Musings from a twilight world…

Sundry thoughts from an Eastern Catholic Priest

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“You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God…”

Posted by Fr. Ron on July 30, 2018

0806Transfiguration    “O Christ our God, when You willed to prefigure Your resurrection, You chose three disciples, Peter, James and John; and You went up with them to Mount Tabor.  At the moment of Your Transfiguration, O Savior, the mountain was flooded with light, and Your disciples fell with their faces to the ground; for they could not bear the sight of Your countenance upon which no one may gaze, O Word.  Angels attended with trembling and awe; the heavens were afraid; and the earth shook to its very foundations when they saw the Lord of Glory come upon the earth.”  – At Psalm 140, Vespers for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

“When David, forefather of the Lord, foresaw in spirit Your coming in the flesh, he invited the whole creation to rejoice, crying out prophetically: O Savior, Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Your name, for indeed You ascended this mountain with Your disciples.  Through Your Transfiguration You returned Adam’s nature to its original splendor, restoring its very elements to the glory and brilliance of Your divinity.  Therefore we cry out to You: O Creator of All, glory to You!”  – Aposticha for the Feast of the Transfiguration

I was struck by two themes, if you will, of these vesperal stichera, as they pertain to Christ in His humanity and divinity, and as they also pertain to us.  First, the author says, “…when You willed to prefigure Your resurrection…”.  We believe that the resurrection of Christ was not merely a reanimation of His body after His death, but that He was raised in an immortal, glorified body.  Here we see that this glorification is shown beforehand on Mount Tabor to His disciples.  Peter, James and John saw our Lord as He would appear to them after the resurrection, and saw distinctly His divinity radiating through His humanity.  No wonder our Troparion for the Feast says that He revealed “as much of [His] glory to [His] disciples as they could behold” [emphasis added].  When Moses, on Mount Sinai, asked God, “Show me Your glory, I pray,” God replies: “You cannot see My face; for no one shall see Me and live” (cf. Exodus 33:12-13).  Thus, the disciples cannot bear to see but so much glory of the Son of God revealed to them on Tabor, “they could not bear the sight of Your countenance upon which no one may gaze.”  Yet, after the Resurrection, they would now be able to see Him in all His glory.  And, in our theology, they and we see the “original beauty of Adam,” and the original beauty will be manifest also in our bodies at the Resurrection of the dead!  “Through Your Transfiguration You returned Adam’s nature to its original splendor, restoring its very elements to the glory and brilliance of Your divinity.”  Thus it is that we see the eventual restoration of all of Mankind in His Transfiguration!

With His Transfiguration, we pray in the Ambon Prayer for the Feast, “Open the eyes of our minds to a sight of indescribable beauty, just as your did for Your apostles….  Guide us also into higher things by Your all-powerful right hand.  …Give us an unfailing memory of the voice of Your eternal Father revealing You as His beloved Son, so that, putting Your commandments into action, we may shine forth among those worthy of Your eternal kingdom….”

The Feast of the Transfiguration is also a call for us to conform ourselves to the will of God, and to carry out our vocation to be lights in the darkness, bringing the Good News to our world today.  “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit.  We have found the true faith….”  What is the purpose of the witness of the Transfiguration if we do not follow through by our own transformation: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  Everything we experience during our liturgical year is given to us for our repentance, our transformation, and our salvation.  The Transfiguration is a prefiguration of the glorification that we will receive when He raises us from the dead, just as His resurrection is the prefiguration of our resurrection.  God’s promises are not to be shrugged off as “spiritual talk” but as assurances that we were made for Him, and that, as we pray in the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, “You brought us out of nonexistence into being, and again raised us up when we had fallen, and left nothing undone until You brought us to heaven and gave us Your kingdom to come.”  The Transfiguration is the revelation of what He has in store for us.  Therefore, we glorify Him with our lives, and thank Him for this great feast.

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Take heed lest you forget the Lord…

Posted by Fr. Ron on June 22, 2018

Christ the True Vine

“Take heed lest you forget the Lord your God, by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes, which I command you this day: lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, Who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, Who brought you water out of the flinty rock, Who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.  Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth; that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as at this day.” (Deut. 8:11-19)

I love our liturgical year, in all its richness; how it guides us in all the things of God.  We have been led through so much so far this year in the things of the salvation of God given to us: we have witnessed His incarnation at the Feast of the Nativity; we have been brought successfully through the Red Sea of the Great Fast; we have wept at His betrayal, arrest, at the foot of His cross, and as He was laid in His tomb.  We have also risen early on the first day of the week and gone out with the Myrrh-bearers and found the huge stone rolled away, and heard the words of the angel, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  We have seen our Lord risen from the dead; placed our fingers in the nail-prints and our hand in His side and believed.  We have watched as He ascended to His Father and our Father.  And we have received the heavenly Spirit.

