Tag Archives: Matthew 1:1-25

Be of Good Cheer Little Flock

Sunday, January 5 (OS December 22) 2020: 29th Sunday after Pentecost. Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, of the Holy Fathers; Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ; Holy Ten Martyrs of Crete (III): Theodulus, Saturninus, Euporus, Gelasius, Eunician, Zoticus, Pompeius, Agathopus, Basilides, and Evaristus (250); St. Niphon, bp. of Cyprus (IV); St. Paul, Bishop of Neo-Caesaria (IV); St. Nahum of Ochrid, enlightener of the Bulgarians (910); Nativity fast, wine and oil allowed

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church, Madison, WI

Epistle: Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Geneology of Christ according to St. LukeSometimes we think of Christmas as the end of the story. This is, in a certain sense, reasonable. The last almost 40 days have after all been a preparation to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ.

In another sense though, Christmas is only the beginning. It is the opening movement in a series of events that will see the Child grow into a Man, preach the Gospel, “heal the brokenhearted, … proclaim liberty to the captives, … recovery of sight to the blind, … set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4 18, 19, NKJV).

And as the fathers are keenly aware and quick to point out, Christmas Day announces the eventual death of Christ on the Cross, His three days in the tomb, and His resurrection from the dead.

In a similar way, the events of Christmas Day lead to all the good things that today we take, if not for granted, then as natural. Think of all the great accomplishments of Western culture; not only art, philosophy, and literature, but science, politics and economic development. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that in spite of all our failures and enduring sinfulness, these are all the fruit of Christmas.

One can see this not simply in the great Christian cathedrals or lives and writings of the fathers and the saints. We can see this not only in art or liturgy but around us today here in Madison.

A great university, a vibrant (if frequently contentious) tradition of political involvement and philanthropic concern. All of these are at the fruit of the Christmas, the result of generations of men and women who united themselves to Christ in baptism, nourished themselves in Holy Communion and followed Him as His disciples and evangelists.

There is nothing good around us today, that doesn’t owe its existence in large part to the Gospel.

To be sure, this debt is often overlooked or when it isn’t actively denied. But for all that, the roots of not just Western culture or America but Madison are firmly planted in the Gospel.

As I mentioned a week or so ago, we live in politically and culturally contentious times. Whether this is more or less than at other times is an interesting question but rather beside the point. Whatever times we live are always marked by conflict, by the knee jerk willingness of partisans on each side to think the other side is if not actively evil, then benighted or simply foolish.

In this, our time is no different than the time into which Jesus was born. That time, like our time,  was disfigured by violence and contempt for others.

It is into that world, which is our world still today, that Jesus comes and preaches repentance, the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of humanity with God and so with itself.

And like those times, our own times can seem overwhelming. Like the disciples in the early hours of Pascha, we are tempted to hide if not from “fear of the Jews” (see John 20:19) then, well, pick the person or group you fear most and so love least.

But now, as then, Jesus comes to stand in our midst, granting us His peace, breathing upon us the Holy Spirit and sending us out to proclaim the Gospel (John 20:21-23). Because you see, whether it is Christmas or Pascha, the Annunciation or Pentecost, the Gift, and the Call, are the same.

We are given not a word about Christ or even a share in His life. We are given at Christmas and every day, Christ Himself. And having received Him, He tells us what He told the disciples. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Look around you.

Everything you see is the fruit of not just of Christmas but of that “little flock.” All around us we see the fruit of those in the Old Testament who lived in hope for His coming and those in the New Testament and throughout the history of the Church down to this day and in this place who in faith followed Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are that little flock not because we are few but because the Church always seems small in the face of human sinfulness. To us today, Jesus says as He did to Israel, never despair, never give up hope.

And He says to us today, as He did His disciples, do not be afraid, rather be “of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Spiritual Reading & Gratitude

Sunday, December 31 (December 18, OS): 30th Sunday after Pentecost: Sunday before Nativity, of the Holy Fathers; Martyr Sebastian at Rome and his companions (287); St. Modestus, archbishop of Jerusalem (4th c.). Ven. Florus, bishop of Amisus (7th c.); Ven. Michael the Confessor at Constantinople (845).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Mission, Madison, WI

Epistle: Hebrew 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25

By divine grace, the broken men and women we hear about in today’s Gospel are all fit together as part of what St Augustine calls the divine catechesis. From Adam onward, Augustine says, God was slowly leading and purifying humanity until in the person of the Theotokos we are able to say “Yes” to Him and undo the disobedience of our First Parents.

