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

I mentioned yesterday that it is extraordinary how St. Paul, through his prayers and faith in Christ, was by the grace of the Holy Spirit often able to turn what seemed like a hopeless situation into one of grace or blessing. In his letter to the Philippians, he reflects how his imprisonment enabled him to preach to the prison guards and that his example encouraged his disciples to do the same. It is interesting that we read in today’s passage that not all those who followed his example did so from a genuine desire to preach the Gospel but imitated him out of jealousy and did so to try to bring about his demise. This does not deter St. Paul but instead he remained focused on preaching Christ to anyone he could for their salvation. He could have responded by engaging in arguments with his detractors. He is not interested in this. As he wrote:

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Paul knew that, as a disciple of Christ, he would die to himself, take up his cross so that he could live in Christ. Paul did not try to save his earthly life but tried to live in Christ instead.

Anyone who believes in Christ and wishes to follow Him must take up his or her cross to do so. Like Paul, they must be prepared to lose their earthly life for the sake of Christ. Like Paul, when people ridicule or detract from their example in striving to follow Christ, they must also strive to stay focused on the Holy Spirit to guide them through their adversity. As St. Paul said about such detraction, “in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Let us, therefore, turn our difficulties into times of grace through our intercession to the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus calming the waters after He and His disciples had got into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. A storm had arisen and the disciples became terrified. Jesus’ response was, “Where is your faith?” Even though the disciples were awestruck at Jesus ability to command the winds to calm down, it does not detract from their lack of faith. It is understandable that they became terrified of the waves and I am sure they had heard of people who had perished in this way but they had witnessed many miracles done by Jesus. Their lack of faith was in that they allowed those winds to overcome them with terror and they forgot about all the awesome things they had just witnessed of Jesus on land. We have reflected today on how St. Paul responded in faith during times of adversity. We too, can call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us in the most alarming of situations. Let us pray to that same Spirit to give us the faith to be able to respond in the way that Christ wants us to if we are faced with similar circumstances. Let us not be overcome with fear like the disciples were but even if we do, Christ will always be there for us if we turn to Him.

Tuesday, October 13th. 2020

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 1:8-14                Gospel: Luke 8:1-3

Archpriest Terence Baz

One of the extraordinary things about Paul’s missionary life was that even though he frequently faced great adversity, in times of peril, he simply prayed to the Holy Spirit and a situation that looked hopeless was turned into a moment of great grace. Today’s passage from his letter to the Philippians is another example. He was in prison but through his faith and prayers, he was able to preach to the Roman prison guards about Christ, who listened. This emboldened his disciples to not be afraid of preaching about Christ as well.

Let us remember him when we find ourselves in difficult situations and like him, call out to the Holy Spirit to guide us.

St. Luke in today’s Gospel continues to describe the work of ministry that Jesus did: healing the sick and casting out demons. Note that in referring to Mary Magdalene, Luke says that she had 7 demons that Jesus cast out. She is not described in the scriptures as a prostitute as the Roman Church claims. She later became very close to Jesus whom he appeared to right after his resurrection. As yesterday’s Gospel passage said, she who is forgiven much, loves much. That was certainly true with Mary Magdelene.

Monday, October 12th. 2020

Monday, October 12, 2020

Epistle: Philippians 1:1-7                  Gospel: Luke 7:36-50

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Philippi was a city on the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Macedonia. It looks like Paul started this community through his preaching about 10 years prior to this letter. Like the letter to the Galatians, he was either under house arrest or in prison at the time of writing in the early 60’s. It is obvious from the tone of the introduction that he had fond memories of this community.

Note the term ‘bondservants of Jesus Christ.’ Belief in Christ meant that they had received the gift of righteousness from the Kingdom of God but it also meant that, as Christ’s followers, they must be prepared to take up their own crosses. The same holds true for us.

Today’s Gospel story from St. Luke portrays the extraordinary incident of the sinful woman who poured out her tears on his feet to repent of her sins. The hosts who invited Jesus were understandably indignant at someone uninvited putting on such a dramatic performance in their house but Jesus was incisive in handling it. He noted that while he was invited, they showed none of the courtesies normally given to an invitee: washing His feet, offering a welcome kiss and even anointing His hair. While these may have been regarded as polite courtesies, Jesus pointed to something much deeper. The sinful woman did all those things to Him, not out of courtesy but from a very deep felt sense of being forgiven for all her sins and thus out of love for Him. In contrast, Jesus pointed out to Simon that he felt no such indebtedness to God and so, much less was forgiven of him. Jesus concluded the incident by offering to forgive her sins:

‘Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”’

The hosts still did not perceive what was happening. They still did not see Jesus for who He was. All they heard was that He said something that they would not dare to say to someone else: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus was offering this woman the life of the Kingdom of God instead of that of death and she had felt the great sense of release from the burden of sin that this had brought. The Pharisees could not see this.

Like the sinful woman in this story, let us not be afraid to ask forgiveness of our own sins before Christ in the confessional. He will never refuse us and always offers forgiveness. If we repent, we will walk away from our sins and embrace the love of Christ instead. Let us always strive to do this.

Sunday, October 11th 2020

Sunday, October 11th 2020

The Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11             Gospel: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

In his letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, St. Paul wrote about the need for the community to use its talents for the good of the community. They should not be jealous of each other or judge one another but each should work in love for the good of the community. In this way, as disciples of Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide them to help the community grow. He also wrote a similar message to the Corinthian community. That community was plagued with divisions, with some of them boasting that they were better than everyone else.

As part of Paul’s response, he wrote in today’s passage about the need to cheerfully give to the community because this is how it will unite and grow. He wrote:

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity.”

He also noted that:

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Why give cheerfully? Because our Heavenly Father has given to us unsparingly:

“God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”

Our Father wants to bless us. He also wants us to share both His material and spiritual gifts with others so that they too will benefit through us. He is offering for us to share His blessings! This is why it is a privilege for us to give to the needy as well as our parish community which is a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. We not only materially benefit the beauty of the Church. We also give back to our Father what we are able to. This is another way to store up treasures in heaven:

“Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything.”

This is why Paul says: “for God loves a cheerful giver.”

In this difficult time of the pandemic, do not therefore neglect the needs of the parish in running and maintaining these beautiful parish buildings. Its founders and our predecessors worked hard to give us what we have inherited. Let us continue that heritage. Let us not also forget the needs of its wider community, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, not only its buildings but it numerous programs that help up build the faith of the community, especially the young. Let us cheerfully give what we can for the Church’s needs for the sake of our Heavenly Father who loves us with an abounding love.

In today’s Gospel passage, we read the beautiful story of Jesus showing His compassion to a widow who has lost her son by raising him from the dead. When that happened, the people were awestruck and glorified God for His great mercy:

‘Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”’

This is yet another moment when God visits His people. I have said a number of times that during this difficult time of the pandemic, where people have lost their jobs and businesses struggle to survive, let us play our small part by patiently praying on behalf of everyone and staying focused on the Kingdom of God. God visited His people when Jesus came on earth and God will visit His people again. Let us be ready for Him and ask Him to bless us as we continue our daily journey.

Friday, October 9th. 2020

Friday, October 09, 2020

Glorification of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Enlightener of North America (1989—Sept 26th O.S.). Holy Apostle James (Jacob), Son of Alphæus (1st c.). 

https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/10/09/102906-glorification-of-saint-tikhon-apostle-to-america

Epistle: Ephesians 6:18-24                Gospel: Luke 7:31-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

Please click onto or copy and paste the above link for St. Tikhon to read about his life and why he is such an important Saint in the OCA. It is also our Metropolitan’s Name Day.

Today’s Epistle passage concludes St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We can see from verse 20 that he probably wrote it while he was in prison in Rome. We also think that it was written about 61-63 AD. He describes himself as “an ambassador in chains.” Even in this condition, he sees as his mission “to make known the mystery of the gospel,” in a bold manner. He sends one of his disciples, Tychicus, to reassure and comfort them and to deliver his letter. Note that he also asks for their prayers in conjunction with his own.

Paul must have been aware that his case to the Emperor would be the end for him. He was not afraid of this and wrote many times in all his letters that any harm done to the body by those who do not believe in Christ does not matter. What matters is that we remain focused on the Kingdom of God and Christ. His strength was by

“praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

The pagans may take away his body but his soul will be with Christ in the Kingdom of God.

In these troubled times when we face social uncertainty and violence from some segments of the community, remember that many of the saints have endured similar or worse trials. St. Paul was a great example and so was St. Tikhon, who endured the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution. Both remained steadfast in their focus on Christ’s Kingdom. Both prayed earnestly in the Holy Spirit for their Church and for themselves. Both would not compromise the teachings of the Church. Let us be inspired by them. Let us also pray earnestly for our country, our communities and our families. Through being focused on Christ, let us also give comfort and reassurance to others in these troubled times, by guiding them to see that the only way to the truth is in Christ. Realize, however, that in following Christ in this way, He will call us like Paul to take up own crosses, not for simply suffering for its own sake, but that through them we may bring others to Him. This is what will transform the fallen world.

The example of these two saints stands in stark contrast to what Jesus was facing in today’s Gospel passage. The Jewish authorities refused to believe in God’s Word! When John the Baptist preached they said he was too strict. When Jesus preached they said He was not strict enough in their Mosaic practices. Thus, Jesus gave them this parable where some children cooperate in playing a game but others refuse. What was really at stake for the Jewish authorities was their pride and lust for power. They would only listen on their terms, not God’s. They rejected the Word of God.

St. Paul wrote that for the Jewish leaders, the teachings of Jesus were a stumbling block and for the Greeks, foolishness. Neither could accept that the cross He went on was the key to the life of the Kingdom of God. There are plenty in society today who take a similar stand, presenting views that are different to Christ’s message. Never be afraid to proclaim our relationship with Christ and our belief in Him. At the same time, do not attack or judge others who may be different from us. Never let what we say cause enmity between us and others because of our words. This does not mean that we hide what we believe but when we talk about it, we should be gracious in the way we say it. It is always helpful and important to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in what we say. One of the Morning Prayers used by the Orthodox Church says:

“Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me mischief, and do not let them perish through me, a sinner.”

Thursday, October 8th., 2020

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 5:33-6:9               Gospel: Luke 7:17-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, he lays out to his readers what it meant to be disciples of Christ. In the previous segment, Luke described how Jesus preached, cast out demons and healed people. With all the talk going around about Him, John the Baptist sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus directly. Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

John would have clearly known what Jesus meant by His reply. The very thing that John preached about was at hand. These were demonstrations of the presence of the Kingdom of God. John had been preaching to the people to repent in preparation for oncoming of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God means life. Everything Jesus was doing brought life not death. In the same manner, Luke was telling those to whom he wrote and who believed in Christ that their belief gave them access to that same life of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus then quoted the prophet Malachi to describe who John was, a messenger or prophet, sent by God to announce His coming. Jesus also described John as the greatest of the prophets. Luke then makes the point in this description that those who believe in Jesus as the Christ or Messiah are even greater than the prophet John because they now have access to the very joys of the Kingdom John was announcing!

 ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

In other words, for St. Luke, the disciples of Christ had something that even John’s disciples did not have, which was the Holy Spirit who gave them the life of the Kingdom of God. Further, despite being God’s chosen people and descendents of Abraham, those Jews who refused to be baptized by John and believe in the life giving works that Jesus did, confined themselves to the incomplete sacrifices of the Old Testament and ultimately to death rather than life.

"And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him."

What Luke outlines here goes to the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Through our baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit we then received, the life of the Kingdom of God is always at our disposal. The Holy Spirit will give us the gifts and fruits we need to live a wholesome life to prepare us for His Kingdom. We have to be careful therefore not to look for the sensationalism that some pastors seek by trying to force miracles or spectacular healings. Sometimes extraordinary healings or demonstrations of the Kingdom of God will happen. We rejoice when they do but in the meantime, we need to realize that like St. Paul said, the grace of God is sufficient for us in our daily lives. We also need to remember that as Christ’s disciples, we are also called to take up our own crosses. This does not mean that we do not pray for the healing of someone who is sick. If we pray in faith, God will listen to our prayers and will act on them even if we do not see it.

Further, we should pray for those looking for remedies in the medical field and those assisting them. The Holy Spirit can guide them too! Be careful, however, to realize that the world of science and medicine belong to the physical world not to the spiritual. As such, it does not always have the answers. Faith in medicine alone is not enough. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life alone. At the same time, The Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit continues the work of creation in the physical world even though, as St. Paul says, it is subject to futility because of the sin of Adam and Eve. In other words, the field of medicine is good. The Orthodox Church has sought its help, when necessary, over the centuries but because Christ alone is the absolute, it must always measure up to what His Body, the Church teaches.

Wednesday, October 7th. 2020

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 5:25-33                Gospel: Luke 6:46-7:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul compares the mystery of marriage to the mystery of the Church. Paul often talks about the Body of Christ, which is the Church. In this passage, he gives a comparison about how intimate Christ’s relationship with us is. Christ gave His life for us. He continues to love us because we are now His Body, not in the flesh but in the Church. It is His same Spirit, the Holy Spirit who gives life to and guides the Church. In marriage, husband and wife “become one flesh.” In Christ, we are one in Spirit through the Church. His relationship with us in the Church is no less intimate than the flesh of a husband and wife but in an incomparably more profound way because, where the flesh dies, the Church does not. This is why in the Orthodox Church we say that the bond between a husband and wife is much more than a contract that ends when our earthly life ends. Through Christ’s Body, the Church and the Holy Spirit who animates it, the marriage bond becomes eternal. What a profound mystery this is! At the time of the marriage, the husband and wife probably do not feel this intimacy in the same way that they do with sensuous intimacy. They are also probably more concerned about making sure all the details for the celebration go well without mishaps. This does not impact the establishment of the profound mystery of their eternal bond that is concurrently happening. It will, however, that become more recognizable over time.

In regard to their earthly relationship, Paul also used this comparison to write about how a husband and wife should treat each other. Just as Christ loves His own body, so a husband should love his wife in the same way as he treats his own body. Likewise, the wife should respect her husband:

“So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.”

He continued:

“Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Paul also reiterated in this passage what Jesus taught that, because of this mystery, the two should begin a new life:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus warned the people that it is not enough to call Him ‘Lord.’ What really mattered was that they also do what He taught them. Once again, He was challenging them to not only listen to Him but to be prepared to live out what He taught because they believed in Him. For those that do, they are like a house built on a firm foundation that can weather storms and floods. Those who do not will be like those who build a house without taking such a precaution.

St. Luke would have also been warning those whom he was writing to not to simply read what he wrote but also to live out the teachings of Jesus. If not, they would be swept away. Let us not forget that those who were Christian in Luke’s time often faced persecution, even death. It would have been tempting for them to forget the teachings of Jesus and go along with what pagan society presented as the norms to live by. This may have looked like a secure way to live by but Jesus was warning them that the opposite is true! It is only by believing and following Him that they will gain true and eternal life.

We are not immune from this in our own society. It is easy to go along with what society presents as the norm and also forget what the Church teaches in the name of Christ. Thus, many will say that the Church is ‘out of date’ or ‘old fashioned.’ Remember that what Christ taught is eternal but what the fallen world may teach is passing. This does not mean to disrespect civil laws or norms but we must remember to always measure them up by what the Church teaches. The two are not always the same.

Tuesday, October 6th. 2020

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 5:20-26                Gospel: Luke 6:37-45

Archpriest Terence Baz

Let us start with the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke:

“For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

For those who have maintained their commitment to Christ since being baptized, they will seek guidance each day from the Holy Spirit through the teachings of Christ’s Body, the Church. If anyone does this, their hearts will be one in Christ. Despite that person’s shortcomings and faults, the Holy Spirit will make up the difference to enable them to be united to Christ. When this is the case, such a person will bear good fruit and they will speak in a way that reflects their love for Christ. Such a person will be grateful for the love that Christ has given them and for all the fruits of the Kingdom of God bestowed upon him or her, by the Holy Spirit.

If, on the other hand, they choose to outwardly compare themselves to others and judge others, their hearts will only be interested in boasting about their own qualities, not the goodness of Christ who is supposed to be in them. Such people will ridicule others, judge other’s weaknesses, seek to prevail when they see differences or even revenge when they become offended because of those differences. This is what Jesus talked about in today’s Gospel:

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus also taught:

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye?”

As St. Paul said in one of his letters, “We must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ.” For Paul, the only way to true righteousness is through Christ. It is in Him that we are freed from our sins and specifically, with regard to today’s Gospel passage, that sin of self-righteousness or proneness to judge others.

It is not that we remain blind to the wrongdoings of others but the easy way to respond is to judge that person and speak badly of them to our neighbors. The difficult way is to offer that sin to Christ and pray for them without judging them. Further, this way will often lead to the cross of Christ. Instead, we live with the pain of seeing another person’s sin, we offer it to Christ and pray for them without judging them.

Having said this, if we know that what our neighbor is doing is damaging other people we must respect society’s responsibility to protect its citizens. One such example is child abuse. We should not stand back and ignore the damage that may be done to a child. Jesus Himself taught about not leading astray His ‘little ones.’ Once again, we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide and help us respond in a way that Christ would respond. Let us always pray for that guidance. When an Orthodox priest learns of such a situation, he is required to inform his bishop and refrain from hearing that person’s confession until that person goes to the civil authorities. The Orthodox Church also has a number of protocols put into place when it learns of a parish member who is accused of child abuse.

Another big issue in society today is substance abuse. It can be very painful to see someone we love being afflicted in this way. Society has a lot of resources available to help such people. It does not always get the treatment right but what we can do as disciples of Christ is pray for them, the doctors and others attempting to treat them. We need to trust in and stay focused on Christ because our prayers can be very powerful in guiding everyone through such difficulties. It is not easy!

In response to today’s Gospel, it is worth quoting the Prayer of St. Ephrem that we say during the season of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, October 5th. 2020

Monday, October 05, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 4:25-32                Gospel: Luke 6:24-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

I will start today with the Gospel. I have often said that as Orthodox Christians, we do not judge other people. Another beautiful aspect of Orthodoxy is that when Orthodoxy Christians are persecuted, they do not seek revenge but strive to love their enemies and those who wish to do them harm. Whatever stand the state may take against its enemies, the Orthodox Church does not take up arms. It seeks its enemy’s forgiveness and forgives them for any wrongdoing. This is the hallmark of the Orthodox saints. What matters is what we store up in heaven. So, the Church strives to follow today’s words from Jesus:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”

As a father and the head of the household and the family, I will strive to do what I can to care for the family members but when faced with persecution because of my belief in Christ, I must remember His words.

The segment before today’s passage is St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes where Jesus said, “Blessed are you poor…” (Look up my message from Friday to see the passage.) So, the first part of today’s passage is a continuation of them. Jesus said:

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”

If we strive for the wealth and power that this fallen world offers, then all it will lead to is death. Such riches are passing but the riches of the Kingdom of God will be given to us for all eternity. Let us keep this in mind when we strive to provide for our families by using our God given talents. As Jesus said: “The workman deserves his keep.” At the same time, however, we must remember that the rewards we receive from our talents are meant to be shared with others just as our Heavenly Father has shared the gifts of His Kingdom with us. It does not mean that we do not provide for our loved ones but it does mean that we stop short of amassing wealth and power to ourselves. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to achieve this balance.

In a sense, today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel. Some of the community must have been stealing from others. St. Paul reprimands them for this:

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

In other words, find work in order to support those in need. For Paul, the purpose of earning money for work is to share with others. For those who have had things stolen, let them speak the truth but in love. Further, as he wrote:

“Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”

For our parish community, we also need to support it from the benefits of our labor. Our support for it will benefit the whole parish. Thanks to the labor and hard work of our predecessors, we have a beautiful facility but it needs to be kept up. Further, the priest needs to be supported so that he can carry out his responsibilities to his parishioners. This time has been difficult for all parishes because of the pandemic but for those who work, it is important not to forget to give to the parish. Just as St. Paul said to the Ephesian community, that they need to edify one another, if everyone in our parish also plays their part, the parish will be able to hold its own until we get a vaccine. After then when we will be able to interact in a normal social way and recommence our parish functions. Please continue to pray for the parish for its well being.

Friday, October 2nd. 2020

Friday, October 02, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 4:17-25                Gospel: Luke 6:17-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

I have often spoken about us being created in the image and likeness of God. Unfortunately, the sin of Adam and Eve damaged them significantly, especially our likeness to God. We still have an innate ability and wish to talk with God so, the image of God is still with us, although, diminished. Our likeness with God, however, was greatly damaged. So, as much as we may love God, we still sin a great deal. It is this latter aspect that St. Paul discussed in today’s passage from his Letter to the Ephesians. The pagans, who are blinded in their sin, flounder around in their corruption, especially with how the lusts of the flesh control them. He urges his community that, because they have put on Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to enable them not to fall into such sins.

As followers of Christ, we are given two things: firstly, the Holy Spirit and secondly, the ability to control our sin. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can gain the strength to control our passions and lusts. As always, the tools that the Church provides: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, are what we need to free us from our bodily passions and to follow Christ. When we struggle with the passions, prayer becomes very important. The “Jesus Prayer” is especially effective. Our own will power is not enough and if we rely on that without prayer, we will fail and become very discouraged, resigning us to believe that we cannot do it. We cannot, of course, on our own. We need the Holy Spirit! He is the one who will enable us to get through our struggles, no matter what hurt or pain is within us. Let us offer those struggles up to Christ so that He may sanctify them.

So, when at the end of this passage, Paul says: “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” it is this truth of our belief that through the Holy Spirit, Christ sets us free from sin. It is Christ who sets us free, not law, not social standards or rules. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is in Him that we receive all the blessings that the Kingdom of God offers us.

In today’s Gospel passage, after describing the power of the Kingdom of God from Jesus by His healings and the casting out of demons, St. Luke then moves on to the teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Luke shows that, having demonstrated the Kingdom of God, Jesus now talks about the Kingdom and what it means to be blessed by it.

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.”

Belonging to the Kingdom of God means that we will be rejected by the fallen world that is under the power of Satan. We will be ridiculed because we do not succumb to the material glamour of what it attempts to entice us. We will be deprived of the material benefits that only the rich and powerful of the fallen world have access to. In contrast, Jesus says to “rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is the very opposite of what the fallen world believes is worth seeking. The fallen world encourages us to use our talents to build up wealth and power but keep it from everyone else, in fact, to subjugate others through it. Jesus teaches that this is the opposite of the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, October 1st. 2020

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 4:14-19                Gospel: Luke 6:12-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul told the community that because they now belong to Christ, they are no longer the same as their fellow Gentiles who do not believe in Him. They are now free from the passions or lusts of the flesh. He also told them not to be afraid to speak the truth that they have now learned but speak it in love. Within the community, they should use their talents to build up the Body of Christ. The result will be the: “growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

For us too, it is important to realize that because we believe in Christ, we are not the same as those who do not believe in Him. We too, should be free from passions and the lusts of the flesh. We too should speak about the truth of Christ, in love. Being an Orthodox Christian, we may be accused by those who are not, of being backward or out of date because our Church strives to be faithful to these same teachings from Paul and what Christ taught, together with all of the apostles. Remember that these teachings are eternal and beyond the realm of this fallen world. As St. Paul advised in this passage, do not be afraid to speak this truth in love.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke describes how Jesus chose His 12 apostles after praying in the wilderness. He picked 12 fishermen who would be called to proclaim the Kingdom of God just as He was doing. The presence of God’s kingdom was being made manifest to everyone whom He was in contact with. Some simply sought to touch the hem of His garment to receive the life of the Kingdom of God.

Let us too, remember that when we seek the Kingdom of God, we seek its life and its power through the Holy Spirit. Christ is always there for us. Let us imbibe of that life whenever we get the opportunity. In the long term, this will be incomparably more beneficial than what the glamour of this fallen world can offer in the short term. In the long term, it can only offer death.

Wednesday, September 30th. 2020

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 3:8-21 Gospel: Luke 5:33-39

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reflected on the wonderful and undeserved blessing he received from Christ when he was called to be an apostle. Because of the way he treated the early Church before he converted to Christ, Paul regards himself as the least of the apostles. After his conversion, it became abundantly clear to him that God had called all of us to be holy as He is holy. The mystery for Paul is how God bridged heaven and this fallen cosmos by sending His own Son to invite us to His Kingdom and made this invitation effective by being prepared to sacrifice Him for the sins of the whole universe. Our Heavenly Father did this out of love for us. This love has been bestowed upon all of us. This union of heaven and earth was given out of compassion for us. Its foundation is Christ and is as firm as any rock or cornerstone. No principality or power will ever prevail against it.

For Paul, in realizing this great compassion and love, not only for him but the whole universe, he felt compelled to preach about its mystery ceaselessly. It was ever in front of him. It was the expression of God’s purpose for him. More than that, through the Church, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God were made manifest. Our knowledge of the Kingdom of God became accessible. Our ability to attain its righteousness was freely given to us. He stated that we:

“may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height –to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Paul could not hold back in preaching about these wonderful blessings that we can acquire through Christ’s Body, the Church. So, he prays for them in this passage:

“according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,”

Remember that the tribulation he mentions is that he wrote this letter from prison. He concludes with an expression of thanks and praise for the foundation of this wonderful mystery:

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

This is the reality of those who seek the Kingdom of God. This is the purpose for which we were made. This is the rock of those who seek Christ. Against these wonderful blessings, the troubles of this life pale into insignificance. Let us always be focused on Him.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke, relayed yet another story about the inflexibility of the Jewish elders. Why would Jesus’ disciples not fast like their own? Jesus’ answer was that there is a time and place for fasting and it was not the right time for them. He also gave them the parable about the futility of putting new wine into old wine skins. The old skins will burst. Their inflexibility was like the old wine skins and will not last in the presence of the Kingdom of God.

One must remember that in the Church, the outward forms of expression such as the prayers of its liturgical services are not absolute. If ever this was brought home, it has been during the time of this pandemic. Churches had to be shut down, the standard way of performing the Divine Liturgy had to be altered for the sake of safety. Some parishes have even been doing the Liturgy outdoors. The practice of using a choir has had to be dropped. The normal format for funeral services had to be drastically altered. What is essential, in contrast, is the faith of the community, the use of the priest to intercede on behalf of everyone. As altered as the way the Divine Liturgy has been, we learnt to broadcast it online. To proclaim the Word of God in any way possible such as these sermons I post.

We all pray, of course, that we can soon get back to normal but when necessary, we have to think about what is essential for the community’s life in Christ. In this needed time of deprivation, it makes us realize the value of those things we often take for granted. This pandemic has been a necessary time of fasting and prayer. The time will come when we can celebrate our family events in the way that we used to.

Tuesday, September 29th. 2020

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 2:19-3:7               Gospel: Luke 5:12-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul describes the Body of Christ. That structure holds true today as it did in those very early times of the Church.

Christ is the cornerstone and the apostles and the prophets are the foundation. He uses the image of a temple. All the various aspects of the Church build it into a temple. It becomes a dwelling place for God in the Holy Spirit. God revealed to Paul the mystery of this new temple and he wrote that he has been called by Christ to serve all the communities to preach this mystery. In understanding this, we understand the mystery of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ continues to be present to His people in His Body, the Church. Up until this point, this mystery was never revealed, even to the prophets. The Son of God came upon earth and united heaven and earth through His sacrifice but this union continues in His Body, the Church. So, the presence of God stands firm in this fallen world in Christ’s Body, the Church. The invitation to be part of the Church is given not only to the Chosen People, the Jews, but to all Gentiles, not as aliens but “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

For this reason, the Orthodox Church strongly believes in the Communion of Saints. It is one of its most visible expressions as shown in its icons. Anyone who walks into an Orthodox Church cannot help but sense the presence of the saints around them. It is only by faith in Christ that the power of the Holy Spirit will be made manifest in us through these icons. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we will gain the full sense of this mystery of the saints in Christ’s Body, the Church. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we get the full sense of the presence of God in this way. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we will realize that this is our true home, among the presence of the saints and not the in glamour of the fallen world. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we will see the true beauty of creation as God intended it to be and how the beauty of creation fits into the context of His Body the Church.

Let us pray that we will be open to the Holy Spirit so that we will understand the mystery of the Church as Paul describes it in today’s reading.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, we read of another instance of Jesus healing someone, this time, a leper. He had the faith to believe that Jesus could do this and so, was healed. Jesus then instructed him to go to the temple to make an offering of thanks but not to tell anyone about it. Of course word spread all around about Him. Note that Jesus never talked at this point about Him being the Messiah. It was not time for that yet. Further, the Jewish people had the expectation that the promised Messiah would be a political deliverer, not one who was a representative of the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not want to be drawn into any such political, worldly movement. So, Luke wrote that Jesus often went into the wilderness to pray.

Monday, September 28th. 2020

Monday, September 28, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 1:22-2:3               Gospel: Luke 4:37-44

Archpriest Terence Baz

In this passage to the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul describes the impact of Jesus rising from the dead. Paul says that “He put all things under His feet.” Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ are free from the bondage of sin and belong to His life giving Body, the Church. Paul does remind them, however, that the prince of the fallen world still reigns over it and “works in the sons of disobedience.” Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to that prince but will eventually face the judgment seat or wrath of God. In contrast, those who belong to Christ’s Body, the Church, are free from sin. For Paul, the reality is the Kingdom of God, not the glamour of this fallen world.

Let us remember that the life of the Kingdom of God is with us in His Body, the Church. Any time we call upon the Church, whether it be by a simple prayer of faith, at the Divine Liturgy, by lighting a candle at church, by asking the saints, especially the Mother of God, to intercede for us through devotion to an icon, by asking the priest to pray for them or someone else, we are calling upon our Heavenly Father to bring the life of His Kingdom to us. When we do, we enact the words of the Our Father, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the Gospel today, St. Luke continues his description of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus brings the life of the Kingdom of God to them by healing the sick and casting out demons. He commands the demons to be silent about Him because He was not ready to proclaim that He was the Messiah or the Christ. Luke also gives a specific reference to Jesus healing St. Peter’s mother in law who had a fever. She immediately arose and began to serve Him at table. The crowds followed Him everywhere and did not want Him to leave but He said to them:

“I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”

Let us rejoice that Jesus did not stop His ministry at the end of His earthly life. Let us be constantly grateful that He did far more by sacrificing Himself on the Cross so that He could send the Spirit of God to everyone who believes in Him. The life of the Kingdom of God now dwells in us. Let us cherish this precious pearl, given freely to us so that we may be free from the bondage of sin and can attain the gift of righteousness not only now but for all eternity in the Kingdom of God. Let us realize that no other gift can compare to it, no other gift can last for eternity, no other gift can nourish our souls in the way that this free gift is given to us.

Sunday, September 27th. 2020

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27th 2020                     TONE 7

16th Sunday after Pentecost (1st of Luke)

Martyr Callistratus and his company

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10                   Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

For the past few weeks, the Orthodox liturgical calendar has been working through the letters of St. Paul. In all of them, there has been a constant theme that, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we have been granted righteousness. The Old Law is gone and what is required to gain that righteousness is our decision to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Our Heavenly Father has made it very simple for us to receive the blessings of His Kingdom. When we do choose to believe in Christ, we do however, have to die to ourselves so that we can live in Christ. We have to give up our self centeredness and pride and follow Christ. Instead of the Law, we follow Christ and when we do, we have to embrace the crosses that come our way.