Now, though, we may feel spiritually exhausted, and just want to “get on” to other things in our lives.  All the “heavy stuff” is behind us, and it is the traditional time of year for vacations, cook-outs, and just enjoying the warmth of summer.  And yet, we have to remember that, as our Lord’s earthly ministry has ended, our ministry as Church has begun.  At His ascension, our Lord told us, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6–8).  We are so wont to set aside all spiritualcares, to paraphrase the words of the Cherubic Hymn, but the Church reminds us at this season that we are to be about our Father’s business, and to now put into action all that the Lord has taught us over these past months.  We have received our Lord’s teachings and are now to put them into practice.  It is not enough to have dutifully attended all the services and done all the prostrations and sung all the praises: we must now follow through on our promises to God: “Make vows to the Lord your God, and fulfill them” (Psalm 75 [76]: 11) we sing in the Sunday Prokeimenon for Tone 8.  At our Baptism, our sponsors made vows in our name, or we made those vows ourselves: “Have you united yourself to Christ?”  “Yes, I have united myself to Christ.”  “Then worship Him.”  During this season, we have been given the time to worship Him, and to do all things in His name and to His glory.  As much as we want to leave all this aside for the summer, we are obliged to continue along the path on which we started out; we are still to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.  “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working’” (John 5:17). God does not cease His work during this season, and we, in concert with Jesus, are not to cease doing good, being there for one another, and gathering together in our local parish (or the nearest parish to where we are vacationing) at least every Sunday to worship Him and sing His praises.  “Take heed lest you forget the Lord your God, by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes, which I command you this day.”

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Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 28, 2018

samaritanwomanSunday of the Samaritan Woman: John 4: 5-42

The story of Jesus’s meeting with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well can go in so many directions, which is one reason why it is part of our readings for the Paschal Season. To try to keep things short, I want to concentrate on a specific portion of the reading today.

When Jesus asks the woman to give Him a drink, He uses the well to open the conversation with the woman. Her reply is, “How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  We see this distinction elaborated later, when she tries to change the direction of the conversation away from her embarrassment at the revelation that Jesus somehow knew about her “living arrangement,” but that is a topic for another day.  But, here she is drawn in by Jesus’ opening gambit, putting things in a tribal, if you will, and religious context.  Jesus draws her past what could, with another Jewish/Samaritan encounter, have become a debate or even an argument: He says, “If you recognized God’s gift and Who it is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  This develops beautifully: she may be seeing this as a reference to flowing water, which is different from water that sits in a well, and responds, “You have no bucket.” Jesus can now go “full on” in leading the woman in the direction He wants her to go.  “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks from the water that I shall give him will most definitely never thirst, until the Age to come; rather the water that I shall give him will be come in him fountain springing up to the life of the age.”  She still hasn’t realized what Jesus was precisely saying, thinking it is physical water, but Jesus sees her heart opening, and can now lead her into deeper truths.  “Go call your husband and come here.”  He’s got a pry bar into the opening now.  “I do not have a husband.”  Now He can go to work!  “You speak well to say ‘I have no husband….’”

Now, I can get to the point of my homily!  We all, in deepest reaches of our hearts, long for fulfillment, to feel complete, to “find ourselves.”  And we do this in various earthly ways, whether through amassing money or possessions or people.  But no matter how much of this we have, we never find satisfaction, and keep going along the same path, thinking that it is some thingor some oneelse who will finally stop the thirst.  In this case, the woman is trying to find her fulfillment in another person.  As a matter of fact, Jesus points this out: “You have had fivehusbands, and he whom you have now is not your husband.”  It reminds us older folks of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who had nine husbands, or Mickey Rooney, who had eight wives.  More often than not, since we reallydesire the fulfillment we can only find in the person of Jesus Christ, we seek that fulfillment in anotherperson.  The overarching sadness of this is that, every time Person “A” doesn’t satisfy us, a heart or even a life is broken as we run off with Person “B.”  I concentrate on persons here rather than money or possessions because I believe we thirst for love and acceptance more than for things.  Things are just a substitute, like giving a baby a toy when we cannot give it personal attention.  We seek someone to love us, to love us as we are, to accept us, flaws and all.  Jesus, by homing in on this woman’s desire for love, can now bring her into the larger reality: no human love can ever slake the thirst in our belly; only accepting the love of God can do this.  “An hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”  (Interesting that Jesus says “you” in a personal way, letting her know that her life is about to change!)  “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”  The Way and the One Who will satisfy her thirst is sitting right there, and the earthly mountain and the earthly Jerusalem are now replaced by the heavenly Kingdom.  Earthly worship is now replaced by the Divine Liturgy.

