How do you feel about the situation in which we currently find ourselves?
Listening to the news, social media and socially distanced individuals I have heard and read extremes of opinion; for some, bliss. Whilst for others, a living hell! We do not like to be victims of problems we cannot solve. Whether it is a health-related issue, a damaged relationship or a combination of complex issues of which we have no control. Few of us cope well in such situations. How would you feel if you felt despondent for your past and hopeless for your future?
How must the paralysed man in todays gospel reading have felt? He had been paralysed for 38 years. We do not know his age but, as the length of his condition is reported, I think we can assume that this was not something he had experienced from birth. I think we can also assume that for many years this man had been coming to the pool waiting and hoping to be healed. He had seen others delivered and healed each year. Whilst he, bound by his infirmity, continued to suffer. Did this man feel dragged down by his infirmity? Did he fall back in despair and despondency? Did this man feel anger that in all the time he had been waiting to enter the pool, not a single person had shown compassion on him and helped him into the pool? Not at all!
St John Chrysostom teaches us; “Great is the profit of the divine scriptures, and all sufficient is the aid which comes from them…for the divine oracles are a treasury of all manner of medicines….in the Scriptures we may find abundant resource. Perhaps, the most efficacious of all the remedies to be found in the Holy Scriptures is humility! Notice the humility of the paralysed man, this man wanting so much to be healed. When Christ asks him if he wants to be healed, he doesn’t just say ‘yes’, but humbly says “I have no one to put me into the pool…”. The man showed no particular evidence of faith. There is nothing to suggest he was waiting for Jesus. And yet our Lord, filled with compassion, heals him. We do not know if the paralysed man had faith or not; whether he was a good person or not. What we do know is that he demonstrated humility.
The UK has a rich history of preventing ill health and has led the way globally. Edward Jenner developed the first smallpox vaccine in 1796. The link between contaminated water and cholera was identified using data analytics in England in 1854. Penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928. British scientists led the medical science and built the evidence base to establish the link between smoking and cancer during the 1950s. In 2007 it became illegal in England to smoke in enclosed public spaces. In 2015 we became one of the first countries to introduce a national publicly- funded vaccination programme to protect children against meningitis type B. Now we have ‘social distancing’ and self-isolation to combat Covid-19 (Coronavirus).
We all know that prevention is better than cure. And we see this principle being applied in our Lords encounter with the formerly paralysed man when they meet again in the temple.
‘14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him,
“See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
Why did Jesus say this? Was the man paralysed because of some historical sin? Probably not. Rather, I think, Jesus is pulling together the spiritual and physical. Jesus is saying that sin causes something far worse than physical paralysis. We may ask, what could possibly be worse than being physically paralysed?
Sin causes spiritual paralysis and separation from God. This is indeed worse than any physical illness. We live in a world focused primarily on physical appearance and health. A world where many are oblivious to spiritual illness. Just as we are able to feel the pain and discomfort of physical injury, we also need to learn to feel the spiritual pain of our sins. We sprain our ankle and immediately feel the pain. But what do we feel if we slander someone?
Jesus Christ, ‘Physician of soul and body’, asks each of us, weak and sinful as we are, the same question that he asked the paralysed man; “Do you want to be made well?”
If we do, then let us rise up to a life of holiness. Let us open ‘the divine oracles’ (Holy Scriptures) knowing that they are ‘a treasury of all manner of medicines’. When we are permitted let us receive Holy Communion, for the healing of body and soul. And let us not forget Confession, the forgotten medicine.
We can respond to our Lord’s question in the sure and certain knowledge that He can heal physical and spiritual illness, not only because He overcame sin, but because He also overcame the ultimate consequence of sin – death itself!
Christ is Risen!
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I was just popping out to the recycle bin when I saw the Hearse. John (not his real name!) was dead! It appears that he fell asleep at the end of March but, because of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) situation, there had been difficulties arranging his funeral and letting others know. The only funeral car available was for Johns coffin. His widow and young son travelled with friends in a private car. Again, due to current restrictions, very few mourners where able to attend.
