Saturday, April 29, 2017


Today is the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women--the first to bear witness to our Lord's rising on the third day.  These three pious women--their hearts burdened by a depth of sorrow fully comprehensible only to the soul of a mother--were driven by a pure and selfless love to honor with due reverence the mortal remains of Jesus.

Having been touched by the poignant beauty of this scene, I confess that I have in the past paid scant attention to another hero of the faith also commemorated on this day: St. Joseph of Arimathea , "an honorable counselor, which also waited for the Kingdom of God," who "went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus."

Like the Myrrhbearers, he too was driven by love.  While the Holy Apostles were hiding behind closed doors "for fear of the Jews," he dared to boldly request, in the full light of day, the body of Jesus.  Then having been granted his request, he received into his trembling hands the immaculate and sinless body of our Lord and reverently wrapped Him in costly linen which he himself had purchased.  (Unlike the traitor Judas, he did not count the cost).  And so he placed the precious and incorruptible Body in a newly hewn rock sepulcher and rolled into place at the entrance a huge rock.  This he did, it should be noted, though soon afterwards the Myrrhbearers would wonder among themselves, "Who shall roll away the stone?"

As it turned out, it was an angel of the Lord who finally unsealed the entrance... though even had the stone remained, the Lord Who created in the beginning the heavens and the earth could in no wise be constrained by the narrow confines of the tomb.  He Who entered the upper room through closed doors cannot be bound to the normal so-called "laws of nature" that govern the universe He Himself brought forth into existence ex nihilo--out of nothing.

According to tradition, St. Joseph later evangelized Britain, taking with him the cup of the Mystical Supper (the Holy Grail), hiding it from profane eyes within a well in Glastonbury.  And while the whole truth of these legends may be shrouded in mystery, the fact remains that the noble Joseph remains as a manly counterpoint to the Myrrhbearing Women:  A brave and steadfast man of honor and integrity, who took action at this moment that he might ensure for our Lord a dignified burial and place of repose--that having descended into hades and freeing those captives held in bondage to the power of death, He might trample down death by death--arising victorious on the third day.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Today is the Blessed Sabbath, the day on which our Lord and Savior rested in the tomb following His salvific labors on behalf of all, and for all.  Yet it is precisely within this suspended moment in time that the sorrow of Great and Holy Friday is transformed into joy.  For while He rests bodily within the confined space of the tomb, His soul descends into Hades, where he tramples down death by death, raising fallen Adam and all the righteous men and women who died before His coming. It is this event that we see depicted in the icon of Pascha.  The Resurrection itself--having occurred outside the bounds of time and space--cannot be depicted.  It can only be experienced in the hearts of the faithful.

The Resurrection is indeed the fulfillment of Christ's redemptive work already accomplished on this day.  Sunday is both the First Day and the Eight, because it is the image and reflection of eternity.  It is rightfully celebrated by the Church as the Lord's Day, yet it is wrong to suggest--as do the sabbatarians--that the New Testament Church has ceased to honor the Sabbath.  The seventh day remains the day of fulfillment: both of the pre-existent Christ's work of creation at the beginning of time, and--more significantly--of His sacrificial work of redemption through which the fallen human race is re-created and restored to Paradise.

It is imperative that we remember as well that just as the original creation was the result of the outpouring of the superabundant love of God, even so was Christ's sacrificial suffering upon the Cross the ultimate  manifestation of that divine love that sustains and vivifies the entire order of creation.  As St. John the Theologian assures us, God is love, and so it is impossible to become partakers of the Divine Nature and communicants of life eternal unless we ourselves abide in this love, ever striving to  purify our hearts of every sinful passion and egotistic desire, that we may in the end prove ourselves worthy to behold Christ's glorious Resurrection on the third day.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


In today's Gospel, Jesus is invited to eat in the house of Simon the Pharisee.  As soon as He enters, a  woman begins to wash his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with precious oil from an alabaster box.  Observing all this, the Pharisee thinks to himself that if this man Jesus were truly a prophet, He would surely have known that this woman was a sinner.  Our Lord, of course, fully understood what manner of woman this was, and He responds to the Pharisee's unspoken thoughts, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."  What Simon failed to understand is that Christ came into this world not to save the righteous, but rather that the sinner might repent (turn again) and be saved.

Today we commemorate St. Mary of Egypt, whose life exemplifies the power of repentance and the infinite grace and mercy of God.  Indeed, though our sins be as numerous as the sands of the sea, there is no reason to despair.  The boundless love of God is fully capable of transforming even the most hardened sinner into a saint.  From the age of twelve, St. Mary voluntarily gave herself over to a totally dissolute and sinful way of life.  Having surrendered her soul into bondage to the passion of self-love, she devoted her entire existence to the satisfaction of her fleshly desires. 

In this senseless pursuit of carnal pleasures and delights, however, she was essentially little different than most of us.   For while we may be careful to avoid such gross and obvious sins as fornication and adultery,  we nevertheless bow down in worship before the idol of our false ego, striving in every possible way to avoid the pain and sorrow we are sure to encounter along that straight and narrow path that alone leads to salvation.

The way of life St. Mary had chosen was, of course, a distortion of the image of God and a denial of the law of love revealed by our Lord through His death on the Cross.  And so it is only appropriate that she should have come to repentance and a true knowledge of herself when she sought to venerate the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and was unable to enter the church due to an invisible force.  It was only when she had humbled herself before the icon of the Theotokos and promised from the depth of her heart to renounce her sinful passions that the gates of repentance were at last opened unto her.

Only then was it granted to her to cross the Jordan and thus to enter into the bleak and barren wilderness of self-denial, while striving from the depths of her heart that she might in the end prove worthy of eternal salvation.  Now it could rightly be said that simply crossing the Jordan was in and of itself a great and exalted feat (if only you and could do the same!), this decisive turning point was for St. Mary but the beginning of a 17-year relentless struggle to overcome those passionate desires that continued to rage within her. 

This is the same ascetic struggle unto the shedding of blood, the same spiritual warfare, to which all Orthodox Christians have been called, and it is never easy.  Nor is it possible to be saved simply confessing, as many Protestants believe, that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.  The saints achieved salvation through abundant tears and ceaseless struggle, while we seek to avoid at all costs that violence against our sinful, fallen natures through which the Kingdom is taken by storm.  May God have mercy on our sinful souls, and grant us His grace that we may at least make a good beginning in the ascetic struggle of genuine repentance upon the path of salvation.