There is no more dramatic example of this than the way Paul changed from being a staunch Pharisee who strove to protect the Old Law but who after he converted to follow Christ, embraced the crosses that Christ gave him. There is no one who bore his crosses more dramatically than Paul. In this passage of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul reflected about his life of taking up the cross in the name of Christ. The cross was his boast and he contrasted it to those Corinthians who boasted about how good they were compared to others in the community. Not all of us are called to take up our cross in as dramatic way as Paul did but his example should be an inspiration to us, not to wish pain and affliction on ourselves but as a reminder for us who follow Christ to expect our own set of crosses that we too must embrace.

The other thing he wrote about was that no matter what the fallen world attempted to throw at him, whether it was by scourging, imprisonment, riots or stoning, because the Holy Spirit was in him, the fallen world could not defeat him. The Holy Spirit enabled him to suffer those hardships

“By purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness … by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”

Such blessings are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. He concluded that even though he was poor, he was also made rich in Christ because, as he said:

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

God was unfolding His plan through Paul because it was the acceptable time. Let us pray that we too will respond when God calls us to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God like he did.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus calling His apostles to follow Him. After going against their better judgment and experience as fishermen, they acceded to Jesus’ instruction to throw out the net one final time; they hauled in an enormous number of fish. They were astonished and fearful. Jesus told them, however:

“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

By the fallen world’s standards, these were the most unqualified, motley group of uneducated, smelly, grubby men you could find. Yet, these men were not being called to serve that world but the Kingdom of God. Nor was Jesus perturbed because of Peter’s acknowledged sinfulness. The Kingdom of God can overcome any sin if we seek its blessings. They were shocked at the catch but they would have also heard and known about Him. They were ready to follow Him. Let us pray that we too, will always seek His will and follow when He calls us.

Friday, September 25th. 2020

Friday, September 25, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 1:7-17      Gospel: Luke 4:22-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

As I mentioned in yesterday’s message, St. Paul covers many aspects of our faith in his letter to the Ephesians. Today, I will cover one of the important themes that threads through both yesterday and today’s segments, namely, the Trinity.

One of the great contributions Paul makes to the Church is the clarity of his teaching on the Trinity. He reiterates in today’s passage what he said in the introduction that we have been predestined to be called by our Heavenly Father to be holy as He is holy. Although our calling was one that was offered beyond space and time, it is an invitation, not a forced command. We have to choose to accept the invitation to be holy and we can do so by our belief in His Son whom He sent to the chosen people of Israel and who sacrificed Himself for us. It was the blood of that sacrifice that became the eternal offering to the Trinity on our behalf. All that the Jewish people and those who followed (including us) had to do was believe in Him to be able to obtain the blessing of righteousness that our Heavenly Father was offering.

In the first half of today’s passage, Paul describes how the mystery of the Father’s will from all eternity is summed up in Christ:

“that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

Paul then assures the Ephesians that, because they had trusted in Christ:

“after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

Thus, those who believe in Christ are given the seal of the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of their salvation. One must remember, however, that we must continue to believe in Christ and act according to His teachings in order for the Holy Spirit to remain with us.

Those familiar with Orthodox Christian teachings and practices will see the connection to what Paul teaches here. In the first place, the Nicean Creed used in all its service expresses that same faith in the Trinity, together with that of the divine and human nature of Christ. Secondly, the creed reiterates Paul’s teaching here about the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, when the priest baptizes or chrismates someone, the words used come from today’s passage. The priest says: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the community responds: “Seal!” Fourthly, another familiar teaching mentioned here is Paul’s reference to the ‘saints.’ The Orthodox Church strongly believes in the ‘Communion of the Saints’ and its icons vividly express its belief in this Communion.

It is easy to take for granted the words used in the sacraments of baptism and chrismation. We can see from today’s passage, however, that St. Paul acknowledges the importance of the Ephesians’ faith and love for the saints. He does so because their choice to live a life in Christ was no flippant matter! They were persecuted by fellow Jews and pagans alike. They also lived under the threat of the Roman authorities, who if they heard about their beliefs, would persecute them savagely. The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit came from their profound choice to live in Christ and for them it was the key to eternal life. Paul concludes:

“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him”

Let us not take the above described treasured blessings that we were given to us at our baptism for granted! We may not be under persecution for our beliefs in this country but the prospect of losing the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit has incomparably more profound implications for us for all eternity than possible earthly rejection! Let us treasure this gift just as those early Christians in Ephesus treasured it! Let us affirm here and now our faith in Christ and turn back to Him if we have drifted. Let us drink of the Living Waters that Christ gave us through His Body, the Church, from its many blessings.

We also read in yesterday’s Gospel the story of Jesus going into the temple to announce His public ministry but as was mentioned, they could not go beyond the question: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” In today’s passage, Jesus retorts that:

“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”

He then reminds them of a couple of instances where the Chosen People’s pleas to God were rejected over those of some Gentiles because they were stiff necked and refused to believe the prophets. They reacted violently to His accusation and took Him up to a cliff to throw Him off but He disappeared from them. These people were just as arrogant and stiff necked as their ancestors in the times of Elijah and Elisha. They regarded themselves as better than Jesus because He was only the “carpenter’s son.”

The danger for us is to be tempted to ‘objectify’ the scriptures and write them off as fables from the past which are irrelevant. Always remember that whatever current opinions may be expressed today, they will pass. This does not mean that the Church rejects the secular sciences. To the contrary, it often relies on them to help clarify current issues such as the Coronavirus or rising global temperate. This does not mean, however, that their studies supersede the Church’s teachings. Its doctrines are an expression of God’s revelation. When we are confronted with new issues, we must always look to the Church to guide us in its teachings.

Thursday, September 24th 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Epistle: Ephesians 1:1-9        Gospel: Luke 4:16-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Epistle is the introduction of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. It is in western Turkey today, on the Mediterranean Sea. It would take too long to delve fully into Paul’s introduction so I will focus on one theme coming from it.

In verse 4, Paul states: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

It may seem puzzling, that Paul would write about the Christians as being predestined and chosen before the foundation of the world. What he also stated though, is that we are all created to be holy, so that we may share the joys that our Heavenly Father wants to bestow on us. This is what he means by saying we are predestined.

Note he says that we are chosen by Christ. As Orthodox Christians we believe that God invites us. We do not invite God into our lives. Jesus offered His life for us and invited us to share in His Kingdom. It is up to us to respond by believing in Christ and accepting His invitation. When we are baptized, we are given the Holy Spirit to guide and form us. If we continue to respond to the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, we will become holy as our Heavenly Father intended us to be. Thus, we say in the Orthodox Church:

“God became man so that man can become god.”

St. Athanasius was the one who coined this phrase. Thus, we become absorbed into the holiness of God but this does not mean that we lose our identity or our free will. We are not Pantheists.

In fact, God will call us to become more and more holy but we have to choose to respond at each step. Remember the rich young man whom Jesus said to go and sell everything he had and follow Him. He chose not to. Mary, on the other hand, immediately said: “Let it be done.” We too, are called to make choices in our lives to become holy and if we want our relationship with Christ to grow, we need to respond whenever He calls us to be more holy. It often happens when we unexpectedly are given a cross. Will we respond in faith just like Abraham did? Christ’s Body, the Church is given to us to help when faced with such crosses through all the blessings it has to offer. Note what Paul says in verse 3:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

These blessing are not simply rituals performed by the Church to make us feel good. They are the very blessings that our Heavenly Father offers us to make us more holy like Him in our life’s journey. Let us treasure them because we believe in Christ and His Body, the Church. It is in this way that we will enter into the life of Christ and become holy as our Heavenly Father called us to be.

Today’s Gospel passage is the description given by St. Luke of Jesus announcing His public ministry in the temple. Jesus paraphrases the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

The Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove when He was baptized in the River Jordan. He proclaimed this event by using the words of Isaiah. He also proclaimed that Isaiah’s promise was being fulfilled at that moment through Him. Those listening were surprised at His eloquence but could not get out of their head the question: “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Let us make sure that we are open to the Holy Spirit who is present with us because of our own baptism. Let us not allow doubts to occur in us like those listening to Jesus did. Let us not rationalize away our belief in Christ like the fallen world does and may try to persuade us to also doubt. The Holy Spirit is a treasure that was given to us in such as simple way but let us not take it for granted. He is the one who will enable us to have eternal life.

Wednesday, September 23rd. 2020

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 6:2-10       Gospel: Luke 4:1-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is the account from St. Luke of Jesus going into the desert to fast and pray but also where Satan tried to tempt Jesus.

Firstly, the desert is regarded as a place of both solitude and the presence of evil. It is often a place of striking beauty and monks will go there from time to time to allow their hearts to gain the stillness needed to listen to God. But it can also be a place of danger, not simply from the elements but is seen as a place where evil spirits can dwell. Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, went there for solitude to commune with His Heavenly Father.

Secondly, it may seem strange that Jesus would go without drink and water for 40 days, especially in a desert but there are people who do this. Those who make this a practice know from experience that the body can last about 40 days without needing sustenance. After some days when the body would have been feeling pangs of hunger, it becomes accustomed to the condition and the hunger dissipates. In that period, it uses up the body’s reserves before it would be required to delve into essential organs. By the time this happens, however, the body has become purified of all toxins. The appetites will have become completely under control, removing all sinful passions. The heart, mind and soul therefore are purified and refreshed, becoming acutely aware of the presence of God. As a warning, this is not something that the ordinary person should try! Nor is it a practice that anyone can walk ‘off the street’ and automatically delve into. It is something that a person needs to train for and can take years to get to the point to be ready to undertake it.

Thus, at the end of this period, Jesus’ body, heart, mind and soul would have been especially attuned to be open to the invisible world. Satan was watching Him and knew this was the opportune time to tempt Him. He would have also realized that Jesus was no ordinary person and therefore a prize to be claimed if possible.

Jesus body by the end of this period would have become very hungry again so, Satan tempted him by firstly offering Him bread. Jesus responded:

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’”

Realizing that food would not beguile Jesus, Satan then offered Him great power, in fact, all the kingdoms of the world. It is also a reminder to us that Satan is still the prince of this world. All human structures are subject to being swayed by the lure and glamour of what Satan can offer. This was what the Jewish authorities could not resist. This is what they really wanted, not the Kingdom of God. This is why they hated Jesus when He exposed their lust for power.

This is also why corruption is always prevalent, even to this day. Remember the phrase of Lord Acton:

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Jesus responded by saying:

“Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

Realizing that Jesus had rebuffed that temptation, Satan then tried to tempt Him with what he then knew as being Jesus’ own spiritual power, the angels of the Kingdom of God, whom were at His disposal and whom he presumed would not stand by to let Him fall off a precipice. Satan also used the scriptures to make his point. Jesus responded:

“It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’”

This third temptation is a reminder to the Church that Satan will continue to try to beguile its authorities to think that they are invincible. This is why humility is very important for those in authority. Those who are humble will listen to the Word of God and to the Holy Spirit instead of their own pride. This is why our bishops and priests as well as even our lay representatives, the parish councils, need our prayers!

After this third attempt, Satan left Him but would bide his time until the crucifixion.

Today’s Epistle, the Letter to the Galatians from St. Paul, concludes his discussion about the question of whether or not to follow the Old Mosaic Law. The question had caused deep divisions within the community. Paul made himself very clear that, as followers of Christ, the Old Law is gone. They would only find unity in Christ, not the Law. In this passage, he says that when they live in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, they will wish to serve and love each other and

“he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

In contrast, those who look to the Law will only want to bicker and sow division. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us to serve one another to store up everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, September 22nd. 2020

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 5:11-21                 Gospel: Luke 3:23-4:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

As St. Paul continued his discussion in his letter to the Galatians contrasting faith in Christ verses that of the Mosaic Law, in the early part of this passage he states:

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Faith in Christ gives us liberty from sin and the ability to obtain righteousness but it will also bring us the cross of Christ as it did for Paul. He suffered greatly from persecution when he traveled around preaching the Gospel of Christ. We too, will be given our own crosses. We too, must embrace them.

The disagreement within the community about the Law also caused divisions. Instead of serving one another in love, they were bickering. This is the opposite of what Paul wanted to see and what Jesus taught. Paul concludes:

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

He then wrote about what believing in the Mosaic Law will really mean. They will lose the power to live in the Holy Spirit and their fleshly passions will take over. They will live according to the flesh and in sin.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.”

Paul said here that “that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

When the appetites take over and control not only our bodies but our hearts, mind and soul, the Orthodox Church describes them as becoming ‘passions’ that seek to insatiably control us. The Orthodox Church does not regard the appetites as being bad. They were created by God for our needs. It is because of the sin of Adam and Eve, however, that they can get out of control. It is by seeking Christ that we will be given the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live according to His teachings. It does automatically mean that we will be perfect. There will be times when we fall but if we seek Christ, we can always ask the Holy Spirit to dwell in us to free us from those passions. Christ will never refuse us.

The Orthodox Church offers many ways for us to return to Christ. It offers us its liturgical prayers and devotions, the sacraments and many its blessings. In fact all of the dimensions of its Living Faith are provided for us to seek Christ. Let us not ignore them. One of its main personal prayers is the ‘Jesus Prayer.’

“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

If we pray this prayer over and over, it is impossible for sin to take over our hearts. It is the prayer that the monks use constantly. The prayer beads that they have are used to pray this prayer.

In seeking to live this way, we will be able to serve one another in love as Paul described in this letter.

St. Luke in today’s Gospel passage announces Jesus’ public ministry. In this passage, he connects all of Salvation History to what Jesus was about to begin by outlining His genealogy.

Monday, September 21st. 2020

Monday, September 21, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 4:28-5:10              Gospel: Luke 3:19-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul continued his discussion about the futility of reverting back to the old Law instead of having faith in Christ. He says:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

The bondage is the Mosaic Law and specifically the question of whether or not to be circumcised. He also says:

“And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.”

So, for St. Paul, this is not simply a nice practice to keep up for ‘old time’s sake.’ Either you adhere to Christ or you adhere to the old Law. For those who choose the latter, they are estranged from Christ and fallen from grace because they reject the righteousness that Christ has given them. So, what matters is faith in Christ, not law.

We too, can fall into the same trap, not with the Mosaic Law but by presuming that being a good citizen is enough to make us justified. If this is our choice, then we become estranged from Christ. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and as His followers, this must be the standard for us to live by. It is not that we disrespect Civil Law but we need to realize that the only absolute is Christ, not manmade laws. In fact, it is because we live in Christ that we strive to support civil society’s need to care for and protect its citizens. Fortunately, in this country, almost all of the time, the Church’s teachings will align with society’s requirements to live safely and peacefully. For instance, the Orthodox Church has been supportive of federal and state requirements to protect ourselves and others from the Coronavirus. If we were to think that because we wear a mask and keep social distancing that this was enough to make us justified, we would be fooling ourselves.

This is exactly what St. Paul was saying about the question of circumcision:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything…”

The only way to true righteousness is through Christ. He has given us His Body, the Church, to follow His teaching so that we will not be led astray. As we continue our daily work and routine, using our talents as best we can and striving to help those around us by being civically responsible, always remember to offer those efforts to Christ so that they will be sanctified by Him. This will enable our life to be an offered like incense for the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Gospel passage is St. Luke’s account of Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan with the Father and the Holy Spirit manifesting themselves to announce Jesus’ public life.

Sunday, September 20th. 2020

Sunday, September 20th 2020

15th Sunday after Pentecost — Tone 6. 

The Afterfeast of the Elevation of the Cross & Sunday after Elevation.

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:6-15             Gospel: Matthew 22:35-46

Archpriest Terence Baz

This beautiful passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians contains the well known metaphor, of being like ‘earthen vessels’, used to describe the followers of Christ by St. Paul. He wrote that, because we believe in Christ, the light of the Godhead has been commanded

“to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

But this awesome power within us is not the type of power that the fallen world seeks. The fallen world regards us as fools and does not recognize it. That is why we are like earthen vessels. God allows us to be shown as weak in order to confound the world.

“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

The reason God allows this is because when we are weak He is strong. Our bodies continue to suffer and will ultimately die but we live in Christ. As such, the power of Christ will work and live in us. When our time comes, Paul wrote:

“He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.”

This is a beautiful image to keep in front of us while we endure difficulties, suffering and hardship. All we are asked to do is to give them to Christ and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in a way that will enable them to be offered back to Him. When we do, the power of God will be made manifest in us.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew was one of the accounts of when Jesus was challenged by the Jewish authorities to summarize the great commandments of God. Jesus answered:

“’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

In this account, Jesus then challenged them with the question:

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?”

This question from Jesus was not simply one of semantics. They viewed the Messiah (Christ) as a Son of David who, like David, would be a warrior King who would drive out the Romans with an army. They never let go of this view and in the end it destroyed them because in 70 A.D., they tried it but the Romans destroyed them instead and the Temple with them.

By using the scriptures to show that David regarded the Messiah as Lord when he spoke in ‘in the Spirit’, Jesus was pointing out that their deliverer was their ‘Lord’ and God. This meant that their deliverance would be a spiritual one not an earthly one. In contrast, they were intent on keeping their earthly power and dreamed of being free from Roman power or any other foreign influence. They were only interested in a worldly Messiah and worldly power. Thus, they had no answer to His question and remained silent. Nor, according to Matthew, did they try to challenge Him again about the scriptures.

As followers of Christ, we must always keep in mind that our life is first and foremost a life in Christ. All the work that we do, all the effort we make to care for our families, all the interaction we have with our family, our friends and society at large must be for the sake of Christ and first and foremost. When we forget this, we fall into the danger of being lured into the attractions of the world. The blessings God gives us from His created world need to always be seen as blessing to us to help us live in Christ. It is not that we should not enjoy them. The Orthodox Church regards the created world as good, not bad. Thus, they are there to be enjoyed. If we seek them for our self alone, however, we become like those Jewish authorities who would not accept Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. Like them, we replace Christ with our own pride. We seek the world’s power, not the light of Christ. The Jewish authorities were only interested in enhancing their own power, not in embracing the Kingdom of God that they were being offered by Jesus.

If we become like that, we lose the Kingdom of God within us. We block out the Holy Spirit who is there to guide us. We become dull to the Word of God and to the scriptures that nourish us. We become disinterested in Christ’s Body, the Church and all the blessings that its Living Faith offers. We lose interest in the examples of the Saints who lived before us. As a result, our souls become restless because the glittering world cannot satisfy them. The soul keeps searching for the latest attraction only after time to lose interest because it cannot satisfy it. Those attractions do not nourish the soul and in the end they vanish when the soul departs from its earthly life.

The soul will only be at rest and know it is home when it is nourished by Christ. It was made to be fulfilled in Christ. Only Christ can offer it the life of the Kingdom of God and the Trinity. Let us pray that we never lose sight of Him.

Friday, September 18th. 2020

Friday, September 18, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 4:8-21       Gospel: Mark 6:45-53

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul wrote about his anguish in hearing of those who wanted to revert to the Mosaic Law. In yesterday’s passage he outlined a profound theological explanation of what believing in Christ meant. Today, he offers a more personal reflection. It is obvious that some of those who had formed a very close relationship with him were being influenced by outsiders who did not believe in Christ. He was blunt with them by saying that those who are influenced by them “have separated themselves from Christ and fallen from grace.” In this segment he wrote that it pained him to confront them in this way but even so, he had to speak the truth. Some of the community attacked him for it.

During the Eucharistic Prayer in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the priest prays for the bishops, our shepherds, saying:

“Grant them for Your holy churches in peace, safety, honor, health and length of days, rightly to define the word of Your Truth.”

The Orthodox Church, like St. Paul, regards the preaching of the Truth to be a divine command that cannot be compromised. Philosophies and opinions will come and go but the teachings of Christ are seen by the Church as eternal and not to be tampered with. At the same time, it always pains the Church to see members who “depart from the Orthodox faith, dazzled by destroying heresies” and prays for them with this prayer in its morning prayers.

There are innumerable ways in which our faithful, especially the young, can be lured away from the Church. It is known that once they go to college, many of them drift from the Church. It is simply secular views that cause them to drift. Today, we are confronted by social media that is constantly trying to influence them. It is very important, therefore, to pray each day for those whom we see drift from the Church. If you get the opportunity to talk to them, remind them that the Church is a hospital for souls and is the way Christ has given for us to drink from the life giving waters of the Kingdom of God. Only Christ has given us the Truth. Only He can heal poisoned or deadened souls.

Today’s Gospel from St. Mark is his version about Jesus walking on the waters. He makes the comment at the end that, even though they witnessed the feeding of the five thousand men (plus women and children) their hearts were still hardened. I had written recently that the habits of our life can cause us to doubt Christ. This was the case with the apostles in the boat. Their experience of life had told them that to be caught in a small boat on a stormy sea was fraught with peril. Who could blame them for thinking like this? The fear caused by their life’s experience, however, made them doubt that the one who had miraculously fed them earlier that day would not abandon them on the stormy seas.

This is a lesson for us to keep in mind as well. The true reality for us is the life of the Kingdom of God, not the perils of this fallen world. Christ is the firm foundation who will enable us to hold steadfast against storms. Perhaps we may suffer physically but what matters is that we live in Christ and have the Holy Spirit stay in our hearts. Just as Jesus interceded for His apostles, the Holy Spirit will intercede for us in times of need. Let us not doubt this! Further, being confident that we live in Christ, we can also intercede and pray for those whom we are concerned about. The greatest way for us to do that is in the Divine Liturgy when we receive Christ in the Eucharist and listen to the prayers and the words of scripture.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 3:23-4:5    Gospel: Mark 6:30-45

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from the Epistle to the Galatians continues on from yesterday’s segment. He had been discussing that, as disciples of Christ, we are no longer under the bondage of the old Law. He says in this segment that the Law had prepared us for faith in Christ. It was our tutor. Now, however, we are no longer under that bondage. Nor are we regarded as slaves but as heirs to the Kingdom of God. Thus, he makes the well known statement that:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Through faith in Christ, we are now adopted as sons. We are no longer slaves.

The Orthodox Church uses another quote in today’s passage just before the one above when a someone is baptized:

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

We sing this as the newly baptized and its sponsors, who hold candles, walk around the font of the blessed baptismal water three times with the priest.

This action celebrates the baptized person’s new life in Christ. His or her baptism is a profound blessing that will affect them not just in this earthly life but for all eternity in the Kingdom of God. They no long live under the law of sin and this fallen world but they live in Christ. It is through Him that they can live a life free from sin if they remain dedicated to Him and seek the Holy Spirit in their day to day lives. Through the sacraments and its many other blessings, The Orthodox Church will continue to be there for them to renew their souls and enable them to turn back to Christ when they have failed.

For the remainder of this passage Paul continues the analogy of someone being tutored. When a child is tutored, even though he will inherit the family’s belongings later on, for now, he or she is under the bondage of that tutor until their training is completed. This was the case for the Chosen People who were the descendants of Abraham. The role of the Mosaic Law was to tutor them until God was ready for the New Covenant. Thus, he concludes at the end:

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

While we live our daily lives as responsibly as we can in society, we must always keep in mind that the purpose of our life is to live in Christ so that when it ends our souls will be ready for the Kingdom of God. It is usually desirable to be good civil citizens but this is not enough. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. We will not know Truth if we do not live in Christ. We will not know righteousness if we do not know Christ. To be fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God, we must live a life in the Spirit of God who will guide us to His Kingdom. Simply being a good citizen cannot give us the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark covers a lot of ground in Jesus’ public ministry. He had just sent out His apostles to bring the power of the Kingdom of God to the Chosen People. They performed many miracles and cast out many demons. This obviously would have caused a great stir among the people. After the apostles returned, He took them by boat to a more secluded place but the people figured out where He would go and they got there before them! Jesus took compassion on them. He preached to them and at day’s end, He chose to feed them with five loaves and two fish. This is St. Mark’s account of the feeding of the five thousand.

Let us keep in mind that Christ also has compassion on us. His answer to the troubles of this world is to offer us the life and power of the Kingdom of God. The one thing He expected of the people was that they believe in Him and He expects the same of us. If we do, those blessings of the Kingdom of God will be given to us through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. As dramatic as the events described by Mark in today’s passage were, Christ is just as close to us as He was to them! No matter what troubles are thrown at us each day, no one can take the Kingdom of God from us. All we need to do is ask the Holy Spirit to claim our hearts, our minds and our souls. Let us pray that in times of trouble we will not become fainthearted but be steadfast in our faith in Christ who has offered so much for us and to us.

Wednesday, September 16th. 2020

Wednesday September 16th 2020

Epistle: Galatians 3:15-22           Gospel: Mark 6:7-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul puts the Mosaic Law into the context of God’s plan of salvation. The Old Covenant was given by God to Abraham because of his faith. God subsequently promised that his descendants would number as many as those of the stars in the sky. That promise would come through his descendants, the Chosen People. The Law was given by God to Moses later on because those same Chosen People kept sinning. It was given to protect people and minimize sin. It was not intended to give life nor did it ever show itself to be able to do so. For Paul, then, the mark of the Covenant was demonstrated by the type of faith that Abraham had. Many showed such faith but many others failed, even Moses, when he doubted about water coming from the rock that God told him to tap on in the desert. Ultimately, the Son of God Himself came and demonstrated the same faith that Abraham had shown. More pertinent than Abraham’s faith, however, is that Jesus was the very source of life that Abraham sought from God. He demonstrated it by explaining the scriptures in His teaching and by the life giving miracles He performed. He was the source of life to the Jews during His earthly life but St. Paul explains that because He sent the Holy Spirit after His resurrection, that same life is given to those who believe in Him like Abraham did with God. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, the old Mosaic Law is no longer needed. Christ’s life is always there for us. It gives us the power to avoid sin but even if we do, if we turn back in repentance to Him through His Body, the Church, we can be restored back to that life.

This is an incomparable difference from the way of life imposed by the Mosaic Law! Paul was warning the Galatian community that reverting back to the Mosaic Law, especially by trying to impose circumcision, would negate all of this and separate them from Christ. At the same time, Paul points out that the Mosaic Law does not contradict what God wants of us but to rely on it to bring us to God will not work. We need to have faith in Christ so that the Holy Spirit can give us the power to avoid the very sin that the Law was given by God to Moses to minimize. At the end of the passage, Paul refers back to the promise made by God to Abraham. It is in Christ Jesus that this promise can be accessed to those who believe in Him.

In the Gospel passage today, St. Mark detailed how Jesus sent the apostles to do His missionary work. The power and the life of God were given to the apostles so that they would give it to the Chosen People. It was being offered. Those who accepted it would receive it. He told them to leave those who declined it.

As Orthodox Christians, we believe it is through the Church, the Body of Christ that this same life is given by Christ today. For the Orthodox Church, its blessings are offered. Everyone is invited to drink of its living waters through the sacraments and the many other blessings it does throughout the year. It does not judge those who decline. That is left in God’s hands. Today, Christ always offers His blessings through His Church to those who have the faith to believe in Him. In our troubled world, the more we imbibe of those blessings, the more we allow the Kingdom of God to reign in our hearts. Do not hesitate to take advantage of them to receive the life giving waters of His Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 15th. 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 2:21-3:7    Gospel: Mark 6:1-7

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both of today’s passages show how easy it is to lose faith. Before examining them let us look at the nature of faith. There are many examples in both the New and Old Testament giving stories of people who demonstrated a purity of faith. Abraham is the great example but one of the inspiring things about the Old Testament is to read the many stories of faith from Abraham onwards. The same holds for New Testament stories. The greatest example is Mary who said ‘yes’ and was then given the role of being the God-bearer or Theotokos. Not all were like her, however. Zechariah, for example, became skeptical when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that he would have a son. Jesus spoke about needing to be like a little child and humble and meek of heart. It is easy for a child to trust and have faith but as adults that trust can become clouded. The habits of life can make us skeptical about anything that seems to be different from them.

So it was in today’s story from St. Mark about the people of Nazareth being skeptical about this man Jesus who had grown up among them.

“Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.”

Jesus was not fitting into their expected social order and they were offended. As a consequence of their lack of faith, He could not do many miracles there. Their adult formation prevented them from having the simplicity of faith that our Heavenly Father expects of all of us.

As soon as we start to objectify faith, we lose it. As soon as we separate our life from it, we lose it. As soon as we begin to step outside it and comment on it, we lose it. The challenge is that society requires us to develop skills for work that require objectification. It is the only way to succeed and perform well. The challenge is that we have to separate our worldly lives from our relationship with our Heavenly Father. He certainly wants us to offer back our worldly efforts and talents back to Him in order for them to be sanctified but we always have to be on our guard to not let those worldly requirements cloud our trust in Him. At the same time, this does not mean that we need to have a fanciful perception or view of life. When the angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would bear a son, she asked the question: “How can this be since I do not know a man?” This question was not a lack of faith. It was simply a biological question. As soon as Gabriel gave her the explanation, she responded “Let it be done.” She never questioned God’s plan. In contrast it is easy for us, when dealing with the troubles and tasks of daily life, to be lured into thinking those troubles are the reality and to forget that our Heavenly Father has a purpose for us in His Kingdom.

When we pray therefore, we need to acknowledge the Kingdom of God, first and foremost. We need to ask that the Kingdom of God reign in our lives. We also need to pray for humility and meekness that Jesus called us to have. These are the types of spiritual gifts that will keep our faith pure. If we begin to doubt, as soon as we see it, we need to turn back to our Heavenly Father, ask for forgiveness and pray for Him to help our lack of faith.

In the case of the Letter to the Galatians, some of the community wanted to go back to the old Mosaic Law. They could not let go of the habits of their past. It made them feel secure. St. Paul’s response to them was:

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?”

What would make them true sons of Abraham was faith, not the Mosaic Law. In yearning for the latter, they abandoned their faith in Christ. They forgot that the only truth is Christ and the Kingdom of God, not a set of discarded laws. In forgetting this, they lost the ability to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them.

It is very easy for us to also fall into the trap of being obsessed with law instead of what the law is for, which is the Kingdom of God. For instance, it is important to try to do things well at the liturgical services but when we become obsessed about the smallest of details, we forget why they were put there in the first place. We have abandoned our faith for the sake of liturgical form. We go to these services to reach the Kingdom of God, not to enjoy a ‘perfect service’ whatever that may be. If the Holy Spirit does not touch our hearts in these services then what are they for?

Sunday, September 13th. 2020

Sunday, September 13th 2020

Sunday before the Exaltation of the Cross

Epistle: Galatians 6:11-18           Gospel: John 3:13-17

The celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross is a central part of Orthodox Christian Worship. As people who believe in Christ we follow His example and take up our own cross each day. We strive to live out the teachings that He gave us, teachings that the Orthodox Church has faithfully striven to give to its people right through the centuries. They are reflected in all aspects of the Orthodox Way of life or Tradition.

