Bishop John A. Elya
Sunday after Christmas – At St. Joseph Melkite Church, Lawrence, Mass. – 12-28-97
Christ is Born! — Glorify Him!
This is the best season’s greeting. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
“Merry Christmas,” the common greeting is OK; but it keeps us wondering. Merriment is an external manifestation of an internal feeling of joy. The greatest joy is to welcome Christ among us. “Happy Holidays is OK to use with unbelieving friends, so we don’t offend those who do not believe in Christ and do not care to celebrate the Holy Day which is the Birthday of Christ. I wish to you all and to your families and to all those dear to you the fullness of joy announced by the angel to the shepherds: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
We commemorate in this Sunday after Christmas those who were the closest to our Lord next to His Virgin Mother whom we celebrated on December 26, namely:
David the King, His Ancestor, James, His Brother, that is His second cousin, son of Cleophas whose wife was Mary, sister of the Virgin Mary (See John 19:25). I am very pleased to celebrate with you St. Joseph. the Patron of this church. You should be proud to remember that your St. Joseph Church in Lawrence was the first Melkite Parish in America to own its own church building as early as 1902.
In the Christmas story as told by St. Matthew the Evangelist, there is a sentence which is repeated as a refrain and leading, so to speak, the whole drama of Christ’s infancy. This refrain is:
“And the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph saying:”
- “Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife.,,, etc.” (Matthew 1:20)
- “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…” (Matthew (2:13)
- “Get up, take the child and his mother, and set out for the land of Israel…” (Matthew 2:20)
- And, once more, “Don’t go to Bethlehem of Judea. Go instead to Nazareth in Galilee.
In the Old Testament, Joseph son of Jacob was called “Master Dreamer” by his brothers. He saw dreams and he interpreted dreams. In the new Testament, another Joseph also son of another Jacob is coached by God back and forth, back and forth, by dreams. This brings to my mind a plaque which a friend gave me in 1972, when I was transferred to Lawrence from Manchester, NH:
“Hold to your dreams; for, if dreams die,
“Man is a bird that cannot fly.”
Blessed are we, if our dreams are directed by an angel of the Lord as was St. Joseph!
However, dream or no dream, the important thing, is not the dreaming, but the tuning in to God’s will as manifested to us in whatever way He chooses. The essence of religion is our relationship to God and our dependence on Him. Etymologically, the Latin roots re and ligare mean to link or tie back with. Religion is our bond with God. To be religious is to tune in continually to the will of God. In my opinion, the best life is life lived under the spell of the Spirit. The best word we can utter to God and to life is: “Yes! Lord.” Yes, Lord. Here I am to do your will, O God.”
When the young Virgin from Nazareth was called by God the Father to be the mother of His Son, she answered the angel Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:18) This “YES” of surrender uttered by Mary marked the “beginning of our Salvation and the revelation of the mystery that was planned from all eternity.” (Troparion of the Annunciation).
Mary’s “YES” was both an echo and a starter of the Redeeming “YES” uttered by the Word of God in eternity: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for me. Holocausts and sin offerings You took no delight in. Then I said, as is written of me in the book, ‘I have come to do your will, O God’.” (Hebrews 10:5-7; Psalm 40:7)
The life of Our Lord Jesus was also a straight “YES” all the time, all the way, from A to Z. “Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) He taught His Disciples to pray: “Thy Will be done.” Talking of His passion, He prayed His Father, “What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27-28) And, in the Garden of Olives, when “His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground,” He prayed to His Father” : “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42-44)
Even when He said “NO” to sin and to the Pharisees, He was saying “YES” to Life and to the Truth. When He said “NO” to hatred, He was saying “YES” to Love. Sin, hatred, prejudice, war, drugs, abortion, unfaithfulness, euthanasia, sex out of marriage and the like have no “YES” in them. They are a big “NO” all the way. Saying “NO” to them is a straight “YES” to God. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Jesus Christ whom Sylvanus, Timothy and I preached to you as Son of God, was not alternately “YES” and “NO”; He was never anything but “YES”. Whatever promises God had made have been fulfilled in Him; therefore it is through Him that we address our Amen to God when we worship together.” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)
The best “YES” man I know is St. Joseph, whose feast we are celebrating today. Of all men in history, Joseph was the one chosen to be the protector of Mary and of the Divine Child. He was coached in every move by the Angel of the Lord. The best answer he gave each time, as we heard it above: “Yes, Lord”. He was tossed over up and down, up and down; But his surrender to God made his “ups” upper and his “downs” easier to bear. The first “down” we know of was his discovery that his betrothed wife Mary was with a child who was not his. There comes the refrain: The angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him and directed him not to hesitate to take Mary to his house; because “the child conceived by her is from the Holy Spirit.” The time immediately following the appearance of the angel, was a period of surrender and wonder and sacrifice. How do you like to live with a wife who, though a hundred per cent with God, is less than a wife to you? How do you like to take care of a child who, although called “Son of the Most High”, however is not your own flesh and blood? Joseph surrendered to God’s will and accepted the Child and the Mother. Yes, this is my wife. Yes, this is my child. We have here a splendid case in favor of adopted children. Natural children are only given; adopted children are chosen and, therefore, are a favored lot. Indeed, “love is not a feeling, but a decision”; what we decide consciously and deliberately is more human and sometime more divine than what we only feel.