One cannot avoid hearing and reading stories of those being taken to hospital with the coronavirus who die alone or supported only by a PPE clad nurse. Their families never getting the opportunity to say goodbye. Not able to grieve properly.
We grieve because we loved. After the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, her majesty the Queen said, “grief is the price we pay for love”. Because loss is an inevitable aspect of all human relationships, so too is grief. We grieve naturally, just like we breathe air naturally. It affects all aspects of our existence.
Rituals that address loss have for a long time been built into the religions and cultures of the world. Whether a wailing wall, windows covered in black, ripped clothing, or overt crying, the need to grieve (to feel) and mourn (to do) is a recognized and encouraged phenomenon. The Bible says “there is a time to weep…..a time to mourn” (Ecc.Ch 3).
In our Gospel reading for today, Mark 15: 43-16: 8, we meet grief. There is the grief of Joseph of Arimathea and that of the Holy myrrh-bearing women. These women watched as Joseph took Christ’s body down from the cross. They followed Jesus through his passion, witnessing that he was tried and crucified. They watched as Joseph of Arimathea stepped up and gave Jesus a proper burial in his own tomb. They have seen the stone sealing the tomb. These women loved Jesus, and now they grieve for the loss of their beloved leader. All hope is lost. He is gone. And yet even in the face of hopelessness, these women act. They buy ointments that will help his body dry out as it decays, and sweet spices so that even in death, his body is honoured. Their actions show their steadfast love for Christ, that even after hope is shattered, they go the extra mile to honour Jesus. Such is their love for this dead man. In their actions, we see that the myrrh-bearers come to anoint Christ not out of a desire for any recognition or reward from Jesus, rather they are motivated by their love for Him, and the need to grieve properly.
The disciples, I am sure were also grieving. Things had not turned out the way they had expected. John was the only disciple to stand at the foot the cross, the others had run away in fear and Peter had denied Jesus three times. They were disappointed and they were shocked. They believed that death had been the final word. They too were grieving. However, there is a very different response to the grief experienced by the myrrh-bearing women and that of the disciples.
The myrrh-bearers resisted the temptation to think only about themselves and their loss; rather they kept their focus on serving Jesus as best they could. For them, that meant doing the sorrowful task of giving their departed Lord and friend a decent burial They found the courage and strength not to focus on themselves, but on showing love to Christ as best they could.
If we too love and serve Christ even in the midst of our most difficult struggles in life, then we also will be healed whether of our prideful selfishness or our grief. We will become more fully who our Lord wants us to be through His glorious resurrection. Christ is Risen!
By the intercessions of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers,
O God, have mercy on us and save us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Fellow Concelebrants,
Now we can relax into the joy of Paschal-tide, our efforts in Great Lent and Passion Week have brought us to this joy. The season past has been very different for us this year but, hopefully, we are now better equipped and with a deeper understanding of withdrawal, isolation and prayer ( Hesychia).
Although we now relax the Fast, we must not relax the life of prayer. Prayer is well defined by St Gregory of Nyssa, The Theologian:
Prayer is intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible. It satisfies our yearnings and makes us equal with the angels.
Angels live rejoicing in the presence of God and we are called to be in-tune with them. Prayer gives us the same intimacy with God and especially now that Christ is Risen. He shared our life by becoming human and when He retuned to his Father’s throne, he did so in the form of a man. This is the message of The Ascension. When we stand in prayer with Him, we stand at the throne of God with intimacy and with greater understanding of the invisible. It is this continual standing in the invisible presence which is at the heart of prayer and ensures that we are standing firmly on good solid rock.