One of the beautiful things about this story is that, even though Jesus obviously knows everything about her, and exposes that He knows, He does not condemn her.  He doesn’t shy away from the truth, but neither does He use it as a hammer to condemn her.  He takes her where she is and leads her into a new life.  “I know that the Messiah is coming (He Who is called the Christ); and when He comes, He will show us all things.”  “I Who speak to you am He.”  Despite her past, she is obviously a religious person and knows her faith, and now she sees her expectations fulfilled.  Now there is a flood of feelings.  The Christ knows her and doesn’t reject her!  She is a sinner, but He knows it and accepts her anyway! In her relief and excitement, she leaves her water jar–she no longer has a need for that physical water because she has now received that living water!  She goes back to the town and tells everyone there what she experienced, and they come out to see for themselves.  John says that “many of the Samaritans of that city had faith in Him on account of the woman testifying….”  “And many more had faith as a result of His teachings.”

Today, we honor that woman who had five husbands, was sleeping with a man who was not her husband, as the holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana in Russian), Equal to the Apostles. We honor her today, and celebrate her on her feast, February 26thin the Eastern Calendar and March 20thin the Western.  She and her sons were martyred, together with her four sisters and two sons, during the reign of the Emperor Nero, in AD 66 in Rome.

“Photina” means “enlightened one,” “light,” “brilliant,” showing that she herself was not only enlightened, but that she was and is a light to others.  We celebrate her enlightenment and raise her as a standard as to how we are to live our own lives.

God takes us where we are, warts and all, no matter what our past is, no matter how much or how greatly we have sinned.  He does not leave us there, but draws us to enlightenment.  As with the woman caught in adultery, He tells us to “go and sin no more.”  The example of St. Photina gives us hope that, no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, God loves us, and loves us in a way that no other person can; He fulfills us in a way that wealth or possessions can never do.  He leads us out of the darkness of sin into His light. “And to those in the tombs He granted life” doesn’t only mean the resurrection of the dead; He grants life to all of us entombed in our sin.  Therefore, when we sing that song of joy, “Christ is risen from the dead; by death He trampled Death, and to those in the tombs, He granted life,” let’s make it a personal proclamation that, in His rising from the dead, He has shown us love; He has shown us acceptance; and He has raised us from our sin and grants us new life.

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Sunday of the Ointment-bearing Women

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 28, 2018

myrrhbearingwomenI always like to dedicate this Sunday of the Ointment-bearing Women to those who give service to the church.  The readings from Scripture for the day naturally lend themselves to this, as we continue to celebrate Pascha by remembering those who devoted themselves to Christ, even after His death.  The readings from the Acts of the Apostles speak of the calling of the first seven Deacons to serve the Church.  The criteria were simple: they were to be of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.  Their main task was to see to the temporal needs of the Church, the Body of Christ.

The Gospel reading relates the story of how Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, took personal possession of the body of Christ, bought with his own money a burial shroud, and laid Him in a tomb “hewn out of the rock,” which was an expensive way to go, and may have even been Joseph’s own tomb.  (It is interesting to note that this act was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9, which says, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.”)  So we see someone who was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, risking at least his reputation to see to the needs of the body of Christ, seeing to His proper care even after death.  He honored Christ in honoring His body, which would probably would have had a profound affect on his standing in his community, but his love for Christ was stronger than anything else in his life.

And then we come to the Myrrh-bearers.  Mark says that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body of Christ was laid, and that Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James came out to properly anoint His body after His burial.  We have to remember that these women doubted the words Jesus spoke about His resurrection, or else they would not have been bringing the burial ointments with them.  At the same time, we see their extreme courage in venturing out to tend to the body of Christ: there was a great stone sealing off the entrance to the tomb; beyond that, Pilate had ordered that the stone itself have seals placed on it, and guards placed by it to ensure that no one could get to the tomb or Christ.  Despite their doubts, their fears and the dangers in what they went out to do, they venture out just before dawn on the first day of the week, because their devotion to Christ was greater than the danger and their fears.  Their courage was rewarded when they come to the tomb: they see that the stone has already been rolled away.  We must note at this point, as an aside, that Jesus did not open the tomb at His resurrection; He who appeared in the Upper Room although the doors were locked had no need to roll away that stone when He rose from the dead.  Rather, the wording of this passage in the Greek informs us that the angel had moved the stone to allow the women to see that the tomb was empty, since they could not have moved it themselves.

