21 December 2007

CNN's Roland Martin on Christmas

I remember referring to CNN as the Clinton News Network (or, at times, even the Concocted News Network) back in the 1990's, but of late, CNN has been showing a marked conservative swing with the likes of Glen Beck, Nancy Grace, Lou Dobbs, and others sounding off - and at times making even George W. Bush look positively liberal.

Today CNN columnist Roland Martin put up an outstanding post on Christmas that I hope all of you will take a moment to read.

20 December 2007

Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Today the Church commemorates Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Born in Syria, Ignatius converted to Christianity and eventually became the bishop of Antioch. In the year 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to choose between death and apostasy. Ignatius would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome. During his journey to Rome, he wrote several letters to the various Christian Churches, exhorting them to faithfulness in Christ and teaching them the truths of the faith. Ignatius was martyred by lions in the Circus Maximus.

17 December 2007

Saint Olympias of Constantinople, Deaconess

The early Church showed great concern for widows. St. Paul recommended that they not remarry, especially if they were older women. The local churches took care of unprovided widows, and set for them the special role of praying for the needs of the whole People of God. By the fourth century, at least in the East, some widows were given a more official role in the Church, being consecrated as deaconesses. Deaconesses frequently lived together.

Olympias of Constantinople, born about 361, came to be considered a model of widows and deaconesses. Orphaned, but an heiress through her father, she married Nebridius, prefect of Constantinople. The marriage was good, but Nebridius died before very long; and Olympias, though perhaps not yet twenty years old, was left a widow. Naturally, a number of suitors were interested in marrying such a wealthy young woman. In fact, Emperor Theodosius pressed her to accept a kinsman of his own. However, Olympias declared to one and all that she intended not to remarry: "Had God wished me to remain a wife," she said, "He would not have taken Nebridius away." Theodosius was angry about this, and put her and her property under the guardianship of the city prefect until she was thirty. The widow then wrote to Theodosius suggesting that he go farther, and distribute her estate to the Church and the poor! That frank letter struck Theodosius. He saw that he was dealing with no ordinary young widow, but with a strongly spiritual character. So in 361 he restored her property to her.

Olympias then asked the bishop of Constantinople, St. Nectarius, to consecrate her as a deaconess. He did, and she established a large home where she invited other young women to reside who wished to serve God in a special way. Her community thus became in many ways like what a religious order would be in later centuries. It was a center of prayer and charity. An orphanage and a hospital were subsequently added. Deaconess Olympias became admired and praised throughout the Near East for her charities: "a wonderful woman ... like a precious vase filled with the Holy Spirit."

Olympias had to suffer much along the way, however, especially because of her loyalty to St. John Chrysostom. John had succeeded Nectarius as bishop of Constantinople, but in 404 he was exiled by the Emperor for political reasons. Because Olympias refused to acknowledge the interloper whom the Emperor had named to replace Chrysostom, she herself was exiled and her house of charity was padlocked. Nonetheless, she continued to act as an agent of the absent Chrysostom, who held her in the highest admiration.

Chrysostom died in the year 407, still in exile. St. Olympias died, aged about forty, in 408. She was enshrined in Constantinople where, it is said, "She had become so celebrated for her great goodness that her very name was considered worthy of imitation, parents hoping that their children would be built on a like mode."
What does Olympias have to say to our day? That even now widows can find widowhood a second vocation for serving God and neighbor.

Pre-empted Sunday Homily

Well, blowing and drifting snow and other weather-related factors led to the cancellation of services yesterday in the parish I was scheduled to celebrate and preach at. I decided to put my homily notes and other material together in an accessable format for those who had planned to be there, so I now share it with you.
Please note that St. Paul's EOC makes use of an adapted version of the Revised Common Lectionary, and not the Lectionary of the Synod of Saint Timothy.

Year A

Prayer of the Day
God of glory and compassion, at your touch the wilderness blossoms, broken lives are made whole, and fearful hearts grow strong in faith. Open our eyes to your presence and awaken our hearts to sing your praise. To all who long for your Son's return grant perseverance and patience, that we may announce in word and deed the good news of the kingdom. We ask this through him whose coming is certain and whose day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

First Reading - Isaiah 35
Our Old Testament reading employs the language of recovering an ecologically ravaged land with fruitful vegetation. Isaiah's words today, however, have nothing to do with global warming. They go far deeper than any ecological project – they reflect God's commitment to provide for renewal among his people, quenching their spiritual thirst and nurturing them on their journey of faith. Give your attention to the Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Second Reading - James 5: 7-11
It's great to know that God will quench our thirst and protect us on our journey of faith, but there will be times when we feel challenged as we wait to see indications that the promise is being met in our lives. Just as so many believers have experienced ‘dark nights of the soul’, we too will have our good days, our bad days, and – yes, at times our ugly days, as we struggle through this world. The good news, as our second reading tells us today, is that with patience and endurance, we will come through our difficult and heart-rending days, praising God because he did provide for our needs while we were making our pilgrimage through this world. Give your attention to the Reading from the Letter of James.

