God’s ultimate sacrifice

The-Ultimate-SacrificeAs you know, Lent is here. During this holy time of contemplating God’s ultimate sacrifice, we see that the season is specifically geared toward sacrifice. It is within Christ’s sacrifice that our sacrifices are made complete and meaningful.

The Church, through its wisdom, has determined to sacrifice collectively and communally through a universal fast. Fasting is not only comprehensive, it is also collective–when we fast during the period of Lent, we do it together, as a Church, and we fast for the whole world who God loves and for whom He “gave His only begotten Son,” (John 3:16), for whose resurrection we are preparing during this very period.

It is important for us to make sacrifices in order to bring our bodies into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27) and prepare ourselves for the feast of the Resurrection. Because of this intention, we may focus entirely on our fasting from certain foods and attend only and specifically to what goes into our mouths and stomachs. This sort of fast, where each person only focuses on his or her mind, body and soul, is an incomplete fast. And since we are fasting together as a Church, we should fast the way that God and His Church intend.
We read about true fasting in Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him… If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul… The Lord will guide you continually…” (Isaiah 58:6-11). It is clear that during this time, as we abstain from certain foods and focus on the strengthening of our souls, it is of the utmost importance that we attend to the the most needy amongst us: the hungry, the lonely, the sick.
In abstaining, when we would usually indulge, we should instead give to the poor. Abstaining is not only based on sacrifice, but the importance of fasting is seen most vividly in the transforming of that sacrifice for the greater good: “Be generous with these brothers and sisters, victims of misfortune. Give to the hungry from what you deprive your own stomach” (Gregory of Nyssa).

With this in mind, we cannot truthfully say we are fasting if the Lord’s brethren do not have a place in our hearts, prayers, and also our almsgiving. We must remember the question that St. James has put forth to all of us: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:16).
So what good is our fasting, if it only disciplines our bodies without effectuating real lasting change in our world–even if that world means taking the time we would have spent at the movies and spent it visiting an elderly person in a nursing home or taking the money we would have spent on lunch and giving it to someone more needy than us? God wants, and the world needs, us to fast the way the Lord has chosen. May the Lord of this Blessed season conform in us a fast that is both acceptable to Him and effective to His world.

By: Ann Marie Toss

The Seventh Sunday of Lent – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy week, and it is on this day that the highest honor and respect are paid to Jesus. The Psalms are sung in the Singarian tune, and the liturgy is said in the most joyous tune.

The events of Palm Sunday are recorded in all four Gospels. They are given in Matthew 21:1-17, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-48, and John 12:12-19.

Today we celebrate the feast of Palm Sunday, or the Triumphant Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. It is one of the seven major feasts of our Church and one that we celebrate with great joy and excitement.

We take great pleasure in decorating the Church with palm branches, the tune of the festive hymns is joyful, and the processions around the Church are very uplifting. Truly it is one of the favorite times of the Church year for us.

There are so many points to contemplate on todayÌs feast, but before we attempt to touch on a few points together I would like to ask a question.

Why do we celebrate feasts in the Church? Are they simply commemorations of historical events like when we celebrate secular holidays such as Memorial Day or Veterans Day?

The answer of course is no. We celebrate feasts because they are eternal events. For example the specific day that our Lord rose from the dead is an historical event, but the eternal mystery of His Resurrection is just as much a reality today, now, tomorrow, as it ever was.

We celebrate feasts in order to enter into those realities, to experience them now in our lives, for our salvation.

As another example of how this reality is always present in the Word of God, we can look to a common reading from the Holy Bible.

When we read throughout the Church year about the Samaritan Woman, are we just reflecting on how beautiful it was that the Samaritan Woman came to accept Christ two thousand years ago?

No, the truth is that today I am the Samaritan Woman, and today, now, Christ is asking me if want to drink from the Living Water. And even if my answer is “yes Lord give me that Living Water! Tomorrow He will be asking me the same question!

That is, the truth, reality and experience of the encounter between Christ and the Samaritan Woman is true, real, and experienced by us as Christians at this moment.

This is also how we must approach the events of todayÌs great feast, the feast of our LordÌs Triumphant Entry to Jerusalem.

I know you are very familiar with details of todayÌs events. Our Lord enters into the great city of Jerusalem on which will be the week of His Passion and Crucifixion.