Then comes the hardship of the travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. After the hardship of the travel, comes the rejection, and the humiliation and the anxiety of having the child born without a shelter. “There is no place in the inn!”… But, soon after, comes the exultation of the birth of Jesus, the good tidings sung by the angels, the adoration of the shepherds, the appearance of the bright star over the house and the arrival of the magi with their rich gifts. Joseph’s bewilderment and ecstasy at the succession of all these marvelous things are suddenly interrupted by the angel’s command: “Get up, take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt.” Joseph should have been stunned and confused for a while: We named the child Jesus, Savior, as the angel commanded. If he is the Savior, can’t He save himself from Herod’s fury and spare us the hardship of the flight to a far away land? The final answer:
After the death of Herod, at the angel’s command, Joseph heads back with the Child and his mother to Bethlehem. But, once more, the angel directs him to go to Galilee and not to Judea.
Every time, Joseph responds with a gentle “YES”, without a question or a complaint. As a champion player, he plays completely under the spell of his heavenly coach. He wins every game, though he is not the one to call the shots. Then came Joseph’s final battle, facing death as we all will. There again, he said “Yes” as he was surrounded and comforted by Jesus and Mary. So St. Joseph became the patron for a happy death. One beautiful prayer I learned in my youth, and I hope I will never forget until I die a happy death:
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me in my last agony.”
My dear friends, God is the only Master of our lives. “YES” is the best word we can say to Him. In all our joys and in all our sorrows, in all our successes and in all our failures, let Him be our coach as He was of St. Joseph. As we bid farewell to the fading 1997 and we receive with hope and joy the new year, 1998, our challenge is to imitate Jesus and Mary and Joseph in the surrender to God’s will as manifested to us. Let us, in the new year, say “Yes” to Jesus and say “Yes” to life. Say “Yes” to love. Say “Yes” to peace, to joy, to happiness, coming to us from the hands of our loving God. Say “Yes” to hardships and sorrows also, if this is the will of God. Life is worth living. It is worth living to the fullest, not only as a vegetative or an animal life, but like a fully human and fully spiritual life.
May I suggest one resolution for the new year and for all the years to come? A short prayer every morning: “Good morning, Lord. Here I am to do your will, O God.” And, every evening, the last thing before we go to sleep: “Good night, Lord. Thank You for everything. Thank You for helping me to do your will today;” or, if this is not the case, “forgive me, Lord, for saying No to your grace. Help me to do better tomorrow, and to say “Yes” to your love.” And then, let us close our eyes and say: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and surrender to pleasant dreams.
Have a Happy New Year, overflowing with the “Yes” of God our Father, of the Lord Jesus our Brother and of the Holy Spirit our Advocate and our guide to every good deed. O our God and our hope, glory to you.
CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 1997
To the priests, deacons, laity and friends of our Melkite Eparchy in the United States,
Behold, the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth. How beautiful are those words we sing at the Kondakion of the Divine Liturgy during this period of preparation to Christmas. They lead me to think about ways that God is calling us to prepare our hearts to receive Him in a new and deeper way this Christmas Season. God speaks to us through His prophet and promises us, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. ” (Ezekiel 36:26) During this sacred time of preparation for Christmas, I invite you to join me in a prayer for the softening of our hearts, as individuals, as parish communities, and as an Eparchy at large.
“And what is so special about this particular season ?” you might ask. At the first Christmas, God entered human history taking on our humanity, that He might raise us up with Him to the Heavens, uniting our humanity with His divinity. What dignity and honor we have! God has become one of us. His name has become Emmanuel – God With Us. This gives us cause for rejoicing and endless celebration. God has become man, that man and woman might become God!
Thanksgiving Day, last week, I was visiting a family. As it was time to leave, all the grandchildren of the people I was visiting came to wish me goodbye, and they asked for my blessing. I began to share with them and I said to one of the youngest children: “Did you know that God loves you so much that He became a child just like you !!!???” The child and his cousins listened attentively, smiled, and beamed. I had the joy of sharing with those young children how much God loves them, and how special they are as a result. Now I share with you all, the faithful of the Eparchy, “God loves you so much that He became human, just like you.” And as a result, you have a specialness, a dignity, so great that nobody could ever take it away from you.
This is such a great Truth, and such an exciting and life-giving and life-changing reality that time is delineated by the Birth of Christ Jesus, our Lord, God, and Savior. We are living in A.D. 1997. A. D. [Anno Domini] means ‘the year of our Lord’. Hippocrates, the great pro-life Greek Physician, lived in the 5th century B.C. which means, ‘Before Christ’. Imagine, Jesus Christ is Lord of Time and Time is recorded as Before Christ or the Year of Our Lord ! Jesus has certainly had a great impact on the world, although today there are many who are trying to move Him out of His proper role of Master and Savior. Many are trying to replace Him with Secularist Humanism and other philosophies that do not acknowledge God and His great love for His sons and daughters, and His active and loving and saving presence in human history.
