Monday, May 30, 2016


In today's Gospel, Jesus enters the city of Sychar in Samaria and sits on Jacob's well.  Weary and thirsty from His journey, when he encounters a woman approaching to draw water, he says to her, "Give me to drink."  As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this Samaritan Woman is literal and earthly minded.   When she expresses her surprise that Jesus, being a Jew, should make such a request of a woman of Samaria, our Lord responds, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that sayest to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." 

Now she is skeptical, idly noting that Jesus has nothing with which to draw up the water.  Then--when He declares that "whoever drinkest of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst," her interest is piqued--and she thinks in very practical terms of how convenient it  would be if she should never again have to trudge her way to the well in order to draw water.  Surely she hears Jesus' words, but she has no comprehension of their depth. 

It is only when He reveals to the woman her marital history (concerning which, by the way, He does not condemn her), does she perceive at last that this is no ordinary man, but some sort of prophet--though even then she does not request those living waters of which He has spoken, but rather changes the subject--attempting to engage our Lord in a theological discussion.  She does not, though, seem to be quite convinced by Jesus' response, replying in effect: "Oh well, never mind: when Messiah comes, he will explain it all."

What then?....   When Jesus declares plainly that He is that long awaited Messiah, suddenly the scales fall away from her eyes and she runs off (not merely saunters away) to bear witness to Christ before her fellow villagers.  She--a mere Samaritan woman and a sinner to boot (for she is living with a man out of wedlock)--is enlightened, perceiving the truth that the Jewish leaders stubbornly denied unto the very end.  Thus she is, according to Orthodox tradition, St. Photini (her name means "light").

But there had to be more at work here than the mere fact that Jesus had told her all things that she ever did (which was, of course, an exaggeration).  Though she was initially confused and skeptical, her humble heart was open and receptive to our Lord's salvific revelation.  Deep down, she had known all along that the happiness and fulfillment she had sought through marriage and material comforts was shallow and ephemeral, and that (as St. Augustine once wrote) "our hearts are ever restless till they find their rest in Thee."  And so it happened that by the grace of God, Jesus' words struck a chord in her soul, lifting her beyond the threshold toward a truly spiritual life (that is, a life permeated by the "living waters" of the Holy Spirit of God).  May we all likewise respond to our Lord's words with an open and contrite heart, freely forsaking all things earthly in exchange for God's gift of eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Jesus said to the hypocritical Jewish leaders, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."  It is common nowadays to be admonished that as Christians, we should not judge.  Of course, on the level of personal morality, this is true... we must first remove the plank from our own eye before attempting to remove the speck from our neighbor's.  Yet surely the Church Fathers did pass judgment upon the heretics--anathematizing them until they should repent of their false and pernicious doctrine. 

This was done, of course, not out of a spirit of hatred, spite or arrogance, but rather out of love--lest the faithful should be deceived by these wolves in sheep's clothing and thus be tempted to fall away from the true path of salvation.  Nor did the Fathers speak according to their own personal opinions (as, indeed, did the heretics), but according to the Mind of the Church, declaring in unity, "It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit"--the very same Spirit that our Lord sent down upon His disciples on the day of Pentecost, the Comforter Who would lead the Church into the fullness of Truth. 

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to pass judgment, to discern according to the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  Contrary to modern secular thinking, there is an absolute truth, which is revealed to us in and through the Church--which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the true Orthodox Church that has (as we proclaim on the Sunday of Orthodoxy) established the universe.

This is the very Faith we are called to boldly confess to a world that considers all truth to be relative and all "churches" and religions to be equally valid, that we may be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to bear witness to that faith once delivered to the Apostles and sealed by the blood of the martyrs.  Having been granted (though no merit of our own) to see "the true light," having by virtue of our Baptism been enlightened by the heavenly Spirit, we must (with the utmost love and humility)
strive to share this Faith.  May God therefore strengthen us all, that we may be enabled to declare to the world that Faith we have received--to the glory of Christ God and the Holy Orthodox Church He has established for the sake of the salvation of the human race.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Just imagine the scene: crowded within the five porches of the pool of Bethesda, there "lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water."  For it so happened that at various times impossible to predict, an angel would descend and stir the water, and whoever was lucky enough to enter the pool at that precise moment... would be healed!

Unfortunately, with so many seeking the cure, it was rather like the lottery: except one was not required to merely buy a ticket and wait to see if one had the winning number.  It was necessary, rather, that a person needed to push and shove his way into the pool at the very moment the angel descended, ahead of all the others.  If such a thing existed today, it seems to me it could provide the basis for a very popular TV reality show....

Unfortunately, though, only a favored few were, over the course of time, granted the gift of healing so fervently desired, and I suspect that most of those had someone--friend or family--to assist them.  The paralytic who had suffered his infirmity for thirty eight long years, though, lost out every time.  When Jesus approaches this man, he asks him, "Wilt thou be made whole?"  What a question... of course he does.  Nevertheless, an affirmative answer is not a foregone conclusion.  The truth is, there are many persons who do  not, deep down, want to be made whole, who actually prefer the dubious pleasure of being a victim of their infirmity.  But in this case, "The impotent man answers, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool."

