Tag Archives: Lazarus Saturday

Come Forth!

Saturday, April 8, 2017: Lazarus Saturday; The Holy Apostles of the Seventy Herodion, Agabus, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, and Hermes, Rufus the Obedient of the Kiev Caves, Celestine, Pope of Rome, The Holy New Martyr John the Ship-Builder who was martyred in Kos.

Epistle: Hebrews 12:28-29; 13:1-8
Gospel: John 11:1-45

There are two masters of the psychology of the spiritual life, one Latin, the other Greek. I mean of course St Augustine of Hippo–a saint often and uncharitably criticized and even dismissed because of the opinions of his poorer students–and St John Chrysostom–a saint we tend to honor more in the gap than in fact. Both these men come to mind as I listen to today’s Gospel and reflect on the events recounted for us.

The Apostle and Evangelist John is, rightly, called the Theologian because of the lofty nature of his teaching about the divinity of Christ. His Gospel stresses one, central insight: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NKJV).

Though the Apostle John focuses our attention on the divinity of Christ, that He is the Word of God,  the Son of God and Himself God, this morning he reminds us that Jesus is God become Man. John does this by simply.

Standing at the tomb of His friend, “Jesus wept.”

Yes, He will in a moment–as God–restore His friend to life, But in this one moment, it is His humanity, not His divinity that shines through.

St Augustine says that while we “pray to him as God, He prays for us as a servant.” The One Who hears our prayer, “is the Creator,” but the One Who prayers for us is “a creature.” Though in all this He remains unchanged” by taking on “our created nature” He changes us making us “one man with himself, head and body.”

But there is a temptation here that we must resist. 

We can become so enamored, so in awe, of “the divinity of the Son of God” of His “supremely great and surpassing … greatness” that when, as this morning, we hear His “sighing, praying, giving praise and thanks,” we “hesitate” as Augustine says.

We pause is because “our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity.” Not from pride or lack of faith but because of the awe we feel we imagine that we might be “doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God.” And so, again not from a surfeit of pride or a poverty of faith, but from overwhelming joy when we hear that “Jesus wept” as any of us would weep for the loss of a loved one, we find ourselves “at a loss and try to change the meaning” of the Gospel that God became flesh and dwelt among us.”

And yet, that’s exactly what we see this morning in the Gospel. 

Not just God become flesh but the glory of God. We this the divine glory in the humility and humanity of Him Who for our sake became the son of Mary, a carpenter, a teacher of the apostles, a friend to Mary., Martha and their brother Lazarus. 

And, of course, to all the poor and to each of us.

And as “Jesus wept” for the death of His friend, He weeps for us, for our sin and for the many ways in which sin has disfigured our beauty. 

And though we rarely see this beauty in ourselves, Jesus always sees it in us and He weeps for the scars sin leaves on our hearts.

As for that other great psychologist of the spiritual life, St John Chrysostom, what does he tell us today?

Focusing our attention on the words of the enemies of Jesus–“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”–Chrysostom says that the miracles which are the evidence of Jesus’ divinity, His enemies “turn against Him as if He had not done them.” It is because of the hardness of the human heart rather than the death of Lazarus, that causes Jesus groan, to be “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

Like Augustine, Chrysostom reminds us that the Apostle John not only ascends higher than any of the other Evangelists in his contemplation of the Jesus’ divinity, he “also descends lower than any other in describing His bodily affections.”

The sorrow Jesus feels, Augustine says, is not simply because of His enemies’ hardness of heart. Even His intimate friends, among them Martha and Mary, don’t “fully believe” that Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead.

This why, Chrysostom says, Jesus commands the crowd to “Take away the stone.” Jesus wants “the miracle to take place in the sight of all” so that later people can’t say, as they did “in the case of the blind man, ‘This is not he.’”

Both Augustine and Chrysostom take pains to remind us of both Jesus’ divinity and humanity. They both likewise are concerned that our awe at His divinity does not overwhelm the intimacy we have with Jesus in His humanity. If we are to be saved, both of Christ’s natures are needed. Necessary as well are our two responses to God becoming flesh and dwelling among us–awe and friendship.

Yes, we must have awe at His Godhead. But this awe can’t be allowed to overwhelm the warmth and the affection that comes from an intimate friendship with our Brother Jesus.

Just as the division, separation, admixture or confusion, of the divine and human natures in Christ, is heresy, so too with awe and friendship.