This entire year of 1997 has been consecrated to our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ by our Holy Father John Paul II, the Pope of Rome, as a preparation for the coming of the next millennium in the year 2000. Jesus Christ, Who is the ‘Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) and the ‘Bread of Life’ (John 6:35), is also the ‘Light of the World’ (John 8:12), the Door of the Sheep (John 10:7), and the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). He is the True Vine, and we are the branches. Apart from Him we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5). He is our Hope (I Timothy 1:1) and our assurance of eternal life and salvation. He is the ‘Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in Him shall never die, but shall live.’ (cf. John 11: 25-26). These few titles of Jesus come from the ‘I am’ statements of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John, and they are a great source for prayer, meditation, and encouragement in our spiritual lives.
As we draw near to the close of 1997, we approach 1998 which the Holy Father has consecrated to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is often the least understood and the most forgotten Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Every time we begin the Divine Liturgy or the Divine Office we start with the beautiful and powerful and deeply theological Prayer to the Holy Spirit, ‘O Heavenly King’. Let us resolve to pray that prayer with greater attentiveness and greater devotion as we begin this year of the Holy Spirit.
Just to think about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation (God becoming flesh) is enough to fill our hearts with joy and wonder and occupy our meditation and reflection for a lifetime. ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary, ‘and the power of the Most High will overshadow you . . .’ (Luke 1:35)
Jesus Christ, our new born King, “for us and for our salvation, came down from Heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.” (from the Creed in the Divine Liturgy) He is the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Life. We pray for peace in the world especially in the Middle East where He was born two thousand years ago. May your Christmas Season be a blessed one. May you grow closer to Christ the source of our happiness. May you and your families and all those dear to you experience the peace, love, and joy that come from God alone and from an intimate and living relationship with Him.
Christ is Born ! Glorify Him !
December 4, 1997
November 30, 1997
At the Annunciation Cathedral
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
St. Andrew whose feast we celebrate today, the First-Called among the Apostles, was the first one to hear and heed the call of the Master. He was the first one to hear Jesus proclaim the good news: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) That was for Andrew the life long challenge to spread the good news of “angels ascending and descending.” In fact he was one of those angels ascending and descending, coming and going, spreading the good news of God’s love and truth. By the way, if you don’t know it, very often, God uses angels to do His work. Angels – from the Greek, “Angelos, messenger” – are not only “ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” (Hebrews 1:14) Many are figuratively “angels in the flesh” serving God in various ways and helping other people as needed. One of my favorite programs has been recently “Touched by an Angel” on ABC-TV on Sunday evening. It looks to me as a very clean, inspiring and moving show. How lucky are we if we are touched by an angel. Luckier yet, if we are God’s angels to others!
It all started, a long time ago, approximately one thousand nine hundred and seventy years ago, in a sunny summer day, on the shores of the Jordan River. John the Baptist was standing with two of His disciples. He saw Jesus walking by; he said: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Andrew was one of the two disciples. The other one was probably St. John the Beloved, the eye witness who told the story in his Gospel. The two disciples followed Jesus to His home and stayed with Him the rest of the day.
Andrew couldn’t wait to tell others about Jesus. Whom did he tell? He told his brother Peter, the closest to him with whom he lived, and he brought him to Jesus. Then the third disciple called by Jesus, according to today’s reading was Philip. Then Philip found Nathanael and brought him to Jesus. Do you see – how beautiful! – Jesus came alone out of the water. On the first day, he recruited two disciples: Andrew and John. Andrew brought Peter. Two more were added on the second day: Philip and Nathanael. That was a hundred per cent increase. Then John also brought his brother James. Do you remember the happy ending of the old poem, “Ten Little Christians?”
“I little Christian can’t do much, it is true;
But he brought a friend last Sunday, then there were 2.
2 little Christians, each one got one more;
Now, don’t you see? 2 and 2 make 4
4 little Christians worked early and late;
Each of them brought one more, and then there were 8.
8 little Christians, if they double as before,
In just seven Sundays, we’ll have one thousand and seventy four!”
Don’t you wish we can do the same thing here? Seven Sundays from now, we would have three times more people than this church can contain.
In fact, Andrew and Philip are known to be the missionary type. As we heard in today’s reading: Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus; and Philip brought Nathanael. On another occasion, Andrew and Philip were the intermediaries who introduced the Greek emissaries to Jesus (Cf. John 12:20-22 …) Jesus was pleased with this encounter with the first fruits of the nations. He exclaimed: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…” Then, after the Resurrection, Philip preached the Gospel in Samaria; he then instructed and baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch as reported in Acts 8:26-40. Andrew, according to old traditions, preached the Gospel in Asia Minor, in Southern Russia, in Byzantium (Constantinople) and in Kiev, Capital City of the Ukraine.
Andrew and Philip, the outstanding heralds of the Good News, illustrate the challenge which we hear sometimes: Do not keep the faith; spread it. Do not bury your treasure; display it. Do not hide your light under a bushel, expose it over a lamp stand to have it enlighten all those who enter therein. Do not be shy concerning the Good News. Our Lord told us: “What you hear whispered, shout it from the housetops. (Matthew 10:27) No wonder the psalmist shouts about Andrew and those like him: “To all the earth their voice resounded; and to the end of the world their message.”