They were also, as a result, the first humans to proclaim the resurrection.  In a world where women were definitely second-class, God shows the nobility of their gender in that He has them go to the Apostles, rather than the Apostles being given that honor — perhaps due to their faintness of heart at His arrest.  Be that as it may, God bestows this honor on these three women.

So, on one side, we see the men serving the Body of Christ and, on the other, the women also.  Without going down into the rabbit-hole of clerical ministry in the Church, let us just see the universality of our ministry to the Body, the Church, today.  At the end of the Commemorations of the Anaphora, the priest prays: Remember, O Lord, those who bring offerings and perform good deeds in Your holy churches, and those who remember the poor, and upon all of us send down Your mercies.  We should never have a real hierarchy of whose offerings and good deeds are better than another’s.  Those who serve at the altar and those who usher, or bake for bake sales, or who are Bingo workers, or clean up after Sunday Hospitality when everyone else has gone — all of us share in the ministry of caring for the Body of Christ.  Like the Myrrh-bearers, we come to care for the Body, but also proclaim the Good News to all.  Everyone is a necessary part of the Church.  As I like to point out, the Holy Apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth this:  “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?  If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as He chose.  If all were a single organ, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.  But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing?  Do all speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?”  So, in whatever ministry we have here, all are necessary, and we should not take ourselves or one another for granted.

And so I honor all of you today.  To our deacon, to our servers, to our ushers, to those who will clean the coffee pots after hospitality.  I honor all of you who keep faith and share it with others.  We all serve the Body of Christ, and give all glory to Him who has called us to serve Him and His Church.

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Sunday of the Resurrection

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 28, 2018

resurectPascha 2018

“The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!  The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!  Let all partake of the feast of faith.  Let all receive the riches of goodness.”

These words are from the traditional Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom.  I want to tie these words with a line from a song from the new album of a friend of mine: “He is the strongest drink in all of history.”  When I heard that line, it really bowled me over, and is probably my new greatest line in a song ever.

We have finished the Great Fast of 2018.  The fast is not only to discipline our bodies, but it should make us hunger even stronger for God and His love for us.  It is difficult for me to remember, after all these years, what it is like to be a lay person in the Church, and I mourn that fact because it makes it harder at times to know what people really want and need from the Church.  I think most of the time in spiritual terms, with everything in the context of how it relates to God, and our Faith.  But I would hope that there is a hunger in your hearts to find peace in God, to find comfort and reassurance in Him.  I would hope that there is at least part that is unsatisfied with how your lives are going, how something is missing and makes us feel incomplete.  Because if there is no hunger for God, no hunger for the spiritual to be a large part of our lives, then the Feast of the Resurrection becomes just “Easter.”  Like so many people I have had contact with in the past, the Paschal Liturgy is just something we have to go through to get to the Blessing of the Baskets and then feasting at home.  It’s heartbreaking for a priest, whose primary vocation is shepherding a flock through the Narrow Gate into Heaven, to realize how many people have turned their backs on salvation in the name of a little ceremony where he splashes holy water on today’s dinner.

St. John Chrysostom tells us that, “The table is rich laden.  Let all partake of the feast of faith.  Let all receive the riches of goodness.”  On Holy Thursday, our Lord gives us His body and blood in the form of bread and wine.  On Good Friday, He gives us His body and blood through His death on the cross.  Holy Saturday is His descent into and the harrowing of Hades, putting to death the power of sin over us.  And on Easter Sunday, He gives all who believe everlasting life.  Today is the only reason the other 364 days of the year exist.  It is the only reason the Church exists.  In His death, He conquers sin.  In His resurrection, He gives us eternal life.  None of the rest of this makes any sense if we do not understand this.  Christianity becomes just another set of religious practices without His death and resurrection.  My favorite chapter in the New Testament is the sixth chapter of John.  “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’”  And again: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