Love Him, Augustine says, because “Our Lord came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” As both God and Man, as Lord and Friend, as Creator and Brother, Jesus in His great mercy and love for us says to us as He said to Lazarus: “Come forth!”

Augustine says Jesus calls us to come forth “to new life.”

Jesus says “Come forth!” to all of us who are “weighed down by any vicious habit.”

Jesus says “Come forth!” to all of us who, though “guilty under the Law,” long to be made “righteous.”

Jesus says “Come forth!” He weeps and groans so that we can live as His disciples and more than His disciples.

Today Jesus says to each of us, “Come forth!” and live as His true and intimate friend.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Praise God

Sunday, April 24, 2016: Palm Sunday, Elizabeth the Wonderworker, Savvas the General of Rome

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9
Gospel: John 12:1-18

Suffering often invokes in us a sense of failure. Whatever form it takes, the sense of personal failure seems intrinsic to suffering. Especially when the pain is intense, I say to myself that this bad thing has happened because I am a bad person. It doesn’t end here, however.

This internal dialog is complemented, if you will, by what I hear around me. I might think that my suffering is my fault. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2, NKJV)

And yet, the events of Holy Week run exactly contrary to the  association we make between suffering and personal failure. The “chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death” not because of any offense he committed but because of the grace he had received and “because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” Lazarus, in the view of some, must suffer and die because in restoring him to life, Jesus ” confirm[ed] the universal Resurrection” (Troparion, Lazarus Saturday).

We see this in more clearly in the Person of Jesus Christ. His suffering and death, though it makes Him a failure in the eyes of the world. The reality, however, is quite different. “Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death; Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Troparion, Lazarus Saturday)

Yes, there are times when our suffering is the result of our own failure. At other times, though, we suffer not because we have failed but because we have succeeded. As disciples of Christ living as we do in a fallen world, we must expect that there will be times when suffering comes to us because we are faithful; the Cross will at times come to us because we are successful.

There are times when as Christians we will suffer because, like Lazarus, we have been blessed by God.

There are times when, like Jesus, we will suffer because we have been faithful and obedient to the will of God for our lives.

There are times when we will suffer because, in us, death has been vanquished and the resurrection of all has been confirmed.

Sometimes, in other words, we suffer because we have succeeded.

Ironically, it is in these moments that I am also most tempted. In the midst of my suffering, I likely find little comfort in Jesus’ response to the disciples, that the man was born blind not for his sin or that of “his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:2-, NKJV). At this moment, I might, like Judas, turn away from Jesus seeking to conceal my infidelity behind noble, but nevertheless false, motives. “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.”

The hymnography of the Church suggests that Judas’ betrayal is motivated by “avarice,” his love of money.

When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, then the impious Judas was darkened, ailing with avarice and to the lawless judges he betrays You, the righteous Judge. Behold, O lover of money, this man who because of money hanged himself. Flee from the greedy soul which dared such things against the Master. O Lord, who is good towards all men, glory to You! (Troparion, Great and Holy Wednesday)

I need to be careful here.

Looking into my own heart, I might think that because avarice is absent, because I’m not greedy for money, that my heart isn’t also darkened. Yes, the love of money is always a problem but it isn’t the only reason the human heart will turn away from God. There are other, equally deadly, sins that can cause me to turn away from God. Remember what we hear later this week at Matins:

Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, and again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God! Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

To avoid becoming another Judas, we must be watchful, we must know ourselves. And to self-knowledge, we must add ascetical self-discipline so that our thoughts and actions reflect the great dignity of our calling.

Above all, though, to self-knowledge and ascetical struggle, we must offer our praise to God. We must join the angels and offer to God the hymns of thanksgiving.

“Rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God!”

This is why the Church prefaces the Gospel account of the events surrounding Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem these words from the Holy Apostle Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”

It isn’t simply that Judas loved money, he lacked joy. IAs for the children of Jerusalem, they  betrayed Jesus, because their praise of God was motivated by anxiety rather than “prayer and supplication.” Their words lacked joy and so they didn’t greet Jesus “with thanksgiving” but resentment of their oppressors.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin now our final journey with Christ our true God to His glorious resurrection, let us take to heart not only the failures of Judas and the children of Jerusalem but also be mindful of our own tendencies to turn away from our Savior. Whether we suffer because of our own sinfulness or the envy of the Enemy, whether we suffer because of our own failure or because of our fidelity to Christ, let us take to heart Paul’s counsel to the Church at Philippi:

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. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Let us, in other words, never tire or falter in our praise of God and in giving thanks to Him for whatever grace He has given us and those around us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory