January 14, 2011
A blessed Leave-taking (Apodosis) of the Theophany to all! May God manifest his Trinitarian life in the life of each of us!
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greeting and Blessing
21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
1) Are we satisfied with whatever state of life God has given us? Are we able to say with St. Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? Or do we complain when things seem to go badly? If God is present in our lives and if we have committed our whole life to him (as we say in the Divine Liturgy), how would this change our attitude to the way our lives are going?
2) The gift which the Philippians sent to Paul in Ephesus seems to have been one of many gifts they sent to him in his need. In other words, Paul is praising their spirit of generosity which is a sign of the grace of God in them. How is God calling us to exhibit the grace he has given us by becoming a partner in the sufferings of others? The gift of the Philippians was certainly not just “writing a check”; the money they sent St. Paul was certainly a sacrifice on their part, a gift out of their want rather than out of their abundance. How can we concretely show this same sort of love towards those in need? Not out of our abundance, but in a spirit of self-sacrificial love?
January 13, 2011
Our Citizenship in Heaven
17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
Be United, Joyful, and in Prayer
2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Meditate on These Things
8 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. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
1) Many of the citizens of Philippi were Roman citizens, since Philippi was a Roman colony. Paul is telling the people that, in fact, they are citizens of heaven, which means that, just as they were responsible to bring Roman culture to northern Greece as citizens of Rome, so they also were responsible to bring the culture of heaven to their society as citizens of heaven. We pray this in the Our Father (“They will be done on earth as it is in heaven”). What would we need to do in a practical sense to bring the culture of heaven to our surroundings.
2) St. Paul calls on the Philippi to rejoice. In antiquity, this would not be an individualistic expression of emotion, but a community celebration. What is the community celebration for the Christian? If you did not answer “the Divine Liturgy”, why do you not think of the Liturgy as the essential celebration of the Christian community. St. Paul talks about this celebration in the context of restoring love and unity between the two women and in the context of the resurrection. How does the Liturgy relate to these two topics?
3) In a society that emphasizes the hideous, the biting, the sarcastic, the ugly, how can we as Christians keep our minds trained on the beauty of the spiritual life? What should we do when we are confronted with the ugly, death-centered attitude of our society?
January 12, 2011
All for Christ
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Pressing Toward the Goal
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
1) From N.T. Wright: Paul names various credits which once gave him reason to trust in the flesh (vv. 4-6). The main thing Paul meant by the flesh here (and often in Galatians and Romans) is the pride of physical descent cherished by Jews. As this passage makes clear, he knew all about it from the inside. This had been his pride too. If you emphasized the “flesh” and your identity “according to the flesh,” as he himself had done in his pre-Christian days, then instead of stressing something that made you different from the pagan world around, you were instead stressing that which you had in common with them. You were setting up your Judaism as just another ethnic, geographical, religious and cultural grouping, along with all the other ones in the world.
2) Orthodox from traditional ethnic backgrounds often see their Orthodoxy in terms of their ethnicity (I am Orthodox because I am Greek/Russian/Albanian/Serbian, etc.) and so take the actual content of the faith for granted. People not of traditional Orthodox ethnic backgrounds who enter the Church later in life often react against this position by de-emphasizing the importance of culture altogether, not realizing that they also bring a culture to the faith. Have you ever fallen into one of these categories? Have you prided yourself on your ethnicity and family connections, or on the lack of these things, making ethnicity or the lack of ethnicity an idol in the place of God? It is important to remember that Faith is always incarnate in people and people always have a culture; Faith is not something separate from our lives, but something that informs and directs our lives. The trouble comes when we think that because we are of certain ethnicity, or because we are not of a certain ethnicity, we are saved. How can we live the proper relationship of faith and culture in our Parish?
3) Do we count “all things as loss” in order to obtain the excellent knowledge of Christ? We cannot count Christ and some other things as gain. This would mean that Faith in our Lord, in his death and resurrection is simply one of the many compartments of our lives, something we can put on for Sunday morning, and take off again when we get home from Church. Is the excellent knowledge of Christ the one thing needful in our lives? Do we even care if we know Christ, or maybe we have only heard about him from others. Would we be willing to give up everything to have Christ? Or would we be content to give up Christ in order to hold on to other aspects of our lives?
4) Verse 12 should be sufficient to disprove any idea of an instantaneous moment of salvation. The Christian life is not a one moment “accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior” and then sitting back being saved. It is a journey and a struggle, with the prize which we can see and taste in the Liturgy, the Banquet of the Kingdom, but which we strive for throughout our lives. Are we still striving? Does the prize mean enough to us to strive for it? We strive for all sorts of goals, at work, in our families, in our social groups, in the Church. Have these goals distracted us from the real and only goal of our lives, the life of the resurrection?
January 11, 2011
19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.
25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.
1) Paul speaks about two different types of relationships in the Church. The first is the like-minded disciple whose major quality is that he cares for the Philippians and not for himself. The other is about fellow workers who seek their own good, and not the good of the Gospel. Which type of worker are we? Are we willing to do a task in the church, mentor someone to do the work, and then step aside and do something else and allow our mentor to take over, with no interference?
2) How can we become workers who put our concern for others in the church above our own concerns and agendas? Paul already gave the answer to this question in 2:2-4—humility.
3) One of Paul’s themes in Philippians is joy. How does that theme work together with this chapter? Paul gives us the reality of the Christian life: our Lord does not wipe away all sorrows, but transforms them into joy. Do we look on the sorrows of our life the way the world and society do, as negatives, or do we see them as opportunities to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others, and places where the God who suffered in the Passion and on the Cross in the flesh can transform our sorrows into the joy of the resurrection?
4) By sending Timothy to the Philippians, Paul is cementing a relationship between distant Churches on two different continents. What have we done to promote relationships of our own church with sister churches throughout the world? Or have we promoted a feeling of isolation and detachment from the universal Church? Think of some things that could be done to promote a wider outlook toward the church and come to the next Evangelism Team meeting with these ideas!
January 10, 2011
I am taking a little vacation from blogging, but it was suggested that I post the daily New Testament Challenge. During the Feast of the Theophany, we are reading St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. I hope that my readers will respond to the reading and to the reflection questions and begin a dialogue about what St. Paul is conveying to the Philippians and to us. We begin here somewhat “in medias res” but it is probably the most important passage in the whole epistle!
The Humbled and Exalted Christ
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.
1) Verses 5-11 is an incredible hymn to the meaning of the Incarnation. The love that God has for us cost him everything, the total pouring out of himself to death itself. Our Lord did not cease being God when he took on our human nature; rather he showed us what is means to be divine—the life of total sacrificial love. How much does our love for God cost us? Do we, in turn, empty ourselves to the point of death (perhaps not physical death, but death to ourselves, to our greed and lusts and hunger for power), or is there an upper limit to the love we are willing to spend?
2) What do you think Paul means by the image of the cosmic worship of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to join our own voice to that chorus which is celebrating the victory of Christ, or do we add our voices to the anti-chorus which still tries to oppose his universal kingship? What would our world look like if in fact every creature would confess this universal kingship? What would our politics and governments look like? Even though we may not be able to influence the world at that level, we can always influence the part of the world that is in our control. Do we do that, or do we go along with the easier way?
3) This passage lays a heavy stress on the importance of the “name” of Jesus; the name itself has power and calls for worship. We can join in the cosmic chorus of worship through praying the Jesus Prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. The prayerful repetition of the name of Jesus will become rooted in our spiritual center and begin to fill our entire life. Let us resolve to pray the Jesus Prayer at least when we get up in the morning and when we go to sleep at night—33 repetitions takes only a few minutes. Gradually the prayer will spread throughout the day.