This is why I am concentrating on these lines from St. John’s homily, for he is not talking about the dinner we are having this afternoon, but the bread and wine, His body and His blood, which we will receive this morning.  And this is why I am so blown away at Keith’s line from this song, because as Jesus said to the Samaritan Woman at the well, he who drinks from the physical well will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that He shall give will never thirst again.  He who drinks of wine will thirst again, but he who drinks the wine which is consecrated and becomes His blood will have eternal life with Him.  “He is the strongest drink in all of history,” for in drinking His blood and eating His body, we are not nourished physically as with earthly food and drink, but we are nourished spiritually, which leads to eternal life in Him.  He who drinks what is called “Strong drink” will only get drunk and eventually destroy his life physically, emotionally, and spiritually; it can lead to words better left unsaid, to broken relationships, and even physical death.  But the “strongest drink” will heal us spiritually, emotionally, and even physically, for it makes us one with the One Who shed His blood for us.

So let us celebrate this feast with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole mind.  Let us celebrate this feast with everything we are and everything we have.  Let us partake of His body today, and may it heal our broken bodies.  Let us partake of His blood today, that the blood of the Son of God may flow through our veins.  Through His body and blood, may we have the fear of His blessed commandments in us so that, having trampled all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life both thinking and doing everything to please Him.

Welcome to the Feast of Faith.  Partake of the strongest drink in all of history.

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The Face of Evil in C.S. Lewis’ “Perelandra”

Posted by Fr. Ron on February 26, 2015

“As he was looking down at this [Ransom] suddenly noticed something else.  At first he thought it was a creature of more fantastic shape than he had yet seen on Perelandra.  Its shape was not only fantastic but hideous.  Then he dropped on one knee to examine it.  Finally he touched it, with reluctance.  A moment later he drew back his hands like a man who had touched a snake.

“It was a damaged animal.  It was, or had been, one of the brightly colored frogs.  But some accident had happened to it.  The whole back had been ripped open in a sort of V-shaped gash, the point of the V being a little behind the head.  Some thing had torn a widening wound backward—as we do in opening an envelope—along the trunk and pulled it out so far behind the animal that the hoppers or hind legs had been almost torn off with it.  They were so damaged that the frog could not leap.  On earth it would have been merely a nasty sight, but up to this moment Ransom had as yet seen nothing dead or spoiled in Perelandra, and it was like a blow in the face.  It was like the first spasm of well-remembered pain warning a man who had thought he was cured that his family have deceived him and he is dying after all.  It was like the first lie from the mouth of a friend on whose truth one was willing to stake a thousand pounds.  It was irrevocable.  The milk-warm wind blowing over the golden sea, the blues and silvers and greens of the floating garden, the sky itself—all these had become, in one instant, merely the illuminated margin of a book whose text was the struggling little horror at his feet, and he himself, in that same instant, had passed into a state of emotion which he could neither control nor understand.  He told himself that a creature of that kind probably had very little sensation.  But it did not much mend matters.  It was not merely pity for pain that had suddenly changed the rhythm of his heartbeats.  The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame.  It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.  Then he decided, in spite of his theoretical belief that it was an organism too low for much pain, that it had better be killed.  He had neither boots nor stone nor stick.  The frog proved remarkably hard to kill.  When it was far too late to desist he saw clearly that he had been a fool to make the attempt.  Whatever its sufferings might be he had certainly increased and not diminished them.  But he had to go through with it.  The job seemed to take nearly an hour.  And when at last the mangled result was quite still and he went down to the water’s edge to wash, he was sick and shaken.  It seems odd to say this of a man who had been on the Somme, but the architects tell us that nothing is great or small save by position.

“At last he got up and resumed his walk.  Next moment he started and looked at the ground again.  He quickened his pace, and then once more stopped and looked.  He stood stock-still and covered his face.  He called aloud upon heaven to break the nightmare or to let him understand what was happening.  A trail of mutilated frogs lay along the edge of the island.  Picking his footsteps with care, he followed it.  He counted ten, fifteen, twenty: and the twenty-first brought him to a place where the wood came down to the water’s edge.  He went into the wood and came out on the other side.  There he stopped dead and stared.  Weston, still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched he was tearing a frog—quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open.  Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails.  Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up.  Their eyes met.

“If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak.  He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making of his fingers.  He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and coloring and features.  In that sense he was quite recognizable.  But the terror was that he was also unrecognizable.  He did not look like a sick man: but he looked very like a dead one.  The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it.  The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: ‘I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’  It was this that kept Ransom speechless.  What could you say—what appeal or threat could have any meaning—to that?  And now, forcing its way up into consciousness, thrusting aside every mental habit and every longing not to believe, came the conviction that this, in fact, was not a man: that Weston’s body was kept, walking and undecaying, in Perelandra by some wholly different kind of life, and that Weston himself was gone.”