Little does he realize, however, that with Jesus' approach, he has such a Man--not just any man, though, but the Godman--the incarnate Son of God Who has come to earth and taken flesh from the pure blood of the Virgin, that by His salvific death and resurrection, He might grant healing to the fallen nature of humanity, that all who believe in Him might be made worthy of eternal life and salvation in His heavenly Kingdom.

And so Jesus commands the paralytic, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk."  But why, we may well ask, was it this man in particular, and not all the others who continued to languish by the pool?  Was this man especially virtuous and deserving?--Not at all!  We know, in fact, that he was a sinner, because Jesus later tells him, "Sin no more, lest a worst thing come upon thee."  Yet it was this man alone who was healed, for no obvious reason we can fathom.  It all came to pass as recorded in the Gospels according to the inscrutable providence of God. 

How often do we ourselves bemoan the seemingly unfair and evil circumstances of our lives, crying out to the Heavens, WHY ME?  Nevertheless, no matter how much it may be appointed unto us to suffer the "slings and arrows" of misfortune and seemingly unjust persecution at the hands of our enemies, one thing is sure and certain:  in the words of the Holy Apostle, "All things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose."  There is a purpose for everything God allows to enter into our lives, and that purpose always involves our salvation--that through whatever suffering we may be called to endure during this brief earthly life, our souls and bodies might be refined like pure gold in the furnace, that we may in the end be made worthy of the gift of eternal life in the Age to Come.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the Myrrhbearing Women came to the sepulcher to anoint our Lord with sweet smelling spices.  No doubt downcast and sorrowful, they wondered, "Who shall roll away the stone?"  For the stone was, in fact, very large, and they were mere women unaccustomed to hard physical labor.  But behold!  When they looked, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away.  And so they were vouchsafed to behold the angel who announced unto them, "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified; He is risen; He is not here...."

Indeed....  How often have you and I failed to step forward on that path of salvation God has appointed for us, because... well... there are just too many obstacles!  Ideally, of course, it would be great if we could step out in faith and bear bold witness in some way to the love of God in Christ Jesus, but... we've got to be realistic!  Who shall roll away the stone?

And yet, perhaps--were we to take courage and to cast aside every fainthearted doubt--if we just lifted up our eyes and looked, we would see (as did the Myrrhbearing Women) that the stone has been rolled away already, that God Himself has removed every obstacle along the path of our salvation, that if only we have faith, nothing shall be impossible.  With the Myrrhbearing Women, however, it was less a matter of faith than of love. They bought the spices and set forth for the tomb very early in the morning not so much because they had faith, but because the love for Jesus that burned in their hearts compelled  them to do so.

It is true that through faith in Christ we can accomplish miracles... but the love He engenders in our hearts is the greatest miracle of them all.  It is through love alone that we can acquire that living faith that can remove mountains--because God is love, and it is by love alone that every obstacle on the path of our salvation can be vanquished. 

After our Lord's crucifixion, the apostles were cowering behind closed doors--but it is sure and certain that perfect love casts out all fear.  Moreover, it is because we have loved much that our sins--though they be many--shall be forgiven.  Apart from love, we may indeed work miracles of faith and accomplish things worthy of esteem in the eyes of the world--but love alone is the key that unlocks the gate leading into the eternal Kingdom of God.  Let us, therefore, pray ceaselessly that we may be granted the gift of love in our hearts--that we may in the end prove worthy to partake of our Lord's glorious Resurrection.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


In the evening of the first day of the week, upon which Jesus had risen from the dead--casting off the bonds of mortality in a brilliant flash of light that illumined the whole created order unto the very depths of Hades--"when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews," Jesus appeared unto them in His body of transfigured flesh.  They saw and believed... but St. Thomas was not with them.  This is the bare fact recorded in the Gospel, but one may be so bold as to ask, Where was he?  Why was he not cowering behind closed doors along with his fellow Apostles?

Today being Mother's Day, it occurs to me that he may have been visiting his mother.  In any case, it appears he was not quite so intimidated and fearful as were his companions.  Nor was he so readily inclined to believe the second-hand testimony regarding our Lord's appearance.  He demanded evidence--that he might see and feel for himself that Jesus had truly risen in the flesh. 

This circumstance occurred, of course, according to Divine Providence--that through Thomas' blessed unbelief, many thereafter might come to believe.  When Jesus appears again eight days later, Thomas is with them--and when our Lord graciously provides for him the evidence he demands, he proclaims with great joy, "My Lord and my God!"  It is true that Jesus mildly rebukes him: "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."  Yet merely believing that Jesus is the eternal Son of God does not guarantee us a passport to heaven.  After all... even the demons believe, and tremble, while it is a well known fact that Satan himself can appear as an angel of light.  Perhaps St. Thomas' faith was less than perfect, but at least it was established upon a firm and unshakable foundation... and in the end, this apostle was vouchsafed a martyr's death preaching the Gospel to the demonically oppressed people of India.

As for feeble and lukewarm Christians such as ourselves, called to bear witness to the Truth in this faithless and perverse generation: we are enjoined to "taste and see that the Lord is good," to experience the presence of the Risen Lord not through the eyes of the soul alone, but also through the perception of our physical senses.  First and foremost, our faith is strengthened through partaking of the most precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist--but also through such manifestations of divine grace as myrrh-streaming icons, the Holy Fire in Jerusalem, and other miraculous events too numerous to mention--while the heavens themselves declare the glory of the Lord!