He asks two of His disciples to bring a donkey. He then enters the city sitting on the donkey, and the people spread their garments on the road, and many cut palm branches and spread them also on the road, and the crowds went before the Lord shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

And the prophecy is fulfilled “Tell the daughter of Zion , “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Thus the Lord entered into Jerusalem as a King!

But what kind of King is He? Throughout the history of the world we have had many Kings that have conquered cities and nations. Today in many parts of the world we have Kings.

But there is one unconquered territory that has alluded men of power throughout all history, and this is the human heart, and its sole conqueror is Christ the King!

Today we celebrate Christ the King who enters into our personal Jerusalem, our hearts, where he saves us from sins, our misery, our darkness, and our death!

St. Augustine emphasized this point when he says, “For Christ was not the king of Israel so that he might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king in that he rules minds, in that he gives counsel for eternity, in that he leads into the kingdom of heaven, for those who believe, hope and love.

The people shout, “Hosanna!” meaning “save now!”, or “Lord grant salvation!”. St. Severus explains this mystery saying, “Now there was never any king, simultaneously just, a redeemer, gentle and seated on a donkey who came to Jerusalem, unless this is he who alone is King of kings, God the Redeemer, Jesus. He is kind, gentle and abundant in mercy for all those who call upon Him, as it is written.”

The question is, however, is He able to enter into our hearts and our lives and remain as our King?

In order to answer this question, we need to delve more deeply into todayÌs readings. We will discuss three main points:

1. In what manner does Christ approach us as King?

2.How do we accept Him as our King?

3.What does it mean if He is the King of my life?

First, how does Christ approach us as our King?

We read today that Christ enters Jerusalem on a donkey. He does not come with a fleet of chariots and soldiers.

He does not come with force, and in fact, would not have even been able to enter the city unless the people had allowed Him to do so!

Christ our Lord comes to us today in complete gentleness and humility waiting for us to accept Him to enter our Jerusalem. That is why He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and OPENS THE DOOR, I will come in to him…” (Rev. 3:20).

St. Macarius the Great exhorts us, “The Lord is always knocking at the doors of our hearts, that we may open to Him, that He may enter in and rest in Our souls. He says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man will open unto Me, I shall come in unto him” (Rev. 3:20). To this end He endured to suffer many things, giving His own body unto death, and purchasing us out of bondage, in order that He might come to our soul and make His abode with it.. ..His food and His drink, His clothing and shelter and rest is in our souls. Therefore He is always knocking, desiring to enter into us.. Let us then receive Him, and bring Him within ourselves; because He is our food and our drink and our eternal life, and every soul that has not now received Him within and given Him rest, or rather found rest in Him, has no inheritance in the kingdom of heaven with the saints, and cannot enter into the heavenly city..

Our Lord knows that to be ruler of our hearts He cannot force Himself upon us! He respects our free will.

But the Lord is always sitting at the gates of Jerusalem waiting for us to allow Him to enter. He is standing at the door of our hearts waiting for us to open.

This leads us to the second point which is how do we accept Christ as our King?

We have seen throughout our journey in Lent, the constant theme of Repentance. We see that today as well but we also see something else in the Gospel reading from this morning during Matins.

This morning’s Gospel reading is the story of Zacchaeus. It is interesting that in the 4 Gospel readings during the Liturgy, the readings are all restricted to the event of our LordÌs Entry into Jerusalem.

So why the reading of Zacchaeus this morning?

This is the beauty of our ChurchÌs readings whose organization is guided by the Holy Spirit – and leads us to the true spiritual meanings of each day’s events. The story of Zacchaeus shows us how we can accept Christ as our King.

Luke 19:1-10

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. “Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus was a Tax Collector, a chief among them, a Jew and a sinner.

It was accepted that those who helped the Romans collect taxes from among the Jews were allowed to take more than was due and pocket the rest. So he was a thief and a liar. He was ruled by money and power.

However, something very amazing in this story and many others in the Gospels takes place. Zacchaeus is very anxious to see Christ.

Regardless of his sinful life, he was still able to preserve in his heart a feeling for what is true.

This is the human condition that we all inherit. St Gregory of Nyssa explains.

“But we need to know that here on earth there has never been and never will be, true and perfect happiness and prosperity; for all our prosperity and happiness is only in God. No one will ever find true happiness and spiritual prosperity without God or outside God.