Excerpt From: C. S. Lewis.  “Perelandra.” HarperCollins Publishers, 1943.  iBooks.

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This passage has passed through my mind quite a bit as I contemplate the world in which I live.  We have seen evil in many forms, either indirectly or (God forbid) directly, whether in our study of 20th Century history or in reading the news media.  Whether it is one person’s torture of another, or the genocide of Nazi Germany, militarist Japan, Stalinist Russia, or down to ISIS today, we pretty much know what is evil when we see it.  My thought is that there is an evil that creeps into a man or a society or a culture, or what have you, that is born of hatred, anger, etc.  But then there is an evil like the one Lewis describes above — cold, calculating, almost passionless. Whereas there are evil deeds that are done by certain people, there is also evil deeds that we end up describing as “diabolical,” or that the person or people are possessed.  I can almost “wrap my head around” evil deeds born of passion, but what fills me more with dread is passionless evil, calculated evil, cold evil.

Of course, there are those who do not ascribe evil to a spiritual cause — a devil, if you will.  There are even Christians and others who avoid the thought of some sort of “other being” that is able to exert its will or influence us.  Be that as it may, I do believe that there is a being that has set itself in opposition to God, and whose purpose is the destruction of Creation and especially the destruction of the pinnacle of God’s creation, Mankind.  And this theme, I believe, runs all through Lewis’ “Perelandra” or “Space” trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). It is also a central part of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

My thoughts are incomplete here.  I am just offering my thoughts to whoever happens upon this post, for further pondering.  But this evil is certainly present in our world today, if not in possession, then at least in influence.  People may disagree with me on how I think it is manifest today, but any thinking person would still admit that there is a force of evil in our world today, and has been in ages past, which the rational mind cannot comprehend.  But if we ignore what is happening around us, we do so at our peril.

 

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Great and Holy Friday — 2014

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 17, 2014

At the Passover meal in observant Jewish homes, it is the tradition for the youngest child in the house to ask, “How is this night different from all other nights?”  The family then tells the story of how God brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.  In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, on the eve of the plague of the death of the first-born, Moses tells the Israelites: “Thus shall it be, when your children say to you, ‘What does this service mean?’ that you shall say, ‘This is the Paschal sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’”

So, too, we can ask the same question: “How is this day different from all the other days?”  And our answer will be, “This is the Paschal sacrifice of the Lord, when He freed us from bondage to sin and death.”  This is our Passover, our Pascha.  This is why, in most languages around the world, the name for Easter is some form of the word “Pascha.”  And, this year is even more different than most other Good Fridays, in that all over the world, all Christians, whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, are commemorating the death of Christ on the Cross on this day.  I was thinking about this just yesterday: with our global awareness, every New Year’s Eve we get to follow the New Year being celebrated around the world, starting around New Zealand, and making its way westward.  On that night, for twenty-four hours, somewhere, someone is ringing in the new year.  And it is true for this Good Friday.  At any given time during this day, people of different cultures, of different Christian traditions, are doing something special today.  Some people are carrying crosses, statues, or something special in procession.  In the Eastern Christian world, the burial shroud is being carried by thousands priests, followed by countless thousands of parishioners, carrying candles, kneeling their way up to the shroud, bowing before Christ, kissing His wounds.  I think it is beautiful to realize that what we are doing here tonight, in this little town in New Jersey, is part of that bigger procession, encompassing the whole world.

It is a day of profound holiness.  In the words of the sticheron we sang earlier, “An awesome and glorious mystery occurs today: the God Who cannot be contained is now restrained.  He, Who freed Adam from the curse, is bound.  The Searcher of Hearts and Souls is questioned unjustly.  He, Who confined the deep, is now confined to prison.  In front of Pilate now stands the One before Whom the heavenly powers tremble.  The Creator is struck by the hand of a creature.  The Judge of the Living and the Dead is condemned to the cross.  He, Who conquered Hell, is sealed in a tomb.  O innocent Lord, Who graciously suffered all things and saved all Mankind from the curse, glory be to You.”  There is no way I can come up with anything more profound to tell you today: you see the shroud before you; you sang these bitter-sweet hymns to Him Who saved us all.  But one thing I wish to remind you of: at the end of our proskomedia, the preparation of the gifts for Holy Communion, the priest prays this prayer: “When Your body was in the tomb, and Your soul in Hades, when You were in paradise with the thief, You were at the same time, O Christ, as God upon Your throne with the Father and the Spirit, infinite and filling all things.”  It is difficult for our mind to grasp these words, but wonderful to ponder all the same.  In the words of St. John Chrysostom, in his Paschal Homily, he says:

“He that was taken by death has annihilated it!  He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!  He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!  And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: ‘Hades was embittered when it encountered You in the lower regions’.  It was embittered, for it was abolished!  It was embittered, for it was mocked!  It was embittered, for it was purged!  It was embittered, for it was despoiled!  It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!  It took a body and came upon God!  It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!  It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!”

What sublime words for us to ponder as we come before the tomb today and kiss the forehead, the hands, the side, and the feet of the Man Who is God.  And how much more sublime when next we gather and find this tomb empty.  This is our Passover.  He is our Paschal sacrifice.  The One now lying here in the tomb is our hope.  He is our life.  This night is unlike any other night, for the day of our salvation is at hand.

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Holy Thursday – 2009

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 11, 2014

This Lenten season has been a difficult one for me. Recuperating from surgery, a harsh, long winter (for me at least), other medical problems, mine and my mom’s; I won’t be getting nominated for official sainthood based on how I got through this season! Tonight we had our Holy Thursday Vespers with Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, commemorating the Institution of the Eucharist, of the Priesthood, and also commemorating the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. A very important evening in the Church calendar. For having two parishes, only one celebration of this Liturgy, and we had 19 people there tonight. It is things like this that really cause a priest to get dejected. This is as opposed to how many people made sure they got a palm on Palm Sunday, and just let us wait and see how hard it is to close the doors on Easter Sunday!

In tonights reading from the Gospels, Jesus takes his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane. He tells them to wait while He goes off to pray; when He comes back, they are asleep. Jesus asks them, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40) It is sad to note how many Christians are there when things are going good, but are nowhere to be found during the bad. They are drawn to the Easter Bunnies, candies and eggs, but have no depth to appreciate Holy Thursday. It is the same way that, rather than see Christmas as a time to dwell upon the Incarnation of God in the flesh, they instead worry about gifts and trees and “just getting through it all.”

Now remember the context here: I am not talking about “the rest of the world;” I am talking about Christians! People who say they are followers of Christ. You expect that Holy Week is not on the radar for “the rest” but when Christians cannot take time out of this week to take part in the unfolding of the Passion, the Crucifixion, but show up in droves in their best clothes for Easter, and then pull away again until Christmas, it makes you wonder about how they were raised, how they were taught (both by their family and by their priests, ministers, etc.).

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Palm Sunday – 2014

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 11, 2014

Entry into Jerusalem

Entry into Jerusalem

Just as it has seemed like a long winter, so, too, it seems like a long Fast.  We have been through privations; we have struggled with our personal demons and our personal crosses, trying to do things just a little bit different, just a little bit better.  Maybe we fasted well; maybe our stomachs still proved to be our master.  Perhaps we prayed a bit more, a bit harder;   perhaps we just got too busy to go to church, just like we always do.  Maybe we gave of ourselves more this time around; maybe we looked in the mirror and saw our selfishness and self-centeredness more than we would have liked.  Whatever the case, we now find ourselves here, holding palms and branches, participating in the celebration of Palm Sunday, our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  No matter which Gospel we read today, we hear this story of people laying down their clothes on the road before Jesus as He rides up on a donkey, to and through the gates of the Holy City; others are climbing the palm trees, cutting off branches and laying them before Him.  We hear all the people crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Is this the one who will save them?  Is the long darkness finally over?  But we also hear the Pharisees calling out to Him, telling Him to silence his followers.  We sense that something is not quite perfect about all this.

Of course, all of us here know what is really going to happen.  While the people of Jerusalem and those in the multitude thought that the liberation of their country was at hand, we know what is about to take place.  Those cheers will later turn into shouts of “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  Today He enters the city riding like the king of the prophecies, but the next time He goes through the gates, it will be as one beaten nearly to death, carrying upon His shoulder the cross the Romans will use to crucify Him.  When He enters today, His disciples are buoyed with joy to see how well Jesus is welcomed; when He comes out on Friday, they have all deserted Him, licking their wounds and wondering how everything could have gone so wrong.