My dear friends,
We are all beneficiaries of God’s love. We can hear the Good News and rejoice; we can receive God’s favors and say “Thank you!” Thanksgiving Day is celebrated every year, as in this past Thursday, to thank God and thank each other for all the favors we have received. But it is not enough to say thanks and let “the buck stop there.” We ought to let the ball bounce back and spread the good news as Andrew did. “We have found the Messiah, the One that the world desires.” We cannot hide the light under a bushel, as our Lord warned us. We cannot conceal the good fragrance of God’s love. It is never too much to repeat the famous verse:
“A song is no song till you sing it.
A bell is no bell till you ring it. [Who needs a dumb bell?]
Love in your heart isn’t there to stay.
Love is no love till you give it away.”
To honor St. Andrew’s feast, let us be Andrews for a day.
To whom shall we spread the good news today?
- To all those close to us, the members of our own families. Andrew told his brother Peter. John told his brother James. Philip told Nathanael, his fellow countryman from Bethsaida. There is one draw back, though: No prophet is accepted in his own country. Then we should not tell them, just show them. Show them that God is good and that “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11) Show them that every time we come to church, we get closer to God and to each other. Let us show them that “God runs a beauty parlor.” Every time we come to His house, more return more beautiful and more fulfilled.
Let us show to our household and to strangers too that Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We come to church to fill up out batteries; then we go and beam the light of Jesus and the love of Jesus to all our relatives and friends.
Finally, let us pray for unity and love among all the followers of Christ. According to a venerable tradition, the See of Constantinople was founded by St. Andrew, as the Sees of Antioch and Rome were founded by St. Peter and Paul. Peter and Andrew were loving brothers. Constantinople and Rome are trying to revive the mutual love of the two brothers and project it into the twentieth century. In Antioch, the Melkite Branch has been trying to bring back together the two branches which separated in the 18th Century. Let us pray that the good will from all sides come to a good fruition. Let us pray and do what we can that all may be one as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, so that the world may believe, so that “in one mouth and one heart we may glorify and extol (the) most noble and magnificent name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.
Ninth Sunday after the Cross November 23, 1997, (Luke 12: 16-21)
Lawrence, MA, Nov. 23, 1997
“You, fool!” said God to the rich man of today’s story, “this very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will this piled-up wealth of yours go?” (Luke 12:20)
Did you hear how much riches Howard Hughs left behind? How much Ross Perot will leave behind? How much you and me will leave behind? The answer is the same: WE WILL LEAVE IT ALL.
Did you ever see a U-haul following the hearse in a funeral procession? I heard of a bank built on the opposite side of the street, facing a cemetery. A large sign read: “Trust us with your money. You cannot take it with you; but you can keep it close.”
Money and material goods are in our hands TEMPORARILY. No use of storing them. Sooner or later we shall part company. We cannot take them with us. We can never be sure that we will have the time to enjoy them as long as we wish. Our best bet then is to use them RESPONSIBLY.
The Gospel of today is one ring of a chain of Gospel readings offered for our consideration in oour Byzantine Melkite Lectionary at this time of the year. These readings have one thing in common: they all point to the responsible use of material goods. They feature four different types of people:
- The ruthless rich man who refused to help the poor Lazarus. (5th Sunday) He was sorry about it for all eternity.
- The compassionate rich man, the good Samaritan, who used his money to help the one in need. (8th Sunday) Last week, you remember, Our Lord told us: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)
- The foolish rich man who thought he would live forever. We heard his story in today’s Gospel. “He grew rich for himself, said Jesus, instead of growing rich in the sight of God.” (9th Sunday)
- And, finally, (4) The wishful rich man who was seeking eternal life but was reluctant to pay the price. His money stopped him from following Christ to perfection. (13th Sunday) You remember Jesus’ comment: “How hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God!…”
Money is given to us to meet our needs. A millionaire who is striving to have more money is poorer than the ordinary guy who is satisfied. If I have one penny more than I need, I am richer than the millionaire who is seeking another million. “Contentment is richness,” says an Arabic proverb. “The rich have become poor and hungry; but those who seek the Lord shall not want any good thing,” sings the Psalmist (Psalm 33/34:11)
I am not advocating laziness. Contentment does not mean laziness, lack of ambition. It means putting our priority in the right place. Let us seek richness for the sake of service. As Jesus recommended in today’s Gospel, let us “not grow rich for ourselves, but grow rich in the sight of God.” I wish I win the lottery so I can build adequate churches for all our missions, distribute religious literature to our people and to all those who thirst for it, build homes for the homeless, find work for the unemployed and eradicate poverty. (Do I sound like a presidential candidate? “promise them anything!…”). Yes, my friends, it is good to be rich and generous at the same time. This is not easy, as we will hear in another Sunday, about the wishful rich man whose money prevented him from following Jesus. But, as we hear in the conclusion of that Gospel story: “What is impossible to men is possible to God.” An Arabic verse describes it well: “How beautiful it is to join religion and worldly goods, And how ugly to join poverty and unbelief.”
The way we use our money determines whether we own it or it owns us. The way we use our treasure determines where our heart is. “Where is your treasure, there is your heart also.” Your concern for charitable causes is a sign that your focus is in the right place.
Thanksgiving Thursday coming this week, the Christmas Season starting soon, the special collection for “Human Development Campaign”, as well as the Annual Bishop’s Appeal which is going on in our Eparchy at this time of the year, provide us with an occasion to help those in need as we thank God for all His blessings.