Nothing in this world but God can fill our heart or fully satisfy our desires. A fire cannot be put out with brushwood and oil, because only water will put it out.  In exactly the same way, the desires of the human heart cannot be satisfied with the goods of this world, because only the grace of God can quench the thirst of our desires.

ZacchaeusÌ problem was that he was short and could not see the Lord because of the crowd around our Lord Jesus as He entered into Jericho.

Many times in the Gospels we are told that Christ was surrounded by crowds, which prevented the people from “seeing” Him.

The Fathers of Church teach us that these crowds are all of the obstacles that are between us and the Lord – they are our temptations and passions that lure us away from Him. They are the distractions in our life from our true goal.

In spite of Zacchaeus’ obstacles his desire to see Christ was strong as he was determined to find a way, and thus he climbed a tree.

In doing so, he, being someone well known in the community, takes the significant risk of people laughing at him and mocking him. And yet, he is unconcerned about the opinions of others, his only concern is to see Christ.

He knew in his heart that Christ was no mere prophet, he would not risk all for just a prophet – he knew that this was the Life Giver, the Savior, and comforter of his soul. He was fixated on him and nothing else.

Again, the Fathers of the Church teach us that it is not our sins that pose the greatest obstacle in our relationship with God, but rather our fear of mockery and ridicule by others. Our pride and egos are always more concerned about other peopleÌs view of us.

The only alternative to this captivity is humility. Zacchaeus was short, that is he was full of pride, he was blind. Therefore he climbed the tree, that is, he ascended the virtuous heights of humility, so he could see Christ! This is what St. John Climacus advises us when he says, “Let us strive with all our might to reach that summit of humility, or let us at least climb onto her shoulders.

Do you see that Zacchaeus had two problems, his being short, and the crowd? The one was internal and the external? The solution to the first overcame the obstacle of the second. The internal is his pride and the external is his greed and love of money.

Now, this is the amazing part – Here is our Lord surrounded by a multitude of people, maybe some of them have followed Him for miles.  And yet our Lord looks to Zacchaeus up in the tree as says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Is that not unfair of our Lord to give such special attention to Zacchaeus over all the other people that had been following him much longer?

The Lord, who knows the heart of everyone, could see that ZacchaeusÌ desire for Him was greater than the others – he knew that Zacchaeus was filled with a deep and real humility. Christ knew that Zacchaeus’ heart was open for Him to reign as King. And therefore he said to him, ” come down for today I must enter your Jerusalem as your King!

ZacchaeusÌ response of course was that “he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully!

Here the words of King David the Psalmist ring loudly, “LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart” (Psalm 10:17) and again “For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness”. (Psalm 107:9).

The others werenÌt fixated on Christ, they were still concerned with judging others – that is why they complained saying “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” They didnÌt know that at this moment ZacchaeusÌ had become a great person.

Is this not the risk of judging others?

We can now see the relationship between Zacchaeus and our LordÌs Entry to Jerusalem. Zacchaeus desire for Christ and his humility were the palm branches laid in front of the Lord. They prepared the path for Christ as King of his heart. One of the Church Fathers teaches us, “Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before him.

And if we think that today our desire for Christ is complete, let us again take the advice of St. Gregory of Nyssa who says, “This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see Him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied.

The story of Zacchaeus is not an isolated example. We can also consider the story of Bartimaeus:

Mark 10:46-52

Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.” And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said to Him,”Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

Do you see the same pattern? Bartimaeus is blind and also has to overcome the problem of the crowd.

His only hope is to cry “have mercy” and when the people told him basically to shut up, he cried even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me”!

Again, he strips himself of any pride or concern of what others opinions are and is fixated on Christ! His goal is to get to Jesus, he has completely forgotten about himself.

He, also like Zacchaeus possessed that blessed combination of desire and humility. That is why Christ said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself.” (Matt 16:24).

Christ Himself today teaches us about humility by His own example when He enters Jerusalem.

St. Ephrem the Syrian says, “He began with a manger and finished with a donkey, in Bethlehem with a manger, in Jerusalem with a donkey”.

Our Lord Jesus Christ never ceased to be an example of humility for us, whether he was the Teacher, or Performer of Miracles, or Servant, or today as King, He showed us that there is no other path than that of humility. Our Lord has not asked of us one thing that He Himself has not shown by example.

