Friday, April 25, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, before Thy Passion, thou didst confirm the universal resurrection. Wherefore, we like babes, carry the insignia of triumph and victory, and cry to Thee, O vanquisher of death, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
-- Troparion of the Saturday of St. Lazarus
My father was a tough-as-nails career Marine officer who fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia during World War II and in the frozen no-man’s-land that was the Korean Conflict. He was hardened by years of horrifying experiences that would have made Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, or Arnold Schwarzenegger run away screaming. In the thirty-six years that I knew him, I never once saw him cry. Except when he gave in to an occasional outburst of anger, he was a model of emotional control. Compared to him, Mr. Spock and his fellow Vulcans were a bunch of emotional basket cases!
Dad always taught me to exhibit the same emotional control that he did, and in this he largely succeeded. As a result, I seldom ever find myself crying, except during an occasional tear-jerking part of a movie such as the “let’s play catch” scene in Field of Dreams. I’m not saying that this stoicism is good or bad; it’s just the way I am. I am without a doubt my father’s son, and weeping is just not part of my modius operandi.
But when my mother unexpectedly died in 2002, I found myself weeping uncontrollably off-and-on for days. The same thing happened two years later when my father finally succumbed to complications caused by the Alzheimer’s Disease that had ravaged him for over eight years. Two years, after then, when my daughter Audrey and I visited his grave in Arlington National Cemetery, I (foolishly, I know) told myself, “Don’t cry. Be tough. Hold it in!” And yet, when I actually laid eyes on his tombstone, I broke into an uncontrollable fit of sobbing that lasted for nearly 15 minutes.
This led me to reflect on the following question: What is it about death that makes even modern-day Vulcans like myself break down and weep? I have often heard death referred to as “The Great Equalizer,” and this is certainly true. All of us, no matter whether we are rich or poor, good or evil, Christian or non-Christian, have an appointment with death. And yet, the facet of death that makes it so hard to deal with is its being what I call “The Great Separator.” Perhaps the worst thing about death is that it separates us from those whom we love. When someone we loves dies, we lose the joy of being in their presence—seeing their face, hearing their voice, and feeling their embrace. And even if they seem to have died in Christ, there always remains that slight inkling of doubt: will I really ever see him or her again?
This brings us to today’s Gospel reading, John 11:1-45, which tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. This passage contains the shortest verse in the Bible, at least in the English version, verse 35: “Jesus wept.” I often used to wonder exactly why Jesus wept. He did not weep for the same reason that I wept when I lost my mother and my father. For the Lord knew that his separation from Lazarus would be very short-lived. He knew even before Lazarus died that He would raise him from the dead. So why, then, did he weep?
Some commentators have suggested that Jesus wept out of compassion for Mary and Martha. There is no question that this is part of why Jesus wept. He deeply loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and it was hard for him to see them experience a loss as great as that of their beloved brother, especially at a relatively young age. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of our Lord, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4a, NKJV). And yet, I think that there is much more behind Jesus’ tears than merely compassion and empathy, great though they were.
I believe that the clue to Jesus’ tears lies in a verb that St. John uses in verses 33 and 38. The root of this verb is the Greek embrimaomai, which is usually translated here as “groaned in the/his spirit” (KJV, ASV, NKJV) or “was deeply moved in spirit” (NASB, RSV, NIV). Both of these translations give the impression that Jesus was moved by grief. However, as Fr. Lawrence Farley points out in his excellent commentary on St. John’s Gospel,
The Greek word…savors not of grief, but of anger. It is used for the snorting of horses in secularliterature; in March 1:43 and Matthew 9:30, it is translated "sternly warn,” and in Mark 14:5, it is translated “scold.” In all of its uses, the word conveys the idea of indignation. Christ, therefore, was not here moved with grief over His friend; He was moved with anger at the Enemy, and indignation that all the Father’s world could be so ruined.So more than being moved by mere grief or compassion, our Lord was, in Fr. Farley’s words, “furious at the ancient serpent for wreaking this havoc.” In his thirty-something years of life, Jesus had no doubt seen a great deal of death, but now he had had enough! He was not going to allow death and Hades to claim his beloved friend, at least not now.
Jesus’ anger at death can be seen indirectly in his somewhat testy response to Martha’s objection to his command to roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb: “Lord, already he smells, for it is the fourth day.” To this, our Savior replies, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
And so, the Lord Jesus, fed up with the Great Separator, marches to the tomb as a conqueror, intent on denying Death yet another victim. And, as Fr. Farley says, “looking on that blocked-up cave, He beheld not just the buried corpse of His friend, but the corpse of the whole world.” By raising Lazarus, Jesus gives the world a foretaste of the victory that he would win over death through his death, resurrection, and ascension, as well as an anticipation and an image of the final resurrection from the dead.
