25th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST — Tone 8. Sunday of the Forefathers. St. Spyridon the Wonderworker, Bishop of Tremithus (ca. 348)
Tone 8 Troparion (Resurrection)
You descended from on high, O Merciful One!
You accepted the three day burial to free us from our sufferings!//
O Lord, our Life and Resurrection, glory to You!
Tone 2 Troparion (Forefathers)
Through faith You justified the Forefathers,
betrothing through them the Church of the gentiles.
These saints exult in glory,
for from their seed came forth a glorious fruit:
she who bore You without seed.//
So by their prayers, O Christ God, have mercy on us!
Tone 6 Troparion (Forefathers)
You did not worship the graven image,
O thrice-blessed ones,
but armed with the immaterial Essence of God,
you were glorified in a trial by fire.
From the midst of unbearable flames you called on God, crying:
“Hasten, O compassionate One!
Speedily come to our aid,//
for You are merciful and able to do as You will!”
Tone 4 Prokeimenon (Forefathers)
Blessed are You, O Lord God of our fathers, / and praised and glorified is Your Name forever! (Song of the Three Holy Children, v. 3)
V. For You are just in all that You have done for us! (v. 4)
Colossians 3:4-11 (Epistle)
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
V. Moses and Aaron were among His priests; Samuel also was among those who called on His Name. (Ps. 98:6)
V. They called to the Lord and He answered them. (Ps. 98:6)
Prayer Before the Gospel
Illumine our hearts, O Master and Lover of mankind, with the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Your Gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Your blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing to You. For You are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto You do we send up glory, together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Luke 14:16-24 (Gospel)
Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. ’For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
There are some people who are of the opinion that the Church is an “institution” inundated with rules and regulations. Compared to what was expected of the Old Testament people, we have it made! More than six hundred laws and regulations are contained in the first five books of the Old Testament alone.
Such regulations placed enslaving demands upon a believer. Moreover, some rules took great intelligence to even figure out. Many became discouraged. Those who were ardent in their efforts to follow the Law probably had personalities similar to the pharisees that we hear about in the New Testament. By Jesus’ teachings we know that their dispositions were far from those which we are challenged to imitate.
Burden or help?
A yoke is a device carefully fitted to be placed like a harness on two animals, oxen, for example, to enable them to work together. A yoke can also be thought of as a frame fitted to a person’s shoulders to carry a load in two equal portions. Any type of yoke was always carefully made to fit well, so as to be a help rather than a burden. The rabbis often used the term yoke as a metaphor for the Old Testament laws because Jews were bonded to them in servitude to God.
In the New Testament the implication is made that these laws had lost their original spirit and had become a burden rather than a help. There were human interpretations and extensions of the Law that went beyond God’s intentions and will. Many felt that following the Law without question, rather than catching the spirit in which the laws were promulgated, was of prime concern. The pharisees, for example, were so concerned with the externals of religion that they completely ignored its personal, internal value in terms of loving God and others.
Jesus came to change all of this. He did not intend to abolish the Old Testament Law but, rather, to fulfill it by improving its imperfections. He summed up the conditions for eternal friendship with God in these words: “The one who does the will of my Father in heaven” shall enter the Kingdom of God (Mt 7:21). This is the justice that “surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees” (Mt 5:20).
Still, we know quite well that pursuing the path of righteousness and holiness that Jesus left us to follow is anything but easy. In fact, many give up out of frustration. Others concoct excuses to skirt living a Christian lifestyle. And there are those who jump for joy when Christianity makes them “feel good” but collapse spiritually when faced with the need to make essential changes in their lives. “Loving your enemies,” for example, is not exactly an easy thing. Neither is striving for the perfection with which Jesus constantly challenges us.
Does this contradict what Jesus said in the Gospel about His yoke being easy and His ability to lighten our burdens? A true disciple would interpret this claim to mean that nothing is a burden when we do it out of love. This is especially true when our sights are set on the end for which we do it. “The Law,” writes Saint Paul, “kills.”