That is why St. Macarius exhorts us saying:

God, for your sake humbled Himself, and you will not be humbled for your own sake?! The Lord Himself who is the Way and is God, after He came not on His own behalf but for you so that He might be an example for you of everything good, see, He came in such humility, taking “the form of a slave” [Philippians 2:7], He Who is God, the Son of God, King, the Son of King … But do not despise His divine dignity, as you look at Him, externally humiliated as one like us. For our sakes He so appeared, not for Himself… When they spat in His face and placed a crown of thorns on Him and hit Him, what more humiliation could He have yet undergone?… If God condescends to such insults and sufferings and humiliation, you, who by nature are clay and are mortal, no matter how much you are humiliated, will never do anything similar to what your Master did. God, for your sake, humbled Himself and you will not be humbled for your own sake?!

By Father Kyrillos Ibrahim

The Sixth Sunday of Lent – The Man Born Blind

This Gospel reading is also from the Gospel of John, and again involves another one on one personal encounter with Christ.

It is in John 9:1-38. We therefore see that the fourth, fifth, and sixth Sunday Gospel readings for Lent are all from the Gospel of John and all involve one on one personal encounters with Christ that completely change a person’s life. The Gospel readings of the fifth and sixth Sundays involve miracles that Jesus performed. Christ was asked to perform a miracle in the Gospel reading of the second Sunday, but He did not. This story is only found in the Gospel of John. There are several things to note in this passage:

The man born blind had not committed any sin, and so this is not a reading about repentance, as were the readings of the Prodigal son, the Samaritan woman and the man at the pool of Bethesda. The main aim of this reading is that God’s glory is revealed and that we see that He is “the light of the world” (John 9:5). Thus, Christ heals the blind man to glorify God (John 9:2-3).  The blind man is a symbol of humanity who are blind to Christ and are in need of illumination from Christ, and this is why Christ says, “I am the light of the world” in John 9:5. The clay and saliva are a reminder that all of humanity was made from the dust of the ground (Genesis 1:26), and that Christ wishes to restore man to a new state. The clay and saliva symbolize the restoration of man to his new state.

The pool of siloam was quite far from the temple, so the blind man had to walk a long way to wash his eyes in order to see. It shows us the great faith that he had, and that he would indeed see if he did as Jesus said.

This Gospel passage also tells us about those who see and those who do not see. It gives us a contrast between the personality of the man born blind (one who sees) and the personality of the pharisees (ones who do not see). The pharisees question the blind man four separate times about this miracle, in John 9:10, 15, 17, 26.

The blind man responds by saying that “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” He is a witness to Christ. The more the blind man is pressed, the stronger he becomes in his witness and faith.

The pharisess try to discredit the miracle by lying and saying that the man was not blind from birth (John 9:18), by discrediting Jesus and saying that He is not from God because He does not keep the Sabbath (John 9:16), and by saying blasphemy against Christ by calling Him a “sinner” (John 9:24).

We see here that as the story progresses, the man born blind becomes more aware of who Jesus is and develops a stronger faith and belief, whereas the pharisees criticism of Jesus becomes more sharp and hostile and they lapse into a deeper darkness.

The man born blind becomes a real witness for Christ in this story. He witnessed Christ before his neighbors and the pharisees, and as a result, he was thrown out of the temple (John 9:34). He was a man of faith and courage. His parents, on the other hand, denied Christ out of their fear. They did not witness Christ and put the responsibility on their son. Thus, this Gospel passage is a great lesson on witness and denial of Christ.

As in the parable of the prodigal son, the story of the Samaritan woman, and the man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus meets the man born blind after his conversion.

The man born blind must of been worshiping in the temple right before Jesus met him, because we read that the pharisees had thrown him out (John 9:34). It is this one on one encounter that Jesus has with the man born blind that parallels the Gospel readings of the two previous Sunday’s (the Samaritan woman and the man at the pool of Bethesda). It is here that Jesus reveals to him that He is the Son of God (John 9:37). This only comes after that man’s eyes were opened physically and spiritually, and thus he was now ready for spiritual illumination. The man born blind says, “Who is He Lord, that I may believe in Him” (John 9:36). The man, now, seeing His divinity, worshiped Him (John 9:38).

Jesus’s coming brought judgment (John 9:39) by increasing the accountability of those who saw and heard Him, but did not believe. The brilliance of Christ’s light becomes an illumination to some, bit a blinding glare to others (John 9:41).