Holy Father Lazarus, pray to the Lord that our souls may be saved!
Friday, April 18, 2008
On this day God came to thee,
And in Him the dead are made alive,
As it is right for He is the Life.
When Martha went to receive Him,
Grieving loudly with bitter tears,
She poured out the sorrow of her heart to Him
With great sadness, wailing her lament.
She at once cried out unto Him:
“My most compassionate Lord, my Lord,
At the great loss of my brother Lazarus
My heart is broken, help me.”
Jesus said to her, “Cease your weeping,
Cease your grieving and sad lament;
For your brother, My most beloved friend, Lazarus,
Very soon will live again.”
Then He, the faithful Redeemer,
Made His way unto the tomb,
Where he cried unto him who was buried four days,
Calling him forth, saying “Lazarus, arise.”
Come with haste, ye two sisters,
And behold a wondrous thing,
For your brother from the tomb has returned to life.
To the beloved Redeemer now give thanks.
To Thee, O Lord of creation,
We kneel down in reverence profound,
For all we who are dead in sin,
In Thee, O Jesus, are made alive.
--A Koinonikon for Lazarus Saturday,
Composed in Arabic by Metropolitan Athanasios Attallah of Homs, and
Translated and arranged by Bishop +BASIL (Essey)
Performed by the Boston Byzantine Choir on their CD Thy Passion: Byzantine Chant of Holy Week
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Only a couple of days after I wrote the post about Jarrod, he came very close to dying. Since then, thank God, he has improved quite a bit, so much so that Helen came back to work last Monday and has been in the office each day since then. This morning, she flew back to Chicago to be with Jarrod again, because he is having surgery to have a tracheotomy (sp?) installed, as well as a feeding tube (he has been fed only through an IV since he first fell ill in mid-March).
His lung capacity is better--he has only been 45% on the ventilator (when I last posted it was 100%). In short, he is still not out of the woods, although it does seem pretty certain now that he will survive. The question is how much permanent damage will be sustained. Please do continue to keep him in your prayers. Pray for 100% healing.
By the way, I showed Helen the first blog post, and she was touched. She thanks you all for your prayers. I do too.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
By the way, since our superintendent just finished a PhD, I will affectionately refer to him as “Doc.”
Now on to the story. A number of years ago, Doc and a couple of friends from his church decided to do some extreme male-bonding. They decided to run a marathon together. Doc had jogged regularly for some time, but he had never run anything close to 26.2 miles before. So, he and his friends spent several months training and preparing for the marathon.
When the big day arrived, things went well at first. Doc and his friends ran together for quite some time. They reached several important milestones without a hitch. Five miles, ten miles, fifteen -- no problem. But soon after the fifteenth mile, Doc began to get tired and to lag behind his two friends. “Go ahead without me,” he told them, “I’ll be fine.” And so they did.
Around the 20-mile mark, Doc’s energy was just about spent. Before long, he knew that he could not make it. His goal of crossing the finish line was to go unrealized. But just as he was about to jog over to the side and stop running, he caught sight of one of his friends jogging toward him. This friend had already finished the marathon and had then run several miles back just to check on Doc.
When Doc saw his friend coming toward him, his eyes brightened. “How are you?” he asked Doc. “I’m not going to make it!” Doc replied. “Yes, you are!” the friend shot back. “Follow me, and I’ll take you to the end.” And so, thanks to his friend’s help, Doc did indeed finish the marathon.
It’s that time of Lent again, at least for me. Pretty much every year, I cruise through the first five weeks of Lent, due in large part to the fact that my wife is one of the best Lenten cooks in the world. Nevertheless, when the sixth week of Lent begins, I start to unravel. At this point, I feel like if I even SEE another apple, another bean, another dish of pasta with plain sauce, another peanut butter sandwich, or another bowl of oatmeal or instant grits, I’ll lose it! (And if you even dare say “Try some tofu!” I’m going to scream!)
In short, I feel a little like Doc did when he hit the 20-mile mark. And yet, I know that I am in the home stretch. I know that “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). I know that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). And when I confess my weakness to the Lord Jesus, he, like Doc’s friend, says to me, “Follow me, and I’ll take you to the end.” And so, thanks to my Friend’s help, I know that I can indeed finish the marathon that is Great Lent.
So, my brothers, and sisters, are you struggling to keep the fast until Pascha? Are you feeling like you can’t go on? Are you dying to grab a cheeseburger, a pizza, or even a bowl of cereal? Go to Jesus, confess your weakness, and ask His help. He will lead you to the finish line. Don’t give up. To borrow St. Paul’s words, fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Finish the race. For if you do, when you cross the finish line that is Pascha, what joy you will experience!
Monday, April 14, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
All 18 priests in attendance standing at attention right before the end of the service. Can you find me? Hint: tall, dark, and beardless.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Byzantine Chant with a large number of voices usually doesn't work, but it sure does with this outstanding choir. This is their third and latest CD, and it contains hymns for Holy Week, picking up where The Gates of Repentance leaves off. It contains all three Lamentation hymns in their entirety, along with some rare hymns and rare settings of familiar hymns.
4. Pascha: Come Receive the Light by Eikona
A stunningly beautiful setting of the Paschal Matins service. Other than the sheer beauty of the chanting (done by three sisters whose voices blend perfectly), the greatest thing about this CD is the renditions of the hymn "Christ is Risen" in multiple languages, including Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Spanish, Amharic, and of course, English.
(There are also a handful of Paschal hymns on the CD's First Fruits by the Boston Byzantine Choir and Cycles of Grace by Fr. Apostolos, but since these discs are not devoted entirely to Lent or Pascha, I did not include them on the list.)
I strongly recommend that you purchase one or more of these CD's before Lent is over and listen to it/them multiple times. I guarantee that you will not regret it. Your appreciation of the Lenten and Paschal services, and your spiritual life in general, will be greatly enriched. Try your parish bookstore, and if they don't have any of them, try Light and Life Publishing, which is the source of the images in this post.
If you think anything should be added to the list, be sure and let me know
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Duh! This is a book that we Orthodox Christians should ALWAYS be reading! But what specific parts should we focus on during Lent? Fr. Thomas Hopko recommends that we try to read the five books of the Bible that the Church focuses on during this penitential season: Genesis, Proverbs, Isaiah, Mark, and Hebrews.
Well, I must confess that while I have read all of Mark, I have only read parts of Genesis, Proverbs, and Hebrews, and none of Isaiah. I hope to at least finish Genesis and Proverbs (in the new Orthodox Study Bible, which is very enjoyable to read). Isaiah and the rest of Hebrews may have to wait.
I am actually reading through this a little each day with my wife and oldest daughter Audrey as our daily (well, okay, ALMOST daily) devotional. This is another must read. I read straight through it last year, and it helped me greatly in my Lenten struggle (as it is this year also).
One of the definitive works on the subject from the definitive work on Orthodox spirituality. A classic. Need I say more? I teach a class once a month on the Philokalia, and this short work is our topic of discussion for March and April.
BTW, Fr. Huneycutt is writing the forward to my upcoming book.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
About three or four weeks ago, Jarrod was making his patient rounds and somehow picked up a deadly strain of influenza along with a highly powerful infection. Since about the middle of March, he has been in critical condition in a Chicago hospital and has literally hovered on the brink of death. Recently, he has improved slightly, but his lungs are severely damaged and he is still fighting both the influenza virus and the infection.
Please pray for healing for Jarrod and for comfort for Cindy (Jarrod's wife) and Helen. Helen is doing surprisingly well. She is a very stong woman who credits her faith in Christ for helping her deal with the death of her husband and the near death of her son.
Thank you, and may the Lord bless you all.
Friday, April 4, 2008
When you saw the title, did you think that this post would be about Pascha (that's Orthodox Easter for those of you who are not Orthodox)? Well, it's a bit early for that.
Actually, I am calling this "Resurrection" because this blog has been pretty much dead for the last several months while I have been working on my book. Now, I am hoping to resurrect it and make it "alive" again.
Now for the "New Direction" part. When I first started this blog, I was hoping to make it a series of well-written and inspiring daily (or nearly so) devotional reflections, such as you see on great blogs like those of Fr. Stephen Freeman and Molly Sabourin (both of which will soon be added to my sidebar).
I now realize that this is just not going to happen. As much as I would like to do this, I just don't have the time. Fr. Stephen, Molly, and all the other great bloggers must have more free time than I do, or perhaps they have been blessed with bodies that don't need much sleep (I haven't!). Between my full-time job with the school district, my priestly responsibilities, my desire to spend as much time as possible with my wife and four kids, my reading discipline, and my commitment to keeping my body in shape, there just isn't time for me to do a world-class blog as well. Not only that, but as I mentioned earlier, writing is nowhere near my favorite thing to do.
Still, I see this blog as a ministry, and I want to make it worth your while to read it. I would like to post something at least every other day on average. So, I have decided to just post whatever comes to my mind. I plan to post a wide variety of things, including recommendations of books, music, and other things, along with personal news and some commentary on current events and issues. Occasionally, I may even post some halfway decent devotional materials. And maybe I'll even post something funny, a la Fr. Joseph Huneycutt.
Also, I may facilitate an occasional discussion on particular issues and field questions. I would like this site to become more of a community than a lecture with me as the "sage on the stage" (The Lord knows I am no sage)!
So, let me know what you think. Or, do you have any questions that you would like me to try and answer? I would love to hear from you.
Tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of this blog's life.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
May the Lord bless you all, and grant you blessed Lent!