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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Orthodox’

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Ephrem the Syrian is the first in the historical record who mentioned the Feast of All Saints, doing so before A.D. 373.  The Orthodox still celebrate the feast on its older day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, when we now celebrate Trinity Sunday

We derive the word, saint, from the Latin, sanctus, which means holy.  To make something holy is to hallow it.  All Hallows means All Saints.  Thus, Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve means All Saints’ Eve.

A saint is a holy person.  All whom God judges righteous and elects to go with him into everlasting felicity are saints.  In the end, there are only the saints and the damned.  If we persevere in Christ, we shall be saints too.

 

Sometimes, Christians on Earth are called saints.  But as with the wheat and the tares and the wedding banquet and the wedding-garment, some who will not persevere are mixed in with those who will.  We do not know who will be faithful and who will fall away.  Thus, we usually reserve calling saints only those whom we strongly suspect of profound personal holiness.

The Church acknowledges heroic Christians as saints.  The Body of Christ can discern what we cannot as individuals.  Dying the martyr’s death is a particularly good indicator of sainthood.  A holy life and performing miracles possibly indicate sainthood.  However, being a prominent Christian, such as a king or bishop, is not a trustworthy sign of sainthood.  A common quip amongst the saints is to the effect of:  ‘the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops and priests’.

Whether recognition of saints is formal, as with the Church of Rome, or informal, as with the Orthodox and Anglicans, it is not an individual thing.  All require the recognition of the Church.  Formal or informal, the Church gets a collective sense of a soul’s holiness and faithfulness.

 

Today, we worship together and celebrate the feast of all God’s saints.  The first documentary evidence for invoking the saints is from around A.D. 156, when the Church celebrated the anniversary of St. Polybius’ martyrdom.  The cult of relics, with its own Scriptural and theological support, reinforced the cult of saints.  In the Fourth Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem distinguished between the martyrs included at the Mass who pray for us and the regular dead whom we pray for.

Some of us are quite devoted to one saint or another.  Many of us learn lessons on how to walk the way of Christ from the examples of the saints.  We ask for the prayers of the saints.  But we may take our admiration or veneration of the saints too far, confusing the creature and the Creator by worshiping or adoring them.  That is idolatry.  An immeasurable gap between Creator and creature exists between the Lord God and the saints, including the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Truly, only Christ has the merits, the unburdened freely earned goodness and virtue, to bestow upon us.  We who sin can do no good thing without the burden of our sins.  We cannot repay the damage we have caused, much less add more atop it.  Only Christ was sinless, and only He performed holiness with what He innately possessed, for He is true God of true God.  We are not.  We derive our goodness from Him.  The saints do not have their own merits.  So, we do not invoke the merits of the saints, for theirs are the merits of Christ.

During the Medieval era, the veneration of saints gained some unbalanced additions.  The Reformation cleaned house, as it were, too far amongst Lutherans and Calvinists and not far enough amongst Romans.  Our relationship with the saints ought never obscure the fundamental truths of the Faith and the Persons and work of Almighty God.  The invocation of saints is a vital but subsidiary part of our Christian faith.

Throughout the year, the Church celebrates a great many saints in her kalendar.  The feast of the apostles Ss. Simon and Jude were last week and that of St. Andrew is at the end of this month, with many less prominent saints in between, such as the Martyrs of Uganda and St. Hilda.  But a great many saints are little known.  The Feast of All Saints includes both the recognized, or canonized, saints and the saints who died in obscurity.

The saints above intercede for us as we intercede for each other down here.  We pray for the dead, the Church Expectant.  The saints in glory, the Church Triumphant, pray for us.

Holy Church understands that the prayers of the saints are efficacious to us, but we know not how.  We know that the saints pray for us and this avails in our lives in ways we do not comprehend.  Fr. Knowles, the author of The Catholic Religion, said:  “Their holy prayers to God for us must aid our faulty ones to Him!”

 

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Our worship is the first and foremost thing that Christ wants us to give to God.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”  We are to give our good God everything.  We are to give him more than our heart, but our soul and mind as well.  We are to withhold nothing from God.  We are to freely offer ourselves to God.