As St. Paul wrote in today’s Epistle passage, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, a New Creation has been established. The old Mosaic Law has gone. There was a dispute among the people in the community of Galatia about whether or not non Jewish converts should be circumcised. Paul was very definite that that requirement of the old Law had gone. He wrote earlier in the letter that those who seek to be justified by the keeping of the old Law have separated themselves from Christ and fallen from grace, in other words, the Holy Spirit who had dwelt in them from the time of their baptism will leave us. What will keep them in righteousness, however, is believing in Christ and following His example by taking up our own cross. Paul bore the marks of his cross from the scourging, stoning and imprisonments that he had suffered. That is why he wrote at the end of the passage: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Not only that, however, Paul knew that any follower of Christ could be rejected by the society that he or she lived in and even persecuted or put to death because of their choice to believe in Him.

Thus, for the Orthodox Church, this same principle holds true today. We are not justified by keeping the laws of the land or by being good citizens. We are justified by our choice to believe in Christ and embrace His cross. It is not a bad thing to keep the laws of the land if they agree with what the Orthodox Church teaches. We must remember, however, that they are manmade laws no matter how carefully constructed and well intentioned. The only real Truth is Christ Himself. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is only through His Body, the Church that we can learn how to live like Him in our daily lives. For the Orthodox Church, its Canons (or Canon Law as some like to term it) are pastoral principles that are given for the Orthodox faithful to live by in order to remain faithful to Christ in their day to day living. A person who knowingly breaks one of its Canons has allowed his body to follow its passions instead of Christ. In doing so, they separate themselves from Christ. Any penalty given to a Church member who has broken a Canon is never intended as a punishment but as a means to enable that person’s soul to be healed by returning to Christ. When an Orthodox person repents and chooses not to cling onto that passion, they embrace the Cross of Christ.

Having said this, the Orthodox Church always seeks to have a close, symbiotic relationship with the state but still sees itself as separate from it. This was even the case in the Byzantine Empire and during the time of the Russian Czars. Church members may have military personnel but the Church itself  never took up arms to defend itself. To the contrary, it what it embraced was the cross of Christ, choosing to be a witness for him in martyrdom.

Thus, the Canons that the Church gives us are there to give us life, not punishment. We also see this in today’s Gospel passage from St. John.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

To focus on the life that Christ gives us does ignore that we are prone to sin and that sin can live in us. We must strive to live in Christ but we will fail and sometimes a lot. He will never refuse us when we go back to Him. The sacraments are there for us to help us return to Him when we sin, especially that of Confession. Sadly, in today’s secular world, these gifts given by Christ through His Body, the Church, are often seen as not necessary. The question, however, is: do we really want to seek Christ as the Truth? This is incomparable to any manmade secular law, system of government or scientific research. What the world offers will always fall short but this does not mean that reaching Christ is unattainable. The great mystery is that He has made it so easy for us to reach Him but are we prepared to believe Him? Are we prepared to acknowledge what Jesus says at the beginning of this passage:

“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

He bridged heaven and earth. As a prayer said by the priest after the Great Entrance in the Divine Liturgy reflects:

“In the tomb with the body, in Hades with the soul, as God; in paradise with the thief and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit, O Christ God you filled all things. Your tomb, as the fountain of the resurrection is more splendid than any royal chamber, O Christ God You are uncontained!”

Thursday, September 10th. 2020

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Epistle: Galatians 1:1-10, 20-2:5       Gospel: Mark 5:1-20

Archpriest Terence Baz

We have left the two letters to the Corinthians and now begin St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The region of Galatia is what is known as central Turkey today.

We can see towards the end of the letter that there was a tension in the community. This tension was also in several other communities, especially where Judaism had been well established. Paul, after all, mostly went into Jewish temples to preach about Jesus Christ and it was from this preaching that communities began to form. His progress in doing so has been documented in the Acts of the Apostles.

After hearing Paul’s preaching, people in Galatia believed that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) whom had been promised to Israel and chose to follow Him by being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not surprising that some would like to cling onto much of what they had grown up with in the Mosaic Law. In the short term aftermath of the birth of the Church at Pentecost, many used the Mosaic worship and at the same time, partook in the Eucharistic (or Agape) meal of the followers of Christ. This is where the tension lay. Fundamentally, the followers of Christ had to realize that the old Mosaic Law had passed away. The temple curtain had been torn in two at Jesus’ death. They would also witness the destruction of Jerusalem with its temple within a few short years.

The question, therefore, was: do they still keep the precepts of the Mosaic Law in order to be justified in the sight of God? Paul made it very clear that this was not the case. He wrote in other letters that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus with the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit had enabled those who believed in Him to attain righteousness. All the apostles realized this. There was now a new covenant, a new law in which we die to ourselves and live in Christ. The old Law of sacrificial offerings had passed away. Paul had preached this to the people of Galatia but some were also trying to impose the Mosaic Law on them. The issue came up specifically about the Jewish requirement of circumcision. Paul was very clear that this was no longer needed. He refers to it at the end of this passage as ‘bondage.’ Paul wrote to make sure that the bondage of circumcision would not be imposed. This is the background to this letter.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark is the story about the man possessed by a legion of demons being freed by Jesus, who allowed them to go into a nearby heard of swine. Jesus’ mission was to destroy the kingdom of Satan. This was dramatically demonstrated in this confrontation. After it had happened, rather than remain with Him, Jesus told him:

“Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”

This is exactly what he did in the whole Decapolis Region.

Christ will always have compassion on us. No sin is too big for Him to release us from. If we continue to fall, He will not refuse us if we go back to Him. We also need to proclaim to others how much compassion He has toward us. It is through Him that we have been given ‘living waters’ that we will never thirst from and give us true light and life. Let us never hesitate to tell others of the great things He has done for us!

Please note that I will be away tomorrow and will not get the opportunity to post a sermon. The next one will be for Sunday.

Wednesday September 9th 2020

Wednesday September 9, 2020

Afterfeast of the Nativity of the Mother of God

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 13:3-14                       Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage is the conclusion of St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. In it, he takes a final jab at those who have criticized him for being weak and a fool. He retorted that he is glad to be a fool for Christ and to be weak because when he is, Christ is strong in him. It is only through the grace of God that his works will bear fruit. He had said earlier in the letter that it is only by being crucified in Christ that he would boast about his apostleship.

Jesus had said that His disciples should expect to take up their own crosses just as He did. We know that our Christian faith centers on embracing the Cross of Christ. There were many examples in both the Old and New Testaments where holy people were tested by God, not just to test their faith but like St. Paul, to realize that any fruit being born from their efforts came from God, not from them. On this day of the Afterfeast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, we see such an example from Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna. They suffered greatly before her birth because of the ostracization they got from Jewish society. God often allows such things to happen to test us but to also show that any blessings we receive are from Him not ourselves. Jesus Himself showed great humility and in being his followers we must pray for the same.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read the story of Jesus showing his divinity by calming the waters that were sinking the boat they were on. Jesus remonstrated them for their lack of faith. They had just witnessed many miracles done for the people by Jesus but they went into a panic at the sight of stormy waters. We must remember that they were fishermen. They probably were not good swimmers or perhaps could not swim at all. Being on a stormy sea would have been very frightening to them. All of this fear welled up inside of them in the darkness of that stormy night and any memory of what Jesus had been doing on land would have been quickly forgotten. They were awestruck of course when He calmed the waters but the point of the story is that we must remain focused on Christ when we face stormy times. Only we can lose focus on Him and only we can choose Him. Like the apostles with Him, we will often falter but remember that He will never refuse us when we turn back to Him.

Let us therefore, pray for the strength and faith in these troubled times to stay focused on Christ.

Tuesday September 8th. 2020. The Nativity of the Theotokos

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 8 2020

The Nativity of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Nativity of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. It uses the readings listed above to connect God’s plan of salvation for the whole universe. The first 3 readings were used for the Vespers Service the evening before.

The one from the Book of Genesis relays the story about Jacob who fell asleep on a rock and had a dream that God would make his descendants as many as the stars of the sky. In the second reading from the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet was only allowed to see the presence of God from the outer, back gate, not the front one where the Lord had entered. In the third reading from the Book of Proverbs, the readers are invited by Wisdom to eat and drink of her fruits at her table. In the first reading, God made a promise to Jacob and his descendants and in the third one, they are invited to Wisdom’s table but the second one from the Book of Proverbs reveals that there is still a gap even between a prophet and the Lord. Thus, those promises were yet to come.

Before connecting them to the Theotokos or God-bearer, let us look at what Orthodox Church Tradition believes about the circumstances of the plight that her parents, Joachim and Anna, were in before her birth. If you want to read the full story, either click onto the following link or copy and paste it: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/09/08/102541-the-nativity-of-our-most-holy-lady-the-mother-of-god-and-ever-vi.

In Jewish society at that time, any couple who was not able to bear children was seen as being punished by God. For this reason, Joachim and Anna, who were childless, were ostracized by most of the community. It culminated when the High Priest refused to accept Joachim’s offering at the temple because they were childless. Many tears were shed by both of them but then, the Archangel Gabriel gave them a message that God had heard their prayers and they were to bear a daughter through whom would come the salvation of the universe. The promises revealed in the above readings were being fulfilled in the Archangel’s message.

The reading for this morning’s Matins Service is the account of Mary proclaiming the wonderful things that God was doing through her in the Magnificat: “My soul rejoices in God my savior because He has done great things for me.” In the Epistle reading at the Divine Liturgy, St. Paul relayed how the Son of God humbled Himself by becoming a man and suffered for us. God’s plan has enabled us to gain the righteousness that Ezekiel could not attain, nor any of the other Old Testament Fathers. Paul says that His name should therefore always be exalted. The Gospel for today’s Liturgy relayed the story of Jesus visiting the house of Martha and Mary. Martha, in her concern to get every properly prepared for Him, complained that Mary was not helping her. As good as her intentions were, however, Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better path because she wanted to listen to His words and the Word of God. At the end of this passage, the Orthodox Church adds in the story of a woman who praised the one who raised Jesus but Jesus responded by saying:

“More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

For the Orthodox Church, the heart of this celebration is about our ability to listen to the Word of God and benefit from it.

There are several other reasons for us to rejoice in today’s feast. In it, the Orthodox Church has shown how God’s plan for salvation has unfolded and culminated in the birth of this daughter. Mary is now exalted as great because it is through her that God’s plan to save the world would happen. We too can rejoice with her because, when the time came for her to accept God’s call at the Annunciation, she enabled us to receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God by the front door and not the outer back door. When that plan unfolded at the time of Pentecost, we were given the Holy Spirit, the fount of Wisdom, to drink and eat of the Kingdom’s fruits. Further, if we follow the example of Joachim and Anna’s perseverance, we too can pray with confidence for our needs and those for whom we intercede. It gives us great hope to know that despite our struggles, if we persist, God will answer our prayers, just as He did with Joachim and Anna! Finally, the promise given to Jacob in that dream has now been given to us through the Holy Spirit,.

It is little wonder therefore that the Church sees it as fitting to rejoice in and celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary.

Monday September 7th 2020

Monday, September 07, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 12:10-19                     Gospel: Mark 4:10-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul has to again address the complaints of some of the community about him. This one seems to be about money and the need to pay him or the disciples he sent to represent him. He told the community that he asked nothing from them but they still complained about the people he sent. He pointed out at the end of this passage that the only true reason he kept coming back to them was to serve and edify them, not to get something out of them.

At the beginning of this passage, Paul has a phrase that is often quoted:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

St. Paul knew that all the sufferings he had endured on his missionary journeys were for the sake of the cross of Christ. As His apostle, he knew that he would follow in Christ’s footsteps to the cross. Thus, he viewed any criticisms from this community as being an extension of his own cross and Paul did not let them deter him. He saw them as being a fool in the name of Christ. When he was a fool or weak, Christ would be strong in him.

If we choose to follow Christ, we can expect like Paul that He will allow crosses to come our way. We should always offer them back to Him and when we find it hard to, we need to pray for strength, wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to endure them. When we do, they become a way to store up treasures in heaven. Also, in ways that only God knows, they will become a witness and inspiration for others to also seek His Kingdom. Always, therefore, pray for steadfastness so that we never let those crosses become an instrument for Satan to use against us and others. Pray that they will be a vehicle of purification for us instead. Ask that they will be a way for us to more abundantly receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This is what will make us holy. This will bring us to perfection and become like our heavenly Father who is perfect. Only Christ can walk us through our troubles and enable us to use them for eternal glory in the Kingdom of God. Strive with the help of the Holy Spirit to cling onto these truths as we endure our crosses.

Today’s Gospel passage is an explanation from St. Mark about the parable of the sower and the seeds that fall onto the ground. I had made some comments about the parable last Friday that you can refer back to.

The end of the passage connects the lesson about faithfully listening to the Word of God to our need to not hide what we learn from it under a basket. Jesus told His disciples that they must go out and spread the Word of God out like a lamp that is put on top of a lamp stand. We must never be afraid to teach others about the Word of God and, just as importantly, the teachings of the Church that enable us to interpret and understand how it applies to us. The Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, needs to guide us in how we understand the scriptures.

Most in American society would deny the beauty of Orthodox theology and its way of life. Others may not agree with the Orthodox Church or choose not to belong but few deny its beauty and subsequently have respect for it.

In the past, because of the pressures of migration and becoming established in American society, the various ethnic groups tended to become enclaves in which the language of the ‘old country’ was only used at Church services.  Thus, we were known as Russian or Greek Orthodox, etc. This is not the true nature of Orthodoxy. It is a universal Church, open to all. When a community only welcomes those who are from the ‘old country’ this is the very trap that Jesus warns about in today’s passage. The Word of God and the teachings of the Church were never meant to be hidden!

I do not see this as a problem for our parish but we do need to be mindful not to become exclusive by tending to shun others who are different. This would be the opposite of Christ’s command to go out and preach to all the nations. I know in our parish that its members love their community and their church buildings. Let us take any opportunity to invite someone whom we feel would benefit from the blessings of Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church invites. It never judges but welcomes all for we are all sinners.

 

Sunday, September 6th. 2020

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 6                                                    TONE 4

13th Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24         Gospel: Matthew 21:33-42

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote to tell the community that he was sending delegates and instructed the community to submit to them. He had to deal with a lot of problems within that community. From the context of both letters we have from him to them, it seems clear that some of the community was being influenced by non-Christians, allowing false claims to be made about Paul and his disciples. After telling them who would be visiting, he firmly wrote in his own handwriting:

“If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

Anyone who did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ was not to be part of that community.

For us in today’s pluralistic society, where freedom of speech is treasured, we need to be clear about our own Orthodox Christian beliefs while respecting those who have different ones. The Orthodox Church has not and will never waver from what it believes were the teachings of the apostles and the early Church. If a family member or friend expresses something other than what the Church teaches, they need to be corrected in a gentle, loving way. Confusion helps no one and this is what St. Paul had to deal with in the Corinthian community.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew was one of a series of parables that Matthew had compiled when Jesus was addressing the chief priests and the elders in the temple.

In this one, Jesus told the parable of the landowner who hired servants to harvest his grapes. Instead of following the instructions, they decide to kill his representatives including the owner’s son and take over the property themselves. Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders what would be their reaction to a scenario like this. They responded that those servants should be destroyed and the work given to others. Jesus pointed out that the very arrogance relayed in the parable about the hired servants was the same arrogance that they were displaying! He was able to easily point out that the history of Israel and Judah was one of killing the prophets sent by God right up to John the Baptist. They arrogantly presumed they could take over God’s Word and interpret it for their own benefit. If God sent messengers such as the prophets, who contradicted them, they would kill them. Their arrogance and pride blinded them to God’s Word.

It is important for us to constantly pray for the gift of humility because pride can easily delude us, as had had happened to the chief priests and elders. Pride will curtail our ability to faithfully listen to the Word of God and to the teachings of the Church. We will not be able to understand the scriptures if we approach them arrogantly. We will not be able to hear the Holy Spirit within our hearts. For this reason, in contrast, most Orthodox Christians use the Jesus prayer throughout each day: “Lord, Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” This prayer will give us the ability to humbly listen to the Holy Spirit. When we do, we see things very differently from the way the fallen world sees them. For the fallen world, it is always about pride, always about being the greatest and better than everyone else. This is not the way of Christ, who was “gentle and humble of heart.” When we reflect on His teachings, we realize that it is those who are humble of heart who will store up treasures in heaven. When our souls separate from our bodies, it will be those treasures that will matter, not the ones that the fallen world promotes.

Thus, the teachings of Jesus, which are the foundations for eternal life, were the ones that chief priests and elders rejected. Little wonder, therefore, that Jesus ended this parable by saying:  

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Let us therefore not fall into the trap of pride that will separate us from the Kingdom of God.

Friday, September 4th. 2020

Friday, September 04, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:5-21       Gospel: Mark 4:1-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul continued to deal with the community’s complaining. It is clear that some of them were engaging with people who were not committed to Christ, probably other Jews. It seems that some of them were being swayed by others claiming to be apostles who were even demanding money for their services. Paul tells them that other communities provided for him while he began to preach to them and instead of being grateful for his effort, they were demeaning to him because he did not require money from them. He frankly told them that those others claiming to be apostles were false teachers. For us today, we need to realize that others beyond the Church could make similar claims. It is part of the local priest’s work to be on the lookout for such people. The diocese will quickly call out anyone claiming to be a teacher but is false. We pray in each Divine Liturgy for our shepherds, the bishops, to “rightly divide the word of Your truth” which are the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

Today’s Gospel passage is about the parable of the man sowing seeds in the fields, how some will not bear fruit but some which falls on good soil will yield “thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” The warning Jesus gave in this parable are as pertinent today as they were then. It is easy to be swayed by the attractions of this world and we must be on our guard to see them for what they truly are and avoid them. Most of us need to face such choices every day, even if it is only a matter of what television channel to choose, maintaining a pattern of prayer to listen to the Holy Spirit, avoiding the dangers that society offers that can lead to death. Not only for ourselves but also for our family and friends, especially the youth who can easily get trapped into addictive habits. As Jesus said at the end of today’s passage: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

There are a number of Orthodox Websites available to help those suffering from addictions. Here is one of them: http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/11/03/st-ephraim-of-nea-makri-prayers-for-deliverance-from-addictions/

Thursday, September 3rd. 2020

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 10:7-18       Gospel: Mark 3:28-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Jesus talked about not sinning against the Holy Spirit. Mark was warning those to whom he wrote not to. He was teaching his community to listen to the Holy Spirit by using the Church community to understand what He was saying. The main format for Church gatherings was the Eucharist, together with preaching from the apostles as well as those designated by them. Jesus had told the Jewish people that He was the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the eternal Light and the gate through which to go, to receive those gifts. Thus, it was through their baptism and in their Eucharistic worship that they could understand how to seek and follow the Holy Spirit. In contrast, Mark was warning them not to listen to those who refused to believe in Christ. There was no in between; either be a follower of Christ and seek the Kingdom of God or follow those who did not believe in Him and choose the kingdom of death.

Notice also that Jesus had the divine ability to look at nature and describe what the Kingdom of God was like through it in parables: the lost pearl, the leavened bread, the faith of a tiny mustard seed etc. The early Church realized that there were two books of God’s revelation: the book of the scriptures or the Word of God and the book of nature. Many of the Fathers of the early Church attest to this. To find God in nature is also a major part of monastic life. The Orthodox Church strongly believes that God’s creation is good and that the Holy Spirit continues the Trinity’s work of creation and will continue to. If we abuse nature and God’s creation, we abuse the work of the Holy Spirit in nature. This is what Jesus was talking about. To abuse the planet that we live on, given to us to care for by God, we abuse the Holy Spirit. This is what is unforgivable.

We have received many benefits from nature especially since the time of the industrial revolution. Yet, right from its beginning, there were abuses by industry by having terrible working conditions and poor wages. Today, we see that industry is also having a big impact on the welfare of the planet either from pollution or other ominous dangers such as deforestation and rising global temperatures. We, as a Church, must strive to do all that we can to re-balance those benefits in a way that will reduce the abuse of the planet. Remember that many of the reforms made in Great Briton to improve working conditions were influenced by Christian values and beliefs. The Church does have a role to play in this.

In the latter part of this passage, Jesus told the people that not only were his blood relatives His family but “whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” St. Paul was to develop this theme a lot in his Epistles, saying that those who follow Christ are no longer slaves or aliens but co-heirs and fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul remonstrates those within the community who have been boasting about themselves saying, that if we want to boast, we boast in Christ and His Gospel.

Wednesday, September 2nd. 2020

Wednesday September 2, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 9:12-10:7                Gospel: Mark 3:20-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells the community to not treat him as one in the flesh or by only outward appearances. His relationship with them is a spiritual one because, as an apostle, he began and formed their community and brought them to Christ. They would not be such if he had not served them from the beginning. They failed to see this and began treating him as if he was like a fellow employee or even as their employee. Paul formed their community to give them righteousness and to bring them to the Kingdom of God, not the material benefits of this world. He had to remind them of it.

This is an easy trap for any Church community to fall into, even now. As soon as parishioners start thinking like this, it damages it a great deal and if such thinking takes over, the parish will lose its mission and sense of purpose. Such thinking will destroy it. The priest, designated by the bishop, is there to bring the Kingdom of God to the community just like St. Paul did. He does so through the various responsibilities that a priest has: the celebration of the Eucharist, the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, ministry to the sick, praying and interceding on behalf of all the community to strengthen and comfort them in times of need. If, in contrast to the problems that St. Paul faced with the Corinthian community, the members of the parish strive to work together as the Body of Christ, by using their talents to serve one another, the Holy Spirit will bless those efforts. We all need to pray for each other. Even when the Coronavirus passes, the troubles of this fallen world will continue. The one place that the parish community can go to is the Church during such struggles.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read that the Jewish authorities were trying to accuse Jesus of gaining His power from Satan. This was a lie, of course, and Jesus pointed out that Satan would not tolerate a divided kingdom. It he did, it would collapse, just like any other kingdom. Notice the last sentence in today’s passage:

“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”

Jesus’ presence in this world caused Satan’s house to be plundered because Jesus was casting out many demons. In the realm of the spiritual world, it was Jesus, the Son of God, who was the “strong man.”

In contrast, the Jewish authorities could not stand it that the crowds were chasing after him in such huge numbers. They refused to accept that His power came from the Kingdom of God. They refused to accept that a humble carpenter’s son was at the same time the Son of God. They would look for any excuse to belittle the extraordinary works that He was doing. Labeling those works as Satanic was a convenient way to discard them and justify their own rejection. It was they who, out of their own arrogance, were the ones who were chasing Satan. Jesus would not be intimidated by their accusations and pressed forward with the mission that His Heavenly Father gave Him.

It is important for us to realize therefore that we cannot allow our belief that Jesus was true God and true man at the same time to be compromised. Many try to water this mystery down, claiming that He was a prophetic man but not God or that He was God but not truly a man. More than this, when He rose from the dead after sacrificing Himself on the cross, He showed Himself as the Messiah, the Christ. He had also promised that He would send the Spirit of God, the Comforter to His Body, the Church, to strengthen it and protect it. In the same manner, those very same powers from Satan that He confronted in His earthly life would never prevail against His Body, the Church. Christ is there for us. His presence, in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, can never be taken away from us no matter what the fallen world may throw at us. When Christ comes again, the destruction of the kingdom of Satan will be completed.

Let us therefore remain steadfast in our focus on the Kingdom of God to which we have been invited to for all eternity.

Tuesday September 1st the Church New Year

SEPTEMBER 1

Church New Year (Indiction)

St. Simeon the Stylite (the Elder) and his mother, Ven. Martha

Old Testament Readings: Isaiah 61:1-9Composite 24 - Leviticus 26Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-15

New Testament Readings: Epistle: 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Gospel: Luke 4:16-22

Link to Metropolitan Tikhon’s Message for the Beginning of the Liturgical Year:

https://www.oca.org/holy-synod/statements/his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon/the-beginning-of-the-ecclesiastical-new-year-2020

Troparion & Kontakion for the Church New Year:

Tone 2, Troparion:

O Creator of the Universe,

You appointed times by Your own power; bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord! Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities: and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us!

Tone 4, Kontakion:

O Creator and Master of time and the ages, Triune and Merciful God of all: grant blessings for the course of this year, and in Your boundless mercy save those who worship You and cry out in fear: O Savior, grant blessings to all mankind!

Archpriest Terence’s Message

Today marks the beginning of the Church’s Liturgical Year or Calendar. It has become a significant feast firstly because of environmental concerns voiced from many bodies representing various fields in the global community and secondly, at the call of His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, the majority of the Christian world now marks this day as a time to pray for all of creation and in particular for the concern that our planet is being abused by governments and powerful commercial bodies.

Let us look firstly at the scripture readings that Church Tradition has given us. You should be able to click onto any of the readings posted above to read them for yourself.

The Old Testament reading from the Book of Isaiah foretells a time of blessing for the chosen people. In the Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus quotes this very passage to proclaim a time of blessing because the Kingdom of God was at hand. So, the two passages are strongly connected by the Orthodox Church in proclaiming its new Liturgical Year. It would take too long to delve into how the works that Jesus did would enable His Body, the Church to be established and continue His presence through the Holy Spirit but I have written about it a lot when commenting on the daily scripture readings in the past couple of months.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His promise of the Holy Spirit has made our ability to attain the righteousness of the Kingdom of God very accessible. At the same time, Jesus did tell those whom He healed or forgave, to sin no more. Thus, we have a reading from the Book of Leviticus that warns us, if we want to obtain God’s blessings, we need to keep His commandments and in reference to today’s feast, the Church is telling us to care for God’s creation. The Book of Genesis told us that creation would no longer be fruitful for us after Adam and Eve sinned but the command to care for it was not taken away. St. Paul also told us in his Letter to the Romans, that creation was subject to futility because of that sin and groans to be released from this subjection. We must make every effort to respect creation and care for it.

In the Letter to Timothy, St. Paul exhorts everyone to offer:

“supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

It is important for us, therefore, to pray for the government of the day, for its peace and tranquility and it is a timely reminder by our Church in using this passage of the importance of our intercessory prayers. This is why we pray for the government in our services. The Orthodox Church also regards creation as fundamentally good and God has given us a priestly, intercessory role to pray for it because through our baptism. Our role is a necessary part of God’s plan. The Church teaches us that we are the interface between the material and the spiritual, the created and the uncreated. We have a very powerful role to play in changing the hearts of those who would abuse God’s creation because of greed. Because God saw in the Book of Genesis that creation is good, it is not for mankind to plunder!

Secondly, as mentioned above, many have expressed concerns about the abuse of creation such as the increase carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, the pollution of rivers and land, the use of plastics and their impact on oceans and sea life, rising sea levels, the lack of recycling, the accessibility of fresh water, increasing volatility of weather patterns such as massive storms and wild fires, to name some. Aside from the necessary role of intercessory prayer, it is important to be publicly engaged if you see specific issues that might be able to play a role to help solve, especially local ones. Further, do not be afraid to teach civic leaders about mankind’s responsibility to care for creation as God commanded us to.

We all know that this has been a difficult year because of the Coronavirus and the social unrest resulting from racism. Let us earnestly pray that the coming Liturgical Year will be more tranquil and that medicines will be found to protect us from the virus. Let us pray that our society and government will strive to care for this planet and the blessings we have gained from it. Let us heed the warning from the Book of Leviticus that we need to keep God’s commandments and statutes by caring for creation in the way that He has revealed to us.

Monday August 31st 2020

Monday, August 31, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15         Gospel: Mark 3:6-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote about the need for the community to give to others. Although not mentioned in this segment, he was specifically writing about helping the Church of Jerusalem. Paul had been told that they were giving, just as many of the other communities were, but he sent Titus to make sure about it.

It was not only about Jerusalem’s financial need. That Church was the mother Church at the time. The birth of the Church occurred there on Pentecost Sunday. The gift given by the Holy Spirit of speaking in other languages was the foreshadowing of the Body of Christ being made accessible to the Gentiles. So, their financial support the Church of Jerusalem also connected them to that momentous event when the Holy Spirit brought the Kingdom of God to the whole world, not just to the Jews. So, the practice of giving to the mother Churches has been happening since the time of St. Paul.

In the same way we, as a parish, have a responsibility to support our archbishop and bishop, to enable them to administer the archdiocese and carry out the many constructive programs they have to benefit the mission of the Church. We should not begrudge our responsibility to this cause. The archdiocese and diocese are transparent in their financial administration of those programs. This year has been a difficult year for everyone because the restrictions caused by the virus have curtailed many things. Even so, we must support our shepherd in every way we can. If they do not have the resources needed to proclaim the Kingdom of God to others, the Orthodox Church will simply be a ‘light hidden under a bushel’ to use a phrase that Jesus used. St. Paul had been very effective in spreading God’s Word and many other holy Orthodox Christians have since striven to follow his example. Let us not be afraid to support the great work that the archdiocese (https://www.oca.org/ under His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon) and our diocese of New York and New Jersey (https://nynjoca.org/ under His Eminence Archbishop Michael) have done in recent years. By the grace of God, we pray that it will continue.

In the Gospel passage, St. Mark wrote about the powerful impact Jesus was having on the people of Jerusalem through His life giving miracles and by His confrontation with the powers of darkness. He was bringing the Kingdom of God to the people. The Pharisees and the Herodians hated Him for it because His works were undermining them and He also confronted their shallow hypocrisy.

Let us not forget that Jesus was to promise the Holy Spirit to the apostles in order to continue on His works. When this moment occurred at Pentecost, the Church began. Jesus also gave them the sacraments for the Church to use to enable everyone to partake of the Heavenly Kingdom. So, we may not witness firsthand what the Jews at that time experienced but He did tell us that the Kingdom of God would be within us if we believed in Him. If we do believe in Him, we will follow His example and take up our own daily crosses, giving our efforts to Him because we have seen that the True Light is the Light of Christ, not the false

Sunday, August 30th. 2020. 12th Sunday after Pentecost

SUNDAY, AUGUST 30                                                         TONE 3

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Afterfeast of the Beheading of the Forerunner

  1. Alexander, John, and Paul the New, Patriarchs of Constantinople

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11             Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks:

“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

Jesus’ answer might look peculiar because Jesus retorts back at him: “Why call me good?”

St. Mark, in his Gospel did not claim that Jesus was not good because at the end of Chapter 7, he quoted the people as saying: “He has done all things well.” Today’s story does have a very important point for everyone, however. Notice in both the Old and New Testaments that the important figures in Salvation History are the ones who said yes.

To name a few: Abraham said yes when he was asked to sacrifice his son. Moses said yes when God spoke to him in the burning bush and called him to lead His people out of Egypt. Samuel said yes as a boy when God called him in the temple. He said “Yes Lord, here I am.”

