Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ” – Matthew 13:24-30 (NKJV)
A recent Sunday gospel reading really hit home for me. I was reminded that no matter what we think about those we encounter on our journey into theosis, it is not our job to decide whether they are the wheat or the tares. That is reserved to powers much holier than us. Our mission is to make sure we are the wheat.
An interesting fact about the tares is that as they’re growing they put just as much effort, if not more, as the true wheat does, into their development. Since they build a deeper and more secure connection to the earth rather than putting all that energy into developing a larger head of wheat they can look quite robust and can sometimes fool even the farmer into believing he’s going to have a bumper crop. In our case there is no fooling the farmer (God) or the reapers (angels) the only person we can fool is ourselves. We must choose to make the effort to do what it takes to grow into the perfect head of wheat. Even if (or especially if) it means having fewer and more tenuous connections to this Earth. When it comes time for the Reapers to gather God’s creation we will want to be bowing under the weight of a perfect head of wheat. Our contributions to the salvation of the whole world. If you can stand taller than those around you then you might want to check to see if there is any wheat at the end of your stalk. One way the reapers know which is the wheat and which are the tares is that the tares have no head to weigh them down. It also makes it easier to reap them separately. When it comes time for the reapers to do their job deeper connections to the earth won’t make any difference either. They are not impressed by how deep our earthly roots go. That part is cut off at reaping and left in the ground to rot. The tares will be left with hollow useless stalks suitable only for the fire. The wheat, on the other hand, will have their fruit to offer to the Farmer. Which is, after all, the whole point.
Just be the wheat.
CHRIST is born!
If I had my way I would probably choose to begin the Church year on Christmas Day. It would be a purely selfish choice for many reasons. Mostly I think it would be because of my awareness of my need for salvation and Christmas is when the business of redemption really began in earnest. Yes I know that the redemption of mankind has been God’s main agenda since creation. What He did prior to the Virgin Birth was in order to prepare mankind for the payment of that price of redemption. Not by “mankind” per se, rather by one Man for “mankind,” that is, The Son of Man. Everything that has been done by God since the Ascension has been to prepare mankind for His return in glory. The period of time when God the Son joined His creation in the flesh is central to human history. The actual act of redemption, that is the Passion and the events following, are certainly critical to the fulfillment of God’s agenda. They are however, the culmination of that portion of His plan. It is the beginning of that portion of His plan that is so appealing to me as a potential symbolic beginning of the Liturgical Year. Christmas truly is the most important beginning, in my reckoning at least, in the history of man. It is when the prophecy of Emmanuel was fulfilled. That is no small event. It is God joining Himself to become one of His own creation, the Uncreated becomes the creature in the mystery we call Hypostasis. That event is summed up in the third verse of the Christmas carol “Silent Night.” The phrase that comes to mind says, “With the dawn of redeeming Grace.” Which falls in quite nicely with my premise. We as humans are drawn to symbolism and that is a very powerful symbol. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not looking for a technical discussion regarding the symbolism of Advent. I understand the preparation we all must make in anticipation of the Lord’s coming and it’s symbolic link to the preparation and prefiguring present in the Old Testament. What I am saying is that the birth of our Savior is pretty heady stuff when you really contemplate it for a while and that makes it a very appropriate candidate, in my opinion, for the beginning of the Liturgical Year. You may say it is wishful thinking on my part and frankly, I would be the first to agree. I‘m not really wishing too hard here folks, this is more of a “what if” musing. My point, to be more precise, is that what we celebrate on Christmas day is the beginning of the “Redemption Event,” to borrow a phrase, that will last for the next thirty-three years or so, meet it’s apex at the Crucifixion and Resurrection and then culminate, sort of, at the Ascension. The key to this scenario is…the birth of Christ. He is after all, the Alpha.
As far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated with symbolism and tradition. The customs and practices of previous generations. Every age past has it’s own fascinating customs and mind set. I think it may really be what was in the heads of those who lived those periods that holds me. So I studied and grew to understand some of what was in their heads and firmly believe it is one of the main reasons I am where I am in my journey.
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Growing up I wondered why those three gifts were given to Jesus by the Magi. Then I found out and what I learned struck a chord in my heart’s desire to delve into the symbolism and tradition I mentioned above.
Gold is the gift that is always given to kings by their visitors and subjects. Jesus is the King of all kings isn’t He? We in the Church have never stopped giving of our wealth to further the cause of Christ. It is a natural continuation of a tradition that extends back to the earliest known history of man. Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, the Priest-King of Salem. Who by the way had brought out bread and wine to give Abraham a blessing after his battle to rescue his wayward nephew Lot. (Gen.14:18-20)
Frankincense was an expensive resin that was used in the priestly liturgy in the Tabernacle and Temple. It was offered as a sweet smelling aroma (Eph. 5:2) representing the prayers of the people to God. (Mal. 1:11, Rev. 5:8) We who worship in the liturgical/sacramental portion of the Church know the significance of incense in worship. We never even stopped using Frankincense! Talk about an organic connection to Christ and the early Church. I think had I known this I may have started my journey to Orthodoxy sooner.