Our worship of God is our primary and ultimate purpose.  This is why our primary reason for gathering together this morning is not to enjoy fellowship, or to improve ourselves, or to better learn the Scriptures or God’s will for us, or to enjoy music and beautiful liturgy.  All of that is at the very best secondary.  All of that serves the main purpose:  To worship God.  God created us to live and walk with him in the Garden of Eden.  By our ancestors’ sin, we fell from grace and that immediacy of our presence with God.  When people tell you that they can talk to God just fine without the Church, the Body of Christ, or without Christ, the Son of God, or without the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity, or without the Sacraments, the sure and certain means of grace given to us by Christ, then know that such people are spouting nonsense, getting in touch with their inner voice at best and communicating with Satan and his demons at the worst.

God has given us himself in direct supernatural revelation so that we can surely and certainly approach the throne of grace in heaven.  We do this by worshipping God with our all, holding nothing back.  If we give God our heart without also giving him our mind, we are actively disobeying the first great commandment.  As creator of the world and author of our lives, God is all we ever had.  As redeemer and sanctifier of our souls, God is all we can ever have.  God is our all.  God demands our all.

 

Isaac Williams said:  “First take care that the heart be right, for to the heart of the worshipper God looks.”

The purity of heart, the transparency of soul which occurs in worship can be marred and disfigured by grudges and ill-will.  In our grand and incomparable liturgy, we hear the words of the invitation to confession:  “YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways….”  We clear our consciences in the confession and receive the assurance of God’s pardon in the absolution.  We must be right with God and man, with Christ our Lord and our most difficult and irritating neighbors, in order to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.”

The mere act of approaching the altar exposes “our selves, our souls and bodies” to the presence of the Almighty God of the universe.  Our finitude, our limitedness, our smallness come to mind as we approach the infinite Deity.  To commune with God necessarily demands that we ourselves have some touch of the purity and loving-kindness that he has.  We cannot make ourselves pure, for that is God’s prerogative and power.  But God commands us to get right with each other, to reconcile to each other.

In the entire history of the Christian Church, the norm has been to approach the altar in worship with no sin.  In the earliest days, the faithful Christian was supposed to remain out of serious sin after his baptism.  As the years progressed, the faithful Christian was supposed to make a private confession with sacramental absolution.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren still hold to this ancient standard.  Our Roman brethren have reduced this to making a confession once annually.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  To confess your sins to a priest in the sacrament of penance at least once a year is too hard a burden to demand for all, but the duty to carefully guard, examine, and prune your conscience as God would have you is the absolute least you can do.  We Anglican Catholics have substituted a cycle of public confessions in the offices and the Mass instead of the requirement of sacramental confession.  Each of us must faithfully prepare for each service by examining our consciences and whole-heartedly confessing our sins in our prayer of confession.

I ritually wash my hands in the sacristy before I even come out to the sanctuary.  I ritually wash my hands again during the offertory before the great Eucharistic prayer begins.  We ought to be clean when we come before the Lord.  While our neighbors might not appreciate it, we do not have to be clean on our outside – I would rather you come to Mass after having mown the grass than have you not come at all – but we must be clean on the inside, clean in our consciences, right with our neighbors, right with God.

 

Hear again what Christ told his students:  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”  We are to reconcile with our brother if he has something against us!  The duty, the requirement, the necessity if you wish to live forever in Christ is to seek out the one who “has ought against thee” and reconcile with him before approaching the altar with your gift.  This isn’t the soft and cuddly pastel Christ that we like to think about!  This teaching of Christ judges us!  We stand convicted by the words of Christ to his hearers, for we do not obey Christ’s teaching.

St. Gregory the Great said: “Lo, He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance.  Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.”

If we have ought against our brother, we do not need to seek reconciliation with him.  To do right by our brother who has offended us, we need to forgive him.  We do not need to tell him that we have forgiven him.  We do not need for him to acknowledge that we have forgiven him.  All we need to do is forgive him.  Then we no longer have ought against our brother.

If you and I have mutually offended each other, then I must forgive you for the injury done to me, and I must go to you for reconciliation so that you may forgive me for the injury done to you.  We need not forgive each other at the same time.  I do not even need to let you know that you offended me.  My duty is to forgive and to seek forgiveness.  I have no business judging whether or not you have behaved yourself and forgiven me properly.  No man has the competence to do so, and no man has the authority to do so.