All the prophets said yes, even Jonah, who kept arguing with God that he did not want to go to Nineveh. All the apostles said yes when they were called. Saint Paul, in today’s Epistle talked about how Jesus appeared to them as well as many disciples and called them to follow Him. They said yes. Paul also said yes when he was thrown off his horse and asked by Christ to be His apostle. Lastly, the most significant one to play a role in God’s plan was Mary, who was asked to be the God-bearer, the Theotokos and the Mother of God, by the Angel Gabriel. All these people said yes, cooperating with what God asked of them, thus playing an important role in fulfilling His plan.

The one couple who said no was Adam and Eve.

In today’s story, the rich young man sadly said no. The context of his question was that he had been doing all the ‘right’ things that the Mosaic Law required of him but he knew it was not enough. In God’s plan, if he had said yes, all his efforts to fulfill the Law would have been significant in fulfilling God’s plan of Salvation but instead, he “walked away sad,” Ah, the folly of those who focus on seeking material wealth instead of the Kingdom of God! Be wary of those Protestant Evangelicals who preach their ‘Prosperity Gospel’ where they claim that their wealth reflects God’s favor upon them. Such teaching is false. We see in contrast in today’s story that the opposite is true. Jesus said to him: 

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Thus, the message from today’s Gospel story is that we should always strive and pray to be able to say ‘yes’ to what God may call us to do. Then our efforts can be offered back to Christ and the Holy Spirit will guide us in them. We should use our talents to the best of our ability and strive to be known to do all things well, as Jesus was. If, however, we feel that God has a calling for us beyond our regular work and responsibilities, we need to have the Orthodox Church confirm it. This will take time because we need to make sure that it is from God and not from our own imagination. The Church has a process through which one should go through to confirm it.

In striving to be able to respond affirmatively to God’s will, remember that none of us are worthy to. It was only through Jesus’ sacrifice that we were able to obtain righteousness. Paul is very emphatic about this in his letters and he expresses the same thing in today’s First Letter to the Corinthians. He said he was the least worthy of all the apostles. Even so, he was called to be one. He did more work than any of them. Having been called, he certainly strove to fulfill his mission as best as he could. This is why we do not judge and we do not talk about a person as good or not good. God has His reasons for calling us and He will be our judge. We will have to account one day and that will be before the Judgment Seat of God.

Thursday, August 27th. 2020

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 7:1-10         Gospel: Mark 1:29-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul told them that, despite having to discipline them for their faults, he loved them greatly. He also told them that he knew that they loved him greatly too and that he was comforted by their love. He also rejoiced that they repented about the things that he had previously written. For the Orthodox Church, any discipline given is intended to heal the soul, just as it seems to have happened with the Corinthians. It is not to pass out punishment as Western Europe and its descendents view it. Judgment and punishment belong to our Heavenly Father and will happen on the last day.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark described the continuation of Jesus public ministry. Three actions were taken by Jesus in this passage. The first was that He healed Peter’s mother and many others. The second was that He cast out demons from people. The third was that He went afterwards to a solitary place where He prayed.

These three actions were central to His mission on earth. They were part of His proclamation about the Kingdom of God. Some people such as faith healers and Pentecostals think that if Jesus did these things then if we are authentically His disciples, we should be able to do them too. There are many ways that we can serve Christ, whether it be through administration, teaching and preaching, doing charitable works or praying. Each of us has different talents given by God but being able to heal someone’s diseases is not necessarily one of them! Nor is casting out demons!

As a priest, I can tell you that I have seen from some of the anointings I have done in the past that some people have inexplicably been healed. Was it because of me? I do not know. What I do know was that the priesthood I have received from the Church is a powerful source of intercession. The other necessary factor was the faith that those people had. What matters is that, in whatever we do, the Kingdom of God is proclaimed and, as St. Paul says, it is done in love. Otherwise, any such anointing is simply an empty performance. We cannot, therefore, presume we can interpret the scriptures authentically on our own. We need the Church’s guidance.

Returning to the question of praying for someone to be healed, yes, of course, as this is part of our mission as Christ’s disciples. Further, we should expect that our prayers will be heard by God and that they will be answered. How and when, only God knows. One thing is sure though, if we pray in faith, God will respond, not just to requests for healing but to all the other requests we have. Do not doubt that the Holy Spirit is with us, interceding on our behalf to the throne of Christ.

Tomorrow, I plan to go to a funeral in Central New York State and will not be able to post a message for Friday.

Wednesday August 26th 2020
Wednesday, August 26th. 2020
Archpriest Terence Baz
In today's passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul warned the people not to fraternize with pagan people. . It is obvious from the problems they were having that they were fraternizing with them and being influenced by them.
 
It is a timely warning for us also. Their context was obviously very different but as Orthodox Christians, we have to be on our guard not to let people compromise what we have learned from the Church. This country allows freedom of speech and worship. Most people are respectful of differing beliefs but we still hear people say things like : "It's all the same God" or that "I disagree with the Church on such and such an aspect." Further, the secular educational system is often disparaging of Church beliefs and this can be very dangerous for young formative minds.
 
The resources of the Orthodox Church are limited in trying to address this challenge. One body that has been established to help students at college is the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. It is there to help students maintain their Orthodox identity by mingling with other students who have the same beliefs. It is very important as a family to keep up the practices of the Orthodox Way by saying daily prayers during the day and reading the scriptures of the day.
Today's Gospel passage from St. Mark continues the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. As can be seen by today's story, the backdrop of the confrontation with the powers of darkness is never far away. We also need to keep in mind that those same powers are present in this fallen world although fundamentally defeated because Christ has enabled us to seek the Holy Spirit and thus allow the Kingdom of God to be in our hearts. The power of Satan can never overcome this. We need to be on our guard, however. There are a lot of people in society who indulge in such practices as seances, black magic and even Satan worship. People who do this are indulging in a very dangerous world that will ultimately lead to death. When we see or hear about such people, pray earnestly for them. God wants all people to be saved but in the end they have to choose the Kingdom of God instead.
 
Tuesday, August 25th. 2020

Tuesday August 25, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 5:15-21       Gospel: Mark 1:16-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul summarized what he had previously written in this letter and others about living in Christ and what it means for us. Because Christ died for our sins, we who are now His disciples and follow Him are also dead to our old selves in the flesh. We have become a new creation and are one with the Father in the Kingdom of God. The reason is that Christ has enabled us to be reconciled with the Father through His sacrifice.

Unfortunately, it is easy to misinterpret what he wrote here as Evangelical Protestants often do. While one can read the scriptures and choose to follow Christ because we are inspired by them, we cannot do this alone. We need the Church! Protestants often say that we are redeemed by His blood. In the sense that His sacrifice has reconciled us, yes but as Jesus said to Nicodemus in Chapter 3 of St. John’s Gospel, it is only by being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit that we can be reborn to enter into the Kingdom of God. This has to be done through Christ’s Body, the Church. This is the way that Christ told us that we can be reconciled. St. Paul knew this and wrote about it a lot in other parts of this letter and other letters. The real point that Paul made to the Corinthians was that the “old things have passed away” specifically our sinful ways.

Note that in the latter part of this passage Paul talked about being ambassadors of Christ. Given the problems that he needed to address in other parts of both his letters to them, they were often behaving in ways that were anything but as being ambassadors of Christ! He was urging them to remember who they were as a community. For Orthodox Christians, this sense of being ambassadors is very much linked to knowing that the Kingdom of God is within us and that we are part of the Communion of Saints. In the flesh today with those faithful members of the Orthodox Church at large and also through the Holy Spirit with those saints who have passed on from this life and are now part of the heavenly hosts. Let us be grateful for this wonderful reconciliation that Christ has given us that has enabled us to be part of the Kingdom of God, not as aliens but as fellow citizens as Paul says in other letters.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we read as a follow up from yesterday that He began His public ministry. Yesterday’s passage was about Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan.

It was the Holy Spirit who had sent Him into the wilderness after the baptism for 40 days. It was the Holy Spirit who prompted Him upon His return to seek out those who would be His apostles and call them to follow Him. It was the Holy Spirit who enabled them to respond affirmatively and leave what they were doing. It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus to the temple to preach. It was the Holy Spirit who gave Him the wisdom and authority through the words He preached to astound those listening in the temple.

Let us pray, in our own humble way, to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us today and each day of our lives. Let us pray that we too can we too can respond to our Father’s call to build up the Kingdom of God in our lives and those whom we interact with.

To quote part of the Morning Prayers on page 1791 of the Orthodox Study Bible:

“… O Most Holy Trinity… Do now enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive Your words, and teach me Your commandments. Help me to do Your will, to sing to You, to confess You from my heart, and to praise Your All-Holy Name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Monday, August 24th. 2020

Monday, August 24, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 5:10-15       Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

Having gone through the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Orthodox Church’s daily liturgical now moves onto the Gospel of St. Mark. Today’s passage starts off with the commencement of Jesus’ public life. It is the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.

The celebration of this event is a very important feast in the Orthodox Church. We call it the feast of the Theophany or Epiphany and it is specifically celebrated on January 6th each year. On this feast, aside from the liturgical services of Vespers, Lytia, Vigil, Matins and Divine Liturgy, the priest does the Great Blessing of Water. It remembers the story of Jesus’ baptism and in the same way that the waters of the Jordan River were blessed by it, the priest blesses his local water. The water is blessed in a vessel in the church when possible. The faithful may take some of this water afterwards but the priest will also offer to go to all of the peoples’ homes to use that water to bless them. Some priests will go their local river or to the sea water and bless that as well. It is not seen as only a private blessing but one that embraces the local area, the country the planet and all of creation.

Notice that when Jesus goes to the Jordan River and is baptized, the other two persons of the Trinity are made manifest. The heavens open and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove and the Father says: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” After this, the Spirit immediately sent Jesus into the wilderness to pray and fast alone for 40 days where He was ministered by the angels. The desert is seen by the Church as both a place where one can find solitude to allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts but also a place of darkness where the presence of Satan and his spirits loom. In other words, it is a place of trial and struggle. Jesus was to experience this when Satan came to tempt Him calling Jesus to submit to him. Notice, too, that when Jesus returns to Galilee, He immediately proclaims to the people the Kingdom of God. This proclamation began His mission on earth and was the center point of all His teaching, preaching and works.

In the blessing of the waters described above, the Church’s mission is to continue this proclamation from Jesus and to bring the life of the Kingdom of God to the whole universe.

Moving on to the Epistle, it is important to realize that, because of our fallen state from the sin of Adam and Eve, the image and likeness of God we inherited from them has been damaged. The image of God within us is still there because we still innately long for God. We are still able to pray and aspire to His ways. We still have a conscience that tells us what is right from wrong. Even so, the image of God within us that we inherited from Adam and Eve together with the intimacy God offered them in the Garden, was withdrawn from them and us because of their pride. Their likeness to God that they knew in the Garden was also severely damaged and we inherited this state as well. We know this because we all struggle with trying to do what is right but we often fail. We often make mistakes, sometimes serious ones.

St. Paul in this passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians was reminding them about this basic teaching about fallen state. The Corinthians had also fallen into the sin of pride, thinking they knew all the answers to life. Thus, they were judging others by their invented standards. Paul was telling them that the only answer is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Any other standard is false. They had forgotten this in their squabbling and bickering. He told them at the end of this passage that when Christ died for all of mankind’s sin, the ways of the fallen world died with them. It is only in Christ that we can receive the life of the Kingdom of God. It is only in Christ that we can receive the true righteousness that His sacrifice for us enabled us to acquire.

Let us pray for the gift of humility to avoid pride. Let us give ourselves to Christ so that we can live in Him and not the fallen world.

Website Livestream Blockage Solved

The blockage that occured with last Sunday's Livestream on our website has been fixed. It was discovered that the link between here and Facebook must be renewed every three months. This is a Facebook requirement. You should be able to Livestream it on this website for Sunday without any problems.

Archpriest Terence Baz, pastor

Sunday August 23rd 2020

Sunday, August 23rd 2020

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Leavetaking of the Dormition

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:2-12       Gospel: Matthew 18:23-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul had to deal with a lot of problems in the community in Corinth. There were factions, quarreling, people judging each other, boasting about themselves, scandalous behavior within the community and in this passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he had to deal with petty criticism about himself and Barnabas. One can only imagine what they were complaining about! Paul asserts his right to marry, his right to earn income if the community will not provide for him and even his right to be provided by the very community that he started and formed. Paul wrote that he had not complained about not receiving these things for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. Their problem was that they did not value the spiritual benefit of his preaching and belonging to the community. They had completely missed the point about why they were together.

In our time, like the early Christian communities, we have to endure a lot to survive in our daily lives. We live in a time of isolation, fear of catching this deadly virus, concerns about our employment and paying our bills, not to mention all the unpleasant news we see or hear about on the media. In enduring such stresses, we may be tempted to concern ourselves only with such problems instead of focusing on Christ. We must be careful not to fall into this trap. Christ is the very person we need to get through our struggles. In the same way, He gave us His Body, the Church, to be there to support us. It is true that our access to it is limited at this time but like Christ, the parish community will be there for us if we need it. It may also be tempting to discard the value of the priesthood that Christ has given us through His Church, by reducing its value to what may be seen as in terms of monetary benefit to the parish. The community in Corinth did this. Any real increase will only come through the prompting of the Holy Spirit to inspire others to join. This will only happen if the parish community is praying and interceding for the well being of the parish. We need to stay focused instead on the Kingdom of God and pray for the protection of the parish and the diocese, especially for the priesthood that Christ has given us.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is the well known parable about the servants who were indebted to their masters. The first owed the master a huge amount of money that he was unable to pay and he begged the master to give him more time to pay. The master relented. When he met others who owed him, he would not show the same compassion and punished them for not paying him back. He would not show the same compassion that his master had shown him.

The point of the parable is about compassion and forgiveness, not about accounting for debt. Matthew was teaching his people that the Kingdom of God is not about paying back debt to our Heavenly Father but about us showing the same compassion that He has shown us. We will never be able to be able to make up our debt to our Heavenly Father! He did not have to send His only Son to bridge the gap between us and Him, but He chose to. His son, Jesus, never judged people in His earthly life. He came to bring the life of the Kingdom of God to others, not to judge them. Jesus, in this parable is telling us to do the same. Matthew was teaching his people this lesson and the Orthodox Church teaches us the same lesson. Never judge others and always forgive. This is the Orthodox Way! Leave the judging our Heavenly Father, who will do so on Judgment Day.

This can be a very difficult challenge when someone has deeply hurt us but it is only through Christ that we can be healed, not by judging that person or wanting to seek revenge. If we choose the latter path instead of Christ, we choose the kingdom of death. When we find it hard to do so, ask the Holy Spirit to send the gift of forgiveness. Pray for that gift every day and stay focused on the Kingdom of God. Remember the very last words that Jesus said when He was dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Remember the words that Jesus taught us in the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Remember that many of the Russian martyrs at the time of the Communist Revolution asked the forgiveness of their executors. St. Innocent of Alaska said that forgiveness is not optional for an Orthodox Christian. It is at the center of our lives.

Typica Service Sunday August 23rd 2020

If you are not able to come to Sunday Divine Liturgy or watch it via Livestream please click onto the following link to upload the Typica Service for Sunday: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-TYPIKA-SERVICE-SUNDAY-AUGUST-23-2020.pdf

Note also that the blockage that prevented viewing the Livestream last Sunday has been fixed and you should be able to watch it here tomorrow morning. The problem occured on Facebook's end.

Fr. Terence Baz

Vespers Prayers for Saturday August 22 2020

If you would like to download the prayers for this afternoon's Vespers Service, please click onto the following link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-VESPERS-SATURDAY-AUGUST-22-2020.pdf

Friday August 21st 2020

Friday, August 21, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18       Gospel: Matthew 24:27-33, 42-51

Archpriest Terence Baz

The quote at the beginning of this passage from St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians is from Psalm 115.

It is worth making a note about the Word of God. This term and ones similar are used a lot in the Old Testament. It is also used by St. John at the beginning of his Gospel. When God spoke, it was all powerful and always had an impact. Its impact may not have happened immediately but in God’s way and in His own time, it happened powerfully. In St. John’s reference to the Word of God, he referred to the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity: “the Word became flesh.” It was not just a verbal expression but became the human person, Jesus.

In today’s passage, Paul uses the great theme mentioned above to encourage the Corinthian community with their struggles.

“He who raised up the Lord Jesus, will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.”

All that Jesus foretold was brought about. All that He promised was given and specifically here, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

He encouraged them to keep remembering that their current troubles are passing and that the reality for all eternity will be the Kingdom of God if they remain steadfast to the Word of God.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is a graphic description of the apocalypse that will occur at the end of the world. You may have heard the term “apocalyptic language” and you have probably heard of the Book of the Apocalypse. Such language was deliberately used, so that others beyond the community to which it was written, could not understand it. The dangers from the Roman authorities and from Jews who refused to believe in Christ were very real. So, it was written in apocalyptic code language. Specific terms were used to get across a point. For instance, the term 144,000 meant a great number of people. This is not the time to go into these terms but Fundamentalist Protestants such as Evangelicals did not write these books and do not know how to interpret them. They take this language literally resulting in bizarre conclusions and can unfortunately have dangerous consequences. Remember again, that we need the Orthodox Church, who wrote these books, to guide us in interpreting them and their language.

In this passage from Matthew, the language is obviously more direct. One important point he was making to his people was to always be ready.

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”

At the beginning of Holy Week just before Pascha, the Orthodox Church holds the Bridegroom Service. Many of its prayers tell us to be ready as well. The Church is reminding us not to forget this important warning. The one who is not prepared will lose everything. The one who is prepared will, in contrast, be given everything, including what the unprepared will have lost. This is why it is always important to focus on the Kingdom of God.

Matthew also gave us many graphic images in his description: the sun and the moon dancing in the skies, the sound of the great trumpet, the four winds gathering all peoples and the sign from the shoots of the fig tree that tell us of the oncoming of the spring season. All these images, which at first sight look disconnected, are used to describe the oncoming of the Kingdom of God at the end of the cosmos. Jesus once again uses images from nature to describe what is divine. We may not have the ability to connect the created and the uncreated like Jesus did, but through the Holy Spirit, we are able to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. In doing so, we will not ignore the warnings that St. Matthew gives us in this passage.

 

Thursday August 20th 2020

Thursday August 20, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6           Gospel: Matthew 24:13-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul talked about Christ’s light that shines in the darkness of this fallen world. He said that not everyone will see it and he advised the community to be aware of it. He described them as ‘bondservants’ to Christ. Jesus did not reveal Himself as the Messiah or the Christ until after His resurrection. He often told those whom He healed not to go telling the whole city about it. That time had not yet come. Thus, Paul advised his community to be careful to whom they preached about the  light of Christ. As disciples of Christ, they must also take up their cross. It is not easy for anyone to see someone close to them living a life that is anything but what a Christian should lead. We should pray for them earnestly but they have become veiled to the light of Christ because of their non-Christian lifestyle. Intercessory prayer is a very important way to allow their hearts to change from the darkness that they have chosen.

It is true that St. Paul preached in many cities to large congregations of people but he was called to do so as an apostle. He often suffered severely for his preaching because many hated his words. It is not that we should not proclaim Christ to others but if the scriptures and Church teaching have been given to them, sometimes it is better to simply pray for someone who has strayed rather than create an even bigger gap between them any yourself.

In today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple because they refused to believe in Him or His works. St. Matthew also used Jesus proclamation to warn his people not to chase false teachers and prophets. Only the testimony and teaching from Christ that Matthew relayed should be followed. Note that Matthew quoted Jesus as saying: “See, I have told you beforehand.” Matthew is warning his community not to be led astray by false speculations. The destruction of Jerusalem itself had probably already happened and St. Matthew was connecting Jesus’ proclamation with that event.

This passage can also be looked at ‘apocalyptically’ in other words a warning for the end of time. One must be careful how to interpret such teaching. Many have predicted the end of the world using passages like this. Jesus said at the end of this passage that the oncoming of the end of the world will be very clear.

The Orthodox Church teaches that we have to look to it for guidance to be able to properly interpret such passages. Some modern academic scholars have falsely accused the Orthodox Church of hiding early apocryphal letters from its communities in order to manipulate Jesus’ teachings. The Church has never hidden such passages. Some of the manuscripts have been lost over time but not hidden from people. Such conspiracies cannot belie the authority that Christ has given His Body, the Church to be able to authentically interpret the scriptures. The Orthodox Church does not say that readers cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit from reading the scriptures but it does say that when trying to interpret a saying from it that is puzzling, we need its guidance.

Wednesday August 19th 2020

Wednesday August 19, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11         Gospel: Matthew 23:29-39

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage from St. Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians, he reminded them that whatever glory they may have known as Israelites in the past, was nothing compared to the glory now given to them through the Holy Spirit. We can see from other parts of the letter that Jews who would not believe in Christ kept trying to draw them away from Him by throwing up arguments to challenge their beliefs. For instance, they accused the early Christians of pandering to pagan culture by not keeping the Sabbath in the way they were and not being strict in keeping the Mosaic Law’s dietary requirement. In the case of today’s passage, they were arguing that they had the glory of Moses. St. Paul makes it clear that this was a passing glory, in fact, one that Moses and the other prophets longed for in their time. It was the glory of God revealing Himself to them. That glory was now to be found in Jesus Christ, revealed as a man but, as could be seen from His works, was the Son of God at the same time and who, after He rose from the dead, would send the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who would guide them in their troubles as they follow Christ by taking up their own crosses. This was the path to glory. This was the path to the Kingdom of God.

In the Gospel, God’s own chosen people were being lamented by Jesus for refusing to be gathered into God’s Kingdom like a hen would gather her chicks. It would have been obvious to St. Matthew and his readers that the desolation of Jerusalem after it fell to the Romans, was a stark reminder of their refusal to believe in Christ. St. Matthew was reminding them that not only did Jesus foretell this but there was no future in trying to continue through a nation that had been destroyed. There own refusal to be gathered by God would only lead to the path of death and in this case, the destruction of Jerusalem. That destruction resulted in the death of countless numbers of people.

It is also a reminder to us that the only way to life is through Christ, not all the alternatives that the fallen world offers. They too can only lead to death. Let us, therefore, stay focused on the Kingdom of God.

Monday, August 17th 2020

Monday, August 17, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 2:4-15         Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians showed that the community was a troubled one. Paul had to correct them about many issues and this passage was no exception. Apparently a young man had to be disciplined about something he had done. The letter does not say what but it was obviously serious enough for Paul to make mention of it. He also talked about not being too severe with him but that a balance must be struck between the severity of an offense and a suitable punishment. He was probably ostracized by the community. Paul wrote that the punishment given to him was enough and that they needed to forgive him and show love to him.

There are times that the Church has to deal with a scandal or a serious sin a person commits. When a priest hears someone confess a serious sin such as breaking a commandment, he does not judge the person but must weigh up how to get his soul back onto the right path, so that it can be healed. This is the main purpose of any correction that the priest will give. The main discipline that he will administer would be to prevent that person from receiving communion for a period of time. He may give him or her certain prayers to say to help refocus the soul back to the Kingdom of God. He may also instruct that person to fast for a certain time. The priest would need to be in close contact with them to make sure he or she does not drift back into that sin. For instance, addiction is a serious issue in today’s society. Many people struggle to get on top of their affliction. The priest needs to offer what support he can to help that person on their life’s journey. At the same time, it would be a big mistake for the priest to play down the magnitude of a serious sin or offense.

There is so much freedom in this country that many people will simply ignore the Church’s standards but for those who have the courage to face up to their sin, confession should be seen as a sacrament of healing whereby they can come back to Christ through the intercession of the priest and the Church. Christ never refuses anyone.

Society is not completely tolerant of offenses, however. If someone breaks society’s laws, they will be punished through a fine or jail term if brought before the courts. The Orthodox Church is very cognizant of society’s responsibility to protect its citizens. For this reason, it will not give absolution to someone who has committed a serious crime until they face up to the authorities first. We know that society is not perfect and discrepancies occur in the administration of justice. Having said that, however, it sees its relationship with the state as a symbiotic one, in which it attempts to cooperate with its responsibility to protect its citizens. The Church does not always agree with the state but in cases such as murder or child molestation, the decision is clear.

If a priest comes across such a situation, he will consult his bishop. The Orthodox Church uses the principle of ‘economia’ in deciding what St. Paul says in today’s passage about giving a suitable proscription to the person. That principle is the very thing Paul talks about: that no discipline should be so strong that it would crush the person’s soul. The priest goes to his bishop because only he can make such a determination. As I have said, for the Orthodox Church, its concern is the healing of a person’s soul, not retribution.

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew relayed an attack given by Jesus to the Jewish authorities about their duplicity and corruption whereby they ignored the heart of the Mosaic Law and made up false exceptions for it when they do not like what it requires. This passage is read at the Bridegroom Service during Holy Week.

Sunday August 16th 2020

Sunday, August 16th 2020

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Afterfeast of the Dormition

Translation of the Image “Not-made-by-hands”

of our Lord Jesus Christ from Edessa to Constantinople

Epistle: Colossians 1:12-18                       Gospel: Luke 9:51-56; 10:22-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

Sunday, August 16th happens to be the feast of the Image “Not-made-by-hands.” You can read the details of this feast by either clicking onto or copying and paste the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/08/16/102304-translation-of-the-image-not-made-by-hands-of-our-lord-jesus-chr. The readings for today are connected to this feast. It also traditionally occurs the day after the Dormition of the Theotokos.

The iconography in an Orthodox Church is based on the theology that St. Paul presents in today’s passage from his letter to the Colossians. Paul links Christ to all of creation which was established by Him and for Him. In Christ, the visible and the invisible are connected; the created and the uncreated. He also describes Christ as the head of the Church. If you examine the iconography in an Orthodox Church, you will see all of this depicted where, Christ, the creator of the universe, unifies the visible and the invisible, the bodily powers with the heavenly powers, the major figures who played a role in God’s revelation in the scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, in the saints who have reflected God’s holiness for the past two millennia and finally ourselves, as part of His Body, the Church, we also belong to this Communion of Saints.

Today’s feast commemorates the translation of an image made by Jesus after He washed His face on a towel that He used. It was given to someone who was seeking Jesus to heal his master of leprosy. Jesus told him He would send Thaddeus to heal him. The towel was reverently given to the servant’s master that Thaddeus had placed in a frame and displayed at the master’s gate. After invasions, the icon was hidden but some centuries later discovered. It was eventually brought to Constantinople.

It is also important to remember that icons are not only about the depiction of an event or story. They also reveal God’s invisible hand in creation. The beauty of God’s creation reflects the beauty of God and is an important vehicle to understanding God. Thus, there are two books of God’s creation. The first is the scriptures. The second is the Book of Nature. The invisible hand of the Creator was made visible in this icon.

Today’s Gospel from St. Luke shows how the retribution and punishment of the Old Testament has changed with the presence of the Son of God to call all peoples to be saved.

 “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

Jesus does not judge, He simply offers as in the story of today’s passage. When He said that the prophets longed to see the things that the apostles were seeing, He was referring to this free offer for salvation.

As His disciples, we must have the same disposition. We are called to offer Christ’s Kingdom to others, to proclaim his teachings, to bring others to the life of the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. It is not for us to judge or condemn others. We offer Christ’s healing hand to others in their daily struggles. We have much to be grateful for the love that Christ has freely given us. Let us not take it for granted.

Thursday August 13th. 2020

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7           Gospel: Matthew 21:43-46

The Leavetaking of the Transfiguration & St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today is the Leavetaking of the Transfiguration of Christ. It is also the feast of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. To read the life of St. Tikhon and the impact he had on the mission in Alaska as well as the Orthodox Church of America as a whole, please click onto or, copy and paste the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/08/13/102287-saint-tikhon-bishop-of-voronezh-wonderworker-of-zadonsk-and-all.

Today’s Epistle passage is the opening and greeting of St. Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians. He introduces Timothy and himself to the community. Notice, as is his custom, he greeted them in Trinitarian terms, offering grace from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He does not here specifically mention the Holy Spirit as in other letters but he soon will. He does mention being comforted, a word in the New Testament that is usually connected to the Holy Spirit. In the latter part of this passage, he talks of their afflictions and sufferings as being part of Christ’s suffering. Paul himself suffered greatly for the sake of Christ. He often talked about bearing the cross of Christ. For him, being a disciple of Christ inevitably means sharing in the cross of Christ and of suffering for him. He assures them however that they also “will partake of the consolation.”

In the same way, when we are afflicted, the test for us it to seek the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and strengthen us. Let us always take this path and not another way. In such times, our faith in Christ is being tested but we will not be left alone. Always earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit will be with us.

Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of the confrontation that Jesus had with the authorities. Jesus warned them that “whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” The reason is that they will not bear the fruit that God wants them to because they refuse to believe in Him. They knew what He was warning and wanted to destroy Him because of it but they were not game to touch Him.

Wednesday August 12th. 2020

Wednesday August 12, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 16:4-12       Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus give a parable about two sons and their different responses to their father’s order to go and work. After refusing, one had second thoughts about his reaction and decided to respect his father’s wish and go to work. The second said yes but disrespectfully chose to ignore it.

I have written a lot about the scribes and Pharisees refusal to believe.

Let us look at the other reference Jesus makes to “tax collectors and harlots” who will be invited to the Kingdom of God instead of the Jewish leaders. Jesus often spoke about the poor. He talked about restoring the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He spoke parables about going into the highways and byways to invite people to His Father’s Kingdom because the house of Israel declined the invitation. He never refused to minister or heal anyone who was afflicted if they sought Him to help. He often told them that their sins were forgiven or to not sin anymore. He was criticized for mingling with tax collectors and harlots. When dying on the cross, the first person invited to the Kingdom of God was the thief next to Him. It was these people that Jesus was referring to in today’s parable.

What He did preach about was to repent “for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” What He would not tolerate were those who refused to believe in His works and His preaching. This is who He was talking about in today’s parable.

In the Orthodox Church, we invite people to come, to receive the “living waters” that Christ offers through the Church. We do not judge those who do not respond right away. We keep the invitation open. As a community, we pray for all those whom we love asking the Holy Spirit to touch their hearts. Jesus was prepared to sacrifice Himself as a ransom for all in order that they could receive the life of the Kingdom. We should be prepared to do even that if required to. What is important for now is to pray, fast and give to the poor. These are the practices of the Orthodox Church and what is termed the Orthodox Way. Let us continue on that path because it will help us to stay focused on the Kingdom of God that Jesus invited us to.

Tuesday, August 11th 2020

Tuesday August 11th 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:29-38                 Gospel: Matthew 21:23-27

Archpriest Terence Baz

In his continuing discourse about the resurrection in the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warns his community not to be close to ‘evil company’ lest they become corrupted by them. Paul points out that without Christ rising from the dead, there would be no point to any of their efforts. For the Jews of the old Mosaic Law, there had been a long standing dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The latter did not believe in the resurrection. Obviously, there were Jews in Corinth who still agreed with the Sadducees and this is where this debate would have come from.