As He has done from the beginning, God continues to for broken people together. Where once this was done to prepare humanity to receive His Son, now we are fit together as members of the Church. Once the Father fit broken people together to receive Christ. Today, He not only fits them together to become members Christ but to become alter Christus, or “another Christ.”

Having been joined to Christ’s Body the Church through Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion, we are called by the Father to share in the Son’s work of reconciling humanity to God and so overcoming the power of sin and death in their lives and our own.

The practical question before us is this: How do we, personally, fulfill our great calling?

We have the sacraments, the worship of the Church and the ascetical disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and manual labor. These are–or at least should be–a part of every Christian’s life. But I want to focus this morning not on these but on another discipline much loved by the fathers of the Church. Spiritual reading.

When Augustine first meets St Ambrose, he is quite impressed that the bishop of Milan is sitting at his desk reading the Scriptures. The practice in the ancient world was not to read the Bible but to listen to it being read. But Ambrose doesn’t listen to Scripture, he reads it. Astonishing as this is to Augustine, he is even more impressed that Ambrose is reading silently. He is concentrating s intensely on the task at hand that he is reading without moving his lips!

The regular, even daily, reading of Scripture is the foundation of all spiritual reading. It’s also something that is often neglected. St John Chrysostom tells his listeners “to persevere continually in reading the divine Scriptures” because “it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved without continually taking advantage of spiritual reading” of the Bible.

He goes on to say that

Reading the Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention (On Wealth and Poverty, Saint Vladimir Press, pg. 58-60).

Together with the Scriptures, we can also read the Church Fathers. Their works are the biblical commentaries of the Orthodox Church. In their words, we discover not only the meaning of Scripture but also how it can apply to our lives.

With Scripture and the fathers, we can also add philosophy as well as the findings of the sciences. Again, this is something that the fathers recommend to us. Reflecting on the place of “pagan,” that is “secular” learning, St Basil the Great says “Just as it is the chief mission of the tree to bear its fruit in its season, though at the same time it puts forth for ornament the leaves which quiver on its boughs, even so, the real fruit of the soul is truth, yet it is not without advantage for it to embrace the pagan wisdom, as also leaves offer shelter to the fruit, and an appearance not untimely” (“Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature,” III).

Basil expands this to include not only philosophy and the sciences but also the great myths and poetry of the ancient world. In these, we find examples of both the virtues that lead to salvation and the vices that keep us from the Kingdom of Heaven. He goes so far as to say that when reading pagan literature we should we should “receive gladly those passages in which they praise virtue or condemn vice” (“Address,” IV).

Key to profitable spiritual reading, as St Basil suggests, is gratitude. I need to read with a grateful heart. To the grateful heart examples of vice are as profitable as virtue. The latter gives me examples to emulate, the former to avoid.

As I read with gratitude, my tendency to prefer my own judgment to the judgment of God will wane. This, in turn, will make it possible for me to recognize myself, my failures and successes, my vices and virtues, in what I read.

And slowly I begin to see how, like the ancestors of Christ, God has fit my brokenness into His plan of salvation not only for me but all humanity.

And, if I am inclined to do so, this growth in self-knowledge and understanding allows me to grow in a gracious and appreciative knowledge and understand others.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!  Spiritual reading helps us cultivate the habit of gratitude to God for even the smallest hint of His grace. Yes, like all humanity we are broken. Through spiritual reading, however, we learn to be open to the traces of grace not only in the things we read but in our lives and the lives of those we meet daily.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Say Yes! to God and Become Who You Are

Sunday, December 18, 2016: Sunday before the Nativity of Christ (The Genealogy); Martyrs Sebastian and Zoe of Rome, and those with them

Epistle: Hebrews 11:9-10, 32-40

Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25

The saints of the Old Testament are often, as they are this morning, portrayed as conquerors in ways that might make us uncomfortable. While we are called to be peacemakers, the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church doesn’t command pacifism. The saints of old covenant “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight.”