Gospel Reading - Matthew 11: 2-11
Note: I rarely type out complete sermons, so I am putting my various notes and thoughts together rather hastily and outside of the context of the Divine Liturgy. Nevertheless, I hope that something in the following material will be beneficial to you as you continue your Advent pilgrimage.
From the day of the fall, our sinful nature has been the driving force behind every disaster that has befallen us, for at the time of the fall, the universe itself was shaken. As the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Romans tells us: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned."
Death –spiritual death– characterized in many respects by a lack of personal unity with God, creates a spiritual desert in which we must walk. In the Old Testament, we see how, time and time again, the Israelites put worldly advantage, idolatry, or personal gain before their relationship with God. The fruitful (spiritual) pasture God wished to lead them to became a parched desert land because they chose to put their trust in idols and, ultimately, in themselves.

But Isaiah sees a time in the future when the people will seek God anew. He sees that as a day when the 'wilderness and desert will be glad…', when, 'the wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.' This is improbable in the minds of the people Isaiah is preaching to, they have lived in the midst of their land for many years. It was a constant, an unchanging feature of their lives. But Isaiah isn't prophesying about the Hebrew equivalent of reversing global worming. He is prophesying about personal relationships with God as we travel the pathway of faith through this life.

Remember the words from Romans: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world."
Every destructive impulse in the universe finds, as its source, sin. This is true of physical natures just as much as it is of spiritual ones. Satan's influence... sin. Our predilection to do as we please... sin. Our desire to take care of our own needs and ignore the needs of others... sin. We struggle with it every day, and as believers - Christian believers - we often times become far more aware of our shortcomings and failures than others. We are called to ask ourselves "Why remain bogged down in sin? Why not take courage and abandon sinful ways?"

The prophets of the Old Testament ask similar questions... "Israel, will you ever find the backbone to do something about your broken relationship with God?"

Someone had to forge a pathway to God... one that extended part of the way. Indeed, it is this pathway that John the Forerunner paved for Christ in the deserts in his own day. And yet John himself had his own worries and fears. Was this Christ the one who was to be the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies? Would he make the wilderness blossom? Jesus' response to John's question was simply to point to the actions that came about as a response to faith. One can aptly say that the wilderness metaphors of Isaiah's prophecy can be applied to the blind suddenly seeing, the lame being enabled to walk, and the dead being brought to life. The ecology language of Isaiah is turned into a spiritual ecology by Jesus, who reassures John the Baptist – giving him the courage to stand firm in his faith and convictions, ultimately leading to his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas.

Our reading from the letter of James teaches us that we too can find the same confidence in God as we walk through our own spiritual deserts. All too often, we feel parched and alone in the wilderness; we feel a need to draw closer to a source of refreshment and grace. Sadly, even those of us who call on Christ will sometimes try to justify using material goods – a new car, the latest DVD, a trip to the movies – to make up for what is lacking in our relationship with God.
This isn't to say that there is anything intrinsically wrong with any of these items, but when we use them to bring great joy, instead of finding our joy and peace in the person of Jesus Christ, well… we have a problem. The joys of the material world are fleeting and brief; the joy of the knowledge and love of God in Christ Jesus is eternal. It will support us even when the car is wrecked, the DVD won't play, or the theater is sold out. It will sustain us when we loose a loved one, and it will be our anthem when our joy is complete and full. Finding joy in Christ will also help us to ensure that we are good stewards of our finances and all of creation.
How much of our time, and how much energy do we expend, all seeking the joy and happiness that only Christ can really bring?
If contemporary environmentalists really want to do something about global warming, man-made climate change, and the other 'impending' ecological disasters they continue to predict with increasing urgency, then perhaps they should begin including mentions of Jesus Christ in their words, for truly, only Jesus Christ is able to lovingly redirect us to find joy in a relationship with him, to rejoice in the beauty of creation, and to be good and faithful stewards of all creation.

Isaiah knew that.
James knew that.
John the Forerunner knew that.
We must know it too.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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