Occasionally, I come across families who have someone who has converted or has sympathies with Islam. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God. It is very important that our children do not become influenced by such thinking. We believe in the words of the Nicean Creed that Jesus is the Son of God, who suffered, died and rose again to save us from our sins. Reciting it often may seem repetitive but it is important to continue to steadfastly affirm our faith in the Risen Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage, the chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority to teach and preach the way He was doing. They hated that they could not control Him. When confronted by Jesus’ question about John the Baptist, they backed away.

Just as Paul was dealing with some of the community of Corinth who were being swayed by those who did not believe in the Risen Christ, we also must not allow others to manipulate us to falter in this belief. Our belief in the Risen Christ is the gateway to the Kingdom of God. It is the key that allows us to call on the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. It is the truth that the fallen world will never see or accept, in the same way that the chief priests and elders would never accept Jesus’ authority. To the Greeks, this belief was foolishness. To the Jews, it was the stumbling block, as St. Paul relays it. For us, it is the pearl or treasure that Jesus described in His parables. It is the one thing we need to take with us when we pass from this life to the next, which will be for all eternity. It is everything for us. We must be on our guard to not let anyone take from us our belief in the Risen Christ.

Monday, August 10th 2020

Monday, August 10, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19     Gospel: Matthew 21:18-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul corrects some of the community who claimed that Christ did not rise from the dead. I suspect that some of the Jewish converts or Jews close to them were saying this. Paul corrects the futility of this teaching. It may seem surprising to some of us today that such a teaching was going around but remember what Paul says, that if we do not believe in the Risen Christ, then our belief is worthless. So, if you hear of anyone talking like this then it is important that we too correct this false teaching. It could be particularly damaging if it is said to children. We cannot use the excuse that we can say what we like because it is a country of free speech. If we deny Christ, then He will deny us! Jesus also warned about how serious it is to lead children astray. Thus, do not let a teaching like this pass by.

The context for Jesus cursing the fig tree that did not bear fruit in today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew is that Jesus conflicted with the scribes and the Pharisees and He warned that those who do reject Him will be cast aside and thrown into hell. In this conversation, the discussion moves from them to requiring everyone to have faith. St. Matthew was teaching his people to remain steadfast in their belief in Christ. Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to all those who believe in Him. Remember that the Holy Spirit will guide us in all things no matter what the difficulty.

As a side note, I have been in contact with our server Optimum about the internet failure yesterday. It looks like the problem was caused by the massive storm we had here last week. I will keep a close eye on the service this week. Let us hope that the problem will be behind us.

The Internet Brakedown Yesterday Sunday August 9th. 2020

I apologize for the internet brakedown yesterday during the Divine Liturgy Service. I have made inquiries with Optimum and it looks like the storm and the brakedowns associtated with it caused the problem. I will have to monitor this closely during this week. Fr. Terence Baz

Metropolitan Tikhon's Homily for St. Herman Sunday, August 9th. 2020

If you would like to read Metropolitan Tikhon's sermon for St. Herman, please click onto the following link: https://www.oca.org/news/headline-news/homily-of-his-beatitude-metropolitan-tikhon-for-the-feast-of-saint-herman-of-alaska

Sunday August 9th. 2020 The 9th Sunday after Pentecost. The Afterfeast of the Transfiguration. Sts. Matthias and Herman

Sunday, August 9, 2020

9th Sunday after Pentecost

The Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of Jesus

Sts. Matthias the Apostle and Herman of Alaska

Epistle: Galatians 5:22-6:2             Gospel: Luke 6:17-23

Archpriest Terence Baz

As well as the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, today we also celebrate the Glorification of the Venerable Herman of Alaska. He had a big impact on the Orthodox Church in America. Go to: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives to read the full life of this Saint.

Briefly, as a young man, he felt a strong calling to be a monk and went to the monastery of Valaam in Russia. While there, he was afflicted with an abscess on his throat that was very painful. He expected to die but he prayed earnestly to the Theotokos to give him strength to endure it. He fell asleep exhausted on the floor but when he woke the next morning it was gone, except for a small mark where the core had been. The doctors said it was impossible for it to go away without bursting first. St. Herman knew what had happened. If anyone wants an example of how to pray in times of great difficulty, one could do no better than this one.

Eventually, with his elder, and 9 others, he travelled to Alaska to set up a mission. They all showed great love to the natives, protecting them from the Russian merchants. Many thousands of them listened to their teachings and converted to Orthodoxy. They also set up a school to educate the children, particularly orphans. Tragically, on a return trip to Russia, the ship that all of them were on except St. Herman, sunk in a storm on the Pacific Ocean. He continued to work on tirelessly serving the people whether in prayer or growing crops to feed the people or caring for the children. It is interesting at this time that a pandemic afflicted Alaska at one point in his ministry. He never hesitated to assist, comfort and pray for those afflicted, often being by their side when they passed away.

He died at his hermitage on Spruce Island. He was very much loved and admired for his holiness and left a lasting impact on the whole population of Alaska. Miracles have also been attributed to him. We are grateful that we are part of this heritage, which saw so many inspiring and holy monks bear fruit in their service to the people.

Much more can be found about his life on the website mentioned above. We have an icon with a relic of St. Herman in our church that was obtained for in commemoration of the parish’s 75th Anniversary in 2010. It resides on the right hand side of the nave for veneration. Today it is placed on the central table.

The readings for today are those for Saint Herman.

Friday, August 7th 2020

Friday August 7, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40                 Gospel: Matthew 21:12-14, 17-20

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is a crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew’s account, this occurs right after Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey with the people calling out “Hosanna!” In the liturgical calendar of the Church, it commences the celebration of Holy Week. For Matthew, it is the turning point where the Jewish authorities dislike for Him turns into straight out hostility. Not only does it hit a raw nerve for them because He interfered in their economic prosperity but because it was at the temple of Jerusalem. The spectacle of Him being adulated by the people was too much for them. Who was He to undermine their policies and administration of the Mosaic Law?

The reality however was very different from their perception of themselves. This is brought out in the second part of the passage. It does not say it here but in St. John’s account, the discourse about the temple being destroyed and then raised up again in three days, predicted the very destruction of the temple with the end of its worship and sacrificial offering as they knew it. Jesus warns that those who refuse to believe in Him will not bear fruit and will be cut down to be burned.

Matthew is also warning his own people not to fall into that trap. It is also a reminder for us to not take the spiritual gifts given to us by the Church at baptism for granted. We must allow them to bear fruit. We must continue to choose Christ, humbly follow in His footsteps and remain part of His Body, the Church. The world will try to entice us to ignore our commitment to Christ. We must be on our guard to not fall into its trap.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul cautions about the gift of praying in tongues. To be sure, the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills and there are a number of instances where we read of people in the early Christian communities praying in tongues.

Even at this early point however, it was getting out of hand. It did so mostly because the Corinthian people were used to the pagan cultural practices of the time. Some continued to practice those so called pagan ‘spiritual’ practices. Much of it was demonic but in their yearning for the divine, the pagan people would turn to ‘divination’ practices. Some in communities such as the Corinthians tended to mix the two practices up. They would get very emotional, even hysterical.

Paul was cautioning that there is no point to praying this way if no message could be gained from it. The main way such prayer was interpreted was by the gift of ‘prophecy’ but he says in this passage that even the ‘prophets’ need to be evaluated. He says in another part of the letter that any gift should only be used to serve others. If others cannot understand it, it is not serving anyone. Another point he makes in this passage is that there should be order in any prayer service.

In yesterday’s readings for the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, the Orthodox Church uses a passage from this letter to point out that what really matters is the spreading of the Word of God. If the Word of God cannot be interpreted in the praying of tongues, it is not serving this missionary task.

The early Church had to grapple with this problem. Both St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine mention that the practice had passed away by their time. The Church came to the conclusion, for the reasons I mention above, that it was not good to practice this gift in regular prayer services. What they decided was that if anyone wanted to continue to pray in this way, it should be done in monasteries where it could be kept under control. It died out quickly after then. What did develop in monasteries was the praying of the psalms and the discipline of scheduled prayer and fasting. This has been the case ever since.

What is called the prayer of the heart is seen as a very important part in the Living Faith of the Orthodox Church. Aside from our liturgical prayers and daily designated prayers, the Church encourages Orthodox Christians to use the Jesus Prayer constantly when able to:

“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

This prayer is a very good vehicle to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives. The saints of the Orthodox Church have said that the Holy Spirit will respond to our needs if we use this prayer.

Thursday, August 6th. 2020. The feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus

Thursday, August 06, 2020

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus

Epistle: 2 Peter 1:10-19     Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

Please click onto or copy and paste this link to see the readings for today that I refer to: https://www.oca.org/readings. There are several of them.

For today’s celebration of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain (Mt. Tabor) St. Matthew gives his account of what happened (Matthew 17:1-9). It is a depiction of Jesus’ divinity, where He became brilliantly white, so intense that the apostles Peter, James and John could not look at it. A cloud descended upon them, Moses and Elijah appeared and our Heavenly Father spoke, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

In the services used to celebrate this event, the Orthodox Church uses readings from both the Old and the New Testament that pre-figure and highlight the continuity of the Father’s plan of salvation from eternity. Two visual images are connected in the readings.

The first is the presence of God in a mountain. Jesus often went to a mountain to commune with His Father but here, the dramatic scene of Moses going up Mount Sinai to speak with God (Exodus 24:12-18) is connected to what happened with Jesus. Moses asked to see God’s face. God told him he could only see the back side of Him, otherwise he would die. In the brilliance of Jesus countenance, the three apostles could not look at Him. The presence of God’s is often associated with a mountain.

The second is the cloud. A cloud descended upon the mountain. When Moses left those who came with him partway up the mountain (Composite 15 - Exodus 33:11-23; 34:4-6, 8), he left them behind and a cloud descended upon the mountain. Afterwards, when the Ark of the Covenant was carried by the priests with the Israelites across the desert, a cloud surrounded it by day and fire by night. The presence of God is also associated with a cloud.

A third association is with the Word of God. The Father speaks to the apostles about Jesus as His “beloved Son.” Moses also heard God’s voice and the Ten Commandments were given by God. When God speaks, His word is always true and will be enacted powerfully.

So, what the apostles had been seeing of Jesus as a human being was only part of the picture. He is also divine, the Son of God the Father. When God’ spoke to Moses, the prophets and other fathers in the Old Testament, it was the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who was speaking to them. The Church was to later on describe Jesus as “true God and true Man.” The glimpse they saw of Him as God was a foretaste of what they would experience for all eternity in the Kingdom of God. Nothing in this fallen cosmos, despite its beauty, can even compare to it.

The Orthodox Church also makes a connection with Elijah (Elias). God spoke to him as well as the other prophets. Like Jesus and Moses, Elijah was told to be alone for 40 days and nights on Mount Horeb (Composite 23 - 3 [1] Kings 19:3-9, 11-13, 15, 16). This time, God did not speak to him by an overwhelmingly powerful demonstration but in a gentle breeze. Elijah still covered his face but God told him to pass on his prophecy to Elisha. This was a foretelling that the presence of God would not stop but continue in a gentle way. The Son of God Himself would be present among the people, not as all powerful but as a humble human being. The vision of Elijah by the apostles testified to this humble manner by which God was revealing Himself.

In today’s Epistle (2 Peter 1:10-19), St. Peter describes how he witnessed this event. In it, he tells his own disciples that they too have been given a mission to show the presence of the Risen Christ to others who had not heard of Him. Peter heard God speak. He saw His divinity in this transfiguration. He suggested in that vision to erect a tent, or dwelling place, to continue to be in the presence of God. He also listened to Jesus teach and preach as a human being. He spoke to his own people about what he heard. In his letter, he commanded his disciples to continue to speak that same message because it is a prophetic word. It is this message that is the tent in which the presence of God dwells and continues to be revealed. It is a divine mission, not spoken by a powerful demonstration but as like the gentle breeze that Elijah experience.

The Orthodox Church also uses a separate passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 20:17-28) to warn people not to lord it over others like the Gentiles do, exercising great coercive authority to prevail over them. This is not the way of Christ. Even though we reflect on the majesty of Jesus in today’s feast, we must be humble like He was. He told the apostles, after a dispute among them about who would be first that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” In this life, “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” The Church is telling us that we must be humble in following Christ. In other words, store the treasures up for heaven, not for this fallen world.

As I often say, Jesus has made it easy for us to reach to the Kingdom of God. If we believe in Him as the Son of God and choose to follow Him, He promised that He would never refuse us. We must be His followers, however, following His humble way of the cross to be a sacrifice for many. Today’s feast gives us a glimpse of what is awaiting us if we follow His teachings and commandments. Let us renew our longing to be His disciples, to continue to spread the words of His message as St. Peter has urged and to wish to live in the presence of God as the prophets did. Let us never be timid in telling of the wonderful things that Christ has done for us!

Wednesday August 5th. 2020

Wednesday August 5, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:4-14:5                Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

It helps to put today’s passage from St. Matthew giving the parable of landowner who employed people for his harvest into the context in which he was relaying the parable to his own community. Debate had begun about whether it was proper and how non-Jewish converts should be brought into the Christian community. Ultimately, St. Paul’s view that the Gentiles who converted to Christ should be welcomed in freely, prevailed. This parable, therefore, was very applicable to that debate. Our Heavenly Father has invited everyone to feast in His Kingdom. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross opened the doors to that invitation. It also signaled that the ways of the Mosaic Law where only God’s chosen people would be invited had ceased. As Jesus said at the end of this passage:

“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.’”

For us, once again, the parable is a reiteration that the Risen Christ has made it very easy for us to accept this invitation. Anyone who believes in Him is welcomed. As St. John Chrysostom preached in his Paschal Homily about the Risen Christ:

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.”

Let us not take this invitation for granted, however. Our choice to follow Christ is a daily one whereby we stay focused on it despite what troubles this fallen world might throw at us. This choice also means taking up our cross daily and offering it back to Him. This is what will test our faith and enable us to be the chosen ones. Nor, like some of those Jews in Matthew’s time who begrudged the invitation of the Gentiles, should we ever hesitate to invite others on behalf of Christ to invite others to Christ. Nor should we hesitate to challenge anyone who seems to be drifting from Christ. Their souls are at stake if they reject Him!

Today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is his famous one about love.

It would be well worth reading the whole passage. If you are viewing this message on the parish website, simply click onto the link at the top of this page. If you are reading it on Facebook, unfortunately, the link is lost but you can copy and paste it to your browser and it should come up.

Remember that Paul had been talking about the divisions among the Corinthian community, with their jealousies and boastfulness. He had firstly said that if he was going to boast, it would only be about the cross of Christ. Secondly, that they must use the talents they were boasting about to serve others, not for everyone to look at. In this teaching, he coined the phrase the “Body of Christ.” Only then will the community build because only then will it stay focused on the Kingdom of God, not on themselves or what this fallen world regards as being important. Thirdly, in today’s passage, regardless of their talents, whether they be spiritual or material, unless they are done in love then they are nothing. He specifically referred to the spiritual gifts of praying in tongues and prophesying. They will pass away and if they are not used to serve and done in love, they mean nothing. Finally, he compares the way of the love of Christ, to what the world says:

“love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity.”

In our own community, it is always important to lookout for people’s talents. Someone new may be able to offer a dimension or insight to a task needed to be done that had not been thought of before. It is easy for a Church community who has been performing a task in a certain way for many years to become inflexible, refusing to listen, because “we have always done it this way.” Any good idea needs to be considered and obviously not all would be good for the community. The important thing is to encourage people to use their talents to up build the Body of Christ.

I have talked about the need to pray for humility. The gift of love goes hand in hand with it so, do not hesitate to pray for it.

Tuesday, August 4th. 2020

Tuesday August 4, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26                 Gospel: Matthew 18:18-22, 19:1-2, 13-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

The first verse of today’s Gospel is quoted at the end of the Orthodox Funeral Service, when the priest says the prayer of absolution for the deceased person. The priest does this in the name of the Church.

The next two verses concern praying together in Christ’s name. Again, the Orthodox Church uses this saying during the Second Antiphon of the Divine Liturgy. When two or three people come together and pray in Christ’s name He promises us that He will be there with us. That is how easy He makes it for us! All we have to do is believe what He promised and pray from our hearts. It is tragic that so many people do not take this seriously today. Christ’s presence is being offered to us freely. It is a gateway for our souls to enter into the Kingdom of God.

The next two verses concern the requirement of any Christian to forgive others. This can be very difficult at times but we must always strive to have the willingness to forgive. For the Orthodox Church, it is a pillar of the Orthodox Way. At the beginning of the season of Great Lent, we ask for everybody’s forgiveness and during that season, we use the Prayer of St. Ephraim to seek not to judge other people. Before the Great Entrance at the Eucharistic section of the Divine Liturgy, the priest turns to his people and asks for forgiveness from everyone. As Orthodox Christians, we must forgive and never judge others. The martyrs often asked for their executors’ forgiveness. When the Day of Judgment comes, our Heavenly Father will forgive us if we have forgiven everyone else.

For the rest of this passage, we read from St. Matthew how Jesus continued to powerfully bring the life of the Kingdom of God to others through His miracles and preaching. Matthew also repeats what he previously had written about Jesus calling the little children to Him. It is not those who are powerful in the eyes of the fallen world who will get to heaven but those who have humility like that of a little child’s. As I said yesterday, it is important to always pray for the gift of humility. It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul. It is not something that will always come automatically to us and as such, it is something we must pray for from the Holy Spirit.

I did not comment on yesterday’s passage from St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians but today’s follows directly on from it. The community at Corinth were getting jealous of each other and forming factions, based on a particular apostle or disciple of all people. They fell into this trap because they lost focus on the Kingdom of God and started boasting about how good they were compared to others. The only one we should compare ourselves to is Christ. He is our only measure, no one else. When we do compare ourselves to Him, we soon realize that we fall short of what we could or should be and certainly not in a position to judge others. For this reason, Paul says that the only boasting he will do is about that of the Crucified Christ, something that is folly to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews who do not believe in Christ.

What Paul does do to counter their tendency to boast about themselves is to talk about how they can use their talents, not to boast with but to serve others. He presents the model of the body that has different parts which are needed to function properly as a whole. When any one part hurts, the whole body hurts. In contrast, when the members of the community join together to serve each other, just as the hands or feet do for the body, then the community functions properly and begins to thrive. In using this model, Paul coined the phrase the “Body of Christ” a phrase that is well known among all Churches. For the Orthodox Church:

  • It sees this model of the “Body of Christ” as continuing today in its members
  • The Holy Spirit is present among its members when they strive to serve each other
  • As such, they bring the Kingdom of God into this fallen world
  • The parish becomes the vehicle whereby the presence of God inserts itself into history
  • When the parish functions in this way, the Church sees it as a continuation of the Communion of Saints and joined to it in the heavenly kingdom.

All of this is happening when we strive to serve the parish through the talents that we offer to this Body of Christ!

Paul is, of course, using it as an anecdote to the egotism or elitism that was rife in the Corinthisn community but it is important to realize that there is a huge difference between behaving as a clique or faction compared to those who wish to serve because they serve Christ, not themselves. One attitude panders to our fallen nature that will only end in death. In contrast, the way to Christ, gives us life, not only now but for all eternity among the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God. Let us pray for the grace to serve Christ, not our fallen selves.

Monday, August 3rd. 2020

Monday, August 03, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:31-12:6              Gospel: Matthew 18:1-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

The first part of today’s passage talks about humility. Jesus told his disciples that to get into the Kingdom of God we must have the humility of a little child. Jesus himself was very humble and spoke a lot about humility. He never sought the power of this world and was simply known as the carpenter’s son. St. Paul, in his letters, talks about us not being aliens or slaves but fellow citizens. As such though, we are children of the Kingdom. If we become arrogant, feeling we are entitled to be there, we will be rejected. Thus, it is always good to pray for the gift of humility because this will make us great in the Kingdom of God.

Note that St. Matthew, in this next section, quoted Jesus about scandals against children. It makes me suspect that there must have been talk about it among Matthew’s community. Given the patriarchal nature of society at that time, men had a lot of power and could get away with such scandals.

How timely this warning is for today! As a parent, I find it chilling that churches have protected such perpetrators in the past. For the OCA Archdiocese, strict guidelines are now in place to protect the vulnerable, not just in regard to sexual abuse but other types of abuses as well. Nor does it allow the church’s administration to give perpetrators protection. For instance, as a priest, I cannot give absolution to someone who wants to confess an abuse until that person goes to the authorities first to face up to their crime. Society has a responsibility to protect its citizens and the seal of confession is not over and above that responsibility.

The Orthodox Church does not look upon its Canons as being divine as the Vatican in Rome does. As such, a Canon like the seal of Confession must be looked at in the context of where it would be applied. The sacred responsibility that society has to protect its children from abuse takes precedence over a person’s right to confidentiality in this context. This does not mean that the Orthodox Church does not take the seal of Confession seriously but it is not an absolute in and of itself and cannot ignore the teaching from Jesus that:

“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

The OCA also takes abuse by its clergy very seriously. If a priest is taken to a civil court, he will almost certainly have to face the Archdiocesan Ecclesiastical Court as well. Ultimately, all such judgments are left in God’s hands but it too has a responsibility to protect its parishioners and suspend a priest if it determines it is necessary.

The passage also warned parents and adults not to teach their children to sin. Children are a solemn gift from God. Adults have a responsibility to teach correctly what Christ and His Body, the Church teaches. Jesus warned:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Thus, let us remember this phrase:

 “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

It is not unreasonable to look at the sayings talking about cutting off limbs and plucking out eyes as metaphorical. We have no accounts in the early Church of Christians attempting such things. We too, do not talk in such violent terms today but one must remember that in St. Matthew’s time, such grizzly forms of punishment and revenge were not uncommon. The point is there, however, that to commit crimes against children will have dire consequences for such people on Judgment Day.

Sunday, August 2nd. The 8th. Sunday after Pentecost.

Sunday, August 2nd 2020

8th Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18       Gospel: Matthew 14:14-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew gives his account of the feeding of the five thousand men, plus the women and children, with the five loaves and two fish. Unlike the account in St. John’s Gospel, St. Matthew gives a simple description of the event.

Jesus was called by His Father in heaven to preach and reveal the scriptures to the multitudes. He was moved by compassion to heal their sicknesses but when all was done everyone was hungry. After getting them to sit down on the grass, Matthew wrote:

“And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.”

Jesus’ presence and works had already made it a holy day. Then, in this moment of need to feed the people, the blessing that Jesus gave for it to happen sanctified the fish, the loaves, the people who ate them, the grass and the earth they sat on as well as the disciples who helped to get the people organized. It was a moment when the life of the Kingdom of God was made powerfully manifest through the presence and blessing of the Second Person of the Trinity among them.

It was also an antitype or a herald of the Eucharist that we celebrate at the Divine Liturgy each Sunday. That moment at the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with His apostles, He commanded the blessing of the bread and wine into His body and blood to be done in memory of Him. It was this same Divine Presence that would foreshadow His presence in His living Body, the Church. It is in the Eucharist that this Divine Presence continues. More than this, the priestly offering of His body on the cross was passed onto those apostles. They were commanded to use His Priesthood in the works that they would do through the Holy Spirit among the peoples that they would preach to.

This is why the use of blessings is so central to the way of the Orthodox Church. It regards the sacraments as mysteries through which that same Divine Presence, which was manifested in the feeding of the five thousand, is also now brought to those who would receive them through an Orthodox bishop or priest. This Presence is not limited to the sacraments only, however. Any such blessing done by a bishop or priest in the name of Christ and His Body, the Church, brings the life of the Kingdom of God to others. Further still, the sacrament of Baptism that anyone receives in faith, enables him or her to intercede in faith on behalf of others. In gratuitously offering all the blessing and gifts He gave during His earthly life, He now continues to offer those same blessings done in the name of the Orthodox Church to us, through the Holy Spirit that He promised. Finally, just as Jesus not only sanctified the people at the feeding of the five thousand but also the food and the earth they were sitting on, the Orthodox Church recognizes that all of creation can and needs to be sanctified by us through gift of intercession that was given to us in our baptism.

The point is that this account from St. Matthew is not simply some nice sounding historical anecdote to be admired. It is something, for anyone who has the faith, to see that this same Divine Presence is with us here and now! For those who have faith, the Kingdom of God is in our hearts. The presence of God nourishes our souls through these gifts now offered by the Church. It is up to us to grasp it! It is up to us to say: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and invite Him to bring the Kingdom of God into our hearts. It is up to us to call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives. It is up to us to call upon our Heavenly Father to bring His Kingdom to us.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

So, never refuse a blessing when a priest offers it. Pray that we would have the faith to open our hearts to allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to flood into our hearts through it. Rejoice that Christ has enabled us to receive Him freely. Never be afraid to pray on behalf of others, this world and all of creation. The troubles of this fallen world can never prevent us from being in the presence of the Kingdom of God.

Friday, July 31st. 2020

Friday July 31, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:8-22       Gospel: Matthew 17:10-18

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage, the disciples ask Jesus about Elijah (or Elias or Elia) because the scribes were arguing that Jesus cannot be the prophet because Elijah must come first. Jesus replies that the spirit of Elijah was in John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. The prophet Malachi said that the spirit of Elijah would return and this forecast would have been known to the scribes and Pharisees. The spirit of Elijah was given to Elisha when he left this earth on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 6:17).

It is interesting that the passage just before this (Matt. 17: 1-8) is the account of Jesus being transfigured on Mt. Tabor. The account of the transfiguration gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. In it, Peter also makes reference to seeing Elijah. Thus, Elijah’s prophetic calling is connected to the divinity of Jesus, who is the Second Person of the Trinity. Thus, Matthew sees the discussion in today’s passage about Elijah as being connected to Jesus’ transfiguration. Further, immediately after the discussion, a man who is possessed by a demon is brought to Jesus and Jesus expels it. Jesus also complains about those disciples who brought the man to Him who could not cast it out because of their lack of faith.

From St. Matthew, therefore, we are taught a number of lessons. Firstly, he was telling his people not to listen to the arguments of those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. Secondly, that entertaining such arguments will easily blunt their faith, as happened to those disciples who could not cast out the demon. Thirdly, both in this story and in many others, the divinity of Jesus is clearly displayed. Thirdly, that the Trinity certainly intended that the spirit of Elijah would come again and did so through John the Baptist. Fourthly, not only would the authorities reject this spirit but they hated John for it because of his outspokenness in preaching the truth. So, they had him executed. Finally, just as they hated John for this spirit and Jesus for His divinity, they may well hate and kill those to whom he wrote, who were followers of Christ.

These lessons apply to us as well. Note that the father of the afflicted man came to Jesus humbly asking for mercy in his suffering. We too not only need to keep our faith pure but we need to also pray in a spirit of humility as this father did. This is why the phrase “Lord, have mercy!” is so often used in our services. When affliction or difficult times come, as humans, it often takes time to absorb what has happened, especially if the pain is acute. It can take years for our bodies and our emotions to settle down. It can be a great challenge to stay focused on the Kingdom of God as the father in today’s story was able to. Always strive to reach out to Christ in times of difficulty with a spirit of humility, pouring out our hearts to Him. There will definitely be times that our faith will be tested but remember, when we are tempted to doubt or we fall, Christ will never refuse us when we come back to Him.

Remember the words of the Beatitudes that we say in our Divine Liturgy:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

Jesus taught them to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God during times of hardship. Let us embrace them enthusiastically.

Thursday, July 30th 2020

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:28-11:7              Gospel: Matthew 16:24-28

Archpriest Terence Baz

If ever there was a passage that you wanted to learn off by heart from the Gospels, it is today’s. Most of us are at least very familiar with it. As Orthodox Christians, we celebrate the cross of Christ a number of times during the year in our liturgical calendar. Most Christians wear a cross around their necks. For us clergy, it is an honor to wear a crucifix, testifying to the great example and sacrifice that Jesus gave us.

At the time that Jesus was on earth, the cross was a symbol of great fear. For those who suffered crucifixion, it was a message to everyone else to not challenge the ‘Pax Roma’ the so called Roman way that imposed ‘peace’ on its subjects. For those who underwent it, it was an unimaginably painful, agonizing and prolonged death that dashed any hopes of promoting oneself or one’s family’s ambitions.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross undermined Rome’s way to impose itself on others. Jesus was prepared to suffer it all for the sake of His Heavenly Father, for us and the whole universe. For those who believed in the Risen Christ, such torture was not to be feared but seen as a way to receive the gifts of His Heavenly Kingdom. Jesus had promised to send His Holy Spirit and it was that same Spirit who gave them the courage and strength to face up to any form of worldly torture that would threaten to destroy the body. Rome had no answer to this. Thus, more and more people embraced Christ’s way and eventually the Roman world itself turned Christian.

Today’s Gospel passage about the cross gives us an opportunity to renew our commitment to follow Christ. It could be easy for us to forget what the cross entails because television and social media rarely portray something about the Church’s teaching on the cross. It rarely, if ever, focuses on the lives of the countless martyrs who have followed the example of Christ and those of the early Church. Thus, we could be lured into thinking that ‘real life’ is separate from the Church’s devotion to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Such thinking would be  a big trap. Remember that the only true life is that of the Kingdom of God. We must live it now. It is not something that we need only to worry about at the end of our life.

The ways of the fallen world will mean nothing in the end. What will matter is that we give Him our sufferings and struggles, offering them to Christ. If we do, we will also be empathetic to all those who suffer throughout the world, giving in charity to those less fortunate than us, when we are able. As Jesus said later in Matthew’s Gospel:

“I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick or in prison and you visited me.”

These are the treasures we need to focus on, not those of the fallen world. These are what will feed our souls for eternity. As Jesus said in today’s passage:

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

The community to which St. Matthew was writing, indeed all the early Christian communities, realized that the only way to gain true life, the life of the Kingdom of God, was to let go of their earthly life by following Christ. Again, Jesus said:

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

So, take the opportunity today, to offer all the struggles and sufferings we are presently undergoing to Christ, asking that the Holy Spirit would guide and strengthen us on our journey. Take the opportunity to give to others, where possible, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday July 29th 2020

Wednesday July 29, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:12-22     Gospel: Matthew 16:20-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples not to call Him the Christ or Messiah. He was given many titles such as teacher or master but He did not want to be called the Messiah at that point. It was not time for that and importantly, the Jewish people were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver their nation from the Roman yoke. There were also times that He asked those whom He had healed not to spread around how it happened. Not that they did but Jesus knew what such news would head to: the people would start speculating that they type of Messiah they expected may have come.

In contrast, in this passage, Jesus teaches His disciples what such a title would really mean: which was to be sacrificed on the cross in order to save the world. When Jesus told them this, Peter could not accept it and started to remonstrate with Him. Jesus’ response was very stern:

“Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

The reason He was so blunt was that to acquiesce to the way the fallen world thinks would be to destroy His mission. It was not until after crucifixion happened that they finally understood what it meant. Jesus taught them here that, as His disciples, they will also be required to take up their own cross because the fallen world will reject them.

Matthew would have been very aware of the importance of this teaching for the community he was writing to. It too, had to face rejection and possibly persecution from both those Jews who would not believe in Christ and the Roman authorities.