We are still within the orbit of Coronavirus, Covid19 and we stand (and clap) in
thankfulness for the dedicated staff of the NHS, sadly, for many, only partially protected. We hear of the shortage of masks and gowns and other protective clothing but of equal, and perhaps greater importance, is the need of spiritual and psychological protection. Standing in intimacy with God is the only full protection which a human being needs. Psychological health soon follows. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made efforts to highlight this. After speaking with many NHS workers, they find that these dedicated staff are returning home burdened by the trauma they have lived through, carrying into their private lives, the stress of the work they have undertaken. We hear of the need of protective clothing, but is there also need for good psychological support. The Cambridges emphasize the importance of catharsis and stress relief, to which we add the importance of spiritual wellbeing. It is full spiritual, psychological and physical protection which is required.
We, also, have to take care of ourselves in like manner. Yes, care which is spiritual.
psychological and physical. In Paschal-tide, a time of relaxation from fasting, we must not relax from prayer, prayer which is ‘intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible’. From this flows all our wellbeing. It is the key to life as we go forward.
We continue our physical isolation for the time being but soon ‘We’ll meet again!’.
for ‘Christ is Risen!’
Parish of S Aidan and St Chad, Nottingham
Deanery in Archdiocese of Thyateira
Now we have completed the Lenten Fast (Friday evening) and we have before us two days of joy, as a prelude to the days of grief which follow; Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday.
Our Lord delayed his arrival in Bethany as a prophetic intervention before He entered the week leading to His Passion. People saw his humanity in His compassion with weeping for his friend Lazarus and they noted,” How He loved him!”. But to Martha, when she said, "I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”, Jesus replied, “I am the Resurrection!”; "I AM, as God, the Resurrection and the life.” He demonstrated that he was both human and divine for all to see, and, in this prophecy in action, He demonstrated that He had the power over death, foretelling what he would reveal, in himself, eight days later. In this prophecy, when He shouted, “ Lazarus, Come out!”, he was speaking to us also, demanding that we too come out of whatever tomb in which we are trapped, to move into the Truth, "that those who are dying in Adam might be made alive in thy Christ himself” ( as the Liturgy of St Basil clearly encourages us to pray in the prayer of consecration ). “ So I pray to Thee, O Thou lover of Mankind to raise me to life, I, who through my passions are dead….."
Now, we can indeed rejoice with Our Lord and all with Him as he makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, waving the ( olive ) palms of Triumphant Victory which have born the olives, which give the oil of Anointing and Healing. Christ is no longer, merely the acclaimed teacher, but the King of Glory, and we welcome Him as such. We shout, Hosannah, meaning “Save now, we pray!" This King, riding humbly on an ass is not like the earthly king expected by the Jews, He is King of our hearts. We come to Him on this day, before we enter with Him into Passion Week and He comes to us. Now, He is more than the Master who teaches, but the King who wishes to take possession of our soul and be enthroned in our heart. "Alleluia, Praise to Thee, Jahweh! Hosannah, Save us now, we pray!” Only when we have celebrated Jesus triumphal entry into the Holy City are we ready for what is to follow. The crowds who had witnessed the rising of Lazarus and were now greeting their new found King share in joy and an understanding which was denied to others. The Chief Priests did not realise that they were “dying in Adam" and not able or willing, "to be made alive in Christ". They saw Him as a threat, one who might disturb their comfortable existence and upset the Roman overlords. They are the ones who were able to persuade other folks in Jerusalem, to shout, not, “Hosannah", but, “Crucify!". For us there is also this challenge. Are we able and willing to throw our garments of self-satisfaction and contentment with our life in Adam, before the advancing King? Does our fear of what might happen to us if we take the challenge of this week too seriously, hold us back? Might we slip into the crowd, later in the week, shouting for His death?
Metropolitan Anthony in one of his sermons at this time reminds us that when God created man He offered him eternal life, a share in His own fullness of life. But man answered God’s gift with betrayal due to self-focus, thus condemning God to death. This became even death on The Cross. For God said, in these last days, "What more can I do for you to encourage you into life with me, the fullness of Life to which I am inviting you? I will send to you my only Son, surely you will listen to Him.”