The Fifth Sunday of Lent – The Sick of Bethesda

Jesus went to Jerusalem during the feast. In Jerusalem there was a pool by the Sheep Gate, which is called Bethesda. Around the pool lay great multitudes who were sick, blind, and lame paralyzed waiting for the water to be stirred. For an angel came down and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Among the multitude of the sick laid this paralyzed man, who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years… When Jesus saw him, and knew that he had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (John 5:7). Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” (John 5:8). And immediately the man was made well, took his bed, and walked. But it was the Sabbath… Afterwards Jesus found him and told him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” (John 5:14).

We wish to recognize that when Jesus looks at us… It is not an ordinary look from an ordinary individual, but as it is written, ‘Man looks at the eyes, but the Lord looks at the heart.’
Jesus’ look is full of all the affection which God has towards us. Every time, it renews within us the power of a new life. When I search for salvation, He looks at me with acceptance and encouragement to start the salvation work, as He looked at Zaccheus. When I am with tears of repentance, holding to the feet of Jesus, as He observed the sinful woman, and He told Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44). But when the soul is sunk in sins, seeking salvation and peace, then Jesus looks at it and weeps for it, as He looked at Jerusalem and wept at it. When I am inclosed in the tomb of my desires with my foul smell and defile, the loved ones approach Jesus, on my behalf, and request, “Come and see.” (John 11:34). Then His eyes, full of tears and raised to heave, lifts me with great power like Lazarus. When I fall denying the love of Jesus, almost losing faith, then His looks toward me are like those when He looked towards Peter, during that evening of torment, He expels my soul out of the circle of despair. His look full of pity fills me with hope. This is how in all my tribulations, I find Jesus looking towards me, and every time His looks contain new salvation.


What kind of look did Jesus direct towards that sick person, laying in his bed for 38 years. Later Jesus made it clear that the reason behind this illness was sin, “Sin no more.” (John 5:14). For sure, Jesus looked at him as the good Samaritan, who saw the man who was stripped naked by the thieves of sin, and left him between life and death. So when He saw him, He had pity on him. This was the same look when He saw the widow of Nain?. Those are our appearance when we are laying in the bed of sickness and are paralyses from doing the spiritual work for salvation. We are not even able to walk in the path of virtue. We can’t lift our hands for prayer, nor kneel to worship. We seldom direct our eyes up or are able to move towards God… Here the spiritual paralysis kindles the compassion of our Lord Jesus towards us. Therefore, He directs to us a pitiful look, approaching us and saying, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). For the Lord Jesus doesn’t question us about our condition in sin, or brings up inquires about the cause of the illness. But He directly asks about wanting to be made well, and this might be an anomalous question. Why does He question in this way? But Jesus wants to place us before the great truth with respect to our salvation, which is our desire.

He came for our salvation, and He fulfilled it through the cross and His resurrection. But we can not enjoy any of this without our own desire. For the human desire is the prime and a responsible entity. For Jesus doesn’t force or pressure the human desire. But on the contrary, He came to test the human desire, which was subdued by Satan. The human desire, by being alone and distant from God, doesn’t move anything or utters a thing. For the sick desired to be made well. But is his desire capable of curing him? The true cure is for his desire to accept the blessing of the work of Jesus and the power of His salvation. Therefore, his desire is strengthened by Jesus, and from there, the will of Jesus will be within us, which is our desire and our rejoice… This is the will of Jesus and His desire to be the entities we need. It is the enjoyment of the cure of our souls, the salvation of our spirit as well as our bodies. Isn’t that what we ask for in our hourly prayers… So be it Your will. I have no one to…

  •  A man appeared to Paul the Apostle in a vision, saying to him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9). A lot of souls around us screaming these calls, asking for help and for a word of salvation. A lot of souls have bloomed for harvest, but there is no one to stretch out his hands and do the work.
  •  And here is the sick from Bethesda, screaming today and complaining from the selfishness of man, everyone going his way… Everyone serving himself. Even the spiritual workers, labor for his own salvation, he wants to go down to the pool before others… He doesn’t care about the sinners. No one thinking about those around us, sick in sin… Multitudes standing before the Lord complaining about us, no one is helping them. We were satisfied with our repentance and we forgot our brethren around us.
  •  The blessing is in the baptism, the where the Spirit flutters over the water. It is also the repentance, the tears to cure and the return to living with God… And a lot don’t have a man to throw them in the pool. A lot of times we delay God’s work in our souls because of our selfishness and not caring for others.
  •  Also the time when the others are denied though the Spirit says, “I have no man.” (John 5:8). You find the Lord Jesus standing carrying our illness, and our pains… He is closer than the friend and is nearer than a brother. He is the helper for those in distress… And He is close to those calling on Him. He is standing at the door knocking, during our desperate moment at the fourth watch of the night, after 38 years. He is the hope of the hopeless.