We know, as Orthodox Christians, that the command to take up our cross is a central part of our teaching. It is not an easy one but as I have said often, we must offer our hardships and sufferings back to Christ each day. This is how we take up our own cross. It is always important to stay as focused as possible on the Kingdom of God when have to endure sufferings or when we pray for others going through suffering.

In today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warned them not to contaminate the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ that they have received, by also drinking from the cup of a Jewish offering or from a pagan sacrifice. It is likely that some of them were doing so.

For us, before we receive communion we always recite the prayer ‘I believe O Lord and I confess…’ At the end of that prayer we say:

“May the communion of your holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.”

Let us never take this awesome Mystery for granted.

Tuesday, July 28th. 2020

Tuesday July 28, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:5-12       Gospel: Matthew 16:6-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s passage from St. Matthew follows on from yesterday’s one. In fact, the first sentence from today’s is the same one as the last one in yesterday’s. The apostles and disciples kept taking what Jesus literally. Thus, when He talked about leaven they thought He was talking about bread. He was using that image to describe what was in the Pharisees’ hearts. The leaven they had was not from God and was the opposite to the life of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was warning them not to be beguiled by them because they rejected that life which they saw in His miracles.

Jesus often used images from nature or basic life functions such as the birds of the air or the making of bread. This is because the Father’s revelation comes as much from His creation or nature as it does from the scriptures. What Jesus did was interpret these day to day images to show how they connect to the Kingdom of God. Note that He often says “the Kingdom of God is like” and then goes on to use such an image. St. Matthew was telling his people through these stories to be on their guard against those Jews who refused to believe in the Risen Christ. The way they argued may have sounded plausible but their rejection of Christ would only bring death.

The Orthodox Church has given us its liturgical calendar and set daily prayers as well as specific prayers for many needs. The OCA has composed a four volume set called ‘The Book of Needs.’ It also has abridged versions. These structured prayers help us to keep in touch with Christ during our busy daily lives and are important to use. At the same time and especially during the summer season, we all enjoy getting in contact with nature, whether it is by enjoying mountain views and streams or the seashore. Our diocese, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, has a camp on Oneida Lake in Central New York State for this very purpose. So, much of the structure of its summer camp program is intended for this.

For those who are not able to get away this summer because of the pandemic, we should still strive to pray about nature in our free time. While being in a nature setting will help prompt this, the Holy Spirit will blow where He wills. So, we should not be afraid to ask for the gift of seeing the Kingdom of God through His creation, which as Orthodox, we believe has not stopped but ongoing.

Returning to the Gospel passage, much of what Jesus taught was about seeing the Kingdom of God through these created signs. Make this part of your prayer because understanding nature in this way will bring us close to the Kingdom of God.

In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians, he warns that community to not indulge in their former pagan immoral practices. He does so by reminding them that the Israelites did similar things after being freed from Egypt and were punished heavily for it. He warns his community that they will fall if they do similar things.

It is also a timely reminder for us. We have seen on the news about young people reveling at parties. American culture largely ignores the danger of this type of behavior with the attitude to ‘work hard and play hard’ is okay, whether or not it is immoral. We are in a time when God’s laws of nature have imposed themselves through the Coronavirus. The consequences of undisciplined behavior have had deadly consequences by the spread of the virus. Try to warn any young people who talk about such parties that they are not from God. Instead of imbibing nature, they use it to revel in an immoral way. Such a way will only bring death. To imbibe the beauty of nature does the opposite. It enables us to get in touch with the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry Sunday
Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry Sunday

Yesterday, all of the Canonical Churches in North America recognized the ministry done by the Orthodox Christian Ministry Program. Please click onto the following link if you would like to learn more about what it does and would like to donate towards it: https://theocpm.org/

Monday, July 27th. 2020

Monday July 27, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:13-18       Gospel: Matthew 16:1-6

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, the Pharisees ask for a sign from Jesus. Jesus had been doing signs all the time in the works He was performing. The Pharisees did not like what He was doing because it was not from them. Not only did they ‘nit pick’ about Him breaking the Mosaic Law because He would perform miracles on the Sabbath, they also claimed that His power came from the devil! They hated the fact that they could not control Him. The reason they asked at this point for a sign from Him was that they wanted to dictate the terms by which He would do them. They failed to recognize that they as chosen, created people could not control the creator. All they were interested in was a political savior not one who reflected the Kingdom of God. Politicians will always attempt to use anything they can to control and use something that will help them keep their power.

In dealing with the political world, the Orthodox Church seeks to have a symbiotic relationship with the government of the day. It recognizes that what is due to Caesar should be given to Caesar, as long as what the government does will not contradict the teachings of Christ. When it does, the Church will seek to correct. Thus, it will try to support the government where possible. Note that in our liturgical prayers, the Orthodox Church often prays for the head of state and its government. At the same time, the Orthodox Church sees itself as being separate from the state. The Church needs the state for good order and tranquility but it also believes that the state, if it wants to function correctly, needs the Church for its guidance. This is why the term ‘symbiotic’ is used to describe its relationship. It is not always an easy relationship and can be straight out hostile, such as when a Communist government is in power. It is also not uncommon for states to try to manipulate the Church to gain its ends.

For us, it is important to pray for the state. It is a good thing to bring our political concerns to Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and protect you. In this country, however, in which everyone feels entitled to express their opinion, it is easy for us to lose focus on the Kingdom of God and get caught up in political movements. We have to be very careful about this if we want to have the Kingdom of God reside in our hearts. It is easy to see how Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ attempts to control Him. He called them hypocrites because their wish for political gain that had made them blind to very signs that God was showing them at that time in history. The sign that was offered to them instead was that of the prophet Jonah who lived in a whale for three days. This image was a foretelling of Him being buried for three days, the very opposite to their blinding political aspirations, aspirations which would see the Mosaic temple destroyed.

Jesus taught us that if we follow Him, we would also need to take up our own cross each day. It is only through His sacrifice on the cross that people’s hearts can change from being blind to being able to see the ways of the Kingdom of God. When we share in His cross, our efforts become transformed and bear fruit. Always ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to faithfully follow Christ.

In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, although he is referring to specific matters within their community in this passage, he strongly expresses later in the letter that he will only preach Christ crucified. Politics was rife in that community and the only boasting Paul would indulge in was Christ crucified.

July 26th. 2020. The 7th. Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday July 26th 2020

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7     Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today we commemorate the Repose of Saint Jacob Netsvetov, Enlightener of the Peoples of Alaska. He was an extraordinary missionary for the Orthodox Church. At times, he endured terrible hardships but through it all he inspired the natives in the Yukon Valley and the Aleutian Islands. Thousands of them converted to Orthodoxy through him. He helped establish an alphabet for the natives with St. Innocent and established a school for their education. We too are going through difficult times because of the pandemic and social unrest. As I have said many times, the most important choice we can make is to seek the Kingdom of God in our struggles. One of the most inspiring aspects of his life was how focused St. Jacob remained on the Kingdom of God through all his great struggles. To read the full story from the OCA website, either click onto the following link or, if not possible, copy and paste it: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/07/26/102091-repose-of-saint-jacob-netsvetov-enlightener-of-the-peoples-of-al

This passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus’ works as He travelled about the countryside. It is a depiction of how the life of the Kingdom of God entered into history. In these stories we see that these moments transcended space and time. Many were healed. All that they needed to do was believe that Jesus was able to do these works.

It is interesting how Matthew depicts the story of the blind men. They call Jesus ‘Son of David.’ Because of their faith, they eyes were opened. It would not have gone unnoticed, by both the witnesses of this story and St. Matthew’s own people, the connection to the Messianic promise from Isaiah (Is. 35:5) that the eyes of the blind would be opened. The Messianic promise was that a Messiah would come to redeem Israel from its oppressors. It may be surprising to realize that Jesus did not reveal His identity to many people while He was performing these works. This is why He commanded the blind men that He healed not go around telling everyone how it happened. The reason for the concealment of His identity was that many of the Jewish people foresaw a political Messiah who would give them political freedom. They would not acknowledge that what Jesus was doing was not on behalf of this fallen world. Although this may be obvious to us in hindsight, these works were done by Jesus in the name of the Kingdom of God, not the fallen world.

Matthew is telling his people through these stories that the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom of God is very different from a political kingdom. Those who continued to adhere to the latter would endure the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans precisely because of their often violent political agitation. Such agitation is not the way of the followers of Christ.

We must remember this as we witness the reaction in this country to the pandemic by some, that directives to wear masks and other precautions advised by medical authorities are a violation of their free speech which is sanctioned by the Constitution. There are many good principles in the American Constitution but we must remember that it is a political framework that is designed to keep order for our country that is part of the fallen world, not the Kingdom of God. I have previously said that there are two books of God’s Revelation: that of the scriptures and that of nature. We must respect the laws of nature and our constitutional rights do not supersede them. I am not suggesting that scientific observation is infallible but when the consensus of the whole medical community is that it is better to wear a mask, we should respect this. This is why the OCA has been so cautious to adhere to the medical advice. In the meantime, remain focused on the Kingdom of God, not on political agitators who want to take advantage of these times to cause chaos. Such agitation can only end up in death.

In today’s passage, which is towards the end of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he gives some timely advice about how we should behave towards each other as we seek out the Kingdom of God:

“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is not always easy to live up to such ideals but as Jesus asked of those who came to be healed, do we believe in Christ enough to see that the grace of the Holy Spirit will prevail when we do?

Friday, July 24th. 2020

Friday July 24, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:35-8:7      Gospel: Matthew 15:29-31

Archpriest Terence Baz

In the first part of today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes about marriage and virginity. He says if a person wants to marry, let him or her marry. If someone wants to remain a virgin for the sake of Christ, let him or her do so because it is a better way.

For the Orthodox Church, sex in the right context is not a bad thing. The body needs numerous appetites to be able to function properly: drink, eat etc. Sex is one of those appetites. As with any of the appetites, if its power gets out of control, becoming a passion, it becomes sinful. St. Paul mentions that remaining a virgin & thus, living a celibate life, is a better way.

The Orthodox Church does not say however, that such a state should be connected to priesthood or ordination. Thus, it is normal for Orthodox Clergy to marry. What it does require is that a prospective priest should marry before being ordained. It is better to undertake this before taking on the responsibilities of priesthood or diaconate and pastoral ministry, for the sake of good order in the Church. For the same reason, a bishop should be celibate so that he can give his whole energies to the Body of Christ, the diocese in which he shepherds.

Returning to the question of celibacy, the Tradition of monks and nuns who dedicate their lives in prayer and service for the sake of Christ’s Body, the Church, has been there since its beginning. Some people feel called to live this life and they usually live in community in a monastery. This Tradition is a vital part of the Living Faith of the Church. They provide a perspective through their life of prayer that is needed by the Church.

Different people have different talents and thus, different callings. All these aspects of the Church make up the Body of Christ.

In today’s short Gospel passage, we see a vivid description of the life of the Kingdom of God being brought to the Jewish people by the Son of God. The people were obviously drawn to this life but the Jewish leaders as a whole were too arrogant to embrace it.

Thursday, July 23rd. 2020

Thursday July 23, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:24-35       Gospel: Matthew 15:12-21

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew immediately follows from yesterday’s passage. I suggest you read what I said about it if you did not get the chance to. At the end of yesterday’s passage, Jesus says:

“Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

Jesus retorts that the adherence to the more important commandment of honoring our father and mother had been watered down by the scribes and the Pharisees but they still obsessed about the necessity to wash their hands before eating. They did not want to adhere to the heart of the Law, only the letter of the Law. Requiring people to wash their hands before eating meant nothing, if they did not also require them to keep one of the Ten Commandments. Thus, what they were teaching was false.

Jesus warns against this and tells Peter and His disciples that because they refuse to keep the heart of the Law, they have become blind. He says:

“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

The explanation of the saying that follows may well be one provided by Matthew himself to his own community. It serves two purposes: firstly, a warning to be very careful about absorbing what others outside of the Christian community might say; secondly, not to use such conversation as a means of gossip. Those early Christian communities were being attacked from all sides and Matthew was warning them not to be led astray.

For us, what matters is that we stay focused on Christ, seeking the Kingdom of God. Others in this fallen world may gossip about others but more often than not, it is the product of the evil that is in their own hearts. Such people are often very judgmental, denigrating others in order to gain power and assertion over others. There has also been a lot of discussion in recent times about the power that sexual predators exert, either in the home, at work, in educational institutions or care giving facilities. Pray every day for deliverance from evil for ourselves, our families, friends and work colleagues. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom each day to deal with whatever may come our way.

The Orthodox Church has come to realize in recent decades that it is very important to work with the authorities when someone confides with us about molestation, whether it be from a predator or a victim. Evidence needs to be acquired as best as possible to avoid misjudgment but at the same time, victims need to be protected. In the past, people have been shocked that a child would claim that a relative had been molesting them over time and perhaps, have used what Jesus says in today’s passage to conclude that such claims are evil thoughts. What matters is to gain evidence about such claims while at the same time, protecting the victims from reprisal or future abuse.

It is very important, therefore, to teach our families about how important it is to stay focused on the Kingdom of God. Pray that they will be delivered from such pitfalls that we hear about today. When we encounter victims, pray for their healing and for wisdom to know the best way to help and respond to them.

Wednesday July 22nd. 2020
St. Mary Magdalene & Scripture Readings of the Day

Wednesday July 22, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 7:12-24       Gospel: Matthew 14:35-15:11

Archpriest Terence Baz

I was asked yesterday to fill in for another priest to do a funeral. Thus, I was not able to write a sermon for July 21st.

Today is the feast of the Myrrhbearer and Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene. Please copy and paste or click onto the following link to read about her life: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/07/22/102070-myrrhbearer-and-equal-of-the-apostles-mary-magdalene. Note that the Orthodox Church says that before she repented, she was possessed by seven devils. There is no mention in the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles of her being a prostitute as the Western Churches say.

In today’s letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote about people who had converted but whose spouses still remained pagan. He says that they should remain married to that person. Their own baptism will sanctify their family and over time, they may convert. In her experience with dealing with Muslims, the Orthodox Church has found that people who marry a non-Christian will often be coerced to abandon their faith in Christ. For this reason, it will not recognize a marriage that is non-Christian because it is not blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the interest of the well being of the family, the bishop may use his discretion or ‘economia’ to allow a person who is in a non-Christian marriage to return to the sacraments if that person continues to commit to the community to which they belong. This is not an uncommon dilemma. In contrast, many in Africa and elsewhere have been prepared to give up their lives rather than choose to reject Christ. Further, those today, who convert to become Orthodox Christian, never do so lightly. It is much more profound than the simple action of turning on or off a light switch. Thus, going against this Church practice is taken very seriously by the clergy and hierarchs. At the same time, the Orthodox Church never judges but tries to gently teach and advise those who fall in love with a non-Christian. Always consult with the priest who will consult his bishop about the circumstances of the case.

In the latter part of the letter, Paul wrote about whether or not it mattered about one’s social status when being called by the Church to serve its community members. He says that it should not, even for slaves. The social context of that time in the Roman Empire was that slavery was acceptable, something that is not tolerated in our time by the western world. He did not attempt in the letter to challenge that social norm but he does say that, being united to Christ and His Kingdom is all that mattered. Such social practices of the fallen world will not continue in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel passage, when challenged by the scribes and Pharisees about why Jesus’ apostles do not wash their hands, Jesus calls out their own double standards about a commandment, honoring your father and your mother, that is much more important than about when one should wash one’s hands. They used their interpretation of scripture to water the commandment down, trying to exempt themselves from their responsibility towards their parents. He referenced Isaiah, claiming that they do not live out the heart of the Law, just as the Jews did not in Isaiah’s time. He quoted him, saying:

“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”

It is good to faithfully carry out the practices of the Church but if it goes to the level of judging others, then all that effort will be for nothing.

 

Then St. Matthew quoted Him with this famous saying. It is:

“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

When people only worry about the surface of the Law, they start judging and gossiping about others. Jesus warns about falling into such a trap because if we do we separate ourselves from our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom. People in our society are always giving their opinions, often different from our own. Always measure such opinions against what the Church teaches. Such debates will count for nothing when our time comes to pass from this life.

Monday July 20th Feast of St. Elias or Elijah

Monday July 20, 2020

The Prophet Elijah or Elias

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today we celebrate the great prophet Elijah or Elias. I have included all the readings of the day. The first six are dedicated to the prophet and the last two towards Monday of the 6th Week after Pentecost. I recommend that you read them all but it would be too much to comment on all of them here.

In the Epistle from St. Paul to the Corinthians, the community is tackled for some of their scandals. In this passage, some have been taking their disagreements to the civil authorities. When any Church community gets to such a point, something is very wrong. Paul tells them so. Even today, this occasionally happens. It can have a lot of bad results. It is important to pray for the stability and well being of the parish community. If it stays focused on the Kingdom of God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide it under the direction of the hierarch, it will gradually develop according to God’s plan. Our own parish community is known to be a welcoming, loving community. It requires our effort but such gifts ultimately come from the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus is confronted by the skepticism of the local community in which He grew up. They saw themselves as better than Him because they knew Him as a boy. Despite His wise teaching, they brushed Him aside. Jesus comments:

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

 In St. Luke’s Gospel that is listed for today, we see another account of the same skepticism and rejection. This time, Jesus quotes the prophet Elijah:

“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

There are many seemingly innocent ways or attitudes that can hinder our faith. Many people today throw up many reasons for why they refuse to believe in Christ or His Body the Church. It may be socially acceptable in the context of freedom of speech that our constitution embraces but it is very easy to become confused by the many voices and opinions that are offered to us. It is very important to use the teachings of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Way as a standard by which other opinions are given. Why? Because at the end of our lives, all we will have are our souls. If we are not focused on the Kingdom of God, we can be easily led astray by Satan when our souls separate from our bodies. More than that, Jesus urged everyone to store up treasures in heaven, not while on this fallen earth. This is why the Orthodox Church teaches about the Orthodox Way.

The Living Faith or Tradition of the Church offers many tools for us to do so. The three fundamental tenants are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. There are many ways to pray: personal prayer, the daily prayers that the Church uses at various hours, Liturgical prayer, devotions to the Saints, Icons, the Jesus Prayer, reflection on the beauty of Creation and more. Fasting helps us to keep focused on the Kingdom and not be beguiled by the attractions of the fallen world. Almsgiving is very important in storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. We cannot take our money with us but we can use it to please our Heavenly Father.

 

Sunday July 19th. The 6th. Sunday after Pentecost & of the Fathers of the First 6 Ecumenical Councils

6th Sunday after Pentecost/Tone 5
Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils

Epistle: Romans 12:6-14              Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

Sunday, July 19th 2020

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils. Please click onto or copy and paste the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/07/19/50-fathers-of-the-first-six-councils. It gives an excellent description of what we celebrate today, why these councils were pivotal in defining what we believe as Orthodox Christians and how, through the councils, it has kept faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. We believe that the Holy Spirit will guide the Orthodox Church to define its doctrines through the structure of the Councils. The article, found on the website at: https://www.oca.org/, details the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church that is part of its Living Faith or Tradition as a whole.

Moving on to today’s readings, if you click onto or copy and paste this link: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/07/19, you will see that there are several readings listed that are covered by the various services that the Church offers for today’s feast. Some are for Great Vespers, others for an All Night Vigil and the last for Sunday’s Divine Liturgy. There is also provision to use the readings for Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils. I will focus on the Gospel and Epistle for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.

Today’s passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew is a story that succinctly sums up the confrontation between the Jewish leaders, in this case the Scribes, and Jesus. He was approached by a man who was paralyzed. Jesus realized that he was not only gripped by a physical disability but also by sins. Jesus offered him forgiveness. This is the first step for the paralyzed man to receive the life of the Kingdom of God. The Scribes then murmured that He was blaspheming. Jesus knew what they were accusing Him of blasphemy so, He confronted their thoughts. He put the obvious question: “which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” He then told the man to pick up his pallet and walk! They did not have to answer the question because the astonished crowd stepped in and “marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” The Scribes did not want to focus on the life of the Kingdom of God but only on the Law. They did not want to recognize what the crowd said, that God “had given such power to men” and that the divine had touched mankind. They refused to accept the extraordinary works that Jesus was doing. They refused to believe in the Son of God.

People today can throw up all sorts of excuses for why such stories are not relevant to them or that they are simply fables. When Matthew wrote his Gospel with all these stories, the works of Jesus were fresh in their minds. They had either witnessed them themselves or would have known a relative or neighbor who had witnessed them. They were not fables to them! They knew that they were faced with the same choice, either believe in the works of Jesus and embrace the Kingdom of God from which they came or, reject them. The Jews during Matthew’s time who refused to believe these stories also refused to believe in Christ. It is also easy for our current generation to use the excuse of time to say they are not relevant and reject them.

In today’s passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, he lays the foundation for what enables a Christian community to be truly members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Each person is unique in eyes of God. Each has unique talents or gifts to offer to the community. Paul urges each to use them lovingly for the benefit of the community. When they put love first, wanting to give to others rather than take, they build up the Body of Christ. In doing so, they will “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” He urges them to do good diligently with fervor of spirit in order to serve the Lord. He also urges them to be persistent by “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;” Finally, to always bless those who persecute them and never to curse back. This is how the Body of Christ is built up.

His teaching is still pertinent for us today. Despite the restrictions being caused by the virus, we still need to strive to build up our own Christian Community, using what he says to enable the community to build up in strength. As with that early community in Rome, the Holy Spirit will guide us while God’s plan will unfold. Stay focused on the Kingdom of God, asking that our Heavenly Father will protect it, ourselves and all those whom we pray for.

Friday, July 17th. 2020

Friday July 17, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:5-8           Gospel: Matthew 13:44-54

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew relays a number of other parables that Jesus taught the people with. They are images from everyday life that Jesus uses to illustrate about the importance of staying focused on the Kingdom of God. The need for this focus is so important that nothing else matters! Our earthly lives will pass quickly enough when the soul separates from the body at our death. At that point, we will have to account for the good we have done in our lives according to the teachings of Jesus and our commitment to Christ.

Thus, Jesus warns those listening that “at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

It is very important, therefore, that we choose the life of the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of death. The ways of the fallen world may seem like that it is the way to ‘live life.’ All it can offer, however, is death. Its ways may feel good at the time but they lead to death.

I have said this many times in the sermons that I have been writing since the time of the pandemic. In the stress and uncertainty of the isolation it is very easy to go astray. I have talked about the proper response that the Church offers: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Also, about the need to stay within Christ’s body, the Church, and what it teaches.

In contrast, while I can understand the younger generations frustration at being cooped up at home but look at what hundreds of thousands are now doing! They ignore the cautions of the authorities and choose to go ‘partying’ at beaches with all its associated alcoholic and drug addictiveness, not to mention the debauchery that many would indulge in. It sounds eerily similar to the debauchery that the early Christians faced in the pagan Roman Empire. It may look like a cool way to have fun in the sun during this season but it is this very type of behavior that brings death and destruction. The short term consequences have become obvious. The Coronavirus has exploded as a result, threatening whole segments of society, especially in Florida. Sadly, some of the state authorities have encouraged such behavior, alarmed that their tourist dollar income will evaporate if they do not allow such parties. Is this what Christ taught?  

I have also mentioned before that the laws of nature must be respected. This is why the Orthodox Church has responded so cautiously to the dangers of this virus. Those who do not respect the laws of nature are acting out of arrogance and pride. As part of teaching the young about the Kingdom of God, we need to warn them not to fall into such pride. Medical science is there to protect us and should be respected. Science itself is subject to what the Church teaches but because of the Church’s experience and wisdom, it knows that we must lean on science at times to protect ourselves.

In today’s First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul also warned that community not to indulge in the sin of pride. Paul wrote that he deliberately wrote while he was away from them so that “that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.” They had become very boastful causing factions to develop. Paul could see the foolishness of their pride and in the last sentence of this passage, he mocks it: “You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us.” Such pride is the very opposite of the humility of Christ who suffered for them on the cross. Let us pray for humility!

Thursday, July 16th 2020

Thursday July 16, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 3:18-23       Gospel: Matthew 13:36-43

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul is warning the community in Corinth that if they want to boast about themselves, then they are part of the fallen world and not the Kingdom of God. Paul says: “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” There was a strong message from the prophets of the Old Testament that God’s ways are not man’s ways. Paul will say a lot about this as the letter progresses. In this passage, he ridicules those who want to boast about a particular leader and warns them that this is not the way God thinks. Thus, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” He is, of course, writing about the wise in the ways of the fallen world. The cause for their straying from God’s ways was their pride. They wanted to be seen as being better than their fellow members. The anecdote to pride is humility. It is something we need to pray for constantly to avoid getting into such a trap.

There is a strong urge in this country to want to compete. When one does, it can bring out the best of our talents. It is also enjoyable and entertaining to watch a competition. Further, watching them can be a harmless way of relaxing after working hard during the week. Even St. Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete who trains to compete for a sport event to describe how we need to train in order to gain heavenly talents. We must realize, however, that such things are passing. Even if they go into the record books, they are not eternalized as sports commentators may claim. Our bodies grow old soon enough and one day they will die and separate from our souls. Jesus warns that we can exchange nothing for our souls. The point is that we have to be careful to not turn such entertainment into an absolute. Some people live for such competitions and nothing else. People often take sports so seriously because they gamble their hard earned money on it! The beauty of the sport is forgotten when people do that.

 

When we pray, we need to bring the good as well as the bad to Christ, offering it all back to Him. This is the way we can maintain a balance with such activities. It is when we forget Christ in the process and focus on such entertainment only that we fall into the world of pride that Paul talks about in today’s passage. Thus, our involvement in recreational activities requires a certain detachment from them whereby we leave them behind once we offer them back to Christ. They will not matter in the Kingdom of God and we need to keep telling ourselves this. Much more important will be the humility that Christ has given us because we have prayed for it.

For today’s Gospel passage, please scroll down to my message from July 14th. It was covered on that day.

Please Pray for 2 Families at this time
Loss of Loved Ones

I regret to relay that two of our well known families have suffered losses this week.

The first was Jane Gusciora, who was 92 and the mother of Sharon Korbanics. She died peacfully but please keep her in your prayers. Jane was buried at St. John Kanty this morening.

The second was the daughter of Anthony and Joan Ersalesi, who unexpectedly passed away from cancer treatment. She was 44. This is a great loss for them and their families. Please keep them in your prayers.

Please go to: https://www.shookfh.com/obituary to see further details.

Wednesday, July 15th. 2020

Wednesday July 15, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:8        Gospel: Matthew 13:31-36

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we are given two more parables. They are once again taken from nature: the mustard seed and yeast. Sometimes, it is good to simply read such parables and dwell on them, not looking to see if St. Matthew gives an interpretation for the early Church community to which he wrote.

One thing that is clear from them is that they are about an increase of going from small to large. They are also connected to harvesting, as are others of Jesus’ parables. Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like” so, what does such increase have to do with the Kingdom? If one looks at many of the stories in the Old Testament, there are often references made to multiply to be as many as the stars in the sky or sand on the sea shore are. So, it is clear then that our Heavenly Father wants to see His creation multiply in His Kingdom. Not only inanimate nature but especially for us. He wants us to belong to His Kingdom. In all the examples in the scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament, the requirement for such an increase is faith. Specifically, the Gospels say to have faith in Christ. Jesus Himself says that if we but “have the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains.”

St. Matthew was encouraging his people to seek to have such faith. The example for everyone is the faith of Abraham. who was prepared to sacrifice his only son because God asked him to. When he demonstrated that kind of faith, God promised him that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the sea shore. Matthew’s people were under persecution and living in a dangerous time. The way through their uncertainty was through faith in Christ.

We too, must seek and have this kind of faith. We too, live in dangerous times. The only way beyond our uncertain times is through faith in Christ. When we have such faith, our prayers and efforts multiply. We therefore need to seek and pray for such faith each day, asking to be delivered from evil, as the ‘Our Father’ says. Let us pray, therefore, to have the kind of faith that is like a mustard seed.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it does not take long to realize that the atmosphere into which he writes is very different from that of the Roman Christian community. The Corinthian community was full of strife. It is also clear that Paul feels the need to write to them to correct them from their wayward behavior. They definitely do not have the kind of faith that Jesus teaches about in today’s passage from St. Matthew.

Paul does outlay in the first part of today’s letter that, for those who do have faith in the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will reveal the hidden things of the mysteries of the Kingdom, something that no person had ever been able to see. The pagan person does not see these mysteries because such teachings look foolish. In Athens, Paul started to preach about the crucified Christ rising from the dead and they laughed at him in response. They were blind to the ways of the Kingdom of God. Let us pray that we have the type of faith that will open to us the mysteries of the Kingdom of God and not seek the endeavors of the fallen world.

In the second part of the passage, he starts to remonstrate with them that he has not spoken directly of such mystical things because, like babies, they were not ready to receive solid food. He had to give them basic instruction first. Even then, they were not listening because, within their community, they were only focusing on political power. Thus, factions developed, where each one was vying to prevail over the other. This was the opposite from what Paul taught about the Crucified Christ. They could not let go of their old pagan ways.

It is very easy for any community to fall into the trap of becoming fractured. The state of our fallen nature wants us to control, imposing our will over those who differ from us. Such a community will not draw souls from outside to it because such prospects realize they are entering into strife instead of a place that will nourish their souls. The anecdote to this is humility. We need to pray for this gift each day. For us, the reality of the pandemic prevents us from socializing with each other except from a distance. It probably reminds us that our parish community is a treasured gift but it is still important to pray that humility will prevail among us.

Tuesday July 14th. 2020

Tuesday July 14, 2020

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9           Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Matthew, in today’s passage, relays another parable that Jesus told. It is a second story about sowing wheat. This one is about seeds of weed that have been secretly thrown in among the wheat by an enemy. His servants noticed them once they started to sprout up.

Three important lessons come out of this parable. Firstly, Jesus is talking about Satan who deceived Adam and Eve. Ever since then, he has been beguiling people to choose evil instead of the goodness and life of the Kingdom of God. It is important for us to realize that Satan is still doing this.

Secondly, God allows those who choose Satan to grow with those who choose the Kingdom of God. Everyone is blessed by God’s life on this earth, even though it and we have fallen.

When our souls separate from our bodies, then we will await the reckoning. If we have chosen the Kingdom of God, we will be among the wheat. If we choose the kingdom of death, then our souls will be among the weeds and will burn. It is very easy to forget this so, as Jesus says elsewhere, we must remain alert, be on our guard to not drift away from the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to guide us on the right path. Christ is always there for us when we fall. He will never refuse us.

Thirdly, the parable is a reminder that what appears to be eternal on this earth is only temporary. It is the Kingdom of God that is eternal. If we choose to cling onto earthly things, we will forget about the Kingdom of God. God has blessed us with these earthly things but they are nothing if they do not help our souls focus on His Kingdom. We need to remind ourselves of this all the time. As St. Paul says, such people choose to worship what is created, not the One who created them. Also, when sufferings and setbacks occur, remember that they are temporary. When such things occur because of our belief in Christ, rejoice and be glad because our reward will be great in the Kingdom of God.