The Father delivers into our human hands His only begotten Son.
It is to this amazing love, this outpouring of love beyond our understanding that we, today, walk humbly with Our Lord into Jerusalem to stand with Him in His Passion and, in acceptance of the life He is giving us, to know truly and with certainty, " those who are dying in Adam are made alive in God’s Christ. ”
May God bless you in this most important week in the life of the Church.
When you look at this painting what do you see?
Social distancing, isolation?
‘The Silence’, by Carel Weight addresses the theme of human isolation. The artist wished it to convey his belief that although people join to perform identical rituals, they are essentially solitary individuals. To emphasise this, the three figures never met and were painted separately.
The painting shows three people (almost three generations), motionless, silent, enclosed in their walled space, protected against the outside world and one another. Not one of them appears to be at peace. They sit or stand stiffly, coldly, worryingly remote from any family closeness.
As social distancing and self-isolating become essential to our daily living; there appears to be a increasing interest in ‘Solitaries’ Those who chose an eremitic or hermitic life, living in seclusion from society. I have recently read a book that explores the social history of silence. A significant portion of this book is devoted to penal incarceration; specifically, the introduction of solitary confinement and Benjamin Rush’s misguided belief that, by isolating convicts in this way, they would gain an awareness of the presence of God and hear his voice.
This Sunday, 5th Sunday of Great Lent, we remember that wonderful Saint, Mary of Egypt. Our venerable mother Mary was a desert ascetic who repented, having lived a life given “unrestrainedly and insatiably … to sensuality”. She lived during the 6th century and passed away in a remarkable manner in 522.
[You can read the full story of the life of Mary of Egypt using the link - The Life of Mary of Egypt]
Mother Mary, like the Anchorite Julian of Norwich and the many other Religious Solitaries, chose a life of silence, unlike those subject to penal punishment. They chose a life of three-fold silence; silence from words, silence from desires and silence from thoughts. A choice made to allow them to respond to the belief that we all belong to God and are loved by him from eternity to eternity. That this brief life is just an opportunity for us to say, “I love you, too!
It is this desire to love and be loved by our Lord, that motivated these saints. It was this love for our Lord that led them to understand that any peace that rests upon externals is inevitably fragile. It was from a love and faith in Christ that they could, with St Anatoly of Optina, declare that “The best fast is to patiently endure everything that God sends”. These saints understood that with a full larder, no financial trouble, happy relationships, an interesting career: then the world is beautiful to us, and we are at peace. But they understood too the true value of such peace. At any moment accident or natural change may disrupt or destroy it. This peace is an uncertain peace! They also understood that to simply isolate oneself is not to be at peace. There is no lasting peace that does not rest upon a sense of life having meaning. For Mary of Egypt, Julian of Norwich and for all our venerable fathers and Mothers that meaning was loving and following our Lord;’ knowing that one can only be a full person in Christ.
Our Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Great Lent (Mark 10: 32-45) begins with the disciples journeying with Jesus to Jerusalem and His Passion. Let us together, make that same journey together! We may not be able to go to church but that must not stop us being the Church!
Holy mother Mary, pray to God for us.
On this fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we honour St John Climacus who, in the seventh century wrote his “ Ladder of Divine Ascent”, a path of repentance with 32 steps, a parallel to the years of Christ’s life on earth, perhaps, also reflecting the path Our Lord himself journeyed along during His earthy life as he too, in human form, followed a path of perfection before He could begin His earthly ministry. If we, like St John are able to master all of these 32 steps, like him, we shall also step off the ladder (of perfection) and step into heaven, our ultimate resting place
Most of us only master a few of these steps and then, as beginners, only partially. Of course, the whole book is designed as a challenge for monks; renunciation of life, detachment, exile, obedience, penitence, remembrance of death, mourning, placidity and meekness, talkativeness and silence, falsity, despondency, gluttony, chastity, avarice, and poverty, to mention but a few of the steps. But, our Lenten journey is to take stock of where we fall short, and how to make remedy and progress in the intimacy of our life in Christ.