That to which Jesus’ new law of love binds us is the ultimate freedom and liberation and burden-lightening. And accepting the simplicity of Jesus’ vision, then, is the greatest challenge of all.
For prayer and reflection
During the days ahead reflect on the following scriptural passages in which Jesus speaks of Himself:
Matthew 5:17, 18; 11:4-6; 20:28
John 5:17-47; 6:32-40; 7:16-38; 8:12-19; 8:54-58; 9:35-37; 10:7-9; 14:6-12; 17:1-8
Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mt 11:27-30).
Seek love. Every day, ask God for love, because with love comes the whole host of other good things and virtues. Love and you’ll be loved by others. Give your whole heart to God, so that you may dwell in love. ‘Those who abide in love abide in God; and God abides in them’. (1 Jn. 4, 16). You must be very careful in your interpersonal relationships and respect each other as sacred persons, as images of God. Never be swayed by the body or beauty, but only by the soul.
Beware the feeling of love, because when the heart isn’t warmed by pure prayer, love is in danger of becoming carnal and unnatural; it can darken the nous and consume the heart. We must investigate on a daily basis whether or not our love flows from the conjoining of the love we have in common with Christ; whether it springs from the fulness of our love for the Lord. Those who are vigilant and keep their love pure will be safe from the snares of the evil one who tries to gradually transform Christian love into common, emotional love.
I urge you to show discretion and circumspection in all things. Avoid extremes. Austerity depends on virtues. Those who don’t have an abundance of virtues and try to keep pace with the perfect, attempting to live in privation like the great ascetics, are in danger of becoming proud and then falling. This is why you should proceed with discretion and not exhaust your body with labors beyond your powers. Remember that bodily asceticism simply helps the soul to reach perfection, which is achieved primarily through the striving of the soul. Don’t tighten the string more than it’ll take. You don’t have to force God to grant you his gifts. Anything we receive, we receive from divine mercy.
Don’t seek to ascend to the heights through great privations unless you have the commensurate virtues, because you then run the risk of falling into delusion because of conceit and audacity. Those who seek divine gifts and sublime visions while they’re yet burdened with passions are foolish and proud and, therefore, deluded. Their first concern should be to cleanse themselves. Divine grace sends gifts as a reward to those who’ve been cleansed of the passions. Grace comes to them silently and at a time unknown to them.
The highways and hedges
Do you like looking at maps? Do you sometimes wonder how far away things are on a map? When you read the Bible, have you ever thought about how far away from you is the place where Jesus spoke? Have you ever tried to find the Holy Land on a map?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells a parable about bringing people from far away into God’s house. Most of us live far away from Palestine, where Jesus told this parable. Although we are far away from the Holy Land, Jesus said that people far away would come to God’s house to a great banquet—a joyous party! God wants His house to be filled—not just with His family and friends, but with everybody!
In the Gospel today we read, “the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” We are the ones far away, in the highways and hedges. The servant in the parable is like an apostle, going to far away places to bring people to God. That’s us! God said a long time ago and far away that many people from far away from the Holy Land will be invited to His house, to His great banquet! Let’s always say yes to that invitation. And even more, let’s help others come to this banquet too!
Saint Herman: The First American Saint
We celebrate St. Herman tomorrow, December 13th (OC: Dec. 26th).
Did you know that 221 years ago, when George Washington was still president, our first American saint lived in our very own country? Saint Herman was born in Russia, and he became a monk there. In the 1700s, lots of Russians were living in Alaska so they could get animal furs and then sell them back in Russia. It was a big business! These Russians were Orthodox, so they wanted to have priests and churches there in their new land.
The Russian government also wanted to teach the native people about Christ and to help them become Orthodox Christians too.
So Saint Herman left Russia, along with a few other men, to help the Russian fur traders and to try to help the native people on Kodiak Island. But they had lots of problems. Their main problem was the fur traders!—they were not nice to the native Alaskans, and they forced them to work for them, cheated them out of money, and were awful to the innocent people.
Saint Herman lived in Alaska for almost 40 years, and he had many problems there. But he always stuck up for the native people, teach- ing them about God, but even more, showing them Christ’s love with his own life.