Written by Fr. Louka Sidarous

Pre-Lent Sunday

This is the Sunday right before the beginning of Lent. Lent always starts on a Monday. The Gospel reading for Pre-Lent Sunday is Matthew 6:1-18. The three main themes in this reading are

Doing charitable deeds and giving alms (tithes)

The Pre-Lent Gospel reading sets the stage for our spiritual life during the period of Lent. The Pre-Lent Gospel reading talks about doing these three things in humility, and in particular, praying and fasting in secret and without recognition as well as doing charitable deeds without being noticed.

First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of lent is a continuation of the Pre-Lent Sunday Gospel reading. It is Matthew 6:19-33. The main themes in this Gospel reading are:

Focus on the heavenly rather than the earthly. We read in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures in earth, where moth or rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Do not worry (verses 25-33). During the period of lent, we are to focus on heavenly things and not worry about the earthly things. We are to not worry about our troubles, our possessions, our health, our jobs, our nancial security, and our cares of this life. Such worries distract us from fasting, prayer, repentance, and our heavenly goal.

Second Sunday of Lent – The Temptation on the Mount

The Gospel reading for the second Sunday of lent is Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus is tempted by the devil after having fasted 40 days in the wilderness. This Gospel passage teaches us several things:

The importance of fasting in overcoming temptation and sin, and in particular, overcoming the devil (Matthew 4:2). Being filled with the Holy Spirit as a result of fasting. Fasting raises our spiritual awareness, and as a result, the Holy Spirit is active in our life (Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:1).

We see a one on one confrontation between Christ and Satan, in which Christ is victorious. This gives us great comfort and joy in knowing that Satan is defeated, doomed, and his days are numbered. Christ is always victorious and He will be victorious again in His second coming.

This Gospel passage shows us the trickery and deceit of the devil. He twists words and meanings to fit his own definitions. He even twists words and meanings from the Bible.

Satan tempts Jesus three times here: i) he commands Him to turn the stone into bread, ii) he commands Him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, and iii) he command Him to worship him. The first temptation is an attack on the body, for Jesus was hungry after His fast, and the devil tempted him with food so that Jesus would satisfy His physical needs. The second temptation was an attack on the soul, in which the devil tells Jesus to jump, thus defying the laws of gravity and defying the capability of humanity. The second temptation is more serious than the first. Then the third temptation is the ultimate one, and most serious, in which the devil asks Christ to worship him, thus commanding Him to be in complete submission to him. In these temptations, we see that the devil is not only cunning and deceptive, but we see that he is also a liar. He tells Jesus that he will give Him the kingdoms of the world if He worships him (Luke 4:6). This, of course, is a lie, since the devil does not have authority whatsoever over anything of this world, but rather it is Christ who has the authority over all. This is why Christ calls the devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). The temptation of Jesus on the mount is recorded in three of the four Gospels. It is recorded in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13.

The Third Sunday of Lent – The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Third Sunday of Lent: The Parable of the Prodigal Son – The Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Lent is Luke 15:11-32. This is a very spiritually rich parable with so many lessons. It is a parable and thus not an actual event that occurred. The Gospel of Luke contains most of the parables of Jesus. The parable of the prodigal son is only found in the Gospel of St. Luke. This Gospel reading tells us many things:

Confession and Repentance – The prodigal son “comes to himself” (Luke 15:17) and realizes his sins and wrong ways. As a result, he repents and returns home to his father after having lived an immoral life.

Arrogance and Humility – The prodigal son leaves his father’s house an arrogant person, who demanded his inheritance (Luke 15:11), and he returns home a humble person only wanting to be a servant in his fathers house (Luke 15:19).

The Loving father – This parable also tells about about a loving father who accepts his son unconditionally without any questions or reservations. He sees him from afar, immediately accepts him, gives him the best of what he has, and prepares a big celebration for him. The father also deals with the elder son in a very loving way.