Let us be generous, not only in giving the required donation, but plus and above. We should not give from our surplus, the crumbs or the leftovers, but from the top of the pile. God deserves the best. Some say: “Give until it hurts.” We should rather say: “Give until it feels good.” Our Lord said: “It is more blessed to give and to receive.” And the famous prayer of St. Francis: “It is in giving that we receive.” Let us “be merciful,” as our Lord commanded us, “as your Father in heaven is merciful.” For every good grace and every perfect gift comes from Him, the Father of Light.
To Him be glory for ever. Amen.
November 27, 1997
I will remember you and all those dear to you at the Divine Liturgy celebrated at 9:00 AM in the chapel of our Eparchial Residence on Thanksgiving Day. I thank God for the gift of your friendship and for whatever kindness you have shown me and for whatever help you have given me in various ways.
The first thing which comes to mind when I hear the word thanks-giving is unselfishness and recognition of the other whom I thank. Saying “thank you” means being obliged, being the subject of someone else’s goodness. If we were self-sufficient, we would need nobody; then we wouldn’t have anybody to thank. Giving thanks emphasizes the goodness of the giver and adds to the enjoyment of the thing or favor received. Giving thanks does not diminish the one who expresses gratitude, but multiplies the blessings both on the giver and on the receiver. A thankful person is a humble person, a person with whom you can establish a dialogue.
A thankkful person is a peaceful person who maintains peace not only with others, but especially with oneself and with God. A thanksful person accepts with gratitude the situation as it is, in which we find ourselves. In our Semitic mind – and this is seen also throughout the Bible in the Old and the New Testament – all things come from God and are directed by Him. How true and how beautiful is the Arabic saying: “We are from God and to Him we shall return.” Our Lord Jesus reminds us and reassures us about that total dependency on God:
“Are not two sparrows sold to next to nothing? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted; so do not be afraid of anything. You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
In the East, we have no Thanksgiving Day neither in religion nor in the secular society, as in the United States and Canada; because everyday is a Thanks-giving day. Expressions of thanks are numerous in our Liturgy. In our full Byzantine office, we recite or sing three times a day the Doxology which is also used occasionally in the Roman Church: “Glory to God in the highest… We praise You, we bless You, we worship You, we glorify You, we give thanks to You for the splendor of your glory.” Offering our worship and expressing our dependence on God and giving Him glory is our way of thanks. The act of thanks par excellence is, of course, the Eucharistic Service which we call the divine Liturgy. There again the expressions of thanks are implied in our expression of dependence, of detachment, “Let us lay aside all earthly care, that we may welcome the King of all.” As you know, the high point of our thankfulness comes at the prayer called Anaphora, that is offering:
“Let us lift up our hearts. Let us give thanks to the Lord. It is fitting and right to sing to You, to bless You, to praise You, to give thanks to You, to worship you in every place of Your dominion..”
Our awareness of God’s blessings and our thanks for them intensify our pleasure and assures the continuation of these blessings. May God multiply His blessings on you to swell your thanksgiving list to no end. “For every good gift and every perfect grace comes from Him, and to Him we render glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen
Your servant in the Lord
+ Bishop John
THE POWER OF TOUCH
The Use of our Senses – The Seventh Sunday after the Cross
Jesus Heals the Woman with Hemorrhage who touched the Hem of His Clock
Excerpts from the Sunday Homily – At the Annunciation Cathedral, November 9, 1997
Our senses can lead us to feel God’s presence in our life. When we come to church, we are encouraged, rather I should say we are urged to use all our senses constantly. Many people sit in church passively, just “serving time”, so to speak. But we are encouraged to stay alive during the prayer and to participate with our five senses. If we don’t do it intentionally, we will be like the crowds who were pressing Jesus in vain. The woman with hemorrhage touched Jesus intentionally; she touched only the hem of his garment with faith, and she was healed. This is the million dollar word: WITH FAITH. We can enter the church and go through the moves by routine, and get out as we entered with no healing. But we can also enter with faith and make every minute and every gesture count. How do we do it?
As soon as we set our step inside the door of the church, we are invited to feel God’s presence.
We may like to touch the door of the church and kiss it with love, as many pious souls do, saying with the Psalmist: “In your abundant goodness, O Lord, I enter your house and I adore you with reverence.”
We may like to dip our fingers in the holy water and apply it to our forefront, saying: “Wash me thoroughly from malice and cleanse me from sin.”
Then we may make a reverence and touch the ground in humility; and bring our right hand up and touch our forehead and our chest, then our right shoulder and our left shoulder and then again let our hand repose over our chest. A sign of the Cross is not a magic gesture, my friends. It is a touch of love. We may also approach in time and kiss the Gospel Book and the icons.
At communion, let us be aware of the Body of Christ touching our mouth in His way to our inner self. Let our sense of taste share in the joy of our intimate contact with our Lord. Let us remember the saying of the Psalmist: “Taste and see how good the Lord is.” Then let His fire purify our weakness. In fact, the priest says to himself, or the bishop tells the priest and the deacon after the communion from the chalice: “This has touched your lips. It will wash away your transgressions and purify you from your sins.”