This is one great reason why I like that our Church chooses the Triumphal Entry story from John’s gospel—we are shown the bigger picture.  The day before—the day we call Lazarus Saturday—Jesus shows us why all this is happening: He has come, not to free first-century Jews from the yoke of first-century Romans, but to free all of Mankind from the yoke of sin and death, the captivity we have borne under the devil since the beginning.  The Entry into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of our Lord are inextricably tied to the death of Lazarus and Jesus calling him out of the tomb.  In the story of the illness and death of Lazarus, Jesus already knows what will happen and what He is to do.  Yes, He could have easily gone straight to Bethany and healed Lazarus right then and there.  But, if I can say such a thing, the illness and death of Lazarus was part of the greater plan.  Bethany, the town of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, is only two miles from Jerusalem, which is Jesus’ ultimate destination.  His disciples even say to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are you going there again?”  But it is here, in Bethany, so close to the Holy City, that Jesus shows His greatest sign and teaches His greatest teaching.  He even says to His disciples, “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.”  A little later in the story, He and Martha have their conversation about the resurrection, which ends with Jesus telling her plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”  In the raising of Lazarus, He is trying to teach the disciples, and us, that He has the power over life and death.  And if Jesus can raise Lazarus, now four days dead, they should believe that, after He is crucified, He will rise, just as He has told them.  After the raising of Lazarus, the gospel says that many of those who had seen this now began to follow Jesus.  But the story goes on to say the Pharisees and the chief priests meet to consider what has happened; but their souls are so darkened that, instead of believing, they say, “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”  So, it says, “The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.”  We can be excited to see that Jesus truly is the Author of Life and the One Who conquers Death, but we are aware that the job doesn’t end with the raising of one man, but must be the raising of all Mankind from the Ancestral Curse.

So God’s light is present today at the gates of Jerusalem.  But we are reminded of the evil, crouching in the darkness, is trying to put out the light.  The evil which tried to kill Lazarus is also trying to put out the Light of Christ in us.  The story of Palm Sunday reminds us of what Lent was all about: the conquering of the darkness in our lives, so that we may correctly see the Light that comes today, seated on a donkey; so that, when we see Him mocked, scourged, spat upon, and crucified by the end of the week to come, we will know the true price that God has paid to free us from the chains of sin and death, which have bound us and have made us feel that there is no hope.

So for us, today is a day of thanksgiving, as we follow Christ with the rest of His disciples, into the Holy City.  We thank God that the day of our deliverance is at hand.  We raise our palms and branches, showing the world that its liberation is at hand.  But let us also soberly prepare ourselves to witness the payment of our debt, the price of the ransom for our souls.  When we see Him give us His Body and Blood at the table on Holy Thursday, when we take His body down from the cross and bow before Him and kiss His wounds on Holy Friday, let us again give thanks that God so loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that all those who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  And when we stand before the empty tomb, I pray that every single voice present here on Easter morning will shout from the depths of their hearts with joy, with love, and with praise, that Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling Death!

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Steve Martin’s Latest CD, and playing the Banjo

Posted by Fr. Ron on November 4, 2011

Rare Bird Alert Cover

Rare Bird Alert

I’m a bit remiss in posting this, but I want to make up for lost time. A couple of months ago, I purchased a copy of Steve Martin’s bluegrass CD which he did with The Steep Canyon Rangers, entitled “Rare Bird Alert.” What prompted me to finally post here was seeing a PBS special on the TV this evening, entitled “Give Me The Banjo,” which Steve Martin narrated.
I had thought of his previous CD, “The Crow…” as being what I suppose is called “Newgrass,” but this time he is sticking closer to proper “Bluegrass” to my mind. I can’t give a blow-by-blow, song-by-song review of each song at this point, but I do highly recommend this CD. Not only that, but listening to this prompted me to buy a couple of Steep Canyon Rangers CDs as well! As icing on the cake, I finally, after many years of batting around the idea, I recently purchasd my first banjo and am attempting to teach myself to play!
Steve placing a side of banjo music on his LP, “The Steve Martin Brothers,” many years ago, gave me an appreciation for the banjo that I hadn’t really had before. Sometimes it takes someone like this to wake one up. Through that “B” side of an LP, my ears were open years later when, somewhere, somehow that I cannot remember, I fell in love with the music of Nickel Creek. They led me to Alison Krauss (I believe she produced their second and third CDs), both solo and with Union Station. Now I am listening to Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Cumberland Gap, as well as Bela Flack and others.
I know, Bluegrass is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a real part of America and its music, and I feel more connected with our country and our culture through my exploration of a purely American music form.

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