Perhaps this year, when our Lenten journey is so different, we can make progress at a different level. Without the usual support of the sacraments of the Church and church attendance, we are challenged, by our self-isolation, to focus more definitely on our solitary life of prayer; our deepening relationship with God. Hesychia to which Fr Zacharias refers (in his notes on coping with the coronavirus already circulated) is withdrawal from the world to be more close to God and to begin to value more, the prayer of silence and stillness. “Be still and know - Be still and know that I AM - Be still and know that I am God”.
The Gospel for today is well chosen. A man brings his young son to Our Lord for healing. The boy suffers from epilepsy activated by a demon. The father says, “…...have compassion on us and help us” to which Jesus replied.” If you can believe, all things are possible to him which believes”. The father cries out with tears, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief”. Jesus then rebuked the spirit and the boy was healed. Later his disciples asked,” Why could not we not cast it out?” To this Jesus replied, “this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting”.
The lesson here is surely this; we have to have faith and believe; an unwavering faith, a certain belief. Only then can we be in a position to change things, with Our Lord there to help us. He co-operates with us when we are prepared to co-operate with him. Only when we cry, ” Lord I believe, I have faith, help thou my unbelief, my weak faith “ does he grant the answer to our prayer. Too often we plead with God to do this, do that, but we have to add our desire to co-operate with Him for this to happen. Also, we need to be in the right state of preparation. This means through prayer and fasting. Now we see that our Lenten observance is not simply optional discipline and obedience in this Holy Season, but it is a skill we have to learn so that at every moment of our life, we are in tune with God. Then all things become possible and miracles can and do happen.
Through the prayers of St John Climacus may we make progress on our Ladder of Divine Ascent during this time of the Great Fast to experience a joy of Pascha as never before.
Lord I believe, helps Thou my unbelief.
March 22nd will bring us to the Third Sunday of Great Lent, also called Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross. This Sunday of Lent is closely paralleled to the feasts of the Veneration of the Cross (September 14) and the Procession of the Cross (August 1) and prepares not only of Our Lords Crucifixion, but it also reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we too are called to be crucified with Christ.
The Lenten Fast itself can be likened to the spring of Marah (Ex. 15:23, 24; Num. 33:8) whose waters the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness. This water was undrinkable due to its bitterness but became sweet when the Holy Prophet Moses dipped a piece of wood into its depth. Likewise, through the wood of the Cross Christ comforts us during our course through the desert of the Fast, guiding and leading us by His hand to the spiritual Jerusalem.
Moreover, the Holy Cross is often called the Tree of Life and has been placed in the middle of the Fast just as the ancient tree of life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden. By this, we are reminded of Adam’s gluttony as well as the fact that through this ‘Tree’ (the Cross), condemnation has been overcome, and that for those who bind themselves to the Holy Cross, they shall never encounter death but shall inherit life eternal.
As we continue our journey through Great Lent having “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) the precious and life-giving Cross is placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us. To reminds us not only of the Passion of our Lord, but also to present to us His example, encouraging us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice; remembering our Lord’s words, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt.10:38).
In his “The Inner Voice of Love", the Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian Henri J. M. Nouwen writes; “Taking up your cross means, first of all, befriending your wounds and letting them reveal to you your own truth. There is great pain and suffering in the world. But the pain hardest to bear is your own. Once you have taken up that cross, you will be able to see clearly the crosses that others have to bear, and you will be able to reveal to them their own ways to joy, peace, and freedom"
Through the prayers of all our Holy fathers, O Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us
Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples,
a Light to enlighten the gentiles,
and the glory of Thy people Israel.
(The Canticle of Simeon, Luke 9:29-32)
The first words of the canticle, pronounced by Simeon when he sees the Child, are an exclamation of joy at his approaching death. It is an answer to the promise made by the Holy Spirit to the old man: he is not to die before seeing the Christ of the Lord.