All the other senses should participate in our worship when we come to church:
Our eyes should delight in this beautiful structure which brings to mind the heavenly dome extending to the whole universe. The beautiful mosaics, icons and stain glass windows strike our sight anywhere we look and even welcome us before we enter the church. Let us admire also the flickering of the candles, which is a symbol of our flickering faith with its ups and downs. Surrounded by all kinds of reminders of God’s love and beauty, we may cry out with Jacob when he saw in his dream the angels of God ascending and descending: “Indeed this is the house of God; this is the gateway to heaven.” (Genesis 28:17).
The choir and the people and the priest and the deacon, singing in unison should bring a special pleasure to our ears, so “that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and exalt (the) most noble and magnificent Name (of God).”
Our sense of smell should delight in the incense. Incense, my friends, is not cheep smoke. Its soothing smell and its sight spiraling toward heaven could create in us a deep religious feeling. We pray in the divine Liturgy that God may receive our offerings “as a sweet spiritual fragrance (and) may give us in return the divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” At Vespers, we sing: “Let my prayer rise like incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice.” I remember reading in a church bulletin of one of our Melkite parishes, few years back: “More incense, less non-sense!”
The above mentioned examples involve, as you see, all our five senses, touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. They are as many opportunities for our Lord and Savior Jesus to touch the depth of our soul in a mystical experience. This is why we come to church on Sunday or any day, to touch the Lord Jesus with faith as did the woman victim of hemorrhage and to be touched by Him lovingly like the daughter of Jairus. He is willing and eager to heal us from any spiritual or physical sickness which bothers us.
I hope and pray that before we leave this holy place, each one of us, according to our need, touch the Lord Jesus and let Him touch us with healing love. And may all those who encounter us today feel the power of God which is coming to us through His divine touch.
To Him be glory forever.
TRIPLE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST July 6, 1997 MATTHEW 9:27-35
“Jesus continued His tour of all the towns and villages. He taught in their synagogues, He proclaimed the good news of God’s reign, and He cured every sickness and disease”. (Matthew 9:35)
This verse at the conclusion of today’s Gospel reading describes the triple mission of Our Lord Jesus. It is also the triple mission of the Church through the Centuries and the triple challenge for our personal life as disciples of Christ.
Christ the Teacher, “He taught in their synagogues”… Christ the Preacher, “He proclaimed the Good News of God’s reign”… Christ the Healer, “He cured every sickness and disease”.
I – AS TEACHER, Jesus “came to give witness to the truth”. He is the truth. He is the “Word of God”. He is the light of the world. Look at the Iconostasis, you see the Icon of our Lord carrying a Book, an open book. On it you may read usually the following sentence: “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. His Nativity, as we sing at Christmas, “has shed the light of knowledge upon the world”; so we proclaim Him in the same Troparion as “the Sun of Justice,…and the One who rises from on high”. At the service of Prime, we address Him, echoing the words of the Evangelist John: “O Christ God, who enlightens every man coming into the world”. In the morning, at the festive Matins, we sing to Him in the Great Doxology: “Glory to You, O Giver of Light… For in You in the fountain of life and in Your light we shall see light”. In the evening, we sing to Him at Vespers, in the serenity of the sunset: “O Joyful Light of the holy glory”. In fact, He Himself tells us that He is “the light of the world”. Do you want to know the truth? Come to Jesus. He tells us (it is worth repeating): “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Life would be so miserable without light. Without Jesus the Teacher, the Light of the world, there would be no full spiritual life.
II – AS PREACHER, Jesus does not only tell the truth, but He shouts it from the rooftop. He also tells His disciples: “What you have heard by your ears, preach it high from the rooftops”. To teach is to say it as it is; to preach is to proclaim it with a loud speaker. In fact, the Greek word for preaching (as the Gospel was written in Greek) is Kerysso, from the root “Knp”(Keer), contraction of “kear”, which means heart. Now the word is Kardia. (Compare “cor” in Latin, coeur in French, corazon in Spanish, qalb in Arabic. So, to preach (Kerisso, Kerygma) is to proclaim it wholeheartedly. A teacher focuses on reason; a preacher addresses our heart and our imagination. A teacher gives understanding; a preacher gives inspiration. We could say that a teacher speaks in prose; a preacher in poetry. A teacher sheds light; a preacher gives warmth. A teacher usually speaks sitting down. A University Professor holds a “chair” of Theology or Philosophy or History; a preacher talks standing up and moving around and gesticulating to keep people awake and excited. He occupies a pulpit, not a chair, and preferably he stands high on a platform or in front of the altar. A good preacher proclaims the word standing on his feet and keeping the people “on their toes”. As we have witnessed during this Convention, if I may be personal, Archbishop Raya is a good preacher. I am trying now to be a good teacher.
One good way of preaching is a good Liturgy. We do not use liturgy to teach or to preach. However a good liturgy is the best proclamation of the truth and goodness of God. As you know, a thousand years ago, King Vladimir of Kiev sent his emissaries al over the world to shop for a religion for his people. Different peoples explained to the messengers their respective religious beliefs and practices. They taught them . When King Vladimir’s messengers entered Aghia Sophia and saw the beauty of the church and of the Liturgy, they received the best sermon and they were converted. “They didn’t know whether they were on earth or in heaven”. The greatest distance in the world is the 10 inches between our head and our heart. Teaching talks to our head. Preaching touches our heart.
However, teaching and preaching, as good as they may be, will sound like a “noisy gong or clinging cymbals”, if they do not lead to healing, to the works of mercy. Do you remember the three theological virtues, faith, hope and love? Well, a teacher tries to impart knowledge, and when knowledge stops, he calls for faith. A preacher, not only calls for faith; but, proclaiming the good news, he inspires hope. So teaching leads to faith; preaching creates hope; but healing and doing the works of mercy are the fruit of love; and, as we know, ” love is the greatest of them all”. This brings us to the third side of the mission of Christ:
III – CHRIST AS HEALER. Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. He is the physician of the souls and bodies. He, not only leads us to the truth, fills our hearts with hope; but He pours His mercy on us, He forgives us our sins and He heals us from our infirmities. He is not only the Didaskalos (Teacher), the Pantocrator (Almighty); but He is especially the Eleimon (Merciful), the Evsplakhnos (compassionate), the Philanthropos (Lover of mankind). We call Him in Arabic, if you don’t mind, Ar-Rahmaan, Ar-Rahiim, Ar-Ra’uuf wal Muxibbul bacar. His Sophia (wisdom) leads to Diakonia (service).
In our Melkite tradition, the three sides of Christ’s mission are expressed differently in different saints. All the three sides, mind you, are interrelated and one could not stand fully without the other two. Let us take the example of the well known “Three Hierarchs”, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. St. Gregory the Theologos is the teacher. He tries to unravel the mysteries of our religion using sometime philosophy, sometime poetry. St. John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouth, is the eloquent preacher. His homilies survived the tear and wear of centuries and they are still as relevant and as moving as in his own time. St. Basil the Great was a good teacher and a good preacher. His “teaching has spread over the whole world”. However he excelled in the works of mercy, hospices for the sick, shelters for the homeless. We have special categories of saints for the works of mercy such as Samson the Hosteller of Constantinople (whose memory we celebrated on June 27), John the Merciful of Alexandria, the Unmercenary wonder workers Cosmas and Damien whose memory we celebrated on July 1, Panteleimon, Julian of Homs, St. Nicholas of Myra the Wonder worker and St. Dimitri whose bodies exuded a special oil as a tool of miracles through the mercy of God.
We hear often moving reports about the works of mercy performed by our Church in Emmaus Home for the Homeless in Harlem and in Lazarus House in Lawrence. We are familiar also with the many orphanages which we have in Lebanon and Syria and Palestine and which we have been helping generously. You know about the outstanding Program of “Adopt an Orphan” set by St. Ann’s Melkite Church in West Paterson. The Church is a hospice for wounded humanity. This Cathedral is minding God’s work and imitating our divine Master in distributing our efforts between teaching, preaching and healing.
Teaching – Sunday School Adult Religious Education, the weekly Bulletin and the Newsletter, the Joyful Light, and especially the Coming Theosis which we hope will be like a Renewal Program throughout the Eparchy.
Preaching – The Lenten Mission and the various retreats of NAMY, Namw & others.
Healing Visiting the sick, counseling those in need, remembering the sick in our prayers. Let us ask for miracles, we will obtain them.
We are the continuation of Christ, the extension of His work throughout history. Let us proclaim His name, teach our children about Him, and especially extend His work of mercy …
HEALING OF THE CENTURION’S SERVANT MATTHEW 8:5-13)
THE POWER OF FAITH
Jesus said to the Centurion: “Go! And let it be done to you as you believed it would.” And at that very moment, his servant got better. (Matthew 8:13)
My dear friends:
Jesus is the healer, the greatest healer of all. This is what His name means: Jesus, that is savior, as the angel explained it to Joseph: “And you will name Him ‘Jesus’, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 2:21) Yes, the greatest sickness is sin; and the greatest healer is the one who delivers from sin. A Healer, as the word implies, makes one whole, complete, nothing missing. A Savior, as the word implies, makes one safe, secure. Oh! I want to be whole. Don’t you? I want to be safe and sound. Don’t you? Jesus alone is the answer.
In the Gospel of the day, Jesus was amazed at the faith of the Centurion. That was a great faith. “Lord,” he said, “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” The Centurion’s faith was also a considerate faith. He did not want to impose on the Master the hardship of going to his house, but especially the hardship of defying the “kosher practice”: a respectable Jew at the time of Christ would not enter the house of a gentile.
Jesus was amazed at the Centurion’s great and considerate faith. He told the bystanders: “I haven’t seen such a faith, not even in Israel,” and to the Centurion: “Go home. Let it be done to you according to your faith.” And his son was healed at that very moment. That was an outstanding healing, a healing at a distance, by remote control, so to speak!
We remember a similar case of faith and of healing also by remote control with the Canaanite woman. (By the way, if you permit a little bragging, that woman must have been a distant cousin of mine. The miracle took place in the vicinity of my home town! Sarafand is about 5 miles away from Maghdoucheh, my home town.) She asked for the healing of her daughter and she persisted humbly until she obtained her wish. There also, Jesus exclaimed: “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done to you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that very moment.
These two miracles of healing: of the servant of the centurion and of the daughter of the Canaanite woman, have several things in common:
- Healing at a distance (without contact, as if by remote control) and at the intervention of someone else, while the beneficiary was not aware at the time. Faith is powerful for healing not only of those present, but also of those absent; not only of the person who asks and who has faith, but also of other persons on whose behalf one is interceding. People can be healed even if they are not present at the place where the healing takes place.
- The beneficiaries in both cases were not Jews. The one, in the story of the day, was a Roman centurion, a pagan, the other was a Canaanite, a pagan too. Faith makes us all children of Abraham. As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: We are children of Abraham, not by the flesh, but by imitating his faith.
- In both instances, there was a humble faith. “Lord, I am not worthy to enter into my house, but only say a word and my servant will be healed.” In the case of the Canaanite woman, Jesus plays it hard at the beginning; he even insults the woman, by comparing her to the dogs, while comparing his people to the children of the house. However, in both cases, humility prevails. If faith can move mountains, humility can move the heart of God. God humbles the haughty and exalts the humble.
And do you know what is the limit of the healing power of Jesus? We say God is omnipotent, which means all powerful. There is no limit to God’s power to heal and to save. When our trust meets God’s power, there is no limit to God’s love. As the saying goes, “The sky is the limit.” Jesus is all powerful. Jesus is all merciful. Jesus loves you and loves me. We cannot lose.
I asked Jesus: “Lord, how much do you love me?
He stretched his arms wide open and said: “That much;” And He let Himself hung on the Cross. And His fingers pointed to infinity. The Psalmist sings in the well known Psalm 102: “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness…. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is His kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 102/103:8,11-12) Miracles, my friends, happen all the time, today as in the time of Christ.
Again, it bears repeating until it sinks deep in our mind: There is no limit to God’s healing power. If there is a limit to God’s healing power, the limit is from our side, not from God’s side.
Let us trust in God who loves us and who is willing and capable to heal us. Let us pray with humility. For God exalts the humble. Following also the example of the Centurion, let us pray the Lord for the healing of people we love, even if they are not present with us now, and even if they are not aware of our prayer.
If our faith is great enough like the faith of the Centurion, it will be done to us according to our faith. If the hurt is not healed as we expect, the hurt will be healed as God sees fit, and it will not hurt as much. Sometimes, we ask for a favor, and God gives us a better favor unbeknown to us. We are always sure that “His mercy will be upon us, inasmuch as we put our trust in Him.” How beautiful is Kahlil Gibran’s saying: “About tomorrow, of one thing I am certain, that God’s love will precede the dawn.”
May His mercy and love heal us, protect us and guide our steps according to His commandments.
First of all, I offer my heartfelt congratulations on Father’s Day to all the fathers here present. God bless you and keep you as providers and as models to your children. You are for them the image of the heavenly Father who loves and who gives. And the best gift you give to your children is the love you give to their mothers who are your second and, may I say, your better halves. In my old fashion way to look at marriage and at the division of roles in a household: “The man makes the living, the woman makes the living worthwhile.” May God give you health and happiness to remain the image of God the Father “from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name.” (Ephesians 3:15)
Among animals, father and mother give birth and, sooner or later, let go. But, among humans, a father is a father and a mother is a mother as long as God is God. Isn’t that marvelous? Thanks be to God. Father and mother staying together are the best image of God’s creative love. God does not change his mind. He loves us no matter what! His covenant is eternal. In a like manner, in the ideal world, husband and wife love each other as Christ loved His Church and sacrificed Himself for her. Their love is productive. It carries the gifts of heaven.
In our Byzantine calendar, there is a saint for every day. The feasts of some saints are well known, such as St. George on April 23; St. John theEvangelist on May 8; St. John the Baptist on June 24; Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29; St. Elias on July 20; St. Ann on July 25, St. Nicholas on December 6, etc. Saints are remembered on their feast day, which is usually the day on which they passed on from this life to eternal life. On that day, we remember their life and their good example. We pray with them and we pray to them.
One day a year, the Sunday after Pentecost, we have a general feast which we call: ALL SAINTS DAY. On this day, we commemorate all the Saints together as one family. We remember in a special way the Martyrs who shed their blood for Christ, the Lamb of God slain for our redemption.
One more reason to celebrate All Saints Day is that we may have neglected many of them unknown to us. So we remember them together as “the Unknown Saint.” In a beautiful coincidence this year, we celebrate all Saints Day together with Memorial Day in which we remember all those who died in the service of their country. How beautiful and inspiring it is that we celebrate both “the Unknown Soldier” and the “Unknown Saint”, at the same time this year, thus symbolizing the two levels of our citizenship on earth and in heaven! How beautiful and inspiring when heaven and earth meet together in our devotion and our love and our pride.
Right after the Second World War, a priest wanted to illustrate Memorial Day by displaying in the church a list of all those parishioners who had died in the service of their country. He explained it to his people and they were very impressed. One little boy didn’t understand and asked his mother what were these names. The mother said: “these are the people who died in the service.” And the boy asked: “Which service? That of 9:30 or 11:30?” Do you know who is your Patron Saint? Do you honor him or her by trying to imitate his or her virtues? If you don’t know your Patron Saint, please feel free to ask me. Each of us should have a Patron Saint, as we also have an individual Guardian Angel. If you ignore your Patron Saint and your Guardian Angel, believe me, you will be missing a lot in your life