We have an obligation to ask pardon of those whom we have offended.  Furthermore, we have an obligation to pardon those who ask pardon of us.  All this is to be done with an honest and forthright mind, with no dissimulation or dishonesty.  Asking pardon of our sin when we fully intend to sin again is a mockery of asking pardon and is an additional sin added to the first.  To say we are sorry when we actually delight in our action is adding lying upon hurtfulness.  Lying is in league with accusation, and both of these are part of Satan’s realm rather than Christ’s.  Falsely apologizing and falsely forgiving plant us more firmly with cancer, disease, warfare, strife, and death over against loving-kindness, gentleness, good humor, procreation, and life.

 

We cannot count on God’s mercy upon us when we systematically and incautiously deny our mercy upon others.  “Judge not, let ye be judged” is no lie – so as we judge, so will we be judged.  If you constantly rule for yourself in your mortal state, you can count on the Infinite Judge of Righteousness to rule against you in your immortal state.

John Wesley said:  “For neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.”

The gift of loving-kindness is the greatest offering we can bring to worship our God.  Who cares about the perishable riches of this world compared to the imperishable riches of love?  “God is love.”  “The greatest of these is charity.”  Nothing raises us so close to heaven as loving-kindness among those who have died to sin and risen in Christ.  The sacrifice of our self and sinful pride in the service of loving one other is the greatest gift we could offer.

We are prone to excusing our everyday little sins.  We wink at our sins and say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just who I am!”  We manage not to keep track of them and to lose sight of them once committed.  But do we ever keep track of those offenses committed against us by others!  By counting offenses committed against us and forgetting those offenses committed by us, we sin against truth and lie.  But God sees all and knows all.  He sees the sins we commit but forget, and he knows that we absolve ourselves of those sins but condemn others for their offenses.  Furthermore, he knows that we seek not the truth, but our own advantage.

We sin against others, forgive ourselves, hold others’ sins against us, and then lie about it.  We are doubly damned for our every sin, for we are liars as well as offenders.  God is love, and in hating our brother we hate God.  God is truth, and in despising truth we despise God.  We hate and despise God daily and then sweetly present ourselves disheveled without preparation on Sunday mornings and expect to receive God’s blessings for our great service.  Instead we ought to examine our consciences every day, beg our brothers for their forgiveness, meekly forgive the offenses they have committed against us, and quietly prepare to approach the altar of God.

 

Pseudo-Chrysostom said:  “See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies.”

My dear children, we must get right with God.  “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God wants us to be with him.  He gave up His own Son to be born one of us by the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live as one of us in Nazareth, to teach His people among the nation of Israel, to suffer and die upon the hard wood of the Cross so that all men everywhere at all times might be reconciled to Him and through Him to God the Father.  God wants us in a bad way.  You matter to him.  He knew you in your mother’s womb.  He wants you.

For us to have a proper relationship with him is hard because of our sin, our separateness, our brokenness.  And by sin I do not just mean those condemned in the Ten Commandments, although they are a breathtakingly good start.  We must not only not murder our brother, we must also not nurse anger towards our brother.  We must not only not commit adultery, we must also not lust.  We must not only not commit the outward and public sin, but we must also root out of our hearts the inward and private sin which we dare not share with the world.  God knows that we harbor such evil inward thoughts, even when we are not completely aware of them in ourselves.

This is one of the main reasons we ought to confess our sins to our priests – searching our consciences and verbally confessing our sins is so horrible and distasteful that we earnestly despise and hate our sins for being ours.  We wish nothing more than to remove those sins far away from us, and Christ has given authority to his priests to speak that forgiveness to us.  We cannot make ourselves right with God, for God is all powerful and we are too weak and corrupt.  But we can fight manfully against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We cannot win the victory, for Christ has already won the victory.  Christ says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

God has given us Christ to make us right with him.  We must trust in Christ, rely on Christ, believe in Christ, rest in Christ.  We must be united with Christ, with His Body and with His Blood.  We are to renounce all the things which lead us away from Christ, those things which stand between us and Christ.  And my good people, the grudges between you and your brother are getting in between you and Christ.  We must turn away from the altar to reconcile with our brother who has ought against us so that we may with purity of purpose “go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.”

 

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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