In one of the Psalms of the Ascent which we sing during Vespers in Lent, the psalmist sings:
(click below to read more:)
When the Jews reproach Jesus for healing the paralytic on the Sabbath, Jesus answers: “My Father is working still and I am working” (Jn 5:17). God is master of the Sabbath. His rest after creation does not mean that He turns away from His work, nor that He leaves creation without direction. Quite the contrary, God’s powerful hand sustains the created world and ceaselessly supports it above the void. When He heals the sick man on the Sabbath, Jesus declares Himself to be the Son of God, sent by the Father to save humanity which is on the road to perdition, which is adrift without the permanent support of the Master and Creator.
According to the Church, the meaning of the feast of Mid-Pentecost is the link between the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. On this Wednesday of the fourth week of Pascha (exactly in the middle between Pascha and Pentecost), we celebrate Christ the Mediator. He is sent by the Father, and He promises us the Holy Spirit.
"Today is the celebration of Mid-Pentecost.
On one side, Pascha illuminate with its divine splendour,
on the other side is the radiant grace of the Paraklete."*
(The Canon, Tone 4, Ode 6)
The gospel read at Mid-Pentecost (Jn 7:14-30) begins with the following words: “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.” The feast is the Feast of Booths, celebrated by the Jews in Sukkoth (September-October). It consists of the blessing of the fall harvest and thanksgiving to God for protecting the people during the stay in the desert. On the eighth day of the festival, special prayers are made asking for rain. It is on this day, the last day of the feast, that Jesus stood and raised his voice: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me!” For, as John specifies, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:37-38). Living water is the sign of Pentecost. This Wednesday feast falls just a few days before the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. Now we live in the expectation of the Holy Spirit Our thirst for God quickens our senses and gives us the impulse to accept God’s gift:
“As a hart longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God!”
The Icon of Mid-Pentecost
The iconography adopted by the Church to illustrate Mid-Pentecost shows us Jesus teaching in the Temple, just as in the gospel. Jesus is sitting at the centre of the Jewish scholars and wise men. These express their amazement at his knowledge: “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” (Jn 7:15). In answer to this question, Jesus speaks of his connection to the Father, of His divine origin.
Most often, the icons of Mid-Pentecost represent Jesus’ first encounter in the Temple with the doctors of the Law – this is the episode described by Luke, when Jesus was twelve years old (Lk 2:41-50). “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” - He says to his worried parents, thus openly declaring that He is the Son of God and the He must carry out His mission. On that day, Jesus declares His independence from Joseph and Mary; He disobeys them and escapes their tutelage. He tells them about His unique link with God the Father. He accepts filial obedience to the end, and obedience which will lead Him all the way to the cross. “Not My will, but Yours, be done!” (Lk 22:42). Divine Wisdom is revealed to the doctors of the Law who admire the wisdom of the child, revealing Jesus as the Child-Emmanuel announced by the prophets (Is 7:14). The authority of His teaching is already confirmed during His infancy, for “He is before all things,” He precedes creation (Col 1:17 and Prov 8:22-30), “He is begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father” (the Creed). He is “the Wisdom, the Word, and the Power of God” (Matins at Pascha).
The Temple, Site of the Teaching
From His infancy to His passion, Jesus teaches in the Temple, the place of divine presence. In this we can recognise the unity of His teaching and the fulfilment of the Old Covenant in His Person. For He is the “Temple not made with human hands” (Mk 14:58). The hour is coming when all the faithful will be assembled in the Body of Christ.
The Master and Saviour never speaks of Himself. He always refers to the heavenly Father, in this way avoiding the egocentrism which haunts so many so-called masters who hold away the weak-minded. These seek only their own glory, and not the revelation of God to the world. The revelation of the Name of the Father appears in all of Christ’s teaching.