The Epistle passage today is the beginning and introduction to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In this segment, Paul lays out Christ’s relationship with the Father in heaven.

Monday July 13th, 2020

Monday July 13, 2020

Gospel: Matthew 13:10-23             Epistle: Romans 16:17-24

Archpriest Terence Baz

In the message I wrote on Friday, I talked about St. Matthew’s account of the parable of the sewer and the seed that produced many times over. In today’s passage, Matthew relays a discussion from the disciples where they ask Jesus why He uses parables. I had mentioned in the Friday message that the Church teaches that there are two books of God’s revelation: the book of the scriptures and the book of nature.

The first part of Jesus’ answer is that what God reveals is there for us to see in nature. He uses parables to bring out this revelation. Think about, therefore, the number of times He refers to the earth, to plants and trees and to animals. Through them, we can understand the ways of God but we have to have a pure heart to do so. A central part of Jesus’ teaching is to illustrate through parables and stories what the Kingdom of God is showing us.

The second part of His answer discusses our blindness because of sin. We find it very hard to see such teachings because of our sinfulness. In pointing this out, He quotes Isaiah:

“In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” (Isaiah: 6:9)

Our fallen state is dull to such teachings. It is not that God is deliberately causing people to be blind. They are already blind because of the sin of Adam and Eve. The only way for people to see God’s revelation is through believing in what Jesus was teaching them.

It is because His disciples believed in Him that Jesus said:

“Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” and “blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”

Matthew then goes on to explain to his community the interpretation for the Church about what happens to those who do not hear the Word of God. In contrast, those who do hear and believe will yield 30, 60 and even 100 fold. He is urging his people to remain steadfast in adhering to Christ’s teachings because ultimately, they will bear fruit.

I have said a number of times during this time of the pandemic that we must respect the laws of nature in dealing with the virus’ dangers. The Church has had much experience in dealing with such plagues over the centuries. This is why our archdiocese has been so cautious about taking measures to protect ourselves. This is not a time for us to complain about what state authorities may or may not be doing about it. It is a time for us to offer it up to our Heavenly Father. Jesus used nature a lot in revealing “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” as He describes it. Let us pray that His Holy Spirit will reveal to us what our Heavenly Father is teaching us through this plague.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul cautions about listening to those who wish to contradict the “doctrine which you learned.” In this country, freedom of speech is a tenant of the constitution. That maybe so but we will only find the teachings of the mysteries of our Father’s Kingdom through the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Be careful to no allow the academic sciences to encroach on them. They have their place but only in so far as they do not contradict the Church’s teachings. The Orthodox Church will not bend on this. It does not judge but it does stand firm with its teachings. Always measure the opinions of others, even other Christians, by what the Orthodox Church teaches on a particular matter. For those who disagree, always pray for them that the Holy Spirit will open their dulled hearts to the ways of the Kingdom of God.

The 5th Sunday after Pentecost. July 12th. 2020

5th Sunday after Pentecost/Tone 4
Martyrs Proclus and Hilary of Ancyra

Sunday, July 12th 2020

Epistle: Romans 10:1-10               Gospel: Matthew 8:28-9:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

There is a sentence in today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that Protestants often quote:

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

If you have been reading my recent daily sermons about the Letter to the Romans, you will have seen that I wrote about the importance of the context in which Paul was writing. This is necessary to be able to know how to correctly interpret such passages. Those people had made a very clear choice to become disciples of Christ in a hostile pagan world, right at the center of the Roman empire. Their acknowledgment of Christ had profound, socially threatening implications: they could be sent to the lions. Thus, their acknowledgment of the Risen Christ was much more than an intellectual opinion like stating that the earth was a sphere rather than flat.

Earlier in the letter Paul wrote about his fellow Jews. He wrote that, although they were the chosen people, they refused to believe in the works that their Heavenly Father had done through His Son, Jesus. They thought they were superior to Him. Paul wrote that, in clinging onto their arrogance, they forfeited the righteousness that was being offered by Jesus. They preferred to cling onto the Mosaic Law! Paul also wrote that, in order to gain this righteousness, they must have faith on a level that their Father, Abraham, had. God had asked him to sacrifice his own son. The Christian community in Rome had made a similar choice. In faith, they were prepared to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Paul said that those Jews who refused to believe in the Risen Christ did not have the faith of their Father, Abraham.

Returning to the Protestants, to be sure, there are many who are dedicated and sincere in their faith in Christ. There are many, however, for whom this belief is merely intellectual. They will quote what Paul says above as part of their credo and then go about living lives that ignore the teachings of Jesus. As Orthodox Christians, we too can fall into the same trap.

Certainly, in comparison with the time of the Old Testament, Jesus’ entrance into history and sacrifice on the cross has made that acknowledgement of faith easy for us to attain, especially those of us who were baptized as infants. The one thing Jesus asked when people came to Him to ask something of Him was: “Do you believe?” He asked very little else besides, except to sin no more.

Do we acknowledge our faith with our whole heart, soul and mind? Are we prepared to sacrifice our lives like the Roman community was, in the face of persecution? Are we prepared to make choices that adhere to Christ’s teachings instead of what society may urge us to? Do we dedicate what we do to the Kingdom of God at every opportunity we are able? For the Roman community, what Paul wrote above was profoundly deeper than merely a saying. Let the Roman community’s faith be an inspiration for our own faith. They are among the saints and we are part of that Communion. Allow the example of the Saints from all the previous centuries to inspire us. We are part of that family.

In today’s Gospel passage, we again see the familiar story of Jesus casting out demons from the man in the Gergesenes. Notice that when the people from the township come to Him afterwards they ask Him to leave. He does not argue with them but leaves. Jesus came to confront the powers of darkness and this is a dramatic example of it. In His teaching in the synagogues, He does tell people to repent but He only offers the life of the Kingdom of God when asked. The Orthodox Church does the same. As the Body of Christ that has been faithful to the teachings of Christ and His apostles, it offers itself to anyone who seeks to find the Kingdom of God. If people say ‘no thanks’, the Church does not condemn but like Christ, embraces them if they have a change of heart. They must, of course, return under the Church’s terms, not their own. Always have this same disposition. Never condemn or judge. Always offer and invite. Always pray and intercede for all, offering it all back to Christ for the sake of His Kingdom.

Friday July 10th 2020

Friday July 10, 2020

Epistle: Romans 16:1-16   Gospel: Matthew 13:4-9

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle passage, St. Paul addresses a number of people closely connected to him and the community of Rome. Much of what I write is taken from the footnotes in the Orthodox Study Bible on page 1548. Make sure you click on the link and read the Epistle passage listed above first to make sense of the following notes.

Phoebe was a leading Christian woman who was both a deaconess and involved in missionary work. St. John Chrysostom notes that Paul held her in the highest esteem, as he named her first. He recognized her as being a saint.

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple, Jewish business people, and Paul’s coworkers (see Acts 18:18 & 26).

The word ‘prisoners’ is being used in a more general sense of his fellow sufferers. The Acts of the Apostles does relay that he was thrown in prison more than once. He had not been put into prison in Rome at this point, however.

The Gospel passage from St. Matthew is the story of the sewer sowing wheat and the varying results. Other accounts give an interpretation of what it meant for the communities to whom they wrote.

The parable itself is clear enough. Some of the seeds fell on the wayside, some on stony places and others among thorns. These did not bear fruit. The rest fell into good soil. It is those who produced thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold.

 

In other words, listen to what the God reveals and teaches. To interpret what is revealed correctly, listen to what the Church teaches, otherwise, in our fallen state, we could easily miss the mark in understanding it. Remember that there are two books of God’s revelation: the Book of Nature and the Book of the Scriptures. Notice that Jesus uses the Book of Nature to teach this parable. People forget this. Imbibing nature and reading the scriptures are both very important practices that we should do.

Thus, for us, it is important to not only read the scripture readings set down by the Orthodox Church each day but also, when possible, to go out and take a walk to enjoy the beauty of nature. Even sitting in the backyard or doing some gardening are healthy practices. Always dedicate both the reading of scripture and the enjoyment of the outdoors to Christ, asking that the Holy Spirit would inspire you as you undergo these practices.

Please note that on the previous two days, I spent a lot of time trying to improve the live streaming that we have been doing for our Sunday Divine Liturgy. This is why I did not write about the readings for that day.

Tuesday, July 7th. 2020

Tuesday July 7, 2020

Epistle: Romans 14:9-18               Gospel: Matthew 12:14-16, 22-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, St. Matthew describes a major showdown that Jesus had with his enemies. In the first part it was against the powers of darkness controlling a man who was blind and mute. Then in the second, the Pharisees are once again trying to intimidate Jesus by claiming it was through Beelzebub that He was able to do this. Jesus retorts, how can a house divided among itself stand? “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” Then He warns His enemies, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” This was almost certainly a reference by Matthew to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Thus, Matthew is teaching his people that, despite them being persecuted by both the Jews and the Romans, adhering to the teachings of Jesus and in their own time, choosing Him as the Risen Christ, will protect them from the destruction of this fallen world. Those who refuse to will be scattered and this was poignantly borne out with the destruction of Jerusalem. For us in today’s world, no matter how dazzling our modern secular culture may seem, its outcome will be the same. In the end, all it can offer is death. On the other hand, if we continue to choose the Risen Christ, we will have the power of the Kingdom of God to protect our souls. This is what people need to realize. This is what we need to teach people, just as St. Matthew did.

In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul discusses the issue of fasting. If used in the right way, fasting is a good practice for the body and soul. The Orthodox Church encourages us to practice fasting at certain times of the year as part of our way of life. The trouble is, it is very easy to be tempted to compare what we do to what others do. When we do this, we start to judge one another. St. Paul warns against this. He goes even to the point of saying that it is better not to fast than to scandalize our brethren. If we cannot fast in a spirit of love, then don’t fast. If our fasting creates a grievance, then don’t fast. Another person’s soul is more important than the practice of fasting. Fasting is meant to help us reach the Kingdom of God, nothing more. Further, we should never judge others:

“let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

This is why, during the season of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, the practice of fasting goes hand in hand with our prayer to not judge our brethren. The Orthodox Church is emphatic about not judging others. In like manner, St. Paul says in this passage:

“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

Paul concludes:

“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

Let us pray, fast and give alms as much as we can in this time of the pandemic and social unrest. Never judge others, either among ourselves, our families or society as a whole. Let us use these practices as a way to reach out to the Kingdom of God so that they will be like incense offered up to the Lord, who hears our prayers. Just as when Jesus cured the possessed man who was blind and mute, the power of God will shatter His enemies in His own way.

Monday, July 6th 2020

Monday July 6, 2020

Epistle: Romans 12:4-5, 15-21      Gospel: Matthew 12:9-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he urges the community to repay evil with good. The early converts to Christ were a small vulnerable counter-culture community who lived in a perilous, violent world. Besides refusing to worship the pagan gods, the Christians were known to greatly love one another. It was this love that drew strangers to it. Paul tells this community to never repay evil with evil and to overcome evil with good. Despite the pagan world, he told them to live as peaceably as possible with others.

This advice very much applies to us today. Social media encourages people to write vile things about others who differ from them. We see on TV acts of violence being committed against the vulnerable people all the time. Technology simply makes it worse, whether it be in the types of guns used, disguises invented to remain hidden from violent acts or using the media to slander others, one has to be on one’s guard not to fall into a trap. If we do get hurt by others, we must do as St. Paul says by trying to live at peace with others and repaying evil with good. Technology can also be of great benefit but ultimately, it needs to embrace the love of Christ to be truly beneficial.

Social media also makes it very easy to sound off our opinion about political or social matters. As disciples of Christ, we are not called to be political commentators. We are called as Orthodox Christians to pray, fast and give alms. We are called to try to bring the Kingdom of God to others, to intercede for others, to give painful news and incidents we hear about to Christ so that our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom will come! So, be careful about falling into the trap of worldly arguments and philosophies. St. Paul wrote a lot about this to the Corinthian community. He was emphatic that we only preach Christ crucified. We never hear of the Christian community in Rome getting embroiled in state affairs.

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we read the story of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath Day. After pointing out how those questioning Him break the Law on the Sabbath by performing some everyday necessities, Jesus stands up against their murmurings by saying: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” All Jesus was doing was bringing good into the fallen world. The man had been afflicted by the fallen world from birth with a withered hand. Jesus healed it. Those in the temple were not interested in changing the fallen world. They were only interested in publicly keeping the Law! In private, they broke it anyway. They were not interested in trying to bring the Kingdom of God into the world in which they lived.

We must keep in mind that, as disciples of Christ, we too have the same task! Whatever situation we find comes upon us, we must do what we can to embrace the Kingdom of God first and foremost and enable others to see that, in the end, this is all that will matter. We may not be able to do what Jesus did but we can pray and fast on behalf of others, we can give alms to help the hungry, the unemployed, the hungry and the homeless. This must be the standard by which we gauge ourselves. We are not perfect in doing this but we can strive to. We strive because we love Christ and His Kingdom and because of this we love everyone, whether they be good or evil.

Referring back to today’s Epistle, this is what the early Christians in Rome did. St. Paul wrote to them:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Sunday July 5th. The 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 5th 2020

The 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: Romans 6:18-23               Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew gives us this story of a centurion who shows the type of faith that our Father expects from us. Matthew does not say if he was a Jew or not but I would be very surprised if he was. The Jews were very wary of the Roman soldiers and St. Matthew himself, a Jewish tax collector on behalf of the Romans, was resented by the Jewish people. Jesus makes it clear, however, that after hearing the centurion explain the comparison about the faith and obedience to orders that his own soldiers gave to him, this man had faith in Him. The centurion had no prejudice against Jesus about His abilities to do such works. He did not regard Jesus as inferior to him because He was not a soldier. He simply looked at the works that Jesus was doing and asked if He would do something for his servant.

“Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.”

In contrast, the Jewish authorities were too arrogant to think like this because they regarded themselves as superior to Him. They refused to believe Him.

Thus, Jesus connects the sort of faith that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had with this demonstration of faith from the centurion. He also warns those watching that even the chosen people will be cast out if they refuse to demonstrate the type of faith that the centurion showed:

“The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Today, we have been blessed to live in a society that allows freedom of worship and is largely Christian. Many however, in the name of freedom, choose to ignore the teachings of Christ and the Church we grew up with. Many also belittle or deny the stories and teachings from the New Testament written about Jesus. Just as the Pharisees, because they regarded themselves as superior to Jesus, refused to believe what He demonstrated and taught, many also today, in the name of secularism or other philosophies, refuse to believe. All Jesus asked was for people to believe Him. His Body, the Church simply asks for the same. This is the choice we are faced with. We cannot ignore it or walk away from it. We will be confronted with it down the road somewhere, even if it is at the Judgment Seat of God. We either choose Christ and the life of the Kingdom of God or, we choose the fallen world and the kingdom of death. Technological development does not enable us to escape from it.

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, talks about this choice but in a different context. He writes:

“For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”

The ‘uncleanness’ is the loose living or licentiousness of the Roman pagans. Those who chose Christ, died to that type of living. Paul warns them that the fruit of such living is death. Now, however, “you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”

One cannot argue that teachings such as this were okay 2000 years ago but not relevant for today. Christ has said that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” This is something beyond space and time. It is not something that is subject to a mere 2000 years of development, a speck on the geological time scale. The Kingdom of God is completely beyond the physical realm, even though God created it. That Life which created it is the same Life we are given when we embrace Christ and His Kingdom.

Friday, July 3rd. 2020

Friday July 3, 2020

Epistle: Romans 11:25-36             Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s letter to the Romans, St. Paul described how the plan of God’s salvation unfolded. Because the Jewish people rejected Jesus’ teachings and miracles, they were blinded and rejected by God. Because God promised, however, that He will ultimately save His chosen people, this rejection is not in vain. In this rejection, God opened up the door to the Gentiles, through the sacrifice of His only Son that happened because of their rejection, God’s mercy has been given to all peoples. The sacrifices that the Jewish people offered were never adequate. Only the sacrifice of His only Son would make up for the deficiency of the Jewish sacrifices. St. Paul concludes:

“God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

Further, in seeing the mercy offered to the Gentiles by God, the Jews could realize that they too, who had rejected His Son, could also obtain mercy despite their rejection when Jesus was with them. Sadly, many Jews would also reject this insight and continue to reject Christ.

Even so, our Heavenly Father’s plan will ultimately unfold in a way that only He knows and the Jews will be brought into the fold of His Kingdom:

“Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew describes how Jesus had an argument with the Pharisees because He and his disciples were picking corn from a field on a Sabbath Day. In response to their complaint, Jesus gives some examples of their double standards when it comes to applying the Law. They regarded Jesus as inferior to them. It did not matter to them that He was performing astounding miracles in front of them. All they worried about was the Law, despite the inconsistencies in their application of it that Jesus pointed out. He also made the point that, in fact, because of the demonstration of His miracles, He was the very one who gave them the Law! Pointing out this truth would have made them even more insecure and resentful. They did not want the Truth. They wanted to maintain the power that the Law gave them.

Then Jesus quotes a teaching from that was used by the prophets all through the Old Testament:

But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

The Pharisees claimed they were justified because they kept the Law but throughout the Old Testament as well as with Jesus, the message of mercy was given to them time and again. They rejected this message.

We can also see in today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that he understood very clearly what Jesus was saying in regard to mercy. Paul was a ‘blind’ Pharisee but Christ in His mercy showed him what was needed to gain true righteousness.

We need to keep this in mind when we see troubles throughout the world and in the country. This is why the Orthodox Church does not judge. It is why the word ‘mercy’ is used so often in our worship. We pray for others so that they may acquire God’s mercy in order to save their souls. Society may judge but the Church leaves that up to the judgment seat of God. Being judgmental is the easy way out. It is easy to condemn so that we can move on and forget about what happened. It is much more painful and difficult to intercede on behalf of offenders, as well as the victims. When we do, we enter into their pain and their blindness, praying that the Light of Christ will reach their hearts.

The Sunday for Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry will be celebrated in all the Orthodox Churches at the end of this month on Sunday, July 26th. This ministry is very effective in this country because the Orthodox Chaplains have touched the lives of thousands of prisoners. Its desire to heal souls and not to condemn them is the reason for this ministry's effectiveness. The offering of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ goes to the heart of Orthodoxy. Not condemnation.

I have often said during this difficult time of the pandemic and social unrest that the most effective way we can respond is to live out the Orthodox Way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One very good way to give alms is to support the Orthodox Prison Ministry. I will give details of how to when that Sunday comes up in a few weeks.

Thursday, July 2nd 2020

Thursday July 2, 2020

Epistle: Romans 11:13-24             Gospel: Matthew 11:27-30

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s Gospel passage is very apt during this time of stress and hardship. Firstly, the only way for true life is through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The sciences can describe and analyze but they cannot offer rest for our souls. They cannot give us true life. That can only come through faith in Christ.  There is a place for the sciences, where people can be helped with medicines and psychology but they must be carefully and prayerfully administered. They are never enough on their own.

For those who do believe in Him, however, He made it disarmingly easy for us to be given that life:

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This time of self quarantine and isolation is an opportunity to pray to our Heavenly Father in the quiet of our rooms, to commune with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. For those of us who have to stay home, it is one of the best ways to store up treasures in heaven. We also have an opportunity to pray and intercede for all those we care about. This will give us true wisdom and true life. Treasure greatly what the Holy Spirit offers us.

Sadly, the secular world today will try to offer non-Christian answers, luring people away from Christ. It will claim that sayings like the one above are for a less enlightened time and place. It claims that the numerous sciences only will give society the right answers. This is a very dangerous lure for the younger generations because, in the end, the only thing that the secular world can offer is death. In their quest, their souls will search around endlessly looking for the home it needs but never find it.

So, pray for your children and grandchildren. Do not be afraid to tell them about Christ and His Body, the Church. They may get annoyed but as the years go on, they will see the wisdom of your advice.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul continues his discussion about the Gentiles. He describes them as  the newly grafted branches from those that were broken off. He warns them, however, not to take it for granted because if our Heavenly Father is capable of casting aside the chosen people who rejected His Son, He is also capable of casting aside the Gentiles who are the newly grafted branches. In other words, for those who are attracted to the Word of God but lose interest after a while, like the seed that falls on barren ground, thus ignoring their invitation to be members of the Kingdom of God, they too, will be rejected at the Judgment seat of God.

Keep reaching out for the Kingdom of life, pray to be protected from the lure of the kingdom of death. The forces of the fallen world are always lurking about. Keep reading the scriptures and the psalms so that our hearts will yearn for the Lord and not for things that will bring death.

Wednesday, July 1st 2020

Wednesday July 1, 2020

Epistle: Romans 11:2-12   Gospel: Matthew 11:20-26

Archpriest Terence Baz

Both the Epistle and Gospel today discuss the issue of the Jews who arrogantly reject Jesus’ teachings and miracles. Not only did Jesus have to deal with this but so did the early Church. The reckoning of their arrogance will come at Judgment Day and it will come down very hard on them. Not only did the Jews in Jesus’ time know or hear about His miracles, the Jews in St. Paul’s time about 20 years later would have heard about the miracles performed, in Christ’s name by the apostles, as related in the Acts of the Apostles.

Arrogance is one of the great stumbling blocks to having the type of faith shown by Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his son by God. It was a big factor then and has always been right up until today. To those who want to argue about the existence of God, the Orthodox Church says that belief in Christ is in a completely different realm. The Trinity is beyond space and time and thus, not subject to the laws of nature. It was God Himself who created these laws and He is not subject to them. All we can do is accept the mighty works of God, the beauty of nature that He created and accept from the revelation of both the Book of Nature and the Book of the Scriptures that the Trinity created everything we see.

We have been blessed by science to look right into the sub-atomic level as well as out to the furthest realms and origins of the universe visible to us. Arrogance steps in when people conclude that, because we are able to view and analyze these things, it is us who control them, not their creator. Our lust for power always lurks in the background. Let us be humbly grateful for all the blessings our Heavenly Father has given us, including our ability to see His beauty in all the ways that we can observe today. Let us not arrogantly say that, because we have discovered or observed them, we control them. Remember the Tower of Babel? They arrogantly wanted to be equal with God by building a tower to the heavens. The Jews rejected Christ’s works and teachings because they said that He was merely one of them. Therefore, no matter how awesome those works were, they were still superior to Christ!

Jesus concludes at the end of the Gospel passage:

“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”

When we do humbly acknowledge Christ, however, we are brought into the invisible realm of the Kingdom of God. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to receive the blessings of that invisible realm. Not only does He protect and guide us. He also gives us the creative ability to use our talents to the fullest in a way that will glorify the Kingdom of God and not ourselves. If we want to be effective, the way to do it is to humbly submit and offer everything back to Christ so that it will be sanctified. Then it becomes acceptable offering of sacrifice to the one who created us.

The Feast of the Apostles. June 30th 2020

The Twelve Apostles

Tuesday June 30, 2020

Epistle: Romans 10:11-11:2          Gospel: Mark 3:13-19

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates the 12 Apostles. If you click onto the link to St. Mark above, you will see that he lists them in today’s passage. Note also that I have chosen the Gospel passage for the feast instead of the one for Tuesday of the 3rd Week. Yesterday, we celebrated the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. If you look at my message from yesterday, you can read what I wrote about them and the Orthodox Church. It is very fitting that the Church celebrates all of them today, the day after, because they all did great missionary work for the early Church.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Jesus called these twelve apostles. For a long period of time, He formed them and trained them to be true disciples. They rebelled a lot. Peter, being the most outspoken conflicted with Jesus a number of times. Tragically, Judas Iscariot would betray him and commit suicide. For the rest, they eventually received the Holy Spirit to continue proclaiming the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught them to. They continued this mission very powerfully. This is why we celebrate them. Each, in their own way, set up communities in many parts of the known world, even beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. It was their teaching and formation that became the foundation of the early Church. There was no Church without them.

The work of the Holy Spirit did not end there, however. As the Church grew, they had to make decisions to facilitate the growth. The model used to do this was the Church Council. The whole community would assemble in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide them to make the right decisions. This conciliar model has been handed down to the present day. It was not a democracy. Any decision needed to be blessed by the apostle (or bishop later on). Thus, even though the whole assembly was included, it was a hierarchical model rather than a democratic one. Further, the apostles would also appoint their own disciples to help them in their missionary work. They too would be formed and trained. After a couple of centuries, some of the clergy rejected the teachings of the early Church and a council had to be declared to eject these false teachers.

The Orthodox Church has been faithful to this model right through the centuries. The Vatican in Rome was to later on claim hegemony over this apostolic model but the Orthodox Churches have strongly rejected its attempt. Further, the Protestants also rejected Rome’s claim but many, in doing so, also rejected the apostolic conciliar model that was established from the very beginning. The Orthodox Church says that you must involve the whole community in any decisions but it must use the conciliar model set up in the beginning. It is a hierarchical model, not a democratic one, whereby one may vote to set up one’s own church on one’s own without a hierarchical blessing.

This is why today’s celebration of the apostles is so important. The Orthodox Church rejects the Protestant claim that the inspired Word of God stopped from the time of the New Testament letters. Rome had separated the scriptures from its tradition, claiming in the process that the Vatican Curia was the only body who could faithfully interpret and proclaim the scriptures.

The Orthodox Church never acknowledged such a separation because the inspiration of the Holy Spirit continues on in the life of the Church in all its dimensions! From the beginning, the disciples of the apostles wrote letters. Theologians such as Ploycarp and Irenaeus continued the practice of writing letters. The liturgical worship of the Church continued and was refined. Theologians such as Basil, John Chrysostom and Gregory wrote seminal works that formed the Church. Church art inspired the devoted and iconography continues to this day. The canons of the Church were seen as pastoral principles, not laws, to define what was true worship and teaching within the Church. The lives of the martyrs who shed their blood because of their commitment to Christ, inspired the saints then and continue to today. The liturgical calendar was established to keep the memories of holy people alive. The liturgical prayers are at the very center of our liturgical worship in which they teach and inspire us to faithfully follow Christ.

The Protestants also rejected the Vatican’s claim but in doing so, threw out ‘the baby with the bathwater’ because they inherited that separation of scripture and tradition. They saw the institution of the church as corrupt and therefore rejected it. The solution is to realize that the two aspects of the Church, Scripture and Tradition, are intimately connected in the way described above and are a continuum. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit continues today in the Body of Christ, the Church, founded by the apostles whom we celebrate today and will continue until the second coming of Christ at the Last Judgement.

Monday June 29, 2020 Apostles Peter & Paul and End of the Fast

Monday June 29, 2020

Apostles Peter & Paul and End of the Fast

Epistle: Romans 9:18-33               Gospel: Matthew 11:2-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

As we continue with St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he gives the same message as before, namely: that God planned to include the Gentiles with the Jews to be saved from death. This was a big question for the early Church. There was debate about whether allowing the Gentiles to become part of their communities was a good thing or not. Paul’s position was very clear and he states it in today’s passage.

For him, neither the Jews nor the Gentiles could find righteousness from the laws they had. Yes, even the Mosaic Law, because “Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.” Their righteousness and that of the Gentiles, depends on the mercy of the Lord and our faith in Him. He says: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” Thus, practicing the Mosaic Law was not enough. One had to have the faith of Abraham to be pleasing to the Lord. Everything from the past has changed, however. The sacrifice of Jesus has given us access to the type of faith that Abraham had, not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. Paul thus quotes a number of sayings from the Old Testament to show that God’s ultimate plan was for all peoples, not only the chosen ones. It is faith in the Risen Christ that enables us to attain righteousness, not the Law. Ultimately, Paul’s view would prevail.

Today, as we celebrate the two great apostles, Peter and Paul, the Orthodox Church chooses the passage from St. Matthew, Chapter 11, to continue the missionary theme discussed above.

The forerunner to Christ was John the Baptist. In today’s passage, John’s disciples approach Jesus to ask who He was. Jesus tells them to observe what is happening in His presence:

“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

John the Baptist would realize from this that the Kingdom of God was being proclaimed!

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles, spearheaded by Peter and Paul, would continue to proclaim and manifest the Kingdom of God. They also proclaimed the crucified and risen Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who guided them. Everywhere the apostles went, they established communities of those who, after their preaching, chose to follow Christ. St. Peter and Paul were the two greatest evangelists, although all of the apostles played their part. They both described these communities as the living Body of Christ. Their assemblies or ‘ecclesia’ were the early Church and they were led by the apostles.

In most Orthodox churches (note the small ‘c’), you would see as you enter one of them, icons of Saints Peter and Paul because they are recognized as the leaders of the Orthodox Church. Similarly, on top of the iconostasis, all twelve apostles are usually depicted in icons. Their leadership in the Church enabled us to seek and know Christ. They are very much part of our Living Tradition or the living faith of the Church. This Tradition is holy and the Greek equivalent of the Latin word ‘traditio’ is ‘paradisio.’ The apostles led the way for all who follow Christ to the Kingdom of God or, to paradise.

Note that the Orthodox Church does not separate scripture and tradition as the western Churches do. The scriptures are part of a continuum that is with us and continues to this day, together with all other aspects of the living faith of the Church. It is not something from the past. It is present with us and inspires us to proclaim the Kingdom of God as they did. Their example and teaching are the bedrock of our faith, together with the books of the Bible. We do not shirk from proclaiming the Truth that our Heavenly Father revealed through their lives to us by depicting them in icons!

In like manner, there is no such thing as ‘sola scripture’ in the Orthodox Church. God’s revelation and work did not end with the formation of the canonical books of the New Testament. It continues on in the Living Body of Christ, the Church, founded on the apostles. This is where the Kingdom of God continues, not simply in a written English translation of the Bible. This is why we have liturgical services throughout the year to celebrate all aspects of the Orthodox Church’s Living Tradition. They are a link for us to the heavenly bodies or Communion of Saints. When we celebrate with the Orthodox Church, we are part of that family. We are connected to paradise no less than the thief on the cross was when Jesus invited him.

This is why we celebrate these two great apostles today. We have much to be grateful for because of them. Let us be heartened by their example. Let us ask them to intercede for us and inspire us in our proclamation of the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom resides in our hearts and in Christ’s Body, the Church.

The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost June 28th 2020

3rd Sunday after Pentecost   Tone 2

Sunday, June 28th 2020

Epistle: Romans 5:1-10     Gospel: Matthew 6:22-33

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, to understand it, we must look at the community to which he was writing. Jews were converting to Christ in this community at the capitol of the mighty Roman Empire. Also, pagans were joining it. They met in secret and belonging to it would not have been easy. They would soon be targeted for persecution. Yet the love that these people had for each other was undeniable and it was getting attention. They had all also made a very firm choice to follow Christ and were eager to hear the Word of God, especially from apostles like Peter and Paul. St. Paul knew this when he wrote and met them. It is not surprising then, that he writes:

“we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

In previous chapters he talked about righteousness that Christ gave them in comparison to those who relied on law to seek to be justified. The latter could never live up to those laws because of the sin that lives in them. In contrast, those who take on Christ are given the gift of righteousness that the fallen world could never give them. It was the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promised, who gave them the tools to enable them to continue living in their pagan world. This is what they clung onto. This is what gave them confidence. This is what gave them the love, joy and peace that the world cannot give. This is what made them be noticed by the pagans.