The Sins of the Tongue – The elder son criticizes and maligns his younger brother to his father, and he is jealous of him. We see here the importance of the sins of the tongue, and the sins of jealousy and hypocrisy. The Catholic Epistle reading for the third Sunday of Lent is James 3:1-12, which talks about the sins of the tongue.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Samaritan Woman

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

The Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Lent is John 4:1-42. It is a story of repentance in which Jesus has a one on one personal encounter with a person whose life changes as a result of this encounter. This story is only found in the Gospel of John. This Gospel reading tells us many things:

Repentance – the Samaritan woman, who was a liar, an adulterer, and a person who had lived an immoral life having five husbands, repents and preaches Christ to her own people. Repentance results in freedom from the slavery of sin, and the Samaritan woman demonstrates her freedom by eagerly telling her own people about Christ, as if she had just been freed from jail.

The love of Christ – the way Jesus deals with this woman was critical in her repentance. Jesus is patient, He does not condemn or accuse, but rather He uplifts and encourages. Jesus was a Jew and Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus shows us that He is here to break the barriers of communication in order to win our hearts. It is Jesus who initiates the conversation and our relationship with Him.

Jesus slowly reveals Himself to those who are ready and able to accept Him. He does not tell the Samaritan woman that He is Christ until she is spiritually ready. He gradually builds up to it, educating and teaching her in His loving way until she is prepared to accept Him as the Christ.

In verses 1-9, Jesus initiates dialogue, in verses 10-15, He tries to gently teach and educate and the Samaritan woman is still hostile towards Him. In verses 15-21, Christ’s loving ways begin to have an impact on her, as the woman begins to take a hard look at herself and examine herself. In verses 22-26, Christ teaches her about Christianity and she accepts it, and in verse 26, Christ reveals Himself to her.

On Fasting

By: St. John Chrysostom

“Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So, if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail.

 Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.

Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying: “If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves.”

You did not thrust your teeth into the flesh (of your neighbor) but you thrusted bad talk in his soul; you wounded it by spreading disfame, causing unestimatable damage both to yourself, to him, and to many others.

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power. Because he neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things. If we regulated our life with a sober mind and directed all of our interest toward spiritual things, and if we ate as much as we needed to satisfy our necessary needs and offered our entire lives to good works, we would not have any need of the help rendered by the fast. But because human nature is indifferent and gives itself over mostly to comforts and gratifications, for this reason the philanthropic Lord, like a loving and caring father, devised the therapy of the fast for us, so that our gratifications would be completely stopped and that our worldly cares be transferred to spiritual works. So, if there are some who have gathered here and who are hindered by somatic ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance. Let him become reconciled with his enemies, let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else. It is for this reason that he asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of his commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness. But if we are not about to offer to ourselves the help rendered by the fast because of bodily illness and at the same time display greater indifference, we will see ourselves in an unusual exaggerated way. For if the fast does not help us when all the aforementioned accomplishments are missing so much is the case when we display greater indifference because we cannot even use the medicine of fasting. Since you have learned these things from us, I pardon you, those who can, fast and you yourselves increase your acuteness and praiseworthy desire as much as possible.

To the brothers, though, who cannot fast because of bodily illness, encourage them not to abandon this spiritual word, teaching them and passing on to them all the things we say here, showing them that he who eats and drinks with moderation is not unworthy to hear these things but he who is indifferent and slack. You should tell them the bold and daring saying that “he who eats for the glory of the Lord eats and he who does not eat for the glory of the Lord does not eat and pleases God.” For he who fasts pleases God because he has the strength to endure the fatigue of the fast and he that eats also pleases God because nothing of this sort can harm the salvation of his soul, as long as he does not want it to. Because our philanthropic God showed us so many ways by which we can, if we desire, take part in God’s power that it is impossible to mention them all.

We have said enough about those who are missing, being that we want to eliminate them from the excuse of shame. For they should not be ashamed because food does not bring on shame but the act of some wrongdoing. Sin is a great shame. If we commit it not only should we feel ashamed but we should cover ourselves exactly the same way those who are wounded do. Even then we should not forsake ourselves but rush to confession and thanksgiving. We have such a Lord who asks nothing of us but to confess our sins, after the commitment of a sin which was due to our indifference, and to stop at that point and not to fall into the same one again. If we eat with moderation we should never be ashamed, because the Creator gave us such a body which cannot be supported in any other way except by receiving food. Let us only stop excessive food because that attributes a great deal to the health and well-being of the body.

Let us therefore in every way cast off every destructive madness so that we may gain the goods which have been promised to us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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