* the Comforter
(The Incarnate God - The Feasts and the Life of Jesus Christ and Mary, Vol. II,
SVS Press, 1995)
compiled by Vera Davidova-Pote
Fr David’s Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2019
Today we are challenged at the point when we move from Great Lent, now completed and into Passion Week about to begin. The challenge is this: Will we have become changed on Bright Monday, the day after Pascha compared with how we were on Clean Monday at the beginning of the Fast. Yes, we have been encouraged to abstain from various foods, to spend more time in prayer and church attendance and almsgiving, but these are only aids to something much more fundamental. The aim of Great Lent is to be changed into the likeness of Christ. The aim of the Christian life is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
In the Liturgy of St Basil we are reminded that Christ emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming man in order to condemn sin in his flesh, that those who are dying in Adam might be made alive in Christ. Then there is another challenge. Yesterday we remembered the miraculous raising from the dead of Lazarus. He had been lying in the tomb dead for four days. Jesus went to the tomb and commanded that the stone at the entrance be removed and then he shouted:
“Lazarus, come forth, Lazarus come out!” Lazarus may well have thought, in response: “But it is comfortable here, I am enjoying a good sleep after my hard life!” But our Lord insisted: “Come out, I have more for you in this life!”
This call also applies to us - we are to come out to be made alive in Christ, we have to come out of our comfort zone. This challenge was also there for the crowd which had gathered in Bethany to meet this extraordinary Teacher who had brought about this miracle. When they saw Him mounted on an ass, a donkey, they joined in shouting: “Hosanna to the son of David, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” At last, they thought, here is one who can liberate us, let us support this new life in Christ. The leaders of the nation, however, had other thoughts. They saw the challenge of Jesus as a threat. Who was this usurper, troublemaker who might upset the comfortable relationship they had with the Roman Authorities. Better to be dying in Adam rather than be influenced by this man. And so Jesus was condemned to death to be out of the way. The crowd who had hoped for revolution and change a few days earlier was now unsure and perhaps persuaded to be quiet. The one they had hailed as Son of David was now at the mercy of their leaders, perhaps they had information that the crowd did not have, the leaders could not have demanded such a cruel execution without reason, especially one that was reserved for slaves, non citizens, criminals. Now the tune was changed, better be with the Leaders and cry, at their instigation: “Crucify!” Better to be content to be dying in Adam rather than be made alive in Christ, this criminal.
Even the Apostles and disciples must have felt uncertainty and despair, though some would have recalled that Jesus had said that he would rise again. But how could this be, the body tortured, wracked and distorted by Crucifixion was very different from the body of Lazarus who had experienced a normal death. For three days they were in despair until all uncertainty was swept away as they found themselves indeed being made alive in Christ, following His Resurrection.
Well, all of us will have some thoughts that we have not kept Great Lent as we should, but St John Chrysostom in his Paschal homily reassures us that the table is laid, the feast is ready and we are all invited, those of us who have kept the Fast from the beginning and those of us who are coming at the “eleventh hour”. In Passion Week, for all of us, the Church provides us a great opportunity, even in the eleventh hour! - on Wednesday there is the Healing Service; on Thursday - the Liturgy of the Last Supper in the morning; and in the evening we are invited to stand with our Lord in His Passion as we read the Twelve Passion Gospels. Then, on Holy and Great Friday, we are present at the laying of Christ in the Tomb during Vespers. Saturday morning reminds us that Christ’s first act was to reveal His Resurrection to those in Hades, the resting place of souls and in that joy which Adam and Eve experiences, all our own departed relatives will rejoice as well and we can stand with them as the first Gospel of the Resurrection is proclaimed. All this before Saturday evening, the full and joyful celebration of Christ’s Glorious Resurrection.
The whole reason for Great Lent has been to realise the whole purpose of life: to be changed into the likeness of Christ and to be able to enter with joy into His Glorious Resurrection, no longer dying in Adam, but being made alive in Christ!
This mainly contains homilies and messages from our priests, although there is some scope to share thoughts and interesting articles which we may want to share with others