Paul continues:

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

For modern day readers, however, it is easy to misinterpret this passage because its true context is often ignored. This was a community started by the apostles. They saw themselves as connected to the Communion of Saints because of their faith in Christ which was given to them by the apostles. This was the living Body of Christ, the ‘ecclesia’, the Church assembly. Yes, the Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit can speak directly to any person, whether it be through the written Word of God, the Book of Nature or through any person. As Jesus said “He blows where He wills.” However, for any such interpretation to be authentic, it must belong to and be blessed by Christ’s Body, the Church. Simply reading something from the Bible and then making claims about what it may personally mean is not enough. Christ not only sent the Holy Spirit to be with us on our journey, He also gave us the Church to give us the tools to nourish us as we live in the world each day. The Orthodox Church believes that it has faithfully followed the teachings of the apostles, right up to this day. It does not judge but it does proclaim what are the true teachings that the apostles gave us. We cannot choose to ignore them. If we do, we are off track.

Paul concludes this passage by reassuring them that whatever power sin had over them before, the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the righteousness that it offers us is immeasurably greater. By following Christ, we gain the life of the Kingdom of God. As mentioned, however, that this life can only be authentically gained through the Church.

In the beautiful Gospel passage from St. Matthew, he concludes about our daily needs:

For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

There is much that we could worry about in today’s world: the dangers of the pandemic, the social unrest, the well being of our families, children and grand children, not to mention our own health; many are currently without work, wondering if they can feed their families or keep their homes.

The community to which Matthew was writing had plenty of issues of its own: social upheavals, the threat of persecution from the Roman and Jewish authorities, isolation from some of their relatives. The ‘Pax Roma’ was anything but peaceful in that part of the world.

St. Matthew gives the profound teaching from Jesus to seek first the Kingdom of God and not to worry about our material needs. Jesus gives examples from the Book of Nature: the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields to compare our importance for our Heavenly Father. He says earlier in the passage:

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Yes, we must work. We must care for our families. We must put a roof over our heads. If, in doing so however, we forget the Kingdom of God, all our efforts will be for nothing in the end. We will have lost everything because our souls will have been lost. Further, in not seeking the Kingdom of God, greed and other passions will take over because of sin which lives in us.

In the Orthodox Church, we not only talk about Christ’s teachings, we also talk about the Orthodox Way. As the Body of Christ, it gives us tools to keep focused on our Father’s Kingdom. The practices of the Church are the Way of the Body of Christ. We should always keep in mind three central practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are currently in a period of fasting: the fast of St. Peter and Paul which will end on Monday. We should be fervently praying for the social unrest and pain in this country because of the Coronavirus. Finally, in this time of economic hardship we should endeavor to give what we can to food banks and reputable charities. These tools should not be underestimated! While almsgiving is practical, the other two are just as important. Use them enthusiastically. Further, they help us store treasures in heaven, which Jesus urged the Jewish people to do many times. Let us follow His teaching and let us stay focused on the Kingdom of God, not on material possessions.

Friday, June 26th 2020

Friday June 26, 2020

Epistle: Romans 9:6-19     Gospel: Matthew 10:32-36, 11:1

Archpriest Terence Baz

With today’s Gospel passage, we must remember that St. Matthew is teaching his people about how to respond to the hostile forces of the Jewish society at that time. They were confronted daily with persecution and rejection, not only from the Roman and Jewish authorities but also from their own family members who did not approve of their conversion to Christ. He is warning his people through the teachings of Jesus that their choice to seek the Kingdom of God may well bring strife to their very own families!

We know that a fundamental principle of this secular society and of the American constitution is separation of church and state with the right to freedom of worship. Family strife may well happen because of a family member’s beliefs but it is not the threatening issue it was for St. Matthew’s community. Issues such as domestic violence and vandalism of places of worship still happen in our society but I would venture to say that it is mostly not as acute as it was for the early Christian communities.

What does apply to us as much as it did to St. Matthew’s community is that we should never deny Christ in front of others. Movements and philosophies can disparage or manipulate our belief in Christ and His Body, the Church so, always be on guard to never let this happen. It is one of the things we should pray for every day.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul writes to the Roman Christian community about the eternal Word of God. We may not understand God’s plan for salvation but Paul is pointing out that it will happen. He uses some examples from the scriptures to make his point. In the context of the whole letter, he is teaching the Romans that because they believe in Christ, they now can acquire the righteousness of the Kingdom of God. Before this, whether Jew or gentile, they were still “children of the flesh.” The Jews were God’s chosen people but their covenant with Him was incomplete. For the gentiles or pagans, they had the natural law of God within them but few could control their passions to allow that law to work in them. In contrast, because of the sacrifice of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, everyone is now given the key to righteousness by believing in Him. For those who questioned whether it was fair for the gentiles to be allowed to have access to God’s Kingdom, Paul says “He has mercy on whom He wills.” The one thing that became clear is that it was God’s plan to bring all people into the Kingdom of God, not only the Jews.

We too, are part of that plan. It is important to not forget this privilege that God has given us. Always be thankful for it. Always acknowledge that it was only because of God’s love for all of creation that we have been given the privilege of being part of the Communion of Saints. Never belittle Christ’s Body, the Church. It is human and not perfect but we should pray for its protection each day so that Christ would transform it to be like the Kingdom of God. Further, the Orthodox Church has striven all through the centuries to remain faithful to the teachings of the apostles. It is our home, our rock to turn to in our journey of life. Let us be grateful for it.

Thursday, June 25th 2020

Thursday June 25, 2020

Epistle: Romans 8:22-27   Gospel: Matthew 10:23-31

Archpriest Terence Baz

The first verse of today’s passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans mentions that “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Verses 19-21 also talk about creation, that is has groaned and been “subjected to futility” because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Life’s troubles are constantly with us and we know that all is not as is should be. We sense this futility as we go day to day in our tasks. Thus, we too groan within ourselves because we share this futility. It is important therefore, when we pray for those dear to us, to also pray for our nation, the whole planet and indeed, all of creation. To only pray for ourselves is not our mission. To only practice our devotions and prayers for ourselves is not our mission. I have said in previous messages that we have an important role to play as we endure this pandemic to pray for others. The current social unrest is also another international issue that we need to pray for.

One false teaching that is confusing peoples’ understanding of creation is the Calvanistic belief that because creation fell with us, the world is now bad. Much abuse has been inflicted on creation because of this form of Protestant theology. God called Adam and Eve to care for creation. After they sinned and creation became subject to futility, it rebelled against us and does not cooperate with us. “Cursed is the ground in your labors.” As if life is not futile enough, the planet is now in a very precarious state because of the way it has been abused. Creation will rebel and many will suffer as a result.

As Orthodox, we say in contrast that creation is still good, even though it has fallen with us. Further, that the Holy Spirit continues His work of creation. At the beginning of our prayers, we pray:

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; Who art everywhere and fillest all things. Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life: Come and abide in us and cleanse of from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.

It is very important therefore, to not forget to pray for creation. Just as when Jesus suffered and died, His disciples felt very sad, our Heavenly Father had a plan for salvation which would soon unfold. He also has a plan for this current time. We do not know what it is but it will happen. We must respect and care for creation in every way we can.

Thus, Paul goes on to write:

 “Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

And when feel unsure what to pray for, Paul says:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

In other words, there will be times that we are unsure what to pray for. This is why we must stay focused on the Kingdom of God, calling upon the Holy Spirit to help us in our prayers. Paul concludes:

“Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Orthodox Church strongly believes in this Communion of Saints. When we seek the Holy Spirit in the name of the Orthodox Church, we become part of the Communion of Saints.

In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew is warning his people that as followers of Christ, they too can expect persecution. He instructs them: “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Do not to fear those who may want to destroy them because our Heavenly Father sees all, knows each one of them, even the hairs on their head.

We too, can take heart that our Heavenly Father knows us. Never be afraid, therefore, to proclaim the Kingdom of God to others, even if people ridicule us.

Typika Service for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

To use the prayers for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, please click onto the following link: https://nynjoca.org/files/2020/praying-at-home/READER-VESPERS---NATIVITY-OF-ST.-JOHN-THE-BAPTIST.pdf

Please click onto this link to see the readings for the feast: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/06/24/8

Wednesday June 24 2020

Wednesday June 24, 2020

Epistle: Romans 8:2-13     Gospel: Matthew 10:16-22

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul lays our very clearly the choice we have to make for our lives: do we choose the life of the Kingdom of God or the death of the kingdom of this fallen world? If you had been following my commentary on the Gospel of John during the Paschal season, you would remember that he also put the same choice to those whom he wrote to, repeatedly. Like John, Paul says that

“to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

For St. Paul, it is a rhetorical question because one can see from the general context of the whole letter that the community in Rome was clearly committed to Christ. They were living in a pagan world, met in secret but were spreading the Word of God to many.

Paul also writes:

 “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

He had outlined in previous chapters of the letter that we can only be righteous by dying to our carnal passions and living in Christ. We cannot be righteous on our own but when we choose to be baptized and chrismated, Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be righteous. If we make this choice, we will live our lives in a way that will align with the Kingdom of God. We will not care about pursuing the attractions of the fallen world. We will only care about living the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is what gives us true life. He writes:

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

This is what gives us strength from day to day. The troubles of this life will come and go, sometimes very painfully and acutely but in the fullness of time, what will matter is that we have used all such tests in a way that they are given to Christ so that He will sanctify them. The Holy Spirit is there to comfort, intercede and strengthen us on the journey.

For today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, it is important to see the context in which he was writing to his people. They were mostly Jews who had chosen Christ. As such, they were persecuted by both other Jews and the Romans. The possibility of a relative, neighbor or former friend reporting their beliefs to either the Jewish or Roman authorities was very real. They were living in precarious times. Matthew was urging them to take courage. Others, such as St. Stephen the martyr, had shown how they spoke boldly before the authorities, even to the point of death. He concludes this passage with these profound words:

“But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

For anyone who seeks the Kingdom of God each day, such people will not be abandoned by our Heavenly Father. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find.” The Holy Spirit has been sent to us to guide us.

There will be times when our faith will be challenged by others. There may also be times when we are discriminated or persecuted for it. Remember that whenever we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us, He will be there. Be careful to stay focused on the Kingdom of God and not be trapped into thoughts like wanting to take revenge or getting angry at those who do not agree with us. We live for Christ, to please Him, not the fallen world. Ask that today will be holy and that whenever we fall, turn back to Christ and ask him to sanctify us.

Please note that it is also the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. If you wish to look up the readings for today's feast please click onto this link: https://www.oca.org/readings/daily/2020/06/24/8

Tuesday, June 23rd 2020

Tuesday June 23, 2020

Epistle: Romans 7:14-8:2              Gospel: Matthew 10:9-15

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage, we hear the account from St. Matthew of Jesus instructing his disciples about how to proclaim the Kingdom of God to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. Jesus tells them to offer the peace of the Kingdom of God. If they refuse it, however, their refusal will be remembered on the Day of Judgment. St. Matthew was telling his people to not hold back in proclaiming the Kingdom of God and nor should we. This is something we should not be afraid to do. In these difficult times, people are looking for answers. Conspiracy theories abound. Many, with the vehicle of social media, presume that they are entitled to be expert political commentators. Do not fall into this trap!

As disciples of Christ, this is not our task. Our task is to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, it is so sacred that when we do, we speak on behalf of the Kingdom and those, as Jesus warned above, who ignore it, will be remembered at the Judgment seat of God. Always reach out to our Heavenly Father and ask that the Holy Spirit will guide you in speaking His Word to those whom we encounter each day.

In today’s beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he talks about the law of sin that lives in him. This is not his true self but, like all of us, he is afflicted by the sin of Adam and Eve. It is something he struggled with every day.

“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”

He was not perfect, nor are we. This did not stop him, however, from carrying out his mission to proclaim Christ crucified and the Kingdom of God. In fact, he writes in other letters how God prefers to use us in our weaknesses because when the Kingdom of God touches others through us, it is clear that it is not us that is doing this but the power of the Holy Spirit working through us as “earthen vessels.” In other words, do not be discouraged by your weaknesses. God’s grace is incomparably more powerful than our weaknesses. This does not mean that we ignore our weaknesses and give up the struggle to control them. Remember that when Jesus was on the cross, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” He did not walk away from His burden. He called upon His Heavenly Father to strengthen Him. We must do the same.

Returning to St. Paul, he goes on in this passage to say,

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

It is Christ who rescued him and it is Christ who rescues us! He offered His Holy Spirit to guide so, be encouraged in this mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Nor let us not forget that, as St. Paul says elsewhere, we are part of Christ’s Living Body, the Church. It is through His Church that we can be guided to stay on the right path. The Orthodox Church has faithfully adhered to Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the apostles from then until today. To be able to adhere to the scriptures and to our mission, stay close to the Church. It is there to nourish and support us through its many blessings in our journey of life.

Monday, June 22nd 2020

Monday June 22, 2020

Epistle: Romans 7:1-13     Gospel: Matthew 9:36-10:8

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul again talks about law, whether it is our conscience we have from the law of nature or the Mosaic Law. He makes the point that it is sin within us which condemns us in the eyes of the law. Both types of law make us think of what it would be like to not live according to it and “all manner of evil desire” within us causes us to break it. For those who have chosen to live in Christ, this bondage is lifted because we now have the power to avoid such sin. We are dead to sin and now live in Christ. The law makes us think of what our inward desires are missing out on but when we give ourselves to Christ, what we seek is the life of the Kingdom of God, not what our fallen bodies would like. We prefer to do what Christ would have us do from day to day, moment to moment. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, not our sinful desires.

In the Gospel, Matthew lists the twelve apostles and relays the command that Jesus gave them to proclaim the Kingdom of God to everyone. It was a very special moment because they too like Jesus, were given the power to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” It was a time of great power because the bridegroom was with them.

For us, even though the bridegroom has left this earth, we were promised the Holy Spirit and He was freely given to us. It is also a time where we are not judged and should not judge others because we too have the mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God to everyone we meet. What is important is that every day we call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us His fruits so that we can meet the challenges of life. We have to be like the wise virgins who made sure they had oil for their lamps in order to be ready for that moment when they are called. Christ may call us to be present for someone in need or to help them back on the path to the Kingdom of God, but ultimately, when that moment comes for us to part from this life, we also need to be ready for the Kingdom of God. Always encourage others to follow this same path.

Christ’s Body, the Church is also there for us to seek the tools we need for this task. It is a reminder that we belong to the Communion of Saints. It is a light in the darkness of our fallen world. While we may not feel it, it is a sacred place where the Kingdom of God breaks into history, enabling our hearts to offer back all the concerns and hardships we meet each day. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a pearl that we search out when we feel we have lost it. Let us seek that pearl by returning to the Church to give our lives to Christ.

Second Sunday after Pentecost & of All Saints of America June 21 2020

Sunday, June 21st 2020

Epistle: Romans 2:10-16 (2nd Sunday)

Gospel: Matthew 4:18-23 (All Saints of America)

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul talks about law. All the law can do is to try to protect us, whether it be with the Mosaic Law or today’s civil law. It seeks truth but is not the Truth. Instead, it is a set of rules created by a society to determine what behavior is acceptable or not. Even the Mosaic Law had inconsistencies that society tolerated, such as not watering a donkey on the Sabbath. Only Truth that comes from the divine is pure truth. The reason is that we have inherited the sin of Adam and Eve which has caused us to largely lose touch with the divine.

Thus, Paul writes about the Mosaic Law, civil law and natural law. Clinging to any law brings about judgment. If we brake it, we stand judged by it. Thus, for the Jews, they are judge by the Mosaic Law. For pagans, they are judged by the civil law that the Roman Empire created but they are also judged by what their conscience inwardly tells them. The trouble is that we all sin. Thus, no one is exempt from this bind.

The context of this discussion is that Paul has been talking about living in righteousness through Jesus Christ, who offers His righteousness as a free gift. Because of the sacrifice He made, He also offered the Holy Spirit, who gives us the ability to go beyond the law. When we live in Christ, we also live in His truth and are fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Gospel passage is the one set for the feast of All Saints of America. These saints were icons or witnesses to us of people who gave their whole life to Christ. The grace of the Holy Spirit enabled them to live in a way that St. Paul teaches about in today’s Epistle. Thus, the famous passage of the Beatitudes we use at every Divine Liturgy is also very appropriate to celebrate these saints. Jesus Christ taught this in His Sermon on the Mount. The people were stunned at His teaching because they had never heard it interpreted in this way before. They were used to the Law, focusing only on the minimum required to stay within the framework of Jewish society. What Jesus was teaching them was how to reach the Kingdom of God through their lives. As Paul says, without Christ, it is impossible but with Christ, all things are possible.

It is very appropriate to pray this teaching at Divine Liturgy because it is through other mysteries such as the Word of God and the Eucharist that we can seek the Holy Spirit to help us live them out. The first seven traits described as ‘blessed’ are ones that He tells people to seek. The next two will be what happens to those who do portray these traits of blessedness. They will be persecuted, not only because they portray a light in the darkness but also because the source of that light is no other than Him! They would be persecuted because of Him.

All the saints of America were eventually treated like this. Most of them were martyrs, becoming beacons of light for the Truth. Their lives are an inspiration for us to also seek lives of blessedness; to seek that living water or true light for us to be part of the Kingdom of God. Thus, let us pray to become poor in spirit, like those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers. We seek these traits because we cannot attain them on our own. They are from our Father’s Heavenly Kingdom, not from the fallen world. Christ is offering them to us. Let us drink from them.

I urge you to click on the following link: https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/06/21/49-synaxis-of-the-saints-of-north-america from the OCA website, to read about their lives, praying that they will intercede for us as we reflect on them. We are part of that same family, that same Communion of Saints. Let us stay focused on this Cloud of Witnesses as we journey along in this troubled world. Dangers may come along because we give ourselves to Christ but let us stay firm to never let Him go. Let us rejoice in their witness because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

June 19th 2020

Friday June 19, 2020

Gospel: Matthew 9:14-17   Epistle: Romans 5:17-6:2

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is challenged by the disciples of John the Baptist about fasting. Jesus explains that because He is with His apostles, this is not the time for them to fast but it would come. This time was for Jesus to form and teach His apostles in the ways of the Father. That was the priority. Jesus goes on to use the metaphor about wine skins. The time comes for them to be changed. Old wine skins are not suitable for new wine.

It is important for us to know that this current time, when God is all forgiving and asks the same of us, will not go on indefinitely. The time for judgment will also come. That is why we pray in the Divine Liturgy for “a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of God.” We will be judged on how much we have stored treasures in heaven, not earthly treasures. Everything that Jesus taught is for us to understand what these treasures in heaven meant.

In this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he continues the theme he discussed previously, that the righteousness offered by the sacrifice of Christ is far stronger than the condemnation brought about by the sin of Adam and Eve. Sin is never greater than Christ’s righteousness within us. At the same time, he warns that this is not an excuse to cling onto sin. If we die to sin in baptism, we cannot go on living in it.

For us, this means that we strive to let go of our faults, giving them to Christ. Obviously, this can be very hard to do for some but the point about Christ’s righteousness being much greater than the condemnation of sin is that we can always come back to Christ and ask for the gift of repentance and for the grace to let go of it. When we fail, we pick ourselves up again and present ourselves back to Christ. St. Paul talks about himself in this context in this same letter to the Romans. He was given a “thorn of the flesh.” No one knows what that was but he concludes from the affliction that it is Christ who will provide the strength for us to live with our own afflictions. As long as we give our faults back to Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit will enable us to move forward in Christ.

Thursday, June 18th 2020

Thursday June 18, 2020

Gospel: Matthew 8:23-27   Epistle: Romans 5:10-16

Archpriest Terence Baz

Today’s wonderful passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel is the story of Jesus calming the waters on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was tired from the previous day and was sleeping when the storm came up. Some observations can be made about the story.

Firstly, the Jewish leaders would not believe the works that Jesus was doing and they tried to discredit them. Secondly, fear of perishing from nature is not the response that Jesus wanted from them. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” He wanted them to have faith and not be afraid. Thirdly, the story was a lesson for those people to whom St. Matthew was writing. Yes, storms will come our way and they were certainly living during a precarious time. There was the constant threat of persecution from the Jewish authorities and the Romans, not to mention the usual dangers of robbers and thieves who could be violent. Matthew was teaching them not to be afraid but to have faith in the Risen Christ. The apostles who witnessed this, questioned: “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” He who could control the elements could also take care of their lives. Fourthly, we are also going through dangerous and turbulent times but like the readers of St. Matthew’s Epistle, we must not be fearful but have faith in the Risen Christ, who has power over nature and the storms of life that we go through. We may not always avoid their impact but what matters is staying focused on the Kingdom of God in which we have been invited to be part of. If we love His Kingdom with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls, our Heavenly Father will take care of all our needs.

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, discusses the implications of the sin of Adam and Eve verses that of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Firstly, he describes Adam as “a type of Him who was to come.” Paul uses such typology quite a lot in his letters. They are linked, because what Adam did impacted all of us but the same holds true of Jesus Christ. When Adam and Eve sinned, we also all became subject to sin. When Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross, however, we were freed from the power of sin. Whereas formerly, we had become enemies to God because of their sin, now we are reconciled and saved by His life. Thus, we can rejoice because we have been reconciled.

Secondly, Christ’s sacrifice of reconciliation had an incomparably more profound impact on us than the sin of Adam and Eve had. This gift of reconciliation is given in abundance to everyone and through it, we can all be justified. Even though we are still prone to sin, the gift of reconciliation is constantly offered to us because of our faith in Christ.

We must remember that it is through Christ’s living Body, the Church, that we acquire this reconciliation. Not that the Holy Spirit is confined to the Church for He blows where He wills, but it is through the sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist and Confession that we gain this reconciliation. Without faith, of course, these gifs are nothing more than rituals. If we must seek the Kingdom of God in our hearts, however, that same Spirit will offer us His fruits to continue our daily lives and not go astray.

Wednesday, June 17th 2020

Wednesday June 17, 2020

Gospel: Matthew 7:21-23   Epistle: Romans 4:13-25

Archpriest Terence Baz

In the Gospel passage for today, St. Matthew makes an important distinction between keeping the Mosaic Law and doing the will of our Heavenly Father. Adhering to the Law only fulfills outward appearances. Matthew is telling his people that the Jews who do not choose to believe in Christ, likewise choose only to live outwardly the precepts of the Law. They will therefore not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Thus, he is telling his people not to waver in their choice to be followers of Christ. Our Heavenly Father will recognize this choice, not the choice to only live out the old Law. Matthew knew that this choice could be a life or death choice for his people. Keeping to it was not something to be taken lightly.

St. Paul, in today’s Epistle to the Romans, is echoing the same thing. The mark of circumcision is not sufficient to please God. What pleased God about Abraham before that was his faith in God, in which he chose to do the Lord’s will above all else. Paul says that it is this same faith that will make us righteous. The first sentence summarizes the whole passage:

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

For the Romans whom Paul was writing to and for us as well, our belief in the Risen Christ, is what will make us righteous, just as it did for Abraham. His righteousness

“shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”

Later in his letter, St. Paul also talks about the living Body of the Risen Christ, the Church. In order that we do not stray from this faith, we must also adhere to the teachings of the Church handed down from the apostles and the Fathers of the Church. Committing ourselves to Christ and to His Body, the Church, go hand in hand. This is what will bring us righteousness.

The Church has many tools to guide us along the path of righteousness. We call it the living faith or Tradition of the Church. Using these tools and striving to live by them is called the Orthodox Way. It has the:

  • scriptures, which it wrote and compiled for us to read the Word of God
  • offices of the Church: bishops, clergy and laity to keep order and minister to the Church
  • monastic tradition, whose prayers and way of life give us a model to live by as much as we able and to intercede for us
  • sacraments to nourish and bring us back to Christ
  • Canons of the Church to teach us and guide us what is true and righteous
  • Liturgical Cycle for us to celebrate the important events of the Old and New Testament and the lives of the Saints
  • liturgical services and prayers to walk us through the Liturgical Cycle
  • prayers, devotions and gestures to help us reach out to Christ and His blessed mother
  • icons which help us through its imagery to reach the divine and remind us that we are part of the Communion of Saints

All these aspects make up the Orthodox Way. This way of life keeps us faithful to our Heavenly Father. Use them as much as possible to remain close to Him and the Kingdom of God. We have been restricted because of the pandemic but our parish and many others are now using online streaming services to help us connect and keep in touch with this Living Faith. Our parish and diocesan websites also provide the weekend liturgical prayers and services for us to pray.

Tuesday, June 15th 2020

Tuesday June 16, 2020

Gospel: Matthew 7:15-21   Epistle: Romans 4:4-12

Archpriest Terence Baz

In today’s passage, it is important to put what St. Matthew is quoting of what Jesus teaches into context. He is writing to Jews who have converted to the Risen Christ from the ancient Mosaic Law. Their decisions would have created a lot of controversy, just as Jesus did while on earth. Matthew is warning them to beware of false prophets and not just the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There were many branches of Judaism, as there are today and some were advocating political violence.

Matthew tells his people that it is by a person’s fruits that they will know them. Thus, are they proclaiming the Kingdom of God as Jesus did or, are they advocating the Mosaic Law? Are they advocating the overthrow of the Roman oppression? He has been using the teachings of Jesus to show them that to follow Christ requires more than the outward practicing of the Law but a willingness in their hearts to follow Christ even in the face of danger.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

This is why it is important to follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church. It has been faithful to the Old and New Testament teachings from the very beginning, right through to today. Just as was as the case in those times, there are many philosophies and beliefs being promoted today to follow. Some of them, such as Pantheism which claims that the earth is god, still persist. They may look appealing but the only way to embrace life is to strive to do the will of our Heavenly Father through the teachings of Jesus Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is Christ’s living Body, the Church that is the gateway to that life. In contrast, all that other philosophies can do at best is analyze and describe but such surface knowledge will not give life to our souls. St. Paul, in one of his Epistles, when discussing philosophy, said the only thing he will preach is Christ Crucified.

In today’s letter to the Romans, he discusses the questions of righteousness, faith and circumcision. These questions pertain to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was a circumcised Jew. It was a mark of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What Paul is saying in this segment is that faith is separate from the outward sign of circumcision. Even Abraham was not circumcised until well after God blessed him. It was because of his faith, even to the point of sacrificing his son, that God promised and made His Covenant with him. Further, King David was both blessed and forgiven by God because of his faith. He too had been tested when he was young.

While God asked His chosen people to undergo circumcision as a mark of their faith in Him, Paul is saying that anyone who puts their faith in Him will also be blessed. This is because, in Christ’s life and death, we have been given the way to truly adhere to that faith and this is how we attain righteousness. A conversion of the heart is required, not an outward practice.

Again, one must be careful to follow Orthodox Church teaching about this because it is easy to misinterpret what Paul writes in this passage. For Orthodox, what is needed is to cooperate with God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. As we grow in this journey of cooperation, we become more and more like God. The Church has a specific word to describe this: theosis: to become like God. It is only God’s grace that can draw us to become more like Him. The more we do, however, the more we see our unworthiness to receive this blessing and it shows this unworthiness to be in stark contrast to the majesty and otherness of God. Thus, when we pray the antiphons during the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays this prayer:

"O Lord our God, Whose power is incomparable, Whose glory is incomprehensible, Whose mercy is immeasurable, and love for man ineffable, do Thou, O Master, according to Thy goodness, look down upon us and upon this holy temple, and show us and those who pray with us the richness of Thy mercy and Thy compassion."

We all need to seek and pray for this but it is important to remember that each one of us is different. Christ will lead us to holiness in the way that best suits us. Let us commend ourselves to Him that He will sanctify this journey.

Monday June 15th 2020

Monday June 15, 2020

Epistle: Romans 2:28-3:18            Gospel: Matthew 6:31-34, 7:9-11

Archpriest Terence Baz

St. Paul, in today’s passage from his Epistle to the Romans, writes about those who do not live righteously, whether they be pagans or Jews. God’s law is written within us but our fallen nature usually means that we do not live it out. Nor is it sufficient for Jews to claim that, because they are circumcised, they are therefore righteous. They too, sin! What matters for Paul is the circumcision of the heart, not appearances or the outward practice of the Law. As a former Jew, he could testify to this. That is what he thought until the Truth, Christ, confronted him. It is from this perspective that he makes these assertions. Thus, the only way we can truly live the law of God in our hearts is through Christ. He is the only way that can enable us to live in Truth. Those who reject Christ reject the Truth and live in sin.

For us, it means we need to always reach out to Christ whenever we get the opportunity. We need to give what we do from day to day to Him. We need to ask Him, through the Holy Spirit, to sanctify our efforts, giving us the wisdom to make righteous choices throughout the day.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel passage, he tells his people not to worry about material things. Our Heavenly Father will provide them. The message of seeking first the Kingdom of God above everything else is one that all the Gospels and Epistles keep repeating. It is not easy with all the cares and worries of this world, not to mention the current big issues like the Coronavirus and social unrest that we see and have to deal with. Even so, it is very important to keep our hearts focused on the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that we neglect doing what we can to care for our families and loved ones. It means to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and protect us for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

The Orthodox Church has told us to live the Orthodox way of praying, fasting and almsgiving. These are tools for us to use in our journey of life in order to help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God.

It is important to say the prayers that the Church provides each morning and evening; to pray at meals and during this time of self-isolation, to use the prayers provided by our diocese while we are home on Sundays or for important feasts. We also need to pray for everyone, not judging them but interceding on their behalf before the throne of God.

The practice of fasting is also important. If used wisely and properly, it will be good for both our souls and bodies. While we are in control of our bodies and their appetites, they will serve us in the way that will bring us closer to the Kingdom of God instead of deadening our souls. No one is denying that it can be difficult but it can be done and if we strive to Christ will always welcome us back when we fail.

Today starts the fast of Saints Peter and Paul, the apostles. It is a time to refrain from meat, and dairy. Take the opportunity to refrain from these things until June 29th, which is their feast. If it is too difficult to refrain from them fully, strive to do part of the fast. If you have medical conditions, requiring pills, make sure that the fast does not jeopardize your health. Doing so would defeat its purpose.

Thirdly, many people are hurting at this time because they have lost their jobs from the virus. If you know of reputable charities or food banks that you can give to, do so happily. As St. Paul says: “God loves a cheerful giver.” Don’t forget of course, your responsibilities to the parish. It too, has to pay its bills!

All in all, keeping these three practices will help us stay focused on the Kingdom of God. The many distractions of the fallen world will be a lot easier to avoid if we keep them up enthusiastically.

The 1st Sunday after Pentecost. The Sunday of All Saints. June 14th 2020
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