Yes, the saints of the Old Testament also suffered. And yes, like them, there are times when Christians will suffer injustice. At other times though we will war against injustice. If at times we “killed with the sword,” there are other times when God calls us to take up the sword in defense of others. Which path we will take depends not only on our personalities but circumstances.

My point here is not to involve us in a discussion of when war is or is not justifiable. It is rather to point out that there are objective moral limits that we can’t transgress and which we must at times defend. The sign that I love God is that I keep his commandments rather than simply follow my own will (see John 14:15-31). And at times to say to God “thy will be done” means to will my own undoing as St Isaac the Syrian says.

Today’s Epistle reminds us that the Christian’s pursuit of holiness is more complex than we imagine. More importantly still, the call to holiness—to saying, “Yes!” to God—is universal. No matter who we are, no matter what our condition in life, Jesus Christ calls us to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:48).

Christ enthroned on the lap of the Virgin Mary is the fulfillment of salvation history.

Listen carefully to the Gospel and you can’t miss the universality of the call to holiness. Look at the three women that St Matthew includes in his genealogy of Christ: Tamar, Ruth, and Mary. Not only are these women different individuals with different personalities, they are different in life situations when they are called by God to help “prepare the way of the Lord” (see Isaiah 40:3).

Tamar is a prostitute, Ruth a widow, and Mary a virgin. It seems scandalous to put the Theotokos in a list that includes a prostitute and yet the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew does just that. He tells us that among the ancestors of Christ is a prostitute—and a pagan prostitute at that. Nevertheless, for all their differences, all three were called by God and all three said “Yes!” to that call.

Looking at the list of ancestors we also see adulators and murders, men who are weak in faith and even apostates. Yet all played their part in preparing humanity to receive the Son of God.

This isn’t to say that all said “Yes!” to God.

Some, like the Theotokos, said yes immediately. Others, like David and Solomon, at some point, said “No!” to God but in time came to say “Yes!” And still others, too numerous to name, never repented, never allowed the grace of God to transform their “No!” into a “Yes!”

And yet, whether they said yes or no, God used them to bring about the salvation of the human race. We lost nothing because of them, in saying “No!” they lost everything. For us who are in Christ, “all things work together for the good” (Romans 8:28) even the unrepentance of others.

This isn’t to suggest we live in a moral free zone where we can do what we wish; there is such a thing as sin and there are even, as the Apostle John says, gradations of sin. “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death” (1 John 5:17, NKJV).

No the diversity of starting points and the seeming diversity of paths Christ’s disciples have taken so they were “not only … called Christians” but were Christians as St Ignatius of Antioch says, reflects the sheer abundance of God’s holiness. We are called to live the life of God, a life that—as Uncreated—is One but when manifest in our lives must of necessity be pluriform.

There is always a temptation to sanitize the spiritual life, to think I need only live a life of conformity to moral or social norms as long as they are “Christian.” To live this way is to be blind to the great variety of spiritual gifts, and so ways of life, that are pleasing to God. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he tells us:

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:3-8, NKJV).

To be holy means to share in the fullness of God’s life. And this means living a life that goes beyond whatever we can imagine for ourselves or each other.

This life of holiness not only requires that I say “Yes!” to God but, as both the Epistle and Gospel this morning make clear, that I prepare to say “Yes!” This is why we fast in the 40 days before Christmas, to prepare ourselves to say “Yes!” to God.

And when we say “Yes!” to God, what happens? We are transformed; we become not simply more than we are but who we are created to be. And for all the diversity of gifts and personalities we see in the Church, underneath that this there a common identity. We are disciples of Christ, called by Him to be His Apostles, witnesses to the Good News of His great love for mankind, a love that leads Him not only to become as we are so that we can become as He is but to suffer and die for us.

And in His dying, He conquers death and in His Rising bring us with Him to life everlasting!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us say “Yes!” to God and become who we are! Apostles and Evangelists of the New Born Christ Who will suffer and die for us and the whole human family so that we who are scattered and divided and broken and shattered may become one in Him Who is One with the Father!

Christ is Born!

+Fr Gregory