These two are fascinating in their own right but the most fascinating, and painful, is the gift of Myrrh. Myrrh represents two sides of life. The sweetness of it’s scent was used extensively as a perfume. Solomon writes of it often in the Song of Songs to describe the desirableness of his beloved. It was used to bring joy and content to those who used it for pleasure. It also had a darker use. It was a primary ingredient in the limited “embalming” practiced by the Jews. I wonder how much the Magi brought to the child Jesus but I doubt that it was fifty or more pounds. However, that was the amount gifted by Nicodemus to our Lord after his death. (John 19:39) To me it is the most provocative of the gifts. It brings to mind the sweetness of His presence here on Earth and the bitterness of His ignominious death and burial.
The birth, life and death of God. I cannot fully fathom it’s depths. I can however rejoice in it’s truth and what it means for me a sinner. Thanks be to God that I am no longer the man I was and have a chance to become the man He wishes me to be.
In a few weeks will be two anniversaries which will always be important landmarks in my journey into Orthodoxy. The feast of St. Longinus being one of them. As I look back and observe what has been accomplished (or not) for Christ, I am forced to wonder if I gave it my all? Have I worked enough to truly further the cause of Christ? These are questions I always ask myself when Advent is approaching and the answer is always the same: NEVER! I can ALWAYS do more. We are quickly nearing the “days of preparation.” The world looks to January and the new year as a time of reflection and an opportunity to make resolutions to do better at whatever personal goals they have set for themselves. We in the Church have a similar time and the goals and resolutions we make have a far greater impact on not only our own lives but as the Church we are called to affect the destiny of the WHOLE WORLD! We have a new Church year approaching and while it is a good time to reflect and set spiritual goals, it is not the only time. You don’t have to wait for Advent, reflect upon your spiritual state daily and set the same goals you would set for yourselves during Advent and then PRACTICE!!! Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.(2 Cor. 6:2) and But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor 9:27) To paraphrase Christ “For what shall it profit a man if he should convert the whole world yet lose his own soul?”
This Christian life is a relationship. Healthy relationships require communication. True communication requires two things, speaking and listening. Both parties speak and listen. For our part, prayer is speaking and Bible reading and meditation are listening. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8) Advent is a time for extra listening. If we as the Church would make time to listen then He will tell us what to say when it is time to speak.
The season of Lent is upon us and now is the time when we begin the process of deep cleaning our bodies and our souls in anticipation of the “Day of Salvation.” As we look forward to Pascha/Easter we see Hope. Hope not only for ourselves but for all people. It is now that we attend to that portion of the Gospel which tells us that Salvation is not for those who do not think they need it but for those of us who know we desperately need it. Christ said that only those who are sick are in need of a doctor. Are you sick with sin? Are you sick of sin? The season of Lent is just what the Doctor ordered. Look to Christ our Great Physician for an extra dose of healing during this time. Turn to Him. See only Him. Allow yourselves to be healed by him. Spiritual healing is always accompanied by emotional and physical healing as well. They are the necessary result of spiritual healing. Inseparable. Just because He does the healing does not mean that we do not need to participate. This is not a time for mere passive involvement. We must enter Lent with the intention of fully and actively participating in whatever He has for us. We must cooperate with Him. Work out our salvation with fear and trembling as St. Paul tells us to do. We cannot do it alone nor will Christ do it alone. He wants to have a healing relationship with us. Relationship, by definition, cannot be one sided. Do you have that relationship with Him? If so, take the season of Lent to deepen it. If not there is no time like the present. The Epistle reading for Ash Wednesday says, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” If you truly do not know Him as your Savior I encourage you to contact you local priest or clergyman. Or you may contact us as well. We, like Jesus, turn away no one.
There is something that I noticed the very first time I, as a protestant convert, read the lectionary readings for Pentecost Sunday. The Gospel is John 20:19-23 where Jesus breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit as well as the sacramental authority to forgive sins. Reading this account prompted a paradigm shift in my understanding of both the sacraments and charismatic beliefs. Since the Gospel of St. John is my favorite book of the Bible I’m sure I had read the passage hundreds of times before and probably heard nearly as many sermons involving the passage. I do not recall now exactly what was said in those sermons but I can tell you that not one of them ever presented Jesus’ obvious intent. That would have prompted an interruption of the sermon and the speaker’s immediate expulsion from the building.
What broadened my perception is the part about Jesus breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I realized that this type of action on the part of the third Person of the Trinity goes back as far as Genesis. The Old Testament refers quite often to the Spirit of the Lord being on or in various people. Before finding Joseph, Pharaoh asked, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Gen. 41:38) Another enlightening passage is in Numbers when, “(T)he LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him (Moses), and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.” (Num. 11:24-26) The historical books are rife with mentions of the Spirit coming on or over men of God who subsequently perform wondrous acts on behalf of God and His people. David, Samson, Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah to name just a few. Why even Saul, the first king of Israel who then squandered that blessing and lost his throne and ultimately his life was recipient of the Spirit of Lord. (1 Sam. 10)
The account of Pentecost in Acts chapter two is not an isolated event, it is another in a long line of wondrous acts performed by people of God under His influence and direction. Is it a special point in history? YES! More importantly, is it special to you? Have you surrendered yourself to God so fully that He is welcome and able to perform His will through you. Healings, resurrections speaking in other tongues may be spectacular displays of God’s power, however, always keep in mind that any act of charity and mercy you do, if done in love and obedience, is a wondrous act. As St. Paul says, “…one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Cor. 12:11) We may not all be called to perform the spectacular but we are all called to love God and in so doing to love our neighbor.